AS THOUSANDS HEAD to the Electric Picnic in Stradbally this weekend, advice on bringing wellies, sunscreen and earplugs abounds. Colin Murphy has another piece of advice to share – don’t go camping at a festival if you’re about to give birth.
IT IS 4am. I am lying in a field, near a fence, behind a car, somewhere in Co Laois. Though it seems it has only just got dark, it is getting bright. There is a woman beside me, moaning softly. I am reeling in guilt.
All around us, there is a loud banging. It seems like it has been going on forever; yet it wasn’t there when I lay down. I have never been asleep. I will never sleep again. I have betrayed my partner. I have betrayed my daughter.
And then it is brighter, and it is 10am, and I have been asleep. The woman beside me wakes. She smiles. She is not angry. She is not upset. She is a little bit hot, and sticky, but that is normal in a tent.
The guilt recedes. It is Sunday morning. I have an idea.
“Let’s go and see the Dublin Gospel Choir.”
Lest you are nine months’ pregnant and thinking of going to the Electric Picnic: this is inappropriate
There were some who said going to the Electric Picnic with our baby due in two weeks was inappropriate. To be precise, there were some who hinted that. No one actually said it. So, lest you are nine months’ pregnant, and thinking of going to the Electric Picnic, let me be clearer than your friends: this is inappropriate. If you (or your partner) goes into labour at 4am in a field, induced by an oppressive banging sound reminiscent of a mid 1990s Students’ Union disco, you are likely to feel, at best, a bit silly.
The Electric Picnic is a bit like standing outside HMV on Grafton Street circa 1990, except that everyone is 20 years older, and texting. (Note to younger readers: in 1990, there was no texting.) It is supposedly a boutique festival: 35,000 people in a field, and they can call it “boutique” because there’s a stall selling hummus.
It is vaguely about the music. It is a lot about the clothes, though the style is to look as if it’s not at all about the clothes. Everybody looks their very worst, and smells. Everybody knows each other, or each other’s brother, or best friend, or got off with her cousin in 1993. Everybody is standing around because a) they are too addled to think of anything else to do, or b) there are too many in their group to come to any decision about what to do, or c) they have lost everybody in their group, and are afraid that if they leave where they are, they won’t be found, if/when someone comes looking for them.
It seemed pretty simple… I just had to make sure I was fit to drive
Laois is two hours from Dublin. For months, in ante-natal classes and conversations with more experienced friends, we had been asking: “how long will the labour be?” “How long is a piece of string?” they replied. “Eight hours. Twelve hours. Two days. Impossible to know.” We searched in vain for someone who might say, encouragingly, “sure, it might be over in a few hours”.
So when the Picnic invite came up, it seemed pretty simple. Stradbally is a couple of hours from Dublin. I just have to make sure that, if need arises, I’m fit to drive, and we’ll be fine. We can just hop in the car and spin back to the Rotunda.
We arrived on the Saturday and pitched our tent in the overflow car park; the nearby chip van let me plug in the pump for our air mattress. (Pregnant women can be useful for procuring favours.) Then we headed in search of food, friends, and entertainment. We found a little of each, though rarely at the same time, and I avoided the booze, and generally we had fun, in a very gentle way. I remember Iggy Pop, who looked rather like a bog body, and going to see The Fall. You know the idea that a pregnant woman should play Mozart to her belly? The Fall is the opposite of that. It was the sonic equivalent of being caught in a head-on collision between two articulated lorries. We fled. (Too late. Our daughter is tone deaf.)
Around midnight, I walked her back to the tent, and went in search of my one-time night-owl self. But without a schedule or map, I spent an hour or more criss-crossing darkened fields, arriving at tents just as they closed. The friends who had been ubiquitous had disappeared. Eventually, I slogged back to the tent, where I lay awake having a panic attack to the thumping of a spontaneous rave, and the short breathing of the woman beside me.
R shouted from the bathroom: I can feel the baby’s head!
It was just after midnight, two weeks later, when R went into labour. It was mild enough (says he), and we tried to remember whether we were supposed to go into hospital when the contractions were five minutes apart and a minute long, or three minutes apart and 30 seconds long, or what. Around 2am, I went looking for the big pregnancy book with the chapter titled ‘How to know when to go to the hospital’. Just as I found the page, R shouted from the bathroom: “I can feel the baby’s head!”
Somehow, I got her out of the bath and into the car, with her slippers (she refused to leave till I had them), and we careened down to the Rotunda, all of a mile away. I brought R in and ran back out to move the car from the ambulance spot. By the time I got back, minutes later, our little one was being born.
Any memories of Electric Picnic? I asked R, as I started this piece. The music? Friends? The tent? “Realising, a few weeks later, my first child could have been born there,” she said. “I’d have called her Electra.”
We called her Sadhbh.