The Friday of this year’s Electric Picnic was a beautiful day – by comparison to the Ragnarök that usually occurs at Oxegen. This led some Picnickers to conclude rather smugly that perhaps God was ever-so-slightly middle class.
As we walked through the campsite, it was in theory, the perfect day to go to the poles. In hindsight, our troubles started with the packing. Our priorities were skewed. We had custard creams in a tupperware box but no socks and more importantly, an enormous four-person tent but no idea how to put it up.
At first, as we loitered with our tent, construction seemed to proceed according to plan. We had found a nice place to pitch. Around us, other people were putting up their own tents. They seemed like nice people. We nodded to each other as if to say “I see you’re putting up a tent”. There was cameraderie between us while we constructed our temporary homes. Soon though, our paths diverged. We could hear our neighbours making little triumphant noises as their tents took shape. Pegs were being hammered in, chairs set up outside, cans cracked open. Meanwhile our tent was in trouble – it wouldn’t stay up.
An hour passed. Our patience was starting to ebb. We had tried everything: blaming each other, swearing. Nothing seemed to work.
There is a moment during the incorrect construction of a tent, when you realise that the manufacturers are far cleverer than you. When you stop saying things like: “there’s definitely something wrong with this yoke” and start thinking: “Maybe it’s me”. This moment can also occur when you realise that the assembly of an IKEA bookshelf should not require a saw. This millisecond of acute self-awareness and honesty is painful but it is a necessary step on the path to redemption. Otherwise bad things could happen.
Bad things in our case, included a promising new marriage falling apart at the seams as we found ourselves tent-poles apart. The dialogue between us was getting a little testy.
– How did we put this up last year?
– You weren’t here for this bit – I had to get a man to help me
– What man?
Images of a mysterious stranger flickered across my mind. Who was this man? I was on tenterhooks – unlike our own tent, which now listed to one side like three drunks hiding behind a wall.
– The shape of this doesn’t look right.
– I don’t care about the fecking shape, I just want this fecking thing up
– Well there’s no point in putting it up if it’s going to fall down. What if we shove the tent-poles into the ground?
– FINE – I don’t care, just put it up.
This was getting out of hand. Not only did we not have a tent, but our struggles had become prime time viewing for the other campers sitting outside their tents nearby. Every so often when a new mishap befell us, we tried to pass it off with a wry smile and a rueful snicker, but there was no disguising the tension. Our neighbours were now deliberately missing gigs just to watch the bickering couple. Some were taking bets as to where the tent pegs would eventually be shoved.
Just as relations were starting to break down, a stranger appeared.
– Hi there, could I borrow your hammer?
We both looked at the man talking to us. He was English and spoke with an accent that suggested that in his earlier years, he was one of the Famous Five. And they knew all about camping. We proposed a swap: our hammer for his expertise.
He examined our efforts so far. “Did you read the instructions?” he asked. We looked at our shoes. Maybe it was a mistake to bring in an outsider. An external investigation can be a double edged sword as it tends to highlight systematic incompetence. Just ask anyone in FAS.
He examined the tent-poles and tut-tutted. “Who pushed these into the ground?” Before I could reply as to whose fault it was, he was already fixing my wife’s mistake.
Within about ten minutes, we were heading in the right direction. The tent was going up, the marriage was back on track. Soon, we were sitting outside in the glorious sunshine with cans of beer and some custard creams.
The audience looked disappointed. “That took ye long enough” said one of our neighbours. We smiled back in agreement. Our egos has been battered enough at this stage so resistance was futile. “We were going to help but we were enjoying it too much” he sniggered.
By the end of the festival however, he was laughing on the other side of his kombucha. Twelve hours of rain on Sunday night proved that God dislikes all classes equally. As we huddled in our tent, there appeared to be a commotion next door. Over the roaring gale, the sounds of effs and blinds were to be heard. Daylight revealed the damage. Our unhelpful neighbour’s tent lay on its side and he was nowhere to be seen.
By contrast, our little home had shrugged off the rain and stayed standing. A surge of pride went through us. All the pain was worth it – but next year we’re getting a hotel.