One of the very few positive aspects of mum’s dementia to impact directly on dad’s life has been the discovery of music festivals. Dad has always loved music; loud music, live music, local music, whatever. He has instilled in us a fairly comprehensive knowledge of popular music dating back to the sixties (enhanced by a Saturday job working on the record counter in Woolworths – there’s little I don’t know about the top forty chart singles from the early nineties – Chaka Demus and Pliers anyone?) but the experience of that music has usually been through the medium of radio, Top of the Pops or direct ownership of vinyl, cassette and CD. We have occasionally attended concerts as a family but these events seemed to coincide with that unique period of teenage tension where you can’t afford a ticket yourself and have no practical means of getting to the venue but being there with your parents is toe-curlingly embarrassing – so we only did it a few times. We were certainly never a festival-going family – that would have been unthinkably bohemian and not at all in keeping with our tupperware-party / cul-de-sac / Middle England existence. Even at university, although we probably went to more live music events, neither my sister nor I ever felt the pull of Glastonbury (far too expensive even then) and camping in any form has never been high on my list of enjoyable ways to spend a weekend. There is nothing about holidaying under canvas that would not be significantly improved by a bed, a roof and decent sanitation.
Dad however has always been happy to rough it. He often went on rugby tours armed only with a toothbrush and a clean pair of pants, sanguine about the prospect of sleeping in a corridor, on the deck of a ferry or even in a puddle outside a chip-shop (I’m not sure that he has done this but I wouldn’t put it past him – he’s not an actual tramp by the way – just to clarify). In fact, it appears now that the only obstacle to dad embracing the festival double-whammy of loud limitless music and questionable domestic arrangements was mum, to whom the word ‘holiday’ meant colour co-ordinated pastel outfits, a la carte menus and slowly roasting under a mediterranean sun whilst basted in Hawaiian Tropic.
So when my Uncle M called dad last year to invite him to the Isle of Wight festival my sister and I encouraged him to jump at the chance (the one caveat being that he was to be very careful about inhaling or consuming anything offered to him by Uncle M prior to or during the event – Uncle M having achieved cult status in my family as the only grown-up we knew who actively encouraged my cousin to grow pot in their greenhouse). Dad duly went along to the Isle of Wight and we received hilarious text updates along the lines of “Currently in the mosh pit for Sticky Little Fingers” etc. He returned a few days later with a fake tattoo, a hoarse voice and more importantly, a spring in his step that we haven’t seen for ages (not the result of Uncle M’s pharmaceutical interventions – purely the music and ambience).
He didn’t immediately jack in the job, buy a camper van and head for Woodstock but there was palpable enthusiasm about a return to the IOW this year, along with a couple of other smaller music event so we bought him a one-man tent and festival survival kit as standard. And then, last month I discovered that we would all be in Dorset on a family holiday the same weekend as Camp Bestival. Our accommodation was but a ten minute car journey from Lulworth Castle meaning that we could go to Bestival for the day and be back in our beds by midnight as opposed to languishing under canvas, caked in our own sweat and grime – hoorah! The idea of being able to ‘do’ a festival without having to camp was very appealing and the kids were desperate to see Jess Glynn who was headlining on the Friday. I ran it past my previously festival-sceptical husband who thought it was a great idea and then past dad who immediately proposed that he take the kids and camp with them for the whole weekend. I suggested that a one-day introduction would suffice, thus making mum’s attendance possible (that and I had a few reservations about leaving dad in charge of my eight and ten year old for the weekend ‘Off you go! Granddad will be right here in the beer tent!’ etc).
We arrived at midday on the first day of Camp Bestival and admired the middle-class paradise spread out before us:
- NCT nappy-changing area? Check.
- Clean compost toilets with plentiful loo-roll and alcohol hand gel? Check.
- World-cuisine served on biodegradable yet attractive tableware? Check.
- Couples seated on tartan blankets sipping chilled Pinot whilst little Tarquin snoozes peacefully beside them tucked up in his custom-made trailer? Check.
People had told us that it was the most family-friendly of festivals and the bonus of an event set up to cater for the needs of young children is that it often happens to be quite dementia-friendly too. The check-in was a case in point: extra wrist bands for kids linked to a master-list of parents’ contact details should anyone wander off – obviously ideal for more senior potential wanders too and nobody batted an eyelid when we asked for one for mum – she was quite taken with it! The other massive advantage was that people were so relaxed about erratic, noisy or challenging behaviour from their toddlers that a sixty-five year old woman breaking into a dance routine, laughing at the wrong point in the children’s comedy show or wandering up to pushchairs to pull faces at the babies of total strangers was accepted with equanimity. The whole experience was very liberating for all of us. There were a few moments of the usual comedy/tragedy – the compost loos where one had to pour a cup of earth into the pit after doing the necessary were avoided in preference for your more standard flush portaloo with mum and she did nearly wander into the urinal area (but in fairness, I did that too thinking they were water fountains). We also had a few “I WANT THAT ONE” moments regarding food / beverages / hair-garlands / ethnic jewellery and trying to get mum from seated to standing on the grass by the main stage was a challenge that required a good ten minutes planning and a lot of time spent on all fours in transition phase but it was all tolerated good-naturedly by our immediate neighbours. I was in charge of taking the two more vulnerable members of our party home (mum and the four-year old) but they both lasted until Squeeze had left the main stage and there were no tears before bedtime – from them or me.
One moment stays with me from that day – whilst watching DJ Yoda (as you do) my youngest child decided she wanted to do a kissing Mexican-wave (not a craze that I think is likely to take on) whereby she kisses Daddy on the cheek, he kisses Mummy, Mummy kisses Granny, Granny kisses Granddad etc – all went well from the Granny point of view with a little prompting. A few moments later we were stood facing the stage swaying along a little to the music, dad reached over to hug mum and she kissed him again. It was as if she had remembered that it was something nice to do – a way of expressing that she felt loved and included. I’m probably reading far more into it than needed but it brought a tear to my eye nonetheless.
However, lest we all get carried away on a wave of sentimentality I shall leave you with a joyful song about posh festivals from the genius Adam Buxton – enjoy!