We’ve all seen them, the young family at the music festival, all floaty and serene, who appear to be having it all. Who says having a baby means the end of your music festival days they seem to be saying, the smug bastards.
Quite. Well that was us yesterday. We chose the most middle aged festival to attend, Radio 2 Live in Hyde Park, the “festival in a day”, largely because of Status Quo who for some inexplicable reason Willy Wonka likes to blast at full volume to excite his two sons at bedtime. Other acts such as Paloma Faith, Tom Jones and Jesse J were up too.
I had chosen to wear all white cotton, unusual for me who normally favours uncomfortable, poorly-fitting black, in an attempt to remain cool for the forecast heat. Think voluminous white tunic with white pedal pushers underneath (Willy Wonka cruelly started singing the Hare Krishna mantra to me on our way home). For a fleeting moment, I was that floaty mother, dancing around with her two cherubic sons, pausing to put one in a carrier to allow him to sleep or to read the other one a bedtime story in his buggy. To those glancing over, they would have thought we had it all.
We had a ruddy nightmare.
Mistake 1: Dropping into Willy Wonka’s uncle on the way and picking up a gorgeous hand-me-down wooden car garage for BUB.1. All day, after every song: “Yay! Can we go home now and play with the garage?”. Every song. All day.
Mistake 2: Sitting too far back. On arrival we spent about 20 minutes arguing about location, location, location. I quite rightly needed quick access to loos, food and the exit, and room to move about. Ideally, I wanted several other children around us for playmates. Willy Wonka wanted the “wow factor”, a more central position and somewhere we could at least make out the artists on the stage. I sort of won, apart from there were no children around us. It was only four hours later, shortly before Jesse J came on stage and when people started to move forward, that we upped sticks and found ourselves something closer to the stage. We then started to enjoy ourselves, because we felt like we were actually at the event, for about ten minutes.
Mistake 3: Thinking a sticker book, some crayons and some toy cars would keep the boys amused for seven hours in one spot listening to songs they neither knew nor cared for. Lots of festivals have fairgrounds and children’s play areas for the daytime. That is because they are necessary. One hundred percent necessary. We didn’t see many kids at yesterday’s festival – yes there were a few other buggies and some older children. But taking two toddlers was a little bit of a mistake.
Mistake 4: Wearing white. Chocolate ice cream, beef noodles and orange crisp dust conspired to make me look like a bit of a dickhead.
Don’t get me wrong, the children were amazing. BUB.1 happily queued with me for fifteen minutes for the port-a-loo, danced, got excited by the lasers and Status Quo and put himself in his buggy when he was tired, covered himself in a blanket and tried unsuccessfully to nod off. BUB.2 was smiling most of the day and even slept in the Ergo carrier on us both, in turns. But they weren’t happy. And we tried unsuccessfully to make them happy all day. And that of course meant that we weren’t really happy.
We finally left during Tom Jones’s closing set, before he’d even sung Delilah or It’s not Unusual. We decided waiting 45 more minutes and then trying to get on the tube to North London to pick up our car was bordering on child cruelty. As it was BUB.1 didn’t actually go to sleep until he got in the car at 10.30pm. He’s only three, and the effect of that the next day is grim for everyone.
A friend of mine and I used to have a phrase we used when the subject of music festivals came up. It was simply F*** festivals. Because even as a single person, they can be frustrating, boring, unfulfilling and exhausting. The last festival I went to in Sydney, when I was footloose and fancy free, saw me and a few friends slope off to a quiet, crowd-free wine bar hours before it was due to finish. My time was up. And I think that was in 2006.
And yet I can’t let it lie. However ridiculous it makes me look. Last year we took our two to Lollibop festival in Regent’s Park, a festival for kids (i.e. The ZingZillas and Rastamouse were headlining). It rained, there was nothing for our very small kids to do (3 months old and 2 years old) and Willy Wonka spent 45 minutes queuing for a chorizo sausage sandwich with roasted peppers which he promptly dropped as we ran for shelter.
And to think I almost persuaded him that we should, as a family, perhaps camp at a festival this year. What is WRONG with me? I know people do it. I know. But I now know that one of you would surely have to go back to the tent at 7pm when the kids got tired. Imagine pulling that straw.
I think the lesson is that if you see a family at a festival, dancing and looking happy, you’re not seeing the whole story. And that if you insist on persevering with the notion that you can have it all AND you have very tiny ones, do your research, make sure the festival has lots of stuff for kids or leave them with a babysitter. Or go with a group of other people with kids. Or at least don’t expect to stay until the headline act.
Or quite simply, to f*** festivals. Once and for all.