Every year the Rhythms of the World (ROTW) festival draws thousands to the little Hertfordshire market town of Hitchin, where I have lived for the last 18 months. Funnily enough, in 1955-6 I attended a prep school very near here, during a brief interlude between living in Cuba and Chile.
Having missed ROTW last year, I was determined to enjoy it this time, and ambled over to the Priory park, an attractive but none-too large venue, not long after the gates opened at midday. It was enchanting. People of all ages and ethnic groups, capering children and seriously disabled individuals in motorized wheelchairs; the whole human spectrum, all happy, polite and considerate.
The music was fun (I particularly liked an almost all-female group called "The Bush The Tree and Me", who were having such a good time that it was infectious) and the wide range of nibbles and ethnic cuisine served by friendly (and generous) young people was the icing on the cake.
Unfortunately I become extremely uneasy in crowds, and by about 3pm the number of festival goers had reached the concentration that triggers my phobia. They were still happy, polite and considerate, but gradually I went from really enjoying a rare occasion to mix with strangers to feeling beset. So I left before it escalated to the sweating, short-breathed, and toes-curling-inside-my-shoes stage.
I have felt the same about crowds for as long as I can remember. I wonder where the hell these autonomic reactions come from?