I had two semi-religious experiences yesterday. The first one was 'near-death' when I stepped off a grass verge only for a car to miss me by inches as it sped past on the wrong side of the road while overtaking. Quite what was so urgent that they had to drive at seventy miles an hour down a country road I don't know but I hope the driver was as shocked by the near miss as me and my friend were. We stood in incredulity and I silently thanked my lucky stars that I wasn't a mangle of limbs in a hedge.
The second took place at the O2 in Oxford where I clutched my ticket to see the Happy Mondays like I'd won a tour of Willy Wonka's chocolate factory. It has been a long time since I went to a proper gig but I had remembered not to take a coat and to wear a pair of trainers. What had changed very much was my mode of transport - I had moved on from sitting on a train drinking cheap lager to getting driven there in a Ford S-Max. As I was with my husband and a friend who is also a parent you can imagine our delight when we:
A. Found a parking space in the local Tesco just a two minute walk from the venue
B. Arrived at 8:00pm - the time at which the charge for all night parking goes down to £1.10
C. Had the correct change to pay for it.
Anyway, we're enjoying some properly cold beer out of plastic pint glasses (except for our designated driver, of course) and are thankful that whilst we'll be enjoying music from our 'youth', the beer is no longer like warm piss - not that any of us would know what that tastes like of course.
There's plenty of people watching, conversations with random strangers, and excitement building and then the lights go down. And then Bez comes on stage like a magical shamen with a stick in one hand and a pair of maracas in the other. Shaun Ryder comes on, the beats start and things go a bit weird. Someone has cast out an invisible fishing line and it has hooked in my cheek. I am dragged through the crowd - through the patchy bit at the back where you stand and bob your head, through the bit in the middle where everyone's respecting each other's personal space and getting their groove on and down to the front where it is heaving and pulsing. We surge and contract and barge each other. Beer splashing, hands aloft, pressed together. Ribcages are crushed and then released and every now and than a space opens up enough for you to dance - head rolling, eyes closed, feet stomping then slipping on the slickness of the floor. There is arm-linking and whirling groups of people creating vortexes that spin off to the side of the crowd before coming back again and crashing into everyone. It feels like chaos and violence but underneath it all is camaraderie and etiquette. People look out for each other, help each other up and try not to smash into small women who are having a moment of pure escapism. One man shakes my hand and I am bear-hugged by someone who looks more than a little bit like Buster Bloodvessel for my enthusiastic mosh-pit participation. Between songs we catch our breath and then 'Wrote for Luck' comes on and we are all chanting "ahhhhhh-ha-ha", someone spills beer down the back of my jeans and I don't care. My hair is messed up and sticking to my face and I don't care. My cheeks are burning and because I foolishly wore a jumper my top half is soaked in sweat and I don't care. The Mondays leave the stage, my ears are ringing, they come back on and start up 'Hallelujah'. If I was on a higher plain before, I'm now checked out. Forced against the crash barrier, pushing back, placing my arms in the air because there's nowhere else for them to go, toes trod on, nose full of the smell of beer, sweat and skunk, transfixed by the sight of my teenage idols, transported by the music, solar plexus vibrating with the music. If there's a heaven then this is what I imagine it to be.
It finishes, I am finished. I wriggle, push and lever my way between bodies to get to the air and space at the back and a much needed pint of water. I have paid my respects at the altar of the Happy Mondays, and am ready to return to my grown up responsibility of making sure we're not too late for the babysitter and putting my stinking clothes straight in the wash. We have had communion, sung together, worshipped and praised. And then our friend appears with a holy relic: Bez threw a maraca and it got trapped between the barrier and his chest. We stare at the golden orb in reverence, touched by the hand of a man who if not exactly a god, is certainly a miracle. Hallelujah!