The moment I walked into the caravan, it felt like being upgraded to first class. A comfortable double bed, bunks for kids, an attached loo and a kitchen; in the context of how people survive during the four nights at the Glastonbury Festival, this was a boot up. And with an 18-month-old son, I wasn’t complaining.
For those who might not know what the Glastonbury Festival is, a quick roundup. It is the world’s biggest pop extravaganza, and this year, nearly 200,000 people turned up in the fields of Somerset to watch Kanye West along with 10,000 other artists. Started in 1970 when 1,500 punters gathered to watch T. Rex for the princely sum of a pound (a pint of milk included), the festival today is spread over 1200 acres of land, has a fence that runs for over three miles around it and seems to grow in size each year. There are not many musical icons who will not sack their managers for failing to list them on the Glastonbury lineup. Consider this: the Rolling Stones, rock’s most successful act, headlining last year, expressed their relief thus: Glastonbury. It has been 40 years. About time. About bloody time.
Now the flip side of a festival of this size is the unbelievable mess. 2,00,000 people mean a 1,00,000 tents, some 30,000 portable toilets, bathing stations, a few thousand food outlets and unaccountable litres of booze and unmentionable quantities of banned substances. While I had previously enjoyed the feral nature of human beings, it was not something I was looking forward to with a child.
Dropcap OnSo when Georgie walked me into this luxurious caravan, right next to the Theatre and Circus Field, I was overjoyed and relieved. The rains won’t matter, we had a solid roof over our heads; being in the centre meant we wouldn’t have to traverse long distances to watch back to back gigs and, if we drew back the curtains, we could watch a few of the circus acts from our safe environs. What could go wrong?
We had arrived on Tuesday night, two days before the main gates would open to the revelers. Georgie, as she has done for the past few years, was working on the festival newspaper, and we were thus allowed an early entry. Our caravan was set next to the Free Press Tent, which also boasted of a stunningly beautiful manual Heidelberg printing machine. The newspapers, 20,000 copies of them, were to be printed on this.
The noise was incredible and Georgie and I sat cooped in our small, enclosed space as our boy slept peacefully through it, from 9 p.m. until 9 a.m. each night.
My first sense of disquiet started from here. I have worked in newspapers when printing used to take place on site, and one thing I know about old-fashioned machines is that they are noisy. I confirmed with Georgie that indeed the trial runs of the print would start that night and, yes, the copies would go to print after 12 p.m. through the week.
As the week panned out, I longed for the soporific din of the printing press. I could barely hear it over the drum and bass from six different stages, two rock concerts, a circus performing right outside the caravan and a small acoustic stage at the back. The noise was incredible and Georgie and I sat cooped in our small, enclosed space as our boy slept peacefully through it, from 9 p.m. until 9 a.m. each night. It was sheer torture to have your childhood band, The Who, performing a few hundred metres from where you lay while you could only bother about the noise levels and your child’s sleeping patterns.
The day was spent in the Kid’s Field catering to the young one’s musical whims, from clanging on various drums to trying out a mini violin. The list was endless. We ate child-friendly meals, drank cautiously and smiled encouragingly at other parents. Georgie and I comforted ourselves in the knowledge that if it was bad for us, imagine what it must be like for those parents in tents.
I wonder if those first class travellers ever feel like we did, to be boxed in a cabin, the hoi polloi just outside having the time of their lives screaming down the doors. It must be terribly lonely.
Somnath Batabyal is a backpacking social theorist. When not travelling, he teaches at SOAS, University of London.