Summer of Love (of sorts) in Tunbridge Wells
By Julia Moore
Until things took a tragic turn, (one death, one serious injury) this column set out to be a flippant look at the how and whys of summer Festivals, 21st Century style. I had a recent occasion to be in that hallowed principality which is Tunbridge Wells, Kent, UK. Due to its full title - ‘Royal’ Tunbridge Wells - it has an imaginary monarchy, currency and legislation, with most residents believing they are related to an aristocratic dynasty. Outrage, then prevailed, when a ‘sex-festival’ was granted a temporary licence to trade within its domain. True to type, local radio and press coverage went straight to the heart of the issue, balancing the voices of supporters and naysayers. It transpired that overwhelming opposition for the event derived not from the moral decline which it may visit on the young and vulnerable of the town, but on something far, far more serious. Saturday parking, or lack of it. You may strut around in your leather kinky boots and whip, but prevent the good folk of TW from beating a path to the farmers’ market, and you are done for.
Summer festivals are not the preserve of modernity, deriving from the seasonal flux of buying and selling of feudal times, when the serious business of cattle and corn-trading provided a wider selling forum for the journeyman, quack and skilled artisan alike. A modern twist, however, must be the fee which folk pay to enter such events. Two festivals, in fact, were in evidence in the principality, the second one required clothing, I believe. However, both entrance fees started at £300.00, ascending to £1400 for high-end ‘glamping’ (comfortable camping, I understand, nothing to do with leather-wear). Of course, the apex of festivals, Glastonbury, is not a cheap pastime, but this level of fee surely signifies a break with the mud-and-gore tradition of festival-going? For me, jaunty-coloured wellington boots indicate that folk no longer take the music seriously, ‘being seen’ became the objective, even if ‘being seen falling over in mud, just outside the porta-loo’ is the reality?
I took a deliberate wander around the town during the above events, hoping to see Mrs Cholmondeley-Warner a little worse for wear after a night on the nettles, or sporting a new henna-tattoo. I had a flash that the Autumn term adult education classes would see the conservative-belt transformed into a peace-loving commune, arm-linked retired Colonels, refusing to go for their coffee break when directed by the tutor. And finally, the spaniels. Previously well-behaved representatives of their species, unleashed (literally) by a weekend spent in their evolutionary forests, they now pee and poop where they please, cocking a snook to discrete toileting, lest they offend their owner - offend and be damned, they say now.
On a serious-ish note, summer events in our part of the French region benefit local businesses and, although the bane of those who relish a good night’s sleep, bring in the mullah and prevent the slow demise of revenue, so prevalent in many hillside towns across rural France and Italy. I doubt, however, in the Kent examples, any local benefit came to the communities affected by the rampant noise (and nudity, although nobody has complained about that, specifically), but, I could be wrong...who knows..a new breed of high street shops to rival the nail bars…’Broccoli and Bondage’? ‘High-Fibre and High-Heels’... I could go on... but you can take it from here… Bon Autumn!