Glastonbury 2014…

I was having a pint with Billy Bragg after a busking session in February when he asked me if I wanted to come to Glastonbury. “I run a stage there, the Left Field. You could do a talk, we could sing together, if you like,” he said. I remember opening and closing my mouth like a codfish, and then bouncing up and down shouting: “Oh my God, yes, I’d love to. Bloody Glasto! Bloody singing with Billy bloody Bragg at bloody Glasto? Yes!”

And so, a few months later, my girlfriend Allegra and I found ourselves sitting at the kitchen table, compiling a list of “Glastonbury essentials”, including S-hooks, Deep Heat and Dioralyte. I had been camping a lot, and fancied myself as a bit of an expert. (As it turned out, the 127 items we listed didn’t include a spatula or a scourer, which made frying sausages slightly more of a challenge than it could have been.)

On Thursday morning, we loaded up the car, and began the three-hour trip, including an exciting drive past Stonehenge. On arrival, we were surprised to find Andy and his Land Rover waiting to collect us from the car park. Another volunteer, Callum, found us a pitch not too far from the loos (standard and compostable) and helped us assemble our tent. We blew up beds and pegged in groundsheets, and I started to write my speech for the next day. “I want to go back to the other house,” grumbled Small Child. “The one with the guinea pig in …”

Later in the evening, we decided to head out for an adventure beyond the Left Field site. We hoisted Small Child on our shoulders, and ground to a halt a few feet away. Hordes of people as far as the eye could see, crashing and stumbling into one another in varying states of intoxication. We shuffled through them, inching around the swarm of humans ranging from the oblivious to the aggressive, before turning around to retreat to our patch of khaki canvas.

Friday morning was sausages and bacon stuffed into a croissant, with fresh coffee bubbling away in the Bialetti stovetop espresso maker under the canopy. Well, you don’t take a chef to a festival for nothing! The espresso maker seemed to be a source of amusement to people walking past our tent, whistling and bubbling away on top of the blue camping stove. I shrugged. I was lying on a blowup mattress in a tent that didn’t meet the groundsheet and was pooling water, in a chunky jumper, having managed about four hours’ unbroken sleep. I was making no apology for having a cup of decent coffee to get me through the morning.

Come midday, I was standing backstage listening to Michael Eavis giving a moving tribute to the late and great Tony Benn. I had thrown up twice, and was clutching journalist Ros Wynne Jones’s arm with fear. I had given this speech a hundred times before, and knew that anyone who came to Left Field would make a receptive audience, but I was terrified. “I can’t believe you’re singing after this,” Ros whispered. “You must be nuts.” I shot her a look intended to kill her on the spot, and hissed that I was concentrating on one thing at a time. It was her fault I was here at all – we had worked together on a petition for a food-bank debate in parliament, and she had taken me there a year ago to speak about hunger in Britain. We took our seats on stage.

“I was asked here today to talk about the politics of food banks,” I said. “There should be no politics in food banks. But when the government is threatening to close down one of the largest organisations that distribute emergency food aid in Britain, the Trussell Trust, then we know that food banks are a political issue. When senior Tories come out to condemn food banks and their users as reckless, irresponsible, freeloading opportunists, we know food banks are a political issue …”

And so on, until John Harris, who was compering, summed up with: “In the Jack Monroe vernacular, vote the fucking Tories out and join a fucking union.” Exactly. Why write a 10-minute speech when a mere 10 words will do?

Before long, I would be on the phone to my dad, boasting that I had just stepped off stage from singing with Billy Bragg at Glastonbury. I could hear him grinning down the line. The truth was, I massively mucked it up. Having shuffled on to the stage to join Billy to sing A New England, I missed my cue twice. He looked at me, I opened my mouth, and nothing came out. “Erm … I’m really sorry, but I’m actually quite shy and I’m shitting myself up here,” I mumbled, blushing at the audience and shuffling my feet. Billy laughed and told me I’d feel better if I said, “HELLO GLASTONBURY!” I grinned and shyly squeaked in a very small voice: “Um, so, hello Glastonbury.” Billy struck up the introduction for the third time, and I noticed everyone was roaring along with me as I was singing in a broad cockney accent. And I was singing. On stage. At Glastonbury. And I didn’t throw up on my boots.

That evening found us standing in a muddy field with thousands of people, arms around each other in a row, swaying and belting out the words to Elbow’s One Day Like This as the sun set over Worthy Farm, and surreptitiously shooting Glastonbury sunset photos with one hand, while swigging pre-mixed whisky and coke from a warm can with the other. “Throw those curtains wide, one day like this a year would see me right …”

“Morning boys!” I wandered over to the Fire Brigades Union tent opposite ours, swinging half a bladder of white wine on Saturday morning. “We’re up and off, so can I tempt you with my leftover warm chardonnay?” They eyed it suspiciously, and I realised it bore more than a passing resemblance to an extremely large and full catheter bag.

And then, with my second bacon-and-croissant breakfast in a row, the dismantling began. Beds deflated (which was as much work as inflating them), sleeping bags stuffed back into sacks, muddy clothes rammed into a carrier bag, bedrooms unclipped, bags packed, soggy groundsheets rolled up, 17 tent pegs duly yanked out of the ground, one tent stuffed back into its quite-small bag, and we were ready to go home. Andy helped us load the back of his Land Rover and drove us back to the car. As we inched out (following Andy’s advice of “second gear, low revs”), it started to pour with rain.

To sum up my first Glastonbury experience? Well, I didn’t really feel like I went to the Glastonbury festival I had read about in the newspapers and seen on the telly. I popped my head into it for a look at Elbow and an accidental foray too close to the dance tent, and scurried away again, terrified by all the scantily clad muddy young things and serious festival-goers. I really went to the Left Field festival, a pleasant, safe, family affair, watched over by a contingent of friendly firefighters camping opposite, and spent most of it sitting in my tent with friends and family, or playing Snap with a bunch of kids, or throwing up with nerves in the portable toilets. In the words of my darling, “It was a good adventure, but I’m glad to be home.”

Jack Monroe. Twitter: @MsJackMonroe


24 thoughts on “Glastonbury 2014…

  1. ‘I was having a pint with Billy Bragg after a busking session in February when he asked me if I wanted to come to Glastonbury.’

    You win the Internet!! :D

  2. Great to hear about this; you write in such an entertaining way and you’re a thoroughly likeable spokesperson for those who are always in danger of being trodden underfoot – I mean by government policy rather than festival-goers!

  3. Oh wow!! What can I say …… WELL DONE, what a brilliant post and what a wonderful bank memories you are storing up. Small Boy must be SO proud of his Mum :-)

  4. Well done Jack, nice to hear you are getting out & about and experiencing a bit of life, you deserve it. Best wishes with whatever you do in the future!

  5. My sister and I are both followers of your blog, so we specifically came to find you at Leftfield after seeing you post about it the week before. And I just wanted to say that you were wonderful, your speech was great and we are so pleased we got to see you speak in person (you are also not the only one for whom Glastonbury is more about friends and family, Elbow, avoiding the dance tent and spending time in Leftfield!). Like Tony Benn said, events like that are so important to inspire, encourage and restore your faith in other humans, particularly when aged 25 and 23 you increasingly feel let down by every political party. I have visited several food banks through the fuel poverty work I do in my day job, so I’ve heard similar stories to those discussed on the panel, but it is essential that those voices are heard and as a nation we aren’t allowed to forget or ignore that there are people in Britain going hungry in 2014. We hope you enjoyed your Glastonbury experience!

  6. Hi Jack! I was in the audience for your debate in the leftfield. Definitely the highlight of my festival, which is saying something what with dolly, elbow and Mr Bragg.
    You were so forceful and coherent, it really recharged my belief in personal action. In a slightly fangirl way it was so exciting to see you speak after following your blog for such a long time.

  7. First off, I need that list of yours. I am going camping this year in the first time for years and haven’t got a clue. Please? :)

    Secondly, when and why did Little Boy become Small Child?

    Thirdly, and most importantly, I just died from envy over the whole Billy Bragg thing. I think now is the time to tell the world that among the top three most amazing open-air concerts of my life, Billy Bragg, together with The Imagined Village, at the Rudolstadt TFF (Europe’s biggest Folk & World Music festival), holds the absolute top-spot. It was midnight, it was a full moon, and it was in the courtyard of a medieval castle on top of a mountain, when he and his bandmates created pure magic. And it was fucking freezing (hippie-dippie festival wear has its limitations) and I just couldn’t leave.

  8. I was in the crowd at Leftfield too. Your words were really powerful and inspirational. Thank you!

  9. I was in the audience when you spoke at Left field, your words were so powerful I cried! I had been in a similar situation to you and it really brought all those feelings back. I think it’s really important to let people know what it’s like to be living in poverty and not just what the Daily Mail would have you believe and I think you do that incredibly well.

  10. Hi Jack

    Just wanted to say, good bloody job at Glastonbury. We were there & saw how you were shaking before the debate began, but by fuck, you told it like it is. We were so happy to be able to say hello afterwards. I was proudly wearing my Unison, NEVER TRUST A TORY WITH YOUR NHS T-shirt. Hope to see you back there next year?

    Archie & Carmen

  11. This made me laugh – not because of anything to do with Glastonbury but because we take our Bialetti camping too! It’s much quicker than boiling a kettle which you’d need for either instant or a cafetiere and much easier to clean than a cafetiere. Practical and makes the mornings after sleeping in a tent in the rain a bit more bearable.

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