I attended a music festival recently - and it left me cold. Presumably, I just don't get it - in my latest guise as a staid office worker, I feel its nuances are lost on me. Festivals have long been part of the mainstream, and I have attended several, taking note of the shared themes. Take the dress code for instance: women are now obliged to wear flowers in their hair, while men can be relied upon to roll up their jeans. Unbuttoned plaid shirts are fine, as are home made costumes. Dreadlocks carry kudos, and battered straw boaters lend personality to the otherwise unremarkable.
Nevertheless, I do find festival women attractive in their florid attire and pixie-like nonchalance - unfortunately, they are almost always beyond my reach. The reason for this is clear - despite being moderately handsome, my 'alternative' credentials are lacking. My politics are fluid, my wardrobe varied but tasteless, fracking does not move me, and I have never been in the eye of a Twitter-storm. However it is my hair, above all else, that gives me away. While every festival male sports a gloriously dishevelled barnet, I fastidiously wax my do into a slick side-parting every morning. Tent or no tent - I am a corporate man.
A few weeks ago a friend invited me to his stag-do at the curiously named 'Boardmasters' festival in Newquay. On arrival at the gates, I found myself in a student netherworld of bare chested Antipodean types and off-duty rugby players. The manicured crowd were invariably middle-class; pie-eyed but restrained, slovenly yet suspiciously healthy - somehow reminiscent of the anodyne rebels from '90s Neighbours.
On meeting the stag party, we opened a bottle of vodka. My friend Mitch examined my proposed sleeping space - the 'foyer' of his five man tent.
"Sure you'll be ok without a sleeping bag?"
"Yeah man," I said, taking a swig, "I'll just get so pissed, I pass out."
"Just don't do anything mad."
There was a pensive timbre to his voice, so I ducked into the tent and neatly arranged my belongings.
That evening we saw The Vaccines. I was unfamiliar with their music, so as the crowd bounced to the fuzz and thump of the band, I made do with neat whiskey and fragmented conversation with the disinterested stag. Later, I did some shouting, resumed smoking (after three years of abstinence) and threw up in a hedge.
That night's sleep was fitful, the decision not to bring a sleeping bag was a serious error - the aran jumper coiled around my shoulders was wholly inadequate. I awoke to hear a man complaining about the toilets; repetitive and distraught he spoke with a reedy, nasal voice. After several minutes of listening to the unpleasant monologue, I stumbled out into the field. Mitch and the rest of the stag party were fully dressed.
"We thought we'd go to the beach," Mitch said.
They were all wearing shorts and flip flops, three of the five were wearing vests.
"Sure, let's go."
"Like that?" he said.
I was wearing jeans, boots and a black shirt.
"Mate, this'll do."
We walked through some kind of checkpoint, past disinterested stewards and vociferous security men. I noticed a female steward I had spoken to the night before, she had dyed red hair and thick black-rimmed spectacles; breaking away from the group I approached.
"Hello there," I said.
"Hi, can I help?"
Wagging my finger like a comedy parent, I said, "you said that last time."
I pulled at my fabric wristband, it had tightened in the night, "actually, it's this thing. I think I'm going to lose my hand here."
I paused, but she was all business.
"Hold on," she said, producing a penknife.
As she cut I caught her perfume; fragrant in a field, I thought, how delightful - just like a Wordsworth poem. She then clasped my wrist, a welcome but unnecessary move.
"There you go," she handed me a replacement band, "all done."
"Listen," I said straightening, "you're pretty cool. What are you doing later?"
She pushed her glasses up.
"No, I mean after that."
"I know what you mean. I'm working."
I turned, Mitch tapped his wrist and waved me over. From a distance it struck me just how well equipped they were for the beach; doyens of summer with their flip-flops and tiny bags. I pulled at my jeans, they felt like canvass sacks.
"So, I guess I'll be off," I said.
She turned a knob on her radio.
The sun was rising in the Cornish sky, ten thousand people headed towards a dilapidated bus. One of the stag party had just charged his phone using a portable device; he had googled an alternate route to the sea, we all agreed that a stroll would do us good. I looked back at the red haired girl, she was deep in conversation with a shirtless man carrying a guitar. Everyone seemed to know what they were doing. Hedonism isn't what it used to be.