23 Jun 2015

12 things I learned as a Glastonbury virgin

Channel 4 News sent a Glastonbury virgin to last year’s event. We dust off our wellies and his pearls of festival wisdom.

Don’t believe the weather forecast

Leave your wellies behind only if you are comfortable with getting trench foot.

Two weeks before Glastonbury the forecast was for a gloriously sunny festival. Two days before Glastonbury the forecast was for constant rain. Both were wrong. Whatever the forecast is telling you, sun cream and a mac are both festival essentials – unless you are a big fan of the lobster look – very, very red, and very, very wet.

While it is definitely wise to pack for all eventualities, this year’s forecast is looking more promising. Channel 4 News’ Weather presenter Liam Dutton predicts it will start fine, sunny and warm, before an increased risk of showers during Friday and the weekend – but the dry ground should easily soak up any showers.

Practise getting in and out of your wellies

Glastonbury wellies in the mud

It’s 4am, you’ve had one too many shandies, your torch battery is flickering into non-existence, and you face the daunting task of removing your boots and getting into your tent whilst leaving the quagmire resolutely outside. You need to be good at getting those boots off. I was not. It is a bleak moment waking up with a hangover to find your face stuck to your sleeping bag with mud.

Take a stove

Before heading off for my first Glastonbury I asked people on Facebook what items I should take with me. The most resolute advice was to not take a stove. My friends were wrong. The combination of late night partying and copious amounts of cider will, inevitably, lead to a bit of a blurry edge to your mornings (or early afternoons, depending on how hard you hit it). At this point, I genuinely believe a mug of coffee was the only thing to pull me back from the brink of existential despair.

If you’re not travelling light, a trolley of some sort is highly recommended. Avoid on the train though, for 2015 First Great Western has warned Glastonbury-goers, ‘No wheelie bins or shopping trolleys on our trains’.

Go to the toilet when you can

Glastonbury toilets

It is not going to be fun, you might gag a few times, and whatever you do – don’t look down. However, unless you are unwell or have incredible powers of restraint, going to the toilet is going to be a part of your Glastonbury trip. But bear in mind the queue for the loo can be an intimidating sight. If you see a vacant cubicle then take a deep breath and race for it – you don’t know you’ll get a chance like this again.

Smelling like cucumber and mint is awesome

Cucumber and mint

After exiting the seventh circle of hell (the toilet) you are almost certainly going to want to wash your hands. However, the alcohol gel regularly runs out. As a guy, I shunned my colleague’s initial offers of scented hand sanitiser, worrying that it would impinge on my (deluded) sense of machismo. But with no other options I buckled… and it was glorious. Amidst the sweat and mud of Glastonbury, sniffing your hand and smelling cucumber and mint is quite the luxury.

Big act finishes? Leg it

Glastonbury crowd

This lot – heading your way soon…

As your stroll past the Other stage, you hear Azealia Banks belting out the final lines of 212. Or perhaps you’re en route back to the tent, past Florence And The Machine ethereally finishing You’ve Got the Love. What do you do? Wander towards the crowd to have a look? No – fly, you fool.

Azealia and Florence are clearly finishing, and now is the time to turn tail and run away because tens of thousands of people are about to come stampeding towards you in search of beer, food, the toilet, or an amusing feathered hat. Our bus driver told us that Worthy Farm becomes the fourth biggest town in Somerset when Glastonbury comes around – and when major names are performing a lot of that town is crammed into a relatively small space. Get away. Get away now.

Leave the seats back at the tent

Above: chairs – leave them back at your tents

And whilst we are on big sets, time for a rant. Do not take a seat to a headliner – ever. Stumbling through Arcade Fire I saw countless empty seats. An empty seat at Glastonbury is no longer a seat, it is a low down obstacle ideal for tripping people over as they stumble through the crowded darkness, replacing any sense of hippie-euphoria they had been enjoying with a face full of mud. Not cool.

Don’t buy food from a stall that doesn’t display its prices loud and proud

Glastonbury has so much diverse, wonderful food – but the prices can vary. Some stalls tell you how much the food is out the front, others do not. In my experience, these are the stalls where the price is a little higher, but if you’ve been queueing for 20 minutes for a noodle-based wonder, it is difficult to leave empty handed, even if it is costing you the wrong side of a tenner.

Hello halloumi


Above: Halloumi = Glastonbury superfood

And on the point of food, from reading Glastonbury advice articles before the event, it appears to be customary to recommend a particular vendor. For me it is definitely the halloumi cone people (to the left of the Pyramid stage as you are looking at it). The staff were funny and the food was awesome (and not too expensive). If you need more justification, halloumi is high in protein and salt – both of which will help you recover from a night throwing shapes to Hot Chip.

Arranging a meet-up? Go back to the 90s

Blue face sign at Glastonbury

Above: “I’ll meet you by the lady with the blue face”

Mobile phones are a wonderful invention, not least for arranging to meet up with friends. Not at Glastonbury though. Depending on your network, texts disappear in the rolling valleys of Somerset, only to re-emerge after an hour of waiting for your buddy by the cider bus. This is unlikely to change despite 2015 sponsor EE promising 4G wifi hotspots and a ‘Charging Bull’.

If you are arranging to meet a friend you are going to need to rely on the skills of the pre-mobile phone generation – setting a time and a place in advance. And don’t think telling your friend that you’ll meet them “halfway up, to the left” at Jamie xx is going to work. You’re going to need to employ specifics – “By the sound stage, middle speaker, behind the Greece flag, to the left of a man with a Pacman sign and to the right of the glowing jellyfish umbrella” is much more effective.

Go and explore


Above: does it get any better than giant flaming metal insects?

The Who, Pharrell Williams, Paloma Faith, Lionel Richie – there were plenty of reasons to hang around the main stages. But what makes Glastonbury different to so many other festivals (so I was told by more experienced festival-goers) is the amount of stuff going on elsewhere across the site. In one evening I saw a giant metal insect spitting enormous balls of fire as acrobats twisted on its limbs, threw babies’ limbs at a wheel of gaping mouths (don’t worry, they were dolls), and explored the government offices of hell. Is there anywhere else in the world you can do this?

Really… go and explore

Open air yoga at Glastonbury

Above: open air yoga in Glastonbury’s Green Fields

Boozing, takeaway food and late nights take their toll. On the Sunday I wandered through the Green Fields for a considerably more chilled-out festival experience. From lying down in the fire garden to watching a Glastonbury wedding, chatting with strangers at the stone circle to watching skate boarders from the Greenpeace boat, they say a change is as good as a rest, and that is what you get here. And there’s still music in the extremities of the site – the People’s String Foundation were a particular highlight.

Embrace it

Glastonbury is not like anything I’ve ever done before. It involved heavy rain and deep mud, warm tins of beer and impenetrable crowds, toilets that were the closest thing to hell on earth and a constant throbbing ache in your feet that lingers. And yet – it was excellent. It was excellent because of the people, who were always happy to help others out, and all there to have a good time.

There was a point, as I walked through the Healing Fields on Sunday, when I turned to my friend and said something, and was thoroughly teased for my “hippie conversion”. Nevertheless, I stand by it and I am going to say it to you now.

“Glastonbury changes you, man…”

Glastonbury peace