I’ll never be a true hippie parent, but I can learn a lot from these festival types | Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett

Every festival season, I think about something the writer Nell Frizzell once said to me during an interview about being the child of hippies and being taken to Womad, the international arts festival. She described it as “standing in a field next to your dad wearing a bumbag, and thinking, ‘Oh, I’ve seen enough men from Kazakhstan playing fiddles.’” It never fails to make me laugh, because not only have I lived that experience (though it was my mum who took me to Womad), but because it comically captures that feeling of your parents dragging you along to something that they insist you’ll love when, really, you’re there because they want to be.

I’m still recovering from Glastonbury – my first trip away from my son, and, it turns out, the perfect choice for that purpose, because there was so much going on that I couldn’t focus on worrying about the distance between us. And it turns out that parenthood prepares you well for the chaos and squalor: could I handle very little sleep and quite a lot of exposure to human faeces? Absolutely. Am I inured to unpredictable behaviour, strange meals at odd hours and weird bursts of overwhelming emotion? Also, yes.

I was never going to take my son to Glastonbury, because I wanted that time for myself, but I didn’t really have any thoughts about those who choose to take their children to large festivals until I saw first-hand what a miserable time some babies were having. On arrival I was almost immediately confronted by the sight of a near-naked newborn being carried through a campsite.

I try as much as possible not to judge other parents, but when, after midnight, you see a baby in ear defenders being hauled in a cart through a crowd of adults, all of whom are off their faces, while the infant cowers under a blanket, it doesn’t really seem in their best interests. A couple of times I saw parenting that shocked me. “It’s really not OK,” one young woman said to me, near tears, about one especially distressed baby.

Still, I’m not saying these people were categorically bad parents. We’ve all misjudged situations, been overly optimistic and ended up regretting it. Perhaps these parents spent all day at the Kidzfield – which has amazing entertainment and where the National Childbirth Trust is on hand to help with feeding, bathing, and changing – and found they couldn’t find their way back to their camper van. I noticed the kids having the worst time didn’t seem to be the hippie kids. The hippie kids you see at Womad and Glastonbury largely seem to be having a blast.

The happiest baby I saw all weekend was in a tipi in the healing fields with her mum, having a lovely, peaceful time. I also loved seeing the older kids, who reminded me of the ones I grew up around. You know the type: beautifully and rambunctiously feral, with ratty, long hair bleached by the sun, bare feet, weather-beaten faces. You can tell they live off-grid in Cornwall or Wales, spend all their time outdoors and scarcely know what the internet is. If my experience is anything to go by, let’s just say there’s a chance that they’re not all up to date with their immunisations, and that really isn’t OK; and, as I wrote in an article in 2017 about the hippie revival, they definitely face significant embarrassment in school and social settings. But in terms of the values that they are raised with, they are caring and kind and progressive. Often, the world that isn’t comes as quite a shock.

Festivals are important for kids, I think, because they show diverse groups of people coming together in a largely harmonious way to engage with music and culture. They teach children about costume and play, and allow them to explore the outdoors safely away from screens. Recognising that modern parents are especially keen to continue going to them, festivals have become more child-friendly than ever, with Womad having a whole World of Children and Camp Bestival being entirely conceived of as a family-friendly festival-cum-camping holiday, with a plethora of activities and even a Cbeebies bedtime story tent.

And they’re important for parents, too. Some people would have you believe that your life is over when you have children. Festivals prove that you can still do things, albeit a bit differently. Though I didn’t have my child with me and was very much partying, I was still such a mum: making sure unaccompanied children made it out of the toilets OK, forming a human barrier to protect a crying teenage girl from a drunken oaf, carrying around a mini first-aid kit and a little sandwich bag of sliced orange for my pre-mixed Negroni.

Seeing the hippie kids of Glastonbury also made me question my own parenting, something that is healthy to do from time to time. Do I want my child to live a largely urban, indoor life, or am I interested in giving him something closer to my own childhood? We know from the children of the counterculture that hippie parents don’t always get it right – while researching my first novel, which is on this very topic, I read some harrowing accounts, and would particularly recommend the book Wild Child: Girlhoods in the Counterculture edited by Chelsea Cain; but nor am I convinced that modern urban environments are always the best, either.

And so, like thousands before me, I have come away simultaneously shattered and enlivened, feeling that I have much to think about. Perhaps I’ll want to change our lives, or perhaps I’ll come back to earth, go back to how things were, and forget that other ways of living are possible. Until the next one, of course.

What’s working

Blood on the Tracks, Bob Dylan’s 1975 album, is the baby’s latest lullaby record. He is almost always asleep by the end of Idiot Wind, which, at 7 minutes and 48 seconds long, almost sends me into a stupor, too. I’m pleased at how effective it is, but I sometimes wish I could hear beyond the first four songs.

What’s not

The sprinklers at our local playground are broken again, and during some of the warmest weather. Our landlords are refusing to give us an outdoor tap, so we can’t even fill a paddling pool. Perhaps this is why my childhood of paddling in rock pools and swimming in cool mountain rivers feels so tantalising at the moment.