The first time I went to Glastonbury Festival was with my recently-ex-girlfriend – her dad had already bought the tickets for her birthday and we were trying hard to be friends at that point. We ended up camping on a slope above the Pyramid stage with my ex-boyfriend and his sporty mates. It was 2000, the year the Festival was massively invaded by ticketless rebels, and it’s a good job I’m not made panicky by crowds, that’s all I can say. It was, however, a year of record high pollen count, which saw me necking antihistamines and being barely able to breathe except at night. Add that to me being sensitive (and sometimes wildly allergic) to many of the various forms of weed in evidence, the sheer weirdness of spending time with my ex-partners, and it being less than a year after my mum had died; to say I experienced mixed emotions over the course of the long weekend would be stretching the phrase somewhat.
The next time I went to Glastonbury Festival was in 2003. I’d not long moved to Milton Keynes to live with my then-boyfriend. His disabilities meant that we didn’t camp (much to my not-so-secret relief), but stayed in a B&B nearby and drove in every day (that is to say: I drove in and out every day). A failure to communicate meant that we had to drive back to Milton Keynes the morning after we’d arrived to fetch the tickets, which we’d each assumed the other was bringing. I also developed some excellently hench upper body strength pushing a 14 stone sailor around fields in a manual wheelchair. We watched a lot of bands that he had only ever admired from afar, and I discovered reserves in myself that I might not have considered otherwise, as well as how much Lucozade can save your life when you’re driving that many miles sleep-deprived. And that Glastonbury-the-town was both beautiful and weirdly familiar.
The next time I went to Glastonbury Festival was in 2005 with my housemate, and our mutual friend from Milton Keynes. We camped quite far away from the main part of the festival on a well-found, gentle rise of ground, surrounded by many absolutely brilliant hippies. This turned out advantageous when the average rainfall for the whole of June came down overnight on the Thursday (lightning striking at least one of the stages during this time). I was inclined to blame the rain-summoning wooden frog I’d purchased the previous night which made a deliciously realistic croaking sound when I rubbed its wooden rod over the ridges of its back (which I demonstrated to everyone I met). I had a curiously restful night, all things considered; I’d finally worked out, after several painful years of camping at festivals, that I could wear earplugs overnight and sleep better, so ignored the thunder and rain (I grew up in Wales, after all) and had slept significantly better than my housemate, who was significantly less inured to thunderstorms. The main part of the festival was flooded, water running down from the higher ground like bona fide rivers in full spate.
|Can you see the woman in the background floating serenely on a purple blow-up chair?!|
We put pedal bin liners over our socks and waded into action, buying cheap wellies on site that we still have today (as well as me buying myself a massive stick with a dragon’s head on it – it seemed like a great idea at the time, and subsequently proved useful in both mud and moshpits). We had more regrets about the 2am hog roast, which left us in a very bad way later, and my OCD was tested to its creaking limit by the mud and ankle-deep slurry from the flooded toilets, but survived sufficiently to want to go again. It was also the first time I’d been to an outdoor festival while menstruating. I don’t recommend it. We watched the sun come up over the stone circle on the Sunday and accidentally took part in a hand-fasting ceremony (as witnesses; the gentleman who officiated turned out, many years later, to be someone I now know in Cambridge as one of the other organisers at Strawberry Fair…). When we told people about it after we got back to our tents for a disco nap, one person said “Oh! Cool! I didn’t see that on the programme…!” Hmm.
The last time I went to Glastonbury Festival was in 2007 with my former-housemate-now-girlfriend, and the same mutual friend as before (who didn’t know that we were going out). In order to get the tickets, we’d had to inveigle internet use from the owner of the hotel we were staying in for a hen do in Brighton (this involved flattery, late-night listening, and an early morning shoulder massage) the night before tickets went on sale. I honestly don’t know how our luck held so well to get tickets, but get them we did. Once there, we spent a far greater deal of time in the more alternative parts of the Festival (green fields, cabaret, etc.), as the main parts seemed to have changed their atmosphere significantly from the first time I’d been. I wrote, somewhat meanly, about being "… fed up with the shiny Sloanes/ Uncomfily dressed-down with all/ Their moans about the bogs and bands,/ Who sign African petitions/ Yet refuse to bin their cans…" Because by that point I was writing poetry, but was too chicken to sign up for the open mic/ slam (I think there was a slam?) at the difficult-to-find, tiny poetry tent (though, thanks to my partner dragging me along, I did get to see Sophia Blackwell for the first time, resplendent in what my memory insists on picturing as a froofy cocktail dress and red wellies, along with Danny Chivers, performing poetry and hooking me even further into the notion that this was something I could be doing). This time, instead of bucketing it down for four hours, then being gloriously sunny, it was persistently wet in a phenomenon known technically as a monsoon (no, I didn’t know there was such a thing as a British monsoon either). I left the farm feeling very old, somehow, and coughing my lungs up for a couple of weeks afterwards.
(I look back at what I blogged about the experience and I shudder at some of the language I use, that now looks incredibly snobbish and horribly like internalised misogyny to me.)
I applied several times after that to perform at the Poetry & Words stage. It’s hard to say whether it was including footage of the aforementioned poem which did for my chances, but I strongly suspect it was purely because I didn’t have the experience, and similarly didn’t have high enough quality footage (or poetry, arguably) to be persuasive. A few years of failed applications (and failed attempts to get tickets the normal way) later, I decided that I was never going to get to play in those kinds of leagues, and resolved to be happy with my spoken word scene tier. (Or, to put it another way: I decided that the pain of rejection was too much and played it safe for a few years.)
So to say I was shocked when I received the email a couple of months ago asking me if I’d like to be part of it would be putting it mildly. I rushed to my girlfriend (same one as shared the last two Glastonbury Experiences) to check whether I was reading it right. I was. Instead of sitting on the opportunity for weeks until they gave it to someone else, as I’m so magnificently good at doing, I wrote back with alacrity and said “Yes please.” So now, somehow, twelve years later, I’m going to Glastonbury again – this time as official chronicler of the event from the perspective of the Poetry & Words stage. I’ll be writing, and the brilliant Scott Tyrrell will be making art of it all, and between us you’ll be as good as there while reading the blog.
(No, I have no say in the poets chosen, and no, I can’t get a plus-one for you. If I could, I’d be bringing my partner, oddly enough…)
I am still equal parts terrified and delighted, and I suspect that this state of affairs will continue for the next few months (during which I’ll be telling you about the line-up as it’s released, so please do follow the blog!).