DON'T leave valuables in your tent – the warning flashed up on a huge screen at the entrance to the weekend’s Reading Festival was clear enough.
And the advice was good.
Attracting 90,000 punters and hundreds of artists, staff, volunteers, production crew, journalists, blaggers and hangers-on, this huge music gathering, just over the county boundary, was one of the biggest, and certainly the longest-running rock festival in the country.
And while there was much that was good, this temporary city beside the Thames, was chaotic, noisy, filthy – and, inevitably, a crime hotspot.
The good folk of Berkshire’s county town were tolerant in the face of this influx of music-lovers – despite the mounds of litter left in their wake. Indeed, the savviest turn it into a money-making exercise – manning drink stalls, selling breakfasts or, in the case of one enterprising boy in Caversham, setting up a table outside his house and selling Loom Band “festival bracelets” for pocket money.
The police were less tolerant, with a heavy presence on and off site. Thames Valley Police reported 78 crimes as the festival entered its final day yesterday – including 51 for theft. There were also arrests for robbery, fraud, drug offences and, rather more worrying, rape.
The real crime figure I suspect, will be far higher – with most festival-goers reluctant to report thefts and other misdemeanours; it being just too much hassle and with little chance of recompense.
Even though crime appeared to be down on last year, reports were still rife of tents being opened and bags rummaged through – enough to take the edge off even a great weekend of music.
Being a paranoid sort of bloke, of course, I don’t leave valuables in my tent – instead stuffing everything into my pockets.
The curse of festival crime knows no limits however.
Relaxing in the relative haven of calm that is the backstage bar after a lacklustre show by Saturday’s headliners, the Arctic Monkeys – and a blistering set by dance act Nero – I placed my jacket – bulging pockets and all – on a chair. Minutes later it was gone.
It was a salutary lesson.
Never mind not leaving valuables in your tent – it seems that at this crazy gathering you can’t even take them off your person.
It was still a great weekend of course.
One can’t fail to be moved by the sight of tens of thousands of people, arms in the air, having the time of their life.
But while so many parasites are prepared to prey on the unwary, it’s hard not to feel a pang of despair at human nature.