Dynargh dhe'n Blogofrob

Wednesday 27th July 2005

I'm commuting in and out of work everyday, thanks to the location of my new flat. It's odd to feel apprehensive when it's time to go home, and I never really relax on the tube. These feelings are not particularly rational. When people say that statistically the chances of being murdered on the Underground are very small (although not so small as winning the lottery) they are, of course correct. Despite this, I feel uneasy, like many people. I look around for potential bombers (as if spotting them would do any good). I feel relieved when I step off the train. Logically, it's insane, but I just can't help it. Nor can a lot of other Londoners if various website and blog comments are anything to go by.

So it wasn't especially helpful for LoveFilm to mail me 9/11 the other day. And it wasn't especially helpful for me to feed it into the DVD player and settle down to watch it yesterday evening.

Back in 2001, filmmakers Jules and Gedeon Naudet were shooting a fly-on-the-wall documentary in a downtown Manhattan fire station. Early on 11 September the camera followed some firefighters responding to a report of a gas leak. As the firemen wave their odd looking gas detector gadget over a grating in the pavement, the sound of a plane causes them to look up briefly before returning to their work. The camera however finds the plane, and follows it into the side of one of the towers of the World Trade centre. The footage is one of only two known images of the first plane crashing into the building. The film goes on to record the events of the next few hours - one camera is on the streets, the other inside the WTC.

The film is refreshingly unpoliticised (limited more or less to one fireman muttering "son-of-a-bitch" at George W. Bush) and free from religious commentary. Any patriotism is also pleasantly muted (by American standards). It is simple reportage. I found the film profoundly affecting. The ability of those images, which we no longer see on the television, to astound and horrify with almost the same impact as four years ago surprised me. They are also a chilling reminder of the lengths to which some will go, gripped by vicious faith in their actions and an unshakeable belief that they are right.

77 - posted at 09:02:49
permalink

Click here to add a comment


Monday 18th July 2005

Back in those care free June days it seemed like a good idea to move further away from work. In between smugly blogging plans to move, I relished emancipation from EC1's concrete and the daily sight of the Barbican's jagged towers. Now following "a major incident" (in the awkwardly coy language of Transport for London) I wonder whether living within walking distance of the office was such a bad thing.

But it's done now, and it was all pretty painless - especially finding the new flat, which is a lovely place on a quiet treelined road. Following one and half years in Clerkenwell I'd almost forgotten what a leaf looked like. On Friday I took the day off work, as did my wonderfully supportive girlfriend, and hired a white van. All Congestion Charged up with my foot hesistantly tapping the gas, we headed into the maelstrom. The traffic in London on Friday was horrific, as the Budget car hire man cheerfully predicted when he handed me the keys that morning. Apparently a large number of citizens have, since 7 July, abandoned the buses and tubes and taken their cars out for a spin. It didn't help that I had to putter along the Euston road, even more snarled up than the rest of this blighted city. Half the streets off it were closed, including the one leading to Tavistock Square, the route shielded by 20 foot high tarpaulin stretching from building to building. It took over an hour to get from Clerkenwell to Belsize Park and I rarely moved out of first gear, spending most of the time staring out at the chaotic tangle of vehicles, grimy and spluttering. Thank God I managed to cram everything I owned into the back of the Renault Kangoo (except, alas two tea towels, currently sitting forgotten in a deserted EC1 kitchen). Two trips in that heat and traffic would have severely tested my resolve.

I've already taken advantage of the new neighbourhood. Earlier in the week, I sidled down the hill towards Camden to catch JJ72 attempting to propel themselves back into the city's collective CD player. The last time I enjoyed their fantastically fey rock was in 2002, when they filled the London Forum. Then they disappeared. Last Tuesday they failed to sell out the Camden Underworld and were without their (ahem) watchable original bass player. But they still sounded stunning and their new bass player is equally watchable. And they're nothing like Placebo.

76 - posted at 13:03:21
permalink

Comments (5)


Thursday 14th July 2005

A week ago London was attacked with the same savage and indiscriminate cruelty that was the hallmark of the attacks on New York and Madrid, and is a feature of everyday life for citizens in areas of Iraq and other troubled parts of the world. The complete disregard that such attackers have for the sanctity of human life has always been unsettlingly alien to the way most people think in this country. To suddenly find that it has arrived here and crashed into daily life is terrifying.

Tony Blair, Ken Livingstone and various other figures in authority advocated "Business as Usual" and subsequently praised Londoners for their defiance in getting on with life. Perhaps the people of London are more stoic than those in, for example, Madrid - who quickly assembled a mass demonstration soon after their tragedy and appeared to be moved to remove their government because of it (I am making no judgement on which is the better reaction to have). And in certain other parts of the world I can imagine riots and further deaths as a result. But, I am afraid and ashamed to say, that the times I've been on a bus or a tube in the past week I haven't been consciously sending a message to the terrorists. I've had to do it. There was no choice.

Just before midday today around 300 people assembled in the large square in front of my building. There was an incessant babbling of voices. I wondered how we would know when midday arrived. Then, suddenly, with no obvious provocation, the talking stopped and the traffic stopped. As well as those in the square, people lined the pavements and stood at their office windows. Recently I had started to feel that these silences were becoming too common and too long. Every football match seemed to start with one for somebody or other. But today, despite myself, I felt very moved. Of course people are being killed daily in various trouble spots through the world. December's tsunami in South East Asia killed thousands more than died on their way to work last week. But I ran through the photos of those people in my head and thought about the pure stupidity that drives fanatics. I briefly thought about the wider mess this is part of. And I thought, selfishly but inevitably, about myself ("It could have been me") and a new awareness of how vulnerable we are.

75 - posted at 12:08:12
permalink

Click here to add a comment


Friday 1st July 2005

Wednesday

Overly keen, I arrived at Paddington with 40 minutes to spare, and spent the time sitting on my rucksack round the back of Burger King, contemplating the gradual concertina-ing of my spine. Carrying three tents plus other Glastonbury essentials from Clerkenwell to Paddington was already taking its toll. The atmosphere on the train was boisterous, carriages full of festival goers, who eventually spilled out into the sunshine bathing Castle Cary station and joined the queue for the free festival buses.

I found myself on an old coach, sat just behind the driver, a late middle-aged and affable man with a strong West Country accent. At one point, as the coach was trundling along the road, he left his post at the wheel to stroll across the vehicle and open the door ("for air") showing the kind of disregard for human life acquired only by ferrying charabancs of day-trippers around the country for forty years. Every now and again he'd bend the microphone down to his mouth to give his passengers news of the treats awaiting them on the farm, such as that, because of the hot weather, there was already a lot of nudity on the site -

"...and I mean nudity. There's going to be some burnt nipples tomorrow morning."

As if to underline the nipple theme, we turned a corner and the Glastonbury Tor hove into view. And then, to the left, the sprawling festival site unfolded, the sun glittering off the windscreens of hundreds of cars, the serpentine superfence shimmering in the haze.

Soon I was again stooping under the weight of the rucksack, staggering towards the campsite above the Pyramid Stage, sweat pouring off me. Already I was in need of a shower - unfortunately the nearest one of those was Monday afternoon. I didn't stop until I heard the buzzing of the power lines at which point I cast down the rucksack, pulled out the tents and started construction. There was a moment, hands full of indeterminate poles and awkwardly shaped canvas, when I wondered if really this was just a colossal waste of time, but suddenly the shells of three tents were there, pegged down and ready for the weekend. Meanwhile, I had spread the flysheet of one of the tents out to reserve an area for a fourth tent - being brought by Matt in the evening. I sat in my camping chair, watching over the space, like Greyfriars Bobby over the grave of his master, silently snarling at anyone who looked like encroaching on it. By the time Claire arrived onsite at about 6 in the evening, a Eurohike sponsored shanty town covered the hillside, an empty field six hours earlier. The space for the fourth tent was still there - but at what expense? I hadn't brought any suncream and Claire politely avoided mentioning the smell of burning flesh, as the skin of my arms and neck bubbled gently under the sun.

Matt arrived an hour or so later, and put up the tent intended for George and Rohan, turning up the next day to complete our little camp. Finally we had four tents (the others for Claire and me, Matt and Sally and a spare one) circling a small but adequate 'sitting around' area and I could relax - and as I did I realised the pain thundering around my head. Sunstroke - not so bad that I saw pink goblins scuttling down from the Stone Circle towards me - but painful and disorientating all the same. That was it - I escaped into my expertly erected tent for the evening.

Thursday

A day with nothing to do - but dozing sluglike in my luxurious sleeping bag wasn't an option. The unforgiving sun was turning the inside of the tent into a furnace, and we had to struggle outside after blearily pulling on clothes and poking in contact lenses. On wandering through the site I got the impression that most people had arrived - the place was packed, the dusty stall lined streets of the festival buzzed with people, the constant conveyor belt of the paths, a familiar feature of festivals, had begun.

At my insistence, Matt, Claire and I spent most of the time darting from shady area to shady area, since my burnt skin started to tingle the moment the sun's rays fell on it. We eventually took up refuge at the Avalon Stage, a blue marquee near the circus field. A good spot for people watching, we whiled away a few hours with a couple of bottles of perry. Pleasantly drunk, we resumed our wandering of the site, through the Tipi field and up into the Green Fields. In the Green Fields it was business as usual - one of the first sights that greeted us was a tree planting ceremony. A couple of hippies were in paroxysms of joy as earth was packed around the base of a small sapling. The intestinal belch of a didgeridoo and a child throwing confetti everywhere accompanied the spectacle. Eventually we found a shady corner of the Greenpeace Kids Field within which to doze off the effects of the perry.

The campsite was alive most of the evening, people sitting up and talking until 3 or 4 o'clock in the morning, notably a group camped nearby who were yabbering away incessantly, a worthless stream of repetitive cretinous crap spewing from their diseased mouths. I quite enjoy sleepily eavesdropping on other people's conversations at festivals, but in this case, all I enjoyed was fantasising about bursting into the night, grabbing my mallet, tearing up all the pegs I could find and pitching a tent in their eyes.

Friday

By four in the morning, the campsite was quiet. Suddenly, from nowhere a strange wind coursed through the humid night, rippling the canvas, shaking the tents. I dozed off. I was woken by the clatter of heavy rain on the roof of the tent. There was a flash, then a few moments later deafening thunder crackled across the sky.

I retreated deeper inside the sleeping bag, waiting for the storm to move off. But the rain was unrelenting and the lightning got more frequent and violent, the thunder sounding like volleys of undisciplined artillery fire, increasing gradually in volume. At times the gap between the lightning and thunder grew longer, but not for long - the storm moved away from the valley only to circle back, returning with even more vehemence. I wondered if the deluge was focussed exclusively on the site, God finally deciding to kill all hippies.

At around 9am, I decided that I'd have to venture out. I pulled on jeans, trainers and a T-shirt, and with an umbrella headed into the storm. The rain continued to tumble down, heavy drops already accumulating into puddles, the hard earth unable to soak up the water. I splashed down the hill, past the Pyramid Stage. The flags aligning the path, that had flittered so colourfully the day before, were sticking limply to their poles.

At Joe Bananas, the famous blanket stall, business was brisk. I managed to grab a pair of size 11 wellies (a size too small, but inevitably "they only go up to 11") and a waterproof poncho - all of which set me back 30 quid. The prices at Glastonbury are remarkable - stall holders exploiting their captive audience. I don't think paying 4 pounds for a sausage in a bun is really in tune with the fair trade messages promoted incessantly elsewhere on the site. I headed back to the tent with my spoils, where I hid until the rain slowed to a light patter, and eventually, after a couple of deceptive lulls, stopped for good. Matt took up residence into the spare tent, apparently dissatisfied with the 'Indoor Rain' feature that came with his.

The music had been delayed for two hours. A beer tent had been struck by lightning (mmmm...electric beer). The site was crippled by power cuts. A hundred yards away from our tents, other campers found their temporary homes were pitched in the middle of a river - or otherwise discovered that these homes had already disappeared downstream. But the damage here was mild compared to the flooding at a campsite on the other side of the festival, where the tops of the tents peeked out from 4 feet of water.

Safe in my wellies, walking around the place was fascinating - there was shit everywhere. The paths were already past saving, deep with heavy sticky mud. Lakes had appeared, cutting off stalls while the garishly painted recycling bins bobbed around like debris from a ship wreck. Amongst the waterproofed wellied-up festival goers there were those painfully unprepared, shivering in their shorts and T-shirts, great clods of mud where their trainers used to be. And inevitably, the swimmers and divers were already out in force, covered from head to toe in sludge. If you ask me, it takes a considerable quantity of drugs to fling off your clothes and happily paddle around in what is essentially the excrement of thousands of strangers.

I popped into the Guardian Lounge - mainly to see what it was all about (sitting around on sofas with coffee and a copy of the paper) and caught the opening song of Brakes's set. The noise was a bit painful so, with Claire, I headed to the Pyramid Stage to watch The Zutons, who got the music proper off to an excellent start, although Claire didn't seem particularly willing to get involved in a discussion with me about whether or not Abi off The Zutons is fit.

After a few hours squelching here and there, and meeting up with Matt (who had been exiled to dry land - what was left of it - until Sally arrived with his boots) Sally, George and Rohan, I squelched about a bit more, but to the sound of The Killers who played a reassuringly familiar set, before Fat Zorro Jack White and his ex-wife Meg took the stage. The White Stripes were entertaining - in between messy and irritating bursts of noise and mini-tunes, they sounded great. However, I decided to trudge off before the end to find Lou Rhodes, and the others, less impressed by The White Stripes than me and emboldened by a few boxes of wine, decided to follow.

Up in the Small World Tent, far away from the heaving masses at the Pyramid Stage, Claire and I squeezed ourselves into a couple of seats (a.k.a the ground and a low table) next to a charcoal burning fire. On stage a refugee from the 1970s was leading a funky sounding band and playing jazz flute in between singing lines like:

"I want to leave, I want to leave, I want to leave the world of LSD, haaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhh."

The Small World stage was beautifully kitted out - red lanterns hung from the roof, their pleasant but muted glow meant the seated festival goers chatted in gentle semi-darkness, occasionally rising to get a hot drink from the bar at the back, or to let a man through to top up the coal on the fires. The others had disappeared - stuck in the mud and lost - but when they arrived half an hour later Lou Rhodes wasn't yet on stage, late for her half past midnight slot. When they left half an hour after that, the music still hadn't started. In the end, because of sound difficulties and a very slow set up, Lou and her band didn't appear until about 1:30am. But of course, naturally, inevitably, unsurprisingly, predictably (etc) it was worth the wait. Lou's new songs are in the vein of the Lamb lullabies, achingly beautiful, finely crafted and measured. Her voice is exquisite, aural treacle and I left the Small World Tent calm and happy. Claire left it fancying Lou Rhodes's double bassist.

It was the middle of the night. We strolled around the Green Fields a bit and poked our heads into random tents. In one, three of four people were sitting in the gloom watching a skinny bearded man playing the mandolin and singing about globalisation. The weak light pulsing out of the electric bulbs and the amplifier boosting the twanging of the mandolin were being powered by two men sitting astride a tandem, fixed to the ground. Their legs cycled continuously and the music was accompanied by the constant hiss of the turning wheels.

Eventually we headed back to the campsite through the quiet Green Fields, passing muffled pockets of sound - chanting in the distance, from the darkness somewhere near the path a guitar and elsewhere, the ubiquitous bongos. And then we were back in the centre of the festival, where the lights still blazed and people wandered, more aimlessly than before, looking for that one last unexpected discovery before they called it a night.

Saturday

For the first time ever, I found myself at the Pyramid Stage for the opening band of the day - Hayseed Dixie, who famously perform bluegrass covers of rock classics. Pushing their new album, A Hot Piece of Grass, their hillbilly front man uttered a refreshingly un-Glastonbury like question - "Can you feel the evil?". As the redneck joke got a little tired, we took another trip across the site, through the Leftfield Stage, the circus field and past the acoustic tent, where Morris Dancers jingled their way through the morning.

Back to the Pyramid Stage to watch an high-energy set from the Kaiser Chiefs, a band I really don't want to like, but can't help doing so. At one point I turned my head (wishing to avoid the sight of Ricky Wilson's 20 foot high builder's crack on the video screens as he struggled into the crowd for a bit of surfing) to appreciate the 'audience furniture' around me. There was the usual dismal contingent of national flags, but also a great variety of other, less nationalistic and more fun stuff - an inflatable monkey and a Saddam Hussein doll, both on long poles and both of which, at different times, were seen desperately humping the leg of the life-size cardboard cut-out of Kylie. Elsewhere a giant inflatable brontosaurus bounced around, eventually making its lumbering way onto the stage. Near me, men with pigeons on sticks harassed unsuspecting punters by gently pecking them on the head or knocking off their hats

Then to the Guardian Lounge. After catching the last few minutes of a set by a weather beaten growly old man (who the stage listing informed me was known as 'Shuffle'), we took up an excellent position beside the stage to watch Emiliana Torrini. Ignoring the supposed 'Make Poverty History' moment at 4pm, the set started with the winsome Icelander singing a few of her laid back songs, and amiably chatting in between - it was during part of her patter that she came up with perhaps the quote of the festival - "I always wanted to be in a thrash metal band".

A few refreshments later and suddenly it was dark and my feet were stuck in the mud of the John Peel tent. Over on stage the Magic Numbers were having a cracking time, as was everyone watching them, despite the group looking like the Shire's in-house band. It was a captivating and uplifting gig and the Magic Numbers seemed genuinely overwhelmed and happy at their reception, and I could make out perma-grins through their excessive head hair.

My feet unplugged, Matt, Sally and I headed through the new Dance Village, an incredible place - the central path was lined with hundreds of flags and from either side the sound of six or seven dance stages converged. Lights flashed everywhere and large inflatable neon shapes sat in the sky. The huge dark masses in front of the stages could only be identified as people by the silhouettes of thousands of raised hands. Our destination, past the village, was the Other Stage, a strangely desolate place at the best of times, but tonight bisected by a sizeable lake and a couple of streams sourcing it. Razorlight motored through an accomplished, if oddly dull performance, after which we headed up to the Stone Circle.

The place was packed, the field already skewered with about a hundred large camping candles. A healthy bonfire blazed away in the middle of the stones while various instruments (mostly from the drum family) were played inexpertly by delirious hippies. And there we stayed. After a while, lying back on the ground I felt the cold of the earth spreading through my body. I remember thinking how lucky it was that the dead don't feel the cold and then deciding that, even though I wanted to stick around for the sunrise, it was a probably a good moment to leave.

Sunday

The sun returned, trying its best to harden the mud - and it did a good job. Moving around was notably less energy sapping than on Saturday, and there were actually places where I could indulge in one of my favourite festival pastimes - sitting/lying on the ground doing not very much.

A trip to the Lost Vagueness field was on the cards for Sunday, and we made our way towards the chapel of Love and Loathing, where Kate Moss and a frog like simpleton in the Emperor's New Clothes were supposed to have got 'married' the day before. Inside a horsey woman dressed up as a priest renewed the vows of a self-satisfied looking couple in a boxing ring. Feeling a bit irritated by the contrived 'wackiness' of it I went and sat outside to people watch. After a while I was moved on by the other less lazy members of the group and we decamped to the Jazz World stage, where, thanks to my deft queuing, I managed to pick up the last two bottles of perry from the perry bus. And so we lounged in the sunshine, gulping down the sweet pear juice. It was pleasantly uneventful - apart from the moment when I looked up to see a naked man crouched in front of me, covered in white paint and staring.

"Burrrrhhhhh" he whispered, before scampering off to disturb someone else.

A bit dazed from the perry and the naked ghost, I took another turn around the Green Fields with Matt, Claire and Sally. I felt I could loiter around there for ever - it's a lovely area, very relaxing - always with something unusual and diverting going on. We found another tent not powered by conventional electricity - this time there were no stringy cyclists frantically peddling: instead the three female violinists in tutus were benefiting from solar power.

Back to the Pyramid Stage for a performance by a dazed looking Brian Wilson, but it went down well in the afternoon sunshine. At one point, towards the end of the set, a tent tied to six multi-coloured helium balloons and bearing the Banksy tag disappeared into the sky. I wonder where it ended up.

And then Matt and I nipped over to the Other Stage to watch the overrated Rufus Wainwright drone through a number of dirgy songs, including one with his sister Martha. Maybe it was the site of Rufus Wainwright stripped to the waist, but most probably it was a heady mix of perry and sunshine that brought on the familiar feeling of sunstroke. On the way over to the Other Stage I had bought 3 bottles of water, all of which I gulped down. But as Matt and I left the Other Stage area, slagging off Wainwright, I didn't feel any better. By the time we reached the Tadpole Stage, the venue of Ms Rhodes's second performance of the festival, I was beginning to wonder if something in my head was haemorrhaging.

The Tadpole Stage wasn't as cosy as the Small World Stage, but it was as small and also the kind of place where people sat, rather than swayed, while watching whoever was on stage. It was a lot emptier than the Small World Stage had been and Matt and I sat down on the thin benches. I was feeling woozier and the pain in my head was getting more acute. I decided to bin my plans to see Bright Eyes after watching Lou and stood up to ask Matt if I could borrow his phone in order to let Claire know - she was in a tent elsewhere watching Tori Amos. As I stood a not entirely unexpected wave of nausea surged through me, and I grabbed the phone and rushed out of the tent, brushing past Lou Rhodes on her way in. Oh God, I hope she didn't see me throwing up three bottles of water and a cheese/spinach/mushroom crepe into the recycling bins.

Empty, I lurched back into the tent. We had been joined on the bench by a rather talkative fellow, also waiting for the ex-Lamb singer's performance. Chatting away to my friendly neighbour, in between swallowing mouthfuls of bile, I learnt that on Saturday he had bumped into Lou in the Tipi field and had a rather nice chat to her. I sulkily mentioned my my non-encounter and the way I was being eaten up inside by regret.

Again the set up took ages with various sound problems arising and the guy at the sound desk seemingly incapable of doing his job. And so, Matt had to, for the second time, leave before a note was played, keen as he was to catch the beginning of Bright Eyes. And that was a shame, because again the performance of Lou and her band was mesmerising - it was a shorter, slightly different playlist this time. She was also joined by a percussionist, not present at the Small World Stage, whose principle instrument appeared to be a black clay vase.

For her last song Louise Rhodes made us all stand up, and beckoned us closer to the very low stage. Ah, it was brilliant. My brain kindly let some naturally occurring happy chemicals chug around my body, muting the pain of my sunstroke, and I felt the mild euphoria that only a superlative live music experience can provoke.

Slowly making my way back to the tent I cursed my head and the fact the festival was nearly over. I could have stayed for days.

Monday

And that's it. Over again - no more Glastonbury until at least 2007. The tents swiftly came down, the seagulls that had been ominously circling for the past 24 hours made their move, descending on the litter strewn ground. And with more ease than ever before, via bus and train, I was back in London and asleep on my bed.

74 - posted at 12:46:48
permalink

Comments (4)