When you go to a festival, you expect to be entertained. When you go to a festival and a fortnight’s rain dumps on it in six hours, you *become* the entertainment. Sodden front-page fodder. As the stories from outside the Glastonbury site bounce back to you in the form of panicked phone-calls asking if you’ve been struck by lightning or drowned, you start to be grimly amused by the extent of the media’s gleeful hyperbole.
Not that there isn’t horror. The tectonic-plate-shifting storm at 6am on Friday is genuinely frightening, fat fingers of rain pummeling our tent while God flashes his floodlights and angrily crumples his Doritos bag. Then there’s a genuine sense of human tragedy and devastation as thousands emerge to tramp about in hopelessly inadequate footwear. Of course we felt a bit bad about this later, given that we were essentially making the same noises about a few damp sleeping bags as we made about the Asian tsumani; but the visceral reaction upon seeing tents half-submerged in filthy water, odd shoes floating by, was a deep and heartfelt ‘ahhhhh, look. . . How terrible. Those *poor* people’.
Such jolly souls as Billy Bragg will have you believe that ‘if you haven’t done Glastonbury in the mud, you haven’t done it at all’. It’s a chance to really let it all out, be a child again and demonstrate how gloriously uninhibited you are. *Nuts*. The mud clogs the festival’s arteries, spoils your mood, knackers your legs and makes you so desperate for a bath that you’d climb into one already occupied by Nicholas Soames. Still, as in life, you only get as messed-up as you want to above the house minimum (28% caked-on, 14% light spatter). Also, there’s something nature-programme-fascinating about its evolution and widely-varying consistency. Sometimes it’s like liquidy Ready Brek, some places over-whisked Angel Delight, and in other areas it is like melted souvenir fudge or just really powerful animate squidgy glop, mouths of it sucking hard at your sad ankles like something out of Hieronymus Bosch. This last was most virulent in the most populous areas, and best navigated by adopting a sort of baby-rhino galumph. It was like leaping to the promised land as hell tried to claim us in its filthy maw.
Weather aside – and by Sunday, it was possible to put it there – Glastonbury remains a wonderful thing. People are often heard to gripe that it’s not what it used to be – they even complain that it’s lost something vital since the erection of the super-fence. Given that the something lost is mostly bunches of marauding purse-snatchers armed with crowbars, we’d rather consider with joy the extent to which the unique spirit of the place has prevailed. The atmosphere is powerfully pleasant, rampant march of capitalism or not. Although there is a certain MTV-generation zing about it, in that you find your attention span shrinks to minus two minutes. There are literally 66,740 things going on at any one time, one for every two attendees, and it’s easy to be distracted from a band by a hat that looks like catshit or a hapless bloke, hands over face, having glass removed from his bare foot by medics. That one drew one of the weekend’s biggest crowds.
It’s perpetually stimulating, wherever you are. Lost Vagueness, a sort of festival-within-a-festival tucked away in a corner, is especially bewitching, what with its ballroom, casino, wedding chapel and population of evening-dressed fops. Bands of every stripe play all night amongst cabaret and burlesque acts, which last consist mostly of women taking their clothes off in imaginative ways; one dressed in feathers performing ‘live plucking’, and another doing a trapeze-tease from the ballroom’s chandelier culminating in the removal and triumphant dangling of a string of diamante from her... herself. The caravans, beach huts, proper loos and showers which made up the Paradise Lost hotel created a definite them-and-us tension, alleviated somewhat by a convenient fence-gap enabling us to sneak a couple of blissful visits to the sweet, sweet low-cisterns.
Since the Green Fields remained more or less greenish we hid there for some of the time, marvelling at the tranquillity, the good food and terrible tie-dye. George Galloway with a hip hop style entourage we espied, striding through the Healing Field in classic green folded-down wellies. We duly saluted his indefatigability. The commitment to environmental and humanitarian ideals amongst the Green Fields contingent is unwavering, as the accoutrements unaltered since 1973 mirror. This immutability has its downside – sticking blindly to your ideology without having the flexibility to consider what’s actually workable in the world can make you very easy to dismiss as a hippy idiot. But a little hippy idiocy is good for the soul. And let he who is making any less of a cock of things cast the first gobbit of toxic waste.
Inbetween being slowly seduced by the idea of living in a tipi and yomping for miles without aim, we did manage to stand and observe well-known musicians doing songs. A curmudgeonly New Order plodded with the occasional star-jump of nostalgic excellence, then butted out without playing ‘Blue Monday’. This was festival cuntery in excelsis, even without the ugly mug of Keith Allen making an appearance. Coldplay are now the kind of massive that people just wave their beer in the air to and far too commonplace to be moving, but we wept sober, and anyone not watching with upturned face rapt with wonder, we slew. On Sunday the sun came out, and so did The Bravery, and so did their bassist’s cock. There’s something about public nudity in a rock context that delights the soul, just as the throwing of guitars and trashing of drumkits does. Truly it is beyond cliché. Imagine the cheers then when Dirt – for it was he – combined all of these in one glorious routine. And the set was brilliant too. The fully-clothed Killers were seen backstage asking for a spoon with which to eat from their bowl of fuck.
Basement Jaxx polished off the weekend with one big rumpshake, and we left sated. None of that caper is occurring next year, so we can all revert to our usual state of joyless sneering cynicism and wearing fashionable clothes. Thank fuck.