The unspoken agreement lies in tatters

By Keith Newbery

Published on Friday, June 29, 2012 - 11:15


THIS ISLAND LIFE ANY self-respecting hack would be filling this space with an on-the-spot, first-person bulletin from the Seaclose festival of synchronised sinking and mud wrestling but I gave up being one of those years ago.

Come to think of it, I’ve also given up attending any event (including professional football matches) where humanity turns up mob-handed and pretends to enjoy itself by temporarily abandoning the principles of civilised existence.

It’s a fogeyish attitude which has evolved with the passing of the years and, anyway, I did my journalistic duty back in 1969 and 1970, during the epic events at Wootton and Afton Down.

There was some chaos and disruption back then, of course, but it came in manageable quantities.

This is why I had always treated the revival of the IW Pop Festival with an attitude of unalloyed ambivalence.

As far as I was concerned — until last week — it had always been something which happened 'over there’.

I typed those last few words with one hand, while waving the other in the general direction of Brading Downs, over which a monotonous bass thud has occasionally rumbled to indicate business as usual by the banks of

the Medina for four days every year.

I had no interest in attending the event and no interest in moaning about it — after all, avoiding the environs of Newport for a few days each year while others experienced something similar to that which I enjoyed more than 40 years ago was no real hardship.

It was a live-and-let-live relationship which worked well for me and, I suspect, thousands of others who appreciated the residual (though largely unsubstantiated) benefits the Island is said to receive from hosting an event which attracts world-wide attention.

But that pact of mutual tolerance was comprehensively fractured this year when the organisers appeared not to notice the advent of the monsoon season.

Rain which had been falling in record-breaking amounts for weeks on end was ominous enough but the leaden clouds forecast to deposit their contents all over the festival site last week would have been enough to make Noah blanch.

I’m not sure where John Giddings and his chums spent the past couple of months but apparently they have not been sloshing through the delights of the wettest spring and early summer on record with the rest of us.

During this time, I cannot recall any conversation on matters meteorological which did not eventually include the comment: "Let’s hope it improves in time for the festival".

One imagines, therefore, this thought must have crossed the minds of those responsible for staging it.

If so, one further imagines the phrase 'contingency plan’ may have occasionally cropped up in discussions on the subject.

After all, a successful festival has to depend to some degree on transporting tens of thousands of ticket-holders the four or five miles from ferry terminals to the field where it is being held, on time and with the minimum of inconvenience. It would be interesting to see a copy of the detailed arrangements drawn up by the council and the Giddings gang to deal with problems such as extreme weather.

If such a document exists, I suspect it consists of two simple words — 'fingers crossed’.

We are not talking about 20-20 hindsight here and it’s no good the organisers throwing up their hands and squealing 'there was nothing we could do about the weather’!

They are absolutely right, which is why it was so important they did everything possible to mitigate its deleterious effects — which were hardly unexpected this year.

By choosing to ignore the consequences of a straightforward problem such as vehicles being unable to access car parks consisting of liquid mud, organisers effectively condemned thousands of people to a level of inconvenience that was unnecessary and totally unacceptable.

And we are not just talking about the poor wretches who paid hundreds of pounds for the privilege of sleeping in their cars and relieving themselves at the roadside.

Islanders who, until this week, had been largely indifferent to the goings-on at Seaclose, were suddenly denied the basic right of going about their everyday lives.

And in many cases that amounted to a level of disruption far more significant than a few late buses and some crowded shops.

Hospital appointments could not be kept, businesses were (quite literally) brought to a standstill, funerals were delayed and holiday connections were missed.

For the past ten years, the pop festival has been allowed to grow and prosper because of an unspoken agreement between the organisers and the vast majority of Island residents.

It was based on one simple premise — we won’t bother you if you don’t bother us.

That pact has now been shredded and Giddings and co have some explanations to give, some apologies to make, some undertakings to provide and perhaps even some reparations to offer.

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