It started as a gentle pitter-patter tiptoeing around the edges of our dreams, then turned into a roar, cold and fat and angry.
Inside our tent – the one we’d later see photographed on the front cover of a national newspaper – we curled into smaller and smaller balls as the water licked its way towards us from the breached edges of our groundsheet, until finally, it became impossible to ignore and we went out.
The first thing I saw as I stood into a puddle that reached my shin was my friend Jim, stood with his mouth opening and closing like a fish, as above us the entirety of June’s average annual rainfall fell in what would turn out to be little more than a few early morning hours. In a moment of panic he ducked back into his tent to retrieve a lighter, his shoulder length hair draped on the surface of the darkening water like some sort of pondweed.
The funny thing was we were all sunburnt. The day before, as we were naively pitching our tent at the bottom of a hill metres from a row of Portaloos (more on those later), the sun had been fierce. Pictures from that Thursday show us wincing happily against an azure heaven, not a single cloud hinting at the ‘GLASTO WASHOUT’ to come.
When the toilets began to overflow, we knew it was time to abandon camp. The detritus of a thousand drug-addled bowels began snaking towards our tents and possessions. From the side of the field, we watched as they were slowly buried. We thought we were going to have to go home.
An hour later, as we stood shivering and miserable in our disposable ponchos, the rain finally stopped. A square of sunlight broke through the clouds and landed obscenely on the mud. Someone, somewhere, in a moment of comic perfection, played Lemon Jelly’s 'Nice Weather for Ducks'.
All the ducks are swim-ming in the wa-ter / Tra-la-la-la-la-la, tra-la-la-la-la-la
Word came through we were being offered accommodation near the Eavis farm. Not only that, but food, water and clothes – everything we’d lost in the flood (besides the booze). We clambered up there, hope renewing in the blossoming sun.
Inside the giant barn were a dozen rows of hastily arranged wooden cots – our hotel for the weekend. Oxfam were handing out cups of teas and jam sandwiches to people sat bare-foot and smiling in tinfoil blankets. Boxes donated by the festival’s various clothes stalls arrived on the back of a tractor, and it was from there we picked our uniform for the weekend: me, a pair of white denim hot pants, Jim, a pretty summer dress.
Setting out into the festival, we of course decided our plight had a Dylanesque romance to it – when you’ve got nothing, you’ve got nothing to lose – that being robbed of what little material comforts we’d brought left us more in tune with the founding spirit of the weekend.
But that good feeling would soon have faded had it not been for the succession of kind-hearted strangers who helped us recoup our losses, the ones who, upon hearing we were the idiots who camped at the bottom of the hill, laughed and handed us a beer or a sandwich. All weekend, along with the volunteers and organizers, they kept us warm, fed and inebriated. The worst Glastonbury weekend for decades (in a meteorological sense) turned out to be one of the best weekends of our lives afterall.
They say two things about Glastonbury every year. First, that it’s going to be a mud bath. Second, that its soul is dying, that what made it special in the beginning is being slowly chipped away. In 2005 I learned that while the former is certainly true, the second has been much exaggerated.
What was your greatest Glastonbury experience? Let us know in the comments below.