A lovely evening stroll along some Somerset lanes and… oh! rather like Dr Who’s Tardis, a Portaloo has arrived on the verge at the entrance to the lane leading up to my parents’ house. Together with the recent increase of HGV traffic, Tesco bedecked with mountains of cheap cider and throw-away camping gear, and the council abandoning attempts to finish the potholes on the A361, the Portaloo’s arrival signals that Glastonbury Festival is almost upon us.
As anyone who’s ever been to it will know, Glastonbury Festival actually takes place in the fields between three villages… Pilton, East Pennard, and West Pennard, around about the Solstice. Each village is obscured by the hills that surround the festival fields, making it an amphitheatre on three sides, with a view towards Glastonbury Tor and the setting sun on the open side. The festival now caters for about 170,000 all in all (that’s the population of the city of Bath…doubled). Depending on what you enjoy, Glastonbury is either Nirvana or a scene from a Hieronymus Bosch.
You might think the independent businesses in Glastonbury would benefit from the festival trade, but they don’t. Very few of the 170,000 stop on the way in or way out – except at McDonald’s and Esso – and everyone else avoids the area like the plague, remembering the last time they got caught in that traffic jam on the way to the butcher’s. Yet once everyone’s locked ‘in’ Glastonbury Festival, Glastonbury itself is a ghost town, and the roads to it have tumbleweed rolling across them. It’s actually a good time to visit… And you might bump into a pop star or two, having a relaxing gander after their performance.
In the past many hundreds, then thousands, of ticketless gate-crashers managed to get into the festival via the villages, through gardens, fields and up over, or digging under, the wooden fences that were installed around the festival site. Over time the festival changed, and harmless hippies were replaced in the 90s by aggressive grungies. In an attempt to police this, the festival organised village ‘security’, with road blocks and Staff on the surrounding lanes, hence the random Portaloos.
The fence now consists of two rings, with a jeep patrol in between. An impenetrable 8 mile corral, made of 12ft high (and several feet underground) solid sheet metal. The grunge era is now gone, replaced with middle-aged folk (often ‘helicoptering’ their teenagers) who couldn’t leap a 5-bar gate let alone a ‘super-fence’. But they still marshal the lanes today, just in case… Woe betide you if you forget your ‘Passport to Pilton’.
I’ve enjoyed many trips to the festival in the past, for the music, but I’m glad I’m not going this year. Once that’s decided, you really are either ‘in’ it or ‘out’ of it.
This year I might just see if that Portaloo really IS a tardis…