We are trudging through wet quaggy sludge, the mud oozes and squelches, over ruined fields we trek, laden with all our possessions. Everything we need to survive: tents, blankets, washing bowls, pots, pans, bread, eggs, milk, Wellingtons, sun hats, ponchos, plasters, medication, sunglasses, tobacco, wine, beer, cheese, crisps, noodles, sausages, mustard, tomatoes, mushrooms. Each step we take is torture as the straps from our bags cut into our skin. We are bent over double dragging trolleys piled high with our chattels. We could be characters in a painting by Bosch or Bruegel.
In fact we are on ‘holiday’ and we are heading for the family camping field at the Latitude Festival. This is the sixth year we have made this claggy travail. As the pain intensifies, as the sweat breaks on our brows, as our muscles strain, we are trying to visualise the half-frozen wine box we have packed, which will incentivise use to reach our goal, and we are wondering why we are doing this.
We are one of the 40,000 who are making the same journey. Why do we all put ourselves through this, we are all asking. A few hours later, we have all been ‘tagged’ with a cloth Latitude bracelet, we are drinking Tuborg from plastic pint tumblers. We are watching The Punch Brothers perform on the Obelisk Stage. The sun is still missing in action, but it isn’t raining, and for this we are pathetically full of gratitude. The band are making a glorious noise, all frantic fiddles and mischievous mandolins, and we are part of a mass of people dancing to the music and making merry. People from all over the world, people of every age, people of every ethnicity. We look at each other and we smile. Everything is right in the world.
We watch bands we have never heard of, whose names we can’t pronounce, who play instruments we have never seen before, we listen to geeky men talk about urban bee keeping, we listen to John Pilger tell us not to ask what we need to do to make the world better, just do it. And we believe him. We clap, we cheer, for a moment he is our prophet. We watch Benjamin Zephaniah rap his poetry and we want to elect him. We listen to Rich Hall and we love his curmudgeonly red neck look at our culture.
There are men dressed as women, there are women dressed in very little, there are children dressed in purple gimp suits, there’s a man in his fifties in denim hotpants and a handlebar moustache. We are spattered with mud and drizzle. We all wear Wellingtons. We all drink Tuborg. We all eat stone baked pizzas. We watch Metronomy, First Aid Kit, John Hegley. We attend a discussion on the implication of the discovery of the Higgs particle. We think Brian Cox is Jesus, but only for a nano-second. We see babies in homemade carts. We watch Wooden Shjips in a forest full of ants. We see Richard Hawley, SBTRKT, Elbow, Levellers, John Cooper Clarke, Paul Weller (we think he needs a haircut), Amadou and Miriam, Dexys, Lana Del Ray (we realise she only has one decent song).
It is now one o’clock in the morning and we are watching a Johnny Cash tribute band called Sun of Cash. We are in the Faraway Forest, where trees are strewn with berry red glass orbs full of cryptic messages such as, ‘I have just seen a squirrel and it changed my life’. The man in black is playing Ring of Fire. He is the spit of the real thing. He is from Belfast. We have been here for three days now and we can’t remember where we live. But in one day we will all pack up what remains of our stuff, and like we dreamed the whole scene, every sign of us being here will have vanished within a week. The birds will return to the trees, the sheep (now dyed purple, green, blue and orange) will bleat amongst the flock. We will return to the north where no nightingale sings, but barmen know how to pull a pint with a proper head and our dogs will be happy to see us again. Our washing machines will groan under the strain and a bath will feel like a miracle.