“How was the festival?” my friends keep asking with an amused smile waiting for the barrage of moans and groans. “Actually,” I reply, “it was fun! At times it even felt like a BC (Before Children) Festival”. “And the camping?” they ask, well aware of my attachment to my hair dryer, ecig and phone charger. I make a noise that is incomprehensible. “I’m just not sure we’re a camping kind of family.” I respond….
The day before we left for Latitude it was the Paramedic’s wedding. It was beautiful. We got home at not too late an hour with the intention of setting off at 6am. I had abstained from the sambucas and had my last drink at around 10 so I knew I was ok to at least start the 3-hour drive. The plan had been for Husband to drive, but he was already 4 shots down and at volume level 9 by 7pm so we both knew that wasn’t going to happen. We were in bed by midnight and everything was ready to be loaded into the car. At 1.30am, Girly no1 (nearly 3) woke up crying about her snotty nose. This is totally out of character for her, she doesn’t normally stir if there’s an electrical storm at her window. I ran in to wipe her nose and snuggle her back down. At 2.15am, Girly no2 (8 months) woke up screaming. I went in to pat and reassure and she went back off sounding sniffly and hoarse. At 3.25am she was awake again, crying and shouting. She went back off ten minutes later whimpering. At 4.10am, she was awake and raging. She was hot, red and sweaty. And she was inconsolable. At this point, Husband lifted his weary head and asked if she was crying. “Yes darling, she has been on and off for hours”. We gave her both medicines, patted, paced and whispered but nothing pacified her. Just before 5, Husband put her in the pram and went off walking, strangely bumping into an old rugby on the street. I still don’t know what he was doing at 4.55am at the end of our road. I had thought the voices were Husband cursing the baby. I tried to sleep while it was quiet but my head was full of packing, roof boxes, tents and all of the things I had probably forgotten. Husband and no2 were back just before six so we agreed to get our heads down until either Girly woke up. A few hours later, after three of us hung off the roof box to close it, we set off.
Successfully avoiding low bridges, we kept our roof box in tact and avoided sprinkling my pants across the pretty countryside of Sulfolk. We arrived at Latitude Festival with one woefully sad baby and one bored and hyperactive toddler. Our tent had been sent ahead and erected by the Northerners so we just had to get our tonnes of stuff into it. We paid for the Festival Taxi service to get us from the entrance, almost to the tent. There were four long trips from the car to the entrance, all done by a very sweaty Husband as I pacified a teary baby, but then one beautifully driven airport-car with a trailer full of our crap attached to it escorted us to the tent. Latitude had been described to me as England’s middle-class festival. This was brought to life during the taxi ride when we passed a group of teenage boys. They first appeared to be messing around jumping in front of us however as we drove passed them, one of them shouted “look at the baby! It’s so cute!” The rest of them nodded and coo’d their agreement. I briefly wondered if I had entered an alternate universe as they all smiled and waved at my wide-and-watery-eyed baby girl.
After a stressful hour inflating beds and sorting the tent, done mostly with a bouncing toddler on my back, I cracked open a tinny. Camping chairs out, we sat down to survey our surroundings. This is nice, I thought, we might relax after all. About 45 seconds later, I was back up again looking for clean syringes to top up no2 with Calpol. Then it was baby food time. Then clean nappies and the potty. Then it was time to pack the pram ready for an evening out. Torches, blankets, pj’s, medicine….it was a military operation in itself. The Latitude site isn’t actually that big, that’s one of the things that makes it great for families, but we still didn’t want to be backwards and forwards to the tent all the time. We headed out with our pimped up pram (by which I mean my friends’ double mountain buggy wrapped lazily in solar powered fairy lights) laden with back packs, changing bags and pram baskets full to the brim not with alcohol as in days of old, but of spare clothes, baby milk and pop-up tents. We met up with the rest of the group, including another mum of two whose children were 18 months and – wait for it – 8 weeks old! In many ways, she was the easiest of the bunch, just feeding and sleeping. Strapped to her Mummy or Daddy’s chest, beautiful Betty was an angel. We grabbed some food, watched a couple of acts and then at around 8pm, Girly no1 asked if she could put her jamamas (pj’s) on and get in the pram. “Yes!” I shouted, tempering my keenness lest she realise what she had said. Both girlys were asleep by 8.15pm leaving us to have a few ciders and watch Goldfrapp and the 1975. Perfect! We went back to the tent at 11-ish surrounded by pimped up Festival carts, all headed towards the family camping fields. No1 transferred into her Gruffalo ready-bed without too much noise other than a fight over whether she had to have her duvet or not. No2 was a different story. She was desperately unhappy, full of snot, sweating and crying. I felt awful and questioned my parental decision-making at bringing my sick baby camping at a festival. The music was deafening until 4 in the morning. As was teenage Chris, living in the tent behind us, shouting to Flora for hours about “having it” to some DJ. Had I heard his voice in the festival later that day, I would have slapped him, no questions asked. I felt better when no2 started screaming at 5am, knowing that he would only just have gone to bed. I fantasised about putting her in his tent, right by his head, and leaving her there. But he would probably have stayed asleep, comatose from all the microbrewery IPA he had drunk. I broke my rules and put no2 in our bed, snuggling her close to me all night. She woke every hour or so whimpering sadly, eventually sleeping for 2 consecutive hours from about 5. No1 woke up at that point demanding oaty bars and milk. Husband and I were not at our finest, snapping and bickering. It wasn’t helped by our slowly deflating air bed that left us laying on a pointy plastic frame of spikes. This happened every 3 or 4 hours, and the other one was jiggled up and down every time the other one moved. I hated camping at that point. The continual disappearance of everything we needed drove me mad. Syringes rolled away the moment you let go of them. The calpol never seemed to be in the changing bag where I left it. Clean nappies were buried in duvet the second I let go of them. I could never find baby wipes when I needed them, which was a lot. I hate losing things. At home I know where everything is and anything that is important, I have multiples of. One in the changing bag, one in the cupboard. One upstairs, one downstairs. The issue with camping is just not knowing where anything is. It’s not permanent enough for things to have ‘a home’ and this was exacerbated by our poorly baby. After two nights of no more than 45 minutes sleep in one go, I was a woman on the edge. I feel awful admitting this, but I may have told my darling princess of a two-year old to “just shut up and go back to sleep” when she was demanding things from me at 5am on Saturday morning. Not proud. I apologised profusely later in the morning after my first two-hour block of sleep in three days, cuddling and kissing her until she brutally pushed me off with a hand to the eye. I think I was forgiven.
I was so tired that Saturday that I felt sick all day. I drank us much tea as I could stomach in the morning but it wasn’t helping. Then my other Northern friend, StoryBook, and her Mum, Jewels, announced the beginning of the totally irrelevant, but very creative, ‘Jamaican Me Crazy’ party, producing pineapple and ginger cake, reggae music and Dark ‘n’ Stormy cocktails. I felt remarkably better after one of those. Girly no1 made everyone laugh with her huge duck poo – “Daddy, look! I did a poo on my potty and it’s a duck!” – proudly showing it off. I’m not sure the Northerner was too enamoured with the makeshift toilet alongside her tent but she managed to feign enthusiasm for the carefully crafted turd from my daughters’ behind. We got through the rest of the day with food and dance, peppered with the odd cocktail or a dirty vodka red bull when both girls were asleep. At one point I was sat in a tent in the amazing kids field making beetle bracelets with card, glitter and pipe cleaners, seriously thinking about nestling into the gritty looking cushions for a snooze. I sat through a kids theatre show about a Boy Scout and Grandad that I really didn’t understand. No1 fired questions at me about what was happening, which, whilst hilarious to everyone else, felt to me like I was undergoing an interrogation from the KGB. I couldn’t cope. No2 was much better after some sleep, and we kept up alternating Calpol and Nurofen every two hours. She slept most of the day occasionally waking for some Mummy snuggles and to refuse food. By 8.30pm both Girlys were again fast asleep in their jamamas in the pram while we bounced around to Mumford & Sons. It was great. We went back to the tent at midnight via a disco that played the best tracks of each year since 1980. We made it as far as 1998 then realised we were the last pram left in the festival. StoryBook and Forty-Fucking-Two (so-called for her youthful looks leading me to think she was ten years younger than she is) carried on partying and whilst I was slightly jealous, as we hiked off with our enormous pram, I was delighted to be in bed half an hour later, finally sleeping for 4 long consecutive hours. Bliss.
Sunday morning was remarkably more calm than the other days. I did relent and give no1 the iPad for an hour so I could go back to sleep at 6am but I needed it so I forgave myself. I felt like a new woman! No2 woke up much much better and whilst still on food strike, she was happily guzzling milk and she laughed for the first time in days. I re-introduced her to the group as my real baby, declaring the tearful snot beast of the previous days an imposter. We made the best use of our last day exploring all the areas of the Festival we hadn’t seen yet. Latitude is so varied and has all these amazing secret bars and tents. We saw comedy and theatre, were covered in glitter and then set up camp with the rest of the group for the bigger acts of the night. We hid in the pop up tent for the brief showers and watched Girly no1 and her new best friend run, dance and roll around around the grass looking like mental fairies. It was amazing.
Overall it was a fantastic experience that I would 100% repeat. The downsides were the camping and the lugging of all the things, and no2 being poorly. The latter you obviously can’t plan for, but as I said to Husband through gritted teeth on the first night, we would be doing the same thing with her whether at home or in a field in Sulfolk. She would still be waking up and crying and I simply wasn’t willing to forgo the hundreds of pounds spent on tickets, tents, roof boxes and all the other crap we had to buy to get there. Camping is camping. Maybe it’s something you get better at. I still don’t love it, but I dislike it less. The best advice I was given prior to the festival was to not expect the festival experience to be the same with babies as without. We went in with that attitude meaning the grown up time we had gotten was enjoyed twice as much. The night times were almost our own, but with less alcohol than if we were alone, and the day times were actually pretty similar but with a better set up as we had cold beers, blankets and space. I think we probably will go back next year. But with a motor home.
I’d love to hear about your own camping and festival experiences. As usual, please like and share on Facebook or Twitter if you have enjoyed.