Latitude 2019. We went, we saw, we didn’t wash. We five slept in a four man tent. We argued about air pumps and tent pegs. We got bitten by mosquitos. The toilet cubicles were full of private school kids washing their hair over the sinks so no one could use them. Kids called Jonty and Avocado were pulled along in original Radio Flyer wagons, adorned with Cath Kidston bunting and solar-powered lights in the shape of dinosaurs.
We only ate things covered in salt or sugar and wiped cheese stained grease on our dusty legs to help them tan. We went into the Speakeasy tent to shelter from the rain, or sleep through ted-like talks from guilty feminists. I felt guilty for not listening but is there a better sound than rain on canvas?
The overpriced trolley brought on Amazon Prime broke on a stone midway back to the car. I won’t say it was overloaded by an overly ambitious husband. Oh, I just did. It only worked if pushed. Many men, far more than have ever asked for my number, stopped, not to help, but to tell me I was supposed to pull it. I told them ‘Silly me, here I was thinking the handle was a chin rest. Thanks for the mansplaining.’
We have this stupid new rule that we have to do a push up if we swear, so after my torrent of non-guilty feminist abuse I had to drop and kiss the dirt.
I wanted to see Underworld play Born Slippy so of course the kids didn’t. We went back to the tent instead and I heard ‘mega mega white thing’ drift towards me on a haze of organic sun-cream and vegan sausages as the solar fairy lights twinkled like stars overhead. I wanted to hear Primal Scream get their rocks off, but stood at the back of George Ezra instead and wondered why he sang with that accent.
We whittled sticks and painted spoons and were punted up the river edged with fat pink sheep, like Mole and Ratty on the river. We made bunting and heard Wendy Cope read ‘Flowers’* out loud and tell us there was no need to clap, and Simon Armitage read ‘Thank you for waiting’* and ‘Zodiac T-shirt’.
We watched Gomez light up the stage with Whipping Picadilly and new pop sensation Lets Eat Grandma sing their 19 year old hearts out, from right at the front, where the bass pumped through us like heartbeats.
We spent too much money on pink hats and bobbles hats and an Indian headdress and a patchwork quilt from the Oxfam shop that I couldn’t stop talking about. We ate overpriced strings of liquorice and churros dunked in chocolate and mugs of tea from whistling kettles, sat on slowly deflating armchairs.
We talked to traders we’d seen before. Wrote ‘mybodyismine’ on tote bags and ‘Rebel for life’ on old sheets and listened to a man from Romania tell us how weird us English are.
We drank tea from china cups on a leather armchair in the middle of a forest. The girls summersaulted over deflated balloons, abandoned chips and through littered fields lined with bunting and bedecked with lights.
We choose books from a free library. Made a model from junk, daisies from tissue paper. We were basic versions of ourselves. Offline and barefoot. No dogs to feed or hamsters to chase out from under the fridge. No tortoise to inject with antibiotics, or needy Lovebirds to feed oranges. We ate when not even hungry, slept when full, woke sticky and sated.
It’s amazing how many essential luxuries we have in our homes. Heating, hot water, a phone that tells the light in the fridge to come on. Fibre-optic memory foam, stain removing ice-maker, goose-down Prime Netflix, sheepskin slippers.
Yet we all flock like cattle to the middle of nowhere to be nobodies in a crowd singing ‘I’ll be riding shotgun feeling like a someone.’
Out of range and clean pants, unable to retrieve reassuring ‘likes’, I remembered that once we coped without the internet. Deals were made, treaties were signed. Wars started and ended. Meals were cooked without being photographed.
Men plucked black hats from walnut stands and bid farewell to the cleaning staff as they left their offices at 6pm sharp. They picked up the evening paper from a man who knew their name, on their way to the train.
Maybe they’d read it on the commute. Maybe not. For their time was their own. They had earned it, the right to do nothing but gaze outside, idly watch raindrops slide down foggy windows. To tip back their heads and close their eyes as the 6.15 from London Bridge delivered them home like brown parcels wrapped in string. There was a time, when phoneless and trackless, they noticed the smell of the leaves getting damper, or the robin that waited for them on the red brick wall. Next doors logs stacked neatly, a strange car parked down the street.
And while they were doing this, then loosening ties and pouring a toddy, their red leather chairs gathered dust in the silence of their empty offices. To do lists slumbered peacefully, stirring only slightly when a breeze from the single pane windows came in and lifted them up, then tucked them back in, to sleep soundly on.
*Flowers - Wendy Cope
Some men never think of it.
You did. You’d come along
And say you’d nearly brought me flowers
But something had gone wrong.The shop was closed. Or you had doubts –
The sort that minds like ours
Dream up incessantly. You thought
I might not want your flowers.It made me smile and hug you then.
Now I can only smile.
But, look, the flowers you nearly brought
Have lasted all this while.
* Thank you for waiting - Simon Armitage
At this moment in time we’d like to invite
First Class passengers only to board the aircraft.
Thank you for waiting. We now extend our invitation
to Exclusive, Superior, Privilege and Excelsior members,
followed by triple, double and single Platinum members,
followed by Gold and Silver Card members,
followed by Pearl and Coral Club members.
Military personnel in uniform may also board at this time.
Thank you for waiting. We now invite
Bronze Alliance Members and passengers enrolled
in our Rare Earth Metals Points and Reward Scheme
to come forward, and thank you for waiting.
Thank you for waiting. Accredited Beautiful People
may now board, plus any gentleman carrying a copy
of this month’s Cigar Aficionado magazine, plus subscribers
to our Red Diamond, Black Opal or Blue Garnet promotion.
We also welcome Sapphire, Ruby and Emerald members
at this time, followed by Amethyst, Onyx, Obsidian, Jet,
Topaz and Quartz members. Priority Lane customers,
Fast Track customers, Chosen Elite customers,
Preferred Access customers and First Among Equals customers
may also now board.
On production of a valid receipt travellers of elegance and style
wearing designer and/or hand-tailored clothing
to a minimum value of ten thousand US dollars may now board;
passengers in possession of items of jewellery
(including wristwatches) with a retail purchase price
greater than the average annual salary
of a mid-career high school teacher are also welcome to board.
Also welcome at this time are passengers talking loudly
into cellphone headsets about recently completed share deals
property acquisitions and aggressive takeovers,
plus hedge fund managers with proven track records
in the undermining of small-to-medium-sized ambitions.
Passengers in classes Loam, Chalk, Marl and Clay
may also board. Customers who have purchased
our Dignity or Morning Orchid packages
may now collect their sanitised shell suits prior to boarding.
Thank you for waiting.
Mediocre passengers are now invited to board,
followed by passengers lacking business acumen
or genuine leadership potential, followed by people
of little or no consequence, followed by people
operating at a net fiscal loss as people.
Those holding tickets for zones Rust, Mulch, Cardboard,
Puddle and Sand might now want to begin gathering
their tissues and crumbs prior to embarkation.
Passengers either partially or wholly dependent on welfare
or kindness, please have your travel coupons validated
at the Quarantine Desk.
Sweat, Dust, Shoddy, Scurf, Faeces, Chaff, Remnant,
Ash, Pus, Sludge, Clinker, Splinter and Soot;
all you people are now free to board.