rubbish music

As the great J M Keynes may have said, most of the problems in the world can be attributed to people working too hard. Accordingly, you might expect that climate change and excessive consumption might slow down in August, when everybody stops working at all, and everything seems to carry on perfectly fine. (I have particularly noticed how little difference the absence of the House of Commons appears to make, and since when they are around they seem to cause so much trouble and expense, perhaps one law we might ask David Cameron to repeal is the one that hires MPs).

Anyhow, in the interests of doing our bit towards the less work culture, we have been to a music festival  Or rather, Magnus, Dolly and I have been. Mr Fixit preferred to drive for four hours each way to deposit us, and do it all again to collect us, rather than endure seventy-two hours of camping. Or, indeed, one hour. He was a total saint about it, and never uttered a word of reproach, even when we were immobilised in the one-way traffic light system the organisers had helpfully installed at the entrance, apparently unaware of the rather crucial fact that nobody wanted to go the other way.

A music festival sounds like the perfect low-carbon event. There we were in a bosky patchwork of meadows, the proles in Gelert  popup tents, the people from Islington in rented tepees, and Madness and Jon Ronson cosied in five star en-suite yurts near the main stage (camping has to have a class structure – this was Dorset, after all).

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall just dropped by for a few hours, which ought to have involved little more than jumping on his bike as he lives up the road. In the event he arrived by plane, which seemed a little off-brand for somebody who spends so much air time and licence fee money extolling sustainability. Still, how else is a TV celebrity supposed to maintain his proper distance from the horrid hordes?

Elsewhere the atmosphere could not have been more happy hippie, a tousled tribe in old jeans and  wellies hoisting grimy bebops with painted faces and garlands in their hair. Even if they had all got there in eight cylinder jeeps and late model Citroen Picassos, for those three days we were all on foot.

And we had fun. We saw acrobats dressed as dung beetles and ladybirds  , a lot of jousting, a human jukebox, a burlesque act based inexplicably on sunglasses, and some risque stand-up – thank goodness, somebody else has shouldered the burden of explaining to my children the cultural significance of  auto-erotic asphyxiation.

We heard some fine music poetry and theatre, impersonated various characters in a  scratch video and Magnus found a new fallback career as a BMX display rider, just in case his contract with the Cleveland Cavaliers mysteriously fails to come through.

In between, or when it rained, we ate cheese sandwiches and played Dolly’s Dada strip poker (in the tent, with the flap closed, bien sur) whose only indispensable elements are plenty of toffees for chips, and a total failure to make any sense of the rules.

Technically, it was off grid too, if you can call something off grid that hums even at 2 am to the music of an army of generators, where fairy lights are strung by the mile and every food stall has its own floodlighting and espresso machine. And – ahem – there is the little matter of the music. I’m no expert in decibel to wattage conversion, but it’s a safe bet you could have run a mid-sized Bulgarian town for a year on Tiny Tempa’s set.

Yet it wasn’t for a few hours that I identified what – apart from rolling off my air bed every two seconds – was making me glum. Everything started an hour late, but that was probably inevitable, given that the staff had all seemingly been signed up at the Leavers’ Balls of the local public schools.

It wasn’t even the noise –  that’s traditional too, and we’d brought ear plugs. There was no crime, violence or pushing in, nothing was nicked from the tents, and toddlers snuggled safely at their parents’ feet, in even the densest crowds.

But – the waste! Within hours, the meadows and stages and marquees were carpeted in napkins, plates, and empty cans. Even the WI tea tent was selling bottled water.  There was no way in the world Mrs Normal’s rubbish patrol was going to keep this lot in order. I did try, at first, by making the children take their own mugs to the hot chocolate stand, but from the furtive nudges of our neighbours in the queue, and the compassionate discounts from the Strumpets with Crumpets we could tell this wouldn’t be a mass movement any time soon.

There were recycling bins, but as soon as they were emptied, they filled up again. There were even compost bins, though I have my doubts whether the remains of a Mars Bar milkshake, four chips drenched in sour cream, a hamburger carton and two wooden knives are ever going to mulch down into something your average garden plant would recognise as lunch.

Efforts were being made by the organisers to corral the tidal wave of garbage. It was the amount generated in the first place that depressed me.

So I wandered around for the next couple of days in a low-level cloud of personal remorse for being part of it, and generalised ire at the squanderbug self-indulgence of what our 29,997 companions innocently regarded as a good time off.

And then, at the eleventh hour – or to be precise, at 21.55 on the last evening – we discovered the refund tent. All along, we could have been stowing the bottles and cans we picked up, not in the bins, but in our backpacks, and getting money back for them. Good money, too – 10p a pop, which could have earned the children’s keep, and by useful toil. It’s not often – let’s be honest, it’s not ever – that they get the chance of a decent reward for doing what they’re already nagged into, every waking minute of their lives.

All those wasted hours of poker, laughter and lolling could have been put to gainful use. And I wouldn’t have had to spend my days shuttling like a UN negotiator between the two of them at opposite ends of the site, vainly trying to find something we could all enjoy, so nobody would feel left out.

I felt bad about it. Imagine how they reacted. ‘I could have had churros, for breakfast AND lunch AND tea!’ wailed Dolly. ‘And a Mexican hammock to eat them in!’

‘I could have got enough for FIFA 2011 and Red Dead Redemption 3.0′, growled Magnus’. ‘And probably the down payment on a BMX too.’ I added, helpfully.

‘If I’d collected, say, five hundred cans a day for three days,’ he continued, ‘that’s…’

That’s when I realised how glad I was we hadn’t discovered it until then. If we had, they’d have been off at dawn, and I’d never have seen them again. I’d have had to do all that oohing and aahing and giggling and moshing and cake-evaluating – and poker  – all on my own. Which of course doesn’t work. So I’d also have ended up spending three days with my nose to the ground, scouring the place for empties.

It might have been the path of virtue, but even I wouldn’t have called it a holiday.