I’ve noticed a definite shift in the vibe over the last couple of weeks. The sun is out, the daffodils are up and the Town Crier has made an appearance in Glastonbury for the first time in two years. I followed him around town, like some weird middle-aged stalker, and got these lovely pictures of him doing his thing. He didn’t seem to mind, he even let me hold his bell. Thank you David Greenway for everything you do for the town and for your unfailing cheerfulness and kindness.
Like migrating leather geese, bikers flock to Glastonbury, generally around bank holidays. Seeing these guys on the Market Cross was another sign that the town was returning to ‘normal’.
The long wordy bit where I overthink things
I’ve often pondered on what makes Glastonbury so special. Is it the people or the place? The community or the geography? The mythology or the history? The Abbey or the Tor? The Town or the countryside? The ‘born and bred’ locals or incomers? Obviously there is nuance, it’s not a case of either / or, and I don’t want to start an argument. Still, I can’t help but wonder, is there one thing which, taken away, would render Glastonbury just another small anonymous market town?
Back in March 2020 when we went into lockdown I wondered how I would cope with a whole three weeks of not seeing friends, no shopping and drinking coffee in the High Street, no parties or gigs. In that first week, during one of my daily walks, I realised this might be a unique opportunity to answer my question. As I went up over Bushy Combe I saw the occasional walker, we smiled and nodded, keeping our distance. The natural world seemed so much louder and more vibrant without the sound and smog of vehicles. On the way home, coming to the bottom of Bove Town I looked down into the deserted High Street and contemplated Glastonbury without human interaction. I wondered was this more, or less, the ‘real’ Glastonbury?
Well, as it turns out of course I got nearly two years to ponder my question. It wasn’t exactly a controlled scientific experiment, but I did experience Glastonbury with no commerce, Glastonbury with no visitors, Glastonbury with local visitors, Glastonbury with various levels of social interaction. Sadly, I also got to experience a more fractured Glastonbury, with former friends falling out because they held differing views on Covid, or masks, or vaccinations, or all three
Last Summer the town started to look more ‘normal’, the shops were open, we gathered in pub gardens, we saw UK visitors and the occasional intrepid international traveller, there was even the odd gig. But, for nearly two years we did not have any large, organised, public, community gatherings or events. No Beltane or Samhain processions, no Carnival, no Glastonbury Festival. I was so excited that Frost Fayre was going ahead, only for it to barely happen thanks to gale-force wind.
I was hugely grateful to be in such a lovely place, with the Tor and the Levels and the same lovely old buildings on the High Street, but still, things felt rather flat. It was almost as if I was living in a stage set, it looked like Glastonbury, but no one was manning the lighting desk or the PA, half the actors hadn’t turned up and the other half were creating dramas backstage, squabbling amongst themselves. The director had locked themselves in the cleaning cupboard with a bottle of gin. There was barely an audience, just a few people spaced out around the auditorium wondering if they were far enough away from that person in the front row with a persistent cough. A woman in a wheelchair couldn’t see the stage as the accessible seating area had been filled up with really ugly plant pots. During the first half, a group sneaked in through the fire escape and erected a bunch of tents on the stage and tried to light a fire with bits of the set, while a really bad djembe drummer took over the orchestra pit. The second half was abandoned entirely due to a procession of people carrying big yellow placards and protesting about something that someone’s cousin had seen on YouTube.
Watching all this unfold (even the bits that were happening entirely in my own head), I realised I had a partial answer to my question. Perhaps what makes Glastonbury so special is the gatherings of people that take place, in tune with the seasons, in various locations within the geography of the area. I think the recognition of these cycles of time puts us in touch with fundamental physical reality, there is a time of sowing and a time of harvest, of long warm days for hunting and cold dark days of hunger. In acknowledging and celebrating these we also acknowledge our own growth and ageing processes and are thankful for the comforts we have.
No matter how insulated we are from the harsh realities of life on a physical level, even when we are lucky enough to have full fridges, central heating and our gadgets, our bodies and minds still respond to the seasons. In fact, it seems to me that the less we experience the hardships and joys of the seasons on a physical level the more we need to acknowledge them through ritual and celebration, for our own mental health.
It doesn’t much matter to me which tradition these celebrations come from, as long as people are gathering together in community, Even the weekly Tuesday market, its size and variety of stalls dictated by the season, provides a rhythm to our lives. I’ve often wondered why the Frost Fayre is so many people’s favourite event, after all, it’s just a glorified street market, but it is the one event that brings everyone together, there is literally something for everyone. Then there are the numerous regular classes, gigs, workshops and art events that we are fortunate to enjoy here in ‘normal’ circumstances.
So, at the end of two very long years, with far too much time to think, I’ve concluded that it’s these regular weekly get-togethers and the calendar of celebrations and events that hold us together, individually and in community, while giving the town much of its unique character.
I very much hope this is the last time I dwell on Covid or lockdowns, I want to see a return to the full calendar of events that I wrote about and listed in January 2019.
Here are a few more pictures I took in the town, I look forward to more smiles and colour as the year unfolds.
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