Fear and Loving in Heaton Park - Cloudy, with frequent golden showers

Having reached his mid-forties without attending an open-air festival, Stephen James assumed that The Stone Roses’ Heaton Park gig would be a baptism of fire. He was half right…


“For once in your life, trust me,” protested JC, as he set off into the crowd. He knew I didn’t want to stand at the front. Unfortunately, I didn’t wish to be abandoned either, so, I scampered after him, tail between my legs, yelping entreaties to slow down. Our desires diverged like the paths to Heaven and Hell. I yearned for a commode longue with a butler to serve me drinks, and, when necessary, wipe my arse with the neck of a goose. (I concur with Rabelais that this is the most effective, and sensual way, to maintain a spotless sphincter, although, having to take a gaggle of geese with you wherever you go is rather inconvenient, not to say expensive, what with the upwardly spiralling price of grain. Au contraire - Ed) Given our predicament, I was willing to compromise. Accessibility to the latrines, beer tent and exit were essential, and an adequate view preferable. I wanted to see there were people on stage, but was happy to rely on the enormo-screens for detail. JC demanded total immersion. To be close enough to make amplification redundant. To be able to count the band’s wrinkles, and to convince himself that he, not Ian Brown, was the star. But, more importantly, he considered compromise anathema.

Initially, I wasn’t averse to positioning ourselves at the front, and, when we got there the atmosphere was charged. Unfortunately, within minutes of arriving the dregs of my warm pints (all that remained after forcing our way through the crowd) were quaffed. We trudged back up the hill. Joined the queue. Waited for an aeon. Purchased four beers. Tramped back down, spilling most of the alcohol. Savoured the few remaining mouthfuls. Needed more ale. So, we trudged back up the hill. You get the idea. At the beginning this took about an hour, but, as the park filled up, substantially longer. Everyone’s first stop being the beer tent. Anyone considering getting inebriated, would’ve needed to buy two pints, walk straight to the back of the line and wait to get served again while drinking the beers. They wouldn’t have seen the gig, but at least they wouldn’t have remembered they hadn’t.

Alcoholic refreshment was not the only necessity absent from the front: the toilets were located a substantial distance behind it. My first thought was to deal with these omissions together, excusing myself momentarily on the way to the bar. Then I encountered the queue. Not only would I have had an accident long before I entered the cubicle, especially as the majority of people were going in two-by-two, but the resulting wet patch would have had time to dry. Regrettably, it had taken so long to shake the sobriquet Wet-pants Watty last time, I wasn’t willing to risk acquiring it again. Another solution was required.

I’ve lived my life by Debrett’s, but, unfortunately, it doesn’t address relieving oneself at festivals when water closets are unavailable. Bereft of formal advice, I was forced to improvise, and opted for finding a suitable wall.

I chose an area where there were a number of women relieving themselves, as, if one of the disinterested security guards took exception to this mass Breach of the Peace, they’d be more vulnerable to capture, due to their necessity to stand and pull up their trousers before being able to escape. It was unlikely, but you can never be too careful. I take great pleasure in breaking taboos, and relished the public urination. There is a certain je ne sais quoi, something rather, oh so, very special, about feeling the wind blowing through your pubes as you micturate. If it wasn’t a criminal offence I’d recommend it.

The lack of beer and toilets could be tolerated, the urine-filled, plastic glasses raining down could not. I realise that being hit by such missiles doesn’t hurt, but, outside of the Reeperbahn, few people would pay €60 to get pissed on, so I expect the victims didn’t savour the moment. An avid conspiracy theorist, and subscriber to the Fortean Times, I believe the plastic poncho dealers were responsible for these omnipresent projectiles, and had set up a trebuchet in the mixing tower to ensure that, even if the weather was fine, their sales would remain buoyant.

Thankfully, the bombardment was restricted to just urine, as nothing turns someone into a pariah faster than being caught in the blast radius of an excrement explosion. I’m not sure what the park is normally used for, but all the nitrates and phosphates deposited over the weekend should ensure that it’s fertile well into the next millennium. If it’s south facing the owners should consider planting a vineyard.

Unless pee-pee-seeking missiles were installed immediately, I didn’t intend to loiter at the front. A baptism of fire I could handle, but being anointed with piss I could not.

The fourth time we set off to obtain more alcohol, the entrance to the Front Pit, Checkpoint No Charlie, muddy, and choked with discarded containers, was incredibly treacherous. To someone as tired and emotional as JC, it was insurmountable, and he went down. Fortunately, before he hit the ground, a good Samaritan caught him. If he hadn’t, JC would have emerged from the quagmire looking, and, smelling as bad as, an audience member at the RSC’s, in-the-round, production of Two Girls, One Cup.

This time my companion had been very lucky, but it was evident that I had to abandon him. If I didn’t, he’d quite literally, pull me down into the mire with him.

We returned to the beer tent, and purchased the necessary refreshments, but this time, as he disappeared into the crowd, I didn’t follow. Instead, I walked away in silence. There had been no ocular Parthian Shot previously, so it was safe to assume that by the time JC realised that I hadn’t followed him, I would have vanished.

NEXT ISSUE: My new best friends


Illustration by the author