The Irish Mail on Sunday - TV Week - - CONTENTS -

I’d thought I was fin­ished with fes­ti­vals. Oh, there was a time, back in the day (the day in ques­tion be­ing my twen­ties), when I could barely pass a fes­ti­val. I ap­pre­ci­ate that time may have sepia-toned the mem­ory some­what, but back then, as far as I re­call, we used to head off to Féile and Fleadh and some odd points in be­tween, with no ac­com­mo­da­tion and no way of get­ting home. Some­how, though, we al­ways found a floor or a sofa, a car or a van or – on one re­li­ably mem­o­rable oc­ca­sion – the broom cup­board of the Dun­drum House Ho­tel.

Then the chil­dren came along and get­ting home would prob­a­bly have been more im­por­tant if only I could have got out in the first place. But even when chance would have been a fine thing, there was some­thing about Elec­tric Pic­nic that turned my head. Back when it launched, and my ba­bies were still both­er­some, I read the bill with in­ter­est and won­dered at what marvels a bou­tique fes­ti­val might hold. Then, four years ago, I was spir­ited to Strad­bally for a ra­dio show on the Satur­day, and stayed just long enough to walk the site (more like a vast depart­ment store than a bou­tique) and en­joy a cou­ple of pints in the guest area, where peo­ple who I’d bumped into at Féiles, decades be­fore, still seemed to be. When I felt my­self a tan­ta­liz­ing five min­utes away from not car­ing how I got home, I went home.

But now I’m back. It kind of hap­pened by ac­ci­dent – a late call-up, so to speak – but when the spare ticket was of­fered just a fort­night be­fore the fes­ti­val, I was not found want­ing. My ba­bies are so big now that one of them is ac­tu­ally at the Pic­nic some­where (our paths will briefly cross on Sun­day morn­ing when we shall ex­change a brief hug, I shall sur­rep­ti­tiously in­spect her for ex­ces­sive signs of wear and tear – and she may well do the same to me – and we will be quickly on our re­spec­tive way).

But es­sen­tially, this mag­i­cal mys­tery is just two mid­dle-aged women and a tent all the way till Mon­day morn­ing. For rea­sons that we pre­tend not to un­der­stand, ev­ery­one seems beyond

Like a man­i­cured Bear Grylls, I take the crit­ter gen­tly in my hands and throw him out of the tent’s en­trance.

I am born to this

amused by the tent business, and there are lots of jokes about blow drys and shel­lac-ed nails be­fore we even hit the road. In fair­ness, even we know that what­ever about us man­ag­ing to put the tent up, we will never, ever be able to get it into the bag again, and so we book onto one of those namby pamby sites where the tent is al­ready put up. All we have to do, when we ar­rive into the damp and dark of Fri­day night, is crawl in, un­roll the sleep­ing bags, throw all our be­long­ings into wheelie bin lin­ers, and tie a scarf to the tent so that we don’t con­fuse it for one of the many iden­ti­cal ones later on when we are more, ahem, con­fused. I am do­ing all of that while The Best Friend is in­spect­ing the fa­cil­i­ties (ie, the por­taloos), when I spot, through the glow of my torch, a daddy lon­glegs flit­ting about inside the tent. Like a man­i­cured Bear Grylls, I take the crit­ter gen­tly in my hand and throw him out the open flap of the tent. I am born to this.

What can I tell you about Elec­tric Pic­nic that you don’t al­ready know? That as an ex­er­cise in in­ge­niously smug­gling al­co­hol past body-search­ing se­cu­rity staff, it is a credit to the na­tion. That for all that booze – much of which seems to travel in med­i­cal sup­ply bags – the at­mos­phere is en­tirely peace­ful, blissed out even. That on the Fri­day night, we will be in­ter­cepted by two strangers on our way back to the camp­site and waltzed around the arena for a bit. That although most of the crowd are in their 20s, there are enough older peo­ple around for no­body to stare and point. That if ev­ery­one dressed like this – as though they’d had a col­li­sion with a paint fac­tory and a dress­ing up box – all the time, the world would be a hap­pier place. That it feels like a per­fect punc­tu­a­tion point at the end of the sum­mer and a lit­tle oa­sis of won­der­fully tune­ful mad­ness all at the same time. Sev­eral peo­ple, when we come back, will re­fer to it as our mid-life cri­sis, but mid-life is, I think, rel­a­tive. To quote my new hero, Baz Ash­mawy’s lovely mammy, “you have to grow older, but you don’t have to grow old.” At the Pic­nic, thank the stars, you can even do so dis­grace­fully.

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