I was warned. I was told when I left London at the arse crack of morning last Saturday, that the Midlands were expecting monsoons, storms, tropical lightning and apocalyptic rainstorms, that the clouds would retch gun metal grey and I would be sodden to the skin, but it wasn’t as if I had a choice.
At some point in the last decade people stopped having hen nights. The hen night was a five hour affair, bookended with hairspray and canapes at the start, and woeful regret and vomit at the end. It’s genius was in its brevity. It started out with glitter and champagne expectations and dovetailed neatly into self-hate and fallouts, tears and taxis, all by 2am. Then you could go home, drink some water, sleep it off and wake up in your life again. But then the rules changed. Everything has got bigger. Now, to salute a singleton as she sails on to the choppy waters of marriage, you have to spend a whole weekend doing it. If the bill comes in at under £500 then you win a prize. You have to leave London and go overseas or to a country town that no one has any associations with and sit wearing a fruit-based facepack with fourteen other women you don’t know. You have to go to a series of cocktail bars in Sofia, Bulgaria and take your top off. No one knows anyone. There is no escape. EasyJet scoot you in and you’re stuck in a new social life with strangers and you’re suddenly holding the ponytail of a Chartered Surveyor from Harpenden out of her way whilst she throws up following a drunken lap dancing class in Reykjavik. How did we get to this? It’s untenable. 48 hours is too long, dear readers, to be socially nice. You could do this if you only went on your hen night with, say, your four best friends, but that isn’t how the hen night / weekend operates. You clutter together all the rank & file without a thought as to who would like who and force them to spend 48hrs in a Latvian hill town being nice to one another.
To be honest, I’m surprised there wasn’t more of a body count where I went. It was not Worcestershire ( as I had previously suspected) but Warwickshire, and it was not really a music festival so much as a bloated village fete with a bit where you could get your feet done and make an organic candle. It was not summer, it was more like February, and the green English grass was not the green English grass we have come to know and love but rather a slippery rink of what appeared to be six inches of chicken liver pate, spread out on a forest floor, upon which Brummies in ponchos would suddenly fall down on, with their plastic glasses of local cider spinning up in the air and eventually landing on top of them. It was a mud bath. It was MudGate. It was the SOMME.
Now, I am not really averse to the great outdoors. Many people think I am allergic to the English countryside. I am not. I like it, but I only like it if it is prepared to be civil and humane to me. If it is not prepared to bequeath good weather and pleasantries, I will not respond in a pleasant manner. I shall become surly, distasteful, teary and unhappy. The problem with Friday night / Saturday day was that a month’s worth of rain fell in about ten minutes, and this is not the ideal overture to a weekend camping at a festival. The issue with me is the older I get (she typed through rheumatic fingers) the more I become wedded to the joys of bathing, resting and pampering as a way of life. Only in my late 30s have I become dull enough to extol the joys of a very chilled glass of white wine in a hot bath after a turgid day in the office. Only now do I retire for a “nap” at 2pm, to wake up at 3.30pm feeling ten years younger. When I am stressed or unhappy I dye my hair, cover myself in expensive body creams, and tweezer the hairs out of the front of my big toe. Feeling pampered and sleeping are my medicines. Seriously, I can sleep for hours. Sometimes without waking up.
Imagine my horror, dear readers, when the email arrived in my inbox. The hen weekend originally was going to take place in Cheltenham. I could have done Cheltenham. We were going to have spas in this spa town – and we were going to stay in a house – which had a roof, floors, walls and windows. I wouldn’t have wanted to cry in Cheltenham. But I did want to cry when the jolly title of “Music Festival!!” landed with a depressing plonking sound in my mid-April inbox. But I put a really optimistic face on it: it was a folk festival and that was fine – I loved late 60s music. I have loved drinking heavily in the great outdoors. I had an image in my head : us girls, all happily and glowing with rude outdoor health, sitting around a boisterous campfire with mugs of hot chocolate and toasting marshmallows. I could do that! This would be great!
It wasn’t. The worst part was that the mud operates as a glue. If you stand still for too long in festival mud you become rooted to the ground like a tree, which means if you try to walk your top half sort of careers about for a second of its own accord and then you fall down splat into the ground. The mud, also, has its own agenda. It gets into your hair and under your nails and inside your ears and up your nose. It floats in the top of plastic glasses of drink. Eventually, after a day or two of people dropping drinks in it, themselves in it and urinating constantly in it, it starts to stink. It smells of rotting festival corpses and rotten poo. It smells like the fourteenth century. That is because you are basically living in the fourteenth century.
So, dear readers, just what did this Bluebird do until 2am?
I slid about on mud, and then we sat in a Shisha bar with a load of other hen parties illegally decanting boxes of wine into Evian bottles. We ate some falafel and played hen games before buying pale blue plastic ponchos to protect us from the heavy onslaught of rain. A woman dressed as a hare gave me a broad bean coated with glitter. Later, a folk hero came on to do a set but his songs were so slow that many people dozed off. Ratty-haired children start getting unkempt and cross by 9pm, and the tin cans of gin and tonic, which we had illegally sneaked into the festival area, were piling up in rows by the bins. There is a horrid sense of torpor – everyone wandering about with nowhere particular to go, standing staring at someone knitting, considering whether to have that fifth falafel and pitta combo of the festival. I even considered going home with the two, startled looking young mums, who had to rush back to Hertfordshire and toddlers. They said I’d want to come back with them in the car and not stay over by God, they were right, but I just felt I couldn’t do it. I had to do my duty, stick with it and get trench foot. The nightclubs started up at 11pm, with an Alice in Wonderland theme, where festival goers were jollying themselves up with rabbits ears and squirrels tails. But despite aiming for Victoriana psychodelia, it felt a bit like Beatrix Potter Hour at the local One O Clock Club. Festooned in fun-fur tails, very drunk men sidled up to you in that inherently creepy way that only men use at 1.30am pissed up in a forest and ask – with their bodies – whether your dance card is filled. Have you ever had Squirrel Nutkin try to get off with you? A lady with floppy rabbits ears hoisted her jumpsuited self on the DJ stage and mimed drumming out the techno beats of the music by pretending her hand was the drumstick. The problem was she pretended the bridesmaid-to-be’s head was the drum kit, repeatedly smashing her on the skull and having such a good time before a chap dressed as a gerbil arrived on the scene and carted her away. Most of the men who quite fancied the idea of jumping up onto the DJ stage, and thereby piggy-backing on some of the glory that belongs, rightly, to the DJ who is actually working and exhibiting a great amount of technical flourish, used the opportunity to indicate that somewhere on their bodies, beneath the woodland costume, they actually had penises. They did this by thrusting their pelvises about, so impressed were they to have a penis that they reminded us – four times every musical bar – that it was there. This was mildly interesting as I hadn’t realised that men had these wondrous things between their legs before. Men aren’t obsessed with their willies so I’d never noticed. So this was quite an insight. Did you know men had penises? A penis! How clever of them to grow one.
The “glamping” element of the camping turned out to be something of an expensive farce. One of the hens sharing my tent was a seasoned festival goer who said this certainly didn’t seem like £70 per head glamping (£280 per tent) by her Glastonbury-esque standards. There were no lights and no power sockets and no insulation, which kind of defeated the whole point. We did have memory foam mattresses however, but this was a shame – because anyone who had this experience would want to wipe it from their memory forever, and it seemed unfair that the mattresses were destined to cling onto it for eternity. There was a stained cushion and a series of very angry, unhappy looking fairy lights. I blinked out from under my dripping pale blue plastic poncho, yearning for simplicity, warmth, a towel and food that didn’t come with organic hummus. I unpacked pyjamas and sleeping bag on arrival and when returning to the camp site at 2am they too had turned against me : damp, cold and practically screeching at me “HOW could you bring me here? I am from Marks & Spencers, usually we sit together, you and I on the sofa, eating Green & Blacks and watching Mad Men. We have always got on. You asked so little of me – you just wore me in bed under the duvet. And NOW you’ve brought me to here. I SHALL NEVER FORGIVE YOU”. It was that kind of weekend. My mental state so fragile that I was convinced my pyjamas had an opinion. And I wasn’t even on drugs.
The country estate which had (with an almost bovine stupidity) lent their lovely grounds to the festival was being slowly decimated. Circus acts and Hunter wellingtons destroyed the lawns. Pizza boxes and empty vodka bottles scattered the ground outside tents. And this is the main problem I have : from the beginning of the booking process the festival organisers were encouraging carpooling, using public transport, advocating kindness to the environment and forcing us to care. But from the moment you step over the wooden threshold in to this carnage of capitalism, which you have paid vast sums of money to attend, the festival make it apparent they care so very little about the environment they have been given that they destroy it. There were no recycling services, or any reminders to take litter away with us. Everything was dumped. Stalls propped up in the grass now being brow-beaten out of existence by 2,000 pairs of wellington boots. (How long will it take for the grass to recover? Three, six months?) How careless the whole thing felt.
The further problem is that they treat you with contempt. You only have to look at the toilet facilities to realise this. If I paid £200 to eat in a restaurant I would be treated with some civility and the loos would probably flush. They probably wouldn’t consist of a floor of poo, blood, old tampons and new sick. They probably would have loo paper. They probably wouldn’t have no lighting, which means that if I visited a restaurant toilet at night, I would not have to grope my way to the seat, negotiating the pools of vomit, urine and menstrual blood to get to it. But if you pay £200 for a festival ticket / camp hire etc etc you are treated like a piece of crap. And this matters. Because there aint no point arranging a caring, sharing sort of festival vibe with healing workshops if you’re making people shit in debasing circumstances. You see, you can’t have it both ways. Either you decide to treat people with humanity, whilst you kindly offer a reflexology session to support their lymphatic drainage system, or you make it clear you are a bastard organisation who is not only going to treat people like shit, but make them sit in it as well.
Of course, we got wise. Their was a children’s farm up the road, where the animals were far more honest than the festival organisers and where they had proper loos. Eventually we went there for a poo and a think instead. But, it was a long walk just for a little poo. The field we slept in was, unfortunately, next to the field where a fetid nightclub, consisting of a floor made from mud and a clientele made from pills and narcissism, banged its music out until 3.30am. When 3.30am rolled around I was stuck in the confines of by £12 Argos sleeping bag (more nylon than a shellsuit and twice as prone to emanating electric shocks) hoping for sleep so I could wake up and go home and the whole unfortunate episode could be over, but alas, our neighbours at tent no 41 threw some kind of cocktail party soiree, that indecently went on until about 5 in the morning, which was about an hour before a cockerel crowed and some bitch lambs in the other field started bleating. I could have wept for home.
I shall never camp again.
But my gratefulness for home and hearth brought me close to tears when I crossed over the threshold. Hot water! Our flat has waterproof walls! “I’m so glad to be home!” I shouted at Mr Bluebird from inside the shower where I was shampooing my hair for the fourth time and joyously lathering up my fetid, mud-flecked self.
So, what have I learned from my glamping experience?:
1.Take your own loo paper
2. Take your own sanitiser for hands
3. Take wellington boots
4. Don’t wear jeans – they get coated with mud. Wear skirt over bare legs.
5. Take baby wipes / facial wipes
6. Take a camping stove
7. Take bottled water
8. Take a disposable camera. They are watertight and mud-resistant and Facebook resistant (you won’t be looking your best, trust me)
9. Use a big shoulder bag or rucksack. You do NOT want to be picking up and carrying a suitcase across an acre of land to the campsite
10. Pack all the above into aforementioned shoulder bag, then change your mind and stay at home.
Please return to The London Bluebird if you enjoyed this. The blog is updated every other Thursday so we look forward to seeing you on Thursday 26th June. Thank you x