An Ode To The Pre-Festival Party Train

Everything begins on the 10.40 to Portsmouth...
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Picture c/o Wikimedia Commons

Picture c/o Wikimedia Commons

It starts with an ironically named WhatsApp group: ‘Festival Dicks’, ‘Bangs Out For Bestival’, ‘NoClassTonBury’, ’sprREADING’, or ’Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Turds.'

“So you’re getting the 10.40, yeah?
“Yeah, the 10.40.”
“Not the 10.10?”
“No, the 10.40, like I just said.”
“Have you told Karl to book the 10.40?”
“Are you sure he’s not going to book the 10.10 because I’m sure he said he was going to book the 10.10?”
“Yes, we’re all on the same WhatsApp group. Karl’s reading this. Say hi, Karl”.

Soon after, Karl will quietly leave the Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Turds WhatsApp group.

The Wednesday before will see a message from whoever does the most drugs, sounding out orders, and someone will ask if there’s any deals going. There won’t be a good one, but you’ll buy them anyway. The next evening an Albanian man claiming to be called Steve delivers six wraps of carcinogenic Fizz Wizz, and there’ll be a triumphant message sent out to the group. “Got it.”

Any jubilation regarding this will be tempered by the knowledge that drug friend, Keith, will be up until four that morning, dipping his pinky into everyone’s wraps why he ponders whether to risk taking his bong to the festival.

The result is you and Karl are now waiting at the ticket barrier at King’s Cross on Friday morning, checking the clock which is now at 10.37. A minute later, Keith emerges, flustered, blubbering, moist, at the top of the escalators, tripping over his tent bag. He looks at you through his eyes’ crimson glaze and flails to the floor in a dramatic clatter of cans and canvas. “Go…go…go without me.”

Now, Karl does triathlon, works for a disability charity and only takes drugs at festivals. He’s the sort of ego-free good guy your parents wished you spent more time with in the city. He’s also a bona fide dish, and gets told he looks like a less-damaged version of Mark Wahlberg in Fighter.

So Karl runs back, picks up the tent bag, hauls up Keith from the floor with his wonderful, Samson-like arms, and propels him towards the automative.

“We’re. Not. Going. Anywhere. Without. You.”

You’re now picking up the bags, waving everyone’s tickets at the tutting platform attendant, boarding the train with the whistle and crashing down the aisles, blustering apologies, until you find four seats around a table. You take turns to hug each other with relieved glee - lingering a little longer in Karl's sturdy embrace - and surmise the positives and negatives of each other’s outfits.

The pre-festival party train has now begun, and both you and Keith are soon producing four cans of Red Stripe. Karl has bottles of Brooklyn. Despite the fact you’ve all got the same amount of drinks in your bags, you take it in turns to go in rounds. It’s an early marker; a signifier that for the next 72 hours you are partners wading into the kaleidoscopic fuzz of the festival. Soon you’ll be in tune with each other’s fecal routines, Keith will have secretly borrowed both your toothbrushes, and you’ll all get fixated on the same, vaguely offensive private gag from the first night, doing it relentlessly until a girl camping next to you rightly reports you to security.

This is your chance to get the boring life stuff out the way early doors- how’s the job/love life/overdraft/Devon-shaped lump on your ankle. It enables you to walk through the gates with a clean slate, with nothing to shield you from the clouds of pleasure gathering behind the festival’s heras fence.

It's a unique mentality. You’ve not yet stepped into the festival’s zone but you’ve created your own three person bash on the 10.40 to Portsmouth. It is a world still inhabited by other people; non-festival folk who couldn’t give a shit about you or a 2 Bears UK festival exclusive. You’re intruders in their world you’ve already mentally distanced yourself from, and there’s something thrilling and maybe a little bit regressive or childish in that.

Now you’re half way to your destination, a couple of beers deep and listening to Prince on someone’s iPhone. Or Fleetwood Mac. Or Jamie XX. Probably Jamie XX. Someone keeps turning the music up a notch, and one of you, you, is asking them to turn it down with an eye on the 2.4 in the next carriage.

It’s now that Keith looks at you with an arched eyebrow, leans conspiratorially to the left, checks up and down the gangway, and back at you, before undoing his top pocket with the sort of thin, smug grin that deserves to be punted all the way down to his spleen.

Reveling in the theater of it all - his Young Vic, his Bolshoi - he hands over the wraps he’s already designated for you both.

“I rubbed a bit of mine on my gums last night,” he says, through a mouth bleeding lies. “Pretty good. For Steve.”

You all fiddle with your gifts, looking for signs of girth or lack thereof, when Karl - who’s been waiting for a year for this, remember - suggests having a bump. Using a carrier bag as cover, someone chops some out on the table, and you all take turns with the card, spilling most of it on your newly bought pastel green shorts. It’s a pretty pointless operation, but the act of it feels right. Today is nothing like yesterday.

Karl asks about doing some mandy.

“Too early for that, mon Karlos,” says Keith, licking the dust from an expired young person’s railway card. “Much too early for that”

Conversation ramps up a notch and the clock strikes midday, ‘Good Times’ plays tinny, and your brain is empty. There’s only the speculation of what is to come; of the possibilities of manna in fields of green or brown. But here and now your mind is clear. You’re not tired. You’re not hungover. Your serotonin levels are essentially average, for the last time in six days. You’re well rested and you’ve no necessity to see hide nor hair of a baby wipe. The summer’s festival tune is playing and you realise, in a strange sort of way, that this might be the best you feel all weekend.

You go to the toilet, and the train pulls into the station. When you walk back, Karl is telling a joke to a girl with shiny brown ringlets and wearing a maxi dress. It turns out she’s called Isabelle, is going to the festival and out of your league. Karl takes her number and calls her when he gets back. Three years later they get married and you’re best man. In your speech, your opening line is: “This is all started with something called Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Turds…”

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