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Esther Lafferty is the anchor of the hugely successful Oxfordshire Artweeks festival and a keen triathlete.

Where the Grass is Greener

Esther Lafferty

It’s festival season in Oxfordshire. For most people this is the culmination of weeks or months counting down the days, between them and cool bands, with mounting excitement. For me it’s more like an impending doom. Just like an elephant on the horizon, the challenge of ‘the tent’ seemed small and insignificant when it was a long way away, but now, close up, it looms large (and saggy) in full frontal vision.

Booking the tickets, I’d imagined glorious sunshine – and camping’s wonderful when soft summer breezes tickle your tent pegs on a balmy evening as the pink sky turns the evening a peach-gold, and sweet wildlife whispers from the field next door. In this vision, cheery strangers in shorts and colourful T-shirts with neighbourly slogans waved merrily across an expanse of green between tents, as the barbeque sizzled to a backdrop of feel-good tracks.

The reality, I now remember, is less Mary Poppins On Holiday and more like spending three days in the thick of a scrum with the extras from Lord of the Rings and a slight headache. It’s not pretty.

I am also blessed with a pop-up tent, which makes things particularly challenging. Yes, it does pop up in two seconds. But what was less clear in the promotional blurb was the time required to repackage the tent into its handy carry case: two days with a team of strong-armed men, a degree in practical astrophysics and the ability to fold time and space.

What was also less than clear on the packaging is the number of people it will hold. The pictorial illustration shows clearly three bodies lined up neatly like skittles in a tin with ample room to spare – there was no mention that these people are three-quarter-sized like the legendary furniture in show-homes, and that they had brought no additional clothing for the weekend and can manage the whole weekend without boiling a teabag over an inadequate stove. The truth is, it’s going to be either The Significant Other or the air mattress, as I’ll never fit both in. He’s likely to be quite put out, but I have searched vigorously online for a Harry Potter tent that looks unremarkable on the outside, but inside is warm, dry and palatial, and they just can’t be sourced on eBay.

I also once had to be towed onto a campsite before the event began, which should have warned me of the horrors to come and mud that lapped over the top of my wellies. Digging a moat around the tent to divert the flow of water stopped the gushing across the ground-sheet but did nothing to prevent the rain dripping from the roof. It wasn’t my finest hour, either meteorologically or otherwise, and no amount of magnificent music could make up for that one. And I won’t even mention the toilets. It just wasn’t cricket.

And so, inspired by the marvels of the Oxfordshire Science Festival and the possibilities that the physical sciences offer the global population’s quality of life, I am working on an invention of my own – a cross between a waterproof dwelling that’s more portable than bricks and mortar and a hovercraft. You can look out for me and my hover-tent on the next series of Dragons’ Den because one thing’s for sure, however scary they may be, they can’t be worse than festival camping!

- Esther Lafferty