There are things that no six-year-old should see, and by “things” I mean the walks of life you’ll find meandering about the Glastonbury festival. Last year, a photo went viral online of a young boy in a festival crowd, looking rather green about the gills when faced with a naked reveller at a rather unfortunate angle.
As is the way, it took flight because its ticklish truth hit upon a nerve. From last weekend’sorgiastic mud-bath at Glastonbury, another image emerged of a child sitting in a wheelbarrow, mired in that world-famous muck and rain. In the words of the internet, I can’t even.
I’ve been to Glastonbury and its ilk, so I know that it involves spending much of the weekend hastily and joylessly addressing one basic human function after another. I’m not a parent, but even I know that doing this for another human being, specifically a human under five, and even more specifically with added tents, fields, Portaloos and glow sticks, is utter folly.
I can get why parents would want to bring babes-in-arms to a music festival. The way my friends call it, bringing up a family can sometimes seem like running a small non-profit organisation.
Why not take the metronomic grind of everyday family life to the great outdoors for a change of scene? Several festivals – among them Body & Soul and Electric Picnic – are now pointedly poppet-friendly, putting on the Ritz for the kiddies with yoga workshops and puppet shows.
We’re no longer living in a world where kids are seen and not heard. Rather, they’re encouraged to grab a place centre stage with both hands. Besides, music festivals invoke a sort of cheery, arms-around-the-world feeling that kids love, right?
Well, no. Children are not fans of crowds nor of music and there’s no point pretending that they are. Just as they do everywhere else, they get bored after 20 minutes. Why pay top dollar to make them fidget through Caribou or Nile Rodgers?
Even if you’re stationed on a painted toadstool listening to nursery rhymes for most of the weekend, what of the other, often inescapable, elements of your common-or-garden Irish festival?
The hordes of mad-for-it revellers; the queues; the beery romanticism; the 17-year-olds sporting rose crowns, side-boob and a flagon; the point in the small hours where things invariably take a raucous, wanton or not-so-cheery turn – and who wants to deal with the fomo of hearing the distant strains of your favourite band while changing nappies two fields over?
Defiant but ultimately defeated
Recently, an acquaintance brought a four-month-old baby to a music weekend, and the grim truth materialised in vivid Technicolor. His stance was defiant: parenthood wasn’t about to change him or interfere with the “normal” running of things.
This wasn’t about creating memories or bonding with baby. As lifestyle accessories go, nothing tells the world that you’re not one for dad jeans and feeding ducks in the park more than a baby sporting noise-cancelling earphones in the festival’s VIP area.
Bringing children to a music festival doesn’t make someone a bad or self-indulgent parent. Far from it: often there’s a heart in the right place. Yet to my mind, it’s the action of someone clinging to the final vestiges of a party that was probably over long ago. It’s the 21st-century version of kids being left in the car while Dad has a swift pint after Mass (or worse, brought into the pub for the longer haul).
Backwater country pub
At the risk of sounding “it was all green fields round here once”, I spent several childhood summer evenings, not in a yurt in the midlands, but splayed listlessly across the leather banquette of a backwater country pub. It wasn’t an overly regular occurrence, granted, but the memory is seared, for better or worse, into my mind.
It was a purgatory that no amount of red lemonade or Monster Munch could salve. There we were, helpless and invisible, watching the clock move from 1.45am to 1.46 (it’s fine. the PC police took the 1980s off).
We were acutely aware that on the totem pole of this "great night out", we youngsters were a long way down. We were tacked on to the craic, neither expected nor encouraged to participate. Our pleas for clemency were lost on the wind, drowned out by Neil Diamond tunes.
Going home wasn't a negotiable, because my mother still had Steal Away to belt out. Eventually, after the mewling got too much for the other adults, we would stagger into the night, desperate for quietude, bed and a world without Sweet Caroline.
Would child-friendly amenities – face-painting or circus skills – have made it any more palatable? Doubtful. We were too strung out on cola and crisps for all that.
This week, primary school lets out for the summer, meaning that life off the clock, in all its exhausting, limitless possibilities, stretches ahead. But perhaps it’s safer to stick to the zoos and the petting farms of the more conventional kind. Many child-free types can’t – nay won’t – guarantee that their behaviour will be of the PG-rated, exemplary kind. The payoff barely seems worth it.