Sunday, 10 May 2009

Radio 1's Big Weekend. With kids.

Not "the" kids, who were there in their thousands, worshipping at the Radio 1 altar, but our kids, who don't yet know Radio 1 exists.

My wife Nic works at Radio 1, and therefore qualified for a pair of guest tickets, so we chose Saturday and brought our little ones, aged 4 (Amy) and 1 (Abi).

We aimed to take them last year for the Madonna one in Maidstone, but I was asked to do Nolan for 5 live that weekend, and Nic didn't feel she could take them both on her own. Wise.

We had limited ambition for the day. Get there at 12 noon, leave around 8pm-ish, see a few colleagues and ex-colleagues, and maybe, just maybe, catch a few bands. Hmm.

Getting there was fine. By the time we arrived at 12.45pm (having thoroughly enjoyed Vernon Kay's childish excitement at the possibilities the site webcams provided) the park-and-ride car park was full and we were into the overspill. This entailed a yomp with the buggy, buggy board, rucksack and shoulder-mounted-baby-carrier-cum-backpack (is there a proper name for these?) most of which we had brought out of retirement for the day.

The nice men and lady stewards and the nice men running the park-and-ride buses could not have been nicer, and all the other ticket-holders were suitably indulgent of and possibly amused at our family outing.

As Vernon pointed out (via the various texts he was getting from listeners looking at the webcams) the odd thing about the crowd at this event is that everyone is paired up, because that's how the tickets are given away. So people really do start the event wandering around in couples.

When the park-and-ride bus reached its drop off point there was another half hour walk to the site. We got there, got our wristbands and got in just in time for Daniel Merriweather. I took Amy in to the big tent and watching her taking it all in was moving. I pointed a few things out and she stayed very quiet, overwhelmed by the scale of things.

We left mid-way through Daniel's first song to get into the guest area and say hello to a few people. Abi was off as soon as her feet touched the floor and Amy started to get eggy, but there were plenty of parents and kids around. I had a brief chat with Nihal's wife whose little one is a month older than Abi, and then had to entertain Amy by taking her to the Live Lounge bar in the guest area where JLS were soundchecking.

This was more on a scale she could cope with and she was happy to watch JLS soundcheck Stand By Me (twice) and then perform it for real. I was happy she was happy.

At various stages of the afternoon I had brief chats with the legend that is Dylan White from Anglo plugging, my old boss Shabs, my old boss Rod McKenzie and a multitude of other people from Newsbeat, but it was not a time for sitting down with a flimsy cup of weak lager and catching up.

When we finally got everything together, dumped the buggy and headed out into the main arena for a look round, I was very impressed by the scale of the event and the sheer effort that goes into making sure every base is covered for every sort of listener.

The BBC and Radio 1 branding is omnipresent, but subtle, and the cross-BBC sub-brands (In New Music We Trust, Introducing, Switch, Three etc) were all there doing their thing and doing it very well.

Away from the 4 main stages (main, outdoor, In New Music We Trust, Introducing) there were tents and an open top bus for Switch (signed "No Olds!"), as well as all the usual concessions. There was also a local council arts initiative which had a load of juggling sticks, unicycles and hula hoops for people to pick up and try. Amy loved having a go at plate balancing. Then she went into the Switch area (which I thought was aimed at teenagers, but not just so) where she got to make her own sticker.

It was great to give the girls their first experience of dealing with the sensory assault of a festival. The echoey, loud music, the lights and screen and the mass of people. Abi thought the man dressed as a chicken was great and Amy took delight in the various inflatables she spotted (banana, dolphin etc).

The signing tent was popular, just as much for the DJs as the artists, and you really get a sense of the connection the listeners have with the DJs as much as the bands at this event.

By mid-afternoon Amy was getting listless and when she refused to eat some of her favourite food, we realised something was up. She had a temperature and we decided we were going to have to go home early.

Nic went to say some goodbyes and I stayed out in the main area on our picnic rug looking after Abi whilst Amy went to sleep.

Total "live" music experienced: Half a Daniel Merriweather song One JLS song, three times 2 halves of two Chris Moyles songs, plus Dom and Dave's effort. Zane Lowe doing his thing on the outdoor stage.

Then the fun started. We put Amy in the buggy and Abi on my shoulders to walk out of the venue at around 6pm. Having trekked the half hour back to the bus point (with a surprisingly large number of punters who had clearly decided they wanted to get home for tea), we were told the buses to the park-and-ride were departing from a different point "ten minutes walk" away.

The route of this "ten minute walk" was clearly signposted and stewarded, so we followed it. On the way we had started questioning the stewards who had assured us we were heading in the right direction, but also that there were no buses running to the park and ride at all at the moment because variously "the drivers are having a break", "the buses need refuelling", "we don't know, we just got told to send you this way".

One of them also said when we got to where we were meant to be going there were no direct buses to the park-and-ride. We'd have to get a bus into the town centre and then one out to the park-and-ride.

Senses of humour were beginning to fail at this point. Eventually we arrived at the back of a shopping centre and were directed to a bus stop by some more stewards. But there were no buses. A scheduled town bus turned up and began trying to charge people for tickets. People refused and started "politely explaining" the line they'd been spun whilst hacking their way through Swindon's suburbs for the past 40 minutes.

Driver knew nothing about it, and evidently didn't care. He radioed back to base. Base told him we'd been sent to the wrong spot by the stewards, despite the fact the last of the stewards was in sight of where we were.

The driver told us that he'd been told there were never going to be any buses to the park and ride from where we were, but if we went 5 minutes walk up the road to a specific underpass, they'd all be waiting for us there. No one knew where he was trying to send us and people were not happy. Amy was asleep throughout all this, thank goodness, but Abi had gone from gurgly and happy to weepy and screamy, which wasn't so nice.

Eventually someone from Swindon spoke to the driver and said that indeed the underpass in question was 5 minutes away and he would lead us there. I thought this could well be a wild goose chase, but nothing was going to happen were we were, so we set off in a group of about a hundred. After 10 more minutes of walking, having crossed two dangerous roads and lifted the buggy up a load of steps I was knackered and fuming.

Nic caught sight of a hotel and I noted the phone number on the side of a passing minicab. I called them minicab firm and got them to pick us up at the hotel. The taxi back to our car cost a tenner. We got the kids into their pyjamas in Membury services disabled toilet, bought some Calpol for Amy and listened to Dizzee Rascal's set on Trevor's show on the way home. It sounded brilliant. He also managed to specifically thank Radio 1's Big Weekend, which was impressively on-message, especially given Vernon managed to call it One Big Weekend twice on his show in the morning.

Radio 1 switched the event name from One Big Weekend to Radio 1's Big Weekend a few years back for obvious reasons, but One Big Weekend is such a resonant brand it's been hard to shift it in peoples' minds.

Dizzee's ability to rock a very large tent very very well was confirmed when we got back, put the kids to bed, poured a couple of drinks and settled down in front of the telly to listen to his set again with the added bonus of pictures. Apart from the unexpected endurance training, I enjoyed myself. Nic less so.

She had arranged during the week to see a few of her colleagues and whilst we managed to see one or two, most of them were working in various parts of the site. Co-ordinating a simple meet up with 2 kids in tow was tough. I hadn't arranged to meet anyone, so when I did bump into people it was a Brucey bonus, and spending some time with tha nippas is always time well spent, even though Amy was ill.

Amy was still under the weather today and didn't mention the event at all, but just before bed she was lying on her duvet looking at the plastic Hawaiian flower garland in her dressing up basket.

"Daddy...?" she said. "Yes?" "If we go to the Radio 1 Big Weekend again, next time I think I will take my flower necklace."

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