The gunk had begun to seep through the zip of the tent, oozing inside the last known vestige of relative dryness in the couple’s entire universe. Each hour that passed, the tent flap would bulge more and more inwards, forcing a hideous brown stain across the surface of the once creamy coloured flysheet.
They had arrived at the site desperately late, pitching their nylon nightmare on one of the last remaining scraps of mushy ground on the lowlands of Tent City, the worst possible spot to be in. Heavy down pours throughout the week had completely saturated the land, and this in turn had been churned up by the ceaseless trampling of thousands of pairs of boots and perishing sneakers. Whilst the highlanders were merely soaked through to the skin, the wretched lowlanders had to also contend with a creeping avalanche of slurry, a thick gloop of run-off that would make even the most resilient camper want to run off the nearest cliff. The lowlands had it bad.
At the end of previously muddy Glastonbury’s, the litter pickers and assorted scavengers had often come across long abandoned tents at the foot of Tent City, with the ground sheet caked in sticky gunk, and the obligatory crumpled sleeping bag and pathetic strand of pink toilet-roll, and gone, ”Oh my fuck!” But that was after the event. Right now, this unfortunate couple were in the thick of it, and the ‘it’ smelt like cow shit.
It had been an ordeal even before their Glastonbury weekend had hit the two and a half hour tailback inching its way into the festival car park. They’d broken down on the motorway and spent a long and very uncomfortable night on a garage forecourt, arguing throughout; vast swathes of moody silence, only broken by the stuttering squeak of the windscreen wipers.
It had been a bad month for the guy - a crucial advertising campaign that he’d been spearheading had gone tits up. Now, like the thick gloop that was slowly enveloping the tent, it appeared that his relationship was also on the slide. Even so, at that precise moment his mind was taken up with a more pressing issue - his bladder. He was bursting.
“I need a piss,” he announced, from the dark recesses of their survival pod.
The girl had long since resigned herself to sitting out the rain, snacking on flap jacks, and trying to block out the insane thump of a thousand sound systems. She just wanted the nightmare to end.
“Well you can’t,” She snapped. “We’re stuck. If you go outside we’ll get covered in crap.”
“But I need a piss!” The guy hissed, clenching back the flood. “Okay… Okay… Compromise. How about I just stick it out of the tent flap?”
“What! You must be joking!” Gasped the girl.
“Why not?” Asked the guy. “The ground is awash with every conceivable type of discharge anyway. They’ve been issuing health warnings. A little extra fluid won’t hurt.”
“No way!” Said the girl, viewing the tent flap option differently. “This is my sister’s tent.”
Even though there were hundreds of dome tents just like theirs, the thought of someone seeing her boyfriend’s dislocated chap pissing out of their muddy flap was too shameful to bear.
“Well how about this,” said the guy, grabbing hold of the zip. “I’m just going to do it anyway.”
“Oh no you’re NOT!” Said the girl, quickly feeling around for some kind of suitable vessel
“Oh yes I am,” said the guy, kneeling over towards the flap and pulling out his tackle, a blast of freezing damp air entering the survival pod.
“You selfish bastard!” She screamed.
The empty family sized packet of Doritos was too flimsy, and judging by the guy’s discomfort, totally insufficient. Ditto the take-away carton. Which only left the half-drunk bottle of Bells that she was saving for Primal Scream. So she quickly unscrewed the lid, and downed the contents in a succession of repetitive ‘Glugs’.
“Here…” she said, thrusting the empty bottle into his hand. Resisting the urge to vomit. “You can piss in that.”
But it was too late. Nature had taken its course, letting rip like a burst water main, the force of a full bladder carrying the bulk of it splat splattering way beyond their muddy tent flap in the general direction of those two lads from Belgium.
“Urrrrggghhhhh!!!” Barfed the girl.
“Aaaaaaaaaahhhh…!” Went the guy.
* * * * *
Ah, Glastonbury Festival! The very words make your lips crack and your scalp flake.
Glastonbury Festival - one hundred and thirty thousand plus souls taking up temporary residency on the lawn.
Glastonbury Festival - the greatest show on Earth. Something for everybody - a Kidz Field, Healing Field, Sacred Field, and Crafts Field. Various stages, theatres, circuses, cabarets, cinemas, even a casino. A Jewish tent, Christian tent, Hari Krishna tent. Ethical this, that, and the other, with leaflets and free samples coming out of your ears, and a 150 foot wicker man waiting to get torched on the last night. Basically, three days of getting completely off your face and going totally mental to the best sounds around.
Glastonbury festival - a muddy one. Yet another washed out English Summer. Every drowned out inch of the site churned up and turned into one vast lumpy sucking bog of chocolate mousse. But despite it all, everybody determined to make the best of it.
Practically all-human life represented in some shape or form. Just about every culture, nationality and race. Every sexual, political and religious persuasion and perversion. Every class, every profession, every struggle. The human condition, in all its emotional and psychological complexity, loaded down or travelling light.
There was Earnest, for example. Earnest had spent the last ten years wandering about in the wilderness dragging an eight-foot cross on his back. He’d wandered through war zones, and occupied territories, over mountains and through rivers, provoking a reaction wherever he went - good, bad, but never indifferent. He’d been shot at in the Sudan, impounded in Israel, mobbed in Rome, and mugged in Cape Town.
He didn’t see himself as a Jesus Freak. To him the whole trip was about reminding a troubled world about the possibility of tolerance, sacrifice and forgiveness. He would have been just as content dragging around an eight-foot model of John Lennon’s shattered specks. But Jesus had proved more enduring than The Beatles.
And what’s wrong with Jesus anyhow? Jesus was an activist. He’d be hanging out with the politicos and the artisans, getting laid and smoking weed just like any other regular guy. He’d be defying the occupation, and stirring up the masses, stenciling the walls of the ghetto with fish. If Jesus was alive today he’d be trying to blag his way into Glastonbury festival. Which is exactly what Earnest was trying to do.
He was completely skint and soaked to the skin, and having just trundled his cross a hundred and fifty miles across southern England, totally exhausted. But if he could just get to speak to Mathew Beavis, the owner of the Glastonbury site, for a few minutes there was a chance that he might just swing it. Beavis was from Quaker stock, the stuff of warm welcoming porridge. But Beavis’s aloofness at that time of year was legendary. Earnest had heard that there used to be this joke among the festival crew - -
Q. What’s the difference between Mathew Beavis and God?
A. You can talk to God.
That’s as maybe, Earnest thought, as he set down his cross at Gate Two. But could God talk to Beavis?
“Sorry mate,” said the Gate Keeper. “The only prophet that Beavis wants to see right now comes in notes.”
Deep down he would’ve loved to let Earnest in. He was only too aware that a disaster of Biblical proportions was unfolding inside the site - floods, landslides, disease, trench foot. Biblical disasters, he felt, actually needed someone like Earnest wandering around with a huge fuck-off cross.
“Listen man. There’s this alternative site round the back. I’m not supposed to, but I usually send people like yourself round there," he nodded towards the cross and smiled. “I’m sure they’ll put you up for a few nights.”
“People like me?” Thought Earnest, as he lifted the cross onto his shoulder, imagining an encampment packed with bearded middle-aged men, all sitting around waxing their crosses and banging on about linseed oil.
He was disappointed. Although he had gotten used to bad receptions, and been turned away from the gates of many cities, this particular rejection had really knocked the wind out of his sails. He’d looked upon the festival as a bit of a holiday, one of only a few scenes around the world where he wouldn’t stick out, where he could relax and get high. When you’d wandered as much as he had, getting stared at for every second of every day, you kind of hankered for a little downtime. It was tough being a religious icon, you were expected to behave in a certain way. Sometimes you just wanted to park your cross and get naked and freaky with a sexy Goddess.
* * * * *
Inside the site, the security guards had a very different kind of ‘freaky’ to deal with – a shit storm in one of the main dance tents.
It appeared that a tractor that had been re-deployed from its usual duties of sucking raw sewage from the shit pits, to drain a swampy dance tent, had had some exhausted fool press ′BLOW′ instead of ′SUCK’, coating the decks and speakers in half a ton of smelly discharge. Whereupon the fool in question had been set upon by half a dozen irate DJs.
One good thing about being a security guard was the action, and this being Glastonbury, and a World Cup year, you were assured plenty of it. However, with every lane criss-crossed with huge ridges of dark brown treacle, or rammed solid with thousands of waddling Swamp Things, it was just a question of getting to it.
“I could walk faster than this thing,” observed Spike, watching wave after wave of wretched loons stumbling into the Landrover’s front crash bar. “Look at the state of these people. It’s like a war zone.”
“Don’t you know it, Bro,” replied Wesley, whose driver’s side window was being molested by a filthy army blanket, squeaking a thick smear of mud across the glass.
Spike caught sight of a young woman trying to push a baby-buggy across the mire, each of the wheels entombed in a huge grassy clump of soil, the mother’s futile efforts accompanied by the ceaseless wail of a seriously pissed-off child. It was pathetic, hopeless, confirming a feeling that Spike had held for a long time.
“We’re not going to make it,” he muttered, as the woman disappeared behind a marooned market stall, its once swanky silver dome smothered in mud splats and handprints. By the sealed entrance stood a sculpture of a waving figure - just the head, torso and arms, giving the impression that the lower half had sunk into the ground. Some bright spark had stuck a placard into its hand, saying ‘Drowning Not Waving’.
“Relax Geez,” said Wesley, sounding the horn. “We’ll make it.”
* * * * *
Things had really escalated at the Dance Tent. A crew of farm hands had turned up to do battle with the DJs, weighing into the stinking mess fists flying. This was their patch. So what if a few floaters had gone astray? This was a dairy farm for pity’s sake! Herds and turds were a way of life. These namby-pamby Londoners needed to be taught a lesson.
By the time Spike, Wesley and the boys had arrived, the scene was truly manic. Not for the first time, or the last, the pent up fury of another rained-out Glastonbury had been unleashed. DJ Nimbles, a former Mix Mag centrefold, was cornered behind the turntables, frantically hurling Ninja Tunes like warrior death stars at two beefy bumpkins who were trying to rip his head off. DJ Stash (‘the man who put the heart ache into break’ - DJ Magazine) was being used as a mop. While a posse of DJ Widows, the girlfriends and wives who usually spent their entire lives sitting by a 100K rig sipping tequila sunrise and looking bored, were finally getting a slice of the action - moon stomping on some poor unfortunate’s head.
Not that Spike had had much time to take it all in. For in the moment that it took for his eyes to adjust to the gloom of the tent, a long player smacked him right across the bridge of the nose, sending his bulky frame shit-wards.
Spike had always hated DJs. He’d once lived below one in Cardiff, being kept awake for hours by the persistent throb of some moody Drum ‘n’ Bass - endless repetition, fucked-up automation, High Street cruising music, urban and edgy. UP... ALONG... AND DOWN. UP... ALONG... AND DOWN, had gone the throb, punctuated every-so-often by a burst of lyrics - a one-liner. Some civil rights leader telling it like it was, is, and probably always will be. Centuries of struggle reduced to a button badge slogan worn on the chest of a torturous beat.
“Brothers and Sisters...”
He hated DJs.
“Brothers and Sisters...”
And now one of them had gone and slashed his face open with a vinyl Frisbee.
“I don’t know what this world is coming to…”
* * * * *
Round the back of the festival site, Earnest felt that he should have been coming to the alternative site by now. The track seemed to go on forever. As he rounded yet another bend in the fence, he was amazed to find a fifty-foot cross jutting out from the top of a hill. It was a marvelous erection, made of Scots Pine. It’s golden finish gleaming in the afternoon drizzle. But he knew full well that it wasn’t the size, but what you do with it that counts, and judging by its proximity to the festival site, this cross had more to do with fear and loathing than peace and reconciliation. This was pure Hammer Horror stuff, intended to ward off evil spirits. The person who’d put it there could just as well have gone for a giant clove of garlic.
In the months prior to Glastonbury he’d done a tour of the southern coast, at one stage passing through the pretty seaside town of Eastbourne (or ‘God’s Waiting Room’, as the locals like to call it), the kind of place that has entire shop displays devoted to second-hand Zimmer frames.
He’d wandered into a local news sensation. It appeared that someone, whilst out walking the dog one morning, had noticed that a particular fence post bared an uncanny likeness to the outline of the Virgin Mary. Having visited the site, Earnest had to agree that in a certain light and from a certain angle, it did look just like Christ’s mum.
News of this ‘vision’ had spread like wild-fire throughout the town, and soon enough hundreds of people had gathered together to pray for forgiveness, salvation, a cure. You name it, these people were begging this fence post for it. People were kneeling down in front of this thing, desperately clinging to their faith in God. This was a sign.
They’d point to the lads in the pub opposite - the skeptics and unbelievers, and say, “Look, you see. Holy Mary Mother of God is weeping for your sins.”
And the lads would just point back and shout, “Get an afterlife!”
At one stage, with everyone standing at a respectable distance away from this miracle fence post, this guy had decided to go right up this ‘vision’ and kneel down in prayer - a big fucking “NO! NO!” among the flock. A bit like a nun climbing onto the Pope’s balcony in St. Peter’s Square. That Holy Vision just screamed out for a respectable distance, for no other reason, perhaps, than if you went right up to it, it suddenly turned into a fence post. And this man was messing with the adoration and exaltation. He was getting in the way. People in wheel chairs were straining their necks. So an argument had kicked off. Good Christian people were arguing over a fence post! It was a crazy sight. Pathetic and tragic. Proof again of the human race’s hunger for clutching at sacred straws. They were even selling slices of ‘miracle’ toast on E-Bay for Christ’s sake!
* * * * *
If Tent City was Glastonbury’s equivalent of a nightmare council estate, then Ariadne’s neighbourhood in the Tipi Field was Kingston-Upon-Thames - plush, palatial, almost entirely self-sufficient. Even the mud was somehow more refined, the beat of the African drum, which seemed to go on forever, somehow less obtrusive. For sure, Ariadne’s tipi was the top of the Glastonbury property ladder, an entire Dark Age away from the stinking hovels of Tent City.
Ariadne was the Greek Goddess of labyrinths, mazes, and paths. And this Ariadne had recently laid out this wonderfully elaborate fire labyrinth in the Sacred Field, just below the stone circle. In past years this had proved a massive hit with the monged-out masses, who had found themselves ankle deep in a sea of gentle flame trying to reach the centre; a great way to centre yourself and get in touch with some truly deep stuff. This was what the Sacred Field was all about - a place to escape the hustle and bustle of the main drag, and earth the crazy circuitry of indulgent living.
She was very much on that drug tip. To her, everything was sacred, and the aura particularly so, and she felt that too many people at Glastonbury were puncturing huge holes in theirs, letting in all kinds of demonic possession.
Only this year’s labyrinth had proved a bit of a wash out, it’s carefully laid out avenues of straw impossible to light, the monged-out masses ankle deep in mud, trying to reach the fence for a piss. So, a terribly disappointed Ariadne had retreated to her tipi with her fellow light beings, Nick, who was in a band called Solar Warrior, and Star.
She’d often get the calling to re-birth old souls, who needed to return to earth on cosmic business. Practically every week she had found herself re-birthing some warrior chief, or Mayan priest. Some weekends it had felt like Heathrow airport during the August Bank Holiday, as if the spirits were stacking up and circling above her head waiting for clearance. And on that drenched and muddy Glastonbury evening, she found herself once again clocking on for a night shift.
It wasn’t long before she looked up from the willow basket she was making. Someone was trying to get through.
“What is your name?” She asked, motioning to Star and Nick from the band Solar Warrior, who were used to late arrivals.
“Hello Joe,” she continued, searching the air above her head. “And what is it you seek?”
There was a slight pause.
“Oh… I see.”
Ariadne rose to her feet, clicking her fingers for the others to come to her assistance. She had grown accustomed to predominantly male energy using her body as an arrival’s lounge, but this Joe character seemed particularly edgy.
“It’s ok Joe. You ARE loved. You can trust me,” said Ariadne. But something was obviously spooking the spook. “Never trust a hippy?” she asked. “Why Joe? Why?”
Nick and Star exchanged glances. They hadn’t encountered this problem with White Eagle Feather or Dark Cloud; they’d been positively gagging for it. So what was the beef with this guy?
“We threw it all away? What do you mean we threw it all away?” said Ariadne, raising her eyebrows. “The Sixties?”
In the air above their heads, Joe Strummer, former lead singer of The Clash, had launched into a spectacular rant, making Ariadne feel decidedly uneasy. Like a pregnant mother might feel if she could determine how obnoxious her unborn child was going to become just from the scan, and get a pre-taste of all that teenage angst and rebellion. Ariadne didn’t like the sound of it. This guy was rude. She thought that the afterlife was supposed to iron out all that negative stuff. Joe wasn’t even re-born yet and he already had serious issues.
But of course Joe had serious issues. It was serious issues that had made Joe, Joe. Since his early tragic death he’d been forced to hang out in the Pleiades, in the middle of a cluster of stars known as the Seven Sisters. Nice people, but deadly dull. Although they have the means to intervene big time, the Pleiades view the Earth as this huge child-centred school, letting the kids play with pretty much anything they wish, for as long as they like - nuclear weapons, human embryos, climate change, in the vain hope that they eventually grasp those important lessons in life. Like unless you’ve got another planet to go to, don’t go and trash the one you’ve got.
Every-so-often they’d sneak someone down to give human evolution a little nudge in the right direction, and invariably have to drag them back again once they were snuffed out. After endless soul searching, the Pleiades decided that they did indeed have the right to do this occasionally on account of the Drakos, one of many nasty alien races who’d been badly messing with the Earth for some time.
And Joe, who had soon grown bored with Planet Happy Clappy, had jumped at the opportunity. The only problem was that to do the do, he’d have to lay his hands on a vacant mind to squat for a while. Luckily, he’d found the perfect candidate. There was just the little matter of the daft hippy.
Like a bouncer at the Mind, Body and Spirit Festival, Ariadne still had the right to refuse entry to the Earth Realm, especially if she thought that the newcomer would abuse the other guests, shag in the toilets, and snort mega lines of coke during the Mongolian Nose Flute recital. Being able to read her every thought, Joe realised that unless he toned it down a bit, he’d be stuck with those Muppets in the Seven Sisters forever, so he suddenly went like a puppy dog.
“That’s better,” said Ariadne, her legs starting to shake and buckle like Elvis on Ketamine, her voice beginning to howl like Suzie Sioux at an Ayahausca ceremony. And Joe began his slow and bumpy descent into Glastonbury.
* * * * *
A few hedges away, in a crowded bicycle-powered café at the corner of the Green Futures’ Field, Simple Sigh Man was on the final stretch of his stand-up routine.
“They’ve just announced the world’s first successfully cloned dog,” he announced, to the damp huddled masses. “They finally made it on the thirty second attempt… And here’s one that I made earlier…”
And he whips out a soft toy in the shape of a puppy, with two heads, four tails where the legs should be, and a paw sticking out of its bum.
Seated at the back of the tent on a scattering of old sofa cushions, full-time Greenpeace activist, Dr Suzie Meyer, a renowned toxicologist, was chilling out with her mates Twig and Septic. Dr Meyer had been working for the pressure group for eight years, jumping at the opportunity of doing Glastonbury every year, where she could catch her favourite bands, pump herself silly with assorted toxins, and escape the city grime for a week. So there she was on a night out in the Green Future’s Field, dealing with the age-old problem of damp Rizlas.
People had apparently been perfecting ‘the art of rolling’ since 1796, but for probably half this time they’ve been struggling with the art of prising apart skins that had fused together in one continuous concertina of ‘finest quality’ frustration.
Damp Rizlas were becoming a real problem at that year’s Glastonbury. Everywhere you went you’d see clumps of abandoned skins lying on the ground. But Suzie had a rather nifty remedy, one which she’d picked up at a previous washed-out Glastonbury.
“Now, are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin,” she said, holding up a foot long strip of damaged goods.
Carefully tear off a skin’s worth just above the gummed-up line. Don’t be alarmed by the serrated edge, it is essential. Just don’t make it too manic.
Roll your rollie in the usual way, leaving the serrated edge till last.
Liberally moisten the serrated edge with your tongue, then, gently nibble along the edge, biting off about two millimetres worth. This teases out the paper fibres, the key to the whole sticking process.
Slightly re-moisten the chewed bit once again, moving your tongue away from the edge, not along it as in the usual way. Then seal the skin around the tobacco, again moving your fingers away from the seal, and gently pressing out all the moisture. Allow it to stand for three minutes.
“Eh voila!” she announced, holding up the finished article. “It’s all down to the serrated edge - no waste, no heartache, no bother. It’s a neat trick, eh?”
“Wow!” said Septic, reaching out for the communal stash of backy. “Very neat.”
“So it’s all down to the serrated edge,” said Twig.
“Absolutely,” said Suzie. “Lightly moistened, gently nibbled and teased. Any other way and the whole thing will fall apart.”
“A bit like life really?” Laughed Septic.
It was just like life, or certainly Suzie’s life, which could be viewed as one fat roll-up. The beauty of a roll-up existence was that you could take your time with it, burn it up when you felt inclined, or tuck it behind your ear for later. You just needed to make sure that no one nicked your lighter. The trouble was that most people had settled on a straight existence, burning it all up in the one go. You couldn’t tuck a straight existence behind your ear, it would just burn on regardless, eventually setting fire to your hair. Unless of course you snapped off the end, which, Suzie felt, was essentially the business of spreading environmental awareness - getting people to snap out of their straight existences, take time out, and think in terms of the future.
Like the Christians and the New Agers, who had also set their stalls out at Glastonbury, the environmentalists could also envisage an end to the world. But while the Christians viewed their Armageddon as the inevitable and necessary showdown between good and evil, and the New Agers viewed mankind’s slow descent into cataclysm as the inevitable birth pains of our evolutionary shift into becoming ‘higher beings’, the environmentalists were in the business of avoiding doomsday full stop, very much believing that enlightenment shouldn’t cost the Earth.
“Lighten up,” said Twig, seeing a look of sadness in her eyes. “It might never happen.”
Suzie smiled away a look that seemed to say, “It already is happening.”
Just then a huge roar went up as Viz the Spoon, comedian, lead singer and legendary London Town impresario took to the stage.
“Haven’t you heard, you can’t polish a turd?
The wet ones are too runny,
And the dry ones just crumble to pieces,
That’s the trouble with Faeces.”
* * * * *
Keith had also found himself being troubled by faeces. He was the lead singer of a Clash tribute band called White Riot, the ideal job for a life-long Clash City Rocker. After years of pulling in the punk nostalgia pound in moth-eaten dives in Hastings and Hackney, they’d finally landed a tiny slot on the NME Stage.
He’d first heard The Clash round his Nan’s house, where his Uncle Steve, a Grrrr-u of sorts, had let him spin 45 after 45 on his stack-system record deck, which doubled as a sideboard. It was his first taste of reggae, his first taste of politics, and his first taste of drowning out David Cassidy in his sister’s bedroom. And even though the band had imploded by the early eighties, their tunes remained the perfect antidote to a messed up education system in a messed up decade.
So White Riot had finally made it to Glastonbury, and Keith had finally made it to one of Glastonbury’s very many smelly port-a-loos.
It never seemed to escape your notice in the Glast-a-bogs that those port-a-loos were once in fact state-of-the-art; that they once functioned perfectly well. They had all the hallmarks of sophistication – a flusher, a little hand basin, a towel and soap dispenser, all the potential for comfort and sanitation. But you got the feeling that you’d have to be at a flower show or a vintage car rally to appreciate them properly, that your modern port-a-loo simply couldn’t hack well over a hundred thousand filthy ring-stung arse holes.
It never seemed to escape your notice at Glastonbury that there was in fact no loo-roll, that the toilet was blocked, that there was no water in the tap, that someone had dribbled vomit all over a filthy discarded sock in the sink, and pissed all over the floor, and finally, as you prepared to grin and bare your naked buttocks, that some impatient sod was banging on the door.
“In a minute,” shouted Keith, but the knocking continued. “I said, in a minute. Do you really think that I want to stay in here for any longer than I have to?”
“Keith, it’s Joe,” came a voice.
“Joe who?” said Keith, reaching down and plucking a scrap of serviette from his pocket. But the voice sounded somewhat familiar.
“Joe Strummer,” said the voice.
“Yeah right!” sneered Keith. “Who the fuck is it? I’m having a dump!”
“I told you, it’s Joe Strummer. I’m coming in.”
Keith looked at the hard plastic lock in front of him; about the only thing that was working in that Turd Tardis. Whoever this loon was he’d need to prise his way in there. Suddenly a head appeared through the toilet door, straight through the thing as if it wasn’t there.
“Fuck me!” said Keith. Talk about Pressure Drop, if he hadn’t already done so, he would have quite shat himself.
“Alright mate,” said Joe, grinning that toothless grin, and getting straight down to business. “Here listen, I wanna borrow your body for a while.”
The ghostly apparition then completely passed through the toilet door, staring down at Keith’s naked knees like a prospective homeowner.
“Fuck me!” said Keith.
It certainly looked like Strummer, the leaner meaner hey-day Strummer, straight off the front page of the NME. He had the slicked-back hair of a dedicated drinker and wore a three quarter fingertip shoot-out frock coat, a crisp white shirt fastened at the neck with a gambler’s boot-string and an eagle medallion. He wore drainpipes and Brothel Creepers, and looked every bit the romantic gunslinger with a touch of class. He seemed to ooze with confidence and attitude; something that Keith, who used to suffer panic attacks on the tube, had tried long and hard to emulate.
“It will only be for a few hours,” Strummer continued.
In theory the prospect of someone wishing to borrow your Delhi Belly for a few hours seemed appealing. Keith had been suffering from the trots all day; probably pre-gig nerves. In practice though, this was far too trippy, even for someone used to necking inordinate amounts of shrooms.
“The only thing is mate, that I want it during your gig,” said Strummer.
“Where the fuck am I supposed to go?” demanded Keith, his abject terror now shouldered aside by complete outrage and disappointment. “I was looking forward to this gig.”
“You get to hitch a ride,” Strummer explained. “You get the ultimate front seat. But you just can’t say or do anything for a while. Proper zombie style, you understand?”
Keith was beginning to warm to the idea. It was one thing to be in a tribute band, acting out all the moves, being a parrot fashion victim, a pale imitation of the real thing. But to actually experience what it is like to be the Main Man. Wow! Not only that, he’d been having a few differences with Ken, AKA Mick Jones, mirroring a legendary rivalry, paying tribute to band politics if you like, except that they had been arguing over MOT payments and second-hand speakers in the Cash Converters window. This would be truly interesting.
“Alright, I’ll do it,” he said.
“Cool!” beamed Strummer.
* * * * *
Despite the rain the alternative site was quite significant; there were fire pits, live music and a makeshift café, all the hallmarks of a proper old school free festival, even down to the one guy yelling, ”Hash for cash!” The only difference being that it was taking place in the shadow of an immense iron curtain, mile upon mile of fuck-off steel fencing.
In past years these people would’ve got in, waiting around in the bushes for an hour or so, steadily building up the numbers required to storm the outer fence, while friends on the inside would wiggle, shove and boot the inner fence until it collapsed. In some years thousands of additional punters got in this way, often only encountering a single fazed-out looking steward, half-heartedly mumbling something about “a restricted area”.
But a new broom was now sweeping the festival yard, mean-fiddling Mammon’s bad business. Now there was tight security, CCTV, arc lights, and razor wire, as if Stalin himself was headlining the main stage. But despite it all, Earnest was thankful that he had found some kind of happening. He leant his cross against the ring of steel, and sat down to roll a spliff.
* * * * *
Siblings Pete and Fliss were into rolling of a different kind. They were two of Wiltshire’s most notorious crop-circle makers, flattening more stalks and hopping more tramlines than anyone south of the Ridgeway. If the cornfields of Southern England really were God’s Etch-a-Sketch, as some suggested, then this dew-soaked duo had long since nicked it out of his toy box.
Each year they’d mission to the West Country with their stomping boards, poll vaults and an ancient garden roller and claim a hillside close to the festival site, hole punching fields of wheat or barley as if the hand of providence had stamped them with a gigantic beer bottle; a lovely farewell gift to the departing massive. And this year’s formation promised to be a real humdinger - a 360-degree three-dimensional representation of a DNA strand, two hundred feet across and about two hours in the making.
They were both following in the nimble footsteps of their Uncle Ryan, whose ‘hoaxing’ had ended up on the cover of a legendary rock album. They’d had an interesting career, confounding a legion of Cereologists and Ufologists for the past six summers, getting nicked for criminal damage, making it onto a postcard in an Avebury gift shop, and even attracted death threats. Someone in Japan had sent a note saying - ‘You are a criminal and will be severely punished. Do not take this warning lightly! We are many.’ It was signed ’the Black Watch’
There’d been times when they’d had their doubts, even fears. Not from the death threats; they were probably from some disgruntled landowner who’d been reading too much Denis Wheatley during his golfing holiday to Mount Fuji. But fears that they could just well be messing with something infinitely vast and unknowable; the ‘Big’ behind the ‘Bang’. You see, there’d been lights, eerie inexplicable flashes in the field, powerful electro-pulses that had sent a tidal wave of deep foreboding along their spines. Some nights, the more they stomped the corn, the higher the hair had risen on the back of their necks. This was freaky stuff.
There’d been several highly intricate and bizarre crop circles for which none of the known practitioners had laid claim. Perhaps something was trying to communicate with us after all, and Fliss and Croppie Pete were effectively graffitiing all over Albion’s sacred landscape, screwing up divine post-it notes; Gaia’s reminder to water the plants, or ET’s confirmation that he’ll be picking us up around 20:12.
Even so, circle making was a buzzy business, and highly addictive, and they’d often end up poll-vaulting out of their finished creation into a solitary ‘grape shot’, their signature, to roll a spliff or two and simply gaze up at the heavens.
Not that they’d be doing that tonight. It was still raining as they trudged up the lane to Hairpin Hill. In the distance they could see the huge festival site, penned in by a wall of steel, lit up by thousands of arc lamps, hurricane lamps, and fire pits, all twinkling through a haze of smoke; a writhing nest of noise and naughtiness, throbbing and oscillating, bleeping and screaming. Beautiful. Positively medieval. A huge and extremely damp wicker man standing at its heart, that the organisers had planned to torch on the Sunday night.
They loved working Glastonbury; Hairpin Hill was their main stage. And this circle to be was the title track of their next LP.
“Good evening Glastonbury”, said Pete, hauling the roller through an old farm gate.