Wednesday, 5 August 2009

My festival experience

Let’s be honest here… I’m nearly 50. I live a pretty comfortable cosseted existence. I have a nice bed to sleep in every night, a very nice house, my car has air con etc. When I travel it’s normally in good quality, i.e. I don’t fly budget and I don’t hitchhike. I like train travel as well. I normally stay overnight in hotels… roughing it would be a Travelodge normally :-) Something without en-suite is a very uncommon occurrence for me. I am a wuss – there you go.

So I’m not equipped for sleeping under canvas in a sleeping bag in a field with a load of other people in tents.

I ended up going to Sonisphere a bit unplanned, simply a week before my son was going with someone else then suddenly not and he very much wanted me to go with him instead. That was very nice of him I have to say and given I’d bought the tickets as a birthday present his reciprocating knowing I’d love to see many of the bands on the bill was a great gesture. However from the start I was not looking forward to the camping.

Friday – we packed all into the rucksacks – my son having a huge one that he has used on expeditions before. Me with a more day sack type thing packed with my clothes. We went by train, largely as my son already has his tickets booked and I thought it all part of the “experience”. We got into the family campsite headed to the back away from the road and toilets and pitched the tent. Well my son did – I held things on occasion as he is the expert of many scout trips and knows this stuff backwards. A two man tent! This thing looked only marginally bigger than the coffin I’m planning to order myself! But my head is going “stick with it, it’ll be okay”.

So sometime after midnight on Friday we head to the tent and somehow manage to get ourselves in and ready for the night ahead. Well first the disco sponsored by an energy drinks company as a clear stunt to sell more of their product to those that wanted to party all night was thumping away but the earplugs helped a bit. But the claustrophobia of the tent, the heat and the crampedness in the sleeping bag did not. I had a terrible night. I now realise my normal sleeping position is virtually in the foetal position. Try doing that in a sleeping bag! Also in a tent next to your son who is crammed in as well. He tried to explain you can only sleep in one position – get into it and stay there. Well I don’t I roll about etc. Nightmare! I was drifting in and out of sleep. Then somewhere in the middle of the night I woke up, hot, disorientated, uncomfortable as my wriggling had meant the zip of the sleeping bag was under me jamming into me and no doubt the reason I woke, the roof was almost on top of me, I couldn’t breath, I was having a mild panic attack. At that precise moment I just wanted to get out the tent and walk off into the distance. The only thing that stopped me was the moment of sense saying “Where to?”. I breathed hard and stayed with it.

When we rolled out the tent at 7am on the Saturday my son knew it was not going well – there is bonding and there is bonding… :-) I had had some rational thought in the hours of crap sleep the night before and we headed off to the camping supplies store up the other end of the site. My son selected the cheapest double skinned two man tent and I gladly purchased it. He pitched it next to his in double quick time. Again he was my life saver as there were no instructions and I wouldn’t have had a clue what to do! Now at least we had more space and the one I had had a taller roof which helped my claustrophobia tendencies. I also listened to the advice of – “Get in, get into one position and stay with it”. Saturday night was much better. Sunday okay although my son was so asleep that night I failed to rouse him first attempt on Monday and he only appeared when I was already back with breakfast.

Here’s tip for anyone reading this who needs to recruit torture hardened professionals… you know the army, secret services etc. Most torture things I’ve seen go on about people being made to stand up for long periods of time, sleep deprivation, playing loud music and them and then pouring water on them. I’ve just spent a weekend doing that and paid for the privilege! If you want people who after a couple of days of torture simply smile and their torturers and ask for more you should set up a recruitment stall at the next Sonisphere festival!

The weather on Saturday was okay until about 6pm when the drizzle started but quickly it was a downpour and we donned our full waterproofs which were pretty successful. But I left a crease in my right trouser leg at the bottom and as we moved off at some point the puddle in it went straight into my boot. Bugger! That led directly no doubt to two blisters I’m struggling with now. Always keep your feet dry.

So would I do it again? NO! Sorry the music was great but next time I think if I planned to attend something like this it’d be as a day ticket holder with my car in the car park and a reservation at a nearby hotel. My son on the other hand is meeting his old scouting pal today and I think planning a walking and camping trek in Scotland or Wales before they return to uni in Sept. Good luck to him!

One final comment – on the journey home my son had on his walking boots, combat camo shorts, Iron Maiden tee-shirt, his “metal shades” and this huge backpack complete with tent and roll mat strapped on it. He is 6ft tall and has longish hair and is sort of growing a metal style beard – with limited success to be honest :-) It amused me to see the looks he got from some travellers in London as we headed onto the tube, simply people looking to not be in his way etc. Funny how just the appearance of someone can completely set some prejudice – he is one of the brightest brains at uni in his subject at the moment and one of the kindest, loyal and gentlest people you could ever meet. It amused me anyway seeing these people’s look of dislike/distrust. Don’t judge a book by the cover and all that.

Are you still out there Knebworth?!!


  1. What a fantastic write up.
    Festival camping is very hit and miss and it's more miss the older you get I reckon.
    I still enjoy the odd bout of roughing it though. As long as there's some form of shower facility at the site then I'll be happy.
    Which bands did you get to see?

  2. how fab you got to go with your son...but a tent, stick pins in my eyes will you thats more fun!!LOL

    great post!!

  3. Ist... you should read the other post below on the music review...

  4. A TENT????

    Noooo... not happening.

    I laughed out loud at 'disco'.

    If you don't understand why, I'm certainly not explaining :-)

  5. Wow! I really admire you for this... I'm 42 now, and have been doing festivals since my teens, but long gone are the days of sleeping in a tent for me! I hated it in my teens and twenties let alone now. Roughing it has never had any apeal to me. In my 30's a VW camper was installed at Piley Towers, and we don't do any fest without it these days!!

    Just out of interest, did anyone start shouting "Boll**ks" at about 5 in the morning? They always did when I was camping at fests!! It's funny aparently??!!

    Good write up!


  6. Piley - there is progress in the world.... it is now "Buttscratcher" that is the word to be shouted in the quiet. I'm glad I had earplugs with me

  7. That last bit, about value judgement, well it is so true, and something to remember and try to conquer, don't you think?

    Although you didn't enjoy it, it must have been great to be away with your son. I bet there's not a lot of Dads about that would do that! You will always have the memories, even if they are grim!!

  8. Sounds like a "best of times, worst of times" scenario.

    At most, you and your boy will never forget it.

  9. Enjoyed reading the review - and the values statement at the end.
    As a 46 year old that went to Sonisphere (and Download) with my son and step daughter I loved the whole experience - the camping is as much a part of it as the bands. After a big gap from early Monsters of Rock visits things have certainly improved. The organisation and facilities have moved on tremendously.
    My last visit to Knebworth was 30 years ago for Led Zeppelin!
    Never to old to rock and roll - maybe not so for camping.

  10. i never go anywhere my laptop can't get wifi! That would truly be roughing it!

  11. I bet your son sees you in a whole new light now though!

    It's true how people - and i include myself in that - judge others by appearance even when we think we're non-judgmental.