Tuesday, 7 July 2015

My probably-too-honest first timers' review of Glastonbury 2015

There's a point where you're standing in a puddle - staring at an overflowing trough of piss and abandoned cider cups whilst wondering what that missed call from your mortgage advisor was about - when you start to wonder if you might be a bit old for this sort of thing.

This was my first Glastonbury, and I'll happily admit I'd been nervous. I like a nice comfy bed, a warm shower and a building with walls to go inside when a biblical-level weather event occurs. I'd been to festivals before. Well, a festival. Latitude. Which was basically Hampstead transposed entirely to a field in Norfolk. They may as well open a Little Waitrose there. So yes, I was anxious about attending the Ultimate Festival.

I thought I was well prepared for Glasto. I'd read all the 'what to take lists'. I'd contemplated all the articles about how to stay stylish in the inevitable mudbath, Kate Moss-esque. I'd ordered nine personal urinal devices and a neon bumbag from Amazon. I had scoured the programme and worked out who I wanted to go and see. I had huge plans to find the cinema showing The Rocky Horror Picture Show at 2.55am one morning. I had a mattress thing that inflated by itself. I had assembled wellies and big rucksacks and sleeping bags from a variety of outdoorsy friends. But I was not prepared.

Glastonbury is overwhelming - the size, the scale, the noise, the crowds. It's incredible, it's emotional, it's awe-inspiring and, honestly, it can be pretty tough at times. You'll walk miles and you'll get soaked to the skin and you'll wake up hot and hungover every morning, sometimes even in your own tent.

You first glimpse this temporary city over farmhouse roofs and betwixt garden hedges as you wind along rural roads, wondering what on earth people who live round here must think of it all as the millionth National Express coach troops past their humble abode. You start to understand as you stand in a giant queue while a potentially-stoned man carefully matches your face to the one on your ticket.

But you can't fully comprehend the scale until you get inside and up high - standing by the Strummerville area up on the hill and looking across the entire site as the sun sets is genuinely awe-inspiring. There are more people in this valley for the weekend than live in the city I was born in. There's enough food and drink to cater for a small country. There are a hundred stages, hospitals, universities, people making things, people getting married, a bloody newspaper press, people getting drunk and people having the time of their lives, everywhere you look.

We'd opted for the posh package and paid extra for a pre-erected tent ('You're glamping?', asked incredulous Glasto regulars before departing - not quite: we weren't even in a yurt, darling) in Worthy View, the campsite just outside the main festival arena which had a slightly calmer ambience for those who aren't so keen to pitch up next to the Pyramid Stage (which is kind of possible - unlike most festivals, you camp basically anywhere). Although our tent was still full of rain when we arrived, because after all it was, you know, outdoors.

Worthy View is up a hill (the ominously-named Hill of Hell) which isn't too bad to descend but a bit of a killer to contemplate climbing at 3am. But - what a view. It was from the Hill O' Hell, tramping down excitedly to the Park Stage to meet our friend (dressed as a king and celebrating his 30th, obviously) that we first took in the whole thing.

The good bits?

The atmosphere is electric. It can't not be, with over a hundred thousand people leaping around having the time of their lives. There's a sense of community, a shared desire to abandon our usual office-based lives and absorb ourselves in this new world for a long weekend.

Booze - you can take your own. We did. You know those boxes of white wine? Take the cardboard off, stick it in the freezer - next day you have three bottles' worth of the deliciously chilled nectar to carry about with you. Top tip for you there. Pour a bottle of Smirniff into a litre Coke bottle. Take what you like! Take plastic cups though. If you don't, there's a bar under every tree and in every corner.

Food - there is anything you could ever want. You want crumpets at 4am? Fine. Lemon meringue pie in the rain? Sure. Get in the queue*.

The entertainment. Where to begin? Where else can you see that much stuff? Abandon the map - we tried to find something specific for about an hour but instead ended up spending a not-inconsiderable-session dancing by an ice-cream van to a Yiddish jazz quartet.

Plan to see one or two things a day and then let the Festival sweep you away. My favourite experience was choosing a stage and staying put for several hours - moving only to fetch more cider or partake in the fabled Glastonbury Toilet Experience - and taking in everything that appeared on stage and all around you. Or stumbling into a marquee and listening to a newly discovered singer, or dashing to a nightclub and donning a sticky moustache donated by a drag queen because you just heard a rumour that Bananarama were playing a secret gig inside (lies!). Boy George with Mark Ronson? Amazing. Mary J Blige doing angry squats in stiletto heels to 'No More Drama' in the pissing rain? Unforgettable!

The hard bits?

You are at the mercy of the weather. We had two days of glorious sunshine (hello my friend Factor 50) punctuated with a few hours of rain - but that brief storm combined with thousands of plodding feet churns up the ground, so prolonged rain leads to instant mud [I've been rightly admonished by a survivor of 2007 that this year's storm can't be described as creating anything close to a mudbath].
So, take wellies. I felt my spirits plummet as the rain dribbled under the hood of my flimsy binliner-chic poncho and down my back whilst my halloumi wrap slowly disintegrated in my wrinkled hand. But, of course, like a vision, the clouds moved on and the sun came out again and on we danced.

*Queues. There are more people here than in bloody Oxford, and unlike the good people of Oxford, Glasto citizens all want to do the same thing at the same time, so you'll just have to wait. When an act ends on a main stage, all of those people want to get to the next stage. You'll probably queue to get in the place to start with. You'll certainly queue to get out. You'll queue in your car, or your bus, or at the train station, you'll queue for breakfast, and you'll queue for the loo. Get used to queues. Make friends.

Tiredness. You'll get tired. Even when you finally want to sleep, someone will be having an impromptu rave about a metre from your head with only a sheet of canvas for protection.

The bloody ticket buying admin. Short of hiring a factory of helpers to do this step for you in the style of Veruca Salt trying to find Wonka's golden ticket, all you can do is prepare to battle with the TicketDemons through several rounds of online chaos to buy tickets in the first round. Then your inevitably jealous ticketless mates will need your help in the impromptu resales every month thereafter.

Anyway, I'm so glad I went to Glastonbury. I came home exhausted and filthy and desperately craving broccoli but I had an amazing time with friends that I won't forget in a hurry. I'm not convinced it changed my life or made me a lifelong Glasto junkie, but it was definitely one of those things that everybody should do at least once.

Will I go back? Ask me next year. If I don't? I'll be watching the highlights on telly. In a warm bed. Near a toilet. With no queues. Possibly wearing a poncho, for atmosphere.

Finally, here are my GLASTO TOP TIPS!

  • Take booze in the lightest form you can. Distill it into plastic containers. Frozen white wine stays cold for ages! Take empty bottles so you can carry it round a bit at a time. 
  • Even if next June looks set to be hotter than the Sahara, take all the waterproof gear you can get hold of, because one downpour turns the ground to liquid which gets churned up for the rest of the weekend. Wellies and a raincoat with a hood are a minimum. 
  • Wet wipes and hand sanitiser. Just take them. Honestly.
  • Buy a £14 Nokia phone off Amazon. Mine lasted the whole five days. You probably won't be arsed to faff about with chargers, the internet signal is crap anyway, and you'll probably drop it into some mud or worse.
  • Don't take more stuff than you need. You don't need six complete outfit changes. You will soon start to smell anyway, as will everyone else. Wet wipes, my friend.
  • Eye mask, ear plugs, mini torch, bin bags to sit on. Those little personal packets of tissues.
  • Don't plan a full itinerary for the whole festival. Pick one or two things you want to see each day, with at least an hour between them, and see what happens.
  • If you're going on a bus, take snacks. You could be on it for some time. And leave early on your last day, because everyone else is going in the same direction. The shuttle buses between Worthy View and the coach park are basically an urban legend so just walk.
  • Don't buy stuff unless you'll use it again - there were so many abandoned tents and sleeping bags - the rumour they all get collected for charity isn't true and it's a massive waste. Borrow stuff or stay in Worthy View.
  • Seriously though, Worthy View is a good option if you want to have somewhere a little bit removed from the madness - it's a bit less chaotic, there are toilets that get cleaned regularly, and there's even a bar, cafe and shop. We didn't drive but it does have its own car park which is handy if you bring lots of heavy stuff in the car (i.e. alcohol),
  • Invest in a bumbag. Seriously. I'm considering wearing one in my day-to-day life.

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