"I want to watch Belle and Sebastian from closer," says Mike, frowning down at me. He's being very bossy today, he's already taken us to eat hog roast sandwiches. Mine came with squares of rock-hard crackling, indigestible as laminate. While Elbow were playing, we camped out in a sit down/stand up/lie down area, the boys reading the festival papers, me sliding in and out of consciousness, cradled in the music, alternating sneakily sleeping under my sunglasses with peering up the torn jeans of skinny indy kids. I'm completely refreshed now. I could dance all night. I've heard it called disco napping, but I don't think you can call it that if you've been doing it to Elbow. Indy drifting or something. "Cool," I say, "let's move up."
Belle and Sebastian
There's a choir in one corning, a string section in the other. A small crowd of people are bopping on one side of the stage. Some of them are holding instruments, but most of them just have an I-can't-believe-we're-doing-this look about them. It looks a heck of a lot like Belle and Sebastian decided (not unreasonably) that if they were going to play Glastonbury, things would be a lot more fun if they brought a substantial portion of their social group with them. They're having fun, and it spreads. They spill into the crowd and pull people back with them to be their go-go dancers. They talk, voices high with nervous laughter, kick out a football, sing happy birthday to someone on stage. The sky's the colour of white gold. The fuckers with flags have taken time out and instead there's someone with a bubble sword, scattering bubbles across the stage and crowd. The music's lovely, yes, but its the words in it that really get to me; songs from a happy world, even when the subject matter's hip-deep in misery. We do a lot of shouting for encores, and I realise I'm stamping my feet, just like I would at the Zodiac. Here my foot's hitting dusty grass, not making a sound at all, but I swear that I felt the earth move.
It's a good spot we fetched up in, the sound is crystal clear here, the stage not so far off. Mike drifts back from the front, a big soppy smile on his face. We set up camp, staking out our space under a soft spatter of rain. Alex's mobile buzzes and ten minutes of head-bobbing later, our party swells by two more. "That hat's really useful," says Steph. We're not going anywhere for a while. Not with Groove Armada coming up next.
You never really know what to expect from dance bands. Couple of turntables? Mad light show? Just a guy, you know? It's their choice, their freedom. Groove Armada know just what they want. Trombones. Guitars. Richie Havens on vocals. Hands on your keyboards, mouth to the microphone. What's the point of a live gig if it isn't all live? We dance as hard as we can but as the sun went down and the rain shrank until it was just an occasional drop being squeezed from the damp air, the shuffling indy kids wandered off or put away their hats, and the crowd began to swell with people drifting down from the Glade and up from the Dance field and as it filled up our hard-earned space shrank to a tiny gap between a clutter of immobile couples in expensive grey t-shirts and a tangle of pretty teenage boys with bleached hair and poppers. The music rolled out from the stage, perfect lazy gold, the sound of the edge of a summer party, where fun shades into loneliness. The boys jumped up and down and up and down, whining in increasingly blurry voices that the poppers don't work, don't work. I forget to worry about dancing on wet grass in boots worn slick by age, but I don't fall. The night's too full for that. Funny how I forgot how many of their songs I liked, funny how I forgot how much fun it all was. When you sing along to samples, you don't have to worry about remembering the words.
This is a good space. Alex and I are staying here. Mike stays, dubious about Air, the others go, but I like it here, now. I also like Air, MTV addict that I am (their videos are always fantastic), one of the few bands on this weekend I've genuinely been curious about, as opposed to thinking, oh, OK, why not?
Hard stone fingers trace down through my right shoulder, flint brush spasm catching at my heart. When people talk about the sixth sense they mean psychic shit, but it has a real meaning, too, it means your awareness of where your body is, your physical awareness. Mine feels like it's been tilted sideways and shoved through my body at right angles. It feels like it's made of marble, cool stone rubbing against my stomach, liver, ribcage, lungs. I feel like I'm swaying through a veil of rock, coarse crystals rough against slick tissue, shale, slate, sandstone, something sedimentary, I can feel how it rests, layers, fracture marks, small points of sharp brightness that might be fossils. The ground twists under my feet and the muscles in my legs spasm, trying to grip the ground through my Docs. Stupid, stupid. I close my eyes and plant my feet, forcing my breathing to slow and the twitching muscles to settle. It can be OK, if I just relax. It can be good ... I concentrate, trying to make the music the only thing, and it tumbles me over like an avalanche. I bury my hands in it, feel the texture, the shape, the growth, continental drift compressed into minutes, mountains building and falling and washing out to sea in the space of three lines and as I relax the pain fades into stillness, stony and vast, and when the movement comes again, it's overwhelming, but it doesn't hurt now, nothing hurts. I tap the pill box in my pocket, but, no, not now, not now ...
Mike talks while I rebuild my ability to talk. He didn't much like it, just fucking prog rock he says. How should I know, given I was hallucinating like a madwoman throughout? I did enjoy it, once I'd acclimatised, but how much of that was in my head? And I know that, in a sense, liking or not liking music is always in your head but somehow "it gave me complex tactile hallucinations of being interpenetrated by stone" doesn't really cut it as a good reason to like a band. Especially as there's no guarantee that you'll get the same result next time. Mike's knackered. Bed's waiting. But I hate sleeping in a tent and anyway we're going home tomorrow, can't we think of something better to do? Oh yeah, that. Alex and I say goodnight and wander towards the dance field, still sparkly-bright, and find coffee and half-price pastries in the row of music-fighting eateries on the way, and certainly, the queue's a bit long, but given that there are fireworks to entertain us while we wait, we don't mind. The staff at the coffee stand try to claim responsibility for the fireworks. They also try to claim that their strange wigs are real hair. We believe them, it's more fun that way. We veer past the dance tents, protective hands curled round our coffees. They still seem strangely empty, strangely low. Other years I wouldn't have expected to make it past without joining in. This year, there's no worries. We pass out into the outer darkness, through a gauntlet of pissers and muggers and dealers, but mostly pissers.
Rural smells and abrupt hedges. Where the hell are we? I thought I knew this part of the site. We get it eventually, in time to see the credits for something or other on the huge inflatable screen, before the interminable wait. Eventually, after pauses to brutally supress firestarters and laser-pointing morons, The Lord of the Rings strikes up. Alex drifts in and out of sleep while I watch, rapt, hanging on every word. My mother read this to me when I was a child; it's a real to me as Cinderella or The Snow Queen, and it seems like I'm not the only one. The field is packed with people, even though it's too cold for sleeping. Aragorn is cheered, the Dark Riders booed, the Orcs hissed, there are sniffles as Boromir dies, gasps at the Balrog in Khazad Dûm. When Elrond calls for volunteers to take the Ring to the Crack of Doom, there's a chorus of "I'll go!"s from the audience. And, at the end, the advert for The Two Towers, just to give us enough energy to make it to bed.
Bed. I think that's why I'm not going back, next year. I'm not a camper, and sleeping on a rock-hard slope for six nights sucks horribly. And I'm to old to be stoned or drunk for six nights in seven now, which used to help. And maybe, just maybe, it just isn't quite what it once was, even though I hate people who say that sort of thing.