On the second Sunday of England’s summer, I stand protected from intermittent rain under a giant white tarpaulin, armed with a scanner. I am spending a few hours of my weekend admitting people to Manchester’s Parklife festival in order to secure free entry myself.
Having (mostly) passed through security and sniffer dog checks with minimal fuss, attendees offer me their printed tickets or cinched wristbands for verification. They arrive with relief, with exhaustion, with gratitude and, sometimes, with heavily dilated pupils.
During the day’s slower periods, my twenty-year-old supervisor recalls her misspent summers of festival-hopping. There are stories of shat-on tents and deep, deep k-holes, and observations on how summer fashions differ across the country. (Northerners love heavy makeup and sunbeds, apparently, while southerners prefer signet rings and hunting gear. Floral crowns are universally worn.)
My supervisor’s anecdotes punctuate a day that mostly flies by with scanning, scanning, scanning. Occasionally there’s time to observe punters — the over-excited, first-time attendees, as well as the festival circuit veterans with seven or eight wristbands accumulated up their arms and gumboots already laced with dust descended from mud. Most attendees pause for a moment after passing through the final gate before trudging off into the sea of grime, both musical and literal, that awaits them.
Trudging (matched only by raving) becomes my primary form of movement two weeks later at Glastonbury festival. Where Parklife’s mud was shallow and wadeable, the compound that coats Glastonbury becomes stubborn and thick over the course of the five-day event, posing a serious threat to ankles across the site.
The cheap, latex-looking Kmart gumboots that I wear provide little support, but this is of no concern. I trudge with pleasure — with glee, even — between far-flung stages, food trucks, and a thoroughly relaxing tai chi workshop. When I’ve had enough of trudging, I while away an hour in the Hare Krishna tent, flopped on a faded lounge in a daze of cyclical chanting and finger cymbals. Then, I trudge some more.
With every kilometre covered I forge new memories that, for me, are as special as my Parklike supervisor’s anecdotes were perverse. It’s difficult to articulate how emotional these memories are: losing trace of my voice among thousands of others during Coldplay’s ‘Yellow’, hearing the synth ostinato from Hurts’ ‘Better Than Love’ charge across an open space, stopping to marvel at each evening’s pink-orange sunset, and riding the thundering wave of adrenaline that hits with the chorus of Donna Summer’s ‘I Feel Love’ at three o’clock in the morning.
As the festival progresses, we collect paraphernalia: tote bags, programs, lanyards. Retaining these objects as remembrances of the event seems vital — particularly the wristbands we’ve brandished innumerable times to trudge into and out of the various sections of the site. For me, the object now feels like the embodiment of all I’ve experienced at the festival, and I understand exactly why veteran festival-goers like those I admitted to Parklife collect them as keepsakes.
After the trudging has stopped and Glastonbury is over, I keep my wristband attached for four days. The impracticality of its loose ends, dangling into food and obstructing cutlery, soon warrants its removal, but I cut it off with reluctance. It feels dishonest, somehow, to remove the last remaining outward sign (having scrubbed away the mud) of an experience I’ll hark back to (and, I’m sure, ramble on about) for years.
Since Glastonbury, I’ve started to notice wristband-retainers more and more — in airport terminals, on trains and in galleries. And if I spot a Glasto wristband, I’ll be sure to feel an affinity with the wearer. After all, they know what it is to trudge.