In a festival state of mind…
Lynne to earth, incoming. From the Edinburgh Festival. Oh, and wow. It was epic. I can’t stop smiling.
Have you ever been? If not, I urge you bucket-list it immediately. I’m stunned that I’ve lived fifty six years on this planet and at no point during the last fifty five and a half of them did it occur to me to go – doubly astonishing given how much I love Edinburgh.
More generally, however, it has reinforced something I think I always knew, but perhaps had lost sight of.
Festivals rock. And not just rock festivals either. Folk festivals. Food festivals. Art festivals. Book festivals. Craft festivals. Dance festivals. Festivals of speed. It’s not rocket science (oh, look, there’s another one – science festivals). Affix the word festival to any human gathering, and watch alchemy happening before your eyes.
All this, you might argue, is hardly noteworthy. A festival, by definition, is a fun thing to be a part of. How could human nature fail to blossom in such fertile surroundings? It’s common sense, to be expected, self-evident.
But is it? I’ve been giving it a lot of thought since last weekend, and now I’m not sure. Not for many of us. I’ll hazard a guess that for every person who is currently nodding empathetically, there’ll be at least two others, perhaps more, who would disagree entirely, seeing the word ‘festival’ and thinking “not bloody likely”. All those people. All that grass. All those marquees and burgundians. All that bumping and jostling and parking half-a-bloody-mile-away. All that al fresco eating. All those wasps. All that hassle. All that queuing for toilets that are as noisome as slurry. All that waiting in line, parched and irritable and narked, to buy drinks served in cheap plastic tumblers. Most of all, all that fraternizing – with living, breathing humans. All that irritating, irksome PROXIMITY.
Because that’s what it amounts to, for the most part, I think. That, for some people (and I hesitate to use the word ‘misanthropic’ here) having to spend time with other people – with strangers, en masse – is synonymous with a kind of hell on earth.
But that’s precisely where the alchemy happens. Last weekend, for example, it rained. Started just at the point when the four of us finally found a table, outside a packed bistro, in a tiny covered space.
As tables went, it turned out to be challenging. Just big enough for two, it was only half under cover, but we scrunched up and made the best of it, as you do. And then a tap on the shoulder and a solution being proffered. From the group of six next to us, who, not remotely unreasonably, had three similar-sized tables between them.
“Look,” one suggested, “how about we give you one of our tables?”
“No, it’s fine,” we all trilled, in that way us British do. “No, it’s not,” they trilled back, and would not be deflected. The tables were duly rearranged.
Then, when we left, two ladies were hovering, obviously keen to bag our table. So we vacated our seats for them while Pete went and paid, not least so they could escape the gathering rain. Which it seemed we would not, as we had no umbrellas. “We’ll have to nip and buy one,” I suggested to Joe’s Hannah. Upon which one of the ladies opposite brandished hers.
‘Och, have mine,” she said, proffering it. “Go on, take it.”
“But what about you?” I said, this being the obvious question, not least because both women had proper, pukka hairdos. Not least because we’d never see them again.
“Och, I’ll share hers,” she said, nodding towards her friend. And, again, she would not be deflected.
And so it goes, I’ve come to realise. At a festival this is normal. Affix the F word to any gathering, and the K word tags along. People just become kinder, end of. They stand in queues and don’t whine. Indeed, they do something increasingly rare now – instead of tutting, they start conversations. You know, friendly conversations, with complete strangers. They join shuffling herds without harping on about how tedious it all is. They spontaneously sit down on small patches of astroturf, and when a drink slops in passing, they don’t become aggressive. They say, “no worries! Honestly! It’s fine!”
That’s the alchemy. That people start to LIKE people more. So here’s a thought. Why can’t we try to be like that ALL the time?
As I say, Lynne to earth. Not quite down…
First published in the Western Mail Weekend Magazine August 29th 2015