It’s been a bit of a life-dream going to The Ginger Festival. There are others apparently — but the one in Breda is the biggest and I think the very first. But despite being desperate to go, I was still quite a bit intimidated by the experience. I treat my gingerness as politics. It’s incredibly important to me. I know I harp on about this all the time, so just skip the next two paragrapha if you’ve heard this all before.
I am what I can only describe as a “Militant-Ginger”. I genuinely believe we have a case for ethnicity. Not just for our physiognomy, but because we are genuinely persecuted. And I know you are thinking, “What’s a few harmless jibes? Get over it Coppertop.” But it’s really tough growing up the only redhead in your class. You feel so different at a time when you just want to be so, so the same. But I never had it as bad as the woman I saw on TV describe how her (male) classmates ripped down her dress to see if her pubic hair was red too. And when that South Park episode came out I wept for my little ginger comrades still at school that had another set of bullshit to deal with. I constantly feel like telling little ginger-kids, “Don’t worry — it gets better.”
There is also another case for our ethnicity — the fact we evolved to be genetically adapted to the highest latitudes — where the sunlight was weak or only available for the shortest periods. Our pale skins could soak up the limited sunlight more effectively so we didn’t have any vitamin D issues. Anyway. I identify as a ginger and it shits me so much when we are dismissed as just a minority hair-colour. We are all so much, much more that that.
I CAN”T HELP NOTICING EVERY SINGLE GINGER
When I see a random ginger I cannot help but pausing for that milli-second to process that meeting. I feel we have a tiny recognition moment similar to what the movie “Fight Club” popularised. We don’t say or do anything, (or even nod or maintain any length of eye-contact) — but it’s just an instant affinity. Maybe it is even mutual. So of course SPOLIER ALERT: this will become a bit of sensory overload very soon. More on that later.
So back to BREDA. When I announced we were going to the festival, Jess — a fellow ginger from Brisbane— said she would come too. I spent ages at Antwerp Station lining up to buy our train tickets (cause the machines refused to work). The woman at the counter was a ginger and for the 20-odd minutes I waited in line I worked up the courage to say that I was buying tickets to go to the Ginger festival — imagining all the while she would be pleased or at the very least — interested. It turned out she was mystified at best. Maybe it was my terrible attempt at translating the concept, but she had no idea about the festival, didn’t care about my trip and maybe even didn’t identify as ginger. Not a great start.
We arrived at Breda station around lunch time and when we walked out into the light we stopped because we weren’t entirely orientated. But then suddenly a woman came up to us with a brochure and I thought, “Ugh, somebody selling something.” I did my least enthusiastic “hi” and was even about to decline what she was offering. But then she asked if we were here for the Festival. Instantly I was gobsmacked. Though not a ginger, she was an official spruiker of the Festival. She handed us these booklets and gave us directions — all in English. It was incredible. We felt special. We had arrived. We just might be home.
There was a bit of drama getting this apartment — despite the fact I booked it first and three whole months before we were due to arrive. (The whole reason for the trip was based around getting to Breda). Eventually Laura in the UK had to pay for it because I couldn’t pay by credit card and paypal would only pay in Australian dollars (which the owner refused). And that was a highly convoluted process and took ages and all the while I seriously wondered if we were being scammed.
So when we arrived at the address and it was just a vacant shop I was horrified. “I had a bad feeling about this,” I said. We looked around the back and were met by a security gate with no intercom. Dee was calm. Jess was calm — but I was mortified. I dove into my pack and brought out the confirmation print out. There was a phone number listed. So after a few fails at getting the area code, I got through to the owner and he was like, “You’re early! I’ll be there in 10 minutes”. Saved! I can’t imagine what we would have done had we not got SIM cards. Anyway. Crisis over.
This is my review of the apartment if I could be bothered: only one bedroom, but there was plenty of space. Noisy at night — made good use of ear plugs. No hair dryer. No air-con (just a very ordinary ceiling fan in bedroom). The three flights of metal stairs were treacherous after rain. Complicated key system. Wifi was a bit flaky. Don’t forget (like we did) to bring 300 euros in cash for safety deposit.
Exploring Breda we saw all the sights despite only officially simply trying to find a supermarket. Then we realised we needed that hairdryer so Dee and Jess went off hunting that while i lugged all our groceries home. Jess and Dee made a frittata for dinner and we ate on our balcony which had a decent view. Then we all got showered, made-up and blow-dryed (me included) and made our way to the nightclub which was the first event on the Festival schedule.
FIRST GINGER PARTY — AND I AM WORRIED. “IS THIS A TOTAL DISAPPOINTMENT?”
As we got closer I got both nervous and excited. Not being totally confident in google maps I wasn’t even sure we were in the right place, but then we turned a corner and there were some gingers hanging about outside. I instantly said hello to everyone. But I got some push-back. I got the intense feeling they were not used to being greeted so warmly by a stranger — even a fellow ginger. I think that is a European thing. (My friend Cass moved to Norway and said to me that if he greets a random in the street, like just being polite, they cannot comprehend it. They assume you are an acquaintance they have forgotten. It is inconceivable to them that a stranger would want to simply say “hello”.) I worried that this whole event would be a bit wooden. Just a photo-op. A total disappointment.
But of course I was determined to make the best of this. Inside, as the beverages kept flowing, everyone seemed to loosen up a bit and realise there was an affinity. Eventually you could just go up to anyone and say, “Hi”. We met a bunch of gingers including Ireland’s Ginger King. (He had a crown to prove it). And then we were all corralled into a group photo. At that point knew this event was important. The Ginger-Fest hadn’t officially started but there was at least 200 gingers here ready to stand up and be counted (and party.)
Here’s the Irish King!
I got in there for the photo and then dived upstairs while the MC was still talking to get a shot of the crowd below. I posted that shot to Instagram as something like: “There are 100% gingers in this shot. True Story” It was profound. I know I use that word a lot — but it was so meaningful. I was with my brothers and sisters. I was with people who knew what I had gone through and I knew what they had gone through (and would go through, potentially, for the rest of their lives.)
My ginger friend Nicci commented on that post saying, “I can’t imagine what that would feel like.” And as I woke up the next day and saw that — I realised it was a truly momental occasion.
NICCI: “You’re so used to being an oddball that you don’t even think about it anymore, until someone mentions they were in a room full of people similar to you, and you get an odd sense of belonging for the first time that you didn’t know could exist.”
The next day Jess and I were all trying to look our best. I have never had the need to shampoo my hair twice in one day — but that happened. As I ventured out that morning I felt quite consciously that I was being “looked at”. I felt like everyone knew why I was here. But combatting that hyper-self-consciousness was the fact I felt like I wasn’t the only one. All us gingers were almost celebrities. Indeed Jess will later tell you stories about how she was shot by all these ginger-paparazzi. (Stay tuned)
That morning we got our country stickers. We seemed to be the only Australians there — but later we found at least two other gingers form Australia. But most of the gingers were from Europe. One from Iraq. For the first time ever I have worn our flag with pride. Not pride in the flag, just pride in the fact we had come a long way and there were many, many gingers in Australia that I had promised to represent. And I thought of EVERY SINGLE ONE OF YOU. (Even though I forgot to tag the awesome Shelley in my Insti post. Still sorry about that Shell. Forgive me!)
On this night Dee chose to stay home. She could have come, but in her mind that would have been awkward. I understood her decision. So it was just Jess and me who got assigned to different “teams” for this event. They had to divide us all up into groups of about 12 so we didn’t overwhelm any single venue. My group had two guides and then we hit about 8 pubs and nightclubs before a big meet-up at some massive nightclub. Of course – I had a great time. That was a given. I was a bit dusty the next day it should be said.
OFFICIAL PHOTOS (we are actually in these – just saying)
So a Sunday emerged and we all met in the Square and again it was too many gingers to process. It was obscene. Ginger-kids too. About ten of them were planted on this stage looking out over all of us. (They were so well behaved it should be said). After a big speech by the mayor we all walked about a kilometre to the train station for a group photo. At that point Dee got excluded. There were bouncers that literally said, “Gingers THIS WAY, you people go over there.”
Dee was a bit nonplussed already. Obviously I felt sorry for her, but then I didn’t. SOZ BEB.
The Sun had now come out and it shone down on us just like the deadshit it is. We all realise it is the reason life exists and the reason we all still exist, but to us, it is still pretty bullshit.
We all stood there in that SHINE for about 30 minutes trying to look our best “GINGER” and always looking straight ahead while these goobs tried to get the perfect shot on-top of these cherry pickers which were constantly going up and down. All the while we were melting, squinting and possibly developing (or nurturing) various skin cancers. UGH! This terrible MC was running around interviewing gingers on the loud speakers and it was cringe-worthy at best. I didn’t really expect anything better — but this was billed as the pinnacle of the whole event. And it was pretty ordinary. They really need to make that bit slightly less contrived. Like we are herded. Or a spectacle. Just saying.