The 43-year-old (Glastonbury) virgin

Observations from the 40th Glastonbury Festival, 2010 – the hottest on record, and my first time there and camping, in spite of being a whopping 43 years old.

Age: I felt suddenly old at Glastonbury. Mainly due to the aches and pains and the self-restraint which kept telling me to drink plenty of water and juice and not overdo it on the cider. That said, there were people of ALL ages there – from a baby barely a few months old to people in their eighties. And lots and lots of mature couples and individuals, often as part of family groups. I saw grandparents and grandchildren there. Age has its upsides too. I was phlegmatic about the whole experience, the queues, the minor discomforts, not fazed by things like the undignified toilet facilities. I just accepted what I’d let myself in for and enjoyed it all.

Flags and mess in front of The Other Stage

Crowd waits for Florence and The Machine - Other Stage

Alone: I spent a good part of the Festival alone. It was very difficult to meet up as arranged with people – mainly because of the crowds. A couple of times I had arranged to hook up with cousin David and we completely missed each other in spite of being precise about location and time. Not having any charge in my phone, and limited signal, didn’t help either. So it was lonely at times – but as they say, Glastonbury should be experienced by yourself – otherwise it’s not your festival. You can’t automatically expect people to make friends with you, although they do! You have to be proactive in making conversation and people are so friendly and interesting, it’s worth the effort. I met so many people from all over the place – including my home town Farnham. And I enjoyed the solitude, the liberty, and the opportunity to observe other people at play.

Backache: was it just me? My lower back was killing me. I blame the tent-pegging. Whatever, I found myself struggling a little to be on my feet for long; getting up from the grass and bending over to pick things up were awkward. Things got really sore by Saturday so I took myself off to the Healing Fields for a rather good (and cheap) massage.

Chair: I would say a folding chair is an essential item. They are light enough. I didn’t bother carrying one around with me but I would consider it in future. Lots of people used it to encamp in position ready for the next gig. I used it to relax by my tent, and to sit in while washing myself down inside the tent.

Baby wearing ear defenders claps along to music at Glastonbury

Baby claps along to Lissie

Children: there were loads of children there – I was amazed really. Tiny babies in pull-along trolleys with canopies over, babies and toddlers with protective ear defenders in the concerts, and minors of all ages, especially from Friday evening onwards. There was an enormous amount for them to see, do and enjoy. I see no reason why the festival isn’t a wonderful, magical place for families. It certainly teaches them what to expect from an adult world – in a safe, non-threatening way. All the children I saw were patient and well-behaved. I didn’t see any tantrums at all – although I admittedly didn’t spend much time in the family-oriented zones (which are entertaining enough for all ages). It was nice that they were included in and catered for at the festival

Croissant Neuf: A fab little venue near the Greenfields. I saw The Beat here on Saturday night (Sunday morning).  Just down from the stage tent is a massive oak carved table and chairs, a new installation this year – with at least 16 seats at the enormous table. This was a genius idea for giving strangers a place to sit and talk. I had a lovely time there late on Friday, talking spontaneous bollocks with a random set of people.

D: Gate D was my way in and out. By fluke, I got lost on the way driving in and ended up on completely the opposite side of the festival to where I expected – but it helped! I had hardly any queuing to get into the fields and hardly any to leave at the end. I would definitely navigate back the same route next time.

Dairy Ground: was my camping field. Loved it up there – not too far of a walk from The Park, the Other Stage and the Glade and Greenfields. It was somehow greener and fresher than the dense camping down in the main festival site. I would choose that area again, probably a little further down the hill towards the farm though.

Earplugs: on the advice of my friend Aaron, I invested in some foam disposable earplugs and these proved really useful, late at night, climbing into my sleeping bag. Whatever time you decide to turn in, there will always be people coming and going, chatting and laughing from surrounding tents, the clanging of toilet doors in the near distance…

A group sits around candles at Glastonbury

Candletime at the Stone Circle (Image courtesy of @Steeluloid)

Fire: a real theme at Glastonbury. I loved it, up at The Park and by the Stone Circle, the fascination people have with fire, the fact that almost every seated group has a lighted candle or a fire going. The vision of flame lanterns rising into the twilight sky, or at sunrise, was magical. Even if a few wayward ones did occasionally almost set light to the hair of unsuspecting punters unlucky enough to be looking in the wrong direction. Ooops! It was amusing watching people trying to get the hang of lighting and launching them. The lanterns are banned items at Glastonbury, but there were no shortage of them – and indeed a shop selling ‘Fire Toys’ in the market area. There were also spectacular fire displays at Shangri-La, and numerous fire-baton twirlers amazing us with their skillz.

Flashmob Proposal: so cute. Over a hundred people gathered at the Ribbon Tower on Thursday evening to shout out ‘Sarah! Will you marry me?’ and luckily the lady in question said ‘yes’!

Greenfields: I loved this haven of tranquillity away from the crowds and dust. The area is devoted to ‘green’ stuff – permaculture, environmental challenges, natural arts and healing are all subjects treated here. It’s worth remembering the whole ethos of the festival is about renewal and the planet. Hence Greenpeace’s sponsorship and massive presence. Funny – as I am writing this note, I am watching Michael Jackson’s ‘This is It’ movie and hearing him talk about the environment and the one world we inhabit, I feel he would be really at home at Glastonbury. RIP Michael.

Hair: OK – so I cheated. I was tempted to see what would happen to my hair after 5 days of dust, sweat and sunshine but on day 3 I stumbled upon a side-tent in the Dance Village offering hair washing with warm water, and hair dryers and products. And I couldn’t resist a freshen-up.

Hats: ESSENTIAL in the sunshine, and jolly fetching too. There’s something incredibly sexy about men in hats. All sorts were on display.

Ice cream vans: loads of them, all over the place. And very welcome they were too. I had an ice cream or ice lolly every day.

Insects: nope – don’t think I saw a single one while I was there. I was wearing insect repellant sunscreen I suppose – but given we were on dairy farmground, the seething mass of sweating humanity and the stinking latrines, you’d think there would be some choice insectlife there.  Uh-huh *shakes head.

John Peel Tent: OK, I have to confess, this was my least favourite venue at the festival. I saw Tegan and Sara and Ellie Goulding there. It’s magnificent to have a venue named for Mr Peel, and it’s sizeable enough. I suppose it would be ideal (if crowded) for rainy conditions but it was in a strange, dusty, remote corner beyond the Dance Village and quite a walk from the Pyramid. Being semi-enclosed, it was difficult for the audience unlucky enough to be spilling outside to see anything much. The same was true at Avalon, but the setting there is more empathetic somehow.

Jumper: For as hot as the tent was by 8.30 am every morning, it got pretty chilly once the sun went down. I managed to get changed each evening into leggings and a jumper. On the second day I went and bought a woollen poncho which proved a fantastic investment both as a cover-up and as something to sit on at the Stone Circle when it got a bit cool and damp.

Knickers: highly amusing to see chaps wandering around in sparkly thongs. Much better if they were young, with shapely butt-cheeks. Not all were. Ahem.

Logistics: Totally awe-inspiring logistics at Glastonbury. Consider the effort to raise a temporary infrastructure capable of hosting a population equivalent to  a top-30 UK city by volume for just one weekend a year. Not just host them, but entertain them so very well, provide security, sewage management, water, electricity for the attractions and services. I thought the whole thing was superb.

Massage: In the healing fields you can get various treatments and counselling. I resorted in desperation on the Saturday to queuing (seated) for a back massage in the central massage tent. It was really good. My masseur, Richard, spoke to me about my lower back and delivered a tailored massage (no oils – although you can have an aromatherapy massage or whatever is appropriate) which helped to relax me for a few hours. Treatments in the healing tents were free – suggested minimum donation £10. I paid £20 and thought that was good value.

Money: Allegedly you can get by on as little as £10 a day – especially if you drink mainly water from the taps and bring in your own supplies (alcohol, cigarettes, food if you fancy bbqs each evening). I spent  quite a bit more than that – I bought a poncho, a sunhat, a silver ring, a festival t-shirt, a massage, a hairwash and a fortune-telling session, plus food, drink and some ciders out and about. But everything at Glasto is free once you’re in, so it’s not necessary to have a lot of spending money. If you run out  (as I did) there are cash points around the site – sometimes with large queues. But queues are places to meet people. And Glastonbury teaches you, if nothing else, to allow plenty of time for everything and – well – just chill!

Naked: there’s always at least one! For my part, it was a bloke, streaking at sunrise at the Stone Circle.

Orange: as in the mobile operator. They provided the Chill n Charge tent where you can go (or queue and go) to charge your phone, no cables or chargers required – they provide connectors for all major phone types. The iPod owners had a hard time competing for slots. I was luckier with a common mini-USB connector which meant I could have a choice of tables to connect at. For some reason though, I could only ever get one or two bars on my blackberry…. Which soon went. It was frustrating to say the least. That said, it was pleasant enough in the chill n’ charge with the added benefit of a tiny outdoor stage where I was lucky enough to see a short performance by US artist Lissie (she’s really good, I will definitely be downloading some of her). Also worth mentioning that the mobile signal around the site was very very erratic, so mobile comms were hampered throughout.

The Ribbon Tower and The Park at sunset

The Ribbon Tower and The Park at Sunset, from the hill

Park (The): My favourite stage! The Park is up the hill and home to the ‘Ribbon Tower’ – an observation platform for looking out over the festival site. I didn’t go up but I did climb the hill behind the tower for amazing view and sunsets. I saw ‘Here we go Magic’, ‘Midlake’ and ‘Empire of the Sun’ on this stage. It’s programmed by Emily Eavis and features an eclectic selection of aspiring indie acts. It’s also the home of the ‘Surprise’ artists – unannounced, but a subject for wildfire rumour, they turn up and just play for the odd slot here or there. It was Radiohead and The Strokes this festival – unfortunately I missed due to my planned schedule. I’d opt for the surprise bands in future though.

Q: The daily Q Guide (newspaper) was a neat way to catch up on some of the attractions and read reviews for the gigs. The Q Review is also a fantastic souvenir. Excitingly, it includes a massive aerial photograph poster taken at a stated time during the festival so you can work out where you were and see if you can spot yourself. I love my poster! I’ve spent hours poring all over it and pointing things out to the family – where everything was and what happened there.

Reviews: a mini version. I didn’t get to see everyone I would have liked – and I opted for some off-the-beaten-track gigs rather then the mainstream. I’m afraid my Gorillaz experience on Friday put me off revisiting the Pyramid for Stevie Wonder on Sunday. So here goes in brief:

Hobo Jones and the Junkyard Dogs – comedy skiffle band. Saw them at the eFestivals footie game in front of the Pyramid on Thursday – funny.

Femi Kuti – fantastic stuff from Nigeria, lots of bootie-shaking and soulful vocals with peace message.

Tegan and Sara – Canadian cuties with tattoos n guitars. Quite good, wouldn’t pay to see them though.

Lissie – glorious impromptu performance at the chill-n charge. Loved her! Mississippi lady.

Ellie Goulding – she was good but could have smiled more. Amazingly, played guitar, keyboards and drums live on stage, and vocals were spot on too. I’d see her again.

Gorillaz – wasn’t familiar with their new concept stuff so bored for the first half. Was lost in the sea of Pyramid field and it was fun for a while having a laugh along with everyone else until loads of groups started leaving and pushing past me to get out. Couldn’t be bothered after that and left early to head up to the Greenfields and the relaxing Small World Cafe. Only worth going to the Pyramid headlines if it’s someone you REALLY want to see or there’s a good vibe/singalong – and then best if you can get there early and down the front.

Elephant Talk – jolly lovely happy hippy music late  at the Small World Cafe.

Carnival Collective – noisy, fun, rhythmic and percussive: brass and drums capturing the carnival essence late at the Greenfields.

Here We Go Magic – loved this! An unexpectedly good start to the day at The Park.

Bassekou Kouyate and Ngoni Ba – strings and drums from Mali. Lots of chilled out dancing.

Shakira – consummate performer, strange duck off stage before the ultimate ‘Hips don’t Lie’ led us all to mutter to each other ‘should have gone to the loo before the show, love!’. That woman has everything and does lots for charity too. Great show.

Midlake – more magic at The Park. Tried it out for size with cousin David and we both enjoyed a new sound for us – though they had serious fans in the audience. Strains of Fleet Foxes mixed with Emerson Lake Palmer. They’re from Texas.

The Beat at Croissant Neuf – rude boy dancing to old favourites and new songs

Keane – acoustic set at Avalon. Smashing. Tom sang beautifully, crowd sang along throughout. One of my favourite bands so this was possibly the highlight for me.

Paul Heaton – in Left Field. Back on track with political lyricfest. Sang some Housemartins ballads (‘Build’) and a lot of new material

Empire of the Sun – weird stuff! I only recognised the one song (which I like) but the rest was kind of surreal space-like electro with dancers in tin-foil and square heads.

There was lots of ‘random’ music to be enjoyed and I stopped and listened in at a few tents as I went. I was especially fond of African music and harmonies.

Men in Boer War uniforms atop the stones at sunrise

Stoned at sunrise. I see the cavalry.

Sunset and Sunrise: unmissable and unforgettable. I saw the sunset from the hill at The Park on Wednesday evening and loved it when everyone cheered the moment the sun disappeared. The view towards Glastonbury from up there is lovely. And in my ever so humble glasto virgin opinion, I don’t think I could have said I’d been to the festival without having experienced sunrise at the Stone Circle with my cousin David. And then there’s the other ‘s’… ‘stoned’. Let’s say it was a mellow and hilarious experience

Stone Circle: “a sacred space” eh? Well, I’m sure it’s mystical by day and in the absence of the Glasto crowd but every evening during the festival it becomes a hub of activity – with groups meeting, singing, teetering atop the stones, and displays of fire-baton twirling, flame lanterns, candles, campfires and smoking. This is a great place to chat to strangers and share stories and moments.

Silent Disco: ha! I did it. You wear headphones and can choose one of two tracks to listen to. It should be more to make it funnier. The idea is that to observers, it’s silent, but to those in the tent dancing to their own sounds and rhythm it’s hilariously funny spotting those who are dancing to the same thing as you.

Trolley: OMG – so glad I invested in one! I had a chunky-wheeled sacktruck strapped into my passenger seat and it meant I could do the journey into the campsite from the car park (a good twenty minute walk at the best of times) in one trip with everything I needed. On the way back out I took my time and wheeled everything out in two trips – but it made the transportation of . You need good bungee chords though – I had the multi-clawed type and they worked really well.

Trolley fully loaded and secured

Toilets: have to be mentioned. You basically have a choice of chemical cubicles or longdrop traps – depending where you happen to be. You quickly learn to get over yourself in Glasto loos. No glamour possible – everyone can see your feet sticking out below, you see what your predecessors have left behind, and get used to wiping down or hovering every time. There’s no toilet paper, no flushing, no handwashing, just hand sanitizer pumps (usually) so it’s vital to carry tissues or toilet roll and antiseptic handwipes with you. There were a lot of people covering their noses ( I even saw one lady with earplugs inserted in her nostrils) but I must be less sensitive. I could also hear people vomiting around me in the loos. Due in part to the environment itself no doubt, on top of the beer, cider and the sunshine. As one lad I overheard said – ‘Imagine feeling so terrible and then throwing up in the worst place in the world!’

#Twisto crowd at Glasto

#Twisto meetup (Image courtesy of Mick Yates)

Twisto: met the #twisto crowd at the Tiny Tea Tent on Thursday morning and then at 2pm for several pints of Brothers cider in West Holts. Fantastic to put faces to some twitter IDs – had a great chat with @thejaydoubleyou, @ladybugnina, @steamrunner and a few others.

Urinals: So simple – screened-off areas with ‘Men–>’ scrawled on them, and hilariously, facing the crowd and walkways so you can smile at the gents while they pee.

Unfair Ground: a part of the Shangri-La area at the far end of the Railway Track. I visited on Thursday night before the festival was truly underway so it was quiet, but even then I didn’t get to look at everything and I should have gone back. The Unfair Ground was full of freaky sculptures and disturbing and surreal fairground-style games including one where you had to throw babydolls’ broken limbs into a set of revolving demon mouths in order to win a scary doll. I saw a guy on Friday night who had won one in a strange footballer-like costume – how I coveted that doll!

Scary doll

So Unfair! I want one.

The Unfair Ground was also the venue for the Bono Bar, a bizarre cubbyhole tucked away in a tunnel with a single bartender serving only Bailey’s, Guinness and Irish Whisky, and a Bono idolatry theme. The whole area was like a memorable and unsettling dream.

Variety: there’s so MUCH variety at Glastonbury. I was seriously impressed with the choice of food on offer. Cousin David had told me ahead of time there was a great choice of food to be had but even then I was taken aback. I saw Sushi, Eritrean curry, Kangaroo and Alligator, Vegan cafes, Tartiflette, Paella, Salad places, smoothie bars and my favourite – crepes – I had one almost every day for either lunch or dinner. There’s food available 24 hours a day, and it’s really good quality and reasonably priced – most things cost between £5 and £10. Unfortunately there wasn’t such a variety of cider. I only saw three or four varieties on sale. Maybe I should have visited more of the many ‘pub’ tents?

Value: £200 for 5 days camping and world-class entertainment is extraordinarily good value. However £3.50 for a cup of real coffee in the morning is NOT.

Weed: you can smell it EVERYWHERE! I loved how relaxed everyone was about this. There were joints all over the place, and stoned people lying around in the dark, in the shade, in the sun…

Xcited and Xhausted = me before the festival and by the end of it! In fact, I don’t recall ever feeling as physically exhausted as I did on the Wednesday evening after trekking in with my gear and erecting my tent. Everything ached! It must have been eased by my first cold pints of cider though – I felt OK if a little weak by Thursday. Now, a week on from the festival and I am still feeling the effects. As my husband pointed out, it’s mentally exhausting too – all that stimulus in a short space of time. But just as my Xhaustion lessens, it is being replaced anew by the Xcitement of going again next year.

Yes!!: is what I shall say if anyone asks me whether I would go to Glastonbury Festival again. I understand that  2012 is to be a fallow year (and allow for the Olympics) so I will have to go back in 2011 or else wait three years.

Zzzzeds: I slept like a rock every night! I was blessed with a self-inflating mattress, a quiet-ish spot, earplugs, physical exhaustion, a cider glow, and a snuggly sleeping bag. Despite being so hot during the day, the nights were cool and damp – I invariably returned to a dewy tent, so my sleeping bag and fleecy blanket were welcome. By contrast, it was almost impossible to sleep much beyond 8.30 am because the heat of the morning sun so quickly super-heated the interior of the tent. On the one morning I needed to sleep in longer (after staying up until 6.30 am) I still woke at 8.30 am and was forced to strip down and sleep atop my bedding with the flaps of my tent open to get a breeze through.

David and Kathy do sunrise at the Stone Circle

David and Kathy do sunrise at the Stone Circle

I dedicate this blogpost to my cousin David Steele, who urged me to get to Glastonbury and who shared my inaugural experience of the festival with me (and supplied some excellent photos too).

July 4, 2010 - Posted by | Glastonbury, Uncategorized

1 Comment »

  1. At last I’ve got round to reading this. Have dreamt of going so many times and admire you for losing your Glasto virginity at such a tender age! It sounds like a fantastic experience. Thanks for sharing. Useful and fun post.

    Comment by Maxine Hedges | July 7, 2010 | Reply

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