Tori awoke at midday in an unfamiliar tent, with a million punks moshing together in her head, behind her brows and in the corners of her eyes. Her shoes were missing and she was already relishing the feeling of grass prickling beneath her feet. The tent smelled distinctly of dogs. Later, Tori would start at the realisation that her jacket was covered in hundreds of dog hairs and that she would have to treat it with Sellotape to remove them all. She was amused by the thought that she had gone to bed with a big shaggy dog and spent the night cuddling him in his tent.
Her memories of the previous night were now fixed in a row like coloured fairy lights, each one entirely different from the next. She had been in the Slam tent, where pints were lined up behind the bar like an army of Orcs. She had been passed around several men. Somebody had led her away…
There was nausea curling in her stomach like a fish in the open air, leaping up unexpectedly just as she had thought that it was dead. She wanted to vomit in the strange tent as an act of spite, but she could not quite do this in the end and so she found a quiet spot amongst the neighbouring tents. At first she had to coax the vomit out, and then it poured out in incredible unending cascades.
For a while she wandered across the campsite. Every tent looked the same, wherever she looked. She finally decided to hunt me down and so she joined a path that took her towards the wire fence of the Tangerine Fields.
I had just been to have my hair washed and I was now eating a bowl of grapefruit. As Tori stalked towards the point of the fence within shouting distance of my tent, I lowered my spoon.
“Victoria? Is that you?”
“How is his Highness? Is his palace agreeable?”
“I am agreeable.” I wondered how to appease Tori. She had insisted that I attend T in the Park with her new boyfriend and his friends. The friends had looked like a conference of white van men; indeed, aside from Tori, there was not one woman amongst them. I think that they would have preferred to sit in the circle of inflatable chairs in the hollow between their tents, drinking in silence for the entire festival. I had periodically tried to start a conversation, but my every remark was met with a grunt. I had finally announced that I would not be camping with them. I had purchased a pre-erected tent in the boutique camping field. Nobody had said anything as I walked away. Tori found that she did not want to be left alone with them and so she had scampered after me. The boyfriend had since stopped answering his phone.
We could hardly take solace in the lineup of rock bands, which resembled a hundred different varieties of bottled water, all of them equally mild. It would have been a fine festival twenty-five or so years ago, when the best of the lineup were in their prime. But aside from New Order and the Stone Roses, none of these bands had one tune between them. Tori and I would slip through successive waves of people to find a waiting pocket in the crowd. We would face the stage where a young band was already crashing away and I would immediately find myself thinking about something that somebody had said on Newsnight or Question Time. I would try to concentrate on the music, but it always fell through my consciousness like a coin that was too slight to fit.
I had stayed away from the arena since Snow Patrol’s Friday night finale. Incredibly, Snow Patrol were headlining, when in any credible festival they would be playing in the early afternoon. A great tiredness had swooped down from heaven, stupefying me, and I was suddenly blinking and trying to keep my head up. One of the cameras had captured an image of me yawning and this had been momentarily displayed on the vast screens that formed a triptych with the stage. Nobody had booed – it was hardly my fault – but both the band and the crowd had looked very serious, and as soon as the band had finished, the arena had emptied in minutes like a school at the sound of the final bell.
It was too early to start drinking, but there was nothing waiting for us in the arena. “Shall we go and see some music?” I called through the fence.
“Well, we can hardly stay here!” Tori snapped.
She had a point. In my tent, I removed my dressing gown and put on the sort of clothes that one would wear to do the gardening. I met Tori at the gate and we strolled towards the arena.
It was raining with the steady rhythm of somebody running a marathon. Rubbish picked its way across the campsite in the breeze and the paths were chopped up into mud. This is what a medieval city would have looked like, I thought, except without the aristocracy. We came across a thick, stirring queue in front of a terrace of toilet cabins. Whenever a door opened and a cabin was vacated, a new person would approach, they would hesitate, they would look determined, and they would then duck inside.
I had to wait forty minutes whilst Tori queued for the toilet, but this at least used up some of the time. Outside the toilets, I bumped into one of our erstwhile party – a fat, laboriously-tattooed man named Liam. We exchanged gruff pleasantries.
Quite unexpectedly, Liam had something to say. “Is it true that they’re not letting anybody leave?”
I shrugged. “I haven’t heard that one. Why ever not?”
“Don’t know,” he admitted. “Somebody in the queue said so.”
He had become detached from the original party as well, but he would rather look for them than stay with us.
“The toilets were horrible,” Tori reported when she returned. “I couldn’t go in the end. There may be some cleaner ones in the arena.”
We set off. I had forgotten Liam’s allusion to people being prevented from leaving, but it came back in a flash as an aircraft trawled over us. “That’s a drone,” I noticed. “It’s unmanned.”
The moment had passed. “I don’t know how they can call this a festival,” I complained. “The Edinburgh Festival is a festival. This is just an exercise in crowd control.”
“Oh for Heaven’s sake!” Tori exploded. “Why did I ever bring you here?” I don’t think she knew why she had come herself. She tried to march away in a fury, but she then slowed down to let me approach again.
The queues for the toilets in the arena were so long that Tori agreed to wait. We went to watch somebody called Amy MacDonald, but this individual would never make an appearance. A roadie was wandering amongst the equipment on stage, ostensibly to undertake a soundcheck, but there was considerable surprise when he turned to the crowd and began to address them.
In the last hour, T in the Park had been placed under quarantine and everybody would have to remain on the site until the authorities had signalled otherwise. The Tangerine Fields were now off limit, as this facility had been designated a medical centre. Most of today’s bands were unable to gain access to the site, but luckily Snow Patrol were under quarantine and they had agreed to repeat their set from yesterday…
A great rumble arose from the crowd. Everybody was exclaiming to each other and looking around, but they seemed to find themselves stuck helplessly to the spot. I grabbed Tori’s arm and tore her away from gazing at the stage.
“Where are you going?” she hissed.
“We have to get out of here. We can climb over the fence. The perimeter is massive – they surely can’t police all of it.”
Tori tried to pull me back. “It’s probably best if we do what we are told…”
But a number of the other festivalgoers appeared to agree with me. A swarm of ready looking men had gathered underneath a stretch of the perimeter fence, in preparation of lifting the first willing candidates over. The fence was about ten feet tall, but an adult could scale it easily with assistance.
As the swarm thickened, one man had been suddenly hoisted aloft, looking very intrepid. His hands had found the top of the fence and he was pulling himself up. But once he was astride the fence, he jerked as if he had been bitten. He slipped around and dropped back into the crowd below. The men were now darting back as gunfire cracked overhead.
Tori was silent. “They’ve shot him,” I commented stupidly.
I caught a glimpse of the man spread-eagled on the ground, his eyes glazed.
My phone was ringing and I lifted it to my ear without thinking.
“Where are you Biggy?” It was my editor James. “I need you to undertake some research for the website.”
“I’m sorry James, but I’m apparently incarcerated in fucking T in the Park.”
There was a pause and I had an impression of James punching the air. “Superb!” he cried. “This is seriously just what we need. But how? Do you know about the quarantine…?”
“You obviously do,” I growled.
“It’s cholera. Some new strain which they can’t seem to treat.”
“How do you know about this?”
“I have the odd contact in the military. And I also may have intercepted some voicemails…”
“This is a military quarantine?”
“Seriously, whatever you do, don’t try to leave. Apart from the roads in and out of the camp, there are now landmines everywhere…”
“They can’t call them that these days, but whatever the modern equivalent is.”
Tori had been listening to my end of the conversation and she broke in impatiently. “What are they doing to treat us?”
James was clearly uncomfortable with this. “There’s resistance to antibiotics and, in any case, the authorities haven’t stockpiled enough rehydration salts for an epidemic of this size.”
“They haven’t projected any mortality figures,” he added hopefully.
“But there’s a medical centre? A hospital?”
James tutted to himself. “I think that in these circumstances a hospital and a mortuary are one and the same.”
I was still brooding upon how to escape. Dig some sort of a tunnel? Overpower an official and steal their uniform?
“So what’s going on?” James demanded. “Tell me everything…”
We had returned to the arena. There were now massive, desperate queues for the toilets, and the staff had cleared a row of catering trucks to provide a place for people to void their bowels. Hundreds of the festivalgoers were squatting on the grass, whilst officials in luminous jackets and plastic masks were stalking amongst them and tossing down shovels of what looked like lime. A sneering crowd had assembled with their phones to film those squatting, but when the breeze picked up, the crowd was tumbling back in disgust, clutching their noses. A thick pool of human waste was rolling in all directions and the staff were laying down neat little walls of sandbags to try and contain it.
By now, Snow Patrol were repeating their set for the third time. The lead singer Gary Lightbody tried to remain in good spirits – rousing the crowd with the declaration that we could all get through this – but he was increasingly gripping his stomach with pain, until he had to be finally replaced with a singer from a Ceilidh band. Before long, most of Snow Patrol had been carried away on stretchers, to be substituted with a sorry collection of musicians who could only jam together slowly. The music became ever more bleak and rudimentary, but not necessarily worse.
The fumes from the cesspits had now conquered most of the arena and Tori and I were both gagging, and constantly walking about in pursuit of clear air. There had been reports of riots and fires over in the campsite, and we observed a mob of enraged festivalgoers attacking a St John’s Ambulance stall. Yet an unmanned drone was suddenly fixed overhead, as stationary as a kite, and then a single bead of fire shot out of its belly into the mob. I was later talking with a man in the Slam tent who claimed to have been showered in pieces of human flesh. He showed me three fingers wrapped in a crisp packet.
Outside the Slam tent, Tori repeated for the nineteenth time that she was sorry that she had ever brought me here.
“We have to remain practical,” I countered. “A solution will soon present itself.”
“Biggy, they’re now shooting any troublemakers on the spot. None of us are going to make it out of here alive.”
We had previously tried to contact James, but there had been a signal jamming our mobiles.
“Maybe if we return to the Tangerine Fields, we can find a way out…”
Tori sighed. She was dubious that we would even live through the next few hours, but so apathetic that she did nothing to oppose my resilience. The crowds around the Tangerine Fields were surprisingly thin. A large truck was reversing slowly into the campsite and my mind was suddenly soaring ahead like a missile.
There was a skip perched on the back. I signalled to Tori to step with me on to the side of the truck. She nodded but seemed to sink into herself, cowed and very careful with her feet. We had to act before the driver or anybody in the cabin noticed us. I swung Tori into the skip and then jumped in myself.
In the skip, I cradled Tori in my arms. “Keep your eyes closed,” I instructed softly. “Try and breathe through your sleeves.”
The truck reversed about thirty feet and then stopped. The winch of a bulldozer was circling above us like the head of a curious dinosaur and then there was a spasticated grinding and it dipped down. When it popped up again, I knew what it contained.
I braced myself. It was rather like opening your arms to hug hundreds of people as they leapt into them at a tremendous speed. Except that they were not people but corpses. I tried to shield Tori as this serving of bodies slammed down on to us.
I was winded and then stunned as something seemed to take out the side of my head. There was blood in my mouth, but I could not tell whether it was my own or somebody else’s. Overpowering fumes veered straight into my face and I was unable to retch them out of my lungs.
Then it was a beautiful summer’s evening in the gardens of a large house. I was engrossed as the daughter of the household described something incredibly interesting, although I could not quite distinguish what. Inside, the servants were beginning to lay out the cutlery for dinner. Somebody suggested a cocktail.
“Biggy?” I was awake, but groggily. Tori had a hand free and it had found my neck.
“It’s very still. We’ve been like this for some time. We’re definitely inside somewhere…”
“Shall we try to climb out?”
Another man was groaning somewhere in the pile of corpses, but we could hardly concern ourselves with him. I could not get my hands free, but I was able to nose and elbow a slow progress through the bodies and gradually flap myself up. Dead hands pawed my face, knees got caught in my groin. The corpse of a large woman in a T in the Park tee-shirt presented a considerable obstacle and it took over fifteen minutes for me to manoeuvre past her soiled remains. I could hear Tori wheezing behind me. When there were no more corpses, I pulled myself out of this human lake and sat on the brim of the skip, my head swimming in the deliciously cool air. I could have sat there forever.
But we had to be quick. Gibbering with panic, Tori and I fought to separate the doors of the warehouse and then we were finally outside in the racing night.
It turned out that the warehouse was situated down in the borders. We spent two days recuperating in a Galloway guest house, following the progress of the quarantine on the tiny television in our bedroom. As nobody could report from within the site, the coverage was restricted to experts pontificating together in TV studios. I once slunk out to an internet café, where I read James’ preposterously sensational account of the quarantine on our website.
The quarantine was eventually cleared once they had imported sufficient rehydration salts and antibiotics to the site, but by then over forty thousand people had lost their lives.
When Tori and I presented ourselves at the nearest surgery to receive clearance, the GP was mostly annoyed about the paperwork. As far as I can gather, the entirety of Snow Patrol have survived the cholera. Mind you, if they had discreetly recruited another bassist or drummer, I doubt that anybody would have noticed.
[There are some good illustrations of T in the Park here. Ed.]