At my first ever festival, a drunk/stoned/whatever man who had come with normal hair and left with a pink Mohican accused his girlfriend of cheating on him with me.
They were 18.
I was 11.
I can’t reel off many anecdotes from festivals. The only drug I’ve ever taken is alcohol, and surprisingly never (to the best of my knowledge) at a festival, so I can’t tell you about wild drug-fuelled raids on tents or raving and pissing myself at the front of an act I absolutely hated. No, my festival experiences have been completely different. They have always been about the people.
At one point, in my dark teenage years, I had quite a big friend group with one thing in common: we all went to the same festival. It’s tough to explain those years without sounding attention seeking. Hmm, I’m going to try, I think to explain what that means to me we have to explore the context.
It is likely I’m deluded, paranoid and sensitive; however, I always look back at my young self as self-conscious and shy. Where I didn’t struggle to make friends, I certainly had problems keeping them. I’m quite approachable and nice at first, but get to know me and I had a way of putting people off. I’m loud, annoying and talk too much, usually about myself.
I had friend groups at school, but I never thought of myself as being at the centre of them. I flitted between many, having one or two close friends but nobody I could really call at three in the morning while I was suffering from one of my many periods of self-doubt and destruction, and only one I could be my true self around. For the record, that one I would still describe as my closest friend.
To be fair to the others, I never helped myself. I helped form a fairly large group of friends in high school, then started running around the playground screaming “lemons”. I’m not sure why I found that funny. At the beginning of college, everyone formed friends with their own school groups. Given that the story above seems to suggest I’d pissed everyone off from my school, I had a chance to start again. I started hanging out with some other people, and genuinely quite liked them. Until I stopped being with them, instead spending time with my girlfriend. When the relationship ended, the damage was done and I was forever more an outsider to that group.
Queue spending second year getting fat and being a bad vegetarian by eating pizza and Haribo while drinking cherry coke every lunchtime with no exercise. That is if I even went to college. I was in such a bad place during my second year of college that I would have found any excuse not to show my face. And yet I still had friends, I was just convinced they didn’t like me.
The paranoia wasn’t completely unfounded, to defend myself. People had told me in the past that friend groups move on, by which they meant I was no longer included. Others had stopped inviting me places and a certain group of people had constantly moaned about me behind my back. But was it as bad as I made out? I think we all have a God-complex, we all think everything is about ourselves, as much as we hate to admit it. The truth is people probably didn’t give two flying monkeys about me. Regardless, the feeling that no-one likes me once they get to know me has stuck throughout my life, to the point where I drove Emma mad telling her she’d dump me as soon as she worked out who I really was.
The solution, in my eyes, was really quite simple. But before that, let’s establish a time line. I didn’t go every year, but from when I was 11 to the year I had begun my relationship with Emma, I went to the same festival most summers. I was 20 when I met Emma, and I think I only missed one, so I’d make that eight summers, eight festivals.
I can tell you straight off the bat that the first four weren’t memorable for much but it got more exciting between the years 2008-2011 when this friend group I referenced way back when formed.
So the solution? Be friends with people who only see you for one weekend a year. The downside is obvious, the aching longing to see them again, the only people, at dark, dark times, I felt actually liked me. But the upside is that they never got to know me. They never learned to hate me.
In a nutshell, that’s what festivals meant to me. It was a place where I genuinely had friends, and I got pretty close to one or two of them. It was a place where I could be as loud, as crazy as I wanted to be because, let’s be honest here, everyone else was exactly the same. It probably, and here comes my dark side again, meant a lot more to me than it ever did to them but it meant a hell of a lot to me.I still take an interest in their lives, even though I don’t talk to any of them anymore. The joys of Facebook, ey?
I still take an interest in their lives, even though I don’t talk to any of them anymore. The joys of Facebook, ey?
But having said all that, my favourite festival was the one I went to with Emma alone. That was the best festival in terms of music, but also because I was with someone who genuinely loved me and I didn’t feel like I had to pretend. I even remember the argument we had while walking back from Ben Howard, soaked in rain and mud, with fondness.