Tuesday, June 29, 2004


Well, it's been nice to read that one or two authors-of-blogs-I-read have had a wonderful time in the Glastonbury mud and are, for all I know, still soaking in a well deserved hot bath and looking forward to next year's festivities.

I remember the first time I went. Back in '77 I think it was, when it was still, very much, a free festival. The problem was, I think, that we were arriving at what was probably the back end of it all and that residents of the area had started kicking up a bit of a fuss at being invaded on a yearly basis by hordes of the great unwashed.

Four of us had planned to hitch down for the solstice but the 'whatever' factor kicked in and we ended up getting a lift from one of our mothers. Very much a case of bugger the credibility, owt for an easy life. Chemically induced apathy, maybe?

Anyway, the closer we got the more acute became our sense of embarrassment...Oh, mama. Just drop me at the third teepee on the left and send James round with the Rolls on Monday, would you?

We also had the added problem of not knowing just where it was going to be. The site shifted from year to year and we had heard that this year was going to be particularly problematic due to local hostility.

We needn't have worried on either count as it happened. We were trolling along rather sedately down one of those country lanes that probably don't exist anymore when we spotted blue helmets bobbing up and down over the hedgerows (which certainly don't exist anymore). When we espied what I believe is called a paddy wagon and it became apparent that the bobbing helmets were policemen on horseback, we told the guy's mother to stop, unloaded all our gear and joined the procession in what we fervently hoped was a nonchalant (and unmotherised) manner from the rear.

Unfortunately, this involved passing through the massed ranks of the local dibble. Now, I didn't believe for one moment that they would strip search us on the verge but for four paranoiacs to be in amongst so much blue serge, it was an uncomfortable experience to say the least. Polite middle class wimps that we were, many an excuse me passed our lips as we manouevred ourselves and our back packs through their midst and it was at this point that my first illusions were rudely shattered. Up to then it had been wholly outside my experience (and also my naiive expectations) that police officers were seemingly at liberty to heartily abuse members of the citizenry.

It was with some sense of relief that we emerged through the vanguard of the rear guard as it were. And then...

I don't know what I had been expecting...some lovey dovey hippy peace and love thing, I suppose but the reality of it was as much of a shock to the system as had been the fucks per minute count in the speech of the constabulary. I mean, this was hard core. This was circa 1977 and 'new age traveller' was not part of the common vocabulary of the time. Dreadlocked and travel worn, animated and aggressive, driving vehicles with no tax disc and in suspiciously unroadworthy condition, these people were totally outside my frame of reference. Several were nursing fresh wounds as a result of clashes with sundry dibbles and the tension was tangible.

We were invited into one of their vans by a thirty something woman and we accepted her hospitality and tea rather guiltily. I'm sure she thought we had hiked it down there rather than get dropped at the door. But maybe not, we must have been so obviously wide eyed and innocent that our pretense of insousiance would have been transparent to all. She was kind though and made us welcome.

An acceptable site was eventually arrived at and we pitched camp. The generator however, did not arrive so the only music on offer over the weekend would be acoustic.

There were a whole lot of kids with the travellers and I remember being impressed by their maturity, their ease with strangers and their communication skills to say nothing of their familiarity with the erection of teepees.

We had a great time and the constant police presence on the periphery never interfered with our enjoyment. I remember being impressed with the travellers' bravery...no, that's the wrong word...dedication maybe. I would go back to my comfortable semi and they would, well...move on, I guess.

But even at the time, I remember thinking that despite their rejection of our society, they all signed on somewhere and could not have existed as a discrete, separate entity, totally 'outside', completely self-sufficient, unreliant on either the DHSS or the NHS and this rather took the shine off it for me. Admirable sentiments maybe, but in practice, hypocritical.

And I think about those kids now. It might not have been easy for their parents to drop out but just how difficult would it be for them to drop in?

Pass the rizlas, Alice.

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