Friday, 27 September 2013

It's a bit late in the year for this, but still...

Or, how to REALLY do a festival - a first-timer's guide.

Festivals are like sex – the first time is spent worrying that everyone is doing it more skilfully than you are; the bad times are vastly improved by large amounts of alcohol and drugs, and when the good times are over, you have to fight the urge to share every gory detail with anyone who wasn’t involved. 

I am not a natural festival-goer, by any means. I have a zero-tolerance attitude to having greasy hair and leg-stubble, but I love live music like Robin Thicke loves being an unutterable creep, so for one weekend a year I’m prepared to go from being a massive princess who can’t leave the house without a blow-dry to a slattern held together with cider and dry shampoo. I’m also not much of a festival veteran – I’ve been to two, so far. The first being Oxfordshire’s lovely little Truck festival, which - as I've told you - is attended by about 5,000 people and is farmy and family-friendly, with barn-stormingly good bands (literally. One of the stages is in a barn. The acoustics are exactly as you’d expect – metallic). And the second was this year’s Bestival – attended by 60,000, it was a whole other huge, smelly, rainy ball-game. My companion this time was a total festival virgin, so it fell to me to be the voice of experience, which made me realise that to the uninitiated, the whole event can seem quite strange and stressful. So here’s a handful of things you absolutely need to know before you lose your festival virginity.

1)   The smell. It sounds obvious, but it’s easy to forget. Picture the scene: you wake up on day two or three, and in order to escape the less-than-fragrant scent of your still-sleeping tent-fellows, stick your head outside and gulp some fresh morning air. Except it’s not fresh – the whole site has started to hum with the aroma of thousands of unwashed bodies. This is why if you’re a non-smoker, you become extraordinarily tolerant of smokers over the course of the weekend – if you stand next to one, you can inhale their fumes, rather than the smell of the unshowered people surrounding you. 

2)   And on a related note, the toilets. Back in the civilised world, going to the loo is usually a painless experience – unless you’ve got food poisoning or are naturally prone to constipation. At a festival, it’s an ordeal that doesn’t seem to ease up, no matter how many times you do it, nor how drunk you get. That smell would sober up Pete Doherty after a long weekend in Moscow. Be warned. And take some antibacterial hand gel.

3)   “Festival beauty” isn’t a thing. Magazines are chock-full of this stuff at the beginning of the festival season: how you can channel “Alexa at Coachella” with a handful of bits from Superdrug. Fuck off. You do not need to look your shiny, clean, photogenic best at a festival. It’s not even possible, given that you won’t have access to anything more cleansing than baby wipes. I mean, you can optimistically take your make-up bag, and just keep layering it on, but I personally wouldn’t want to risk the volcanic break-out of spots that will inevitably follow when you’re back in the land of hot running water. Leave the foundation at home and embrace the grime. And if you don’t feel anything but fucking beautiful when you’re hollering along to your favourite band as they storm through their set during a downpour, then I’m afraid I can’t help you.

4)   Sex. Having said all that in point (3), on the Isle of Wight that weekend, I did see a truly remarkable amount of young ladies who had bothered to do a full face of slap. I can only imagine that these young things were on the pull, which is, again, a stupid idea at a festival. You’d imagine that there’s going to be a pretty sexy vibe, with the music, the liberated approach to drink and drugs, the general atmosphere of hedonism. You’d be wrong. If, due a combination of vodka and time passing, you cannot reliably tell me when you last showered, then I don’t want to have sex with you. And tents aren’t the sexiest of locations, unless what really turns you on is a soundtrack of students vomiting and sleeping bags rustling. But if that’s the case, go for it.

5)  You won’t see about half of the acts you plan on seeing. You’ll pay a fair whack for a programme and gleefully rifle through it once your tent is up and you have a drink in hand. “Right, I definitely want to see them. And we can’t miss her. Ooh, they’re playing, I didn’t know that. Oh, and them.” You’ll memorise times and locations, but somehow only manage to actually be present for some of these, due to a sudden tent-collapse emergency, or getting too engrossed in one of those drunken, putting-the-world-to-rights conversations.

In short, music festivals can be hard work. But you’re missing out if you don’t spend at least one weekend of your life living out of a rucksack, laughing brazenly in the face of personal hygiene and going unselfconsciously nuts to your favourite song while it pisses it down. 

One final hint: don’t keep your wristband on past the day of your return to the adult world. No one likes a pretentious festival wanker, so don’t be that guy. 

Sunday, 1 September 2013

Bad education

You know what distresses me? I mean, other than the price of Dermalogica products, the situation in Syria and people to whom the words "please" and "thank you" are alien concepts?

Well, this. (If you can't access it, it's a Telegraph article about the government's proposals to drop sex and relationship education from the curriculum for 11-13 year olds - under which, information on sexual health, contraception, hormones and adolescence would not be taught.)

These proposals do make you wonder if Education Secretary Michael Gove has ever actually been to a school - and I feel now would be the time to slip this in here. Thanks to the Boy for showing that to me. Mind you, Mr Gove also once claimed that if young people did well academically, they were less likely to "indulge in risky behaviours" - which made sense, until he used it as a basis for the suggestion that sex education lessons would no longer be needed. "They're bright and high-achievers so they won't be having sex" is one of the most bollocks assumptions I've ever heard someone make. No, no, no - if they're bright, and over the age of 16, and reasonably mature and responsible, then I bloody well hope they're having some sex.

I have a theory, and it goes thus: if you start educating people early - about anything, really - it becomes normal to them. Standard, everyday, unremarkable. Not a big deal. And as far as sex is concerned, if you teach age-appropriate material throughout the academic life, the chances are you're going to end up with a bunch of well-informed, clued-up, sensible, confident teenagers. Who can talk about sex without getting embarrassed, who feel secure and can communicate well within relationships, and who don't feel judged when they have problems or questions. And all this is a bad thing because...?

I suppose one could quite reasonably argue that it should be left to parents to decide how and when their children learn about sex and relationships. But that would put some kids at a huge disadvantage - there would be the nice, liberal parents that fixed a grin on their nervous faces and got The Conversation started, but there would equally be parents that bottled it and neglected to broach the subject at all. The children of the "bottlers" would have to pick up their info elsewhere - like the internet, or the school playground. Which are, as we know, completely reliable and accurate channels of information... The easiest way to screw up your children is to not address the issues that matter to them - to ignore their worries, either through fear or embarrassment, and to make them feel they can't confide in you. That is precisely how you drive them away, thus leaving them even more vulnerable than they were before. So let's not do that, yeah?

The other line some people like to take on this is the hysterical, "think of the children!" one: "if we teach them these things when they're young, they'll start doing it sooner!" Have these people MET any children? Here's a scenario I may or may not have plucked from the air: an eleven year old hears the term "blow job". He or she asks their best mate what it means. The best mate does their best to explain using their own limited knowledge. The eleven year old thinks "Ew!! That sounds GROSS." End of story. (For a few years, anyway.)

There are also the statistics, though - Britain has one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in Europe (or has had; it's fallen in recent years), and sex and relationship education is neither comprehensive nor compulsory, while the often-used example of the Netherlands has one of the lowest teen pregnancy rates in the world, and educates its youngsters from an early age. In short - people BENEFIT from being taught about sex and relationships from a young age, so it would be nice if the government made curriculum decisions that didn't fly in the face of all the actual evidence.

Maybe a small part of it comes down to that British squeamishness surrounding talking about "feelings". But when matters of health and self-esteem are at stake, we need to lose that squeamishness and get some practice in talking about the tricky stuff. Whether the issue in question is sex, mental health or bereavement - there are so many things that can be incredibly hard to talk about - every time someone says "no, we're not going to discuss that", or only talks about whatever-it-is in hushed, conspiratorial tones, they're taking a huge step backwards. Back to a time when personal things - things that still affected everybody, mind - weren't spoken of at all and people went half-mad with repression and anxiety that they weren't "normal".

Because that's the risk taken when the opportunities for safe, open discussion, and asking questions, are removed. Knowledge, as we all know, is power. Information - the correct information - is confidence. If we make sure that younger generations have all the facts and feel free to ask questions, they will be confident in making their own, well-informed decisions. Why would anyone NOT want that?

This song's rather fun.
And I'm back obsessing over Brontide again, because I saw them last Wednesday and it was wonderful. With their white-hot riffs and dapper drummer* who knows how to pound seven fucks out of his kit, they wouldn't know "boring" if it punched all three of them in the face. Here, have some of this.

*We met him afterwards, and I was able to rectify the impression I made when I saw him on the Tube a few weeks ago. I may have lost what little cool I had when I spotted him at Finsbury Park station, and blurted out "AreyouWilliamBowerman? MyboyfriendandIarehugefansofBrontide!" He took it well, though, and when we chatted to him on Wednesday, he was absolutely lovely. Well, the Boy chatted, while I stood there and tried to decide which one to propose marriage to first. I must have a thing for drummers.