Saturday, June 26, 2010
Dead and Glastonburyed...
Well that didn’t quite work out as expected. In my last post I alluded to a little ‘adventure’ that I was going on. That 'adventure' was Glastonbury, a festival that I’ve had a bit of a love / hate relationship with over the years. Our last Glasto was 2007. Predictably it rained, the coach service to and from the site was, quite frankly, a disaster (it left Birmingham about 5 hours late, getting us onto site just after midnight...the perfect time to put up your tent eh?) and I was somewhat perturbed by the corporate gloss that seemed to be pervading the place. Consequently I gave Glasto 2008 and 2009 a miss and had done the same for 2010...or so I thought. Then the chance came to work at the festival in return for entry. I’d heard about these deals before. It seemed a pretty good opportunity to me. Get in to see the festival, get paid a few quid and camp in a cleaner, quieter part of the site with three square meals a day. So I signed up.
Details of the exact nature of the role were sketchy to say the least. I knew there could be long shifts but, perhaps foolishly, I assumed they would be on site so I could see and hear the odd bit of music. Oh how wrong can a poor boy be? The company we were working for (they subcontracted us out to another company) are based in Portsmouth so me and Lady B were picked up by minibus along with a mixture of ‘experienced’ security staff (tattoos, shaved heads, muscles), West Africans and students / recent graduates. After a couple of hours we arrived at Fortress Glastonbury for around 6pm and all dutifully stood in line to get a number for our tent, a number for ourselves and our kit (tabard, fleece, waterproof and baseball cap)along with the oh so precious wristband. It was, I imagine, not unlike your first day in prison. We had a briefing in at 11pm (a PowerPoint presentation that basically told us not to kill anyone or let anyone kill us) then retired to our tents for midnight with instructions to show up for duty at 7.30am. By this stage I was still unsure of what we’d be doing...and where. Awoke (I say awoke but I don’t really ever sleep well in a tent) at around 5am then tossed and turned for an hour before wriggling into my kit (once again we took a tent that’s far too small for a skinny midget contortionist never mind a pair of healthy adults with a penchant for kebabs and cider) and traipsing off to queue for breakfast (a typical greasy spoon full English...sort of...). More standing in line to sign on which involved being photographed wearing our tabard, invoking the sort of feeling that suspects no doubt feel when they have to pose with those numbers for their mug shots. Then back in another queue to be given our duties. Ahh. This is where things started to go wrong. It turned out that the company we were working for seemed to mainly cover the perimeter of the site. If you’ve ever been to Glastonbury you’ll know that this is a huge area, probably a good mile away from the action. Myself and Lady B were given radios then plonked on a minibus and driven out to our posts. Lady B had the Camper Van and Caravan gate and was given some vague instructions about checking vehicles had the right stickers on their windows. I was put on the Camp Kerala gate (this is where all the posh folk go to stay in their £7,500 yurts with hot and cold running butlers). It was 7.56 am. Our shift finished at 8pm. That’s 12 hours. For the first hour or so it was quiet. In fact my gate was dead as a doornail (which, given the fact that this was Wednesday and Camp Kerala didn’t open for business until Thursday, wasn’t really a huge surprise). Not wanting to stand around for 12 hours doing bugger all I approached one of the supervisors and asked if I could help out marshalling the huge volume of camper vans that were now flooding into the field and out into the road, stopping other traffic from moving through the site. He didn’t seem impressed with my suggestion and spoke to me like I was some sort of simpleton. Nice attitude there my friend. I went back to my post for a bit before taking an executive decision to help out Lady B who was by now being swamped by an endless stream of vans throwing up a choking cloud of dust and diesel that filled the air (and, no doubt, our lungs). It was now 9am, the sun was baking hot, there was no shade and the nearest standpipe for water was a good half a mile away. Nice. After passing through our gate the vans were being searched for illegal stuff, mainly people, glass bottles and drugs I imagine. This takes time so I wanted to get two of three lines going across the field so we could get people in off the road where they could then be checked out. Mr Supervisor didn’t seem to like my suggestion and stuck to his guns. As a result the road got blocked, tempers flared and, quelle surprise, he was forced to open a second lane. Then a third. Then a fourth. Over our first 12 hour shift we processed around 2,700 vehicles. To say we were knackered would be an understatement. When you’re not used to a physically demanding job (and if you don’t think running around in a field for 12 hours trying not to get flattened by an 80ft house on wheels in 80+ degrees is knackering you try it) pulling off a shift like that ain’t a walk in the park.
Back to our camp in the bus for tea, a quick autopsy on the day (some people seemed to have slightly better posts but it was all pretty grim) and a trudge (it took around 20 minutes I’d say) down to the site for a quick walk around and a restorative pint of cider. It had become blatantly clear to me that, even if we got picked up on time, rammed down out tea, threw off our kit and ran naked down to the site cackling like maniacs we’d still only see a couple of hours of music per day, at best. If you’ve ever been to Glasto you’ll know that you need to get a spot well before the main acts appear if you want a decent view too (or you could be a complete twat and push your way to the front swearing at people as you go, which appears to be the modus operandi for some folk). Add to this the fact that you’ve just done a 12 hour shift in the baking sun after not sleeping and I came to the conclusion that the pluses (being there) were far outweighed by the minuses (er...being there). However, I ain’t a quitter so I resolved to plug away and got stuck into day two. Much the same as day one only hotter and dustier. To relieve the boredom I listened to the radio messages being bandied around. On day one I’d heard a few calls from remote outposts of the site where staff had seemingly been forgotten about. One unfortunate soul had been there for 18 hours! His desperate calls for relief eventually stopped, so either he’d been picked up or died. I’m sure parts of Somerset are littered with the corpes of stewards from previous years, still clutching their radios and waiting for the bus that never comes...
To be fair our bus was always on time and the guy who drove it was a lovely bloke. A lot of people that we met were lovely too. Just ordinary folk working bloody hard to make a living. There were one or two who thought a cheap uniform made them GOD but you get people like that wherever you go. On the evening of day two we wandered down to the site again, by now the crowds had well and truly arrived and you were forced to do the Glasto Shuffle (walk forward an inch, walk to the left an inch, walk to the right an inch repeat until you get to your destination). Tired, jaded and (thanks in my case to poor sunscreen application) burnt, we were curled up in our tent by midnight. Day three came and this is where things reached the limit. With less to do (by now our field was much quieter as most of the vans were already in) apart from stand and frazzle the minutes crawled by. The nadir was reached when we heard, far, far away the sounds of the first bands playing. For a music fan this was torture. AGONY. Even worse than the burning, thirst, dust, blisters, insect bites and aching limbs. Lady B was feeling the heat and roasting alive so I instructed her to go and find some shade whilst I covered both gates. She returned after 20 minutes or so and made it quite clear that she’d had enough. Can’t say I blame her one little bit. By good fortune the supervisor who drove our bus came round in a 4x4 and she had a word with him. He whisked her away to the medical tent for a check up (as she’d had her embolism in January this was a pretty thorough affair too). Happily she was fine, far fitter than most people seemingly, just tired and fed up. There was no way we were going to do another 3 12 hour shifts though and we requested 8 hour slots instead. There were plenty of people doing these so I didn’t see a huge problem. Mindful of the fact that they might think we were trying to pull a fast one and had only agreed to work to get in to the Festival I even offered to work for free if we could just cut our shifts by a few hours. The guy we were working for made it quite clear that this wasn’t an option “If I do it for one person they might all want to do it”, that’s true but I can’t imagine anyone (other than us) willing to work for free for FIVE days so I couldn’t really see his point. His option was for us to have the rest of the day off then come back and work all through the night from 8pm to 8am. Given that we were both knackered and given that this would mean that we’d probably not see or hear a single note we declined. “Alright then, get your stuff and I’ll take you offsite”. That was it. Glastonbury 2010 over and out. Roger that. Roger us more like, Roughly from behind. To be fair to the guy he did drive us to Castle Carey train station and I can appreciate that he must get all kinds of people trying to scam him, but we weren’t two of ‘em. The almost ceremonial snipping off of our wristband (for a music fan that's like having your bollocks chopped off) was a particularly sad and shoddy end to what could have been a great experience.
What has this taught me? Well, I’m sure that many people work the festival for a few hours a day and have a whale of a time. If you can get one of those jobs (I think Oxfam are pretty good) you’ll probably enjoy it more (and you may actually get to see some music). The biggest eye opener of all though is just how many people work behind the scenes for minimum wage in pretty shitty conditions to help keep Glasonbury going. There were hundreds of us and, as I was ushering in the guests to Camp Kerala in their flash cars and designer sunglasses off to sip a glass or two of bubbly whilst they got down to the hip sounds of ‘Snoopy’ Dogg the great divide between the haves and the have nots had never seemed greater. As the event celebrates its 40th birthday I can’t help feeling that the original spirit that made the festival so special is now well and truly Glastonburyed.