Friday, July 03, 2009

Glastonbury 2009 - Tuesday and Wednesday

Glastonbury Festival of Contemporary Performing Arts is the largest greenfield music and performing arts festival in the world, hosting dance, comedy, theatre, circus, cabaret and many other arts, in addition to staging the world’s biggest bands on over 50 stages over 5 days. This year is my second Glastonbury, and I hope I capture some of the wonderful time I had in these blog entries.

Tuesday – Getting Close
We're off to Glastonbury!!

On Tuesday morning there was never going to be enough time for last-minute shopping, instead it was the inevitable rush to Waterloo for the train down to Exeter, where we would pick up the camper. The festival starts tomorrow (Wednesday). The trains are faster from Paddington, but more expensive.

One scandal of transport to Glasto is that First Great Western doesn’t operate any discount fares on the days of the festival – the logic being that they don’t need to, as the demand will be there regardless. This seems strange to me, as surely a certain portion of cheap fares are part of their franchise obligations? Perhaps not.

Incidentally, I happened to send my Dad an email, and received the following disgraceful Out of Office response:

Once a year I am forced by my boys to endure penance for my sins. This year I am being frogmarched to Glastonbury where, instead of a nice peaceful week, I shall be expected to stay up all night listening to music I shall probably despise. I shall therefore struggle to respond to emails until at least Wednesday pm although I will do my best with my Blackberry. You are welcome to try my mobile 07xxxxxxxx but don't blame me if you don't like what you can hear in the background if I answer.

My brothers Lewis and Alex were driving down with Dad in the Volvo. Od course all the heavy things that I needed had already been left with them. The car ended up quite full! My other brother Hedge was coming down after work on the train. Aside from having to listen to off-duty staff sitting in first class speaking loudly the whole journey, I arrived without trouble at Exeter St. Davids, where I spotted a couple of other potential Glasto-goers.

On advice from Dad, I took the shuttle bus to the airport, near the campervan rental place, as there wasn’t enough room in the car for me! The shuttle from the train station to the airport is awful – it runs hourly and crawls right along the town centre’s high street, taking half an hour, before whizzing along the dual carriageway for the last 90% of the journey in 5 minutes!

At the airport I squeezed in with Alex in the back for the hop round the corner to Practical. There we signed the relevant papers and were given a tour of our van, a Carioca 746. A fairly big beast, at 7.4m long, it still only has four wheels, and so the back swings out a good two metres past the rear wheel-base, great fun when going round corners! Luckily for the rest of us, the driving was Dad’s responsibility, something I don’t think he was especially pleased about!

The van

Only Dad and I could drive it, as it requires C1 entitlement on your licence, something they stopped issuing by default in 1997. Also if you renew your licence, unless you fill out the appropriate form, it gets taken off you. You have the EU to thank for this nonsense.

We popped into Exeter for some lunch, a bit of shopping and a quick pint at the Prospect Inn by the river, a very pretty spot. Exeter Cathedral is lovely, but I’m not overly impressed with the rest of the centre.

Back out, and it was time to hit the road with the camper. We soon discovered various things wrong or broken, including the main side door’s handle being missing, a window broken, wooden frames holding up seats split, the radio aerial was very weak so it was difficult to pick up anything, rusty pots, little cutlery, and a few other things. And this is from a 2008 model – I can’t imagine what an older van would be like!! Part of the problem is how plasticky everything felt – nothing was very solid, I guess because this is a budget camper. Anyway, we cleared the sharp turning out of the rental place, only to have a bleeping alert going. What on earth was it? We poured through the manuals, checking everything, and just when we were about to call for help, Dad realised that he hadn’t put the handbrake right down! Doh!

We drove to Taunton, where we would pick up Hedge, and due to him arriving early, we hit a supermarket together for the big food and drink shop. We already had three polypins (20L/36 pints) of Whitstable Brewery IPA, care of Will’s Dad, and the boys had brought some spirits and wine, so I encouraged everyone to be calm – it’s not like there’s nothing on site, this is just nibbles and drinks for campervan time. We walked away with about 30 packets of crumpets, 70 rashers of bacon and corresponding eggs, muffins, ketchup etc. It seemed silly, but we potentially had 10 staying with us in our group. Shopping done, and me slipping my Clubcard in as Dad paid, result!

The plan for the night was vague, but we had scaled back initial plans of going to the coast and finding a nice pub, to heading straight towards Glasto and finding a convenient layby with pub nearby. We weren’t sure where we would end up, but in the end we spotted somewhere to park just at the edge of a village called East Lyng, about 15 miles from Glastonbury, and with the Rose and Crown pub.

We dashed to the pub in case they stopped doing food at 9pm, but no such issues. A friendly staff, good ales and reasonable food awaited us, though given the sort of food we’d be eating over the next 5 days I figured it would have made more sense to have some healthy food, rather than chips, sausages, pies etc! We ate outside in the pub’s large garden as the sun set – beautiful.

In the camper the fundamental error was made of not bothering to properly make up all the beds as we were all tired. An hour or two later we were all finding it damn uncomfortable and cold. The next morning I struggled to get everyone moving at 7am – we still hoped to hit the site by 8am when the gates open. After much faffing about, we pulled out on to the road, with Alex backing Dad out. This favour was immediately rewarded by Dad accelerating off, despite our yells of “Alex isn’t in”, to which Dad replied “I can’t stop here” and stepped on the accelerator! Eventually Alex caught up when we slowed a few hundred yards down the road!!

The route to Glasto, bringing us in on the A37 from the south, was not direct, and we were trying to avoid narrow roads with the camper. Unfortunately every time we came to a possible junction, Dad would speed across it before I had a chance to suggest turning, so the route we ended up taking was very round-about. Of course, he blamed my navigation, but when you’re operating out of a quite high-level road-atlas, it’s not easy to choose narrow turn-offs if they’re not properly signposted! When we finally hit the A37, it was not far before the traffic slowed then stopped. 5 miles away from the site. Oh dear. And not just stopped, but didn’t seem to be moving forward at all! Very bad sign. Luckily for us we had toilets on board, and critically, 60L of beer, though we explained this to Dad as “apple juice”. It didn’t take him long to twig what we were up to. Nothing like a beer at 8am! As the t-shirt says, “Beer: So Much More than a Breakfast Drink”!

A long long line...

Every 10 minutes or so the queue would move forward perhaps a few hundred yards. Then stop again. This was going to take a while. Occasionally we’d get some BBC Somerset on the radio, and the news was that traffic was bad everywhere. Apparently there had been an accident on the M5, and there were roadworks on the A303. Later we learnt that this was one of the worst ever in terms of congestion on the Wednesday – especially as people had been told that this would be a full 5-day festival rather than the traditional 3 days with two quiet days beforehand. Therefore many more than usual had turned up on Wednesday, and indeed by the end of the day apparently there were over 100,000 festival-goers on site!

Stop start stop start. We crept up a steep hill. An apple bounced down it. People walked along the road with backpacks. Others crawled into the hedge to relieve themselves. People blared horns playfully at each other occasionally, much to Dad’s chagrin. Alex got fed up and decided to walk along the roadside for a bit, and of course as soon as he did this we started moving faster, and were approaching the turn-off at Pylle! Hurrah! Again Alex had to run to catch us. Off the main road, and immediately it was smooth moving, driving along the road into the site, then where cars were diverted off into the parking fields, we carried on, alone now, dipping down and back up through wooded areas and past farm buildings and a church. We approached the campervan fields.

Tough journey conditions

Strangely, we weren’t checked at all by security, merely handed our tickets out of the window for inspection. We asked for family camping, and were sent along to E17, where we ended up in a similar spot to Tom and co last year, but a few rows back. Given that we had a number of people hoping to camp with us, the strategy was to grab as much space as possible when we were parked up by the stewards in the grassy fields. Unfortunately we realised it would be up to our neighbours rather than us, as our door faced towards the person parking up after us. The boys all jumped out and tried to occupy space, but the stewards were insisting on us being in certain spots. As soon as they wandered off though, our neighbours started up again and grabbed a bit more space (they were back to back with the next lot), well done!

You’ll never guess where I am..

We got Dad seating in the sunshine with a beer, then started putting up our tents. Theoretically we had tents for me, Hedge, Will, Elaine, then Pippi and Jonathan would bring one, and Dushka would presumably be bringing one.

Too many cooks

I was worried we wouldn’t have room, but it ended up fine, and as we put things up we met our neighbours, facing us the lovely family of Matt, Karen and little Tiger Rose, who was 1 1/2 and knew the "Ei eye ei eye ohh" line from Old MacDonald Had a Farm! Matt and Karen met at Glastonbury ten years ago, this is their anniversary trip, with their beautiful girl now in tow. On the other side another friendly couple, he British and she American, who were obviously quite well-organised as they had a tent-within-gazebo setup to avoid the sun from cooking them too much. They also had a standalone tent loo, wow!

Checking in with the boss

Incidentally I should mention that it was hot. Damn hot. Hot and humid. The weather forecast had gone from terrible (long range) to fantastic (medium range) to generally good with thundery storms (short range) so we’d just given up paying any attention to it. As usual with Glasto, rain gear, warm gear and suncream are all required on standby as all will probably be useful at some point over the five days!

Being cooked

Once we were done with setup, we headed down the "Hill of Death" (it's really not that bad) into the site. People pause at the top of the hill, as the full view of the Glastonbury valley comes into play. What a sight!

We marched down, where your ticket is checked, then you are equipped with a wristband which is secured with a metal stamp such that it could not be removed without being damaged. You keep the ticket in a plastic pouch round your neck, along with a mini-guide to the main stages.

Any time you go out (the Campervan fields are outside the main super-fence), you are given a pass-out which you need to hand back in when you return. The logic of the pass-out is that this is to stop a group going in, then all (somehow) taking off wristbands, and one member of the group taking out spare tickets and wristbands (once you’re in to the site, the bands are never checked), then going back out and giving these wristbands and tickets to others. They don’t seem to check the photos too closely as you come back in – it’s more about the wristband and pass-out.

You also get a full programme magazine and a linen bag. We were in! Given the Glasto virgins of Dad, Alex, Hedge and Lewis, it was only right that I gave them a tour of the site. First stop, the Somerset Cider Bus.

The blue bus is one of the Glastonbury landmarks, and our first port of call for a drink on site. They serve hot and spiced cider, but we went for some of the regular to start things off – remember that festival strength cider is usually 7% and it was early! The friendly bus staff were not very pleased with me wearing my Brothers hat though – I assured them it was coming off soon as with beard and big hair I was hot enough without wearing a hat too!

On from the Cider Bus, we reached the main Pyramid stage, which unfortunately wasn’t soundchecking and so was quiet, but is still an exciting sight, especially for Glasto virgins!

Next up the large John Peel tent, which seems to have a larger cleared space around it now, and apparently a big sectioned off hospitality area, not good; through the Dance Village, then the Other Stage which is Glasto's second stage, up the hill into the Park area, where we took advantage of the blackboard and chalk!

They also have lots of cool decorated huts for sitting in, very comfy. The Park is Emily Eavis' area of the festival, where she has complete control, though increasingly she is helping her father Michael Eavis to run the whole show. Given that she's been a part of the festival since birth, I think we have nothing to fear from her taking over completely, and the Park is many people's favourite part of Glasto - it's like a festival within a festival.

Across past the tipis, which you can rent but I believe they are rather expensive, and up to the flags high up on the hillside for a great view over the site.

This one sent to the office!

We stopped to admire the view (aka catch our breath). From up here you can see right across the entire valley - over 900 acres of green fields which are usually home to a few locals and a couple of hundred cows.

”Band shot” coming down, not sure Dad got the idea!

We passed what must be Felicity’s cafĂ© on site:

and down to Jazz World field with all its beautiful flags, to our next destination, the Brothers’ Bar! Another of those Glasto traditions – the first pint of Brothers pear cider. I don’t even like cider that much, but it has to be done!

The first pint of Brothers

I had organised Brothers’ Goodie Bags for everyone, these included Brothers’ hats (which they complained about at the Somerset cider bus), a Brothers lanyard, and two badges entitling the holder to free pints, hurrah!

We followed up the cider with some food, the group splitting between pies and the Grande Bouffe stall that I tried:

French potato and sausages

I asked the girl in the stall what the difference between two of the dishes was, and if the answer wasn't in French, it still had me baffled, so I went for the "BK Approach", i.e. the more expensive one.


Delicious, although not cheap for the size. We sat on the grass and tucked in.

That done, time to finish the tour!

Round through Avalon to have a look at the incredible night areas of Trash City and Shangri-La. Nothing much happening though as they were still being constructed, so we couldn't even get in to Trash or SL. Arcadia, the expanded part of Trash, was available for a quick browse, and we did find the Strumpets with Crumpets stall (also not open).

Too late did Dad realise that for the rest of the festival this stall was open and selling crumpets with goats cheese and blueberry jam, yum!

Part of the beauty of Wednesday is that there is nothing much happening, so you can relax, have a wander about, get a feel for the place, without stressing about missing bands or other artistic happening. I'd strongly recommend anyone attending to turn up as early Wednesday as you can, it's just a very different vibe to Thursday or in particular Friday onwards, when the site is packed and everyone is rushing about trying to pack in bands.

Into the circus fields, and the tour was complete (for now). We headed back up to the camper.

Site tour was quite a hike!

In the evening, it was time for a bit of pottering, a game of Scrabble,

some relaxation time, and some music. We all became familiar with the wonderful cramped cubicle of hell that was our on-board toilet! Hedge was regretting wanting to camp, as Lewis and Alex had set up very comfy beds in the back of the camper!

We met Karen's friends Poppy and Rainbow, two lovely hippy chicks that Karen had warned us about beforehand. Poppy came over and joined us, announcing that she didn't have any knickers on! More marvellous lounging about in the sun and digesting the main programme..

Alex was the first to investigate the camper rooftop possibilities:

in between brewing “tea”

There was a ladder up the back of the camper, but inconveniently it started about half way up the back, so you had to carefully step up using the bumper. On top again it was a question of being careful about weight distribution, but it was worth it for the view over the campers and to the main site. Shortly we were all up there.

Matt and Karen invited us over to join them on their more sturdy camper.

Matt and Karen

Matt makes his own music and was playing some of it, very cool. Tiger Rose had called it a night fortunately for all :)

Dad stayed on our van

As the sun went down, the twinkling of the lights began.

The magic of Glastonbury!

The view at night

Glasto moment: boogying on top of our neighbours' van to their home-made music with our local beer as some bloke called Jeeves comes up and asks to take photos with us!

Fires are not allowed in the field, but Matt and Karen circumvent this by having a “bbq” which is purely used as a fire. We sat round this, as the boys tucked into the breakfast supplies, making bacon and egg muffins for everyone.

The night was drawing in, so at my instigation it was back in to the site to have a look around. Still nothing much happening, but good to see the Pyramid with its lights in test mode, flashing about and occasionally blinding anyone standing in front of it.

Pyramid lights

Alex had a connection with someone organising a party in the Dirty Boots venue, and completely by chance we stumbled across it. More strangely, Lewis knew a couple of the girls working in the bar there from school, though sadly not well enough to get us free beer! Small world...

Dirty Boots party going on strong

We finished the night in a venue called Chai Wallas, a funky tent serving up shots and chai tea with various naughty additions - I think we had some with brandy in it. The music was quite good too..

Singing or in pain?

Chai Wallas

Back to camper and an "early to bed".. lots to come still!

Sam’s Glasto 2009 Blog Index: Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday Sunday Monday
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Hadar Manor said...

Was surfing the net and randomly came to your Blog (via Avalon Cafe) and spotted myself on stage in the picture, singing backing vocals for Vashti:) Just thought it's funny.
All the best,

Unknown said...

Hey, just been reading your blog as we're taking our new campervan to Glastonbury this year. Great little read! Cheers, Alex

rob at campevans australia said...

I live in Australia but my brother has invited me over for a holiday which will include the Glastonbury festival. Your article has given me more insight into the festival and what can be enjoyed. Thanks.
camper van