At a festival, you live by the sword, and you die by the sword. Just take the tale of the fabled ‘Poo Girl’, for example. It’s a sad story involving a 19-year-old Specsavers apprentice named Charlotte Taylor who tragically lost sight of where to park her handbag in the infamous Leeds Festival toilets. This treasured receptacle of literally everything she had and needed for the next few days went plummeting into a river of stink. It was a khazi catastrophe for the ages, and this brown spot of despair was set to get a whole lot worse.
Taylor tried to fetch the soiled bag out of the cascade of crap but ended up wedged in 500 yards of shit-smelling foulness that only Andy Dufresne of The Shawshank Redemption could relate to. As I say, when it comes to festivals, you live by the sword, and you well and truly die by the sword. Keep that in mind as we weave through the lore of the mystic Somerset land and look ahead to this year’s festivities in this guide on how to avoid the accursed FOMO…
This weekend, Glastonbury Festival returns for its 50th anniversary after two years of pandemic-induced delays. During those dark days of lockdown, when old concert footage of thousands of people sharing the same sweat proved bewildering – like Victorians watching footage of moving trains and diving out of the way – and images of incumbently forbidden ‘good times’ were tainted with the hue of frustrated yearning—it was this golden moment that we were dreaming of.
Shots of Glastonbury’s gone-by attempted to conquer any lingering touch of ‘what-could-be’ with a big bastard bludgeon of hope—hope that live shows would be back before we knew it and when they fatefully returned, they would be vivified and re-energised as the masses poured into music venues clutching ticket stubs in a grateful grasp of gladdened appreciation, like the formerly beleaguered Dobby with some shitty-shotty sock.
All those beaming faces under Glastonbury noonday suns of old broke up the malaise of monitoring neighbour’s takeaway habits and falling in love with kindly heroes delivering day-brightening parcels. They depicted a humanised utopia where strangers hugged, Al Green sang like an angel, and warm cups of beer sailed through the air drenching parched souls with blessed amber rain.
Now, that moment is upon us, and I am not one of Far Out’s foolhardy folks on the ground at the festival. At first, that realisation came with a certain sense of dread. These travellers will return and the office will be abuzz with highfalutin chat of ‘the greatest day ever’ and other triumphs over the grind.
However, this FOMO soon abated, when I thought back to the many festivals I have been to in the past and I eyed the forming wrinkles reflected back at me on a sun-blinded laptop screen. For I will be watching the highlights from home with a shit-eating grin on my face, a cold drink in my grasp, and a toilet – a pristine, porcelain, pearly white toilet within spitting distance – and a freshly made bed just beyond that.
The BBC depiction will be of an orgiastic melee of humanity at its peak. Primordial realities will be brought to the fore by an almost forgotten ‘80s star who is suddenly transfigured into a God-figured when welcomed out by a career-reviving friend. Peace, love and epiphanies will mark the pinnacle of communal civility as an 80-year-old Paul McCartney transubstantiates on stage to a volley of ‘Hey Jude’ which makes lockdown seem like it was made for the sake of this momentary rhapsodic salvation and ‘Macca’ is instantly canonised as a saint—the ‘bigger than Jesus’ thing long forgotten in the eyes of a Pope up to the eyeballs in wine with a Pet Shop Boys t-shirt pulled over his regalia.
All the while, I will be at home witnessing this airbrushed miracle, knowing that somewhere, halfway down the muddy hill, Julia, 34, from Colchester, will be tentatively squatting over what can only be described as a hole for shitting through, in such a way that her buttock nervously hovers half a foot above the pit of papa and despair to ensure that no contact is made with the festering foulness. Julia will sadly be suffering from trench foot, a crippling self-awareness of horrendous halitosis, debilitating back pain, and an acute sense of rage brought on by the posh 22-year-old in a cliched morph suit who told her, ‘Cheer up love, it might never happen’.
She will brave the trek up a brown sludge ski slope and all the galivanting drugged-out maniacs and bickering hippy stall owners upon it, to arrive amid the sort of gargantuan mass of people usually reserved for a Manchester Airport queue. Then she will see it: a brief glimpse of Noel Gallagher – fresh from playing the Colchester Odeon just a week ago which she sadly didn’t attend – before a giant flag saying, ‘I Love Sausages’ (or hopefully ‘Head Like a Fucking Orange’) wafts into her line of vision. Julia will question her life choices amid a downpour that is anything but heavenly.
Meanwhile, I’ll think about returning to the leftover poppadoms and lime pickle—content, clean, dry, fed and drunken, tapping my toes along to the HD, audio-polished performances being piped into my living room. I will be smiling, for I know that for every epiphany there is a poo girl, for every Paul McCartney there is a prat dressed as a pirate trying to get you to slide through the mud, and for every stupefying, life-affirming, banality-eviscerating sight, there is a lost phone and a flat £6 pint waiting for some prick to knock it out of your hand and not say sorry because ‘these things happen at Glasto’.
But beyond my own smug satisfaction will be a spiritual realisation that the brilliance of bygone festivals in my life have imparted—there will be folks in that crowd in a moment of arm-in-arm chanted bliss that will form a life-lasting memory. Future couples will meet in a moment of cosmic happenstance amid the strange mosh pits that form at near-acoustic gigs. A pissed-up man will laugh his cap off at a sight so maddening that he won’t know if he dreamt it in the morning.
There’ll be Kendrick Lamar converts and contented folks who inadvertently never left the circus tent and didn’t regret it one bit. There will be the sort of humanised bliss that makes the world go around and turns cheesy Instagram quotes into sincerely cherished tattoos.
There’ll be a whole lot of that thing that catches in the throat of the British: ahem… Love. And there’ll be Julia in amongst it hoping beyond hope to somehow be teleported back to Colchester, and me on the sofa secretly pining to be there despite everything I’ve said about ‘being too old for this shit’. For it is the lore of the land that at festivals you live by the sword, and you die by the sword.