Do you want to know what kept me up that night? Not little Dewey tossing and turning and whimpering unhappily in her sleep. Not a single thought of my mum who probably had a hell of a time right then, knowing that she had somewhere, somehow lost another child, or of my aunt who’d be sick with totally undeserved feelings of guilt. No, what kept me awake for the longest time was being pissed off at myself for trying to steal that backpack without wearing my shoes, or at all if I wasn’t able to run. That had been so stupid. I should have been better prepared, I should always be able to run at the first sign of trouble. Okay, I had been lucky, but relying on dumb luck just wouldn’t do. If I was going to make it on my own I’d have to work on stuff like that.
Eventually I fell asleep, at first only superficially, bobbing in and out of sleep, adrift amongst the shoals of nightmare and chased by all manner of unwholesome fears and memories. I remember waking up once, but uncertain if I was still dreaming. Huey and Louie were having an argument in the camper. They were trying to keep their voices down, and I couldn’t understand what they were fighting about, but it sounded vicious and bitter, in that way that betrays a deep seated and little understood hurt. I turned my head and thought I saw the gleam of Dewey’s eyes, wide open in the dark. I might have said something to her, but if I did she did not answer. When next I looked the gleam was gone. And then the current of the night took me over that unseen ledge where the continental shelf of the subconscious drops into the abysmal reaches of unconsciousness, and I sank like a ship once the last large reservoir of captured air has been blown out, trundling, circling into the blackness, tailing fragmentary dreams like tiny bubbles.
I did not wake again until late the next morning when the sun burning through the teal nylon of the tent was giving me a headache. My face and neck were taut with sunburn and my calves felt sore and leaden, but my feet were a lot better, and even though I was hungry for some breakfast, last evening’s gnawing pain was gone from my gut. I felt bloody good.
Dewey wasn’t in the tent, so I crawled outside. Louie was sitting in one of the chairs, wearing sunglasses and a straw hat, and read a book. Without looking up she said: “There’s cornflakes and coffee, sleepyhead.”
“Where are Huey and Dewey?”
Ah, a daddy and daughter pastime, I thought and sat on the unoccupied chair. The coffee was instant, and the milk for the corn flakes only UHT, but still I tucked in. While I ate I felt Louie look at me above the rim of her sunglasses. Uncomfortable I adjusted the neck of the shirt to better hide the tat on my chest, and lowered my face.
At that moment I hated her. I hated the assumptions she was making that reduced all of my history to that of a queer boy runaway. Of course being queer had something to do with it, but hell, being queer was just me, it was neither all nor nothing, just one of many parts.
After breakfast Louie began to pack up. I helped her some, but it was awkward since she was all testy and impatient. Obviously she didn’t trust me around, well, anything valuable, as if I might suddenly limp off with half their possessions or something. Then Huey and Dewey returned, flushed and hyper. I wanted to say good-bye but Huey insisted he’d drop me with a long shopping list of travel necessities at a pharmacy in Ledbury, a Herefordshire village close to Eastnor Park where the festival would take place.
Ledbury turned out to be a pleasant medieval looking market town with lots of timber-framed houses, abuzz with people there for the festival. I said my good-byes and thank-yous, and tried to give them money for the food, lodging, and clothes, which earned me played-up indignation from Huey and an unbelieving snort from Louie. Dewey shook my hand formally and slipped me a piece of paper with her email address and mobile phone number. And that should have been the last we saw of each other. Only, it wasn’t.
The pharmacy had everything I was looking for. Afterwards I sat down on a bench outside and taped up my feet. Next to the pharmacy was a haberdashery that sold socks made of all natural fabrics. I still had my own clothes, stuffed into a plastic carrier bag Louie had given me. I got a pair of black socks, and put on my trainers. Then I stuffed the black thongs in the thigh pockets of the shorts and dumped the bag of dirty clothes in a public bin. And after some hot, black and surprisingly good coffee, I decided to check out Eastnor, Eastnor Castle, and Deer Park.
I was reluctant to admit it to myself, but ever since Dewey had asked me to come to the festival with them, a plan had begun to take root in my mind, or at least an ambition. And as I stood on the ridge above the meadow stretching down to the two small lakes, with the stages, tents, concession stands, and the fairground all spread out around, I knew that I wanted to crash that party.
I’d been to several concerts and festivals in Berlin. Love Parade, Fuck Parade and CSD were all free, but of course I couldn’t actually afford tickets to the Berlin Festival, the Waldbühne summer festival, the Lostprophets in ‘06, or Wir Sind Helden in ‘07. Fortunately Hector has an older brother who has made it a regular art to get into such events without paying a single cent.
There is the legit way: Get a job picking up litter and cleaning the port-a-loos, working for the food or beer vendors, or for someone like OXFAM. You’d have to work 3 or 6 or 8 hour shifts, but usually got a fair amount of down-time in between to attend some of the acts. Usually you have to be 16 or even 18 to be able to do so, though.
You can of course also pass yourself off as staff without actually working there. The main prop is the right T-Shirt. Look busy and important and act the required age and it’s surprisingly easy to get through. Or you can forge the pass, wristband, and stamps. That is less difficult than it sounds – as long as they aren’t equipped for individualized bar-coded IDs, that is – since most festivals use the same set of logos, letter-type, and colour scheme on their posters and adverts in scene magazines that they use for the passes and wristbands. So it comes down to a good colour printer and laminator, getting the correct material for the wristbands, and a lot of chutzpah at the check points. I had the chutzpah, but not enough time for the prep, especially with the resources that Eastnor, Ledbury, or even nearby Hereford had to offer.
Of course I could have stolen someone’s tickets. I almost had, by accident, after all – Huey’s, Dewey’s, and Louie’s had been in the front pocket of that backpack. And for a while that was my main plan. But the weather was fine, and people were happy and relaxed, and somehow I couldn’t bring myself to do it.
I spent half the day checking out security. I was certain I could get over the fence and around inside, but it would mean having to avoid their staff and check points all the time. It would be possible, but risky and bothersome. Still, that had become my main fall back plan by the time I met Frank.
I don’t know his real name, of course, but I called him Frank the tout after his line of introduction: “If I may be so frank,” was how he began his sales pitch. Tickets were his commodity, and he sold them with “only” a 100% mark-up. So for a teen ticket I had to fork over 120 quid. But Frank was such a spiv, from his chinless face to his fake snake-skin boots, that I knew I had found my mark.
I shadowed him for a while. He wouldn’t be carrying all his tickets or his money on his person, and right enough, he soon lead me to his black GTV6, where he dumped some of his earning and refreshed his stock of tickets. I waited for him to get back into the trenches, before I busted a window on his car. I have to admit, damaging that wonderful machine, no matter how rust-eaten and battered it was, hurt my soul. Still, it took me all I had to keep up the guise of the needy festival nerd handing over money he knows he cannot really afford to give away to get his hands on a ticket when I paid Frank with his own money (keeping some for beer and grub). God, that felt good.
Why didn’t I just take my illicit earning from Painswick? Well, if you even have to ask I probably won’t be able to make you understand. Of course it was against my pride as a con man to let someone like Frank rip me off. The sheer poetry of the act was worth it. But beyond that, I dunno, the idea of making the Cotswold Queen Mum pay for a Dance, Trance, and Folk Rock festival… I tried to imagine her lost amongst 35,000 ravers, turning confused and frightened around her own axis, holding on to her hat while her myopic corgi bit into a noz balloon and staggered away, yapping and whining. It just felt, you know, wrong.