This post is a little late in coming: What with work and trying to get organised for ‘Not Back to School’, the two weeks since we got back from our holiday have just flown by.
This year we decided to try something a little different and on Friday 21st we packed up the car and set off for the Just So Festival in Cheshire. Despite being a member of the Festival Generation, I am embarrassed to admit that I had never been to one before. While my peers were busy stumbling through the tents at Glastonbury and crowdsurfing at Download, I had a small baby and no spare cash: It wasn’t going to happen. However, at the ripe old age of twenty-eight, and with my mum, my sister, and TK along for the ride, the big scary festivals didn’t seem like a wise place to begin. My sister drew up a shortlist of family friendly festivals in the UK and after much deliberation, my mum bought us Just So tickets for Christmas.
First of all, I really had no idea how much stuff three women and a child required for four days camping. My mother, in her wisdom, insisted on packing all the things she was responsible for into plastic bags ‘because they can be conveniently squashed in’. Take me at my word when I say that there is nothing convenient or squashable about porcelain mugs and long life milk cartons in bin bags. This is not a technique that I would advise anyone to use. Ever.
Once we had loaded camp beds, sleeping bags, chairs, duffel bags (and plastic sacks!) into the car, we drove to Bristol to collect my sister. We then had to rearrange everything to make space for two tents, a small camping stove, and a rucksack, not to mention my sister herself, who was doing the second half of the drive. With the footwells well and truly gone, TK and I spent the next three hours in the back seat with our legs stuck up at odd angles: We kept ourselves entertained by reading from the Festival Program, snoozing, singing along to the radio, and eating rhubarb and custard sweets. It was all very civilised.
In the late afternoon we arrived at the Rode Hall Estate, where Just So has been held since it’s conception in 2009. After negotiating parking, we set to work lugging the contents of the car to where we were setting up. There were no pitches but there was plenty of space for everyone and we ended up finding a spot quite close to the showers, toilets, and festival entrance. The sun was shining and it was far from cold: I think we were all relieved when the tents were up and the car was emptied. TK was desperate to explore so once we had rehydrated and gathered ourselves, we got our wristbands and ventured forth.
Entertainment at Just So was excellent. There were woods to explore, acrobatic shows, an evening campfire, and lots of live music. Our favourite bands included the Seas of Mirth and the extraordinary Electric Swing Circus, not to mention great sets from Galleon Blast and The Holcombe Family String Band.
In addition to musical mayhem, there were endless activities to take part in, from circus skills workshops, to the Musica tent where all manner of instruments waited to be tried. (My sister and I may have spent some time distracted by the bongos while TK rocked out on the electric drum set and played around with a violin.) There was a paper plane making contest, fairy house modelling, giant battleships, laughter yoga and much, much more.
On the Saturday night, the Great British Summer did what it does best and threw as much violence as it could muster, our way. We witnessed an impressive electrical storm (complete with screaming children, huddled in tents), had rain come in through the tent roof, and got covered in mud. I awoke on both Sunday and Monday mornings to TK sharing my rather narrow camp bed in an attempt to stay dry. To add to the excitement, the storm blew out the power to the site for several hours, leaving organisers and bands alike, anxious and under pressure.
And still, they came. It took a while, but once the power was up and running, and sound checks rushed through, cagoule-clad and welly-wearing campers emerged from their tents and started the party all over again. It turns out that there isn’t much a good dance and some hot chocolate can’t fix.
The weekend ended with the Tribal Tournament. If you can imagine combining a protest rally, the biggest fancy dress party you have ever seen, and a primal reenactment of the Wild Hunt, you might be able to imagine something close.
Throughout the festival, gold tokens were awarded for taking part in an activity, winning competitions, being the best dancer etc. These tokens could be handed to a Tribal Leader (either a fox, a lion, a fish, a stag, an owl, or a frog). The tokens were converted into points which were added up at the end of Sunday for the announcement of the winning team. As the tribes gathered, fully kitted out as their animals of choice, the war chants began and animal calls filled the air.
The Fish Tribe had bagged themselves a marching band to lead their procession, while our tribe, The Foxes, howled their way to the Footlights stage to hear the scores. It was a close thing but at the end of the day The Owls, despite suspicious activity the previous day involving a gold pen and the scoreboard, claimed victory, with our Foxes coming in a close second.
There is something delightfully wild about Just So Festival. Whether it is the sense of pagan pageantry, the eclectic choice of performers, or the atmosphere within the Rode Hall Estate itself, it was a weekend about getting back to nature. I felt a kinship with people of the past and got a little taste of what it must have been like to celebrate the equinox or dance around the fire at Samhian. It seemed to me that the festival was unapologetically British but not in the way you might think. It was about mud and music and tribes and trees. Here was the Britain of dark forests and fire-lit stories; the Britain so many of us have lost. Yes; we got wet. Yes; it was a long way to go, but among the tattoos and the dreadlocks, the attachment parents and the eco-warriors, I felt we belonged.
For more on the Just So Festival, including plans for 2016, you can visit the Festival site HERE.