Wednesday, June 29, 2016

'Glastonbury Festival 2016'

"If you're worried about the weather / then you picked the wrong place to stay." so sang James Murphy in the closing moments of what was officially the muddiest Glastonbury ever. His audience, who'd collectively endured five days of trudging through drizzle, rain, fog and thick mud, cheered so hard he had to skip the next line.

2016 was not a vintage Glastonbury. Leaving aside the godawful weather for a moment, the line-up was pants, the headliners were a bit dull and the festival was in a collective state of mourning over Brexit. At 4am on Friday morning I was sat in a huddle near the stone circle waiting for the sun to come up when the news started to filter through the crowd. A cry of "Brexit for breakfast!" went up. The crowd's stomachs collectively turned, for once not as a result of consuming industrial amounts of ket.

Staggering back to my tent in an anoxic daze a fine drizzle started up, the pitter-patter of rain on tents punctuated only by freaked out mutters from within that "we are so fucked" and the occasional teary whimper. I hid in my tent reading whatever snatched news article I could get over the patchy 3G, devouring an procession of apocalyptic stories about the pound transforming into monopoly money overnight, a gloating Farage triumphant and general disbelief that the morons actually won.

I was awoken by irrelevant indie has-beens James, whose piss-weak mogadon rock was leaking over our campsite from the Other Stage. I began to wonder just what the hell I was doing here. The country is falling to pieces and I'm trapped in a filthy Somerset field with a damp sleeping bag and a growing puddle in my tent. In desperation I decided to go and see Billy Bragg on the Left Field stage. Surely Billy Bragg would know what to do! Did he fuck.

Compounding the political misery was the sheer physical effort of getting anywhere. Glastonbury is enormous and navigating it is difficult at the best of times, but particularly when every footstep lands you in glue-like, wellie devouring mud. Considering festival goers are running on a couple of hours of sleep and subsisting on expensive fast food served from plastic plates (the portions seemed pretty stingy this year), just getting between places wears you down. Even I, a seasoned Glastonbury-goer, had to retreat to my tent on Sunday afternoon. I was beaten down by the thick drizzle, the omnipresent mud and the fact that I'd just spilt a full bottle of vodka and coke down the back of my jeans. For a brief hour, I just buried my head in the sweaty t-shirt I was using as a pillow and wished I was back home.

Taking these on and off was not fun.
But when life hands you lemons, even lemons caked with mud, you make lemonade. Even if the rest of Britain has decided to inflict upon itself lobotomy via handgun, even if I and all my possessions are covered in mud, at least I'm surrounded by the generous, progressive, open-minded and supportive people. 

What the non-Glastonbury going public can never quite understand is that the heart of Glastonbury isn't on the big stages - and it's certainly not in Chris Martin's bland wail - it's in the thousands of ways strangers pull together for a greater good. 

Throughout the festival you see people dragging each other out of mud, human chains being formed to pull people up from sodden banks, people distributing free food and dry clothes to the soaked. Upon hearing that we were low on phone battery, a stranger casually handed us a free portable charging pack. My friend and I spotted a lone woman pukily staggering out of a late-night dance tent, gave her some water, chatted to her and we three proceeded to spend the night happily exploring the weirder corners of the festival.

It's sentimental, but there's something genuinely special about this place. Glastonbury is the briefest of glimpses into a world that could exist if this country didn't default to suspicion, hatred and xenophobia. It's an unsustainable bubble (and lets face it, it'd go Lord of the Flies if things went on too much longer), but even a peek into a society that functions compassion like this was enough to warm my Brexit-broken heart.

After crawling out of my tent and sliding on my 'cleanest' (i.e. least filthy) pair of jeans I went to LCD Soundsystem's mind-blowing awesome closing set on the other stage and danced my guts out as best I could (while rooted in mud). Then I drank cider underneath a discoball in a treehouse. Then I went to see Kate Tempest. Then I swilled my brain out in the weirdest corners of Shangri La. Then, finally, as Monday morning crawled into view, I scaled the slippery, mud mountain atop the park stage, reaching the big Glastonbury sign and gazed down happily over a festival that represents just about every value I hold dear in this screwed up world.

You get back home and everything is shit. Sour-faced commuters glare into their doom n' gloom newspapers. The country is peppered with xenophobic violence. Our supposed leaders can't even wipe their arses without smearing shit over their faces. We face a grey, uncertain future. The only certainty is death. 

But there'll always be a very special, albeit muddy, patch of Somerset that shows us what we could be. And I'd wade through a thousand miles of mud to do it all again.

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