Elf Bars and endless Greggs merch: I went to Reading as a uni grad and it was eye-opening

I have never felt so old

Going to Reading Festival at least once is a rite of passage for any British teenager. Even more so if you go in order to celebrate your GCSEs or A-Levels. What better way to let loose from the years of built up tension than camping in the muddiest field imaginable with a bunch of people your own age and drinking until theres nothing left to drink.

I have been to Reading twice myself, the first time on the day I got my GCSE results. I remember opening up my results letter, having a big old cry about my grades and then immediately hopping on a packed train to Reading with tons of other teenagers doing the exact same thing. For some reason I opted to take a large suitcase to the festival instead of a rucksack, and I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to wheel a suitcase through a large field of mud but it just doesn’t work. I ended up dragging it the whole way, getting covered in mud in the process and having another cry from the stress of it all.

After seven years since the last time I attended the festival, I decided to head back to Reading to see what the kids are up to these days: what are they wearing, who are they listening to and most importantly, how many Elf Bars have they packed?

My 16-year-old self at Reading in 2014

I first headed to Aldi outside Reading station where 18-year-olds were stocking up on own brand beers to ensure they remembered absolutely nothing from the weekend ahead. It was here that I met Robert who was impeccably dressed and attending Reading festival for the first time ever.

“I’m really excited to see Megan Thee Stallion”, he told me. “Once the sun goes down I’m literally going to be shaking yams.” I understood the sentiment but I had absolutely no idea what this meant. I Googled it and apparently yams refers to a woman’s bum, who knew? This was only the first of many encounters throughout the day where I felt incredibly old.

Inside the actual festival, I could barely see from the thick Elf Bar smoke and absolutely everyone was wearing a bucket hat. How anyone found their mates I’ve got no idea because everyone around the age of 18 was dressed exactly the same. God forbid your mate was dressed in the latest Primark x Greggs drop because they’d be lost in a sea of around one hundred others who all thought they were being uniquely original by attending the festival looking like they’re about to start serving sausage rolls to angry commuters.

Speaking to my now-23-year-old friend Sarah whilst at the festival, she said to me: “I can’t believe how many actual children there are here”, before we realised that we were both actually children when we last came.

Asking people who they were most excited for over the weekend and there was one resounding answer: Dave. Now I have as much respect for Dave as the next person but where was the Arctic Monkeys hype? When I attended in 2014 they headlined the festival then, and having them also headline this year lead me into a full sense of security that nothing had changed in those seven years but boy was I wrong.

Every person and their mum thought they were going to be the next Alex from Glastonbury, thinking they had what it takes to join Dave on stage for Thiago Silva. Iestyn, a very Welsh 18-year-old who had just received three A*s at A-Level and was off to Warwick Uni, thought he had what it takes and demonstrated by rapping the first verse incredibly off beat and with a lot of mistakes. Maybe next year.

I asked him and his mates Theo and Tomi, who also got exceptional A-Levels results, if they were planning on pulling at some point over the weekend. Theo told me he’s a “man of Christ” (he’s just finished at Catholic school) and is waiting until marriage.They assured me they were planning on drinking though, blood of Christ and all that.

Charmaine and Tammy were at Reading for the first time. Whilst Tammy is on her way to UCL to study population science, Charmaine rather timidly told me that two days ago she withdrew her place to study at Manchester. “I don’t want to go”, she says. Instead she is going to focus on her music career.

On whether they were drinking that weekend, they said they couldn’t afford it. “They don’t do doubles they only do singles. We had to get two singles for £19.” £19??? I exclaimed back to them. Coming from London I have had a life time to grow accustomed to extortionately priced alcohol but this was too much. “The cost of living!” they shout disgruntedly. Vodka is an essential.

I met 24-year-old Sophie and was excited to find someone my own age and who had actually heard of Arctic Monkeys. Alas she was not actually attending the festival but working it as a volunteer, however she said she was already one litre of vodka deep by 2pm. Some things never change.

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