Sunday afternoon, Glastonbury weekend 2020
As I sit down to write this I know exactly where I would be if the cultural apocalypse hadn’t happened. It is early Sunday afternoon at Glastonbury 2020, the 50th anniversary, and It’s likely I would be emerging from my little caravan in the Orchard, a lush crew camping area near the south – east corner. I would probably be thinking of looking for something tasty and vegetarian, a meal from ‘Leon’, perhaps, then a wander around, music, friends, drinking, shopping etc.
As nostalgia is stirred all over the media, there’s crew ‘Zoom’ meet-ups and Glastonbury-at-home events on the internet, and I am reminded of my first time there…
It was 1984, I was 15 and had just finished my ‘O’ levels and was waiting for the results. My boyfriend at the time was much older, 20, and me, him and his punk rock sidekicks, we were all going to Glastonbury! We had no tickets, but that didn’t matter, we knew we were just going to bunk in. Dave was the only mate we knew who owned a car then, so we piled off down to Pilton. We bought some traditional scrumpy on the way – thick, lethal, in 5 litre plastic flagons. It was dusk when we were dropped a short distance away, confirming where to meet us inside. For some reason I was carrying a bulky double duvet as we climbed gates and hedges. It started spitting down. We heard an ‘Oi, you!’ and ran. I was blindly throwing the bedding over hedges and then myself afterwards, hoping for the soft landing. Over a stile, under a gate, we somehow got in, panting and laughing, it seemed pretty easy. Dave had driven all the way up to just above the famous Pyramid Stage. He popped the boot so we could get the rest of our stuff. Glam Danny reached in to grab all his belongings for the weekend ahead. He took out a blanket, an eyeliner and a piece of broken mirror. Ah the 80’s!
Snakebites were all the rage, we mixed the scrumpy with Special Brew. It instantly coagulated, turning thick and gloopy, like a lava lamp, it was hard to drink it. I was a lightweight, one pint probably lasted me all day.
I remember rivers of mud and falling over to have it squirting inside the sleeves of my leather jacket within the first hour or two, and mud everywhere inside the minuscule two-person tent. There were no showers and it was before the invention of wet-wipes so I walked around caked the whole weekend and went home stiff as a board.
I don’t remember much else, so I was definitely there.
I’ve since been many times over the years- in particular I remember the year before the big fence when the numbers swelled and it was frighteningly crowded. I got caught in a scary crush on one of the small stone bridges in the market.
I was there on and off through the dodgier years with heavy-handed security and spates of theft. In the past I’ve fly-pitched with my own jewellery and worked on friends’ clothes stalls, but this year would have been my 11th year in this particular role, working for the festival itself. I have always felt privileged to have one of the best jobs on site- a recycling artist tucked away in a shipping container studio, at the top of a field above the woods, with a great view of the Tor, getting paid to make décor with my friends. Very lucky.
I’ve never had to buy a punter ticket although once I bought a cheap one from a performing friend. There was more than one year hidden amongst boxes bunking in, in the back of a van.
By 2019 it’s a different demographic entirely. As I sat on the top deck of a double-decker bus cafe with a cup of earl gray tea and a vegan cheese and marmite toastie, five identical young women spend the next 20 minutes adding to their already considerably thick make-up. They get up to leave, in the same outfits, long, long legs in short shorts over tights, long, straight hair, fuzzy-felt eyebrows, incredible eyelashes, and lips so plumped they can’t close their mouths which makes them appear really thick and also like they could suck the cork out of a wine bottle.
Later on, in the ‘naughty corner’, the area for late-night shenanigans, we stopped for some munchies as the flood gates were opened and a river of chavs, all gurning, finger-pointing, glitter and sportswear, streamed in through the crowd-controlling selective channelling system. By 11pm the music had changed, less rock and more techno and every venue was rammed with 20-somethings all dressed the same. This years’ uniform is gorgeous jackets covered in giant sequins and feather headbands, for both sexes. Everyone is either waving their arms in the air or laying around shovelling powders up their noses from the corners of their credit cards.
They take a picture of the site from the air every year. Last year the scale of the private campsites was staggering. People I know work on the erection and breakdown of the tents, nearly 4000 in 2019. They are regimented, like a dorm, inches between each tent, no campfire in the middle, no kumbayas. Punters pay £100’s, possibly £1000’s to arrive at a campsite already set up. The festival the year before was a lot cleaner, earlier. It was mud free so people took their stuff home. Wandering around on the Tuesday morning, it was surprising to see how little litter there was. There were less tents, so maybe the pre-booked set-up works in that way too. People are back to taking less stuff as it’s already there.
There is a site up the top, there’s a sweeping view of the festival even though it appears miles away. There is a separate area with some benches, a campfire and a posh hipster burger van. On Sunday night, it is an incredible spectacle watching it from the top of the hill. It’s a small city lit up, booming flaming torches, lasers and spotlights. I’d been traipsing around for days so my feet were throbbing and I was happy just to sit and watch. A constant stream of young people in the festival uniform pass on the way back to their pre-erected tents.
I remember then, wondering to myself how they could top this, this intensity, this marketing, this spectacle. At the time, it felt like that was the only way for it to go – bigger, more crowded, perhaps the next step would have been just to conveyor belt the entire area.
The whole thing was on the verge of being marketed as a bucket list experience, or at least something you must do before you are 25. You could probably have got the whole package on Groupon, perfect for the swiping short attention span of today. Experience compressed into easily digested amounts. No other festival in the world, except perhaps Burning Man, has as much cultural clout.
This success extended into all areas, behind the stages, there was a poster, advertising a crew bar – it had champagne on tap.
Back in 2019 it was inconceivable to imagine that it was as big as it may ever be.
What if the coronavirus continues, is this the end of the festival scene?
The arts in general are in turmoil. The festival founder, Micheal Eavis is reported as saying that if it doesn’t go ahead next year, they may be bankrupt.
All these people, our one big festival family, whose lives for a certain amount of time in the summer are spent putting this spectacle together, who rely on this show for their summer pay-packet, are now left without income and security.
For a few, this pandemic has been a breath of fresh air, literally. Normally busy and on site at this time of year, I have discovered that I have a plum tree with an abundance of fruit. Small compensation.
We will always find something else to do with the time but it will be a sorry summer if there are no more festivals. Ever.
As we often said to each other while on site, we may look back on these years as the times of our lives.