The Big Chill, August 2006.
We stuffed a couple of rucksacks with clothes and left, mid-afternoon. No tent! We’d hired a teepee, along with some friends, so the four-hour drive up the A40 was the hardest work of the weekend. Arrived on camp as the sun was going down, saddled with bags. Most of the cargo is booze.
The festival lives up to its name. Three days of lazing like sunbathing sealions; our tempo quickened only by frequent laughter and occasional trips to the bar. I wasn’t entirely unoccupied; I had a new stills camera, an expense I justified by recording even the most mundane moments for hard-drive posterity. Generally though, energy was saved for deciding what to eat and which acts to see.
What did we see? I have only fragments now… St. Etienne taking it back to 1992; Nighmares on Wax getting upset with a crowd that had left its dancing shoes back at camp; a surprisingly saucy performance at the theatre venue; the reflected sparkle from a thousand lights suspended above a lake; a little boy with his parents’ phone number marker-penned all the way up his bare arm; a father dancing with his daughter on his shoulders, while Norman Jay DJ’ed everything better. Imagine bringing a child to a festival, I thought. Waaaay too stressful.
End of the Road Festival, August 2013
We stuff four rucksacks, a travel cot and a double buggy into the car and leave, mid-afternoon, stopping at a Sainsbury’s to buy more stuff to stuff into the car. Normally, MsUrbanDaddy handles crowd control while I drive, so I get to concentrate, more or less, on one thing all afternoon. Bliss! Somewhere in WIltshire, a huge yurt is waiting for us, along with the same group of friends we shared with in 2006.
And their kids. Eight of them. Plus our two. That’s big, certainly – but chilled? Hmmm…
We arrive at camp just before sunset, me laden with bags like a human pack horse, MsUrbanDaddy with the girls. We have one box of red wine. The buggy has been pressed into service as an emergency wheelbarrow. Once unloaded, I take it straight back to the car for the rest of our things.
The next three days involve absolutely no lazing at all. Just the constant carrying, cleaning, monitoring, feeding and entertaining of ten under-5s. They’re a pretty demanding crowd…
But it is brilliant. The sunbathing sealions of 2006 seem to have become human meerkats, by turns foragers, jesters and sentinels. The kids just stick to giggling, spilling drinks and getting lost. Somehow, it all works. Conversations are still easy, if rarely finished. With ten small children around, we can’t seem to finish anything.
Maybe that’s why my memories are nearly as fragmented as they were 7 years ago. Sigur Ros seem to quite like their non-dancing crowd; some of the best lights are attached to buggies, to prevent drunk people tripping over them in the dusk. And, this time, the dad dancing with his daughter on his shoulders is me. In some ways, this festival lived up to its name, too. But this is not 2006. And we’re on a new road. And I don’t mind.
On my second trip from the car-park, I fall into step with another man. He carries wine under one arm and a Bumbo baby seat under the other. I have a buggy, filled with stuff. We both laugh, saying nothing. Sometimes, circumstance is all the commentary you need.