Sunday, 27 September 2015

The Good Life Experience

It’s not every day that there’s a festival proclaiming to be all about your supposed life dream less than twenty miles away from your very own house. Now normally I have a massive aversion to anything remotely ‘festivally’ given my phobia of huge crowds of people, the endless queues for disgusting portaloos and one particularly bad experience on the Isle of Wight a fair few years ago involving a severe case of jet lag and losing everybody I knew in an over-exuberant swell of Dizzee Rascal fans. However, my interest for this event was piqued when I read the strap line: ‘culture, food and the great outdoors’. Does that not just sum up exactly what we are all about (ok maybe not the culture bit, unless that includes watching endless episodes of Game of Thrones, but the rest of it maybe)?

So I set all my festival prejudices aside and packed up the car for a family day out.  Back in the day, festival preparation would have involved trawling second hand shops for some suitably ‘bohemian’ outfit that could double up as fancy dress if the people you were going with took one look at you and said you looked like a twat. Then you had to dust off all of your camping gear and pack it into a funky but decidedly too small rucksack so you could lug it 300 miles across a field from the car park to the only free corner of the camping field, invariably next to the stinking bogs and/or the loud speaker. Finally there would be an epic trip to the supermarket to purchase the entire booze aisle to be then secreted into various items of clothing/bags to be smuggled into the festival proper. Oh and not forgetting the all-important wellies, which would have been pored over in magazines and online for weeks, before purchasing just the right pair to carry off the Kate Moss look and which, without fail, always sprung a leak somewhere in the middle of the first day, leading to epic paranoia about the onset of trench foot (or just stinky feet being a bit of a turn off for any potential pulls).  This weekend, our preparation involved three hours of packing the nappy bag with seven changes of clothes for each child, finding a waterproof cover to remotely fit the pram, pots of puree and umpteen snacks plus a million baby wipes (in fact the only item which would have also featured in our pre-child festival kit list). As for myself and my husband, in the interests of actually getting to the festival before it went dark, we literally walked out of the door in the clothes we were standing up in (and have been wearing for the past 9 months). It just so happened that those clothes were dirty jeans, a pair of wellies and a baggy jumper, i.e. perfect festival chic. Oh the irony!

As we drew closer to the venue it started to become clear that this was no V, or Latitude or Bestival. Rolling down the windows expecting to hear the deep thrum of the bass returned the dulcet tones of a few sheep and the faraway rumble of the A55. Then there was no queuing traffic and it became apparent that everyone was just abandoning their vehicles on the side of the road and wandering in, sans tickets, sans scaling a 7ft fence, nothing. Always one to tow the line of the law (ahem), we parked in the official car park in a spot less than ten metres from the entrance. So far so good. A quick glance to my right revealed a line of portaloos without anybody outside, and not one capsized or leaking any kind of bodily fluid. The job really was starting to look up. Having been relieved of the best part of a hundred quid on the gate (ouch) we made our way towards the line of artfully distressed bell tents to see what this ‘Good Life Experience’ was all about.

Family festival fun

The brainchild of Cerys Matthews (of Catatonia fame – remember Mulder and Scully and Road Rage?) and the folks behind the Hawarden (pronounced “Harden” just in case you ever want to go) farm shop, this was an eclectic mix of urban and rural, fields of tepees and fairy lights set to a soundtrack of harpists and vintage disco with the evocative smell of campfires wafting about and a fair smattering of Hoxton beards (at one point I could have been mistaken for believing I was actually wandering down Shoreditch High Street such was the density of impressive facial hair on show). For once my husband, not known for his love of shaving, found himself to be right on trend! The main thrust of the event was giving people the chance to sample the various delights of what apparently constitutes ‘The Good Life’. This ranged from cooking Mexican and French cuisine with some big name celebrity chefs (Tomasina Miers, Valentine Warner…) on a campfire to sausage and butchery masterclasses, to skinning rabbits and plucking pigeons. Then you had yoga classes, talks about books and poetry readings, for those less predisposed to the blood and guts side of things. There were guided walks with foraging experts including none other than the one and only Roger Phillips, arguably the leading forager in the UK if not the world and author of all of the treasured and well-thumbed tomes on our kitchen bookshelf. Like a teenager at a Justin Bieber concert (only with less banshee screaming and hurling of underwear), I was beside myself with excitement to be in the presence of this great man, lapping up his fungi pearls of wisdom and resisting the urge to ask for his autograph (not cool, not cool at all). Then there were any number of activities for the kids of varying degrees of danger according to the neuroses of the parents: making tote bags from hemp, pottery workshops and canvas painting all the way through to fire lighting, flint knapping your own arrow heads and hurling lethal throwing axes. It was all wonderfully wholesome and jolly good fun and just crying out for lashings and lashings of homemade lemonade.

Anyone for lemonade?

As I wandered about taking all of this in, I couldn’t help but chuckle to myself as I reflected upon how far away all this seemed from our own ‘good life experiences’ to date. I started to think about what my alternative line up might look like based on everything we’ve learned this year and about what wisdom we could impart to anyone wanting a true taste of the great outdoors. I think it might go something like this…


    •   How to catch a piglet in 467 easy steps – pig husbandry for the uninitiated

    •   How to burn down an old hen house without setting fire to your neighbour's hedge and tree line – fire lighting for wannabe arsonists

    • How to unblock fifty years worth of crap from your drains without getting wet - rodding and flushing for beginners


    •   How to consume copious amounts of beetroot leaves/broad beans/cabbage and preserve your marriage - flatulence control classes for the grow-your-own couple

    •   How to hide chard/kale/spinach in every single meal for a week with no one noticing – vegetable masking masterclass

    •   How to plant seeds with children – 50 fail safe distraction techniques for toddlers


    •   How to preserve fruit and vegetables without destroying every single pan that you own as well as the hob on your cooker - chutney and jam making for the easily distracted

    •   How to cook deer, rabbit and squirrel in a 101 different ways - game cookery for the lazy/jaded

    •   How not to drive to the nearest supermarket to buy a delicious ready meal when it’s pissing down with rain, you are on your own with two kids and you’ve got nothing to eat for dinner - exercises in ultimate willpower and self-control

All of this would be accompanied by music from the iPod blaring out of the back of the Landrover (Groove Armada being our album of choice at the moment when we have to tackle any particularly unpleasant jobs like cleaning out the water troughs or plucking birds).  So waddya reckon? Has this got legs? I’m thinking Cockerels and Dreamfields 2016 here we come!

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