1990s >> 1997 >> no-1116-august-1997

A Glastonbury Tale

Camping is not really meant to be enjoyable, but rather more like horror films, a sort of cathartic process from which you only really derive benefit at the end. Camping explains why you work the rest of the year to keep a bloody roof over your head. It’s to remind you of what it was really like to live in an Iron Age village and thank god you don’t have to. It’s the townie’s quick fix, paganism for a weekend, nature-loving all the way to Monday. And it enables every camper to think themselves rugged and outdoorsy, before returning to the ruddy indoors again. And during this ritual self-denial the last thing you expect to do is argue politics.

Glastonbury in a sea of mud is a funny place to be putting the socialist case. For one thing, everyone looks stoned on something, even the coppers. No-one has slept or washed in days and the toilets hum louder than the stage PA system. The myriad colourful stalls are selling, selling, selling at a furious rate while the punters are drinking, drinking, being sick and drinking at no less a pace. But over in the “Green Fields” a different, more sober air obtains. There is a healing field, for the “cosmic” set, and a Green Futures field for the more down-to-earth groups with ecologically-oriented proposals to make about the future, or else nostalgia-oriented proposals dredged up out of the past.

In this latter camp we find the Green Anarchists. Clearly a camping enthusiast, their representative informs us that they are opposed to all modern technology and factory production methods, and looks forward to a society of small self-sufficient farming groups whose every article is handmade by the community. This is interesting, for we note that the gentleman is wearing not only machine-made clothing from head-to-toe. but also spectacles. To the suggestion that he is condemning himself to a life of walking around bollock-naked and banging into trees he is impervious, and responds that he hopes to rely on his friends to guide him from place-to-place. Later they eat baked beans for tea. out of a tin. Using a machine-made tin-opener, naturally.

Another stall reminds us that This Land is Our Land, as in the Woody Guthrie song, but turns out to be a co-op land-reform venture whose most rebellious suggestion appears to be that you hire a good solicitor when buying your acreage. There are lifestylists galore in this most hip of hippy nests, and many too hip to have an opinion.

But not a sign of the Leninists, or the left in general. This inexplicable delight is due apparently to the anarchist leanings of the organisers, who have little sympathy for the authoritarian and leadership ideas which are an almost universal feature of such groups.

Over four days people stream past our stall, and turn, caught in the eddies of others who have stopped at a signboard, paused to write graffiti on our blackboard. We might have fifteen or twenty people in front of the stall, talking, arguing, swapping jokes or experiences, some puzzled and some intrigued by what they seem to see as a controversial statement. Abolish the money and property system? Think what you like, but no-one else is doing or saying that, either in this field or any other. What does it mean? Is it barter-systems they’re after? Surely not. but what then? How would it work? What about lazy people? What about the rich? It can’t be serious. They can’t be for real.

And yet we were there, with a site at the biggest party in the world. They had to take us seriously, and many of them were smiling as they talked, and many were nodding agreement. We may have stood there with wet feet at times, craving the home comforts, but the conversations we had were heart-warming, and that gave us comfort aplenty.

Someone said in a tent: Just imagine if these 150.000 people decided they wanted to stay here for ever, well, they could do it, couldn’t they? People smiled. We are suggesting something similar, but on a larger scale. Festivals may be a form of escapism, but sometimes when people escape it is when they are able to look around themselves and see a little further than usual. And when that happens, some funny ideas are bound to come out. We were lucky to be there. We made an impact. And this is just the beginning.

P. J. Shannon

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