Sunday 1 August 2010

Sunny, With A Chance of Panic Attacks - Glastonbury Festival Day 1

Warning: This is a long post. You might want to go and get yourself a cup of tea first.

June 23rd

It was 10am as I arrived at Newcastle Central Station on the No. 1 bus on a warm sunny Wednesday morning in Newcastle (itself a rarity). Deep breath. Calm.

In the interests of this blogpost making sense, I should maybe mention at this point that I’m prone to anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder, for which I’m on the magic happy pills [Citalopram – an SSRI for those with an interest in such things] that make it largely go away. I’m not particularly embarrassed about this, nor is it – any more – a serious handicap for me, since a combination of pills and therapy mean that these days I can usually leave the house without having to check three times that the oven is turned off. (It usually is.)

Unfortunately for me, anything involved large amounts of organising and going away from home tends to trigger the OCD. This is a perfect description of my role organising volunteers for the bars at the Glastonbury Festival, so it took me a few minutes of sternly talking-to myself before I peeled myself away from checking for the fifth time that the front door was locked (it was), took some deep breaths, and marched off to get the bus. Funnily enough, once I’m actually on the bus / train / plane / whatever, the anxiety goes away, in a sort of “The die is cast” kind of a way, so I was fine once I got the bus. I checked again that I had all the necessities (phonepursekeysdebitcardmoneytrainticketsdetailsofpeopleI’mmeetingupwithatLeedsyesit’sall
there), took a deep breath, admired the lovely sunny day, and applied myself to reading the Metro.

10am, beseated myself beneath the big clock at Central Station, and waited for my fellow volunteer, N, from Newcastle to arrive. I wasn’t too worried. I was calm. He’d be here soon. We were due to get the train at 10.44am.

10.15am. This was the time we’d agreed to meet.

10.20am. He’d be here soon, right?

10.25am: Began minor panic attack in which I began to seriously worry that something had happened to him or I’d given him the wrong date – but we’d exchanged emails for the past week or so in which we’d discussed our arrangements for meeting up and he’d replied to all of them. What could have happened? Started making phone calls to his office / my office to see if there were any messages for me – there weren’t. Called his phone – no reply.

10.30am: Still no news and no reply to my calls. Started having visions of going to the Glastonbury Festival on my own, or at least turning up to meet the volunteers from the union’s Young Members group at Leeds station (whom we’d agreed to meet at Leeds station, since we were all travelling down from the North together) on my own with no explanation for why my fellow volunteer wasn’t with me.

10.35am: To get the train or not to get the train? I decided not to. There was another train after it which still allowed us to get to Leeds in time, and I’d factored this in to us getting the 10.44am train. I texted my contact from the volunteers we were meeting at Leeds to let them know the score.

10.40am: I reflected gloomily on every single thing that had gone wrong in organising volunteers for the Glastonbury Festival this year, such as the form that went missing (meaning that we got two places, not four) to the difficulty I’d had filling the volunteer places with only two people going, and thought that having me alone go to Glastonbury would be the perfect cap on the crappiest year of organising festival volunteers I’d ever had.

10.44am: Train left.

10:46am: Birdsong could not compare to the sweetest sound in the world, nor could choirs of angels; my mobile phone rang with a number I didn’t recognise, but which I knew had to be N’s. It was. (It turned out I had the wrong number for him stored in my phone for some reason.) N had had car trouble on the way here, but was now at Central Station.

I took a deep breath, calmed down, told N that the contingency plan was to get the next train, and we met at the clock. He was fine, albeit flustered. A large cup of tea (for N) and coffee (for me), a phone call to N’s brother to arrange for him to collect and fix the broken-down car, and at 11.10am we were brandishing our open-return tickets at the conductor on the train to Leeds. The journey passed pleasantly, since it turned out we had a similar interest in care for older and vulnerable people (N is a social worker and I do research on this topic). By the time the train arrived at Leeds it was obvious we would get on just fine for the next seven days which we’d be spending in each other’s company.

The next step was to meet the volunteers from the union’s Regional Young Members team, who had caught the 10.44am train from Durham and agreed to meet us in the pub at Leeds station. C, my contact for them, had informed me that they’d be in the White Rose pub at Leeds station, and that he looked like Shrek. I was on the lookout for someone with green skin and funny ears, but N and I decided that it was more probably the young man and woman in the corner who were surrounded by mounds of camping equipment.

They turned out to be C and T from the Young Members group, who were happily ensconced in the corner of the pub eating a burger and sipping a pint whilst they waited for the third member of their team, L, to arrive. L apparently had had difficulty with her manager, despite having booked her leave for the festival, and it had taken until this morning for her to have it confirmed that she was going to be able to go, so she was on the later train. We all agreed this was deeply unfair, and had a drink. N and I ate sandwiches, and we swapped tales of ourselves and our day jobs: Me = researcher, N = social worker, T = works with children in Durham, C = works for Npower, as does L. C warned us: “The thing about L – she’s absolutely lovely – but she can be a bit bonkers. You’ll see when you meet her.”

As it approached 2pm with L not having arrived, I tried to suppress my “Mexican jumping bean” impression which I get when I think I’m going to miss a coach or a train or something. The WBC coach from Leeds to Glastonbury left at 3pm from Leeds Bus Station, and missing it meant missing the festival. Everyone else was more laid back. I went out to research where taxis left from.

At 2.11pm, a young woman with shorts, glasses, a t-shirt, a huge backpack, giant black Goth boots and a large cowboy hat with a cowhide pattern hurried up yelling “Hellllooooo!” This was L, and the gang was complete. We deliberated over whether to walk or get a taxi. I said “Taxi”, and taxi it was. It’s a funny thing about life that often all that matters is whether someone makes the decision, not how it was made nor even whether it was a particularly good decision. We got a taxi, ignored the slightly disgusted look of the taxi driver that we were only going as far as Leeds Bus Station (never mind the fact that we all had huge backpacks) and were sitting in the sunshine on the grass outside Mecca Bingo with our fellow volunteers by half two.

As we awaited the arrival of the coach, the team bonded some more. We learned that L and C were the best of friends, despite the fact that they argue nineteen to the dozen. Also that L was absolutely adorable, had a passion for cows (not like that!), and talked nineteen to the dozen with a huge grin on her face about everything from cows, the Download festival she’d been to recently, the managers who had led to her having to get the late train and nearly missing the festival, and her new boyfriend, who she was clearly head-over-heels for.

At 2.40pm, the coach rolled up. Unlike last year, there actually was a member of the WBC management staff with a register of people who were meant to be on the coach. We got ourselves ticked off, got our gear loaded up, got on the coach and basked in the air-conditioning. I reflected on the fact that this might be the first Glastonbury festival I’d been to where I actually didn’t need wellies. The coach rolled forward at 3.05pm. and we were off! Finally, we were on our way, and I could relax. From here, we were definitely going to the festival and whilst I wasn’t officially responsible for the Young Members team, I was the only one of the five of us who’d ever been to Glastonbury before, let alone worked behind a bar there. I allowed a grin to spread over my face. Despite everything, we were on our way to Glastonbury, and it looked like the five of us would get on like a house on fire, which was great. You really need a group of at least four of you to go to Glastonbury, it’s more fun that way, and it looked like this was gonna be a good ‘un.

As coach journeys go, it was an interesting one. Mainly because the WBC guy who’d had the register sat at the front and talked non-stop at a loud volume about everything from motorbikes at the Redbeck Motel - interesting to me, since it’s near my home town and I’ve eaten there a few times - to chicken husbandry, which he clearly had a deep interest in. He also swore so much whilst doing so that C commented to me as we munched on burgers at the service station “You know, I swear a fair bit myself, but that guy…” The stop at the service station was also enlivened by a suicidal caravan-owner who pulled out right in front of our coach, despite the GIVE WAY markings in front of him. Catastrophe, and having to pick bits of caravan out of the front of the coach, was only just averted.

The coach set off again, with me mentally crossing my fingers that this was not going to be a repeat of the god-awful journey we’d had last time, when the coach sat in traffic for six hours waiting to get in the Festival and we arrived there at half two in the morning to be told that the WBC canteen had just closed, and no, we couldn’t get our passes until the morning, so going out into the festival site to buy food wasn’t going to happen either. About the only good thing about that year’s journey had been the hero coach driver, who kept up a cheerful and encouraging commentary, despite the fact he must have been knackered, and brought along his entire Coen brothers DVD collection to play on the coach. We all tipped him at least £3 each – he’d earned it.

Happily, this year was infinitely better. The coach pulled up in the festival car park at 8.30pm, as the sun was dropping low on the horizon. As we stood around looking at our luggage and waiting for someone to tell us where to go next, I took the chance to try explain the concept of “festival time” to everyone.

“Festival time” essentially means “Stuff will happen when it is ready to happen”, or manana. At the festival, there is no point rushing about or getting impatient because things aren’t happening right now, or on schedule. Stuff will happen when it is ready to happen. Sit down in the shade. Stand in the queue. Chill out, have a drink and a chat.

It also means that the normal rules of life and time don’t apply. Why work to a 9-5 timetable when there is no 9-5? If you don’t have to get enough sleep and be up to work at 9am, it’s perfectly sensible to stay up until four in the morning, then kip until 8am - kipping in the tents for later than this was well-nigh impossible, for reasons that will shortly be described - stagger up, shower, dress, eat, then find a convenient shady spot and kip in it for a few hours, or go watch a band, have an afternoon nap under a tree, then stay up all night. Medieval peasants used to do this sort of thing, and I’m told it’s found elsewhere in the world; instead of one long period of sleep, two short ones over 24 hours.

This all, alas, had one very important exception for us: WBC volunteers do not get the luxury of applying this philosophy to our shifts, for which we must always be ten minutes early else risk getting our organisations in trouble (i.e. fewer or no places for the following year).

At that particular moment, however, everyone was really more interested in getting onsite and getting their tents up before the sunset. This wasn’t going to happen too fast, since the coach had dropped us in the wrong place. It was supposed to take us inside the festival site and drop us off outside our campsite. Instead, either the stewards had misunderstood or the driver had misunderstood the stewards (or he hadn’t been provided with the correct pass to enter the site, which would cause us some major problems in five days’ time), and dropped us at the coach park, outside the fence. If you’ve ever been to Glastonbury, you’ll know that getting inside the security fence is no easy matter, so we were somewhat stuck.

We hung about on the grass outside the fence waiting for a steward to show up and let us in, and had a natter. I took some photos of the sunset. Finally, the stewards arrived with our wristbands, we were let in, and we walked, or in some cases staggered, down to the WBC village, our home for the next five days. The sun was setting, but we had enough light to pick a nice camping spot, near but not too near to the toilets and marquee. I had my trusty £15 tent from the Famous Army Stores, first bought for a People and Planet festival I attended as a student way back in 2003. It and I have survived the 2005 and 2007 Glastonbury festivals. It may not be the fanciest tent in the world, but by golly it’s good for festivals.

Tents were pitched, airbeds were blown up, L’s giant Goth boots were pressed into service as an improvised tent peg mallet, and we descended upon the bar in the marquee. After a long day, no-one really wanted to stay up too late, and we had a briefing at an unfeasibly early hour the following morning. We drank, we chilled, we crawled into our tents, did a round of “Night Johnboy”s, and kipped. I fell asleep with a smile on my face. The omens were good.

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