So, last month I wrote about my experiences on the Sunday of Bluedot festival, and I mentioned that it was training for a full-on festival experience, and boy did I need it! I had forgotten what wonderful, elating, tiring, full-on experiences they are, even without arthritis. Last weekend (Thursday until the early hours of Monday morning) I was at the Green Man festival, in the Brecon Beacons in Wales (it seems I only like festivals with colours in the titles), and I had a wonderful time, even if now it feels like an amazing, exhausting dream.
It’s possible to enjoy a music festival with a condition like arthritis, but as I said last time, you have to make it as easy as you can on yourself. First of all I chose the Green Man because it’s such a lovely festival, not only in terms of music which mixes folk with electronica, alt-indie and world genres, but because it seems to attract nice people (of course you get a******** everywhere, especially at a music festival, but it seems that its distance from London does seem to keep more brattish behaviour away). I’ve been to the Green man festival before, in 2007 when it was tiny and held at Hay-on-Wye, and even though, now, it is much, much bigger it still has that same small-festival feel: it’s tidy, there are families (but it’s still grown-up space – the beer and cider festival is very popular) and there is no corporate sponsorship. It feels very genuine.
Even so, four days in a muddy field is tough going on the most relaxed of bodies, so when I first considered going to the festival (because the bands this year were really up my street) I figured the only way to do this was to hire a camper van because my body cannot deal with sleeping in the cold and damp of a tent. I need a bed raised off the damp, cold earth, an actual bed, and solid walls. No easy task, I thought, but then I found Mike…
The minute I saw Mike on the Quirky Campers website, I knew it was meant to be. Inside his plain, workman-like exterior, he is a beautiful living space. Importantly, there is a cosy bed and a cooker on which to make tea. All things that are vital to being alive. Mike was a great place to live for the festival, though, for driving, the gear-stick and clutch were heavy, so something to consider if you are used to driving light cars with your arthritis, but he was reliable and, once he had got up to speed, had no problem keeping up with the traffic. There was also lots of storage space, so the essentials like beer and cider could be stowed safely.
And inside, Mike was just perfect. The bed is short, at 5’7″, which meant I only just managed to squeeze in; I sleep on my side so it was fine, but I couldn’t stretch out (and I bumped my head on the lintel behind the front seats a few times), I think anyone taller would struggle, but it was so cosy! We had rain and howling winds two nights, but Mike stayed warm and dry, and the wood panelling gave you a nest-like feel. This was very important to me, as I find I have to rest a lot when my bones get cold, and with a stove so I could make hot tea or a dirty pot-noodle to warm me.
So, with my inside sorted, the question was how I was going to cope on the outside. I had such grand ideas for dressing for this festival: boho dresses, cool sandals, feathered sun hats… and then the weather forecast quite literally rained all over my parade: squally showers with the odd bright spell (to lull you into a false sense of security): the worst weather.
Dressing soon became about damage limitation, and here are my festival tips to keeping your bones from aching, while looking
Forget normal wellies, unless you are going to the Glastonbury mud-bath, the mud won’t be more than ankle deep. Long wellies are restrictive (thus giving you joint pain and blisters), and are a nightmare to take on and off. Ankle-height wellies look cooler (especially the Meduse jumpy boots with the contrasting sole), and are a doddle to slip on and off. The elasticated sides are also supportive, I really recommend them.
Apart from a pair of Adidas Gazelles I brought for driving in, these were the only footwear I took to the festival (and they only ones I wore out of the van). And, although I did get sore, it wasn’t unbearable.
I say coats, because I think you need two. A decent one to look good and keep you warm, and something you can roll up and stuff in a bag to keep you dry. Occasionally you can get a coat that keeps you warm and dry, but they rarely look good. I wore my Oliver Bonas parka a lot, and I bought a waterproof coat from ASOS. I have a really good waterproof coat for walking the dog, but that was expensive and I worried about it getting ruined in the mud (they’re never as good when you wash them, even if you use the nikwax wash stuff), so a fun waterproof for festivals seemed a good idea. This was billed as a ‘marble’ pattern, but I think it looks more like stilton cheese. That’s OK, I love stilton, and I was easy to spot in the crowds.
This has sadly sold out, who doesn’t love cheese? But I like this silver alternative:
My festival/gig bag is an old one from Boden, it’s a bit wrecked now but the prefect cross-body bag for festivals, fitting in my mini-purse, camera, umbrella, loo-roll, warm hat and shewee (these are worth taking, not that I had to use this as the toilets at the Green Man never got into a total state, but I have been to festivals where sitting down to pee was not an option). I could also roll my waterproof coat and fit it in there. The bag is ancient, and Boden don’t have any satchels at the moment, so the Cambridge Satchel Company is probably where I would buy a replacement.
Jeans and t-shirts
I admire people who can wear sequinned dresses in the mud, as well as people who can wear jumpsuits and dungarees when faced with the horrors of the portaloo (what if a strap dangles in!?!), but they’re work, and just standing around listening to music is harder for people with arthritis than most people, so I am not inclined to give myself extra work. I think you need to be able to roll your jeans up out of the mud, so mom-jeans if you can get away with them or, for me, a sufferer of ‘back-gap’, skinny jeans, my favourite being these from Hush:
And these from Gap:
Most Jeans don’t dry very quickly, so I think you need a pair a day (another reason to take a van), but I have loads of jeans so I don’t find that a problem (I refuse to wear waterproof trousers unless it’s a torrential downpour as the good ones are too expensive and the cheap ones look rubbish and give you leg-sweat).
I have ridiculously greasy hair and skin, so, unless I wanted to embrace the chip-pan look, this is a necessity (this is despite the festival having showers). My favourite is the Bumble and bumble pret-a-powder, because the powder is super-fine, and it seems to last longer than their spray stuff, which makes the price worth it.
I also use Superdrug dry shampoo on a normal day-to-day basis to get a bit of volume in my fine hair. This is good at the price, but the powder is not so fine, and your hair would certainly feel a bit rank after a few days of the stuff.
Having foregone any outfit originality over of practicality, I decided to go for some earrings and temporary tattoos (from Mr Kate) to remind myself I was essentially on holiday. I have some peacock feather earrings that I love but don’t often wear because they’re a bit of an effort; they are, however, perfect festival wear. And, owing to the 90s fashion trend that is refusing to go away, there are a lot of cool earcuffs and earrings on the highstreet. I bought these from Zara, and they were perfect! I can’t wait to wear these all winter.
So what about the festival itself? Despite the rain, it was amazing. The headliners on the opening night were Wild Beasts, who I was most looking forward to seeing. I love their clever, unusual music, which never strays into over-intellectualised tweeness, there’s a grubbiness to it, and the latest album, Boy King, is no exception. It’s more mainstream than their previous work (which I think is good for a band that has been together so long, they should sound polished), but it’s different to everything they have done before. I love it.
They sounded great at the festival, with lots of old favourites and new stuff, they finished with my favourite song, All The King’s Men, and I turned embarrassingly fangirl.
Ezra Furman was also a massive favourite, he is so charismatic, and got everybody dancing. He finished with the happiest cover of (Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher, to which the entire tent danced and sang along; it was a special moment.
And the festival closed with Belle and Sebastian, which was such a nostalgia trip: the music of Belle and Sebastian have been around me for almost half of my life, and their songs hold such memories. I am sure this is the case for so many people, even if they are not total fans of all the music. Stuart seems to have hardly aged at all, which made me feel even more like I was 19 again!
Honourable mentions also go to Jagwar Ma, who got me dancing despite the feeling I was on the older-side of the fan spectrum, and The Unthanks, who had the crowd singing along in a three-part harmony despite the rain.
And finally, whoever had the AMAZING idea to provide wood-fired hot-tubs at a festival needs a medal!
I originally booked the bathing undo the sky hot tub this to get the special ‘extra free shower’ offer, but it turned out to be one of the best things to do. There were free showers at the festival, but they were cold and not particularly nice. The showers with the hot tub were AMAZING hot restorative experiences in themselves, and then lounging in the hot tub, where we met a lovely couple about to get married and a couple of friends celebrating a birthday (who bought us all more champagne) was so much fun. There was also a sauna (which I didn’t use because I don’t like them if I have been drinking) and a cool pool for afterwards. This small luxury really made all the difference… warm and clean at a festival! If you have the opportunity to do it (and they do several UK festivals) you should definitely spend the little bit extra on a tub, arthritis or not.
So, there we have it, an exhausting weekend full of fun and terrible weather. Now I have to adjust to normal life, in which it’s sadly not considered acceptable to drink Bloody Marys all day. Fortunately, Mike came with a selection of wholesome herbal tea to help me forget all the fun and excesses.