Belfast Telegraph

Friday 19 December 2014

Forget the Med, I'm having a field day closer to home

We are stuck in grey mud. Mud the colour of long-dead flesh, gelatinous ooze that sucks you down to your knees, wants to take you slowly under to Hades.

For a minute you almost surrender to the warm, cosy thought of where it might take you. Above ruinous black clouds disgorge more huge globules of chilling water.

Raindrops do not do justice to the malevolence of what they are. You can't hear yourself think as the deluge batters on the pathetic, flapping waterproofs you have for cover. Across the field shadowy outlines of hundreds of other humans stumble about seeking shelter. Across the way a vehicle is being pulled out of a swamp by a tractor as it attempts an early escape from this hell.

In the distance a boom, boom, boom can be heard, sometimes soft, sometimes loud, as it gets buffeted on the raging wind. Sleep has been a stranger for days. And it's absolutely bloody marvellous.

For three years running we've put ourselves through it and I wouldn't have it any other way. Keep your south of Frances and your Corfus and the heat that burns a hole in your head. A field in Suffolk shared by 40,000 others is where I want to be.

Latitude Festival it's called and it's an endurance test of dodgy weather, unspeakable latrines, experimental psychology with a side-serving of brilliant (mostly) music, comedy, poetry and theatre.

We are in full Festival season swing and don't let anyone tell you it's losing its grip on the imaginations of the people of these isles.

Uniquely in the world, thousands of us want to spend our holidays facing the worst our awful summers can throw at us, being squeezed into fields with people we don't know, and probably wouldn't like, accepting hygiene standards not seen since the Somme.

For what? I've had plenty of time to ponder this queuing for the disgusting loos, or for an overpriced pint in that field in Suffolk over the last three years. I think it's to do with the rhythm of life.

Cooped up in an office for the rest of the year, The Man over your shoulder, the tyranny of the alarm clock ever present, what better way to throw off the shackles than spend four days in a field, a parallel town in its own right, where there are different rules and where time's iron grip is thrown off?

You can see it in the rain-streaked faces of the shopgirls, labourers and lawyers walking about in dodgy festival garb and multicoloured wellies.

It's a child-like smile that comes when the rules and responsibilities of life are temporarily lifted. It's the pleasure of knowing the only pressure on you is planning a day of discovery.

Okay, Rufus Wainwright in the main arena at lunchtime, Howler in the "yeah-we're-pretty-cutting-edge" alternative stage in the woods and then Paul Weller on the main stage, or The Horrors on the other stage at 10pm. Wait a minute, you don't really think I would have chosen the Modfather and his meat and potatoes rock do you? How dare you.

This new pace of life starts the moment we climb into our old VW camper van and begin our 180-mile journey.

The lovely old thing can only do about 55mph. At first I long to be back in the outside lane with the rest of the saloons, but in time I come to love being overtaken by ice-cream vans, studying the roadside flora and fauna, unstressed by all that overtaking and tailgating middle-lane hoggers.

It's deliciously relaxing. And in those three years I've had the time to watch my two sons grow up from uncertain teens who camped alongside the VW to race-at-life young men who head for fields afar as soon as we arrive to get up to what I suppose I would half-like to be getting up to if I wasn't too old. You don't ask, by the way.

And when the sun comes out, as it sometimes does, the joy of that rare warmth has you lifting your hands and face to the sky, like a hippie at the solstice.

So next year is it the Med, or the rain-soaked meadow? No contest.

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