The bizarre can become commonplace in Glastonbury. Things that in other towns might cause consternation, shock or front page headlines often raise barely an eyebrow.
There is considerably more chance of spotting a naked person out in public in the town than in most other places. A tourist was telling me he once witnessed a completely naked man wandering into the Riflemans Arms and buying a pint (I wonder where he kept the change?). What the visitor found most remarkable about this was that the locals paid him no attention whatsoever.
It is true to say that Glastonbury is probably quite relaxed when it comes to near, or even total, nudity, Things have changed since the 1920’s when Glastonbury’s resident Bohemians caused horror in the pages of the local newspaper – the women by walking barefoot, the men by wearing corduroy trousers.
A couple of years ago I was sitting outside the Mocha Berry Cafe with a bunch of friends. It was a very hot Summer’s day and there was a sudden sharp and very heavy rainstorm. I jokingly suggested we should get our kit off. A moment later I looked to the chair next to me to discover a pile of rainbow coloured clothes with no occupant. One lady, in her 60’s and a veteran of the Rainbow Circle Camps and Glastonbury Festivals, known for stripping off at every opportunity, was dancing naked round and round the Market Cross, giggling with glee. This was much to the delight of a coach load of tourists seeking shelter in the cafe. The coach driver was heard to remark that she could do with a good ironing.
Every time I recall that incident it brings a smile to my face, her very English eccentricity and her simple pleasure in this act of rebellion. I see it as rebellion because there is still an attitude that nudity is unacceptable past a certain age, in fact in the mainstream press it’s been suggested that women over 40 should cover even our bare arms from view! Like we’re supermarket fruit – unpalatable once past our juicy youth. The inability to disassociate nakedness with sex is extremely unhealthy, both personally and socially.
I’ve spent the last twenty or so summers working at festivals, and enjoy relaxing in saunas and hot tubs. I’ve found the more I see people of all ages and sizes un-selfconsciously naked the more comfortable I have become with my own body. I’ve come to realise that no one is perfect, everyone has a blemish, a wobbly bit, a scar.
A few years ago I was in a sauna at Buddhafield Festival, it’s a lovely relaxed event centred around Buddhist practice, but open to anyone. Opposite me was a naked woman who appeared to be flawless. She was perfectly fit, beautifully sculpted and had the most amazing gravity defying breasts. She complimented a pregnant woman on her radiance, who in turn commented on her beauty, practically every woman in the sauna then expressed the wish that they looked more like her. She burst into tears. She told us she was a dancer, regularly appearing on the BBC. Her appearance was scrupulously monitored by her bosses. She was instructed when to lose weight, what to eat, when and where to get plastic surgery, she spent her life exercising. Any failings in her physical perfection threatened her livelihood, and of course there would come a point where she was simply too old to be employable. She no longer felt like her body was her, it had been created by other people according to their standards. She had come to Buddhafield to rediscover herself and had decided to quit her job.
I found her story very touching, it revealed her vulnerability and her inner beauty. I often think of her when I’m sat in a festival sauna and hope she managed to transition into a life that brought her happiness.
Sometimes it’s not nudity that causes a stir in Glastonbury but rather clothes. I’m thinking of the penis costume sported by an actor promoting a theatrical production, on the theme of gender, in the Assembly Rooms. A local out with his small child was offended by the sight of a male generative member casually walking down the High St handing out flyers, and expressed his disgust by ripping off his hat, which was, of course, the costume’s foreskin. The police were called and were trying to decide whether to arrest anyone when the actor’s co star – dressed as a giant vagina, obviously, started remonstrating with them quite forcefully. They left without arresting anyone and trying not to laugh. Not surprisingly the report in the local press, titled “Woman dressed as vagina stops street fight between penis and man in Glastonbury” was picked up by the national newspapers.
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