The UK’s summer festival season is starting to build up. Glastonbury kicks off today. T in the Park is two weeks later, followed by Reading and V in August. But that’s not the festival season I want to talk about. I want to talk about the one that kicks off in Hay, meanders round Cheltenham at various points in the year, depending on whether you prefer to have your boat floated by science, literature or jazz, and probably takes in a few RHS shows for good measure. I’m talking about the, much more refined, festival circuit of the middle-aged and middle-class.
I did the *proper* festivals, in a half-hearted sort of way, during my student years. I stood in muddy fields pretending to care about serious music, but my heart was never really in it. That should probably have presented an early clue to my deep inner lack of cool. I don’t really care about music. I like a good beat. I like a tune you can dance to. I even quite like a good lyric in passing. But none of those things inspire any great passion. I have friends who get music, who buy music every week, who talk about new songs and new bands they’ve discovered. Those are the friends who look at me in horror when I tell them that I don’t really buy new music. I already own enough for the repeats not to come around often enough to be annoying. Why would I need more? So big music festivals were never my natural home, but back then I never would have guessed how totally and unsalvageably uncool I would ultimately turn out to be.
The real suspicions came the first year I attended an RHS Gardening Show. I told myself I wasn’t really going for me. I was taking my mum, and only going to keep her company. That was a lie. As soon as I walked into the special secluded world of order and pretiness that is an RHS Floral Marquee, I was captivated. Everything inside the marquee is perfect and scented and arranged beautifully. And there are plants to buy and catalogues to collect and read through later. It’s how the shopping will be in heaven. Since then I’ve been to the Malvern Spring Gardening show five times, Chelsea once, and Tatton Park twice. The gardening shows started my decline.
Cheltenham Literature Festival probably sealed it. The first time I went I saw Lynne Truss, and nodded along with her slides of humourously misplaced apostrphes, follwed by Judi Dench. Dench was every inch the grand theatrical dame. She was interviewed on stage by her own biographer, and when she forgot a story, she simply commanded the biographer to tell it for her. Since that day “having my own biographer” has been my single greatest life ambition. I digress, and sadly I don’t yet have a minion to finish the blogging for me, so back to the point. My natural festival environment isn’t the Pyramid Stage, it’s a seat in a theatre or marquee with someone who has achieved a middle-level of fame talking about their book and then answering a few questions from the audience. And then, in between the talking, you can have wine. It’s really very civilised.
This year I’ve done the Hay Festival (talks on human evolution and poker), Cheltenham Science Festival (risk in the media, Fermat’s Last Theorem, and human extinction), Gardeners World Live (planting in containers and planning your borders) and Cheltenham Food Festival (no talks, but lots of hanging around the wine stalls saying “Can I just taste that one again?”) I think, added together, all that means that it’s time to face facts.
I am crashing headlong into middle age, and it sort of suits me. I like gardening. I like baking. I like staying in to read a good book. I like films with a proper story. I like TV programmes where you can hear the dialogue. I still like a festival; I still like to sit on the grass with a cold drink. I’d just prefer to do it somewhere with nice food and toilets that no-one’s vomited in (or on).
So who’s with me? Who else is prepared to put their hand up to not being cool, and not really missing it? What are your nerdiest passions? And what’s your favourite summer festival?