The night I went out for coffee and ended up in Welfare.
For a time, some people used to ask me about Sunrise Festival, which I attended in the summer of 2013. Sunrise was, for the most part, an excellent adventure with many tales to tell, though I’m only ever asked about one tale in particular. This is the story of the time I went out for coffee and woke up in Welfare.
It was sunset on the Thursday evening. My team and I had spent the day trundling our bicycles through the mud and rain; ‘Festival Logistics’ somebody had jokingly called us, though I don’t remember anybody laughing about it.
My friends and I had slumped back into our camp, fallen into our tents and idly made our evening meal which, being typically ill-prepared, we ate with tent pegs, having forgotten to pack cutlery.
My, admittedly scrawny, misused muscles ached warmly and deathly fatigue had set in deep behind the eyes. My plan was to call it an early night, crawl into my sleeping bag, bury my head under a bundle of clothes (to drown out the blaring techno) and grimly await the stuffy tent-oven that would inevitably char me from my slumber the following morning. The rest of my team had other ideas and opted to explore the festival. Sadly, it seems bundles of clothes are terrible at drowning out loud electronic music and even less effective at quieting my internal dialogue so I opted to join them after all.
I trailed them for a time, bopping my head awkwardly in time to the music; a stealthy imposter amongst the oblivious crowds. Fighting a losing battle with my own sickening insecurities and anxiousness, I found myself in a moment of detached clarity. This place, with it’s frivolous, grinning crowds, with it’s garish, strobing lights and loud blaring electronic music… this place was not intended for the likes of me with my social anxiety, sullen demeanour, my sore, light-sensitive eyes and penchant for orchestra. Looking around I noticed that my friends had wandered off. With no further ties to my surroundings I too scurried off into the night to grab a coffee.
Eventually I found a café that specialised in falafel. Recalling the lack of knifes, forks and firewood back at camp, I purchased some supper and the aforementioned beverage before filling my pockets with wooden cutlery and wandering back towards techno-hell in one last ditch effort to find my companions before returning to the sanctuary of my tent.
Lazily sipping at my coffee I sat down near some other suitably crusty-looking festival goers to roll a cigarette. After a time my eyes adjusted to the glaring lights which danced through the clouds of dry ice. I began to enjoy the spectacle, and lost track of time making idle conversation with the people nearby. Upon finishing my drink, now bitter and tepid, I concluded that my friends had been lost to the night. Finding my feet I stumbled out of the tent.
The cool air against my face felt immediately strange and disorienting; it was as though I were falling at great speeds in different directions, like tumbling through a whirlwind. My eyes perceived little more than incoherent blurs and the music drifted in and out of comprehension. There was a surreal rhythmic pounding in my skull and each of my heightened senses became distorted. With a sense of urgency I knew that I’d have to return to camp. I made it about fifteen meters outside of the techno tent before my spacial awareness disappeared completely.
A thousand thoughts flooded my brain all at once; what the hell was going on? Had I been drugged? Something in the coffee? The falafel? Had I picked up someone else’s drink back there? What the hell was going on!?
Crawling on my hands and knees I dragged myself through the cold, damp grass. Occasional shapes would jut out of the darkness and, though pretty terrified and miserable I tried my best to navigate, grabbing the sides of vehicles, tents, fences or whatever came to hand. Occasionally I’d stumble into a steward or security guard and ask for directions, though verbal instruction would prove completely useless. Despite my clear distress, one group of security guards suggested I follow the yellow brick road before cackling amongst themselves and walking away.
I remember falling to the ground in exhausted despair after maybe an hour or two of wandering through the cold. The rain continued to beat down, soaking through my clothes and chilling me to the bone so I crawled underneath a parked van for shelter. Hopelessly lost and incapable of navigating my surroundings I resolved to sleep there and wait for the sun to return and illuminate my path to safety. I lay there for what seemed like an eternity, whimpering and praying for oblivion. My brain lay entombed in the thrall of existential dread, perceiving space-time as a horrible, unmoving, uncaring monolith. The pointlessness of existence assaulted me violently, unendingly, and I was powerless to retort with anything but further strings of terrified whimpers.
Despite my best efforts to fall asleep and my delirious acceptance of my ultimate doom; the cold would, time and again cause me to involuntarily shiver. This would, of course, rouse me from my desolation long enough for the fleeting notions of survival to kick in and drive me back to my feet to resume a last-ditch-effort to find camp.
The rest is a fragmented haze, but I vaguely recall being convinced that I’d probably die (and feeling mostly disappointed that my life would end so anticlimactically) and timidly uttering “Um… hello!? anybody? someone help!”. A desperate plea that, on many levels, I thought futile.
After more directionless wandering I ended up laying in a soggy sandbank to evade the wind, indeed the festival took place on an old golf course. From the darkness a beautiful woman approached me. Seeing my distress she took my hand and guided me from my misery.
Though I recall very little about her looks, I do vaguely recall being awed by her beauty. Her hair, I believe was worn in light red spirals though it mostly fell in blonde streaks around her shoulders. Her eyes glistened with a warm, friendliness that I immediately trusted.
We walked for a long time, through darkened muddy paths between canvas and trees. Her reassurances dispelled my despair as I, shamefully, fluctuated between the persona of a small lost child and that of a feral, wild animal. Eventually she led me to a large tent filled with vaguely concerned, if perpetually amused faces. I removed the damp coat that had seemingly melded with my exhausted limbs and lay with my head on her lap, occasionally uttering an apology that she refused to accept. “Don’t worry.” she’d calmly say, between her assurances.
At times I would forget where I was, certain that I still lay out in the cold and dark, that I’d imagined my rescue, and so would frantically attempt to clamber back into the night, though she settled me down each time with a patience that’s rarely found in this day and age.
Eventually I regained enough clarity in my thoughts to operate my phone and contact someone from my group who arranged to meet me and assist me on my way back to my tent. Excited by this change in my fortune, I regret to say, I forgot about my saviour and left for my rendezvous without giving proper thanks. Indeed, I never enquired about her name and have only the vaguest memories of her visage. When I finally reached my tent I curled up and lay still, unable to sleep as the world around me spun. After chain smoking through the remains of my tobacco I eventually fell into a deep, dreamless sleep.
I awoke for breakfast, strangely excited to retell my tale to the group, which I did, perhaps in a more jovial tone than it deserved. Frequent chuckles permeated the camp, elements of my story were disbelieved, specifically those of my rescue. Whether or not they were convinced by my tale, I can’t say, though they certainly seemed appreciative of the pile of wooden cutlery I produced from my pockets.
On Saturday evening, I stood with my friends deep in the crowd of the main stage. The ordeal of the night in question had been mostly forgotten by now, such was the density of experience at the festival, when, out of the swelling ocean of bodies around us, two vaguely familiar looking people approached me, grinning widely and waving their hands excitedly;
“Hello Taran! You probably won’t remember us but we were with you in Welfare the other night!”.
Indeed, I barely remembered them, but the barest hint of recognition seemed enough to overwhelm me with gratitude. I expressed my appreciation with excited gusto whilst once again apologising for being such a burden. They went on to enquire if I knew the identity of the mysterious woman, indeed they seemed as awed and bewildered as I. Later that evening I’d stumble upon one of the stewards I’d met on that night who would also corroborate the story, but offered no further insight into the identity of my saviour, suggesting that she had been my guardian angel.
The festival ended a few days later, and the events of that night would pass into memory and later doubt, but to this day, I still feel that pang of existential dread whenever I go out to get coffee, I still look for the girl in crowded places, hoping against odds that we’ll meet again so I might give my thanks, I still bury my head underneath my clothes to drown out the din of blaring techno, and I still recoil in the damp and dark, eagerly awaiting the next Sunrise.