Wednesday, 11 July 2012

The mainstreaming of the British festival: allow me to beat you round the head with your Hunter welly boot

Please note this post has no redeeming social value whatsoever. I am just irrationally furious.

There is a nasty, snobbish part of me that is endlessly annoyed by the mainstreaming of festivals over the last decade or so. Festivals used to be weird. They were the places you went to be as weird as you were normally, but without normal people laughing at you for it. Now they've become an integral part of the British summer, a standard holiday treat, front page fucking news.

People go "glamping". People expect showers. (To clean themselves. Not from the sky.) People see the tiniest puddle of mud and gleefully jump in it, smearing it over the faces and shining naked thighs because that's what you do at a festival! You wear hot pants and designer wellies and one of those stupid pissing plastic flower garlands in your hair, you get a henna tattoo on your hand and drink your £5 Tuborg and go ker-ay-zee, because that's what you do at a festival! It said so in The Guardian.

That nasty, snobbish part of me wants to say to these people: you didn't earn this.

You didn't spend every birthday from your first to your twelfth at dodgy folk festivals learning to unicycle. You didn't learn to swim in the weir behind the beer tent. (Swimming was mildly discouraged in later years because agricultural run-off was turning the kids' skin an interesting shade of purple.) Your childhood games did not include Jump The Cowpat or Guy-Rope-Skipping. Your formative moments did not involve doughnuts with your dad, spliffs with your sister and face-painting sessions with your mum. Your tentative first kisses were not enjoyed in stolen moments at the back of the marquee while folk-reggae-punk bands shouted about the poll tax. You weren't taught to juggle by a closeted queer who allowed himself one day a year to dress up in a full drag (with welly boots).

You didn't go straight from picking up your GCSE results to hop on a train to the Reading Festival. You didn't survive four days in a tent full of mentally ill sixteen year olds with nothing to eat but chocolate brownies and the nearest portaloo half an hour's walk away. YOU HAVE NEVER WAZZED IN A TWO LITRE COKE BOTTLE WITH THE TOP CUT OFF.

All of this is summed up by the unimaginable stupidity that is designer fucking wellies. Nothing in this life makes me more furious than the idea that people will spend the best part of £100 - ONE HUNDRED POUNDS - on an item of rubber footwear that is to all intents and purposes identical to a pair they could get down the local pound shop.* Yeah, this is the conundrum of all designer clothing, but the preposterous nature of it is thrown into sharp relief when we're talking wellies: I mean, wellies, they're the least attractive and most functional item of apparel imaginable. They provide a barrier between your feet and the wet ground. It is impossible to make a wellington boot flattering or attractive, nor is it desirable, and sticking a Hunter logo and a laughable price tag on them does not change this fact.

* Actually, two things annoy me more: Cristiano Ronaldo and the patriarchy.

Which is completely irrational, of course: demanding some kind of entrance criteria based on how peculiar your parents were would be somewhat counter-productive to this vague festival spirit I'm trying to conjure up. (Headline in The Independent today: "My parents had no idea of the damage their hippie values did to me." Oh, honey, you and me both.)

What vexes me is more that festivals used to be a safe haven for people like me. You spend all year being the outsider, with everyone thinking you're peculiar for your music and your food and your politics and the fact that you can't go on the school trip because your parents are taking you to a protest against a motorway being built over Twyford Down, and for one glorious weekend in a year, you're not the outsider. The outsiders create their own inside. You wear your funny little tie-dyed frock and spray-paint your hair green and dance to the music that's been playing since you were born. For four precious days, no one is giving you the side-eye for being weird, because everyone around you is far, far weirder.

So, I suppose, now that everyone else has got in on the act, it feels like everyone who ever picked on me in schoool (waaaaahh, MUMMY) has invaded my safe place. But it might just be that I had to get the tube home on Saturday night with a load of mud bespattered, hot panted, Hunter wellied dickheads who were under the impression that any event held in Hyde Park can be dignified by the holy name of Festival.

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