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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14 thoughts on “Nearly Normal in Glastonbury”
Well said there! XX
Glad you enjoyed it David x
Oh, I did.very much.
Hoping the old Beltane and Samhain jollities will return this year too. The Frost Fayre is just a bit too full-on for us, and the Carnival’s way too weird (amazing though they both are), but there’s nowt like dressing up and parading on the old Celtic/Pagan festivals!
Well I see the Dragons are planning for Beltane, so fingers crossed!
for the last two year you’ve cheered me up, kept me going, reminded me of what’s important, inspired me — and made me laugh — i know you don’t need anyone else to say this, but your hard work has been much appreciated and i think you’ve made an important difference to people you’ve met and never met just when they needed it.
Hi Matt, thank you so much for your lovely, appreciative feedback. I don’t need anyone to say it, but I’m always so glad when they do! It can feel a bit like shouting into the void otherwise…. Thank you again x
This was a really interesting read. I have never been to Glastonbury but WILL make it one day! I am just very far away! Fascinating to know that the visitors are part of what makes it such a special place! And the events sound wonderful!
Thank you Laura, I am glad you enjoyed it and hope you make it here for a visit x
One issue I have with Glastonbury High Street is that every time I walk over there, at about half way up, I hear this demented soap opera going on with those delinquents who hang out by the benches. I also recall about ten years ago, every time I walked in I also got accosted by corporate charities trying to scam direct debit deals, and they also used to pester me calling on my door. Fortunately the charity people have long gone now, I think it was some change in the law to stop them, but I have to say the place does spook me out. There was also some Indian beggar woman who used to pester you outside the co-op each day for years, although I think she has gone now. However if I go back in time before all of those people it was quite pleasant to walk into town. My favourite shop used to be the Truckle of Cheese, but that closed down because it was too middle class.
Andrew, if that’s the only issue you have with Glastonbury High Street then you should sleep easy. For more than half a century the campaign to pedestrianise it has been thwarted, much (I feel) to the detriment of both locals and visitors. And I may be wrong but I’m guessing the “Indian beggar woman” was our local “Big Issue” seller, who was actually very charming.
I well remember the “Truckle” but its goods were superseded over time – for better or worse – by local supermarkets opening up and selling more or less the same things more cheaply.
I do agree, however, about all the “charity hustlers”, they were a (well-meaning) nuisance but have eventually subsided from UK high streets in general.
Personally I have no problems with the “demented soap operas” of the Glastonbury Benchers; they can be a tad unruly but are, by and large, friendly and non-violent. Don’t let them worry you – try living in High Wycombe for a couple of years and you’d welcome them!
Yes i know what High Wycombe is like. I remember it in the days when there was a crazy pub there called the Red Cross Knight. Relations between the rastas and the police were not good at the best of times. I hear it is totally dull now, but it is no good comparing to the worst.
To be frank with you I get fed up having my head filled with their petty discussions that you can hear half way down the high street. I’ve had to tell them to shut up on occasions. The best time to visit seems to be early morning when you get a far more peaceful atmosphere. This seems to be the time the old ladies come out to do their shopping, and they seem totally relaxed, like from a different age.
Ah, the Red Cross Knight in Temple End; many a dodgy deal struck there of an evening. Now long gone, of course, like so many old Wycombe pubs.
Early mornings in Glastonbury can be delightful unless of course you actually want to buy something, as most of the shops and cafes don’t open till mid or late morning – if you’re lucky!
I’ve always felt that a successful High Street anywhere should have at least an element of vigour and noisiness at least during the day, whether it’s market vendors advertising their wares or people conversing, calling greetings or offering some (hopefully in tune) busking.
Can’t help but feel that, as you’ve clearly successfully survived remonstrating with the Benchers, they can’t be that intimidating!
The thing was I could shout louder than any of them, so the whole high street must have heard me shout “Shut up!” in their earholes. They were so stunned they did not know how to react. It was just one of those days I has reached my limit of BS.
Unfortunately most people probably assumed you were one of them! They’ll probably greet you as compatriot next time you’re passing!