Festival Blues

At home we do summer things. We throw ourselves into our usual music festival preparations. The preparations are less absorbing than you would think. It is mostly paperwork. Of course-these days it isn’t so much paperwork as virtual paper, though there is still ream upon ream of it. Veritable cyclones of emails, requests for certificates, requests for risk assessments, requests for electricity checks, requests for this and that.

The potential stallholders drag their feet; attachments dribble across the ether, some up-to-date, some not.

In the council chambers a woman sits thinking up more demands. At the eleventh hour she has a brainwave-we must hire 17 portaloos. The public lavatories adjacent to the site are not enough for the needs of the thousands who will be flooding through our gates. We hold an emergency meeting, form our response, write to the chamber-woman, explain that we cannot, now go ahead with the festival since the £1000 required for portaloos is beyond our tiny fund. Chamber-woman relents [this year]-then demands we hire a qualified electrician to place a plug in a socket for the dancers in the square.

The festival week arrives and somehow it begins to take shape, the huge marquee erected in a morning, the various components arriving and being installed.

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An unexpected turn of events at the Football World Cup means that England is to play a quarter final match with Sweden on festival Saturday. A mood of disquiet descends among us. ‘They’ll come afterwards’ I say, since the match is at 3.00pm.

On Friday evening we are ready-and they come. ‘Saints of Sin’, the headlining band bring a substantial following of loyal fans, which is encouraging. We feel optimistic. The ticket office is kept busy and many more than usual purchase weekend tickets.

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Saturday dawns fine-continuing the heatwave we’ve enjoyed for a couple of weeks. We open at midday and the musicians get going, attended by a trickle of festival goers. It is eerily quiet. A woman berates us for the lack of attendees, demanding to speak to our ‘head office’. I’m confused. Head Office? I explain that she still has the entertainment and that we are only a community, charity event; that we are all volunteers, that there is no ‘head office’. Enraged, she abuses the security staff and is barred for her pains.

Those that have drifted in are mostly enjoying themselves and it is calm in the sunshine on the quay, a smattering of drinkers at the tables by the bar tent, a handful of people sitting inside the marquee.

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On Sunday, as usual we have to allow free entry due to an ancient by-law and as usual many take advantage and choose this free day to attend. But not as many as normal. An elderly man complains ‘I don’t understand why it’s free today and it was £7 yesterday. We had Ozzie Osborne when we went to Donnington’. I explain the by-law. I explain that we are a charity, not-for-profit event. He understands.

The low numbers don’t make clearing up any less tiring and it has been a long. hot weekend. A few days later we know what we suspected. The takings are down so far that next year’s festival is less likely to go ahead.

We are England fans too, we festival volunteers. Ours is not the only event to have been scuppered by the scheduling. It is only a minor tragedy. But it is ours…

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The Tale of a Festival

The hedonistic, gargantuan, explosion that is the festival season is well underway. Here in the UK we have just had the mother of all festivals in the form of Glastonbury, to the excited trilling of some and the grumpy grumbles of the ‘not-like-it-used-to-bes’.

No, festivals, and indeed live music concerts are like anything else, not what they used to be. This is generally taken to be a bad thing but is not necessarily always so.

The first Glastonbury festival [known then as the Pilton festival] was held in 1970, although festivals had begun to take place on the Isle of Wight and elsewhere before this. In the USA there had already been Woodstock, which set the bar for festivals to follow, was turned into a feature-length movie and passed quickly into legendary status. Watching the film was the nearest we British teenagers were going to get to a Woodstock experience although not all of it was riveting. I remember the thrill of Ten Years After but Sly and the Family Stone must have been somewhat less enthralling because I did actually drift off during that bit.

As the third and last child of the family I was cut some slack during my teenage years and able to do pretty much as I liked. My then BF was a grammar school attendee and a choirboy, attributes which must have assuaged any fears for my safety and morals my mother had. This meant I was able to attend live music events and indulge in the inevitable, obligatory experiences they provided, legal or otherwise, with impunity.

As much as anything, festival or concert going enables those who’ve been there to analyse, relate and share years after the event. Hence ‘I saw The Stones at Hyde Park’ or ‘I saw Dylan at the Isle of Wight’ bestows a kind of status on the sharer of this information. Knowing this, merchandisers can make loadsa money from flogging commemorative T-shirts bearing details of the festival and most importantly, the date. This says of the wearer ‘I was there’.

This weekend, the first in July is the date of our own, local, modest music festival. During the last few years Husband has taken on an organising role, provoking much gnashing of teeth and tearing of hair as the date approaches. The regulations, risk assessments and fire documents, which become more demanding each year have at last been completed. The fencing, stage and marquee are all up. I prepare to step into my, more meagre role-that of selling tickets at the gate or picking up litter. The proceeds, such as they are go to local charities, the bands giving their performances free, the crowd gathered from the immediate community. It is anxiety-inducing and exhausting-no less for the fact that we stagers are increasingly old-stagers-but remains fascinating and fun. As they stream through the gate dressed in their ‘festival’ finery, children, dogs, wheelchair grannies, minders, partners and friends in tow it is like watching a smiling carnival procession, and all with one aim-to enjoy a weekend of music in the summer sunshine…

Pouring Cold Water on the Challenge

I realise it makes me into a bit of a humbug-but I have to confess to feelings of relief that the blanket high-jacking of social network sites from the ‘ice bucket challenge’ is beginning to subside. I was just a little tired of watching yet another acquaintance saying something to camera [I don’t know what as I have a tendency to leave the sound off] having water poured over them and exclaiming loudly with their hair and clothes plastered to their skin. But it was for Charideee, of course, which means it must have been a great thing- wasn’t it?
Charities do good work and those who work selflessly for them are to be admired. In these recent times of austerity and financial recessions they have suffered from lower incomes and less giving. So I suppose anyone who comes up with a wacky, ‘fun’ and different idea for fund raising is to be clutched at.
I can never quite understand how those prolonged treks and cycle rides in foreign parts constitutes fund raising-it always appears [and shoot me down if I am wrong] that those who take part are actually enjoying an exciting piece of travel courtesy of those who’ve kindly donated to their particular cause. At least the iced water doesn’t look exotic and desirable.
But isn’t there more than just a bit of smug, do-good, aren’t I generous?/a good sport/a fun-loving sort about such viral challenges as the ice bucket? Why do those taking part need us to see them? Why not go out into the garden, or yard, or car park and tip a bucket of cold water over your head then go indoors and have a cup of tea? Or go and have a bath in some baked beans, shower off and go and dig the garden? Of course, it must not only be filmed, reader-it must be shared on a social network. Why? Well, because a]All your friends must know what a big-hearted, selfless and philanthropic person you and b]You will have been nominated by another fun, generous person-demonstrating that you are also popular and a ‘good egg’.
Wouldn’t it be a great world that had no charities at all in it-because they were never necessary-because the richest, fittest, most advantaged people’s incomes were taxed enough to cover funds to address disease/famine/injury/social deprivation et al; or better still, that the most advantaged gave from their free will, without recourse to iced water, baked bean baths, shaved heads, prolonged cycling or taxation. I know there are those who do contribute a great proportion of their wealth, quietly, without publicising the fact or using it to promote themselves. Good for them.
I doubt the respite will be long. There will be another daft series of selfie videos in due course. In the meantime I’m revelling in the lull.

Give all you like…Just don’t keep telling me!

                I am sorry to be banging on about Facebook yet again, but whilst I have no wish to leave it [yet] there are elements that I do find irritating and the particular issue I’m tired of this week is pleas for sponsorship.

               OK. This makes me sound humbug enough to get haunted by ghosts dragging chains, I know. I should be reading all these stories of children with wasting diseases, mums who’ve died of cancer, heroes who’ve fought for queen and country and had bits blown off, poor, emaciated donkeys and the deprived local tennis club with tears in my eyes and then rushing to dig out my credit card immediately. I should revere those who are selflessly walking, swimming, jogging, knitting, singing or cycling their way to £10.50 or whatever their target figure is and should be thoroughly ashamed not to be following their shining example or even accompanying them in their respective crusades. Shame on me!

                 But actually, where charities are concerned, to me it is personal. I am not averse to inserting some loose change into the occasional collecting tin, provided the cause is worthy in my eyes, but on the whole I want the choice. I want to choose who I donate to, when I donate and how much. I don’t want to be reminded on a daily basis that this or that FB acquaintance is of such a saintly disposition they are giving of their time for such a selfless act whereas I am content to slob around at home heedless of the plight of such victims as they have elected to support.

                   It seems to me that those of us who are lucky and privileged enough to have been born and brought up in a relatively wealthy western civilisation are the lucky ones. We inhabit a country with a moderately stable climate [alright-it did go a bit pear shaped this winter], we can be provided with enough to get basic provisions, however impoverished we may feel ourselves to be. If our health is threatened we have access to some [admittedly marginal] health care. The authorities can provide some fundamental shelter, if it becomes necessary. This safety net is not available to vast numbers of people in the world; people who live in countries racked by drought, floods, famine or wars. We will never find ourselves stranded in a desert with starving, diseased children and nothing but grass or leaves to eat. We will never have to walk ten miles for some water.

                 This is what makes me averse to donating to the redundant donkeys’ homer, Helicopter rescue or Save the Allotments, although I am in favour of taxation to fund overseas development.

                  I do have my favourites! Oxfam, for one. The charity I do like to support, through a regular  standing order from my bank account, is Wateraid. Because I cannot think of anything more important than the provision of clean, safe water, vital to life itself. But I don’t want to swim, sing, dress up or walk…I’ll just donate, thanks!

Relieved it’s over…but where was the comedy?

                It is a poignant demonstration of advancing years to be able to remember ‘Liveaid’ in vivid detail. It happened in 1985. As far as I can tell it was the first of the big, blockbusting, heart-wrenching, celebrity-wridden charity-thons that have now become as much embedded in the fabric of our TV viewing as the weather forecast.

                Liveaid was a thrilling event for me at the time. Incarcerated as I was, with two tiny tots and no prospect of a night out, it was the closest I was likely to get to a rock, or pop concert or indeed any kind of live entertainment [with the exception of ‘Postman Pat’ on stage at our local provincial theatre]. It was an iconic, riveting, humdinger of a concert, gluing us all to our screens so that we were hardly able to leave the room to put the kettle on, let alone make dinner or put children to bed, lest we miss Freddy Mercury strutting and cavorting or U2 belting out ‘In the Name….’ or The Who [whose set was disrupted by a few technical hitches, I seem to remember].

                Nowadays charity fundraising events are part of the calendar, like Halloween or Mothers Day. Of course they are commendable, valuable exercises in drumming up cash for worthy causes, but am I alone in feeling fatigued by them? Yes, the likes of Lenny Henry, Dawn French etc have worked hard and no doubt selflessly every year to top previous the year’s total and are to be admired and thanked, and I am in no way criticising the ethic behind charity and the giving, but isn’t it time we approached national and world poverty in a different way?

                A cynic would say that the ‘slebs’ are not all wholly in it for altruistic reasons. I’m sure it does nothing to harm Claudia Winkelman’s career to be out there, yet again, ‘presenting’. [Why is she on almost every TV programme?]. But you have to wonder what the poor, sick people of Africa have done to deserve to be visited by the likes of ‘One Direction’. Isn’t their predicament desperate enough already? And these ‘slebs’ are not short of a bob or two themselves. They are asking recession-hit Brits to dig deep into almost empty pockets. Why not simply forget about the dodgy comedy and donate a big wodge themselves?

                Watching Jessie Jay have her head shaved, or Simon Cowell pretending to be a comedian does not provoke me into getting my cheque book out. What does affect me though, is to see and hear stories about struggling peoples’ lives. Back in 1985 it was Michael Burke’s tragic and moving account of the starvation and dying children in Ethiopia that brought tears to the eyes. Surely some sympathetic journalism, together with taxation and a consistent, philanthropic approach by governments in wealthier nations makes more sense than this tired circus that comes round with relentless regularity?

…or am I too much of a party pooper?