Friday was the first day of the inaugural Meraki Festival. Three days of music, massages, cinema, beaches and an enchanted forest, what’s not to love? It’s all happening in Redbourn, Herts and as soon as I read Belinda Carlisle was playing I knew I was booking. I was and still am a bit of a fan. The full Friday night line up was Jason Donovan, Odyessy, Belinda Carlisle with Tony Hadley headlining. Selling it to the girls wasn’t difficult, I just explained that all the attractions (including a maze, cinema, glitter tattoos, virtual reality beach) were free and that was that. They were ridiculously excited until they saw that Friday was being billed as 80’s night. Then the moaning started; “I hate 80’s music, it will be really boring”, and other nonsensical judgemental generalising. I spent an afternoon extolling the virtues of Circle in the Sand, True and Too Many Broken Hearts and it worked, kind of. The moaning stopped anyway so that was good enough for me.
Going by the description and promotional material it seemed like it was going to be a scaled down version of Glastonbury so hopes and expectations were high in the Banana Head household. On Friday morning we had a safety talk where I explained the importance of holding our hands all the time due to the tens of thousands of people that would be attending with us. Jade said I was being ridiculous but that’s just teenager attitude for you, daddy always knows best. On arrival I was confused, where were all the cars? I counted 14 but realised that most people were likely to be in the 2nd car park which was probably overflowing by now. I was wrong, as we entered the first thing to greet me was a family of tumble weeds weeping. Do tumble weeds weep, who knows. There was no-one there, well ok there were the inhabitants of the 14 cars I counted and us. It was this and seeing the ‘beach’ that (like a blow to the face with a particularly slimy cod), made me realise that this was not a scaled down Glastonbury. It was more like a scaled down Lilliput Saturday market.
The beach was approximately 10 x10 ft and was almost filled with the two deckchairs that adorned it. There was also the same amount of sand present that I normally found in my shoes and shorts after a day building rubbish sandcastles. The cinema was equally size challenged, (my new fave phrase) and the enchanted forest consisted of spot lights pointed at three trees in close proximity to each other. I’m sure you get the point here, it was clearly a case for having a word with the organisers and politely bringing up the Trade Descriptions Act.
The pre-festival excitement dissipated quicker than a crowd of children when I launch into my haunting rendition of Wuthering Heights at parties. I reassured the girls that the day wasn’t just about the free activities and great music. It was about spending quality family time together having an enriching shared experience. This was met with glassy eyed blank expressionless faces. Never mind. We had our picnic lunch, we explored the maze that had one wrong turn and took 12 seconds to complete. We had sitting up massages which were amazing and I managed to fall asleep much to the amusement / bewilderment of everyone there. We went on the big wheel which was actually really scary. Give me multi loop, 70mph roller coasters any day. The virtual reality headsets were great fun, almost as much fun as watching everyone wearing them walking into posts, toilets and falling over thinking there were chasing kangaroos and running away from incoming waves.
The family ‘field’ was also good, with glitter tattoos, face painting and a brilliant entertainer called Bash, there with the Flying Seagull Project, his organisation doing sterling work entertaining children around the world who are suffering in many different ways. Calais, Turkey, Greece and India are just a few of the places they’ve been to and put smiles on the faces of everyone there. You can read and see more about them here.
The 80’s music festival was next and all of us over the age of 40 (plus Henry, a massive 6 year old Tony Hadley fan) were stupidly excited. The children, not so much. With the crowd still pretty sparse we managed to get to the front to welcome Jason Donovan on stage. He looked resplendent in a white shirt / jeans combo and his hair had magically grown back too. He kept reminding us how good he looked and kept weirdly playing with his nipples. It didn’t do anything for me but lots of his fans were lapping it up. As he launched into “Especially For You” I longed for Kylie to walk out and recreate that magic from 1989. It wasn’t to be but the stand in Kylie was fine. Jade thought he looked about 70 and wouldn’t believe he was only 49 until he mentioned it himself. By the time Odyssey came on the girls had almost lost the will to live so I agreed to take them to the games tent where we played Who Wants To A Millionaire and Connect 4. Much more fun than dancing to Inside Out and Going Back to My Roots.
We made it back for Belinda Carlisle and danced and sang through her entire set. By the time Tony Hadley came on I could hardly stand and I realised that my girls happiness was more important than being close enough to Tony to see the sweat on his face. We went back and sat down on the grass chatting about life and how good the falafel wraps were we had for dinner. We were joined by Rachel shortly afterwards who after having two pints of beer was drunk dancing in the way that only she can. I love her drunk dancing.
Me and Rachel had a cheeky 20 min freak out in the dance tent to some 90’s club classics whilst the girls ran away and hid with shame and embarrassment. That was it, the end of our first festival experience. Overall, we’d all had a great time and being together had meant much more than the size of the beach and maze. For me the highlights were singing along to Belinda and laying on the grass with the girls chatting about everything and nothing.
We got home at 11.30 and after toasted cholla and jam and big cuddles with Honey it was time for bed.