Waving Flags

Photo - Alexandra Gadsby, 2009
Glastonbury 2009 was the most wonderful weekend. I hesitate to use the word "perfect", but it's quite difficult to consider as to how it could possibly have been any better. The weather was on its best behaviour - the downpour was reserved for the final night. We were drenched, but never oppressively so, and the apocalyptic thunder leant a glorious air of tribal finality to the proceedings, or something. That said, I had, by that point, run out of clean clothes, so travelling back wasn't too pleasant - oh, and the organisation of the buses and such getting in left a lot to be desired. I mean, granted, admirable considering just how many people had to be ferried and - forget it, we look back on everything with wistful laughter, we genuinely did not want it to end.
Compared to 2007. 2007 was a nightmare. It didn't stop raining. Ever. Well, there was brief respite during Modest Mouse's set (right on cue, when they played Float On, no less) which meant that the mud could never dry so it was an exhausting slog to get anywhere. Queueing for the bus on the way home was hell. Or, at the very least, limbo. So excruciating that a bag of barely soiled bagels oozing past on its own quagmire was genuinely tempting. A middle-aged woman wrapped in foil, face reddened, had been up all night, was slumped in a chair sipping whatever medicine the paramedics were offering her through a straw. She hadn't seen her husband all night; she hadn't slept she'd been so cold. At what point did her Glastonbury stop being a festival and become a Stalinist purge? Back then I was less-informed. I used to say that my friends and I, having "survived" Glastonbury 2007, would have fared quite well under communism. Look, it was my first time, OK?
And the sound on the Pyramid Stages was a bit muffled. Not this time, though! This time, you could hear every spellbinding beard-scratching note of E-Street euphoria with all the warming clarity of that clean, well-lit place of the gods. Problem was, you couldn't really see what was happening. Too many flags. You know there's a problem when even those giant screens are obscured by a fluttering mass of colour and slogan. Blindness born on the wind of enthusiasm!
Flags are a controversial issue at the best of times. To rally 'round a flag is dangerous - the things they can stand for! Imagine those three Isle of Man conjoined legs of horror cartwheeling down the street in order to kick you into dreadful submission! The flag! Point at the flag and donate your legs to the cause!
At festivals, however, it's a different matter. Flags. What do they say about you? That you like sausage? That Jermaine has confirmed that it is, indeed, time for business? That you're Scottish? Yep. Look at me. I'm Scottish but, get this, I'm at a festival in ENGLAND. Just to let you know, though. I'm Scottish. Yeah? Flags. We made a flag for 2007. We each had a corner in which we could go nuts. I attempted a Magritte tribute in my corner. A tree, a man with a hat instead of a head. I tried to write "This is not a tree" but it came out as "this is not woodland". Same message, essentially. Just a little clumsier. For that weird pagan edge I added the salmon of knowledge. Beautiful stuff. Alluring naked woman in the top corner by Alex, whose photograph simply ADORNS this post! Natalie provided a comprehensive list of all the things one is likely to encounter at such a place (drugs, music, sex - usual suspects) and we filled in the gaps with some clouds, psychedelic swirls and a giant pyramid stage, the whole thing glowed in the dark it did! 
Yeah, you can have a lot of fun with flags. Just that we never got to use ours. Too wet. Glow in the dark paint when running I imagine resembles the tears of a radioactive ghost. A tragic sight indeed that would have compounded our collective grief. But it took pride of place on our living room wall when we lived together, reminded us of the good times, such as they were - yep, flags, community, fun. Fun. Fun! Fun? Fun.
Just that they can, perhaps, be a little too fun, as was illustrated at this years festival. It is uplifting to see so much billowing colour rippling in time with the music - joy solidified - but when you're there to see BRUCE and all you can see is SAUSAGE, there's a problem. A problem which has been addressed by the organisers of this years Reading and Leeds festivals. Banning flags from the arena. Brilliant! Beautiful VISTAS of rock music completely unobscured by anything! Until people start getting up atop each others shoulders. But they usually get down after the third volley of piss.
Taking heed, Michael Eavis claims to be considering a similar move for next year's Glastonbury. Theoretically, this could make 2010's even better than this years. This time we'll be able to see AND hear bands on the Pyramid Stage! I'm not quite sure how it would be enforced, though. At Reading and Leeds, where the live arena is seperate to the camping area, it would be comparatively easy. At Glastonbury, however, well, they could confiscate them upon entry, but what of the stalls that sell them? What of those? And fishing rods. Flags can be erected atop those, surely? So, what? They going to ban fishing rods, too?
Flags. They're just flags. To claim that they ruined your festival would be nit-picking. And yet, they did get on my nerves. Hmn. I think I would be quite happy if they went. The only thing is, crowds of such magnitude are difficult to navigate. Without flags as markers, how would we ever meet up with the friends from whom we are seperated? No longer able to say such things as "meet me 'neath the Dalmation after Stonehenge", we'd instead have to do such awful things as wave our arms in the air, holler, or resort to flare guns - now, the flare guns at Glastonbury, THEY were scary. Those things burn.

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