ALWAYS good to be taken out of one’s comfort zone. You discover more about the world, more about yourself, more about what it means to be human.

My foray into unchartered territory this week was a visit to nearby Larmer Tree festival. Been meaning to go ever since I moved here. Friends have been encouraging me to join them for years but dates previously clashed with a family commitment. Not this year; I booked a weekend pass without hesitation.

In my dim and distant youth, festivals were ad hoc affairs. Now they’re they’ve come of age. The hastily erected stage in the middle of a field has given way to arena style auditoria, multiple stages, tents and performance areas; cinemas, late night comedy, poetry, therapies, family and craft workshops even hot tubs and a sauna! You could choose the familiar or be surprised by something new.

Leaky, impromptu tents have been replaced by campervans, glamping and extended family groups complete with pot plants and portable hedges. Larmer tree has its own flavour – kids in carts, fancy dress, woodland glades bursting with surprises. I was easily identified as a newbie; I lacked the essential lightweight folding chair, fancy dress face paint and sparkles in my hair. I’m sure the occasional sortie home for a proper shower would have been met with disapproval…

I loved the mix of new performers (Ren Hervieu was amazing), discovery of new music (GoGo Penguin’s vibrant jazz) and reacquaintance with the familiar; KT Tunstall and Tom Odell fresh from Glastonbury; new comedians and others familiar from TV and radio.

The freshness and vitality of a live performance generates a special rapport; the energy, passion and exuberance on stage is caught by the audience; sharing a special, unique and live experience in the company of like-minded strangers confers a sense of privilege and belonging. Young and old (some very young and others very old!), shared the joys and tribulations of the British weather and celebrated the resilience of the British Spirit. A friend from Portugal was amused and incredulous at festivalgoers queuing in the rain to use the showers. ‘In Portugal, they would have cancelled; they would have stayed away’.

It may be a cardinal sin (if not a capital offence) to talk to a stranger on a train, but shared discomfort and disappointment engenders unique camaraderie among South Western Railways passengers. As the Sunday Times noted recently when it awarded Salisbury the accolade of being the best place to live in the UK, there is an indelible sense of belonging that comes through sharing a common experience – whether it be joy or adversity. At a festival, you get both!

A festival, the unpleasantness that masquerades as public transport, the challenge of a UK seaside holiday; the occasion is incidental – sharing that common experience with strangers nourishes our humanity.