There is one area of my life where I feel a total failure, and that is my performance in The Great Outdoors. I am terrible at being outside. When there is more green stuff than there is concrete it’s like my body doesn’t know what to do, and all my brain can do is panic. Outdoor adventures are supposed to be fun, so friends (and strangers, for that matter) relentlessly tell me. Relaxing, even. But God, if you do eventually get me in a field you’ll soon regret it. Without my city comforts – last buses home, secret back alleys I can hide in for respite, the noise of busy bars that covers any awkward moments or demands for truth – I seem to shut down. I can think of nothing more excruciating than singing around a campfire and sharing intimate stories. Ugh. Can’t we do this in a nightclub like normal people?
Others, they seem to get the countryside straight away – they have the urge to climb trees, swim in lakes. They tune in to their natural instincts, basically. Hmm – I don’t seem to have any? This makes me worry. Am I less, well, human as a result of this total lack of connection to the land? I certainly feel that way sometimes. I am clueless when it comes to nature – blame my schooling. We did have a wildlife ‘area’ in our playground at primary school. I remember them building it – we were all quite curious, considering up until that point there had been little in the way of nature in our lives. Then it became apparent that the wildlife area, on account of costing the school so much money, was going to be kept secure under lock and key – you could only access it if your class had been booked in for a tour by your teacher. Not exactly roaming free.
I haven’t really pursued nature since. But now, as a proper adult, I feel sad (and thoroughly embarrassed) that I am unable to name our native birds or identify many flowers and trees. But I think what really did it for me, crushed any hope of communion with The Great Outdoors, were my (limited) experiences of camping. We never camped as a child – not that I’m complaining, I thought I’d escaped. But then, as a young adult, I was forced by friends (the things we do for them) to camp. And those tents have left me scarred.
V Festival 2003. I’ve not long turned 20 and there I am, attempting to pitch a two-man tent on a hill in Staffordshire…with no mallet. Second problem – there were three of us. One of whom had recently been through, by choice, years and years of camping trips with the Outward Bound programme for young people. Sadly, anything she’d learned escaped her that weekend. Once the tent was up, and our cheeks had turned a normal colour again following the patronising reprimand s of the couple of Glastonbury veterans who had to be pitched next to us, the rest of the festival was great. Despite the news that, on the other side of our field, a group of men were watching people go into the toilets and then accosting their cubicle, turning it – and therefore a load of shit, literally – upside down. And despite having to breathe in plastic for three nights on account of the miniature tent (it’s a wonder none of us died). We saw some great bands and it was all good. That was until my friend woke up in the tent, threw up everywhere, then lay back down to sleep again. Morning came and at first we thought it was, as had been the case on previous nights, our own sweat. And then the reality dawned on us. I vowed never to camp again.
V Festival 2007 I am persuaded to a) attend another V Festival, why? and b) camp again. You’d think I would have learned. And I did, at least, attempt not to make the same mistakes as last time.
I got a tent that was big enough. I practised erecting it in the back garden beforehand. So far, so Outward Bound. But then of course my friend and I arrived to the festival too late. And for some reason our other friend, who was already inside the site, had our tickets – not us. Surprisingly, the security staff refused us entry. Trying to get hold of your semi-drunk friend with no mobile phone signal is a challenge even the hardiest Outward Bounder would struggle to overcome. Two hours later the ticket-holding friend finally rolled up to the entrance gates, to find my friend and I polishing off one of the 2 litre bottles of vodka and orange squash we’d wisely brought with us.
Cue two inexperienced campers trying to pitch a tent, blind drunk, on a slope in a space not big enough for our tent, directly next to both the toilets and the designated walkway, in what was soon pouring – POURING – rain, trapped on either side by at-first-obnoxious-and-then-totally-sleazy groups of men campers who insisted on sitting and smoking their weed right outside our tent door, later trying to come inside and stroke our legs. I wish I was making this stuff up.
You’d assume that after such a start things couldn’t get much worse. But then this wouldn’t be much of a story, would it? The rain continued its relentless assault, forcing seemingly all of the festival-goers inside the limited number of tented stages. As a result, there were queues to queue to get inside, and my friend and I couldn’t see the two artists we’d actually wanted to see. We trudged back to the hell-hole (our tent) looking like extras from the set of Saving Private Ryan, packed everything up (why we didn’t just leave the damn tent I still don’t know to this day) and stomped for three miles in the driving rain to the shuttle bus station that, thank God, still had one run left to do for the night when we got there. Bye bye Staffordshire – for good, this time.
What are the morals of this blog post? Well, clearly, drinking in the countryside is both stupid yet essential. But can I just say, Mom and Dad, thank you so much for being wise and kind enough not to subject our family to such horrors. I am forever indebted.