It’s Friday afternoon when Marley and I wheel our bikes through the hallowed gates of Glastonbury 2011. A week of rain has pummelled Worthy Farm into a Passchendaele-like quagmire and all around us festival-goers are trudging, stumbling and floundering in a sea of mud. It’s an hour before we finally make it to our camp in the Green Fields, weighed down by several extra kilos of the ubiquitous brown goo. The prospect of spending the weekend in a swamp is mitigated by the fact we’re not having to sleep in a nylon nightmare but instead have the luxury of Marley’s company trailer. Oh the joy of stepping into that dry space. Oh the misery of being one of the 170,000 people sleeping in the camp city we’ve just spent an hour trudging through. Call me an old fogey but camping is just so much better without a tent.
Having donned our fancy dress and glitter, we head straight to the Glade Lounge for a baptismal dose of bleep electronica, courtesy of Tristan and Laughing Buddha. By midnight things are getting a little odd. My neighbours on the dancefloor are a giant octopus with his head through a door, a large squirrel and a gurning Ben Fogle lookalike throwing some spectacular shapes, his face a symphony of Class A grimaces. At one point I look to my right and my friend Chris is being interviewed by a lissome girl holding a large MTV microphone. Chris, faced with a microphone and the spectre of an appearance on some sort of media, suddenly comes over all sensible, as if being interviewed for a job, dutifully interrupting his dancing to answer her questions. As she walks away I notice a cut wire trailing at her ankles, and the snigger of her companion. I don’t think Chris, or any of the other people she’s interviewing, need to worry about any future media appearances.
We wake up, fuzzy headed, the next morning, and set about finding ourselves some breakfast. As this is the Green Fields this is a strictly Meat Free Zone, so we breakfast on tofu and facon, served up by a pallid, sickly looking vegan family. Feeling in need of bodily restoration, our next stop is Sam’s Sauna, the grandaddy of the festival sauna scene and without doubt one of Glastonbury’s best-kept secrets. Walking in to the sauna chill-out area is akin to entering a cafe in Manali. Lithe dreadlocked characters lounge around on cushions – in various stages of rolling and smoking spliffs – and there’s a general air of happy hippy lassitude. We pick our way over the human detritus, strip off and clamber into the sauna, a wood-fired hot box built inside an old truck. It’s just me, Marley and a Scottish chap who tells us he’s playing in a salsa band at the festival. We’re soon joined by a bevvy of men – young, middle aged, plump, toned. Although I’m aware that I’m naked in a small box with a loads of strange men, it doesn’t feel odd, and everyone is careful not to look where they shouldn’t. Although of course sometimes you can’t help noticing….
An hour later we emerge refreshed and detoxified. Not only have we expunged the previous night’s toxins but we’ve had the rare festival treat of a hot shower. It’s a transformative experience and the perfect antidote to the general insanity of the festival.
Later that evening we embark on a full exploration of one of the newest parts of the Glastonbury megatropolis; an otherworldly area encompassing Bloc 9, Shangri-La, Arcadia, The Common and the Unfair Ground. It’s a world away from the Babylon-like main areas, a mind-blowing smorgasbord of oddities loosely based around a post-apocalyptic theme. Marley, Chris and I have been joined by our good friend Ben, who’s munching his way through a county’s worth of magic mushrooms and is bounding around like an over-excited spaniel. The four of us wander through the maze of lanes, shacks and clubs, past the Gone Off License, past the sign declaring ‘Erase your Memory: Back it up on Tape’ and under the Dead and Breakfast. In one crepuscular alley we join a small crowd straining to see through a grimy window at a bizarre Peep Show. Inside two people in blood and mud smeared white coats are examining an unwitting girl they’ve hauled in from the crowd outside, who, after a cursory check, is declared Contaminated and deposited down a hatch, stretcher and all. Her wasted looking boyfriend looks confused and more than a little worried as to her fate.
A little further on we stumble into a nightclub, The Snake Pit, and dance to the superb 1940’s boogaloo of the Rabbit Foot Spasm Band. A well-muscled man clad in a psychedelic spandex catsuit dances wildly, cannoning off us and the walls, smiling a huge, toothy grin. For some reason I imagine him during the week, shirt and tied, sitting behind some Formica desk, selling car insurance. One of the great things about Glastonbury is that you can be anyone, do anything, behave as stupidly and as oddly as you like, and no one gives two hoots. It’s pure unadulterated escapism.
On our way back to camp, at around 3 a.m, we spot septuagenarian festival founder Michael Eavis picking his way through the mud in his trademark shorts, chatting to a young girl. We see him again the next morning, when he pops into Marley’s Solarsense stand for a chat. (Since Solarsense have just finished installing 1067 solar panels at Worthy Farm – the biggest solar system in the UK – Marley and Mr Eavis are well acquainted). We shake hands and I ask him what his favourite thing at the festival has been. “The Underground Piano Bar” he replies without hesitation. ” And although I’m a huge fan of Radiohead I found their set a bit weird. No one understood it, I don’t think Thom Yorke even understood it”.
The sun, finally, has come out today and my what a difference it makes. We spend most of the day horizontal in the Green Fields, drinking cider and listening to odd snippets of ‘finger in the ear’ (as Marley calls it) folk music. In the Healing Field I indulge in some Shiatsu, and have a wonderful hour lying in a calm, white yurt, having my battered body bent and massaged back into shape. As Beyonce’s helicopter lands for a night of bootylicious butt-shaking we walk across the site, pick up our bicycles and pedal homewards. A few miles from the gate we’re deep in the Somerset countryside, the distant rumble of music drowned by the mooing of cows and twittering of birds. You would never have guessed that the biggest music festival in the world is happening just around the corner.
To find out more about Glastonbury visit www.glastonburyfestivals.co.uk Sadly it ain’t happening in 2012; the cows need a rest and England will be otherwise engaged with some sporting event.