The worst thing about having teenagers is not the tetchiness, the hormones or the slamming of bedroom doors; it’s the intense jealousy you feel as life unfurls like a flower in front of them. No-one really warns you about that.
One minute your kids are mooching in front of games consoles, the next they have discovered alcohol, sex and all-night parties. You pull the covers over your head to block out the noise as they come crashing in at dawn. But, deep down, you know your irritation is caused not by the disruption of your circadian rhythms but by a yearning for the days when you were the one behaving badly and someone else was doing the tutting.
I’m aware that this is how the world is supposed to work. I had my time in the sun and now it’s my sons’ turn. It’s the natural order, the circle of life, yada, yada. But when I’m emptying a dishwasher and my eldest is “popping out to the pub” for the third night in a row, I can’t help but begrudge him his youth, his freedom and his stamina.
One thing I don’t envy teenagers, however, is their obsession with bloated music festivals. A glance at the welly-clad Glastonbury pilgrims queuing for half a day to pitch a tent in a swamp reminds me that being middle-aged has its advantages. There’s no longer any pressure to pretend to enjoy dragging your belongings for miles through the mud, eating overpriced hot-dogs or forcing your way through sweaty throngs to watch some overrated stadium band belt out their greatest hits.
To be fair, I would have quite liked to have seen the video of Portishead singing Abba’s SOS in tribute to Jo Cox, which opened Glastonbury, or heard Damon Albarn collaborate with the Syrian National Orchestra for Arab Music. And circus performers and standing stones do appeal to my inner hippy, but the festival’s flower-power pretensions have long been at odds with its high ticket price, its vastness and the way vehicles, on-site generators and litter impact on the environment.
To me, festival-goers always look stoic rather than stoned; as if they are undergoing an endurance test when they should be achieving Nirvana.
T in the Park – which is being held at Strathallan Castle in Perthshire despite last year’s traffic fiasco – has, as I understand it, a more Scottish vibe. Less beatnik, more Buckfast, with neds in tracksuits doling out Eccies. Last year, tragically, one man was found dead in a toilet and lots of campers lit fires on to which they threw cans of deodorant. There were reports of theft, vandalism and at least one bottling which made its way on to YouTube. On the last day, a prank tweet by someone who claimed he was trapped in his own tent bag sparked a police search and congestion was so bad that departing festival-goers waited hours for a bus to take them home.
This year, a new traffic plan is in operation, but my son is not going. T in the Park is fine as a rite of passage for 16 and 17-year-olds. Once you reach 18, though, you’re supposed to sneer at the line-up and buy tickets for something a little more niche. For him, that means the Wireless Festival at Finsbury Park in London featuring UK garage legend Craig David and grime royalty Lady Leshurr (I looked that up. I’ve no idea what I’m talking about). Though if he had the choice, he’d be at Coachella, y’know.
I could blame my distaste for such events on getting older, or pretend I hate the way “authentic” music-lovers have been usurped by midriff-baring, face-painted trustifarians, but I’ve never been much into festivals, not even the smaller, family-friendly ones such as Rewind or Wicker.
The most I ever managed were one-day affairs: Oasis at Knebworth and the Stone Roses at Spike Island. At Knebworth, I spent most of my time trying to locate friends I was supposed to be meeting up with (that’s what life was like pre-mobiles, kids). At Spike Island, it was exciting to be part of something seminal, but the sound system was a shambles and I got obsessed with the state of the toilets. Twenty-six years on, I have a cache of good memories, but I wouldn’t be tempted to do it again.
Lots of my friends continue to love al fresco gigs. For them, nothing beats the high of seeing their favourite band on a summer’s evening. But for me the imagined experience – sun, a floaty dress and unfettered access to the front of the stage – is so far removed from the reality – rain, damp fleeces and voices carried adrift by the wind – it’s bound to disappoint.
The last outdoor concert I went to was REM at Balloch Castle Country Park in 2005; it was the year after they brought out their least acclaimed album, Around The Sun. The people in front us talked all the way through their set and we got trapped in the car park afterwards. For something to do, the captive motorists formed an impromptu horn orchestra tooting out sequences for each other to copy. This was entertaining for 15 minutes; then I got a headache.
If I wanted to visit festivals vicariously, there would be plenty of opportunity. My second son is approaching that brief window where T in the Park is de rigueur. If it survives, no doubt he’ll be there in 2017.
But I’d always rather listen to music indoors, without the dankness or the midges or the disgusting portable loos. I’m doing my kids a favour, really. It’s healthy for them to dismiss their parents as fuddy duddies who “just don’t get it”. Besides, there’s plenty of other things to be envious of. Indeed, if any of them go travelling in the Far East, I may chuck in my job, pack a rucksack and tag along like a faithful old hound.