Back all the way home (with a London stop-over), and have just had probably the longest sleep of my year – 10 hours, which I used to do at least once a week; man I’m getting old. Not quite time to start getting excited about the next year, but it won’t be long. And a fallow year (next is 2017) is hard to get through.
I can be quite evangelical about Glasto, but then I genuinely believe that anybody who goes will find something they love. You might have to make arrangements if you can’t cope with a sleeping in a basic tent (and there are no shortage of upmarket options if you’ve got the cash), but it’s not like you’re out in the middle of nowhere; you have relatively easy access to everything you really need, and it’s all suffused with an aura of friendliness. And I mean the last, not as some kind of hippy BS – it’s genuinely nice to be surrounded by people all having a good time. Even if the rain comes down in buckets, you can always find a friend to chat with and maybe bum a fag off under the canopy of a tent.
Dealing with the complainers
One of the regular Glastonbury traditions is that a lot of people who didn’t go like to shower abuse on the festival and its attendees. Some of these will be from people who wanted to go and didn’t get tickets, others from long-time opponents of other people enjoying themselves. Now I’m not going to oppose peoples’ fundamental right to moan, but it’d be nice if the complaints were valid. I shall respond to a few of the regulars:
- It’s too expensive.
- look, I’m not going to pretend that £225 is money that everybody has, but you need to consider what you’re paying for. This is not a few bands in a field, but a 5-day holiday. Or to look at it another way, how much would you expect to pay to see the 3 main headliners? I don’t imagine you’ll get much change from a ton buying pretty ordinary tickets to see The Who or Kanye. And you can quite plausibly see another 30 bands on the bill (assuming you’re just going for the music, rather than the many other activities, or even just to sunbathe and have a drink with friends)
- Okay, the ticket is fair, but then you get ripped off inside
- Firstly, you don’t have to spend another penny inside the site. Unlike many festivals, which won’t let you take food or drink into the ‘arena’, at Glastonbury there is pretty much one restriction: no glass. As long as you’re willing and able to lug the stuff onto the site – and plenty of people use trolleys for the purpose – you can bring as much for your personal consumption as you like (they will stop you if it looks like you’re going to sell it, but the limit must be pretty high considering the number of people you see with cases and cases of cider, beer, etc.)
- Secondly, while there are places on site that will sting you, a little attention means that you can certainly eat for a pretty good price. Don’t stop at the van that is asking £5 for a toasted cheese sarnie, but wander on and pick up a full thali for a couple of quid more. And while a lot of people seem to baulk at the idea of paying £10 for half a litre of wine, that’s because they’re for some reason comparing with supermarket prices, rather than pub.
- The food is awful.
- Again, there are the usual terrible burger vans but anybody who maintains this really isn’t trying. This year I had, among other things; the aforementioned thali, half a rotisserie chicken with seasoned potatoes, a beautiful 3 bean stew, some of the best some-made sausages with mash and gravy, and a lobster roll. While I was having the last, my friend ate some freshly-shucked oysters, and a clam chowder. It’s particularly (unsurprisingly) good for vegetarians and vegans. The general rule is to avoid the big vans and head for anything that looks like it’s run by a family out of their people-carrier with a bit of tarp propped up. Trust me, these people cook because they love it. And are often happy to let you try a taste, and ask for recipes and tips.
- Everybody’s on drugs.
- I’m not going to deny that there’s a lot of weed on site. Or that most people are probably going to consume their body-weight in alcohol. But other stuff, not so much (as a proportion of festival goers – I’m not arguing that there aren’t thousands of people off their faces). Unless you go in the late night club area, I reckon most people just aren’t prepared to risk the comedown when they’ve got several more days of sleeping in a field. Also, you generally want to be able to get to sleep at a homely hour, because by 8 in the morning, your tent is an oven.
- It’s a horrible mud bath.
- This year we were lucky enough to get away with a few showers, but I was still surprised on my return not to see the few clips and photos from these periods being endlessly recycled by the Daily Mail. It will rain at some point, because it’s England, but the site actually drains pretty well. You really should take wellies or boots, but that’s just common sense. These days I’m much more concerned about the dust when it’s dry. Look, you’re going to get dirty, but if you can’t let your hair down for a few days here, you probably should never leave the city. And if you’re really insistent on cleanliness, there are (heated) showers available on site. You just might miss a few bands queuing for them.
- The toilets are appalling.
- Can’t entirely argue. But then your average pub toilets are pretty unpleasant. Best avoid the enclosed portaloos, and go for the open air ones. Although don’t camp next to those. Also, in recent years they’ve been expanding the eco-friendly composting toilets, which really don’t smell much at all, as long as everybody remembers to chuck a cup of sawdust on their business. In general, the first time you go on arrival it’s a bit of a shock, but within a day or two, you just don’t notice any more.
- It’s all middle-class these days.
- Again, this is largely true. But then most people in this country *are* middle-class. Maybe it was different back in the seventies, but I don’t think it’s been something specifically for hippies and travellers in a long time. Not that you won’t see many of both groups happily mingling with the families and groups of students. Just get away from the main stages, and pretty much all of human life is here. You will see some annoying gap-year types, but then you will also see three generations of a family sitting up on a hill watching Lionel Richie together. It really is special like that.
- It’s all corporate.
- This is simply not true. Obviously, there are large companies involved in providing to the festival – security most obviously. It’s basically a city (maybe 200k people on site at peak), so nobody expects a 79-year old man, his daughter, and few friends to run the whole thing. But compared to pretty much every other public event, you’ll be struck by how little advertising there is. The three ‘sponsors’ are Greenpeace, Wateraid, and Oxfam. They’re the only people who get substantial coverage across the site. Otherwise, it’s pretty much just the individual stands. So it depends if your definition of ‘corporate’ includes complaining that EE get to put a banner on the tent they provide for people to recharge their phones. I’m sure they don’t do this out of the kindness of their hearts, but neither do they get to spill out all over the site. The festival as a whole is still majority owned by the Eavises, and nobody else gets to make decisions about its course.