My belated Glastonbury 2016 review

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Here’s an important question that needs to be answered: how long can you keep talking about Glastonbury after the event has been and passed? It’s an issue as thought-provoking as how long it is reasonably acceptable to keep your wristband on after the event, considering all the mud you embrace during your five days on the farm. But hey, leaving it a few weeks gives you plenty of time to reflect (plus life’s been pretty manic recently), so here are some of my thoughts on this year’s action on Worthy Farm…

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Who would have thought that London to Glastonbury would take 10 hours? No crazy detours either- our coach troupe set off at half 1 on Wednesday,  and we were just over 4 miles away by half 4. Fast forward three hours and we were only a mile closer. In the end, it was just before midnight that we reached the campsite having abandoned the coach just before 10 with three miles to go. This was my 3rd year at Glastonbury, and the queuing has never been as bad as this.

The only thing worse was the mud. The draining, soul-destroying mud. It doubled the length of every journey across the site, and made it impossible to sit down anywhere, meaning there were deep staring battles for chairs and the one patch of grass left in front of the Pyramid. Granted, it did lead to a few entertaining encounters as the luckless lost their wellies in the mud- followed by admirable demonstrations of camaraderie as we rushed in to help, embracing the true festival spirit. But even so, it was a relief to get back on solid ground once the weekend was over.

Why do I start on such negatives? Well, despite the queues, mud, and queues IN mud, Glastonbury still remains the highlight of my year, unchallenged in its celebration of contemporary music and art. Maybe it’s the sheer variety of bands, comedians and artists on offer that keeps me coming back; maybe it’s the sprawling variety of areas that after three years in a row I have still yet to explore entirely. Or maybe now it’s become a post-university tradition that nostalgia forbids me to break. In any case, Glastonbury amazed and delighted in equal measure once again.

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For musical highlights, there were plenty of well-chosen last minute decisions, such as the Syrian Orchestra, first on the Pyramid on Friday morning, with Damon Albarn leading a brilliant cover of Blur’s “Out Of Time”. Also on The Hell Stage at 2am on Sunday morning, we decided on The Apples, an Israeli funk nine piece who finished with a rousing cover of Rage Against The Machine’s “Killing In The Name Of.” Unexpected surprises such as Gentleman’s Dub Club in the Glade, and firm favourites exceeding expectations (Ezra Furman and The Last Shadow Puppets I’m looking at you)… too many bands to name!

However, I do have to mention my headliners. Firstly, Underworld on West Holts were the perfect frenzy for a Friday, an explosion of dance and light that set a commendable pace for the days ahead. I saw them at BBC 6 Music Festival earlier this year, but far from dissuading me that I had already experienced this set it only encouraged me to return. Then, Adele on Saturday was an unforeseen joy- or at least, I thought I would enjoy it, but I was surprised by just how much I did. It was just the right mix of banter to lift your spirits from the emotional depths that her songs plunged to.

Finally, we had LCD Soundsystem on The Other Stage, bringing us down with the curtain call. I knew this would be the one band I would kick myself the most for missing. It wasn’t just the gaiety of their sharp electronic rock; it was in the way James Murphy and his band performed that made it such an enjoyable experience.  From the pounding chants of “Us V Them,” the dance-punk ferocity of “Losing My Edge” to the final number of “All My Friends,” the piano chords refusing to relent, I felt suitably satisfied at the set and only just missing my friends in a few fields away, most of which opted for Earth, Wind & Fire.

 

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Overall, Saturday night was the maddest of the lot. Somehow, on a high after Adele finished with “Someone Like You,” several of our group made it to the fabled South East Corner, famed for its late night mind boggling madness. Shangri La in particular spins popular culture and the role of the media on its head; the twists to convention enveloping you, particularly after a few bevvies. It was here we saw The Apples, along with Dub Pistols and a DJ set from Mark Ronson and Tame Impala’s Kevin Parker, before I conceded defeat and made my way home along the railway line (which, I hasten to add, is covered over).

However, halfway along to home, I realized sunrise was just around the corner (or in this case, just over the horizon), and I was caught up with a few other enthusiastic night owls who were making their way to the Stone Circle at the top of the festival site. We arrived to a chorus of drums, percussion and otherworldly chants as the first rays leapt over the horizon. It was a site to behold, a new day at the festival… and then it was half five, and I realised how  truly tired I was, and I struggled back to camp. Even at six, as I finally got into my tent, there was still so much going on, refusing to give in to tiredness.

Glastonbury is full of experiences like that- maybe not all quite so draining- and even waking up late on Friday morning to the news we were leaving the EU did little to affect the festival spirit. Sure, it was mentioned plenty of times- Damon Albarn strolled onto the Pyramid stage a few hours after the result, and proclaimed “reasons to be cheerful? It’s not raining!” But Worthy Farm is one of those places you stride into, and suddenly all of your problems and woes ebb out of you. All I can say is, if you think the Pyramid looks one heck of a site on the telly, just wait till you glimpse it in the Somerset fields.

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The Half Five Drive

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Considering I’ve always wanted to work in radio, it seems silly that I never foresaw how difficult it would be to get up for work. After all, the breakfast show heralds the start of the day, so spare a thought for those who have to get up BEFORE the start of the day. But two months in to freelancing for local radio, mostly BBC Radio Kent, forcing myself awake just after half four is not getting any easier. However, asides from the bleary eyes, the even-earlier-than-early rise does have its perks.

BBC Radio Kent broadcasts from the Great Hall Arcade in the centre of Tunbridge Wells, on perhaps the most western corner of the county. With the TV studios for South East Today and digital teams also sharing the building, it’s an impressive operation that you’re proud to be part of. Normally the dozen or so miles to the office would be half an hour at peak times, but for me, it’s under twenty minutes. Why? Because there’s practically no one on the roads at half five in the morning, and it’s bloody lovely.

Most adults know the repetitive grind of the nine-to-five commute- endless queues, constant delays, the slog from one set of traffic lights to another. But before everyone else is up, the roads are motionless, a driver’s dream. The number of cars you encounter are so few that you wonder the reason they’re there in the first place. There’s the occasional taxi, a handful of delivery drivers, and others like me who reject the traditional work hours for whatever reason. The easy flow of the journey certainly beats the stagnant congestion and slight panic that you’re going to be late, which greets you every morning.

It certainly helps that the A264 from home in East Grinstead to work in Tunbridge Wells is a very pleasant one. Passing through a collection of sleepy villages at the top of Ashdown Forest, crossing one county into another, there are plenty of serene landscapes bursting with nature along the way. Of course, you get used to them when you make the same journey several times a week, but it still makes you smile occasionally, especially when you catch the different shades of colour striking the fields after sunrise.

Obviously there are a few downsides, some of which you can probably predict. Firstly, the tiredness. No matter how many times you do it, you never get used to getting up to work on a breakfast show. You can be a veteran of the industry, but that just means the bags under your eyes are even bigger. Maybe if I actually went to bed at eight like I said I would, rather than after ten and cursing my procrastination, maybe that would help. But nothing can prevent you from feeling tired at half five in the morning. Just thinking about that time makes me yawn.

But there are other factors to take into account that you might not expect. Deer, for example. Understandably, on the outskirts of an enormous forest, there are scores of the antlered animals, and they do have a habit of bolting across roads in groups. On one occasion, I came round a corner to find several of them lolloping on the tarmac. I’m still not sure who was more surprised at the encounter, but thankfully I was keeping well within the speed limit, or it would have been bye bye for Bambi.

To be honest, whatever your commuting pattern is, chances are it is not something you are likely to consider before starting the job. Okay, you may think about the distance, but not necessarily about the route itself. Rather, it is something that comes with the overall package, rather than being the deciding factor. But as a new driver, I much prefer the tranquil state of the half five drive. I’ll hold my hands up and admit it’s a tired tranquility, but you can’t have everything.

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Twenty two and single with a pass in driving theory

Not just an average Wednesday.

Not just an average Wednesday.

My frantic quest to finally learn to drive has had the unexpected side effect of giving my Mum Tourette’s. As we were practising around my hometown, we turned down a road with cars packed in along both kerbs. I crept along, trying not to notice the torrent of random swear words coming from my Mum as she leaned as far back as she could, with the expression of someone staring death in the face. Thankfully nothing happened, but as my judgement of what is considered enough room to drive through is not completely sound yet, it’s amazing I managed to pass the hazard perception part of my driving theory this week.

Unlike most of my friends, I didn’t start learning to drive when I was seventeen because I was saving all of my money for spending the summer holidays during my A-Levels touring Zambia, Botswana, Namibia and Malawi- in fact, pretty much every country in the south of Africa except South Africa itself. (I suppose we did stop off in Johannesburg on a flight transfer, but that’s another story.) After that, all of my efforts regarding finance were focused on university; I just couldn’t imagine affording all of the expenses that came with a car.

Typically, I felt quite under-prepared as I made my way to the test centre on Wednesday; focusing so much on the Highway Code meant that I had only spent a few days practising Hazard Perception, and my mock scores weren’t promising. In fact, by the time I was sat in my booth and ready to go, the whole experience of sitting an exam felt distinctly alien to me; the days of filing in to an exam hall packed with single desks and twitchy invigilators seemed like a lifetime ago, a period of my life that I had said farewell to.

As I had signed in, a few others around me had remarked that it was not their first time. Now with the first round of questions in front of me, I despondently pictured myself slouching in for a second attempt a few weeks later. I was resigned to a near miss, a valiant attempt where I passed my multiple choice but fell at the final hurdle because I failed to notice a virtual car changing direction; just one of life’s setbacks, I suppose. Considering this, you can imagine how overjoyed I was when I found out I had passed. The acknowledgement from the member of staff weren’t exactly bursting with praise, but then how many must they congratulate on a daily basis?

I know passing your theory test is not the most momentous feat. After all, the majority of people take it and pass it (some eventually), and the practical is going to be the tougher challenge. But as I emptied my locker, I couldn’t help overhearing the frustrations of a young lad who was due to start his test but had forgotten his provisional licence; it seemed that he had been genuinely oblivious to the fact he would need it. In contrast, I felt I had an achievement worth smiling about. An accomplishment is an accomplishment after all.

Preparing for London to Brighton #1: Beyond the Worth Way

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How do you react to one of your best friends asking you to take part in the London to Brighton ride? Do you frown with apprehension or cheer with full blown excitement? For me, it was a bit of both when my good friend James asked me last week. I love cycling- more for the rush as you fly along country lanes and roads than the abundance of lycra- but until recently I was very much a casual cycler, more concerned with enjoying the views than the amount of distance covered and maintaining speed.

Now, the London to Brighton bike ride is a fantastic cause, but it is certainly not a “casual cycle;” only the most arrogant and ignorant of beings would stroll up to the starting line without any prior preparation. James is much more of a serious cyclist than me (his collection of lycra proves this), but how could I let him down?  More than anything, signing up would give me the perfect excuse for working on my riding technique and overall fitness, so I agreed.

Two of the redeeming features of East Grinstead (for bike lovers in any case) are the cycle routes that lead out to the west and east of the town. Both mostly follow an old railway line from Three Bridges to Tunbridge Wells, which has now been revitalised as a peaceful wildlife corridor. The previous existence of the railway line means the trail is mostly flat with little change in gradient, making it perfect for hikers, horse riders and cyclists. The route ends at Three Bridges, but then continues north as part of route 21 on the National Cycle Network.

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Waking up on Wednesday morning to glorious weather, I decided today was the day to go beyond the usual route and see what I found. The journey west was remarkably smooth, with numerous families and dog walkers out enjoying the weather. Cyclists always make for interesting encounters; they smile in acknowledgement of your shared passion when they pass, but they’re also quite solitary for the most part. Even in groups, they often tail each other with barely a word spoken, focusing more on technique and speed.

I was quite happy in my own world as well, taking in the lush scenery and enjoying a few podcasts on my iPod. Before I knew it, I was at Three Bridges and the Worth Way was finished- now it was time to venture into the unknown, keeping an eye out for directions while impatient drivers looked for the right moment to overtake.

Once I began heading into Crawley’s suburbs, the journey took a very different tone. Not that it was unpleasant, but the dense greenery of the Worth Way vanished altogether. Bleak, monotonous buildings that go for purpose above character dwarfed every corner, and as I got closer to Gatwick Airport I encountered vast technology parks, where the only inviting attribute was the smell of bacon frying from the occasional burger van

Before my ride I had been enamoured with the idea of finding somewhere to sit and watch the planes, like a cyclist version of Elton John (I could certainly give him a run for his money with the lycra). But as the landscape became more rigid, I decided to focus on moving along as quickly as possible; at least the scenery encouraged me to up my speed! The only difficulty I had was keeping track of where I was going, and I found myself lost on two occasions; I can’t imagine what the suave, desk bound office dwellers thought of me circling one of the technology parks in my luminous cycling jacket, looking like a rave on wheels.

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Suddenly I emerged from Gatwick’s south terminal into Riverside Garden Park, a welcome flash of nature after the urban onslaught. Unsurprisingly, nothing greeted me as I dismounted and looked over the lake; there was only a robin on one of the benches, and even he buggered off as I moved closer. I did spy a rabbit hidden in the undergrowth, and I felt a tinge of sadness as he navigated the brambles and found his way blocked by Styrofoam boxes and crisp packets. The problem with nature is that is always so easy to ruin it.

After resting a while, my mind turned to lunch and I decided to head back. That’s always the hardest part of the journey, when you have to start making your way home. I always find that’s the hardest part of the journey, when you have a long way ahead of you with rarely anything new to see and you’re well on your way to being knackered. Even so, as I left the technology parks behind me and got back onto the Worth Way, I was reminded of how lucky I am to have such an amazing cycling route on my doorstep, secluded from traffic and idyllic for the most part.

The ride was meant to improve my fitness and set me up for an afternoon of work. Instead, I gorged on treats and felt knackered for the rest of the day, as you would expect from having ridden twenty-six miles. Not exactly peak performance but hey, we’ve all got to start somewhere. London to Brighton is still eleven weeks away…