I spent last weekend storytelling at Greenbelt. It was mainly fab. I mean, there was lots of good stuff. I got to meet Bridget and Adrian Plass and actually have tea with them; I got to perform a new show called A Special Pair Of Shoes; I bumped into plenty of people I know, which is always fun, and I enjoyed channelling my inner hippy in festival dresses, rainbow striped knee-high socks and multiple jangly bracelets.
I also had Abi Jane with me.
Now, two years ago I went to Greenbelt at 20 weeks pregnant, and I think that more people told me then that I was mad than they did this time around. But 20 weeks pregnant was easy. Sure, I "stood" in several queues for talks on my hands and knees because of the constant danger of fainting, and I developed a very close relationship with the nearest set of portaloos to my tent, but all in all, it wasn't difficult.
However, here is just a flavour of what Greenbelt was like with a toddler.
We arrived ("We" is me and my wonderful friend Bekki, who I should say at this point looked after Abi a huge amount and kept me sane), and needed to unpack the car and put up the tent, preferably before it rained. For a while, Abi Jane was evidently either going to scuttle off into the depths of the campsite as fast as her legs would carry her, or take the tent apart as fast as we were putting it together.
But then she found the bag of food. So that was OK.
Camping itself wasn't too bad. Abi got the hang of tent life with surprising alacrity, even though bedtime did not include the usual bath.
The first night, she and I both woke up at about the same time - 3am ish - mainly because it was freezing cold. I sat up and piled everything I owned on top of her, and she went back to sleep. I didn't. The second night, she woke at 5:45am and the third night she was awake between 1am and some other hour that I didn't care to look at.
It wasn't the nights, though, so much as the days. The main problem with taking a toddler to Greenbelt is that for every hour you get to spend doing things like this:
until you feel as if your brain is going to leak out of your ears. The festival programme sits in your bag mocking you: "Look what you could be doing if you weren't on your fourteenth circuit of the showground pushing a little plastic car!"
On the second day, I discovered the Parent Support Venue. That was lovely. You go in looking tired and harassed, and they give you free cups of tea and magazines to read while you watch your offspring bashing other peoples' offspring over the head with Fisher Price toys. They provided baby baths, too, but I didn't like to imagine the carnage that might ensue if I actually tried to fit Abi Jane into one of them.
It was also on the second day that I finished putting Abi Jane to bed at about 7:30pm and realised that I hadn't been to the toilet for over twelve hours. Because you can't if you have a pushchair and a toddler with you and your only option is a queue for a tiny, muddy portaloo. Unless, of course, you leave the pushchair and the toddler outside to the mercy of the queue, which was tempting at times.
Yet despite all my complaining, I still somehow contrived to enjoy myself a lot of the time. There were unexpected pleasures, like meeting a family of complete strangers because Abi Jane decided to wander into their tent. They turned out to be absolutely lovely people from Norwich, another clergy family, who allowed Abi Jane to mess about with crafty things while we chatted about rural ministry. They weren't in the Daily Diary, but they were one of the best bits.
I don't know quite what I'd imagined would happen. Did I entertain visions of Abi Jane playing happily at my feet while I listened to scintillating talks, or sleeping through late night comedy sessions, or dancing along to music at the mainstage? Did I really not suspect that she would be grumpy at being contained, sleepless and whingy? I'm not sure, but in my foolishness I am already starting to contemplate going back next year. Surely with a nearly-three-year-old it would all work much better...