I couldn’t live in France. It’s very pretty. Old crumbly houses and sunflower fields, straw hats and afternoon naps, but it’s just too slow for me. And they close the shops for hours each day. And the farmers are cruel to dogs. I was at the local boating lake, which said it opened at 2pm, (so 3pm, or whenever anyone feels like going to work after their nap).
While we were waiting for the staff to arrive/stop drinking Orangina and open, I met the biggest dog I’ve ever seen. I later found out he’s a Pyrenean mountain dog. A better name for the one I found would be ‘sorry old state’.
If you look up a photo of a Pyrenean mountain dog, you will see a beautiful white beast with a mane like a lion. The dog I found had dreadlocks decorated with sheep droppings and a tail weighed down with thorns. I was heartbroken and asked who he belonged to.
The surly staff at the lake told me in broken English he belonged to the local farmer ‘Schmitt’, was always at the lake and never seemed to be fed. Me, being me, demanded a pair of scissors and spent two hours hacking years of dirt and crust from him. I swear that dog knew I was helping him, he rolled on his back like a baby and licked my hand.
All the French people took photos of me and tutted. Many see him every day, but none thought about helping him.
My mum is friends with the local vet, so I called him and asked him about the dog. He told me the farmer is ‘very special’. I didn’t know what that meant in French, but when I told him I’d pruned the dog he made a noise that sounded like fear and told me the farmer had a gun.
I told him I’d happily rehome the dog. He promised to go and ask the farmer on my behalf that night. I’ve not heard from him since. I hope I didn’t get him killed. My mum and dad told me ‘not to get involved’ but I couldn’t sit by and watch that dog being stabbed with thorns woven into his tail when I could do something about it.
Maybe people fall into two camps, those who do and those who do not. I do-do-do, and I’m not scared of the farmer turning up at my parent’s house with his gun. Well, maybe a bit, but I’ll arm myself with a fly squat (the French flies have never forgiven us for the war) and hide behind my da-da-da.
I’m on the annual holiday in France at my parent’s house. This year, we decided to drive, and booked the 11pm ferry from Newhaven to Dieppe. We didn’t book a cabin, thinking we could nap on a comfy chair. How wrong we were. People who travel on late night ferries work it all out advance. I’ve never seen such stealth and coordination, they must have all been German. The second they got out their cars and into the bar they started unrolling hidden sleeping bags, lowering themselves to the floor at the same time. Within two minutes every available chair or floor space was gone. Legs stuck out where tables should be. Some people even had inflatable mattresses.
I had momentary ownership of a blue chair, but when the husband left to get a drink, a family of French people came and stole it from me. They piled six children onto the two remaining chairs next to me. One of them crawled into my lap and looked as if it were going to sleep there. The mother looked at me like she’d won a game I didn’t know we were playing. I gave up the seat and kicked her drink over on my way.
I’m already preparing the kids and husband for how we will claim a space on the way back. We are going to exit the car in our sleeping bags and hop into the restaurant, where we will lunge onto the sofas.
France is the same as ever. Hot and slow. My mother and I queued in a local super market for forty minutes while the server kissed all her customers on both cheeks a hundred times, then remarked on every single item in their shopping basket.
The man in front of me had trolley that was empty save for two massive bags of dog food. “Your dogs will be hungry” I said, confident he wouldn’t understand me, and then I noticed he also had a supersize box of ‘super safe’ condoms and lube. “Oh, and you have condoms too” I went on “Good for you. I do hope they are not for the dog.”
Mother elbowed me, and we giggled, then he turned round and said, in perfect English ‘You can never be too safe, and no they are not for the dog.” Why oh why did the first person I’ve ever met in my parent’s village that speaks English have to be him?
Mother and I couldn’t stop snorting. The children demanded to know why. I said something about ‘willy hats’ and that set Mother off again. To be fair to the man/stud, he wasn’t at all embarrassed. I did notice that the checkout lady didn’t kiss him, or remark on his shopping though.
2018 was our second visit to Latitude. We went in 2016 because the National were headlining and we love them so much it hurts. We came back two years later, not because we didn’t have a great time, but because we had to pay for house renovation stuff and we couldn’t afford it.
This year we paid using the ‘pay over four months’ option which was awesome. By the time the date came we’d saved money for food (essential) and bought loads of quite good camping gear from Decathlon (also essential).
Latitude is set in Henham Park in Suffolk. A trek for us from Brighton, but the setting is worth it. Think forests where the sun peeks through fir trees, a glistening lake, miles of fields and some truly special sunsets. A couple were far more impressive than the bands they were the backdrop to actually, but more on that later.
The signage was good. The car park was as far away from the campsite as any would be at a festival with 30,00+ people. You can hire trailers to take your stuff down to the camp site on, but you have to leave £100 deposit and if you are not back within an hour and a half you get fined. Yes, the money goes to charity though. A lot of the services they offer do. For example, Green Peace pay out £5 per bin bag of plastic bottles collected.
We got a great pitch, near but not too near the toilets and the entrance to the main arena. We arrived in good time but were still entertainment for the middle-class people who’d arrived earlier and set up their palatial canvas extravaganzas (think bunting and Fortnum and Mason hampers).
They sipped Prosecco as the husband and I rowed over how to erect the inflatable tent we’d bought but never put up before. ‘Tinkle tinkle’ went their laughs as we couldn’t work out the pump.
As soon as we set up we went to get our bearings and were delighted to see it was laid out the same as it had been two-years previously. Family camping includes ‘the enchanted garden’ where kids can make all sorts of arts and crafts, learn disco dancing, print t-shirts and learn about nature. A lot of the kids stuff is sponsored by the Fairyland Trust, so as the kids make some butterfly wings, they learn a bit about butterflies.
There is a larger kids area in the main arena where they can whittle, paint spoons, weave, collect litter from the ocean, cook in a mud garden, get face-paint, join in with theatres, star-gaze, pond dip, climb scramble nets, record their own songs, make-films, learn archery, circus skills, and do family yoga. This year Oatly had a bar inside the enchanted garden and gave away chocolate milk, granola and various other drinks, all made with Oatly milk. I was originally suspicious but free is free and I’d genuinely buy some of their stuff at home. The kids got free t-shirts for answering a question like ‘what is your name’ and more free chocolate milk.
Me and the husband didn’t get to see as much stuff as we’d have liked as we were so worn out from all the kids activities.
We did get to eat an awful lot of nice food. I won’t lie, eating at Latitude, as with any other festival, is expensive. On a good note, everything we ate was delicious and we ate a lot. Greek, Indian, Italian, Turkish. Wood fired pizza, scotch eggs, fish and chips, waffles and ice-cream, Mac and cheese, steak sandwiches, fruit lollies, milkshakes, cakes, beer, gin, wine, burgers, bangers, the lot.
You’d think we’d be fat, but you walk miles at Latitude, without really knowing it so I’m sure I’ve actually lost weight.
There were loads of awesome traders. Shout out to Retro Bambi who kitted us all out in glittery clothes for the Killers, and Joe Shmo who sells beautiful leather jewellery and let us use his loo.
Massive thanks to the people who ran the Swimming lake area, it was the only time we washed. Kudos to all the people constantly collecting litter or asking if everyone was okay. I was amazed at how clean the site was (apart from the adult camping area where kids in shorts that showed perfect bottoms applied too much make-up among a sea of their own litter before heading to the disco tent to dance all night. Do I sound jealous and bitter? I am).
My middle daughter has a bladder the size of a pea, so we are officials on the loos of Latitude. We could write a book about them. I won’t. All I’ll say is the ones nearest the family camping were clean and stocked the whole four days we were there.
The ones in the village next to the adult camping were the worst and all the others were middling to good. There were lots of places to fill up water, wash hands and soak dusty feet. We didn’t use the showers as I believe washing were 300 people have recently washed before will only make you dirtier. I laid out wet wipes in the shape of my family and we rolled round on them. Glitter covered the worst of the stains.
I saw a wonderful piece of theatre by a company called ‘The Lost Dog’ about Romeo and Juliet. The show reveals the real story of Romeo and Juliet. It turns out they didn’t die in a tragic misunderstanding, they grew up and lived happily ever after. Well they lived at least. Now they’re 40ish, at least one of them is in the grips of a mid-life crisis, they feel constantly mocked by their teenage selves and haunted by the pressures of being the poster couple for romantic love. They have decided to confront their current struggles by putting on a performance – about themselves. Their therapist told them it was a terrible idea.
With Lost Dog’s blend of dance, theatre and comedy this duet takes on our cultural obsession with youth and our inevitable issues with longevity. It was so much better than that blurb which I nicked off their website. I could not praise it enough.
I also caught a glimpse of Suffrageddon, a hip hop musical about the life of Emmeline Pankhurst and the fight for votes for women. Think Lauren Hill with fat better lyrics. It was insanely good. I didn’t get to see the whole show and it filled up too quickly. I did think Latitude should have held a second performance. Instead, some of the crew did a couple of songs on the Lake Stage which was a teaser of what I missed and will go and see elsewhere.
The Speakeasy area is always full of amazing poets and writers talking about everything and nothing. It’s attached to a Waterstones bookshop where you can see all the writers who are at the festival. There are other bookshops and lots of places give away kids books for free.
The kids watched a talk with Kevin Fong who trained with Tim Peake and enjoyed his tales of cold water shock and experiencing zero gravity conditions. Kevin is like, mega famous in his industry, which I didn’t really understand till I googled him.
The worst bit about the festival was probably the bands. I’m sad to say that as I love music and would always be the primary reason I go to a festival, but I wasn’t impressed by much. The first band we saw was James, who kicked off with ‘All out to get you’ and made me all emotional and excited for the set.
Then he played six new songs about Trump after claiming he’d only written two. We were all shouting ‘play one we know’ and ‘Sit down’ but he ignored us and tortured us with indulgent political songs that are never going to be hits. We gave up and left. Just as we got back to the campsite, we heard the first lines of ‘Laid’. His dancing was awesome, and I admired his commitment to the baggy jean look of 1990 but wouldn’t go and see him again.
The Charlatans were even worse. I’ve seen them play many times and enjoyed it, but this year Tim sang slowed down versions of classics like ‘Spronston Green’ and ‘The Only One I Know’ whilst doing dodgy hip thrusts. I remember my feet not touching the floor at their previous gigs. This time my feet were firmly planted on someone else’s Boden picnic blanket which they’d set out very near the front and refused to move.
We survived Latitude. No arguments over putting up the tent, which we remembered. We had a spot of bother hammering in the pegs, because we forgot a mallet. We didn’t forget a child though, which is the main thing.
True to form, our kids wore themselves out doing arts and crafts and tree climbing all day and then cried just as the bands we wanted to see came on. We tried to ignore them and explain it was ‘our time’ but it’s like telling your cat not to scratch your furniture. It does it all the more. How can you pretend to be 15 again as you sing along to Sleeper, when you have a screaming child hanging off each leg, pulling down your shorts?
Children don’t care about ‘adult time’. I told them next time they are having a nice time, I’m going to start crying as loudly as I can and hang off their legs. The eldest said ‘Mum, you are, like, so weird.’ But I will get them back for this. Sometimes revenge is the only thing that keeps me going. When they are old enough to drive I’m going to sit in the back and kick their chair, remove and lose my shoes and tell them the traffic lights are green, when they are not, which they do to me.
When they want to go to a gig, I’m going to be there, and I’m going to tell them I need them to take me to the loo when the song they wanted to hear comes on.
When they cook me the dinner I’ve asked for, and loved before, I’m going to clutch my stomach, act as if I’ve been poisoned and roll round on the floor.
I am aware this is not the best attitude to start the almost seven-week summer holiday with. Like most years, I’m all full of projects we are going to do together, lessons I’m going to plan. I’ve bought diaries they are going to write in each night to help their handwriting. We are going to read classic books together and do still life drawings of bowls of fruit. We’ll visit museums and learn about other cultures.
So, we are out the World Cup. I think we started losing the second I truly believed we might win. Outside my window, I heard all the hearts on the street break as one when Croatia scored the second goal. The country groaned in unison.
The next morning had a post Brexit feel to it, with people wandering round saying ‘I can’t believe we’re out.’ Unlike Brexit though, we can’t hang around pretending we never really meant it and hope the whole thing will be brushed under the carpet. The boys will be coming home to a nation who will (hopefully) be proud of how far we got and not cross we didn’t make it all the way. A bit like a sixteen-year-old boy on a date.
The dog will be relieved it’s all over. He was up and down like a Bride’s nightie each time the husband watched a match. Being a dog, he thought all the husband’s commentary was aimed at him. He didn’t know whether to wag his tail or hide in his basket. The cat watched the scene with disdain. She had her money on Croatia anyway.
I’m sad the journey is over and the ‘it’s coming home’ gags will stop. For a while the people were connected again. Men hugged one-another, and people whistled songs together in the street. You could randomly high-five strangers. There was even talk of a street party at one point. I felt like I was living in the 70’s. Now everyone will be miserable again and it will soon start raining.
I hope it doesn’t, because we are off to Latitude festival. The husband has bought a tent that inflates itself. He’s confident it will be easy to set up. Having camped with him before, I know this to be untrue. I guarantee a row. It will start with ‘No no. Let me, you’re doing it wrong’ and end with me sleeping in the car.
That’s if he even remembers to pack the tent.
The children are very excited, but I’m confident they will demand to come home as soon as we get there. That’s one of their classic moves. I hope they don’t demand to go back to the tent the second The Killers come on stage. The husband is still upset with them not being able to win anything in sports day. It started with Bliss saying ‘I can’t do sports day, because my trainers have cake all over them.’ I was upset too, but only about cake being wasted.