Every year Cambridge hosts a rather fine Folk Festival, sponsored in recent years by BBC Radio 2. And in recent years it has become rather popular, so as a result it is hard to get tickets. In response to this the City Council, which promotes the event, has decided to make it not just hard but positively unpleasant to buy tickets: they have no online booking, a phone line with one person on it [it seems], postal booking with no guarantee – and a box office that you can attend in person. Perhaps they believe that this will ensure that only dedicated folk fans and Cambridge residents will attend, thus preserving the purity of the event. Or perhaps they are just incompetent, stupid and contemptuous of those – like me – who pay their wages or vote them in.
Today I spent the day queuing, and like any working geek I had my laptop with me. I also had my camera.
1400, Sunday 30 April
It is two in the afternoon on the Sunday of a bank holiday weekend and I am standing on the pavement outside the Guidhall in Cambridge. I have been here for two hours, and for nearly three hours before that I was standing beside Great St Mary’s Church on Market Square.
Every now and then I move forward a metre or two, joining the several hundred people in before and behind me in the slow shuffle towards the box office where, if rumours are to be believed, three people sit at screens selling tickets for this year’s Cambridge Folk Festival.
Occasionally I call the box office number, in case it will be answered and I can buy tickets that way to free me from my place in the queue. But mostly I wait, talk to my fellow queuers, read the Sunday papers and contemplate the ways in which I can have my revenge on everyone involved in this comprehensive, unnecessary, annoying and entirely avoidable waste of thousands of hours of time and effort.
For we are here simply because Cambridge City Council, which organises the Festival, and BBC Radio 2, which sponsors it, holds us in contempt and thinks we are worthless scum who can be abused, mistreated and messed around with impunity because more people want to come to the event than could ever be fitted into the grounds of Cherry Hinton Hall, and they can therefore do what they want to us.
Instead of building a working online booking system they take only telephone, postal and in person applications for tickets. Instead of setting up a special service with dozens of ticket sellers they open the normal box office, more used to the desultory selling of tickets for the latest touring ‘West End’ production of some inadequate musical. And instead of trying to minimise the irritatation, hassle and sheer tedium of queueing the expect us to comply meekly and express gratitude for being permitted to buy tickets.
This is not acceptable. I live in Cambridge, so it’s doubly unacceptable since these people are there to serve me, and they are paid with my Council Tax. Cambridge City Council has a chartermark for good service, but having witnessed what it does for one of the major cultural events with which it is involved, it is clear that it does not deserve this.
We got to the end of the queue at 1615, and I bought the tickets.
Three hard-working people were selling tickets, and that was it. I was nice to them, because it’s not their fault that their employers hold their customers – and their constituents, in many cases – in contempt. But it won’t be forgotten, and it won’t be forgiven.
Emaiil me if you were in the queue, and let’s see if we can make life hell for the councillors, officers and bureaucrats who think that getting a couple of thousand people to waste their Sunday is a sensible way to act. Because I had better things to do with my day, and I resent being forced to give them up.