Updated: Aug 5, 2019
‘You can’t change your mind now because I’ve paid for it. Are you sure you want to go?’
I take another sip of wine and watch the credits for Graham Norton scroll up the screen. I’m tired and I really ought to go to bed. If I could be bothered to get up and find my glasses, I would check the advice leaflet again on the medication I am taking to see whether red wine is listed as one of the things I should not take with the tablets. It might say something about alcohol making you feel less alert than usual but I am pretty sure it doesn’t mention Pinot Noir at all.
I try to break down what my wife has just said. My teacher head (it’s always on me and, before you rush to judgement, no, I don’t usually mix teaching with Pinot Noir – white wine only at break time as red makes my lips stain) spots that there is a statement before the question. Something about not changing my mind... What did I agree to while the other celebrities fawned over Sir Tom Cruise or whoever we were watching? Whatever it was, it must be bad because she says:
‘It’s a lot of money but it will be worth it.’
Hmmm... this is definitely ominous. It all needs a bit of thought and I’m not quite sure I can do that at this stage of a Friday night. A lot of information is coming my way so perhaps a bag of crisps might help sober me up a little. I’m pretty sure there is nothing on the medication advice about mixing snacks. If I could just get enough energy to get up...
‘They haven’t announced the full line up yet but George Ezra is definitely going to be on.’
Confusing... I thought Graham Norton had finished. She must be talking about next week’s episode.
‘And glamping is different from camping.’
Surely, if you mix Graham and camping, it’s called ‘gramping’?
‘The luxury pod pads are really quite comfortable.’
Now, I am confused but I.T. has never been my strong point. Hauling myself out of the chair and searching the cupboard for crisps (I say ‘search’ – they fall off of the over-stocked shelf labelled Danger of Heart Attack and onto my head – cheese and onion it is, then), I return to clarify what I have agreed to. ‘Munch, crunch, munch,’ I say.
‘It’s three nights. There are posh showers and toilets, they provide linen, decks chairs and a table, and I think there is electricity in the pod pad. Yes...’ she checks the screen, ‘... plus other areas to charge your phone and straighten your hair.’
Straighten my hair? What is it I’ve agreed to that’s going to make it, first of all, grow and then turn it curly? Maybe this could be good after all!
‘In the standard ones they don’t provide linen or the chairs. Not sure about electricity for those. Anyway, it doesn’t matter because I’ve paid for it now. Are you sure you want to go?’
Yes. Apparently, I do.
Over the coming months, I get regular reassurances about the Latitude Festival weekend: It’s going to be great. It doesn’t always rain. The comedy tent is always good. It’s only an hour and a half away (the toilet or the festival?!) Snow Patrol have pulled out (Okay, I’ll definitely come). And I find myself looking forward to it. It’s a chance to listen to some great music, relax, have a couple of drinks, eat food, spend time with my wife and generally have a good time. I’m lucky to have the opportunity to go.
July 19th arrives and we wend our way to Southwold, Suffolk. We park in the official car park in Norfolk and get out the car where we are immediately accosted by a friendly guy who wants to give me a high five. It turns into a low five request for money – a charity donation towards the Buddhist society which we politely refuse. If they think I am going to spend a minute of my time sitting on an uncomfortable floor in a boiling hot tent in contemplation about how to overcome suffering, they’ve got another think coming!
It takes a good ½ hour to walk to our campsite which is pretty near to the main arena. We are given the keys to number 54 by Karl, a friendly chap and a newbie to this festival, he explains. I want to ask him where we are staying and why they have dog kennels on site if dogs are not allowed. He opens the door to number 54 and reveals a double bed, duvet and pillows and it’s then I clock that these must be for the celebrities’ pampered pooches. My suspicions are confirmed when I see a plastic packet with an eye mask and ear plugs. You must get fed up with all that noise and flashing lights when you are on tour with the Stereophonics. Dogs need a break too.
‘Have a great time,’ Karl says and then leaves us with a cheery wave.
‘I thought you said they were like beach huts!’ I remark to my wife who is busy working out whether the ‘luxury in-built entertainment electricity regeneration facility’ (dodgy port for a car-charger) works or not.
‘From a distance, they are. In reality, they are more like dog kennels. Did I forget to mention that?’
One major advantage is that, if I peer over the top of our kennel, I can easily see the toilets and shower block just 20 metres away. That’s a result, at least, providing I don’t trip over Kelly Jones’ Cocker Spaniel taking a leak against our hut in the middle of the night.
We unpack our things and then repack them as we realise there is nowhere to put anything. I am against cat-swinging in principle but, if it were a politically correct pastime, the cat would have to be a very small Manx to limit the arc. It might work with a normal cat if the roof was off. This becomes a distinct possibility as I stand up and nearly raise it several inches with my head. Next to the bed is our designated floor space, already fully occupied by one of my shoes. There goes my idea of inviting ‘the band’ back for a party at ours tonight.
We are soon in full festival mode as we head down to the arena. The place is alive en route with very excited families, youngsters post GCSE and A-levels and other people of all ages and from all walks of life. It’s great (as predicted by my wife). There are stalls all the way down to the main entrance selling chairs, blanket and umbrellas, food, drink, clothes, braids for hair, temporary tattoos, face paints and anything else you could possibly need for a festival. At the gate, our wristbands are checked and our bags searched. My rucksack is hardly glanced into. I am slightly offended; they obviously don’t see me as a prime candidate for smuggling drugs or drink in. Now I wish I hadn’t spent all that money on being transformed into a caftan wearing blue-haired tiger with ‘I Love My Mum’ tattooed on both arms.
We spend the first few hours just finding our way around the arenas and soaking up the atmosphere. The food stalls are amazing – such a great variety and we will find over the next few days that all of it is excellent quality. There are hydration points in the form of water stops and dehydration points in the form of bars. An Argentine wine bar pleases us (a poor selection of wine and beer for sale at the main bars is the only slight disappointment of the weekend – Latitude: take note about tying yourself into one main distributor, please). Young kids are being pulled around in carts and we have a soppy moment of regret at not bringing our own here when they were younger. That is until the witching hour strikes at 7pm when the kids are next to the carts and on the floor complaining about the noise. It’s not a problem for us: there is plenty to do here for the children, mainly, in the areas we are not.
There’s a jazz tent and we head over to it. I love trad jazz. We get within a few metres and do a swift about turn as we hear the Year 4s rehearsing for their end of year performance to parents. It’s modern jazz. I hate modern jazz. But that’s the thing at these festivals. If you don’t like something, you just go somewhere else. Over the coming days, there are many opportunities to broaden our musical experiences by listening to artists we would never normally listen to (and then, swiftly, going somewhere else). On the last day, we pick out a band which has two drummers with full drum kits, a bass saxophonist and a tuba player. They sound exactly how I imagined two drummers with full drum kits, a bass saxophonist and a tuba player might sound: very loud with lots of honky noises. After 15 minutes and no sign of their first loud and honky piece ever ending, we decide to see if the year 4s are still practising.
I am not at all snobby about music. I have a broad and eclectic taste, apart from anything from the 80s and 90s, tubas and anything involving children (I joke about the last one – as a teacher I have developed selective hearing over the years). I really enjoy everything we listen to, even if we decide it’s not for us. There are some standout performances from the likes of George Ezra and other big bands. The Stereophonics are on the Saturday night and the main arena is packed. There are Welsh flags on poles, balloons and balls being knocked around and placards being waved. I have my own, saying: ‘Blow my wife a kiss, Kelly... I’ve got your dog.’ It’s hard to move around but great fun.
I have been to a packed festival before. We went to V at Chelmsford. It is close to where we live so we didn’t stay overnight (we would have had to camp with the peasants). My wife was very keen to see Florence and the Machine. I have nothing against Florence other than the fact that I don’t particularly like her music, but I agreed to watch her. It was very, very busy. Do not show weakness in such crowded spaces, I learnt. If you are polite and allow someone past, it becomes a walkway for the hundreds of other people who want to avoid urine being thrown at them in beer cups (this was V – that does not happen at Latitude). Being polite, I showed weakness. I then found myself turned 180 degrees so I was no longer looking at Flo. I was now facing in completely the wrong direction, listening to someone I did not want to listen to and being constantly jostled by people pushing past. It could only have been made worse if someone had lit up a cigarette right next to me and starting blowing smoke in my face...
On the second day at Latitude, my wife and I split up for a while. I head for the corner of the arena and I’m pleased to find myself right at the front with an excellent view. Alas, it is all in vain as ‘Emergency Exit A’ fail to turn up. I do see Jason Mamford who is excellent and we both catch Milton Jones on the Sunday. I try to remember some of his jokes but have to concentrate so hard on repeating them over and over in my brain that I end up missing his next half dozen. I go with the flow (something I did not do with dear Florence at V) and have a great time. One I do remember which I will share you and is typical of Milton Jones:
‘I lost my job as a Secret Service Investigator. Don’t know why and I didn’t like to ask.’ Classic...
A little thing that does get to me is the lack of engagement from some of the artists. I don’t like to mention any names but Stroppy Strop Face and the Sullen Sulksters, you need to smile more. Seriously though, the best artists, regardless of the type of music, are the ones that perform for the audience. They stand out a mile: chatting, moving around, smiling, acknowledging the crowd, basically enjoying themselves. Highlight for me is Hatfits and Carla on the last night who have us all rocking. We decide to finish on that - it cannot be topped.
On that last Sunday, back at the pud pod, we sit outside enjoying the warm summer evening on our luxury unfolded fold up chairs and reflect on the weekend. My wife had been right to book the festival. I enjoyed the whole experience and would willingly do it again. Who wouldn’t? It hardly rained, the music and atmosphere was superb and we stuffed ourselves silly with great food.
Some day-ticket revelers walk by (on the other side of the high-wire fence, of course – we are not savages) and start laughing at us and our kennels. ‘Hobbits!’ they shout. ‘You look like posh hobbits!’ I am tempted to stroll over there, my Chateau Lafite 1787 in hand, and give them a piece of my mind. I don't. I stay put, mainly because, by the time I have worked out a humorous come-back explaining that their analogy does not work - we would have to be giant hobbits since we are considerably bigger than our houses - they have disappeared.
The music does not disappear – not until the early hours of the morning. We are both fast asleep by then, lulled into slumber by the bagpipe playing juggler from the Congo and her trio of Pakistani tenors playing the castanets.
The camp helpers start dismantling the vacant kennels around us at 8:30 am which is a little unexpected and somewhat disconcerting. (Part of me hope they would start on ours so I will not bang my head on the roof when I get up). But even that cannot detract from what has been a brilliant weekend. We pack up our things after a quick breakfast and head out with the other festival goers (or rather leavers). We have parked our car near a tree so we know exactly where it is – in the general direction of all the other cars who have parked next to their very similar looking trees – and soon we are on our way home. Even the lack of traffic out is in our favour. But, then again, it should be as the exit signs take us towards Colchester via Edinburgh.
In future, maybe I should be more on my game if my wife has the laptop and credit card out again on a Friday night. It is easy to fall for these things late at night.
And I will definitely make sure the black pepper crisps are put on the heart attack shelf in the cupboard last after the shop. I hate cheese and onion.