I was feeling grotty so I made a nest out of our rucksacks and curled up outside while the more committed indy kids crowded into the New tent to listen to the Next Big Thing. I huddled down outside, ignoring the spatters of rain beginning to come down, watching the ebb and flow of record executives, members of other bands, hangers on, Peel show fanatics and everyone else who knows that The Music are On Their Way Up. Interested enough to peer, not interested enough to go inside. I concentrate on the music and try not to go to sleep. I wouldn't want to wake up as someone wrenched me into the recovery position. But the music twists away from me. Every time I think I'm tuning into it, it twists in my hands. Maybe that's the point, I tell myself. Maybe. People drift away from the tent. Mike and Alex come out, looking vaguely dissatisfied. The crowd hums with the sound of good, but...
We huddle on the bleak ground outside the New Bands tent, waiting for Cornershop to finish tuning their bloody sitars. They're running late and we're getting restive. It's not a nice space, the New Bands tent. There's a certain lack of bar (perhaps accurately reflecting the habits of the audience). The ground around it is dramatically sloped and hard as rock. The whole is wrapped around with shadowy trees and bushes and gateways crawling with muggers and pissers. Nobody shags in bushes any more. Cornershop are running half an hour late now. It's time to run, before the scales fall from our eyes. And anyway, Beta Band are about to start on the Other Stage.
We make it in good time (the Dance field is creepily peaceful and empty) but while the New Bands were running disastrously late, the Other Stage is cruelly on time. We've missed the start of the set. We'd be furious if we weren't so happy to be there.
Yeah, yeah, music, samples, stuff, layers, beat, all that stuff that completely rewards the musical geek. Alex is in seventh heaven. Mike is lookng dubious. Not indy enough for him. I think it's pretty good, but I'm prejudiced, because they have a video wall behind the stage and are showing us videos! Every track has one (except a couple of the singles, rights issues maybe?), and we're not just talking lights and colours here, we're talking short films. My two favourites; one about a bad policeman running around bullying old ladies, stealing lunch money, and covering public property with obscene graffitti, which looked like it had been shot in public without permission, and the final track which had a video of them going on a day out walking to a longbarrow in their anoraks and glasses, banal reality and geek pride recut into something masterful and strange... their music was fantastic, too. Not enough encores, but maybe they ran out of videos.
That's it for Alex and Mike, they're off to work. I wander up to the Glade (a mystical grove-based dance experience, crammed between the biggest rank of toilets in the festival and a vast video wall) and nod my hooded head in time to the beat a bit. Someone tries to buy drugs off me. More than anything else, that makes me feel like I'm getting old. I stumble around a few more places. It's dark and full of people, light and full of people, noisy and full of people. Famous people? Somebody blunders into me in the dark and I could have sworn it was Fat Boy Slim. But does a celebrity count if there's no-one else to confirm the spotting? Probably not. And anyway I'm going to be late if I don't get moving. The mothership is due to land any minute. Wouldn't want to be late.
A bank of lights goes on with an audible hum. The sudden flash of bright light bleaches the field, throws shadows halfway up the hill and wakes up people in tents all the way up to the fence. Some sort of complex spinning projection arrray begins to move at an unnerving, weirdly slow speed on stage. This is what electricity was invented for. Girls and boys come out to play, Orbital do shine as bright as day. One song slides into another. The music crumbles into the light. I try watching with my eyes closed for a bit. I still get most of the lightshow. Eyelids aren't adequate defence for this onslaught of streaming light. I leave after the fifth encore, feeling like I've spent the last hour in dual purpose speaker-cum-tanning machine. As I leave, they're doing something unspeakable to Bon Jovi ("shot through the heart, and you're to blame, you give love a bad name") and Belinda Carlisle ("Oooh heaven is a place on earth"). Against all odds, it sounds awesome. But I went into sensory overload half an hour ago. Time to find a small corner and weep.
I find it. Ian, one of my neighbours is up morosely drinking wine on his own and filling my tent with woodsmoke from his bloody fire. He's come up with his wife, and I think there's a teenage daughter somewhere in the field. Happy campers. There's a lot of that going around this year. He tells me about his dream, which is to go off into the wilderness and start a self-sufficient foster home for disabled children with goats. I nod and smile. He works in the oil industry now, so he might have enough money to do it. I drink his wine and listen to his dreams. I grew up on a self-sufficent smallholding in the arse end of nowhere, but there's no need to be rude about it. Just as I'm about to wonder aloud if the disabled children will mind growing up on a bleak rock with no friends, one of my Stewards turns up, one of the lovely little blonde ones, drawn by the fire and the wine. She grew up on a smallholding in rural Wales, and she absolutely loved it, she declared, every minute. She goes to bed. We stay to toast the dawn. Here's to dreams.