What fresh hell is this? I don’t remember it being this noisy in previous years. Imagine a thousand school playgrounds and magnify it by a hundred. Have I really chosen to spend the next three days being screamed at? Stressed parents meanwhile, are throwing all old fashioned libertarian ideals down the slope and smacking their children left, right and centre. And did I mention the slope? Multiply that concept by ten and then picture the tents clinging on like we are pitched on Everest. I used to think gravity was an incredible thing but now, as I retrieve all our worldlies from the bottom of the tent after the first night and elbow my way back up to the top, I feel it is vastly overrated.
This year seems more chaotic than ever. We arrived a day early in the mistaken belief the traffic would be less of a trial, that we would find somewhere to camp that was level, that we would wake up bouncing. Instead, the queues at Ringwood and on the A31 were soul pureeing, as was the long wait in the lanes before we could get on site. Three hours from London door to Dorset sounds pretty good, until you add on another two just waiting in the car in the middle of an MOD firing range.
While my useful teenager is in Nice, enjoying all the Riviera has to offer, my middle one decided to assume the role of autocrat. She issued orders and stropped about everything. The location, how late we were and how it was my fault, the insects, the noise, the gravitional pull of the valley where the loos are lined up.. I nearly brained her. And were we bouncing when we woke? Were we f*ck. She was freezing and “covered in disgusting spiders! Get ‘em off, get ‘em off..” (we are talking the titchy money variety). “Honestly, noone understands my phobia!”
Everything seemed to be monumentally difficult, from hauling water up the hill to slithering down it for a pee. Eventually we get our sorry asses up and out and wander off un-bouncing to find the utopia we remembered from previous years.
And you know what, it did eventually reveal itself. Slowly we relaxed and gave in to the cost of everything. It was once we’d abandoned hope of self catering beyond a cup of tea and a bowl of cereal, that things go easier. That and learning to accept that there was no mobile signal so all plans to meet up with chums or to go our separate ways are rendered hopeless if you can’t text. No worries then on that score. If I bump into one of my children I have discovered that it is a bonus.
I thought the River Cafe Canteen was going to be a stuck up, over-priced vanity tent but sitting at a long table with the cheapest, tastiest cup of coffee I’ve tracked down, grubby face turned to the sun, was heavenly.
And I’d begun the event by being disappointed about the lack of effort the newcomers had made in decorating their tents and getting dressed up. Bloody dilettantes. Don’t they know that effort is required. Certainly the first year was the most exuberent with the wonderland theme allowing for some fabulous costumes including Mad Hatters and Cheshire Cats and guys in Alice frocks and gals dressed as Tweedledum. I will never forget listening to the bickering of a same sex couple from behind the zip of the tent, about who was going to carry the money, and then being utterly surprised to see two bright pink flamingos emerge and trudge off towards the Castle Field.
But by Saturday night, this year’s Medieval theme began to show itself in the form of friars and Tudor queens, a plethora of knights, some bishops, a gang of Grand Inquisitors, along with some historically confused viking and cavemen. Others prefered their own themes. Though it is fairly disturbing watching a fully made up clown come out of the compost toilets doing up his giant trousers.
The music has been great – my pair had long since stopped squabbling and pushed their way to the front of Ed Sheerhan’s show in the Big Top - the mood has been fantastic. The entertainment for families and children is excellent with a vast cut-out and snip up making marquee, shows on various wee stages, high-wire walking, drum workshops; the sublime House of Fairy Tales where we were disconcerted by the sight of an extremely chilled Keith Allen reclining under lanterns, his face made up like a sleeping tiger. Every day we discover an area we didn’t know existed. There are even cash machines!
After three days yelling at the children has been replaced by yelling “Bogies!” across the valley to the tents on the otherside. Everybody has given up trying too hard. The kids are filthy, the parents are drunk, the bass line is relentless. It is tremendous fun.
Tomorrow, we pack up and return. It is then, as we approach London that we ask ourselves more truthfully, what fresh hell is this?