Bath duly collapsed into, but not for too long, still buzzing too much after the weekend and the drive home. I expect I'll keel over later when it all catches up with me - and I've been provisionally invited round to Sarah's this evening - though I actually managed reasonably decent amounts of sleep each night. The latter was thanks as much as anything to the immaculate condition of the Cheltenham racecourse camp-site, with no lumps or other unevenness to speak of, and Greenbelt being one of the more civilised festivals when it comes to late-night rowdiness - though I still took and used my earplugs, thanks Zoe!
Anyway, I was about twenty minutes away from Cheltenham when Emily texted me to ask how big a space I would need for my tent. I had been a bit negative about it all in the run-up, but that cheered me immensely, to realise I was going to be with friends right from the start. Emily met me at the entrance to "our" field and guided me in, and I was soon pitched up and had parked my car in the distant car park. It was a little damp as I arrived, but the afternoon turned out glorious, though reverted just in time for the opening ceremony, which was consequently a somewhat muted affair. That was also my first glimpse of the main area of the festival, which made heavy use of both the buildings and open spaces at the racecourse - in some ways great, in other ways not so, particularly the lack of any single really decent sized venue.
Throughout the weekend, I dipped into and out of things quite a bit, which was the only way to do things really, given how much was going on at any one time. Pick of the bunch on Friday night though were Steve Lawson, a rather good bassist, who - like Ed Alleyne Johnson with his purple electric violin - makes heavy and imaginative use of sampling and looping to build up his pieces from nothing as he goes along, and Steve Apirana with his often quite funny Maori blues. Also on Friday I managed to meet up with Steve, Jenny and co from Burnham, who I'd not seen since before sadder events earlier in the year. It was good to see them all, and I spent a reasonable amount of time with them during the first half of the weekend, though it all got a bit too much for me, and in a way it was a bit of a relief when I found they'd made an early exit on Monday so there was no chance for any potentially painful goodbyes.
There were a few sharp showers on Saturday, but that was the last of the bad weather for the whole weekend, and although it was overcast for much of the time, I still needed the sun-block so as not to turn completely lobster-coloured! Saturday was a bit of a naff day really, at least musically speaking, though I went along to interesting talks by John Smith - speaking about "the great spiritual confidence trick" perpetrated by many well-known churches - and Lionel Fanthorpe, of motorbiking Fortean vicar fame - speaking on his pet topic of unsolved mysteries. I felt really quite low by the end of the day, but realised it was as much because of the dullness of the programme - apart from the above mentioned items, of course - as anything, and that things were bound to perk up for the rest of the weekend.
And indeed they did, with an excellent if somewhat ramshackle communion service for about 12000 on Sunday morning - including Archbishop Rowan Williams' infamous jig - which will hopefully feature on Songs of Praise's coverage of the festival for broadcast in September. Apart from dutifully going along to watch Thebandwithnoname - for whom I produce a promotional webpage on Gareth's site - it was largely a Martyn Joseph themed day, however. Martyn's "The Rising" song-writing session at lunchtime ended up featuring the whole of his Faith, Folk and Anarchy trio. OK, so Show of Hands don't include him, but only just, and Faith, Folk and Anarchy ended up bringing Phil Beer on to stage anyway... Both the latter were of course excellent and amongst the true highlights of the whole weekend.
By Monday, it really felt like the end was drawing near, which was quite a relief in a way, but there was another good line-up of music and other things before things could really draw to a close! Martyn Joseph's lunchtime session included Martin Smith from Delirious and the aforementioned Steve Apirana, and of course Delirious brilliantly headlined in the evening, along with All Star United, who I didn't really think so much of to be honest. I also went along to an interesting seminar entitled "Christians in cyberspace: the good, the bad and the indescribably boring", where some quite useful opinions and advice were shared, a lot of which would be relevant to all web-pages, but with a Christian slant to it all.
Unlike Emily and the others, I didn't loiter too long after Delirious had finished, got a good night's sleep and was pretty much ready to get up by six this morning, with minimal packing to be done. However I wanted to say goodbye to Emily and the others who were a long way from being up and about themselves, so read for a little before taking a leisurely breakfast and putting the finishing touches to packing. Not really wishing to queue to bring my car back on to the camp-site, I managed to condense all my stuff down to what I could easily carry to the car park, and I consequently got away at about half past eight I think, and was home about two hours later.
A few observations, which probably apply to most festivals:
- If you leave enough space between tents to keep to fire regulations, some muppet will pitch their tent in the gap
- If you expect a band to be on late, they'll be on early
- If you expect a band to be on early, no prizes for guessing what happens
- The longer you queue for the loo, the less likelihood there is of there being paper
- If you go digging in your stuff for the loo roll, you'll find the rare occasion on which the loos have been cleaned out and re-stocked with paper
- "Modestly priced wholesome food" is rarely anything but - especially when you've bought two meals to make up for their lack of size
- There is always stomach room - and wallet resources - for a bag of doughnuts
"Will I go again?" people were asking me. I really don't know. Although with friends for so much of the time, I felt a deep loneliness for other reasons, and I don't think I would go back unless I had some company really and truly of my own. I've found this before with festivals, but perhaps due to a combination of the nature of the festival and the preceding circumstances, I felt it more than ever this weekend. I'd still reach out a huge thank you to all those who tried so hard to make me happy, and you managed for much of the time, but whether I'd do it all over again in a year's time - well, at least I have a year to think about it...