Saturday, 6 July 2013

Glastonbury Gas! Gas! Gas! Part 3

Saturday morning and a quick twitch of the kitch camper curtains revealed sun!!! Glorious, glaring, Glastonbury sun, warm and happy, transforming everything to smiles and lazy, glinting opportunity.  Earth baked, not churned, skin caressed, not soaked, kaleidoscope colours vivid, not dull and grey. Everything transformed to the best it can be. A vivid version of psychedelic perfection. Shining just for us, blessing us with delirious warmth. There's no way I would have enjoyed things nearly as much without the sun.

Us Brits all endure long, cruel, winters with a kind of steely resolve, but if you're ill it becomes a battle of survival. Aches duller, pains more intense, fatigue more crushing with every grey, damp day. Harder to get out of bed, then harder to manage any pretence of life if you do. Cold seeps into muscles and bones, amplifying every shooting spasm. We hibernate, us poorly people, our social media family-friends becoming ever more important as days drag by in freezing, draining, unremitting grey.

Like sunflowers, we stretch and smile towards those first rays of summer, becoming stronger, brighter, happier. Take the joy you feel and multiply it by a hundred days of fear and hopeless acceptance.

I took my faithful blankie and stretched out cat-like on the grass, letting the warmth seep into aching bones, tiny denim shorts and silk halter neck allowing the warm breeze to gently search out skin like summer shocks.

Dave made bacon sarnies and fetched tea while I gently roasted. Neighbours emerged from canvas to chat and stretch, mugs of tea and toothbrushes in hand. Overnight, tents had been pitched on every spare inch of our field. A cow tent just inches from our boot, an awning jutting onto our driver's window.

I giggled at hangovers, smug as only one quite accustomed to feeling like death in the mornings can be.

In the green room, John Humphreys held court as journalists do. So familiar, yet strangely distant from us all. Ricky Tomlinson burst in, louder and larger than life. (I resisted the urge to beg him to say "My arse" but it was tough!) We were soon hustled on stage, back to the comfy leather Chesterfields and Humphreys fired the starting gun. Ricky burst into righteous anger, ranting about his treatment as a young builder years ago. He was arrested for striking back then, a larger than life warning of why we have to fight for what few rights we have left. A real life miner from the miners strikes - Ironically named Mr Strike reminded us just what happens when the state crushes the people. Flanked by union officials, PCS (Mark Serwotka) to my right, NUT to my left, I listened with no burning urge to butt in.

Humphreys assured us he was playing "devil's advocate" as he sneered and diminished, though nothing convinced me it was particularly devillish or all that advocatey.

When my turn came, I pointed out that "Union" meant coming together. Whether you paid subs to an official body, or like the Spartacus movement, came together voluntarily to oppose a great injustice, without "Unity" there is no opposition. It is only if we come together to show our will, the strength of our voices, the passion and determination to achieve change that we can ever win. Again, I got resounding applause and with relief, left the rest of the union debates to those firebrand men of my youth.

As Humphreys called thing to a close, I felt the adrenaline and energy of the last 48 hours seep away. I started to shake, I could barely get off the stage. Dave asked me questions but I answered slowly, as though from behind glass. I didn't know the answers, could barely make out the questions. He took me back to the camper, and tucked me into bed, quite accustomed to seeing the shell that is left of me when everyone else has turned away. I slept immediately despite the beats from every stage pumping in time with my blood.

An hour later, Dave woke me with tea and back to myself, we sat in the sun and smoked. As we chatted, I suddenly heard an oh-so-familiar voice, drift across the decades to my today "What a good year for the roooooses...." I squealed? ELVIS COSTELLO???? You didn't tell me he was playing!!! (Always blame the keeper of the Glastonbury app) We rushed into action and Dave attempted to rush my wheelchair through legions of happy bodies towards an icon of iconic proportions. The pyramid stage was busy, already thousands taking their places for the "main event." The Stones would be playing later and no-one was taking any chances. We "Excuse me'd" past languid bodies, beer drenched music-zombies and entwined lovers as "Oliver's Army" made a sea of humanity sing and bounce as one.

The viewing platform was already full. We'd been told that if we were to stand any chance of getting a spot for the Stones, we'd need to be there hours early. Dave is a HUGE Stones fan and no matter what may come, I knew I had to make sure he saw them. It was only 5.30 and they weren't due to finish til nearly midnight. 6 and a half hours on a viewing platform to see a band I don't really like much. But I like Dave. A lot. He's been through through the year from hell, never ever letting me down, managing whatever horrors life threw at us with a quiet care. If I could give him the Stones at Glastonbury, nothing would stop me.

Costello played on and stewards cleared space on the platform for more wheelchairs. The joyous sign language interpreters were there again, even more beautifully abandoned. More and more sick and disabled people arrived, thrilled and breathless with excitement. Stewards asked able bodied carers if they would stand at the sides to make way for more wheelchairs. Like Jesus turning the loaves and fishes into a feast, they somehow kept squeezing us forward, rearranging and cajoling until the platform was as crammed as the fields stretching away endlessly to every side of us.

Primal Scream played next. I thought I didn't like them, remembering wrongly the trancey noise of the Chemical Brothers. As they started to play, I began to think I might survive the 6 hours after all. They rocked, the lead singer slithering with languid Rock Star charisma, banged out tunes from my nineties youth. Spliffs were passed up and down the platform, whiskey flasks were shared, wine was poured from boxes designed to last the night. How very liberating to live, just for a few days in a world where pain relief is allowed, morning noon and night.

Dave fetched me a curry and some churros, sweet with cinnamon sugar. Dear God, when I die, can this be what heaven's like please? I had a sneaky suspicion the same plea was muttered by every individual making up a crowd so large it took your breath away. On distant hillsides, to the left, the right, behind and in front, people surged towards the Pyramid fields in numbers so vast it made me dizzy.

There was a long wait between acts for the Stones to take to the stage. But the sun shone and the atmosphere was all festival abandon and tipsy tolerance. A carer trying to make her way back to the disabled platform with vital meds got stuck in the crowds. In desperation she explained to a group of sunburnt lads who cleared the way like Moses parting the red sea. Shouts of "Let her through" illustrated the unity I'd tried to define just hours before.

It got chillier and more charged as the PA system teased with the promise of Rock Legends. At last, in a blaze of fireworks and light, Jumping Jack Flash blared out and for a moment we were all fans. A playlist so iconic could only unite in a way politics never could. We jigged and sang, as Mick strutted his 70 year old stuff like a preserved gazelle.

The early intensity gave way to musical riffs and lyrical twiddly-wank that lost me a little in the middle. I giggled at private jokes as the old boys had to take rests, cunningly disguised with guest musos and long bridges, but even I had to admit that they still "had it". As the lull took hold I looked out over the seething mass of bodies and suddenly turned cold. THIS is what 170,000 people look like!!! I'd spent the last three years trying to show the UK public what 500,000 people looked like. The number of disabled people who would soon lose everything under Tory "reforms". I felt sick. 4 TIMES as many people would soon be housebound, abandoned by the ignorant ideology of a tiny elite. I tweeted some crowd shots and tried to capture the rage I felt. To harness it and share it with a public as yet unconcerned.

The set drew to a close and "Jumping Jack Flash" brought us all back to why we were there. We were watching the Stones. At Glastonbury. It might be the last big gig they do together. 170,000 people sang and bounced as one.

Trying to leave the fields in a wheelchair was tricky. So many people, all surging in one direction, we were swept along, jostled and pushed from every side. But somehow it didn't matter. High on the drug of 1000 amps, we shuffled patiently towards freedom.

High on life, something convinced me it was a good idea to search out MORE fun. It was hours since I'd eaten and a cheeky little tapas stand offering chorizo stew and cous cous salad beckoned. It seemed like such a good idea at the time. As did the mojitos tempting like harlots from a crowded jazz bar.

We squeezed the last moments of fun from the day as it seeped away from us. Temptation caught up with me and exhausted, sick but triumphant, Dave pushed me back to bed........

Continued tomorrow......


  1. Felt I was there so descriptive. Spot on about the grayness versus the sun.

  2. Oh, the joy of it! ;o) (& yay for the faithful blankie!)

  3. Jan, tis now a little grass speckled but I think it adds to the personality ;)

  4. pushing a wheelchair across grass and mud is no mean feat - so my boyfriend tells me - so glad you had such a brill time - your descriptions are brilliant - my favourite being 'Mick Jagger strutting his stuff like a preserved gazelle' lol!! genius :D

  5. I heard Elvis Costello at Glastonbury in 1989! (He had a crazy monologue about God and a TV set covered in fur.)

  6. No one wrings tears out of my eyes quite like you Sue. Happy tears, sad tears - it doesn't matter. Your paragraphs about the way us Spoonies change in the summer ring all too true for me. I'm SO glad you had a fantastic time and are well enough to share it with us.

  7. You made me feel as if I was there with you. I could picture it all so clearly. I'm so glad you had such a wonderful time, you deserve some fun :-)

  8. Have so enjoyed reading your adventures of Glastonbury and so pleased that your body behaved enough for you to enjoy being there;-)
    As for meeting Billy Bragg, Ricky Tomlinson et al....
    Plus I'm so happy for Dave seeing the Stones

  9. 'Mick strutted his 70 year old stuff like a preserved gazelle' love this imagery ...and so apt ...glastonbury is awesome .