A week ago we were sitting in the pub mulling over life, mulling over the universe, but mainly mulling over the latest guest beer and the apparent political swing to the right. Tommy was busy convincing me I needed to see more of this world before making any judgements on it; ‘What makes you think you know anything about anything?’ he kept asking.
His friend, who I’d not met before, was excited about a festival he’d been to every year for the past five years. ‘It’s a little cracker – less than five thousand people. You should come and have your mind opened,’ he said.
‘Tell me more.’
‘It’s four days in a tent in an alternative world.’
‘Alternative world?’ I asked. He’d caught my attention.
Tommy interrupted. ‘You remember how freaked out you were by the daily grind of those commuters?’
‘This is their antithesis. Cool folk chilling out and enjoying the finer things in life.’
‘Music, beer and the open sky.’
‘It’ll broaden your horizons. Fancy it?’ asked his friend.
‘Sure. Why not?’
‘Great. I’m Brian by the way.’ He held out his hand and we shook.
‘Nice to meet you. They call me Purple.’
‘I wonder why?’ He laughed with a loud belly-laugh. ‘Meet us outside the pub at midday tomorrow. Just bring a sleeping bag and a tent.’
Tommy chuckled. ‘Don’t worry Purple, I’ve got one of each you can borrow. Brian, we need to buy some stuff.’ He gave me the thumbs-up as they left.
The next day, I arrived a few minutes before noon and the six of them were already waiting in the back of a white van. ‘Ready to party?’ shouted Brian from the driver’s seat.
Tommy shouted back, ‘Take us to heaven.’
He closed the doors, the van started to move and for the first few minutes we all fidgeted until we were comfortable. The rain was smacking against the metal, giving the impression we were being pelted with stones and every so often one of the lads would look at the roof and sigh.
When we arrived, Brian threw open the back doors to reveal colourfully dressed families pushing carts and pulling bags through six inches of mud with the consistency of chocolate mousse.
‘Gonna be a messy one,’ said Brian loudly. ‘As ever, eh?’ he added quietly and smiled at Tommy. ‘C’mon lads,’ he said to the rest of them as they climbed out and threw their bags over their shoulders. ‘Here we go.’
We spent the first evening sitting on sections of tree trunks laid horizontally inside our circle of tents, drinking beer and laughing every time someone fell over.
As the weekend progressed, the children played with the mud more and more, slipping and sliding around despite the desperate pleas from their parents to stop. The crowd slowly polarised into those that were enjoying the falling and the pushing and those that were uptight about it. There was one guy who was caked from head to toe in grey dried mud. His long hair was matted into rope-like corkscrews and his equally filthy girlfriend was constantly pushing him over. ‘Good morning,’ he called whenever our paths crossed, no matter what time of day it was. I really warmed to his joy for life although for some reason he scared me a little too.
On the third day, when it was starting to look like a post apocalyptic film-set, I took Tommy to one side. ‘Tommy. The mud…’
‘Some people are truly embracing it and some are revolted by it.’
‘That’s chemical enhancement for you.’
‘Sure,’ he said and chuckled. ‘All part of the fun and it’s the only way to deal with this filth.’
‘Oh, I didn’t know.’
Once I was safely home I realised they’d been right and the weekend had certainly been an eye opener; there’s a whole bunch of alternative people who are chemically enhanced to behave like children and who go out of their way to frolic around in mud and filth. Using enhancement for such trivial pastimes would be frowned upon back home where enhancement is a very serious business indeed and I don’t know what to make of it. But, the most amazing part of the whole weekend was that nobody, absolutely nobody, was nasty about my colour. There were quite a few expressions of awe and wonder, but for the first time since I arrived in this universe I felt truly accepted by everyone I met. And that was mind-blowing.