Thursday 15 September 2016

Witness The Sickness - When I Got Ill At A Music Festival

This was meant to a long read review of the 2016 edition of a festival that I’ve attended every year but one. I was going to write about how after a really impressive climb from small scale boutique festival in 2004 to a huge beast of an event that had attracted star names such as Stevie Wonder and Elton John, Bestival 2016 took a bit of a tumble in ticket sales and found itself having to downsize. It was going to be a fan perspective review, but with as much balance as I could muster, giving the goods and bads of the scale back. It was also going to be a review that focused on not only the new acts (as this is largely a new music blog), but one of The Cure, who were headlining the festival on the Saturday night and are one of my favourite bands of all time.

However, it isn’t. Here’s why…..

Bestival always brings surprises and wonder, it’s one of its characteristics that keeps pulling me back year after year for that short but expensive ferry trip across the Solent from my home in Southsea, Portsmouth. Yet this year there was a particularly horrible surprise in store for me; it was the year I became unwell at the festival.

Now don’t worry, it wasn’t anything that threatened my life and 6 days later I am 100% fighting fit; but for a few hours it felt like the devil was inside me – just disguised as a digested chicken burger.

The biggest irony to all of this is that I work in a public health and safety environment as part of my day job. I’m therefore acutely aware of how risky festivals are and how dangerous they can be when they go wrong. Most people probably don’t stand by the main stage and question what wind load it has been designed to and what the evacuation plan for a particular area is, but I do. It’s just inbuilt in me because of my profession. 

Also being a little bit older than your average Bestival goer these days I tend to pamper myself a little more. I don’t camp on site, but instead pitch my tent (below) 15 minutes down the road where I can get a nice shower, a swim and at the end of the day a good night’s sleep with nobody tripping over my tent guy lines. I drive to site every day, so I don’t drink alcohol and drugs are just never something I’ve been interested in.

As far as your average punter goes I’m probably quite low risk in terms of ending up in the festival medical centre. But that’s where I was last Saturday night.

On four o’clock in the afternoon whilst watching sad Scottish rockers The Twilight Sad pile on the goth guitars and Ian Curtis style dancing to a small but appreciative crowd in Bestival’s Big Top I mentioned to my friend that I felt a tiny bit odd. “I’m probably a bit dehydrated so am going to get a bottle of water.” One bottle gulped down and the feeling didn’t go away. It got worse. Quickly. 

Heading towards Wolf Alice on the Main Stage I had started to turn a grey colour and was beginning to feel shivery cold. I had an urge to lie on the wet, slightly muddy grass and sleep. However, I couldn’t do that because that was the time when the sick decided to come up and out. ‘Oh god, people are going to be thinking I’ve been overdoing it the night before,’ I thought. My friend did a grand job of looking after me, supplying liquids and buying me an extra jumper from Oxfam to try and keep me warm, but the nausea and the cold just got worse and worse. 

By the time Ride was playing I was in the medical centre having my temperature, blood sugar and some other tests done and sitting by a heater that I was told was blowing out hot air but I couldn’t feel a thing. It was working, my body was just playing stupid games. 

With 20 minutes to go before The Cure I was laying on a bed that looked a bit like a body bag, feeling like absolute shit. Call me a wimp, but I’m really not very good when I get ill. I’ve generally got high pain threshold, but being unwell seems to lower it very quickly. I’m also not very good at being sick. This was only the third time in my life throwing up.

I decided I was going to make it out for The Cure. I’d get through it. I wasn’t going to miss them. 

We shuffled through the mud in our wellies to secure a spot quite a way back. The Cure started. At this stage I realised I really wasn’t with it at all. Robert Smith looked like a weird giant through a fish eye lens. “How are they doing that?” I asked my friend and then suddenly realised that I was watching the screens to the side of the stage thinking it was the stage itself. As I said, I really wasn’t with it. I think I was verging on hallucinating. 

Then I threw up again. 

Robert Smith’s lyrics rattled through my head: “I’ve waited hours for this, I’ve made myself so sick,” seemed particularly appropriate. It was time to go. I’d managed just over one song of their set. As I walked out the exit of Bestival and up the infamous hill of death to the car park at the top I could hear the band rolling out the hits. I was very close to crying. I'd let everyone down. It was the end of my Bestival. It’s a festival that over the years has brought me virtually everything – this year it was the lurgy. 

Here’s what I learnt about being ill at a festival:

1. A music festival is one of the worst places to be ill. Everyone else’s happiness makes you feel even sadder. I just wanted to crawl away and hide from it all. It felt like the whole festival was crushing down on me.

2. If you get ill, go to the medical tent. The staff there are brilliant. They kept my spirits up, gave me good expert advice and nothing was too much trouble. Some people complained about certain security staff at Bestival this year. I can’t believe anyone could ever fault the medical staff. That tent felt like a sanctuary.

3. Friends and loved ones don’t let you down in bad times. My friend who I was with never complained that we missed The Cure, ran around and got me all the things I needed to keep me safe and really was the one who convinced me that trying to watch anymore of the festival wasn’t an option. The next day, when I was utterly exhausted and found even walking a short distance incredibly tiring, my girlfriend sailed over to the Isle of Wight, packed up all my stuff for me and got me home with as much love and warmth as anyone could ask for.

4. Even when you play it safe, things can go wrong. But on the other hand I’ve been to over 80 festivals and most of them have been perfectly uneventful except for good events.

5. Although (thankfully) I was with a friend, I sometimes go to festivals on my own. I wrote about this earlier this year (click on this link to read). I wonder what would have happened if I’d been on my own at Bestival? When the food poisoning started I just wanted to lay down and sleep. What would have happened if I had done that? It’s made me seriously question if I would do another festival on my own.

On a happier musical note, and considering this is a music blog, here’s some music. Since I first discovered Alice Jemima in 2011 I’ve watched her grow as a person and artist and seen her songs find a growing audience. I’ve also featured her an awful lot on this blog. Her new single Dodged A Bullet has already picked up some play on Radio 1 care of Huw Stephens (come on daytime shows…you know you want to). 

Bestival has been a special festival to Alice and I. In 2012 after writing about her Alice camped with me and my friends at the festival as a regular punter. A few years later she was signed to Sunday Best Records, the label part of Bestival and the Sunday Best world and this year she played the main stage at the festival. A bit of a moment for her. A bit of a moment for me. Here’s a new remix of the current single by How To Dress Well.

Alice Jemima - Dodged A Bullet (How To Dress Well Remix)

All photos were taken before the food poisoning and when the sun beamed down on the site (which it did for the majority of the weekend).

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