A Fool’s Journey to Glastonbury

Glastonbury Festival always brings a few visitors to the town, many of them are crew and performers stopping by for a few days before heading off to their next event. It can be quite shocking coming back to the ‘real world’ after spending a week or more at Somerset’s most surreal and frenetic camping trip. Glastonbury Town acts like a decompression chamber, it’s got roads, supermarkets and flushing toilets, but no one’s likely to get too concerned if you’re still wearing a sarong and flip-flops and talking about the weird afternoon you’d had in Lost Horizons sauna watching a guy hanging upside down in a tree playing the guitar and singing Jolene. (This really happened see this YouTube video )

Rumpel’s Cosmic, Magical Mystery Tour

Rumpel Glastonbury Festival
Me and Rumpel at Glastonbury Festival 2016

My friend Rumpel rang me on the Wednesday after the Glastonbury Festival, he’d overslept on Monday morning and missed a lift to London, so I invited him to come and stay for a couple of days in town. He’s a professional fool, with a hilarious stage act and has performed in over 50 countries around the world. He’s played the Fool in the Cirque De Soleil show that was dedicated to the Beatles, so he’s not joking when he says “My whole life is like a cosmic, magical mystery tour”. Think Charlie Chaplin crossed with Mr. Bean in a Jester outfit with an accent which is half Australian and half kazoo.

During his stay Rumpel shares his stories of fooling around the globe, he tells me about his journey to Westfest, the Woodstock 40th Anniversary event. “That was the most cosmic twilight zone way to ever arrive at a festival. I was in my jester’s outfit in a taxi, going around the Golden Gate Park, which is HUGE. I was on the road and I’m thinking “Jeez, I can’t find the festival, why can’t I see it?” Suddenly I saw some Hari Krishnas and they told me where it was. I went up a hill and down a hill and along a long winding path and as soon as I got onto the festival site I bumped into Jimi Hendrix’s brother and got my photo taken with him”.


He goes on to recount another tale about going to the original Woodstock Festival site  in  November 2013 and realising he’s visiting on what would have been Jimi Hendrix’s 71st birthday, only now he’s at ‘Icestock’ not Woodstock, as he’s the only person on the site which in 1969 had seen  over 400,000 people tripping out to Hendrix and the Grateful Dead.  He says “I turned up during a snow storm (really…have the photos to prove it)… Was weird as I saw a flock of geese fly above me and then heard some gunshots as it was hunting season…. I was 44 years too late for the party”.

Rumpel with Leon Hendrix

(Incidentally, Pop Festival Pedants, the nearest town to the  1969 Woodstock Festival was Bethel Woods, the town of Woodstock, after which the festival was named, was 60 miles away from the site. Originally the festival was planned to be at Woodstock but does to local residents complaints it was relocated).

Rumpel reckons he walked for 7 hours a day during Glastonbury festival, covering 25 miles over the event. The muddy 2016 event was even more hard going, he says “Last year I walked 7 hrs nonstop on the last day in the muddy quagmire. I only just got off-site on time as I had to get to a festival in Slovenia and had booked a flight from London Luton. Again I missed a ride out of Glastonbury Festival last year. I had to get on the last tractor train off Glastonbury Festival site before dark, and then on a double-decker bus to Bristol Temple Mead train station, then a train to Paddington in London, and then to Victoria I think it was, and then a bus to London Luton, and then a plane to Ljubljana, Slovenia. Was hard yakka carting all my gear around, onto and off the tractor, double-decker bus, two train changes and legging it to Victoria bus station & bus to London Luton & then legging it from bus station to flight freight counter to the right terminal. Lucky I made my flight on time to Slovenia. What a numpty I was. Was very hard yakka getting to & fro, on & off site at Boomtown Fair Festival last year. I am the almighty chihuahua man!”

He’s constantly stopped by people wanting selfies with him in his remarkable jester’s outfit. He told me his main problem getting around, particularly in muddy years, is people tripping over his curly shoes. He has a long history with both the festival and the town, Arabella Churchill’s cat (still going at the age of 17) was even named after him.

Travelling Light

Despite being an international entertainer who relies on hitching lifts and public transport Rumpel doesn’t travel light – he turned up at the house with two massive suitcases (which he can barely lift), a unicycle, two rucksacks, a large collection of bags and a teddy bear. He has been known to travel with a suitcase packed with a wholesale lot of plastic fake arms (the kind jokers used to hang out of their car boots as if they had staged a kidnapping). This can cause some consternation at airports when he tells officials his luggage is full of arms. Fortunately, he doesn’t have the arms this time, and a friend from Brighton comes to collect the unicycle and his spring shoes to lighten the load a little, his spring shoes alone weigh a kilo. I asked him where he got the shoes from as I imagined spring shoes were a pretty specialist thing, turns out he found them at a yard sale for a dollar.

Rumpel Costume
Rumpel’s jester’s outfit, drying on the line.

Rumpel’s stage show has been known to last 53 hours. There’s slapstick, juggling, spring shoes and unicycles and a lot of fumbling around in a suitcase looking for props. It’s chaotic, ridiculous and hilarious. I first met Rumpel about 20 years ago at a small festival and often wondered how he’d come up with this stage persona, now we’ve spent 3 days in the same house I realise there is no stage persona – the name on his passport is Jolly Goodfellow, but even his Mum calls him Rumpel. they are the same person. I’m packing the van to leave for Tewkesbury and Rumpel is constantly searching bags and suitcases for his possessions while berating himself for being a ‘silly goose’. He still hasn’t quite decided whether he’s even coming along for the ride to Tewkesbury. It’s exhausting just watching him, I can’t imagine what it’s like to be him. He reckons he’s got possessions spread around 7 countries.

I’ve been ready to leave for Tewkesbury since 2pm, it’s now 5.30 and even the Yorkshireman is ready to go. Rumpel says he’s ready too, he just needs to have a shave, a quick shower and get his jester outfit in off the washing line and into one of the vast suitcases. This done I think we’re about to set off, but Rumpel is boiling up some eggs for the journey. The eggs don’t actually boil over, and surprisingly nor do I. I just heave the two suitcases into the van.

Andy Steamboats – Glastonbury Festival Legend

Steamboats 2

My mate Andy turned up in town after packing down his candle powered steamboat stall at the festival. Andy has been running a stall at every single Glastonbury festival since 1986, he began selling candle powered steamboats in 1988 and has had the same pitch for the last 25 years. Thousands of people have bought these magical little low tech but amazing creations as a memento of the event, and Andy is such a fascinating and engaging character that they tend to stop by every year and say hello, bringing their kids along to choose their own steamboat.

With his whiskers, cap, hand knitted jumpers and fascination with the engineering of the past there is a timelessness about Andy reminiscent of a Victorian showman. There’s a fantastically cheesy video about his steamboats on YouTube.

When I ask him for a story about the Glastonbury festival he tells me he once fell two metres headfirst off one of the standing stones in the King’s Meadow. He ended up in an MRI scanner in Taunton hospital and was told he was lucky to be alive. It wasn’t the story I was expecting and judging by Andy’s expression he wasn’t expecting that to be the first thing that came to mind either.

At Home in A Water Mill

Andy is a regular visitor to Glastonbury, popping by in between events and spending loads of money in the town’s bookshops. After festival season is over, in Autumn and Winter he is to be found in his converted water mill in Cumbria – Blennerhasset Mill, we visited him a couple of years ago and I took lots of photos of his wonderful and eccentric home. We all have a kitchen draw or a cupboard full of ‘things that might come in useful someday’ – Andy has a mill and several outbuildings full. I point out a large wooden thing with thousands of bits of stone stuck into it and ask him what it is, turns out to be a threshing sledge from Turkey. Kids would be sat on the sledge and it would be dragged over crops to separate the wheat from the chaff. It was sixty quid in an auction and Andy, naturally, couldn’t resist.

Andy has a couple of Victorian railway carriages that he is restoring with the help of occasional volunteers. Newspapers were posted up in the windows when the carriages were decommissioned, I took a look and the headlines announced Hitler’s defeat. The carriages had once been used as the lower floor of a building providing accommodation for workers in a hostel, the whole thing was being taken down and the carriages were destined for the dump. Andy couldn’t see them going to waste so he rescued them.

As we’re walking round his garden he asks if we’d like to see the engine shed, I think he’s joking but inside we find a small diesel powered railway engine and an electric tram, Andy came across them along with some narrow gauge rails and couldn’t resist buying them up. He fired the engine up and took us for a tour round his land. It’s like a proper Boys’ Own adventure.

Blennerhassett 7

Andy has a fascination with shop dummies, there are loads in the attic of an outbuilding and still more randomly positioned in the house. As the building is off-grid and the electric comes from solar panels he doesn’t waste it by leaving lights on, which makes for a few unsettling encounters with the silent mannikins in corridors lit only by moonlight.

Andy doesn’t have much time for modern conveniences, he’s dispensed with the need for a fridge by attaching an ingenious revolving shelf to a window. He places his milk, cheese etc on the shelf and shuts the window, the foodstuffs are now outside in the shade of some trees, when he wants a cup of tea he simply opens the window and fetches them in. His cooker is similarly low tech, in fact, it is coal powered. it has no thermostat but instead he has chalked instructions on the wall:

“If you can hold yr hand in the oven for
15 seconds then it is less than 150’C
5 to 10 sec = 180’C
Less than 5 sec = 200 to 220’C”

A blogger, a Cumbrian, a Stonemason a Yorkshireman and a Fool walk into a pub…..

Still in recovery from Glastonbury Festival, we failed utterly to show Rumpel the more interesting historical features of Glastonbury, instead we dragged him along to the King Arthur and introduced him to Chilli and Ginger Cider. We met Andy there too, he was sampling the West Country’s finest ales. I took a few photos of Rumpel and Andy with the graffiti art in the alleyway alongside the pub. I love the photo of Andy, it reminds me of the work of my favourite painter Robert Lenkiewicz.

I also photographed Shawn, a Stone Mason from Portland, Oregon and self-confessed Megalithomaniac, who had found himself in Glastonbury by accident while on a tour of England’s stone circles. He’d spent the night before sleeping on side of the Tor. Next stop for him was Avebury. I recommended to him that he checked out Todd Atteberry’s rather excellent blog, in a recent post Todd wrote about his latest visit to Glastonbury, during which we met up one afternoon at the Mocha Berry. Read it hereIt was great to meet Todd, as I love his writings, which reveal a unique and refreshing outsider’s view of our small, but much visited town.

Andy comes to sell his steamboats at Tewkesbury Medieval Festival as well, so as Rumpel had decided to come along too we will all be getting together for a weekend of mead drinking, armour clanking and the French doing the conga. Pretty Normal for Tewkesbury, but it’s a shame Shawn and Todd can’t make it, I think they would have enjoyed themselves.

I quite enjoyed taking these ‘pulling the sword from the stone’ pictures at the King Arthur. If you’re in town why not take your own and post them up on the Normal for Glastonbury Facebook Page.

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All photos copyright Vicki Steward, except the Leon Hendrix one which is Rumpel’s own.

1 thought on “A Fool’s Journey to Glastonbury”

  1. My fondest memory of Rumpel was at the end of a boring day of flypitching outside the Paddington Markets in Sydney in 1995. After the entertainment finished, he made an announcement and stated that he was looking for somewhere to live, even a granny flat. When nobody offered anything, he started to throw a tantrum, jumping up and down and waving his arms while rhythmically chanting ‘granny flet’ over and over in a nasal New Zealand accent, into a distortion voice box. Everybody stared in stunned amazement, except for one guy who managed to say ‘If you tell me what you’re smoking, I’ll have a kilo of it.’


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