Or: The Rainbow Years
Were you there? If so, I probably didn’t see you. It was a seething scrum, after all. Did you watch Bob Dylan? Oh, was he that dot on the stage, almost out of sight, literally, even in the days when I didn’t need glasses? And did you enjoy hanging out with the love crowd of ’69? Hmm – in between the hunt to find food and an unpolluted toilet, I can’t say it was my most blissful experience.
But, hey, I do love to remember the festival that I hated! It was a journey of self-discovery, after all. The one where I discovered I didn’t like crowds, rock music and being stuck on small islands. And quite genuinely, my 60s memories are precious to me. I was there – I saw, I did. I am entitled to reminisce, with a groan.
It looked promising, on arrival. A pleasant green field to put up our tiny two-man tent, lots of space around. That didn’t last. My then-boyfriend, later- husband and I relaxed, allowed ourselves to become chilled out, probably spaced out too. Then tents began to spring up all around us, liberally sprinkled with lager-swilling inhabitants. Not the dope-smoking, happy hippies we were used to, or the students of our own normal habitat, but rough tough guys out to make a weekend of it using traditional methods of booze and fighting to enhance the experience. Nearby copses and ditches soon became unusable as green loos, and the excited chattering became a continuous twenty-four hour uproar. Despite my long hair and generally dishevelled appearance, I was actually an early-to-bed, prefers folk to-rock kind of wimp.
I only have short memory clips of the weekend but those that remain are certainly connected with moments of self-awakening. We started to go hungry. The organisers hadn’t expected such huge crowds, around 150,000 it’s estimated. They hadn’t provided enough toilets (‘nuff said already) or food. First basic insight: I don't like to live without loos or sustenance - why pay for the privilege of doing that? Once the local village shop had run dry of groceries, we watched as festival vendors hiked their prices higher and higher. The equivalent of £10 for a slice of fruit pie, for instance. I saw and noted how exploitation and greed flourishes even when the message is freedom, peace and love. That’s two revelations, and the third was more of a confirmation. I couldn’t really be bothered with the speck of Dylan on a faraway stage, droning out music I’d heard already and didn’t particularly like. I should have known that; I had queued overnight on a Birmingham pavement with friends a few years earlier just for the fun of it, to buy Dylan tickets which I didn’t then want to use. (And no, I didn’t sell them on at a profit!) Hmm – so I was a dead loss at a festival then, wasn’t I?
Fourth revelation: I couldn’t leave when I wanted to. When the crowds built up, it became impossible to get where you wanted, even just walking around, let alone trying to get off the island. Besides, my boyfriend was all for staying and he seemed to be enjoying himself. After the festival finished, we had to join a shuffling throng of refugees trying to make their way to the port and onto a ferry boat back to Southampton. It took hours. I remember then driving through Winchester (probably, we’d hitched a lift – though how we managed that with so many others around, I don’t know) and silently intoning the words of the song ‘Winchester Cathedral, you’re bringing me down’ to myself.
I’ve tried the Isle of Wight, festivals and camping since, though separately, never all together again, and have to say that my illuminations on that occasion proved to be correct. I don’t like any of them. I blurted out my antipathy for the Isle recently at a family get-together, only to discover that a certain tribe of in-laws hail from there. We managed to make a joke of it – just. My daughter has done the correct thing though and rebelled against her mother’s preferences. She’s a professional festival organiser. She cut her teeth on illicit entries to Glastonbury – once in a drum box, in a roadie’s van – and has organised music events across Europe and Australia. I’m very proud of her, just as long as I don’t have to go too.