Glastonbury 2019

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.

The Mystical Yoga course

The Mystical Yoga Course. School Yoga Institute, Sacred Valley, Peru, 5-25 February 2020.

  The old saying that the teacher only appears once the student is ready has rung true – the offer of personal transformation came at exactly the right time for me. My husband had died fourteen months before and I admit that sometimes I was struggling with it. I’d met Garth, a School Yoga Institute alumni, on Christmas day in La Paz through a mutual friend, and as Facebook algorithms go, the SYI advert kept popping up on my phone for weeks afterwards and I was intrigued enough to look into it. At the time, I was in the far north of Bolivia, in Riberalta, the Bolivian capital of the Amazon but it wasn’t a good place for me. I was very isolated and I had hit rock bottom emotionally. If I’d been drinking, I’d have drunk a whole bottle of wine, gone up to the roof and looked for the quickest way down. What stopped me was I knew that I didn’t want to die there.

Sobriety brings insights and I knew then and there I needed some radical change. What appealed to me was the fact that It promises more than just yoga. It weaves in shamanism, using a schedule based on the Andean medicine wheel, with four directions represented by four different animals – serpent, jaguar, hummingbird and condor- all with their own qualities and teachings.

Since the New Year I’d already given up drinking and smoking and I had been getting up early and meditating and doing yoga in the morning. Six months ago, to be in this position would be inconceivable but for the first time in my life, I was primed and half way there.

As soon as I’d committed to the course, I felt some of that grey heaviness slide away and I was excited to find myself in Cusco a fortnight later, being picked up by a minibus, along with nine others, and driven through the Peruvian countryside to the retreat.

Around the firepit for the opening ceremony, we chose an instrument, a drum or rattle, got sage smudged and picked a tarot card. Mine was ‘medicine woman’ which represented the healing found within and trusting inner intuition – it resonated with me deeply. When we had to introduce ourselves, everyone was vague, just describing their reasons for being there as a generalized ‘trauma’. My turn to speak and I was emotional, I could barely talk, everyone was quiet as I squeaked that my husband died, it was incredibly real- I’m grieving and it was very obvious.

 As the course began, we were up at 5.30 am every day, even without coffee I felt bright as a button. Straight on the mat in the temple, half an hour meditation flew by, then an hour and a half yoga class. The schedule was intense but compelling – pose analysis, spiritual lessons, Ayurveda, ceremonies. Four days on, following the timeline of the four qualities, then one day off. The setting is wonderful, in the Sacred Valley in a flower strewn site tucked between the green mist-shrouded hills of the Peruvian Andes. The teachers are knowledgeable, approachable and supportive and there was also a lot of love in the room from my fellow students.

I began to feel nourished on all levels, from the delicious and copious food, to the morning birdsong, to the fragrant jasmine climbing up the walls of the pretty buildings. Bit by bit, my grief was slowly but surely being transformed. In the powerful shamanic journies we shared, my husband greeted me lovingly- I woke tearful but grateful, it felt so profound and real. My special cat, Little Bear, who died six months before my husband, appeared as my spirit animal- which confirmed what I always knew. We embraced in the trance and it also felt as vivid and nurturing as if he were physically there. Before, he was black, but this time he had turned white- he’s become an angel, one of the facilitators explained. He followed me everywhere, just like he used to in real life.

This was deep, powerful work which resonated on many levels and slowly nudged the shadows from my dark corners. At night there were songs around the campfire and specific ceremonies, new moon, cacao, and gratitude. These were heartfelt rituals – special and memorable moments, full of meaning which felt empowering and connected us altogether as a group.

There were also copious opportunities throughout the course to have readings, massages, healing sessions and plant medicines, all infused with a strong sense of spirituality and a change of perception.

By the end of the three weeks, people were commenting that there was a noticeable difference in my face and eyes. I felt lighter and cleaner in my mind and body and it is obvious that there had been a profound shift in my personal understanding of death and the meaning of life. Besides having deepened my practice of yoga, meditation and pranayama and strengthened my spiritual resolve, I feel confident the course has given me the tools and the knowledge to be a capable and growth-orientated teacher. However, there has also been a recognition and acceptance of the most important lesson of this past twenty-one days – to truly live in the present moment, as it’s the only one that really counts.

Spring Ground

Spring ground @ Glastonbury

In the north west corner of Pilton, just up from the new area, ‘the wood’ and behind the John Peel stage, a lone, graffitied shipping container sits in the top corner of a lush green field. This is the studio space of ‘the Décor Dollz’ the team that creates the décor for Spring Ground, the disabled access campsite at Glastonbury festival. On a gentle slope, there are views of the Tor, and over the past month, the slowly developing festival site. Here, for the past decade, a recycled décor revolution has been taking place.

 It originally started in 2008 as a quick 10-day job with a group of volunteers under an impromptu tarp shelter out in the field, with only a box of those festival staples, cable ties and gaffa tape. However, material limitations can lead to creative breakthroughs- a plastic bottle became a lobster and from there a sea theme developed -squid and crabs made from discarded gloves and a giant octopus from bar beer tubing.

 We are part of the infrastructure crew so when a new pile of something unusual appears discarded on site, we get to know about it -from 100 wheelie bin lids to metres of blue water piping, one person’s trash is always another person’s treasure. We have carved a niche as probably the only art team to source almost all their materials on site from the waste of the festival build (which can be considerable), and with a minute budget. Plastic bags and metres of discarded tarp have become dragons and a flock of seagulls emerged from old box files and small plastic water bottles.

Growing in scope over the years has made it harder to accommodate us under tarps slung between caravans. One thing about Glastonbury is you can expect all weather conditions in one day, howling winds can suddenly gust through the valley, instantly ripping and twisting gazebos into rags and sticks, the next minute there is baking sun or incessant fly-riddled humidity.

A few years ago, they found us a shipping container but where to put it was always a problem, as space at the site is highly planned. We found ourselves that first year in the infrastructure crew fields, and involved a lot of people in our Egyptian décor theme. It’s recognisable to almost everyone and it meant that dozens of squares of stirlingboard left over from constructing sheds weren’t put in a skip but were painted up and used as décor. Every year, the infrastructure boys, on knowing that we may need cider cans or ring-pulls for one of our projects, always love helping to provide material for the cause!

 This year is a Mexican festival theme, the epitome of vibrant colour and life and visually it is partly based on several churches in indigenous villages in the mountains of southern Mexico. It is hearts and birds, a homage to Keef, who should have been here this year.

It has excellent provenance- the columns are constructed from cow vitamin powder buckets dropped off by our friend at the farm. Architectural details are carved and sanded from salvaged Celotex insulation, recycled from pump room number three in Shangri-la. Another friend, litter picking at a festival last weekend, drags in a giant bag of fabric scraps in perfect Mexican colours. Inside is a necklace made of glittery chillis, illustrating that no matter what the theme, there is always something relevant amongst the stuff we find.

Everything is papered together with the paper from the practice runs of the Glastonbury Free Press. The paper is good, its fibres meld together really well, forming a strong, flexible skin which should withstand a week in the elements, and there is plenty of it available. I love paper anyway, its ease of use, it’s naturalness, with fewer harsh chemicals involved at my end compared to resins and fibreglass so often used in this industry. I admire its ubiquity and how it glosses disparate elements together.

Fundamentally, it’s about creating a festival atmosphere in the field for those who may not be able to access as much of the site as other people. There are buses around the site these days and platforms at almost every stage but the terrain can be a challenge – mud is often difficult enough for walkers, imagine a wheelchair! One year, there was a specialist marquee lined with hospital beds enclosed by oxygen tents – now that’s a hardcore festival goer! It put my friends to shame who would never come to Glastonbury due to having to live in a tent for five days and it being ‘beyond their comfort zone’.

Now we are in 2019 and it’s after a fallow year so there are always changes. It’s a very different festival from when I first started. Its more than the extra metres of concrete roads and drainage systems that have been put in place, it’s an attitude. We used to be given a crew handbook at the start of work which would proudly emphasise that ‘we are all in it together’ and it is expected that you should give lifts to people walking around site – it was three weeks walking across site on a well-used road before I was offered my first lift! Now there are cutbacks in every corner but despite the developments, it is still a fantastic place to be, both in the field and as part of the building of one of the best shows in the world. Our job is to make something colourful, cheap and resilient. As a rule we are mindful of our environment, keeping our use of new resources to a minimum as well as making sure that less plastic and other waste is being put into a skip on its way to landfill.

Currently a hard-core team of three, with added extras, between us we have an extensive variety of skills and influences with an emphasis on low -impact, sustainability and fabulousness!