Glasto Reminded Me How I Hate People, But Not As Much As I Hate Myself

Marc Burrows would have had a lovely time at Glastonbury were it not for the tens of thousands of other people and their flags and the reminder that snobbery often comes from self-loathing

Image: BBC

There’s a flag blocking my view of Paul McCartney. It’s advertising a small business-to-business journal servicing the freight industry. Around it are hundreds more: football teams, pride flags, satirical comments about Boris Johnson, the now-familiar Ukrainian blue and yellow, memes, screen grabs, private jokes. I want to burn literally every one of them. I want to focus my will and have the entire lot flash into cinders. I want the big stick with Ed the Duck on the end, bobbing up and down before the stage like McCartney’s thumbs, to be struck by lightning. I want each makeshift flagpole to suddenly glow white-hot and blister the hand of the selfish, insufferably smug bellend who is holding it. And then I want them to bear that scar forever and have to explain that they got it blocking my view of a Beatle. I turn to the screens at the side of the stage, mostly elevated above the hateful, unceasingly wacky pageantry. Somehow there are flags between the camera and Sir Paul. The vision mixer instead focuses on Macca’s muso backing band. It’s like being shown the frame around the Mona Lisa. Someone lights a coloured flare in front of me, causing a bout of explosive coughing and further blocking the view for a few hundred people.

After two years of minimal exposure to humanity en-masse, I had been looking forward to the festival. Glastonbury, as any bore will tell you, is unique. It’s the kind of experience that makes you use the word “vibe”, no matter how much it causes you almost physical pain to say that out loud. Still, it’s true – Glastonbury has a vibe; a carefree spirit that sometimes manifests as ravey hedonism, sometimes as a kind of mystical contentment, sometimes as radiant positivity that seems to float through the crowds like a glowing mist. There are all sorts of cliches around the world’s premiere music festival, and most of them – like most cliches, really – are true. So why am I so wound up this year? Why am I so angry? Where is the bliss I promised myself? The problem, I realise, is that everyone on Earth is a wanker.

You know how sometimes you’re trying to look at an advert or sign, or the menu for the local caff, or something in a shop window and some blameless sap, going blamelessly about their blameless day is stood in front of it? You know how, for that minute or so, you utterly despise that person? That’s Glastonbury 2022 for me. I’m having a lovely old time wandering around eating falafel, soaking in that spirit, and WHAM! People. Fucking people. Endless fucking people. Everywhere. Walking around without a care in the world. And I hate all of them. Every last one. I hate their shirts unbuttoned to the navel and arms that suggest they’ve walked out of a gym, into a tattoo parlour and asked for “tattoos”. I hate the way they forge forward in front of me at Jack White’s surprise Park Stage set using their shoulders like someone levering open a tin of paint with a butterknife, singing the riff from ‘Seven Nation Army’ like a football chant. I hate the guy standing behind me at Jarvis Cocker shouting for Pulp songs. The inflatable aliens on sticks. The fucking bucket hats. When did the bucket hats come back? The Nitrous Oxide canisters. The dazed, pilled-up teenagers stumbling through the absolute conceptual masterpiece of the ‘Unfairground’ and the staggering aesthetic of Block 9 and Shangri-La without looking up from their phones. The entitled prick trying to get into the field to see Sugababes, which has been closed due to the size of the crowd, telling security “don’t you know how much I’ve paid for this ticket?” before attempting to duck under an arm and run to freedom. The person beside me in that same crowd trying to gee everyone else up to rush the poor volunteers, stood with linked arms across the entrance to the field. “There’s more of us than there are of them!” he says like it’s a riot or a protest, not a gentle music festival and a girl band. Like they’re being kettled, not passively held at bay for their own safety by volunteers in high viz jackets, one of which is clearly a ten-year-old boy. Entitlement; that’s the thing. Everywhere you look. Entitlement. Entitlement and wankers.

Where did this come from? Is it the off-the-chain hedonism of the previously cooped-up given the space to roam? Is it the scales dropping from my eyes as my idealism evaporates in the face of human reality? Or is it me?

It’s me. That’s the conclusion I come to. The only one that makes sense. I am walking around stuffed with loathing and it’s no one’s fault but mine. I don’t know these people. I’d probably quite like most of them. The bitterness is not soaking in from the outside, it’s radiating out from within, making me snap at someone pissing against a fence or using the wrong recycling bin. It’s not Glastonbury that’s changed. It’s not people. It’s me. Partly it’s getting older. Those kids in the mirrored shades and vague tattoos and bucket hats? The ones that look like they could go on Love Island? Their main crime is being young. They are walking reminders of my mortality, my swelling gut and the grey hair at my temples. They’re beautiful. I’m old. These people can’t win. Younger punters heading to see some DJs? Sheeple. Schmucks. They don’t know they’re born. The older ones, the ones closer to my age, wearing their Reading ‘97 shirts and looking forward to Noel Gallagher? Sheeple. Schmucks. Don’t they know there’s more to Glastonbury than main-stage rock revivalism? Never mind that I’m looking forward to Supergrass and Sir Paul.

It’s my problem if I’m making snap judgements and un-called-for barbed comments about people whose only crime is enjoying a really good arts festival, one which goes out of its way to create an almost ludicrously varied bill spread across several zones that contrast magnificently. It’s not them, it’s me. I hate them for their clothes and their drugs, but really it’s just because it’s the wrong clothes and the wrong drugs, and my criteria for judging those things is utterly arbitrary. I have become the worst sort of snob: the kind that is snobby about literally everyone. The tragedy of that is that the more I think about this, the more I realise that I don’t hate anyone around me more than I hate myself, right now, for thinking this.

We live in a horrible world. The news and the conversation around the news feels insurmountable, exhausting, awful. One of the things Glastonbury does brilliantly is to create a stop-gap from that, a small bubble in reality in which a hundred other alternate dimensions can flourish. There’s politics here, but it’s good politics, the politics of hope and change. There’s Greta Thunberg on the main stage, “when I say ‘CLIMATE’ you say ‘JUSTICE’, CLIMATE! JUSTICE! CLIMATE JUSTICE!”, there’s the free water and the reminders to pick your litter up and not piss in the streams, which way more people obey here than I have ever seen anywhere else. There’s the unceasing music. There’s joy. Everywhere there’s joy. And then there’s me, getting narked and gnarly at people, young people, old people, people with kids, people who are kids, celebrities, stall runners, security guards, everyone living inside that joy, blamelessly being blameless in their little bubbles of fun and freedom. I’m not hating them for anything they can help, really. Not most of them. I’m hating them because they are my unfulfilled potential, people I never got to be, people I was and can’t be anymore. A bunch of walking paradigms triggering my petty bullshit. It’s not their fault. It’s not the festival’s fault. It’s just me. Judging them, for the most part, for nothing. I’ve forced my way to the front of a packed crowd too. I have pissed against a tree. I have been indiscriminate in my recycling. I have worn a backpack and pushed through a crowd without considering the people behind me. I have done the wrong drugs and watched the wrong bands, and not looked where I was going. I am them. They are me.

I try to let it go. To take deep breaths and exhale the bitterness into the summer breeze. To be in the moment. To find peace. I look up and try to enjoy the music. Someone’s flag is in the way.

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