I planned to get on the road by eleven. The drive should take less than four hours and the worst queues were meant to be from four in the afternoon onwards. But when I got up, it was wet, and getting wetter… getting organised seemed to take longer and longer (“It’s like sending someone off on a school trip” Sue said later). As I got to the point where I was actually ready, Sue suggested that I leave it until Friday as it was so wet. I refused to be tempted, finally setting off at twenty to one.
I got a decent route print out from Routemaster on Sue’s laptop which I followed. The first three hours of the journey were a doddle, apart from the ever increasing rain and the fact that I’d forgotten to take the new Byrds compilation tape I’d made specially. Stopped for a coffee and scone on the way and nicked enough of those little UHV milk cartons to get me through the weekend, as it turned out. Only after Bristol did I hit trouble, missing the turn for the A37 and turning towards Bath, but a bit of jiggery pokery and guesswork on country lanes got me in the right place and it was a smooth run to Shepton Mallet, accompanied by my “Going to Glasto” tape (featuring lots of people who were playing plus a bunch of new favourites). Then it turned into a crawl.
Two boys of about twelve or so stand by the side of the road, selling drinks and crisps (no prices) from beneath an umbrella. Enterprising, maybe, but nobody’s getting out of their cars and the lads look fed up. To be honest, I didn’t mind the traffic jam much. The thing being, it was pissing down and I’d much rather be in the car than outside in the mud. I’d got a tape of “Bash” (three monologues by Neil LaBute, director of the excellent movies “In The Company of Men” and “Your Friends And Neighbours”) and listened to two thirds of it – harrowing stuff with a bit of black humour, which suited my mood. Eventually got into the site and was directed into what was obviously the traveller’s field (they have a kind of alternative festival). So myself and a rather newer, posher car, spent ages negotiating the ancient RVs, ambulances, army vehicles and tents selling grog, looking for the proper camp site (actually, if I’d left the car there, I’d have got out four hours earlier on Sunday, but who was to know that then?).
I found it, but couldn’t get into the field I’d planned on (I later discovered that, the earlier you arrived, the worse the parking spot you got, unless you’d paid extra for the camper van area, right by the main site). It was, by now, just after seven. I’d been travelling for six and a half hours. The first thing I did was put my wellies and anorak on (it’s not really an anorak but a handy Gap garment I picked up in the States, but I don’t have a name for it and anorak sounds more authentic that kagoul). Then, knapsack on my back, clothes bag over my shoulder and tent/food bag in right hand, I set off to the main site.
It was a long, hard walk. When I returned to the car on Sunday, I found that, unencumbered, you could do it in twenty-five minutes. But I was very cumbered, if that’s a word. Not only that, but the Jessops bag holding my tent was tearing (it was the one I’d brought home the new video in, so should be quite strong, but the tent is very old and fairly heavy), so I had no choice but to hold it under my arm like a new born babe (well, probably nothing like a new born, but I don’t have kids, so how would I know?).
The strap on my clothes bag broke once. It was also very heavy. It was also very wet, but I kept going, with a break every fifty or a hundred yards. The last bit was steeply downhill. It did not escape me that I would have to climb it the other way, carrying just as much stuff. Ouch. Finally, I got to the turnstile. A nice person there volunteered to take my hefty clothes bag (which also contained a sleeping bag and two sleeping rolls) over. At that point, the straps on my knapsack fell out, as they kept doing all weekend. Oh well…
Getting through the highly secure turnstile, I was told to keep my ticket, as it was the only passout allowed (within minutes, I was offered a tenner for it). We were told that Greenfields (hippy zone and safest place to camp) was already full. I asked for directions to the acoustic tent, as I wanted to camp nearby, and was pointed towards Kidney Field, which I’d worked out was the nearest point to camp, well placed for the acoustic tent, Pyramid stage and Exit/Entrance 3. I had a look at the family camping field, which was even nearer (and rumoured to have hot showers, though I never saw any) and briefly considered blagging my way in. But the thought of noisy kids first thing in the morning put me off.
Kidney Field had big no entrance signs (there to deter people from camping in the ditch either side, I think) and looked full. Nevertheless I trudged up the hill and within five minutes had found a space, very near a fire point (useful landmark for locating tent in dark) and only three minutes walks from the bogs at the bottom (you don’t want to be much closer because of the smell). It wasn’t a very big space but it’s a very small tent – hard to believe that I’ve shared it with friends and girlfriends over the years. I put it up quickly, overlapping some of my guy ropes with adjoining tents and bending several pegs in the process, but, in the end, it was fairly solid. Inside, I discovered my first problem. John, who’d leant me the sleeping rolls, is six foot seven tall. He has seven foot sleeping rolls. My tent was only six feet long. So I had to have a rolled up bit at the end. Then there was a strange buzzing noise – could be anything, but it seemed to coming from inside the tent. I ignored it, until I got out my washbag and realised that my electric toothbrush had turned itself on. Luckily, the battery hadn’t yet run out.
I made myself a coffee and recorded my first diary entry (good thing I’d brought a memo machine for novel notes as these weren’t conditions for writing in a notebook). Next I decided I didn’t need to take my torch out with me because my tent was so easy to find and set out to explore Glastonbury in the mud. It was eight in the evening and, for the first time all day, it stopped raining.
I was on the edge of the Market Area, which is vast, so, essentially, I was going to the shops – looking to see what I could put in the book and – equally importantly – checking out places to eat when the food I’d brought with me ran out. The choice was enormous, though all I bought on this first run was a vegetable somosa. There were noodle places, burger places, a cornish pastie stall, hog roast, falafels, beany type things, even a stall doing churros (which I’ve only had in Spain) – though for some reason they suggested you consume them with cream or custard rather than the traditional hot chocolate. There were ice cream places and cake stalls and a place specialising in fish and lots of bars which sold only one “real” beer (slop called Oakhill – you could see why the cider stall was the busiest place on the first night). And that’s just the food. There were also endless stalls selling clothes, jewellery, drug paraphernalia, books, odd carvings, blankets, camping gear. In fact, everything you might need at a festival. Only found one decent CD stall though, where I was tempted by the new Elliott Smith for a tenner. He was on my list of people to see…
During my travels, I went up the Welfare section, right by Worthy Farm itself, where I met the woman in charge, and arranged to interview her the following morning (at ten, which is early for me, but I doubted that I’d sleep in). There was one performance going on when I got back down to the main area just after ten at night: the Cholmondelys dance troupe in, I think, the cabaret tent. I tried to get in but, as I got to the entrance I was told that it was now full (fire regulations), so I wandered off again. Tank rang, checking out conditions, then Sue rang, so it was a good thing I missed the dance. Anyway, when I went round again, they were letting people in (more having left), so I saw the last fifteen or twenty minutes, which were very good, in a surreal sort of way. And fifteen minutes of modern dance is about my limit anyhow.
Nearly midnight, a bunch of yellow clad Hare Krishnas playing bongos begin a march through the market area with a small group of followers. A young bloke comes up to be “scuse me, me and my missus are trying to get something together for a bite to ear. You haven’t got 20p have you?” I give him 12p, which is all the change I have, and they both thank me. For a moment, it’s like being back in Nottingham, but, as it turns out, these are the only beggars I see all weekend. Next, I’m stopped by a young girl who says “we know you, we know you, don’t we?” To which I say, looking at her boyfriend, wanting to be nice, “Yeah, he’s Robbie Williams, isn’t he?” (there’s a mild resemblance). “We know everybody!” she announces, and gives me a nice hug. Little soap bubbles float in the air.
As I walk back, people are trying to put up a tent in the muddiest, bumpiest area near the bogs. By the time I reach my tent, I knew where everything was (though I hadn’t explored Greenfields, leaving that for the next day) and was resigned to a muddy three days (it hadn’t rained again, but it did during the night). At about one, I turned off my light and tried to sleep. This wasn’t easy, with the constant coming and going (every time someone caught my guy ropes it sounded like they were crashing into the tent itself). Then there was a prat with a megaphone and the noise from the DJ by Joe Banana’s blanket stall at the bottom of the field. In the absence of any official performances, a lot of people had gathered there and were making a lot of noise. One had a particularly annoying whistle. The music got louder. Nevertheless, I was drifting off to sleep when, suddenly, the velcro flaps which hold my tent entry together were ripped open…
Now, if this were a Point Crime novel, I’d leave you in suspense until the next chapter, but it ain’t so, with a brief language warning (coming up: the word which Scholastic twice censored from the final Beat novel – by mistake, allegedly), here’s what happened. My tent was on a slope. I’d tried sleeping downhill, but it didn’t work – the blood goes to your head, maybe, it just doesn’t feel right. So my sleepy head was about a centimetre from the guy who was about to steal whatever he could from my tent when I said: “What the fuck do you think you’re doing?” “Oh, sorry, mate. wrong tent,” says short haired Scouser. “Yeah, right,” I said, with as much sarcasm as I could muster (my tent is impossible to mistake for any other, anywhere). “Sorry mush,” the guy repeats as he scampers away, first time I’ve been called “mush” since I lived on Merseyside.
After that, as you can imagine, it was very hard to get to sleep again, not least because there was every chance that I would be broken into again. Obviously, tents weren’t like cars, where having an old one makes you less likely to be done over. Having an old one made you look vulnerable. Knowing that I had to do an interview at ten in the morning didn’t help. Presuming I did drop off, there was every chance that I’d oversleep and miss it. Eventually, though, with the aid of wax earplugs, which cut out maybe 10% of the whistling and big beats, I got off, sometime around four, I think. Not the most promising start, then. But don’t worry, things get better.