Sorted for Teas and Fizz by Andrew O’Hagan
Iam thinking of founding a new summer festival. No, it won’t be a cheese jamboree starring the guy from Blur and his Briechomping confrères. It won’t feature weepy guitar balladeers inside a telephone box on the Isle of Muck, either. It won’t be Garsington and it won’t be Glyndebourne or Aldeburgh because none of them is posh enough. My festival, most assuredly, will be a hip-young-gunslinger-free event, so classy, indeed, that every attendee has their own private loo and drinks slave. I’m currently deep in negotiations with a slew of hand-picked sponsors, Claridges, Twinings, John Lewis and Armitage Shanks, with the aim of making my festival the one with the highest thread count in the world.
Don’t apply for tickets because it’s totally like Eton, your name has to go down at birth, and don’t ask who the acts are, because every year it’s Sting supported by Fleet Foxes.
I’ve got a 15-year-old and I’ve never been to Glastonbury. I consider it one of the highest achievements of my life, and I doubt I will ever go. I will die a Glasto virgin, leaving this Arcadian plain without ever having sat down on a loo filled to the brim with the ordure of Britain’s most excited young tipplers, each of whom is sure to be in the midst of a three-day romance with the menu at Club Mexicana. Some wise people I know count this a loss, and they call me on the telephone day and night. “Surely this year! Come on, man! I mean, you’re not getting any younger. Glasto! I’m talking about Glasto! If ever a festival was made for one person then this one is for you!”
“Have you had a stroke?” I ask. “You are talking to the Oliver Letwin of contemporary dance music. The Nancy Cunard of rock. I would sooner do permanent injury to myself with a pair of curling tongs than go down a mudslide.”
And yet, keepers of homicidal bucket lists everywhere tell me that the man who is tired of Glasto is tired of life. People speak of the epiphanies they had while going full tantra in the Peace Garden; others remark on how they met their wife at one of the famously secret gigs, half way up a yak’s arse, or of how their children learned everything they know about astronomy during a session at the Free University of Glastonbury. Still others, high on their greatest high, tell of the hilarity of their tent being swept by rain into a gully. By this point, of course, I am ready to sell my house and hand the proceeds to a secret protective force, a crack body of Essex bouncers who will ensure that I never, so long as I live, and no matter how weak I get, go anywhere near the West Country, never mind within knifing-distance of Glastonbury Tor. The savage bouncers lose their bonus if I’m ever seen in Hunter wellies.
I mean, they say you only have one life. So why spend it chilled to the bone and dying for a pee in the boggiest field in England? “Because it’s totes hilaire,” says one of my friends, a company partner who sells antiques to Russians in Belgravia. “For one weekend a year you can forget your projects and go bananas. Erm, hello?”
“I can go bananas in my front room,” I say, in the voice of Captain Mainwaring. “With a Diptyque-scented loo a few seconds away, heaped to the balls with quilted papers. I have a fridge full of beers. I have a duvet the size of Australia one floor away. And pills if I get a headache. Plus, it’s almost guaranteed that, over a 72-hour period, fewer than two complete wankers wearing rain macs and muddy boots will come tramping through the room looking for cigarette papers. So I’m sorted, love. Thank you, though.”
“You just want to sit in a gentlemen’s club,” she says, “reading The TLS surrounded by old men farting.”
“Bliss,” I say.
But how does one get to this state of certainty? I used to love nothing more than a languid weekend in dungarees, frolicking among the wreckage, without a care in the world about flushing systems or bacteria. Even although I grew up in a household where one was generally much closer to the J-cloth than to one’s father, I came in time to see the point of a soapdodging weekend fuelled by bad speed. I do admit, but only to you, that I would occasionally bung a copy of Henry James’s short stories into my boxers, just in case the “mega-mental weekender” got tiresome at two in the morning.
I’d be a liar if I said I ever really loved those dungy fields. I liked the company, I liked the music, but I always wished, if I’m honest, that I could be brought along to the main stage in a sedan chair, there to be fed grapes and morsels from the deepest parts of Siam. Sometimes at Reading Festival, say, or T in the Park, I’d have thanked you for a newspaper or a crossword puzzle. To every man his own mosh-pit, I say. But the experience of watching Stereophonics from the vantage point of a bell tent swimming in last night’s vomit possibly set me on the wrong track.
Anyway, at my festival we’re having Château Palmer 1968. And there’s going to be shoeshine guys at every corner. I shouldn’t joke, really. The most watchable thing on Netflix this year has been Fyre: the Greatest Party that Never Happened, a mind-boggling story about a notorious conman, Billy McFarland, who snagged the rapper Ja Rule and paid a host of social media influencers (Kendall Jenner, Bella Hadid) to promote a “luxury music festival” that turned out to be a monstrous fantasy and a complete failure. High-earning ravers who’d flocked to get there ended up spending the night in refugee tents. Quite funny, in a way, though the dude who conned everybody got six years and lost $26m.
So, I’m not going to do that. I’m just going to settle for something much cheaper and much less painful that doesn’t involve jail time: I’m not going to Glasto. Yes, I’ll miss this year’s special attractions, the ban on plastic drinks bottles, a few mumbles from Liam Gallagher and a meaningful croak from George Ezra. I’ll miss Arcadia — those cybernetic and pyrotechnic acrobats dangling on ropes for hours at a time — and I’ll miss Babylon Uprising, “the trailblazing Somerset sound system”.
Instead, I’ll be having breakfast with a knife and fork, and having an unnecessary number of baths followed by walks in a dreary London park. And if I get lonely I’ll go in to the pub, shake out my brolly, order a pint and look up at the TV, happy to see my former self at play in the fields of the Lord. I may even sneak in another half pint. Nostalgia makes you wicked, and grateful to be free.