Trader tales

June 29, 2010

At this year’s Festival, Maite Cicognini was serving up food at a stall in the Park. And then blogging all about it.

Tuesday 29 June

It surprises me how quickly people leave the site and it’s embarrassing at how much rubbish they leave behind. It makes me think that while Glastonbury Festival brings out the best in people, we still have a lot of work to do on ourselves.

After a busy morning yesterday we wrap things up at around two pm. The other traders are ready to go and we make them lunch. It’s such a pleasure to feed people; this is something that I have thought again and again over the weekend.

A few more of our crew leave and after the length and intensity of our time together saying goodbye feels like a real loss. But we take everyone else for dinner at the pub where food and drink combined with tiredness and the sense of a mission completed makes us giddy and relaxed. Then more goodbyes, and I feel a flicker of the post-festival blues.

All of Glastonbury is saying goodbye, and by the time we woke this morning the trucks and JCBs have returned and The Park is being stripped apart. The sand art is gone. So are the waving tulips. All that is left of The Park bar and the Silent Disco are the bare bones of tents.

But the washing lines still stand, and outside the traders party at the Bimble Inn last night a girl was pole dancing around one of them. It was festival style: athletic in mismatched underwear, pale skin contorting in the dark night and not a smidge of fake tan or cosmetic enhancement.

We have a long hard day of packing up ahead of us and it has started to rain.

We’ve traded at many festivals and will be going to many more but Glastonbury remains the one closest to my heart.  It is the hardest and the kindest, the most creative and the most shocking, the most uncomfortable and the most life affirming. Whatever it takes out of you it replaces with something better.

Happy birthday Glastonbury, and thank you.

Monday 28 June

The last push. Which is a good thing because I really don’t think we could do much more; everyone in our crew is exhausted and running on reserves of sleep, tolerance and patience.

For the first time ego rears its ugly head. Yesterday’s England v Germany match had radio presenters voicing their concern about the possible fallout of the results, but I was more worried about the power struggle in our kitchen.

But the spirit of Glastonbury overrides both a disappointing football score as well as the pot of overcooked pasta and everything is forgotten in the high sprits of the last night.

This morning the only thing on most people’s minds is the inevitable slog home and that is as true inside our marquee as outside of it.

Two of our crew have already left and the tents are beginning to come down in the Park campsite, but the three naughty boys who went out yesterday at lunchtime haven’t been seen since. I’m secretly glad that they have managed their own hedonistic last push and trust that they haven’t become casualties of the Unfair Ground.

As I write this I can hear birds in the Park for the first time since before the gates opened. It serves to remind me that we are all guests here, and that maybe it is time the cows came home.

Sunday 27 June

Yesterday sees the queue constant from nine am in the morning – great for business and morale, but also a cause of tremendous pressure. It doesn’t let up until the bigger acts play on the main stages and that’s a good 12 hours from when we open.

At around ten, with a quiet spell upon us and in the interests of research, Dorian and I decide to wander up to the Park Stage. After all, who wants to read a blog about how tired we all are?

Before we go I make everyone spiced rum and cokes, and discover it is much more fun being drinks lady than Recycling Bitch or Rota Hag.

By the time we reach the stage with its patchwork sign and ivy-clad pillars, Laura Marling is on her last song and everyone has started to leave. We sit down and the throng dissipates around us. The ground is hard and dry and the grass bleached to yellow by days of endless sun and no rain. I make a mental note to water the hanging baskets.

On our way back we duck into the Silent Disco because I have never been before. There are pockets of people singing unselfconsciously because they can’t hear themselves – it’s joyful, innocent and completely out of tune. The only other sound is the shuffling and scuffing of feet.  The novelty factor is fun, and it’s great to be dancing, but I miss sharing the music.

The three naughty boys are on for the late shift – this worries me when the queue reappears. The hours pass. The queue does not. But the boys don’t let us down.

Then I notice the light changing. I sense frustration and exhaustion in the others. The music begins to feel abrasive and very quickly I go from feeling ok to really terrible. But the Park is still rocking and there is no end to the demand for food.

We all finish just after four am because we simply can’t carry on any longer. Lots of hugs and two hours sleep. Can we survive today on that?

Saturday 26 June

I need eggs. I need soft drinks. I need plates, forks and bowls. I need to not have backache and not feel shaky. I need a shower and some breakfast. I need to be able to open my eyes.

Someone lends us a box of eggs. We fill up the fridge with water. Perhaps people can just eat off a napkin?

Yesterday was a day of two halves. It starts off with me feeling blissful and in control. We are busy but everything runs smoothly. I get a couple of hours off and sit under the umbrella in the sun with my best friend, listen to music and eat ice-cream.

It all goes wrong with Florence + The Machine. I miss the only gig I have wanted to see all summer because I can’t get cover. I am gutted but don’t realise how much so until it is gone two am and I haven’t had a break since lunchtime, feel emotional and irritable and wobbly on my feet.

I finish for the night because a meltdown is imminent and that won’t help anyone. There is no middle ground at festivals is there? It’s either brilliant or fu@*king awful and when I look around at the faces in the queue I see that it is the same for us all.

Friday 25 June

Tiredness like being smothered in a prickly blanket. Mornings are harsh, but yesterday’s queue puts a swift end to any thoughts other than: take order, give change, serve coffee, next person, repeat. We start at nine and I beat the queue in the early afternoon.

Chaos nearly takes over as we realise that breakfast is finishing, people are asking for lunch, and yet we have sold out of all our prepped food and have been too busy that morning to do anymore. Somehow we manage to make the changeover, but it hurts a little to realise that everyone is suffering because we still don’t have enough help.

The Park is absolutely rammed with people – I cannot imagine how it must be in other parts of the Festival that are traditionally the busiest. What does it look like by the Pyramid Stage? How intimidated would I be now?

My darkest hour is between four and five in the afternoon. This is when I am at my most tired, but I push on until I have a break at nine that evening. This is only possible with the arrival of five more people and I love them instantly for getting stuck in the moment they arrive, tying aprons on, fretting about getting the orders right and being the sweetest and calmest antidote to my stress. Everyone else relaxes too. People can take breaks. Drinks are poured. Dusk hits and someone turns the music up. This is starting to feel like fun.

Thursday 24 June

Three has become five and we are all working flat out to open. People are pouring into the Park and the air is charged with pressure as if a storm is building. All around us the other food stalls are open with long queues. We are determined not to open until we are ready – but after three and a half days of preparation why aren’t we ready?

Then we are. We open up the marquee. There is a flutter of business… but only a flutter because the field is virtually empty – the queues have all gone. Then we realise: England are playing and everyone is watching the match on the Pyramid Stage. We hear a roar and horns and whistles; England have scored.

I start to feel tetchy and decide to take myself away for a while. Whether it is the anticlimax of being open with no one around or the accumulation of tiredness or simply the heat I’m not sure. It’s probably a bit of all three.

The heat in the kitchen is unforgiving. A classically beautiful English summer’s day on the outside of the marquee turns into claustrophobic and stifling thanks to two gas cookers, an oven and four grills which are on all the time.

I find the perfect sanctuary. A cluster of what look like the prettiest bus shelters I’ve ever seen. I chose one that has been decorated with sash curtains and a painting of a river. There is even a rug. I head up to the Treehouse café for a cup of tea but then guilt and worry consumes me and I carry it away with them.

I was right – with the match over the crowds have returned and so have the queues. We throw ourselves into it. The night is young and old and we are on fire, dishing out food and working around each other as if we have been doing this for years.

At 3am we stop. But Glastonbury Festival 2010 is only just beginning.

Wedensday 23 June

We went for a wander last night after we finished. Up to the Cider bus then onwards. There is a pleasing amount of people around – few enough to be able to get a feel for your surroundings and yet still create an atmosphere. And the atmosphere is of excited anticipation. Glastonbury Festival has awoken.

The Unfair Ground beckons. It’s all twisted metal and twisted dreams; as if Tim Burton has stolen the nightmares of four-year old boys and turned them into sculptures. They probably all breathe fire and read your mind but for now they are still. It’s wondrous and terrifying and reminds me that Glastonbury is as much about art as it is about music, though there will be some fragile souls that will walk into this field at one end and crawl out at the other.

There are four of us now, and today four more arrive. I won’t refer to them as staff because they are our friends and calling them helpers makes them sound like little green elves. Crew sounds about right, because it suggests a team, which of course we are.

By Friday there will be thirteen of us. Presuming no one gets sick or arrested – both of which happened last year – we should get through the next five days. I thought this morning that I wish I could have put credits into a sleep bank in recent weeks to help me get through the weekend. Lack of sleep makes everything a little harder, and tempers and tears more likely, but then I also think digging deep never killed anyone.

The Park is all waving tulips and giant flowers. The sand sculpture was finished under cover of darkness – black magic or hard work? I think Glastonbury Festival is a testament to both.

Tuesday 22 June

An early start today because we have to meet a delivery.

There is no one else awake in the Park at seven am apart from a man sitting up on a bench who Dorian recognises from late last night. We aren’t sure if he is an eccentric or a security guard, but when we get closer it appears that he is guarding fifty freshly built wooden tables and benches. He smiles a toothless and benign smile and suddenly his purpose is irrelevant.

We have to drive across one of the main arteries of the Festival, rattling along the old railway track in the van to get to the compound where the traders’ deliveries come in. Under the leaves overhead it feels tropical. The day is dewy and wet, and it is as if the whole site has been washed clean.

The compound is crammed with arctic lorries and trucks. Stacks of tortilla chips, chickpeas and tinned tomatoes wait to be claimed. Bags and bags of onions. It is like food backstage here and our delivery is running nearly two hours late, like a temperamental performer.

Even so, getting the deliveries into the site isn’t as hard as trying to work out how much of everything we need in advance or going off site to collect things ourselves.

We had to go into town yesterday. Sainsbury’s felt amazing, mainly because it contained everything I can’t have from now until next Tuesday.

It takes us ages to get back; there is an increase in traffic and a shift in the atmosphere. It’s still relaxed, with people lounging around on the grass as you drive in, chatting and laughing in the sun, but there is greater purpose to everyone’s movements and the hold-up to get back on site is fraying nerves.

The final countdown has begun and we have one last full day to get ready. There is still the plumbing to do and the sign. We need to build more outside seating, make pesto, prepare the sauces and find a home for the hanging baskets. Tidy, stock and organise.

I know in the back of my mind that no matter how hard we work today, we will still have those sickening and thrilling couple of hours on Wednesday morning when the gates are about to open, but it feels like we aren’t ready and the anxiety hits. Maybe everyone feels like this.

Monday 21 June

I can’t quite believe it.

The girl who came to Glastonbury festival for the first time over a decade ago and begged to go home after a day has returned as a food trader for the second year in a row.

I don’t know why it is better for me on this side of the fence. The toilets are a marginal improvement but it is more than that.

Witnessing the gradual build up is gentler on the senses than being flung into the sprawling heaving madness that is Glastonbury Festival in full flow. Today, right now, all I can hear is the birds flirting with another storybook summer morning and the rumble of a generator in the distance.

We arrived yesterday. The stages are up and the Pyramid Stage, in particular, looks intimidating. The beeping of heavy machinery is everywhere. The tracks are hot and dusty and we are relieved to turn into the Park, where we can see more green than brown.

As with everywhere in the Festival the Park is building itself.

The three of us set up the marquee and empty the trailer of fridges, freezers, stainless steel tables and cookers.  We have so much stuff. Last year my partner and I set up on our own which was a mistake; being exhausted before the gates open is not a good way to start.

The work around us eases as it gets late. The hammering and sawing stops, the forklift trucks are parked and the painters pack up. It’s nine o’clock when we remember we need dinner and realise we have to go off site to get some.

I love these pre-Festival jaunts, probably because despite a change of heart and circumstance I am still the girl who wants to escape the Festival, but also because driving around the site in these set-up days feels a bit naughty.

Security stops us. We have our tickets but no wristbands, which means if we go off site we won’t be allowed back in. Rest assured, head of Festival security, no amount of pleading of hunger on our part would make them relent! However, in true Glastonbury style, they did radio around the site to find somewhere we could eat.

Just before bed someone has the idea to take some beers up to the hill behind the Park. We watch the sunset compete with the lights of the festival. Next to us, electricians are testing the lights on the coloured letters that spell out GLASTONBURY 40. And they all work.

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