I’m sat in bed with my morning coffee trying to think what to write about next for the blog, I’m about to go off on holiday for a week so I really want to get a post out beforehand. The pressure isn’t helping me to get inspired. I’d like an outside perspective on the town, as sometimes it’s difficult to see it from the inside. There’s the ping of a Facebook message, it’s from my old mate Manchester Mark. Mark was one of the first people my ex and I met when we were visiting Glastonbury regularly in the early 90’s. When we moved here he became our unofficial town guide, telling us the pubs to avoid, taking us to the best farmhouse scrumpy places and showing us how to sneak into the Abbey grounds after the pub (There’s a theme here, can you spot it?). Mark is funny and cheeky and was one of the first Northerners I ever really made friends with, despite the fact I come from somewhere considerably closer to ‘Oop North’ than Glastonbury.
Mark’s message read: “my bro is in Glastonbury at the mo as part of his honeymoon….. they b an interesting couple to chat with 4 your blog ….. just thought I’d mention it”
Great! Mark quickly gets in touch with his brother, Ian, who gives me a ring. We arrange to meet at The Covenstead, Glastonbury’s ‘pagan themed’ B&B, later in the afternoon. I’d heard lots about the place, all very positive, but had never actually been inside. One of the best things about writing this blog is that I get to indulge in my favourite hobby – being nosy.
I tell Mark we’re meeting up and he texts back “Don’t tek the piss 2 much”. As if! Mark clearly hasn’t cottoned on that I am nicer in this blog than in real life.
We Meet at the Covenstead
Ian and his new wife, Jan, greet me at the door of the
I marvel at the witchcraft related artefacts on every wall and surface, the stunning murals painted by local artist Yuri Leitch on the walls of the stairwell, and the large and beautifully decorated ‘bridal suite’ bedroom with its four-poster bed. Up another floor, the attic rooms, are cosy and low ceilinged, one is a communal living room for the guests. Ian and Jan tell me they both saw a crib under the window in this room, only later realising they were seeing the room as it had been in the past when it was a nursery. They’re spiritualists, so they are used to that sort of thing.
The house is overwhelming, I can’t work out if I’m in a themed boutique B&B or a carefully curated museum. It’s a mad hotchpotch of cultures and ages, with objects from every continent, there’s even a vampire hunters kit in a wooden box. Every drawer and cupboard reveals more secrets. With so much stuff everywhere you’d expect it to be cobwebbed and dusty, but there’s either an army of cleaners or just one with a magic broom. The upright piano in the hallway has a black gloss you can practically see your face in. I’ve seen the Covenstead compared to Harry Potter world, and I understand why, but this place is authentic, these aren’t cleverly aged stage props, there are tools in here that were presumably used with serious magical intent. I find it all very impressive, but slightly unsettling. This is certainly a unique place to stay.
Jan and Ian’s Spiritualist Wedding
We sit in the comfortable living room and chat. Ian and Jan had been planning on getting married for the last 8 years but had only got round to it last Sunday. They had a spiritualist ceremony ending with a short handfasting, in the Spiritualist Church in Uppermill, Saddleworth, just 4 miles from where they live in Oldham. They hadn’t planned a big
Ian had booked the church in secret and asked Mavis Pittila to conduct the service. She’d trained Ian and Jan in mediumship and is a very busy lady, but luckily she had a free week in the middle of her worldwide teaching tour. Only after all this did he pop the question to Jan – who replied that she’d marry him if the service was in Saddleworth Church and led by Mavis. It was touching that Ian had anticipated exactly what Jan would most like and was doing everything he could to give her the perfect day. It extended to the honeymoon too – Jan had assumed that they’d be staying at Glastonbury’s generic chain hotel, so she was surprised when they drove past it and on to the Covenstead where he’d booked the bridal suite.
Ian and Jan are keen for me to watch part of the video of the service, she faces Ian and recites one of Shakespeare’s most romantic sonnets, ending:
“Haply I think on thee, and then my state,
Like to the lark at break of day arising
From sullen earth, sings hymns at heaven’s gate;
For thy sweet love remember’d such wealth brings”
There is a moment of silence as all assembled wipe away happy tears, then Ian loudly declares ‘I knew you were going to say that!‘. He recites his own choice of poetry to Jan, it’s strangely familiar:
“I’ll protect you from the hooded claw, Keep the vampires from your door
When the chips are down I’ll be around, With my undying, death-defying, Love for you…..”
Ahhh yes, Frankie Goes to Hollywood, it’s funny and sweet and heartfelt.
Jan tells me her 80-year-old dad didn’t really understand what the handfasting bit of the service was going to be about, it had been explained to him several times, but still, he asked Mavis: “Tell me again. Do we all get tied up?”
Jan tells me she comes from a long line of seamstresses, she was determined to make her own wedding dress: “I didn’t want to look like the wedding cake or a Disney princess, so I went for medieval, stroke Lord of the Rings, but it worked on the day”. Jan and Ian didn’t have hen or stag nights: “I live in dread of being asked on a hen night, forced into a tutu and angel wings, and made to walk down Blackpool promenade with all the other fat birds.”
The Fairy Collection
We’re chatting about some of the more commercial aspects of Glastonbury which reminds Ian of his ‘fairy collection’. Before meeting Jan he was working in France with people with severe behaviour issues, the staff were used to getting attacked. A new, female, member of staff joined and Ian kept an eye on her. She presented him a fairy as a thank-you present. Later he worked with an autistic girl, they went out shopping for a present for her mother, she bought Ian one as well – another fairy. “She said it reminded her of me ‘cos it was kind and gentle and wouldn’t hurt anyone”. Ian put the two fairies on his mantelpiece. Friends, assuming he liked fairies, started buying him more, this looked like a collection so he received still more, then he started buying them himself.
Jan tells me they met at a clairvoyance evening. Her 15-year-old daughter started chatting to Ian and told him he’d make a good friend for her mum, she’d assumed he was gay and therefore ‘safe’. When Jan first visited his house she saw the large fairy collection and wondered if the relationship might not have the outcome she was hoping for. Meanwhile, Ian’s teenage sons persuaded him that if he wanted a girlfriend the fairy collection and his cherubic curly hair would have to go. The fairies went into the attic and he cut off the curls. Jan and Ian tell me “We don’t believe in fairies, but they are aesthetically pleasing”.
So What Is Spiritualism Then?
My Nan used to take me to Spiritualist church when I was a kid, she read tea leaves too, and wouldn’t have anything green in the house for fear of upsetting the fairies. But she died in 1982, there are, surprisingly, no spiritualist churches in Glastonbury, and I realise I know very little about Spiritualism. The couple explain that in a spiritualist wedding is much like a conventional one, except the ‘people unseen’ are also acknowledged in the ceremony, Although some spiritualist churches are Christian, most welcome all religions or none. Spiritualist National Union churches don’t have crucifixes or say prayers. They see the SNU’s main role as helping the bereaved realise that there is a continuation after death, Jan believes life is “just a training course”.
Ian and Jan don’t approve of “leaky mediums – the kind who tell strangers in bus queues what their dead granny thinks of their new husband”. They turn off their mediumship when they aren’t in church, at least where other people are concerned. “It’s not a way of life, talking to dead people. We don’t go around being spooky mediums, we’re quite spiritual, we become aware of things, but we don’t tell people all the time because they probably aren’t even interested”.
They tell me it’s easy to be a medium in a theatre, with a thousand people there, all paying £30 for a ticket. “here’s bound to be someone who had an uncle John who died of cancer”. They feel they get better quality mediumship in a church. “It’s not that you shouldn’t make money, it’s just that the quality is dubious sometimes”.
Jan and Ian clearly don’t take themselves too seriously. They have even created a comedy act – The Worst Mediums in the World. Jan tells me mediumship is a learning process, you can’t just go on a course and get an ‘I’m a Medium’ certificate: “People say it’s a gift, but you have to develop it, like art or singing, you need good training and practise on top of aptitude”.
Why Honeymoon in Glastonbury?
Ian and Jan first came to Glastonbury five years ago on route to Cornwall. Jan says she’s always been a hippy. Ian “wanted to be a hippy but I didn’t have the hair for it”. They’ve never been to the Glastonbury festival, but “feel the pull to come back here”. Ian tells me “It’s not about the plastic fairies and angels in the shops, but more of a primaeval connection to the land. In the same way people are drawn to holiday at the seaside, they might think they are there for the arcades and tacky rides, but really they want to look out at the endless sea”.
Ian does have one problem when he’s in town – he’s very sensitive to the smell of cannabis, certain strains literally make him vomit. He nearly had to leave the pub last night because someone was smoking a spliff outside and the smell wafted in the door.
We talked about the friendliness of the Glastonbury community, which is part of the draw of the town for them, Jan, in particular, feels that the closeness has been lost in the Yorkshire village she comes from “When I was growing up everyone knew everyone else, mind you, you had to live there for 15 years before anyone thought you were permanent. People have moved around so much it’s lost its village identity, I don’t know everyone now.” She also enjoys the more relaxed attitudes around here “I saw three kids covered in mud yesterday, having fun, ridiculously and gloriously dirty, it was fantastic. Where we live they think children dissolve in the rain.”
Ian and Jan don’t have the wide-eyed credulity of some of the visitors to Glastonbury. They tell me there are a lot of really narcissistic people in mediumship, unsavoury, damaged characters, and ‘self-appointed important people’, “It’s not discriminating where it lands”. This experience has given them a more realistic attitude to some of the more dubious aspects of the town.
Ian observed that crystals in Glastonbury cost twice the price of anywhere else in the world. He’d found a hare made of welsh river stone in one shop and was shocked to see the £150 price tag, he sounds much like another Yorkshireman of my acquaintance when he says bluntly “I could have carved it out of coal with my teeth!”
At home in the North Ian doesn’t mention to casual acquaintances he’s a spiritualist, as he doesn’t find people accepting. He’s much more relaxed about telling people in Glastonbury what they do. Full of pride in his new wife he says “Jan does psychic art”. Jan swiftly corrects him, “No. I draw dead people.”
Ian told me that the last time they had visited they’d ‘had a little sleep on the Tor’, he remarked that he’s never been able to do that anywhere else. It made me realise again how lucky I am to live in one of the few places on earth that a visitor might feel safe to take a nap in public. Jan plans to take her wedding dress up the Tor and get some pictures wearing it, overlooking Avalon. The weather hadn’t been great for their honeymoon so far, but Ian managed to see a positive angle even on that “If it rains a bit more it might become an island, then we wouldn’t have to go home.”
Jan says “We would live here, I think we could fit into the culture.” Ian’s not sure he wants to fit in anywhere though. “I don’t want to be a clone”. Jan muses:
“You’ve no option but to be an individual in Glastonbury because there is nothing to fit into. You feel free to be yourself here, whatever you are is fine, there is no such thing as normal.”
Ian thinks everyone with an open mind should come to Glastonbury “Like they say – See Rome and then die”. Jan didn’t come here for the first time until she was 54, she doesn’t think anyone is ‘too old’ for a Glastonbury experience. I ask them if there’s anything they would like to pass on to new visitors to the town. Ian says: “Everyone should walk the long path up the Tor if they are able, contemplate at the top, look round 360 degrees. There is something up there that links us to where we are from, there’s a strange feeling, see if you can link in. It makes you feel deeply. But if it’s a Friday go to the King Arthur ‘cos they have good bands on.”
I really enjoyed my afternoon chatting to Jan and Ian, I hope they come back soon and that you enjoyed hearing their story. This post
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