Monday, July 13, 2009

Les Vacances: Part I


After a long journey across an ocean, made even longer by an economy seat, I arrived at Heathrow to Paul's smiling face and his friend Nicky's vaguely glum countenance (few people enjoy getting up at 5:30 in the morning, and even fewer enjoy dealing with airlines vis a vis lost luggage!) All was sorted soon enough and we were off on our road trip to the legendary Glastonbury Festival.

Nicky warned me about his backseat, but I brushed him off, assuring him that nothing could be worse than an airplane. He asked me if I had ever fallen asleep in a bucket, because that would approximate my experience over the next three hours. He was not wrong. However, despite the strict confines and the guitar I was buried beneath, I managed to grab a fairly decent snooze, and awoke some time later to pelting rain and this conversation:

Nicky: My friend says the mud is the worst she's ever seen.

Paul: Bloody hell.

Radio: Jo, how's your experience down there at Glastonbury? Rob, in a word, sodden.

Nicky: I'm petrified.

Paul: I hope we don't get trench foot.

For the uninitiated, Glastonbury is a music festival that takes place on a vast expanse of farmland in Southwest England. And, it being in England, heavy rains are quite common. So when you combine rain, dirt and nearly 200,000 people, the mud can get quite epic. We were braced for the worst. Thank god we were not planning to camp.

No, we were among the bourgeois (as my die-hard Glastonbury camper sister informed me), as, thanks to a very generous friend of a friend, we had the use of a lovely English country home for the weekend.

After a bit of confusion on the small country roads, complicated somewhat by the fact that the home in question had no address, we finally found the charming Moorland House.

We drove around back to find sun, green grass

and geese.

Inside we found quite the bewitching home. It was sprawling (in all honesty I am still not sure how many bedrooms there were), perfectly ramshackle

and undeniably quirky.

After a quick shower tutorial (the plumbing was quirky as well) I was refreshed and ready to head off to the mud pit.

We piled back into the smallest car in creation and set off for the festival.

Now I had heard quite a bit about Glastonbury, but nothing could prepare me for the spectacle once I got there. 175,000 people attended this year, and I would assume, based on my small sampling, that approximately 95% of them camped.

Tents were wedged in cheek by jowl, giving the place the look of a refugee camp. The mud was ankle deep, only amplifying the shanty town effect, and yet everyone was joyful. In addition to the five or so large stages, there were multiple tents dotted throughout the site with music emanating from them, food stalls, clothing stalls, camping supplies stalls along makeshift boulevards. It truly was a temporary city.

After a forty-five minute walk across the site with backpacks, instruments and pedals, we were relieved of our load, reunited with friends and adorned with various passes which, perhaps most importantly, gave us access to flush toilets unsullied by the masses.

The rest of the day was largely spent orienting ourselves, marveling at the variety of wellies (Jimmy Choo? Really?), locating said flush toilets and drinking cider, which is apparently the lifeblood of English music festivals. And for good was delicious!

As evening fell, a certain band signed a certain record deal, and was interrupted only once by a half clothed drug addled music fan with a rubber duck tied to his pants. He offered to draw the band something in celebration and suggested using the back of one of the contracts. Nicky, ever the lawyer, suggested he provide his own paper and pen.

We somehow missed Lady Gaga's performance (perhaps the cider and lovely grass were to blame?), which was disappointing as her flaming breasts were the talk of the festival, but the night ended with an appropriately mellow set by Neil Young on the Pyramid Stage. And after a terrifying ride home (the English countryside is DARK, and we were temporarily LOST) we all collapsed into bed.

Paul finally roused me the next morning around 11:00, and I awoke to brilliant sunshine. Upon seeing my wellies in the mud room,

I was immediately pleased with my decision to lug them all the way across the Atlantic. You should keep in mind that this is what they looked like after being "cleaned" as I walked through a damp meadow for ages the night before on the way to the car.

Nicky and Paul were equally grateful for theirs:

Well rested and basking in the sunshine, our moods were buoyant. It was top down weather,

and the view was beautiful.

Arriving a bit late to the site, we spent much of the early afternoon lazing around the hospitality area. I personally spent more time than was probably warranted wondering why there were so many absurdly chic fourteen year olds hanging out back there.

And then someone mentioned that they had seen a young Jagger offspring lolling about and it hit me...children of rockstars! Oh so much more fashionable than the average teenager.

Finally, after chatting away with some old friends of Paul's from London, we roused ourselves to go see an actual band. Gaslight Anthem was first on the list, and what a first it was.

We arrived just as they were going onstage, and who was their guest performer but Bruce Springsteen! He apparently had called them about 15 minutes before they were to go on and asked to get up with them. I suppose to support his fellow New Jersey musicians? And like the gentleman he is, Mr. Springsteen stayed to watch the entire set.

I promise, that's him with the glasses. As we were banned from his area so he could enjoy some peace, the photo is from a fair distance away across the stage.

The rest of the evening was a blur of people, mud, music and medieval battle field style flags.

I liked the flags, but I can't imagine why one would carry something that cumbersome around for three days straight. But we kept seeing the same ones nevertheless, the oddest being a staff carrying both the California flag and the flag for the British soccer team Everton. It takes all sorts I suppose.

The evening ended with Bruce Springsteen playing at the Pyramid Stage. I realize now that I came to a very important conclusion that day: I'm not a Bruce fan. I know he's the nicest guy there is, I know he's beloved across the country, but I just couldn't get into it.

Sunday, the third and last day, was a momentous one as it marked the first day at Glastonbury that we didn't have to wear wellies. Paul was particularly happy, as the pair he had picked up for eight pounds were not, strictly speaking, quite big enough to comfortably fit his size 15 feet. This day also marked the moment that I discovered I could drive stick shift with my left hand. On tiny country roads with no shoulder to speak of. It was quite the revelation. Sadly, Nicky and his tiny car had headed back to London early to catch Bruce's show in Hyde Park that afternoon so although I was out of the bucket, I was now the designated wrong side of the road driver.

After a tiny bit of hoopla with the car we arrived just in time to see the new, talk-of-the-festival band blow the top off Glastonbury.

This characterization is of course totally unbiased, and has nothing to do with the fact that Paul manages them. But in all seriousness they were fantastic, and this was a great start to their UK tour (and the radio play they got on BBC that week didn't hurt either).

After lunch in the catering tent it was back to wandering, dipping in and out of shows, eating unnecessary quantities of food and reuniting with long lost friends.

After watching Madness and Tom Jones, both excellent, we repaired to hospitality to prepare ourselves for the great Blur, the final band of the festival.

There had been talk of us being able to watch from the side of the stage, but in the end this was our view:

Only 100,000 people between us and the stage. But regardless, both Paul and I were still completely blown away by them. And I came to important conclusion number two of the weekend: I am a massive Blur fan. As Paul says, it's no wonder no one buys music anymore, no new bands are nearly as good as the likes of Blur!

So sadly, and then again perhaps not so sadly, our Glastonbury weekend was over. No more music, no more cider, no more Pimm's (very sad), no more mud, no more unwashed masses.

To ease ourselves back into city life, we took a detour (considerably longer than expected) on the way back to London:

The upshot? Smaller than expected, there is still nothing known about the who, why and how of the thing and yet it was extremely cool nevertheless. After taking it in, we were back on the road to London...


The Cottage Cheese said...

Wow, looks like fabulous fun in Glastonbury! The Wellies look like a must ;) We have a huge festival about two hours up the road from me called Bonnaroo. I haven't braved the crowds yet, but every year I'm tempted by the incredibly long band list, many of my favorites!

Laura [What I Like] said...

Ah yes, I've heard that Bonnaroo is just the best time. Hopefully I'll have an excuse to make it down there next year!

Terry B said...

What a wonderful post, Laura! Made me feel like I was right there without having to muck through all the mud. And I'm with you on Springsteen. There are a few of his songs that I dearly love, but beyond that, he just doesn't do it for me. Looking forward to Part II--and however many parts follow.

wambalus said...

I love the flags - I remember a lull between bands and the whole waiting crowd cheering on a duel between a pigeon on a stick and a toy hulk on a stick. Not a sight you see every day.

And yes, blur are awesome. Damon Albarn more so.

pve design said...

nice muddy memories....

Laura [What I Like] said...

Terry B - Thanks for the Springsteen support...I felt like I was going out on a limb with that one.

Robin - Now that I have been to Glastonbury, I can safely say that that story is so very Glastonbury.

PVE - You have no idea...

A World in a PAN said...

I have been vacationing with you .. in reverse. Wow, you've been to so many places while I was busy away not reading your blog. Great holiday.

Kristen M. said...

Sounds like a once in a lifetime experience! And I would have loved to see Blur.

Blog Widget by LinkWithin