In which I am confused by Reading Festival

Hello. I hope you’re having a nice Bank Holiday weekend. I am currently unable to move off the sofa. Not because I’m hungover, far from it, but more because I’m in a state of bemusement about how I spent the day yesterday. 

Despite having lived in the near vicinity for 30+ years, I’ve never actually made it to Reading festival. It was a rite of passage for all my friends when we were in our early 20s, but I’d always been busy, or disinterested and had never quite made it there. I’m no stranger to a festival, I’ve been to a few, although I hasten to point out, I have never camped. My idea of camping is a 3* hotel with no pool. Day tickets only, thankyou. 

But the time had come to tick this one off the bucket list. My friend, and gig buddy, Caroline, is the only person, other than my husband, who shares my taste in music and feels the same way I do about the general unwashed. But we love live music and so have been to a number of shows over the years. We’ve suffered the mud at Download, been blinded by the neon lights in the corridors at Wembley, and been disappointed by how awful Vince Neill sounds these days.  

One day, a couple of months ago, I was in a seminar for work & came out during a break to find this on my phone:

It looked as though we were going. 

Fast forward to Friday night. Caroline had ordered an additional ticket (through Viagogo) for her daughter who had asked last minute if she could come. But alas, the scalpers had struck, and Caroline was in possession of an empty UPS bag. That she’d paid £180 for. Unbelievable. Just a side note really. It would appear Viagogo is rife with scammers and it’s impossible to make a claim via customer services. We’ve used Get Me In without a drama in the past but I’ll never touch Viagogo after this episode. 

Anyway, a few strings were pulled here and there, and we were sorted. Given that I didn’t know whether I’d be able to go or not, until about 3pm on the day, I’d decided against the train. I spend my life rushing for various modes of public transport and I was willing to sacrifice a couple of warm pints of Tuborg in favour of getting in and away quickly. 

So. We met up in Reading and hopped in a cab to the festival. We could see the main stage from the road, and thought “cool, none of that bloody hiking that we had to endure at Download”. Hahaha. Read on. 

Yesterday was an unbelievably humid day. I mean, I’ve done 104f in Florida but it didn’t compare to this. I was in leggings and boots and after a few minutes, looked like I’d just stepped out of the shower. Bad day to wear creme eyeshadow. 

We walked and walked, basically doing a tour of the whole perimeter of the campsite. We finally arrived, swapped our tickets for wristbands, then carried on walking again. It was like something out of Lord of the Rings, only in what felt like tropical humidity. Ugh. 

Once finally there, we made a beeline for Bill Bailey, who was just starting a set. Too hot – and crowded – to stand in a tent, so we sat on the grass by the speakers outside, and dried off. Bill Bailey was fantastic. In a typical fashion, my husband and I had actually been to see him do a warm-up show a few nights earlier. I tried hard not to be that person going “ooh there’s good bit coming up” but failed miserably. Bill Bailey is a genius. So talented, and hilariously funny without being blue or derogatory. 

We then checked out the loos. Never enough, but the ones that were there were good. Proper static loos, not those grim plastic banks of portaloos. So far so good. 

After that, we caught the end of the Eagles of Death Metal set. They were only on my radar after last year’s Paris tragedy but what I heard seemed pretty good. They closed on a Duran Duran cover so thumbs up from us oldies. 

Then it got a bit weird. We saw that Courteeners were up next, and thought “what the hell” as it’s fun to discover new bands at a festival. Caroline and I spotted a space near-ish to the front, so stood there. 

Then, gradually, we were piled on by seemingly endless streams of teenagers. Thousands of them. All the girls had exactly the same uniform: double french braided plaits, high waisted denim hotpants, bralet tops, and glitter. Glitter everywhere. It was like we’d been descended on by One Direction’s entire fan base at once. The boys all had cut-off jeans, Ray Ban Wayfarers, and not many t-shirts. 

It was like a Primark fashion show. 
Then the flares started. God, those things stink. 

True to form, Caroline and I didn’t know a single one of the songs. The crowd were having a high old time though – literally. Whilst they were all too young to drink, there was an awful lot of weed on the go. 

photo courtesy of @carolinehirons snapchat

At this point, we found out that Reading is the destination of choice for those who have just got their GCSE & A level results. Oh. What happened to Reading, Festival of Rock? We genuinely felt as though we’d stepped into an episode of the Inbetweeners. Compounded by the group of boys next to us who were inexplicably screaming “Vegans! Veeeeegans” throughout the set. Nothing funnier than someone else’s stoned private joke, is there? 

We felt out of place and like we didn’t belong. Us, the seasoned gig-goers. 

Things didn’t really improve after that. 

The stage wasn’t really high enough to get a decent view. I’m not tall (far from it) so spent most of it watching the screens, which is always disappointing. 
We ate an expensive hot dog, noting on the way that the queues to buy glitter were longer than the queues for the bar. The hot dog was £7 which is standard for a festival, but I did wonder how much it would cost these kids to do three or four days there. I mean, I work in the City a few days a week and am no stranger to paying £9 for an overpriced takeaway salad but you’d need some serious cash to spend all weekend at a festival. 

Imagine Dragons were up next. I’ve got both their albums and quite like them but they were just…weird… live. 

The singer spent most of the time jumping off the stage, talking about peace, and banging a drum. Disappointing. 

Luckily by this point I’d bumped into a friend and his group so we spent a long time exchanging war stories about how things were better in ye olden days, like boring old gits. 

Then I saw this, which was a high point of the day, as anyone who has read my Florida trip reports will know. #USAnumberone

Another high point of the day was seeing what these teenage boys had scrawled on each others’ bodies in fluoro face paint. My favourite was the kid with “Get Your Tits Out For Harambe” daubed on his chest.

photo courtesy of @carolinehirons snapchat

We were only really at Reading to see the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Long time favourites of ours, Blood Sugar Sex Magik is one of my all time favourite albums. Caroline and I have seen them before but they play the UK so rarely that it was exciting to see them again, especially as it was going to be a two hour set. 
Quick (hahaha) loo stop:

This was mad. 

But I liked the political commentary that someone had scrawled on the door. 

I didn’t manage to get any decent photos. Mainly because THIS kept happening. Yes, you’re quite right, you ponchoed, floral crowned loon, we’d MUCH rather gawp at you than at one of our favourite bands. 

The set was amazing though. All the classics. We were very happy. The funniest moment was when a girl tried to barge us. Caroline and I have attended enough concerts to know that once you get a good spot, you stay there, planted to the floor. You become the immovable object. So when the girl realised she wasn’t going to be standing where we were, she just gave C a withering glance and said “well, at least you’re enjoying yourself”. Pity the two old bats who’d been allowed out of the home for the day. 

It was then time to head out, trying to find Caroline’s daughter, who’d inexplicably sacked off the Chili Peppers for some noise called Section Boyz (which reminds me of that bit in Rock of Ages where Drew joins the boyband called the Z Guyeezz). 

We found #1 daughter, and headed for the exit. Dear Reading Festival, your signage is terrible. We walked, and walked, and walked past rows of tents so tightly packed together that they were like little terraced houses. Didn’t hear a single person playing the guitar though. 

After half an hour or so, we found a marshal, who pointed out we were going the wrong way. “Walk through the purple camp, then the green, then the red”.  We were in the brown camp <insert joke here>. So, feeling more and more like Frodo and co, we trooped all the way back. On weary feet that had been standing for 10 hours. 

Finally found the exit and embarked on the mega walk along the river to get back to the main road. Hurrah! A taxi rank. Boooooo, a taxi rank with a queue that stretched as far as the eye could see. 

But then, a glorious sight. A Reading bus. Yes, glorious. As it had taken us 1.5 hours to get this far, we got straight on the bus with no queue and were soon being driven back to the town centre. 

We said our goodbyes and I went off in search of my car, narrowly missing getting taken out by some drunken revellers who had decided to form a walking human pyramid on the pavement. 

Made it home by about 01:30 and let me tell you, taking my boots and my makeup off was an even more thrilling feeling than removing my bra. 

So. Would I do Reading again? No. I think if I were 16 years old again, it might be fun. The prospect of having a carefree weekend with my friends, let off the parental leash to cover myself in glitter, hear some music and eat some expensive food might have appealed to me. But really, I was a bit sad that something I’d always thought of as a classic festival has been over-run with hyperactive kids. Now I know why there weren’t as many people of my generation there. We want to hear the music & have sensible fun (hehe) not be penned in by girls brandishing their phones at their friends to analyse what the most recent Whatsapp message from a boy actually means, shrieking at each other during a legendary guitar solo that you’ve been aching to hear played live. 

I know I sound pretentious. I’m not really a Dementor, trying to suck the joy out of things. But still. No to Reading. But maybe I’ll see you at Download. I’ll be the one moaning about my feet, the rain and the loos, but at least there’s no glitter. 


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