We have had the most glorious, scorching, heatwave of a summer in Britain.
Not glorious at all actually: too hot. For everyone, even sun worshippers. The
first couple of weekends were a novelty but that rapidly wore off. Once again,
the collective voice of the country complaining about the weather.
Despite the recent evidence to the contrary, or maybe because of it, this moment
still feels distinctly British.
I am in a tent, in a field, on a chilly, windy night, at a Festival.The scorching
heat we have recently had inflicted on us ‘turned’ this week and we are once
again at risk of being drowned by good old summer rains. No-one is complaining.
Arrival after 10pm, by train, taxi, and foot. We’re not let in. It would have
been easier, and more satisfying, to jump the fence than experience the rewards
of paying £95 for a legal entry. We eventually convince a different gate
to let us in and even more eventually, find our group and set up camp.
A multitude of faces, tents, stalls, classic randomness in the darktime introduction.
A chai tent playing live music all night. I leave at 2am, being wrongly instructed
to ‘turn right at the multi-coloured fish’. I get very lost and have to
return to square one before attempting the journey again.
Back to my tent. My beloved, 14 year old, tent. Perfect for just me and my explosion
of stuff. Night one drags out with the usual wrigglings of discomfort and new
Day Two. Part One.
Rude sluggish awakening by lack of oxygen and crying babies. There is a 7 week
old human in the tent next to mine. I am later to discover she is far from the
only one. Stripey crusty hippy parents with their offspring. A higher child
density than I have experienced since, since I was one, I guess. I’m not sure
I like them. They certainly do nothing for my maternal instinct. Offspring of
anti-capitalist campaigners finding every possible excuse to earn money. My
favourite belonged to the group I was camping with: a seven year old boy [voluntarily]
flouting Fair Trade Footballs emblazoned with NO CHILD LABOUR on two sides.
I go on a mission to find bread and orientate myself. I haven’t yet relaxed
into festival oblivion, keeping my mind focussed on my hungry companions awaiting
carbs to accompany their sausages. Most stalls are closed at this crack of 10am
dawn. There are a few wandering souls like myself and plenty of opportunities
for coffee, pancakes, or a veggie breakfast. I resist; I have a mission.
Mistakenly, I find myself in what can only be described as the Angry Field.
Caravans of campaigners dedicating their lives to Issues. Climate Change, Nuclear
Power, Squatters Rights, Home Schooling, Homelessness. It’s enough to make me
consider a serious career change. For a brief moment however, I still have my
work hat on and I wonder if I should be enaging in conversation, building connections,
networking. That’s a mistake I will make in a couple of days time. For now,
I stay silent, walking away with a flyer promoting a ten day Camp for Climate
Action. I seek bread.
Two unsuccessful attempts to leave the Angry Field return me back to the leaflet
source. My straight line was apparrently a circle. So I try to walk a circle
and am relieved to find the ‘Food and Farm field’ complete with organic bakery.
Unfortunately, the woman in front of me in the queue is from the Environmental
Health Department and the stall is consquently closed for 15 minutes while an
During the course of the festival, I see this several times. A safety officer
protesting at low cross bars in a geodesic dome chai tent: any bar below six
feet must be marked with luminous tape and carpets are a trip hazard. One quiet
solo soulful guitarist, acoustic, with a stupidly quiet sound system is told
she has to finish because their licence from the council doesn’t extend past
midnight. Poetry ensues.
I try to find the general store, resist the Hippy Fields overflowing with their
blissed out vibes, and end up in the Angry Field again. It’s too much. I return
to the bakery and take a wild shortcut back to the tents. The hungry mob, the
hungry mob, I must’ve been hours. I am almost stressed. I am not blissed out.
I still retain an element of real-world responsibility. I might be approaching
festival spirit but I certainly haven’t embraced it yet.
A few more tent-filled fields and I at last find the rainbow fish, my beacon
home. I can breathe again. Landmarks are so critical when every field is populated
by identical randomness, hippies, tipis, and colourful fair trade creativity.
I make it home. Sausages are on and my freshly bought bread is stale. £6.50
badly spent (on two loaves). Tomorrow, I’ll just buy breakfast.
Day Two. Part Two.
It is perfect festival weather. Sunny but not too scorchio, a reasonable wind,
dry. A beer has catalysed my journey into festival bliss. From now on, time
won’t matter and friends will bump into each other, or not. Mobile reception
is poor so once you’re lost, you’re lost. And that’s when the choices overwhelm.
Low reception also means a wonderful lack of phones, texting, and the planning
of any activity that isn’t right now.
A man walks past wearing nothing but a flowerpot over his willy. And a walking
stick. People cheer as he goes past.
I am sat next to the rainbow fish drinking coconut water from the shell.
The Healing Fields are quiet and relaxing. Fully of pamperings on offer: shiatsu,
yoga, reiki massage, crystal healing, shamanic healing, something involving
a huge gong, singing, drama therapy, dancing, breastfeeding support circle,
women’s tent, men’s tent, gay tent, quiet tent, a beautiful phoenix temple,
various temporary gardens and trees.
The main drag is full of stalls selling jewellery, clothing, rugs, artwork,
lanterns, food, and the obligatory chai. There are solar powered showers,
wood powered saunas, and a pedal powered stage. A field of tipis and various
thematic yurts. I consider entering a raffle to win one but thankfully won’t
be around for the draw. Multi-coloured streamers and lantern balloons dance
in the breeze. There are still children everywhere but somehow their laughter,
the space, and the great obligatory outdoors, dilutes them to a happy hum. Or
perhaps I am just relaxing into the place.
Tonight I expect music, fire twirling, and general revelry. As church feeds
the spirits of christian souls, or philatelic meetings support stamp enthusiasts,
festivals nourish a group of different like-mindeds. A chance to be colourful,
pierced, relaxed, happy. No explanation necessary.
Day Two. Part Three.
Memory of the evening is a pleasant blur. A large bonfire circled by drummers
and a couple of dancers wearing wedding dresses. Crusties, hippies, pikies,
people. Layers over layers, colours, reincarnated clothing cut at an angle,
gypsy style skirts, tassles, blankets, painted faces, ball dresses and tiaras,
hats, wigs, top hat and tails. A few balloons of laughing gas are passed around,
pedlars interweave the crowds whispering their wares: "tequila", "beer",
"coconut guarana energy balls".
We had been told you could buy no alcohol or meat on the site, though bringing
your own is not a problem. It changes the atmosphere from other festivals, makes
it even more family friendly. We were however, told wrong. Back in the furthest
field from anywhere, right in the middle of everywhere, in the Food and Farming
Field of bread memories, is a bar and grill. Or pub and hog roast. Beer and
Meat would be a better description. Fresh and local. The field is run by local
farmers selling Local Ale and Cider at the bar, and a meat stall called Pirates
of the Apocalypse offering pig roast, lamb stew, or barbequed beef. We had the
latter, sliced from delicious slabs of just-cooked steak. The cow had been raised
in the next door field.
Of an evening, our group had a vague base near the Small World music tent.
Folk music and chai. I went for a wander, seeking chocolate, and got lost amongst
tipis and fires. Collecting a few friends who were also bored of violins, we
went to explore the Magic Canyon. My compatriots scoffed: it will be a plastic
tunnel, it will be an overgrown nettle and thistle filled ditch. O no. A proper
canyon it was, and magical too. The rocky walls lit up by tea lights in paper
bags. We set up camp and talked rubbish all night, the group waxing and waning
as various strangers joined in the debate.
It turns out I have only seen about a third of the site thus far. The far side
of the Angry Field is actually remarkable chilled out. Peace Campaigners, the
Green Party, examples of alternative energy and composting. Beyond this is the
Green Crafts Field, my favourite so place so far. Woodwork, chalk carving, felt
making, leather work, make your own rag rug, gardening, country dancing, pedal-powered
wood turning, cart building, and a hundred workshops to try your hand at new
The permaculture and eco-living areas were next along, and then a fanstastic
big green space designated for nothing but playing. Impromptu magic shows, kids
playing frisbee, sock twirling poi, the field’s perimeter a collection of music,
bar, fair, and face-painting. At the far end, best for last, the Horse-Drawn
Field. Travellers, horses, carts, hand crafted gypsy vans, tents and tarps,
black kettles hanging over fires. The real-ist field of all. These folk hadn’t
just come out for the weekend.
I think there’s only one field left to discover, but you never can tell. Even
at the most familiar spots, new poetry tents and opportunities to exchange cash
for stripes surprise me. Today, the population is mostly fairies and people
in patchwork. Knee-padded kids on bouncy stilts, stilt walking butterflies and
trees, real Ents in fact. Bells precede footsteps. Horses clip clop as they
carry bands to venues. There are no cars. Children sell watermelon and ice cream,
or busk. Tattooes and tipis, babies in wheelbarrows on sheepskin rugs. And still,
on day three, negligible litter and incredibly clean toilets.
I would love to know where all these people come from, what they do when they’re
not here. I spent yesterday evening with an ecologist zoologist, a social worker,
an eco-builder, my friend who works with refugees and asylum seekers and her
partner who’s speciality is affordable, sustainable, urban housing. As Kim says,
"the jobs section of the Guardian". And remember, everyone wearing
an orange armband paid £95 to be here. Individually, not hugely radical.
Collectively, thought provoking. People with blue armbands are working here
in some capacity. Craftspeople, alternative therapists, caterers, litterpickers,
seamstresses, artisans, musicans, gypsies, farmers, mathmeticians.
That wasn’t a typo. One familiar [to me] got in touting ‘Free Maths Information’.
Seriously. My friends loved it. I had to leave. When I returned, he was surrounded
by no less than sixteen people listening to the story of the first mathematical
martyr, Hippasus of Metapontum. Drowned at sea for divulging the irrationality
of the square root of two. And further, camouflaged by Pythagorean lore, our
acquaintance divulged this information as well.
The toilets are still remarkably clean, though I have used my pee funnel twice
now in the urinals. At night time admittedly, but it was still very amusing.
My friends left this morning so I’ve spent the day experimenting with workshops
and activities. Tai chi in the morning, a nice way to start the day. Climate
Action in the Angry Tent in the early afternoon wasn’t such a good idea; just
left me angry. Sing Your Heart Out harmony singing from 3-4 was great and brought
me back into the spirit of things. Reverberating harmony. Delicious. With music
still filling my head, I ambled back to the tent via a loud humming and babbling
tipi. The noise might be what called my attention to the area, but the vision
was even more astounding. There, at their rendezvous, were about 20, naked,
painted, bicyclists. Preparing to cycle the site. The noise inside was unrelated;
the end of a workshop called ‘nurture your inner cynic’.
After a brief tent interlude, I headed for my final rendezvous of the day:
the sauna.Two and a half hours later I emerged blissed out and, for the first
time since arrival, clean. Ready for my journey home tomorrow. I am now back
at the meat stall, in line with the carnal carnivorous. I love this end of the
Earthy spectrum. The spear-fishers. Beer and Meat, the bloodier the better.
I suppose this evening will blur into another repeat of music, tents, aimless
wondering, pondering, and wandering. Further immersion into timelessness.
Memories from last night include Breton line dancing, vinegary cider, sitting
outside a thumping marquee wearing a blue head scarf, ranting, a warm chai tent
with chocolate cake, carrot cake, and sweet flapjacks, a light rain, and an
all night poet. A father near me, and probably not much older, rationalising
with his adolescent son who had just come across the concept of not going to
school as a viable alternative. The parents defence: " ..if you go to school,
to college, you’ll have choice about what you want to do.. some of the people
here, they’ve had no choice."
I wake up to a delightfully grey morning. No-one likes the bright sun in the
morning, especially not when you’re in a tent. After the heatwave of recent
weeks, we’re still all revelling in the more typically British summer. Bring
on the mizzle! It’s time to get up, pack up, and go home.