Whisky and woodsmoke


We might as well get this out of the way from the start: I have never camped at a music festival. This is not to say that I have never camped, nor that I have never attended a festival, but I have not put the two together. Which left me at something of a disadvantage last weekend.

The occasion was a birthday celebration, but instead of making us go to a pub and shout ‘So how do you know Hugh?’ at strangers until chucking-out time, the host took a punt on the weather and invited a load of people down to a field five miles west of Wantage.

About 120 of us turned up; a phrase that suggests an ease and spontaneity which is wide of the mark, certainly as far as I, Michelle (a work chum) and her daughter Georgina were concerned, since we were driving from Saffron Walden. Michelle had a car and some pillows; I had a map and a big bag of Mintoes. The rest of the kit we borrowed from friends, neighbours and flatmates.

People In The Know declared the M25 a big snarl-up, so we decided to go cross-country, though when your journey involves Harlow, Luton, Hemel Hempstead and Aylesbury, there’s precious little country on show. We finally arrived at about half four and scored some help with the tent – thanks, Mick – which was badly needed, what with there being not a single peg in the bag (but you can’t be annoyed because you’ve borrowed it from the neighbours and it was very nice of them etc).

Children ran about, music played and the sun slowly set. A fire was lit and people danced, drank beer, sat about on straw bales and chatted – So how do you know Hugh? – as a sliver of moon rose and sank. The stars came out, the fire crackled and we sipped malt whisky to keep out the cold. Then it was light and I was crawling into a two-person tent that was housing three, to fall asleep instantly.

The next day was hell. Sick as a dog and weak as a kitten, I alternated between tugging and whimpering at tent pegs, lying on the ground and hurrying off to the portaloos, again. Couldn’t even keep down water. And the worst of it? Another three-plus hours in the car having to read that bloody map in reverse. Actually, I did keep it together, just, though there is a petrol station outside Hemel Hempstead that I will remember in my prayers.

Now, I realise that no-one uses a petrol station lav unless the straits are dire, but this one was a doozy. It had recently and unmistakeably played host to some dysenteric unfortunate whose half-flushed achievements were just what I needed. Took one look at that bowl and turned myself inside out like a sock. At last, whey-faced and woebegone, I was poured out at Stansted airport to catch the train back to London.

But this is the strange thing: a hangover of that magnitude could easily take the shine off any party, but this one didn’t. It was, and remains, one of the best weekends ever. Thanks Michelle for being so nice to me in my deathsweats. Happy birthday Hughie, thank you for the invite, cracking friends, btw – and thanks a million for the tent pegs!


One Response to “Whisky and woodsmoke”

  1. 1 Hugh

    God, that sounds like you paid a high price Vanessa! Thanks for making the huge effort to get there– and the hellish effort back. I’m glad it was worth it for you. It was great to see you anyway; catch up, throw up and the like.

    We should have a drink (not whisky though) when fully recovered.


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