Random Travels – Iceland

Icelandic Trek

35 years ago I took a walking holiday in Iceland. A disparate group of 22 strangers were guided by a delightful Frenchman who spoke minimal English, but we had an unforgettable experience. On the first evening I ordered a local delicacy: baked sheep’s head, in the salubrious surroundings of Rekjavik bus station. Dried food held a certain attraction after that. A recent BBC programme on walking in Iceland’s interior featured the type of mountain huts we stayed in but now as emergency accommodation. These days hikers enjoy electricity, showers and proper beds in wood buildings which defy the word ‘hut’. We used torches, smelt of sulphur after bathing in thermal streams and pulled our karrimats outside to sleep as we were cooked by the heating derived from the adjacent dinner-plate sized hot spring.

 

Rekjavik, Tjornin lake, Free church (Frikirkjan), National Gallery and Hallgrimskirkja church

Three of we four girls had our birthdays during this 2 week escapade, all Leos?! The melted mars bar, marathon and milky way birthday ‘cake’ was a gastronomic masterpiece. When crossing the bridgeless rivers each of us was escorted by two of the chaps, linking arms as we crossed the fast thigh-deep waters. We wore shorts as there was no point soaking our trousers, even if that did mean braving a blizzard on 31st July bare-legged. But we warmed up sunbathing on 1st Aug, before skiing down a hillside of larva dust.

Mature Seasonnaires

Lunch stop

Is this title a contradiction? No. Age is only a number, not a state of mind. If we are open to new experiences, prepared to be flexible and comfortable outside a routine then working a ski season can bring amazing rewards. We were in our early fifties when we swapped motorway commutes for ski boots and embarked on our first winter season as chalet hosts with a tour operator. This introduction was far from easy but we are heading off for our fifth consecutive season in December (not with that tour operator after the initial steep learning cliff!)

Le Spot to ourselves

I wont deny that there are challenges peculiar to more advancing years but also huge benefits. The winter world is a tough environment, the work is physical (I found being on my feet all the time was hardest – good work shoes would have resolved that) and the hours can be long (but are improving). Life experience can bring advantages, many relating to working practices: reliability, responsibility, commitment, punctuality and professionalism will be attractive to prospective employers. However, these can act against a conscientious employee but unscrupulous employers are being outed, particularly in France at the moment.

Still Christmassy

But what this type of work delivers is a five month period of living in a beautiful environment, pursuing an amazing activity (ski-ing or boarding) whichever days you want (apart from changeover) so you can choose favourable conditions. We choose to only ski when the sun shines. Mix with a group of like-minded people, even if there is a significant age difference. The younger team members are a breath of even fresher air for us oldsters. Ex-pat business owners regaled stories of succeeding with alternative lifestyles, offering confidence that there is a viable alternative to the rat race. Meager salaries ensure that materialism is minimised. We gained maximum pleasure from the non-commercial benefits.

Morning commute after fresh snow

If you think you would enjoy this lifestyle but are too old, think again. Don’t hesitate to get in touch or read the blog/background if you would like to know more about how we turned our lives on their heads, without any regrets. If we can do it so can you. We are regular people who just wanted to try something different before it was too late. We would be delighted to provide any help we can to assist you explore your dreams.

 

Last Shift

With just a few minutes to spare and Roger carrying the rest of his unfinished meal we headed over to the main glampsite. Our fellow stewards for this shift were the couple we had worked with on our first day, who were also pitched close enough to us for them to walk past our tent to reach the track. There were only 2 hi-vis jackets between the four of us, and we seemed to be rather surplus to requirements again. The supervisor suggested that we man the information tent whilst the other two stood guard on the gate with the security detail. He then disappeared to locate 2 stewards who hadn’t shown up for duty, before going on a much needed break.

We wandered across the 10 yard gap to chat to the other 2 who were very chilled, their previous experience endorsing the relative ease of this final shift. The only task was to ensure that everyone entering this compound was wearing a sparkly pink glamping bracelet. There weren’t even any significant questions after ‘what time is check-out?’ ‘What time will the showers be available until?’ and ‘Will the on-site restaurant be serving breakfast tomorrow?’ 12, 12 and yes was all we needed to know.

6 o’clock came and went. Caro Emerald was on the main stage at 6.30. She was the only act I was disappointed to miss during our one shift covering performance times. I had gone as far as looking up the price of her tour tickets but felt £75 to be rather steep for someone I was uncertain about. This would have been an ideal opportunity to see whether I liked her live act.

With an apparent over-staffing and an entitlement to a break, which we had missed on the previous 2 shifts, I asked if they minded if I took my break early, very early i.e. half an hour after we started. They had no problem and insisted that Roger join me, even though he wasn’t too bothered about seeing Caro and might have preferred to see Squeeze later, but we had seen them previously.

So, having barely settled in we set off to the main stage and enjoyed a very polished act although I’m relieved that I didn’t spend £150 on it. An hour later we were back at our posts and a brief changeover released the other two to go for their chosen meal. The petite Bulgarian security guard showed us where to help ourselves to very welcome tea and coffee plus a few biscuits which might have been appealing earlier in the day. When her two colleagues went off to patrol the tents we learnt that they did regular 12 hour shifts all weekend. We sympathised but she just shrugged her narrow shoulders, looking distinctly delicate for her role but perhaps that was part of the deception. Later when an emergency call about gate crashers came over their radio we saw that one of the big blokes couldn’t run for toffees and without the pot belly excuse of the guy at the bottom glampsite.

Glampers drifted back during the next few hours, some packing their cars, others walking past us with sleeves down, but we were now dab hands at spotting wrist bands. Some stopped for a chat about the last few acts, previous performers, tents and facilities. Delightfully the toilets next to the gate were emptied during this period and whilst it is a closed system, the aroma escaped from somewhere. Then 2 girls not sporting the correct wrist band parked nearby and walked in with an air of confidence, turning left and going behind the toilet block. We looked at each other with the quizzical look conveyed by one raised eyebrow, which neither of us could execute. It soon became apparent that they were the cleaners so we left them alone.

Our partners returned from their meal and engaged us in detailed conversation about our change of lifestyle. They were seriously considering leaving the rat race but were undecided what to do precisely. People often ask us about our new lives but usually in a remote curiosity-type manner. These guys were different. Whenever we digressed onto a related but tangential topic they brought us back to the details of making the transition. I don’t think anyone inappropriate sneaked in whilst we were less than vigilant, but we did have security backup.

Fortunately, after all our breaks had been completed successfully, a call came to ask for 2 of us to help in the main arena. None of us were bothered either way so the other two went off to assist after she had shown me where to take the radios at the end of the shift as there would only be security over night. By the darkening light of dusk she guided me through the trees of the glampsite, pointing out landmarks of particular coloured tents and shaped trees before turning right down an aisle of white ridge tents to one tucked behind a low spreading tree. This still had quite a lot of the owners belongings outside even though they were in the arena. They were also volunteer stewards but had opted to pay the extra to glamp, rather than slum-it with the riff-raff. She would take responsibility for getting the radios back to the supervisor in the morning.

We resumed our patter with the returning glampers, wishing them good-night, enquiring if they’d enjoyed themselves. Some returned our comments briefly, others stopped and chatted. Everything was good-natured and high-spirited. With another coffee in hand, to keep me awake and warm me a little, I bent my head to eaves-drop on the radio exchanges. As this was our first ever experience of anything like this role and with limited activity on all of our shifts it was interesting and enlightening to hear what else was going on. Not much of any significance at this safest and most comfortable of festivals, just redeployments, preparations to clear the main arena after the last act, tracing of lost belongings left in less-than-suitable places and general information.

I was so busy listening I didn’t immediately register that one of the calls was for glamping. Oh, oh, wait a minute, that’s us. I handed the set to Roger, yes, we could stand down. I set off into the dark forest to find the correct tent to leave the radios. Luckily our colleagues had left me a small pocket torch which, whilst preventing me from falling over, did not provide sufficient beam for me to recognise landmarks from the previous reconnoitre. I turned right at what I thought was the correct tree but realised I was wrong when I found tents on both sides of the avenue. A decent suspended light showed me that I should have been on the next row. I turned left at the end and then left again, coming up from the opposite end.

The first tent tucked behind the tree would now be the last one tucked behind the tree. They’d cleared up all their stuff now and I was a little surprised they hadn’t spoken to us on the way back through the gate. But, heyho. I was supposed to just tuck the radios inside the entrance to the tent but didn’t want to start unzipping the front in case they were still awake so said “knock, knock” What else could I do? I couldn’t exactly ring the doorbell. There was no response so I began lifting the zip.
‘Who’s that?” came gruff voice, definitely not female, even after a few drinks and packet of fags.
“Sorry. Wrong tent.” I scuttled off into the night before anyone could spot my hi-vis staff jacket indicating that I should know what I’m doing and not try to unzip unsuspecting strangers tents after curfew. Immediately past the next tree I came across a tent in a familiar juxtaposition with an assortment of paraphernalia outside illuminated by a string of green fairy lights to match the woodland glade. No-one responded to this ‘knock-knock’ either but I opened the tent with significantly more confidence and popped the radios on the groundsheet.

We bade farewell to our security colleagues and headed back towards the main arena, quietly offering our services to other hi-vis jackets en route. Fortunately all seemed to be under control, geven the people, who had left their folding chairs and a bag containing make-up and a mobile phone in the main arena to catch the last act on the 2nd stage, had been reunited with their abandoned belongings.

Frivolities and the usual excesses disturbed our final night’s sleep. Perhaps a 4am turn-in was a little late on a campsite but I thought it was just me being grumpy. However, during the packing-up process the next morning a car’s handbrake was left off. It inched forward, gathering a little momentum before it completely flattened an adjacent tent. “That’s for keeping us awake until 4am” shouted a voice with only a touch of good humour. Not just me then!

We packed all our stuff into the micra and headed over to the stewards’ tent. It didn’t feel quite right to just drive away but there was no signing out process. Behind the tent we found the lovely lady of perhaps a few more years than ourselves. She had been the face of the company providing the stewards; her son was the voice, over the radio. She was delightful, always a smile, a cheery wave and time for a few words whenever we saw her covering the whole area on her motorised bike. She was saying goodbye to two other stewards and I couldn’t help overhear her say that they’d be welcome back anytime. We thanked her for giving us this opportunity and told her how much we’d enjoyed it. All the usual platitudes came out from all three of us and then she said it. We’d be welcome back any time!!

Sunday

Our final shift was at 5.45pm so we could enjoy another leisurely start but muffled roars crept into my subconscious again. I don’t have an obsessive need to wave at hot air balloonists but their presence signifies a beautiful dawn and that’s what I don’t want to miss. The campsite was waking with me as some had to prepare for an early shift. I wallowed in my absence of pressure. I had loosely ordered a copy of the Sunday papers from the shop. No payment had passed hands as he gave no assurances that he’d be able to deliver. Well, not literally. I had to collect it from the main campsite but need a cup of tea first.

I was wondering whether it would be acceptable to wander round to the shop in my PJs as our delightful neighbour appeared around the corner of her tent. I’d assumed she was still asleep, although knew she had an early shift, but she wasn’t yet late. She brandished the last copy of the Sunday Times, my order. She was setting off to work and left us her wad of newspaper to enjoy without having to go anywhere. What a star.
Sometime later, on our way to the Pleasant Valley stage, I popped into the shop to make sure that they weren’t keeping a copy aside for me, they were. I’d read most of the sections in which I’d been interested so didn’t really want another, but felt obliged as I had ordered it. Two young lads loitered without purpose behind the counter whilst the main man served another customer. He did have to point out that they were there to serve, not chat; there was a short queue behind me.

The younger brought my paper out straight away and I asked if they could sell it to someone else as I’d read my friend’s (and knew that they had no more copies.) ‘But it has your name on the top’, it did. Fortunately his colleague was slightly less clueless and said it would be no problem to sell it, even with my name on. Hurrah for the anonymity of ‘Smith’.

Opening the main stage that morning were The Mighty John Street Ska Orchestra. A big bunch of youngsters playing modified reggae, and very well too. The human audience was sparse initially, although the phantom chair-setter-up had been busy. We joined a cluster sitting in the shade of the main sound tower, half way up the hill overlooking the stage. The sun crept up on us as the set progressed and by the end we were out of the dark, into the light.

We had an hour to kill before our next priority on the Songbird stage so found another convenient piece of shade under a huge oak and waited rather than walking around, becoming increasingly soaked in sweat. I took the opportunity to have a look at the Medicine Sans Frontiere stand having completely missed that their purpose here was to gather sponsors. The fundraiser I talked to politely indulged me but as soon as someone else loitered I released him and wandered back to our chairs.

We had the decency to fold them away before Mari Wilson came on stage. These chairs seem to be the 21st century version of the German towel on a poolside sunbed! The PV hillside is crammed with empty chairs, right to the front of a demarcation line, beyond which chairs are not permitted. But, a blanket on the ground in front of them reserves a greater area for the absent audience.

The Neasden queen of soul, accompanied by The Wilsations, delivered a wonderful performance once she’d settled down. After 3 numbers she shed her red silk jacket and sunnies and seemed to relax. We were a very appreciative audience, singing along to ‘On White Horses’ and excellent covers of numbers by Dusty, Cilla and Petula before her own hit ‘Just what I’ve always wanted’.

As she waved goodbye from stage left I peeled off to go probably the nicest loos in the arena, to the left of the stage. When I emerged a queue had formed, but I looked over their heads from my elevated position. Mari and her backing singers were coming out from the tent towards their people carrier only a few yards behind these desperate ladies. I wanted to wave and shout how much I’d enjoyed her set but the lack of numerical support and my position illuminated from the chemical toilet behind me seemed to diminish the situation, so I stayed schtum.

When dashing between stages the previous day I had clocked an excellent sounding ska band on the third Riverside stage, not one we tended to frequent. I’d also overheard a conversation about them in the queue for a coffee the night before, they would be performing again, and there they were. A quick diversion into the haybaled seating area provided a front row view, particularly as off to the right was some shade, yeah! These guys weren’t a Specials tribute band but covered their numbers really well. I managed to bounce along to the familiar sounds of my college years without my feet actually leaving the ground, so neither too exhausting nor boob stretching.

A short interlude enabled us to take all our gubbins back to the tent to prepare, not for the evening performances, but our evening shift, as we didn’t want to miss the afternoon sets. Taking a little longer than expected, we said goodbye to our lovely neighbour who was packing up, ready to leave after the last set that night. We made our way back to the SB stage, only missing the first few minutes of Andy Fairweatherlow. ‘Wide Eyed and Legless’ and ‘If Paradise is half as Nice’ with some Shadows thrown in, performed by a founder member of Amen Corner, who is sought by Roger Walters and Eric Clapton. An incredibly modest and understated guy.

It was a quick trot back to the PV stage as Deacon Blue were about to start. The heat of the day was building and any inch of the minimal shade was occupied. We sat on the hill side as I draped my sarong over myself, using my head as the centre tent pole, to keep the sun off me, but to no avail. A few numbers in I succumbed reluctantly and went in search of somewhere to cool off before I collapsed. I made my way up behind the sound tower where an ice cream van had set up. A small patch at the back of his vehicle provided some respite until I realised that this was the outlet from the generator keeping the cream iced. It was blowing hot air, destroying the benefit of the shadow.

Beside me was a flight of steps up to a viewing gallery providing the best seats in the house. Not surprisingly these were not available to the hoi polloi so a fellow steward was stationed there. With my identical triple neon wrist bands I started chatting to this colleague who was rather concerned about my puce face, thinking it was sunburn. Between the side of the ice cream van, behind the sound tower and almost under the steps was a patch of shade. ‘Would you mind if I just sit there for a few minutes?’ ‘Of course not’.

Excellent result. This patch of grass was cool to sit on and a light breeze flowed right underneath the tower. I could still hear Deacon Blue clearly, even if I couldn’t see them, but in the circumstances I was delighted. From this vantage point I observed one of the less pleasant jobs for us volunteers. Our role had primarily been to welcome people, whereas her’s was to turn them away. Some completely unsuspecting people thought they could just stroll up to this viewing balcony and although most took their rejection without problem one American lady was not going to be deterred. ‘Why can’t I go up there?’ ‘Because you don’t have the correct wrist band.’ ‘I have a VIP band.’ ‘Yes, but this is only for Gold VIP bands.’ ‘He’s not wearing one.’ ‘No, but he has an Access All Areas pass.’ ‘But he’s not wearing a wrist band.’ ‘His pass is around his neck.’ ‘Hrumph.’ One person came with the correct ID in the time I was there.

Much cooler and relieved that we’d been assigned glamping, I returned to Roger to watch the end of the set. I was a little disappointed to have missed most of it but received a bit more education during my absence. A quick bite to eat was the priority before clocking in for our final shift in the main glamping site.

Day Off

A muffled roar invaded my dreams. Prolonged fierceness, then a pause before starting again. As I roused there was something familiar about the sound, flames blasting inside a hot air balloon. They wouldn’t fly on clouded misty mornings. Shafts of sunlight danced on the outer tent as I crawled from the bedroom compartment. Unzipping the sides revealed the sunrise I’d been waiting for as 2 multi-coloured balloons drifted past on the imperceptible breeze. A perfect start to our day off.

The poles to support the front canopy lay on the ground, outward from the tent, marking our patch. We had learnt during our first festival in the Lake District to ensure that we kept this part clear of other campers. On that occasion we had returned to our neatly zipped tent to find someone pitched on our doorstep, guy ropes stretched straight across our entrance. Now I had space to lift the awning and place our 2 chairs and low table, supporting the camping stove, outside in the dappled sunshine. An old oak tree was protecting us from blasting rays.

The leisurely start to a glorious day was most welcome. Aromas from another brunch of bacon, egg, sausage and beans brought envious comments from surrounding neighbours. The two guys from our previous shift stopped by with their news. They had managed to book a table at the Hairy Bikers’ Pop-up Wood-fired Restaurant Adventure for Sunday afternoon and were thrilled. They were buddies since helping with their luggage on arrival and obtaining a selfie with Dave.

Mid-morning we gathered all our gubbins together and set off to the arena. Roger’s ankle was still giving him some jip after the exuberance of the previous day so we didn’t want to have to walk any further than necessary. Cafe Nero was en route to the Songbird stage and their line-up could deliver some more hidden gems. We arrived to a quieter affair and found a seat at a table, even if we were still outside the tent. A flame-haired girl was on the dias with a harp. She performed contemporary numbers alongside some haunting melodies. The tone of her instrument augmented her lustrous Gaelic voice. Not quite up to Asher and Lee’s league but still pretty amazing.

We ambled round to the Songbird stage and found a diminishing patch at the back, under a huge tree so out of the sun, nestled up to all the other shade seekers. From this disadvantage point we could hear but not see The Adelaides, a harmonic country trio, who just happened to be very attractive to middle-aged men! We didn’t want to lose our position so forfeited the next act on the Pleasant Valley stage. This festival has realised that people don’t necessarily want to miss a main act so they alternate the start times, but we preferred to stay in the shade for as long as possible.
The next act due on Songbird sounded intriguing, the Kolars. He played guitar and vocals whilst she played percussion by standing, tapping and jumping atop a bass drum whilst beating the rest of her kit using dance to deliver her rhythm. I don’t think I have ever seen such an energetic performance. There would be no need for her to go to the gym while she works-out like that.

We ventured back to Cafe Nero and were slightly disappointed with the act, who was full of angst, so returned to our seats to wait for Megan Mckenna. She wasn’t a bad American country artist but wondered how far she would have got in the music industry if she hadn’t been on TOWIE, Celebrity Big Brother and Britain’s got Talent. After a few numbers we went for a walk around the concession stalls with no intention of buying, just looking.

That time passed slowly so we found ourselves listening to the rise and fall of the economy in conjunction with the same trajectory for horror shark films in the comedy tent, like you do! This was located part-way back to our tent so we grabbed the opportunity to drop-off our excess baggage and return to the Songbird stage for PP Arnold. I couldn’t remember precisely what I’d read about her but did recollect that she might be good. She was brilliant! She’d been an Ikette (with Ike and Tina Turner) before going on to have a solo career with such hits as ‘First cut is the Deepest’ and ‘Angel of the Morning’. She could still belt them out and enchant a crowd.

Food called and we indulged up the hill from the Pleasant Valley stage to the strains of Pixie Lott, even though we couldn’t, nor did we really try to see her. A slot of shade behind a bush was too tempting. Our next big attraction was the Scottish singer/song writer Amy Mcdonald. We had seen her at this festival 5 years previously when she’d played late afternoon as Andy Murray won Wimbledon. She had been excellent then and did not disappoint, even asking if anyone had been around for her performance that year. I’m not sure if anyone else had been but I certainly made sure she knew that we had! It was a marvellous set, worthy of show-closing.

We arrived late to the next act as there were several encores for Amy so Mavis Staples was in full flow as we hovered at the back. The shaded sun was dipping behind the trees and tents. She is an American icon, both for her music as well as her civil rights activism. Unfortunately, the latter over-flowed into the former, prolonging fade-outs by minutes, many minutes. This was the point when we noticed the sea of white faces around us, awkward! but what else are you going to find at a middle-aged, middle-class music festival in the heart of the Cotswolds. Much more Boden than black history.

We trotted back to the PV stage for the headline act, the much awarded Alanis Morissette, whose music we knew nothing about. I had no desire to get too close to the front as I didn’t know if either of us would enjoy this set. We settled 3/4 of the way up the hill, a pair of couples on a blanket to our left. As the support band mounted the stage the two girls got up and stood beside us then the one closest to me, as in inches, lit her cigarette, holding it in her right hand. Waving her arms around, in supposedly graceful lateral extensions, she wafted her b****y fag across my face. When that wavy music stopped she held her right arm away from her friend on her left, right under my nose! I mimed to Roger that I’d extinguish it with a slosh from my cider cup. Deciding that that would be a waste I started unscrewing the top of the bottle of water I was holding. Whether I would have actually poured it on her fag I don’t know but I had significant intent. Fortunately her boyfriend noticed and stopped me before the top came off completely. He moved her onto their other side and told me to be more tolerant, it was a festival, hmmm? Matter solved, for me, but not the people she was now with, but that was their issue. The boyfriend then lit up his own fag, but held it on his far side, next to his non-smoking mate.

It only took 2-3 numbers for us to realise that this was not our taste in music but after causing a bit of a kerfuffle I felt obliged to stay, until we hit half an hour, then we politely crept away. A further trawl around the shops and concessions killed 20 minutes but we were waiting for the band in the campsite tent due on at 11pm. We were at serious risk of not being able to stay awake for Little Moscow; Hairy Biker Si’s band.

A coffee stand came to our aid and we took our cups into the adjacent bar tent. A few minutes later HB Dave came in with his friends/family. We watched him spread joy and happiness around the room, posing for photos, chatting to anyone who wanted his time before coming over to the table beside us, where they had to stand with their drinks as we’d removed the last chairs, oops!

Finally we were allowed into the performance tent and the band began with Si on the drums. I was expecting them to be mediocre, only getting a slot due to connections but they were excellent. We’d planned to just stay for a couple of numbers before winding our weary way to bed but were cheering and clapping for more as they finished their set. A fantastic headline act after the highs of PP and Amy and lows of Alanis and another confrontation.

Addendum!

It is a sad reflection of passing age that I managed to forget a fairly memorable set on Friday evening. We did not go to bed after the covers band in the campsite tent, on the contrary, we danced until the wee small hours to the Ceilidh Liberation Front. Each dance flowing into the following as we became trapped at the front. Only a desperate call of nature facilitated our escape shortly before they finished as we staggered back to the tent, even more exhausted than previously mentioned, but on a superb high. The DJ set that followed couldn’t keep us awake.

The Festival Begins

The festivities opened at 12 but we missed it. We didn’t finish our shift until 1pm and then returned to the sauna-like tent for a shower and rather late brunch, presumably called ‘lunch’ by that time. The previous morning shower had been refreshing but by this time the cubicle quickly filled up with steam, joining the tent in our personal spa experience. An air vent in the ceiling was inadequate to disperse all the moisture which seemed to accumulate on my skin faster than I could dry myself. Needless to say it was a huge struggle to position my underwear on in the broadly correct area of my body. The early morning queues may become essential.

Loaded with our daypack and folding chairs we set off for the arena to begin our own festival. The first two acts were pretty good but by 5.30 we decided to dump the chairs and reduce our load for the evening so dropped them off back at the campsite before returning to the second stage via the almost deserted fairground, blaring out inane pop music to empty rides. This route took us past the Cafe Nero tent which housed the fourth stage, well a raised dias in the corner, usually promoting emerging artists.

A crowd overflowed the tent with people peering in from the outside sunshine. Any crowd is usually a good sign so we ventured over to investigate the attraction. 2 oldish guys were on the podium, chatting away to the audience. A guitar sat on the lap of a bespectacled red-headed balding gentleman, a long white-haired guy perched at the keyboards. Roger remembered that he’d read something about these guys being ‘a must see’ in the programme we’d borrowed from our neighbour.

“As individuals in the world of music, Peter Asher and Albert Lee have done it all. They have played on – or produced – some of the biggest-selling albums ever released and performed in stadiums and concert halls all over the world. In fact, their combined influence and contribution to music spans over a century and includes work with Eric Clapton, Dolly Parton and The Beatles. So it is no surprise that when they get together they are a force to be reckoned with.” wrote Clive Morgan in The Telegraph Nov 2016. And this wasn’t an overstatement, they were exceptional. The gentle raconteur Peter interspersed their numbers with anecdotes of life over the decades with some of the music world’s biggest stars, yet without any hint of brashness, mostly unassuming and self-effacing. They finished their set to a standing ovation after a wonderful rendition of their own World Without Love.

This had been one of those unexpected treats and we realised that it would be difficult to beat as we left the seats we’d managed to acquire on the outskirts. The James Taylor Quartet began their set on the second stage. Nothing to do with THE James Taylor but a really good act: acid-jazz on a Hammond organ! We missed most of the next act as we went in search of food, returning to the 2nd (Songbird) stage ready for Stereo MC’s. I’m not entirely sure why but I expected a black rapper (or is that MC Hammer?) so I was a little surprised to be watching a hip hop/acid house club band from London’s east end.

We weren’t overly impressed when their fourth number sounded very similar to the first three so made our way to the main (Pleasant Valley) stage to get a good position for the headline act, UB40. I was quite happy with our spot but knew that crowds are a living entity and move with unpredictable surges, but I would stand my ground, about 10 yards from the front barrier on an uphill slope, almost level with the stage. A tall guy seemed to be trying to edge me along from the side but as I’d found a slight lump to stand on I wasn’t budging. The band came on to rapturous applause, a significant proportion of the original line-up, which isn’t too bad considering the intervening decades.

They had just settled into their second number when a diminutive women joined the guy by my side with a noisy greeting and then manoeuvred herself in front of me. I wasn’t too bothered because she barely reached my shoulder. She then turned and called a friend through from behind me. I wasn’t best pleased as she was slightly taller but still didn’t really obscure my view of the stage, even if the antics were a tad distracting. She then called ‘Phil’ through. Fortunately Phil seemed to have more sense than to plonk himself in front of someone else during an act and declined. The dwarf proceeded to have an unrelated conversation with the friend who had come to stand in front of me, but the band were rather loud so she had to shout to be heard over the music which had been one of our main interests in the first instance. Surely this wouldn’t last long, UB40 were the headline act for Friday.

As she continued to yell banalities over the next number I started to get somewhat disgruntled. They were in my face, between me and the stage, blocking both my view and obscuring the musical performance we had come to see. When this interruption segued into the next number my filters came off. I leant forward, tapped her on her shoulder and pointed out that I’d paid to listen to the band not her. (OK, so I hadn’t paid cash but would work 15+ hours in return for the £200 ticket.) She shut up for the rest of this set, disappearing off to the loo as they built to their finale. One has to wonder why she was even there, as in ‘right in the front middle of an audience for a band she had no interest in’.

We enjoyed this closing set for the first night, although I’m undecided about some of the new numbers. The oldies are the best, or am I becoming intransigent? We returned to our tent via the campsite tent where an interesting sounding band were performing. They specialised in cover versions of classic rock numbers. By the time they were on their fourth unrecognisable number we acknowledged that perhaps we were not the most suitable demographic. Our mattress beckoned so we duly headed to our temporary home for an even better night’s sleep, looking forward to a full day off.

Friday Morning

I unzipped the tent to overcast skies, a marginal improvement on the previous day. We were on duty at 8.30 so there was no time to linger over numerous mugs of tea. We availed ourselves of the water heater in stewards facilities so didn’t even need to wait for the kettle to boil before setting off down the hill. A few more cars had arrived in the dedicated car park, including two families with young children.

Our comrades for this shift were the two comedians from the previous evening. They were brimming with excitement. The Hairy Bikers and entourage had arrived during their shift and accommodated their selfies with good grace. Our guys had helped carry their luggage to a separate area, adjacent to glamping, where two Airstream caravans and several squrts were billeted. The latter being vertically challenged yurts, looking distinctly mushroom-like. We hoped no-one was too tall as, not only would they not be able to stand-up but the limited diameter would require a foetal sleeping position. We saw no sign of anyone, perhaps it was too early.

We were quite happy when it was suggested that we go back to the gate we’d manned previously. At least there was some activity there. The sun was making its daily breakthrough as the clouds melted. New arrivals were heaving heavy loads up the hill from the car park which now extended out of sight down the track, yet further to drag in the dusty heat. We had become quite adept at noticing wrist bands as people approached so that they didn’t need to stop and adjust their load to display the correct colour.

We restarted our best greetings to these hot dusty beasts of burden as they trudged back and forth between cars and tents, carrying as much as possible to minimise the number of trips. A few had their own carts which was just as well as no-one had opened up the wheel-barrow stall and all had been locked away in the van over-night. A few disgruntled faces tried to ascertain when it would open, apparently not 9am as that hour came and went. We had no idea either.

A lady turned up with an empty barrow. She had hired it just before the stall closed the previous evening and had been told to return it by 10am to retrieve her £20 deposit. We suggested she tucked it behind the gate beside where we were stood, until she returned later. Before long we had 8 barrows piled up beside us and realised that we could operate a roaring trade if they didn’t open soon. By 10am the returners, holding their receipts, were milling around with those wanting to hire. It was very tempting to tell them to get themselves organised and work together but thought we might get into bother for suggesting entrepreneurship!

We half-hoped for a relief or break at some point during the four and a half hour shift but none materialised and we weren’t bothered enough to abandon our posts. The wheelbarrow guy rolled up around 10.15 so we lost the interest factor there, but the rest of the arrivals were building up. I noticed a woman dragging a hugely overladen trolley up the track from quite well down the hill. Her husband was ahead with another well stacked sack trolley. He parked it near Roger and went back to help her out. As they were about to continue Roger pointed out that they needed to swap their tickets for wrist bands. They seemed grateful for the rest but returned to their luggage less than pleased. They too were glampers who had been mis-directed to the general parking and carted their loads all the way up the hill in the heat. He wasn’t very happy as he stomped off down the hill to collect the car. I was relieved we weren’t on car park duty. We were intrigued to know what all their luggage contained as they seemed to have more than most, but no need of a tent or bedding at the very least.

The time galloped on, unlike it would have done in the glamping stewards tent. We only directed four cars down the track all morning, even if one was seriously unhappy. The quiet campsite field had filled up, the remaining spaces shrinking with each influx. Our shift was due to finish at 1pm and at 12.30 we heard an act on the main stage start up, opening Cornbury 2018, which nearly didn’t happen as 2017 was going to be the final event.

No-one came to relieve us again so we took the decision to abandon our posts to the guys a few yards away. We left the hi-vis jackets in the tent as we weren’t doing another shift until Sunday evening and that would be at the main glampsite. We were now free to go and enjoy the festivities until then.

Off to Work we Go

Back down the hill again, for the third time, which meant we would have climbed it three times as well by the end of the shift. Ensuring that we weren’t late again we arrived at our little tent-station in good time for our 1pm shift start. No other team members had arrived, we expected two others plus our supervisor. I assembled the two tressel tables and four folding chairs which had been left in the tent along with a laminated map of the area and bags of valuable wrist bands of assorted colours: pale blue for the 3-day weekend, navy for VIP and sparkly pink for glamping. We just didn’t know what to do with them. Roger tied back the front walls as we attempted to make the plain white canvas shed look welcoming. The teepee reception opposite had coloured rugs on the floor and hanging on the walls, a turquoise dream catcher spun in the light breeze.

Another couple turned up, our shift colleagues. Fortunately they had past experience of volunteering at this festival and soon organised us, being somewhat more specific than the vague direction we had received from the morning briefing. We were supposed to be meeting, greeting and banding new arrivals to this glampsite. The music wasn’t due to start until the following lunchtime and with their accommodation already prepared, there wouldn’t be much settling in to do so we didn’t expect a rush.

Our supervisor, a huge ex-marine, so laid back as to be horizontal, strolled down the hill towards us, accompanied by two other women in the mandatory hi-vis jackets. I wondered where they were headed, nowhere! One boss plus six volunteer stewards and no arrivals, with none expected. We all ended up huddling inside the small tent cluttered with 2 tressel tables and four chairs, just to keep out of the blazing sun. All the mist had been burnt off, any lurking clouds had been frightened away and the sun was now so high that the only shade afforded by a large oak tree behind us was on a patch of stinging nettles. Just as well I’d read somewhere to pack a book as some shifts are quiet.

After a period of pleasantries the two women were sent off down the access road, to where I knew not. The other bloke was taken off to another tent somewhere, leaving the three of us to deal with the influx. One couple arrived. This was fortunate as this most expensive camp site, rumoured to cost £3k for the 3 days, was yet to be connected to water. (The generator broke during the evening, after our shift, and I wouldn’t have liked to deal with justly frustrated glampers.)

An empty sloping expanse of cut grass with a line of toilets and shower cubicles at the bottom lay over the 6-foot high fence in front of us. At 2.30pm a swarm of ants surged up the hill, the gates for this ‘quieter’ campsite had opened. People ran in all directions and then appeared to dump their loads of tents, pillows, sleeping bags and duvets in random spaces in the middle of the scorched field. There was no shade for them either. In no time we saw this area change from deserted to a blanket of multi-coloured tents and gazebos.

As people unloaded and unpacked, pitched tents, filled water containers and opened their cans of beer whilst they were still cold the two women came back to swap with us. We retraced their steps along the track on the outside of the fence at the bottom, behind the toilet block. I had no real idea where we were going and what we were to do, beyond directing glampers along this track. We arrived at the main entrance to the quiet campsite where there was significantly more activity. The portacabin box office loomed over a large ridge tent which housed four people, including our colleague who had been whisked away, swapping tickets for wrist bands. On the other side of the double gate an assortment of stripped wheelbarrows could be hired to transport all the essential camping equipment from the cars parked further on down the hill.

A large woman, who appeared to be struggling in the heat, was sat in one of two folding chairs set off to the side in the shade of the tent. These were our duty posts but we couldn’t comprehend the purpose of sitting there when we learnt that we were checking for anyone with a glamping wrist band. They needed to be directed along our track and not go straight ahead to camp with the riff-raff. We couldn’t clearly see appropriately coloured bracelets from that position so took up sentry posts on either side of the gate.

The blue and white golf umbrella proved invaluable as we stood in the glare of the sun, not a drop of rain in sight. We segued from peering fruitlessly at wrists for a pink sparkle to noting the pale blue regular weekend band from a distance, welcoming all and sundry with a cheery ‘hello’. The time passed so much more quickly and I began to feel part of this huge organisation (although larger festivals are available.)

A pleasant pair, looking very similar to a couple we knew so immediately endowed with the characters of our friends, passed us with their luggage on 2 of their own and very popular trolleys. They turned left and began walking along the track to glamping. Roger trotted after them. Yes, they were glampers. No, they didn’t know that they could drive through and park next to their tent. They’d been directed into the main car park by the marshalls. Without ado, he walked back down the hill to collect his car and reload it for the now short and flat drive to the glampsite. They were our only ‘clients/customers’ all afternoon.

5.45pm came and went. There was supposed to be a 15 minute handover period. Would anyone come to relieve us? We were unsure whether we were meant to be in that position or had just been added due to the excess numbers of volunteer stewards. Allowing another 10 minutes we conceded and went to have a word with the campsite stewards supervisor standing 10 yards away at the entrance to the fenced area. We’d been stood at the exit to the car park, but doing virtually the same job, hopefully making each other’s lives easier.

Back at the glamping stewards tent, two blokes had joined the two women who were doing a double shift. I had noticed these guys pitching their tent quite close to ours, a real pair of comedians. We bade them a good evening and trudged back up the hill through the quiet campsite, merging into the main campsite, past the red and yellow campsite marquee and bar, coffe shop and milk bar. Exiting this campsite we turned left through the main campervan site, which was filling rapidly, and back through to our site which had doubled its occupancy since we’d left. Our neighbour had conveniently erected a flagpole displaying a red and yellow stripped goldfish for ease of location.

After a delicious evening meal of fried pork chops and reconstituted mushroom rice, washed down with a couple of still-cool pinot grigios from blue enamel mugs (to match the kettle,) we made our way back to the main campsite tent for the live bands’ performances. They were competing for a place in next year’s line-up but couldn’t hold our attention for long. We were knackered, there was nowhere to sit and we were on shift at 8.30 the following morning so we returned to our tent. Collapsing onto the double airbed and snuggled inside the sleeping bags, wearing extra layers, fell to sleep, despite all the noise.

Day 2 Briefing

I looked forward to unzipping the tent and boiling my kettle for a cup of tea by the gentle heat of the rising sun but when I peered out at 6.30 I could barely see across our field. A dense mist slumped over us. Pitching the tent with the entrance facing east, towards the sunrise, had been somewhat pointless but I fired up the propane stove anyway. The little blue kettle took its time to boil but eventually achieved its purpose in life. The heat from the sun slowly dissolved the mist, completing the task by the time we were showered and organised. Roger made a trip to the Stewards Tent where he bought our ‘Wicked’ subsistence wrist bands. For £3 a day we would have access to unlimited tea and coffee, toast and soup, fruit and crisps, use of toaster and microwave and a big table to sit round chatting to other vols. This seemed perfect if attending alone and was never empty.

On our arrival the previous day we had been told that we couldn’t register until 10am the following morning, when we would also have our briefing. Our neighbour was a veteran volunteer, a mine of useful information (we’d helped erect her tent so there was some reciprocation). She returned to her tent at 9.15, having registered and acquired her ‘working personnel’ and ‘crew camping’ wrist bands. We duly trotted over and filled our lower arms with neon green and yellow bracelets.

Making our way back at 9.45 for the 10 o’clock briefing, I couldn’t help noticing that there weren’t many people around, perhaps because we were early. I nipped back to the tent for my sun hat and found Roger on the phone when I returned. One of the ski companies, which we were due to visit the following week for an interview, was still trying to ascertain which posts we’d applied for. We hadn’t. Our CVs had been passed on, unbeknown to us, by a recruitment agent. It had all become rather confusing even before we’d left and now, the weak phone signal complicated matters further. Roger hung up a couple of minutes later as we noticed that there were actually fewer people than before, not more. We were meant to attend the briefing at the glamping site, not the stewards’ tent as we’d been told. Just as well we’d already registered.

The main arena, containing the four stages and all the stalls and concessions, was fenced in and closed off. Surrounding this were the various campsites which were also completely enclosed by high fencing although the intermittent gates were open. Our crew campsite was outside the campervan park, so on the periphery. Glamping was located almost 180 degrees from crew camping and we’d have to walk all the way around the outside of the arena fencing. Consulting the site map it appeared that walking counter-clockwise would be marginally shorter. We set off knowing that we couldn’t cover the distance in less than 5 minutes so would be late. Not only an inauspicious start but we might miss out on crucial information. Everything would be important to us as we had no idea what was expected of us.

We entered the nearest gate to the punters’ camping zone which took us past the campsite we’d used when we’d attended this festival five years previously. Access to the direct route across the arena was denied so we began the trek around the back of the main stage, having forgotten how steep the hill was. Signs for ‘glamping’ appeared so we diligently followed them but they seemed to be taking us to a different area to where we had expected, but couldn’t be wrong.

We ended up right at the bottom of the hill, at a deserted glamping site displaying teepees and ridge tents. We discovered a woman in a hi-vis jacket who denied all knowledge of stewards’ briefing. Another guy took his head out of his van and told us there was another glampsite, still on the other side of the arena. We were not far from our starting point but much lower down the slope. We began the climb back up the hill over uneven tussocked grass. A gate into the arena was open so we took it. If challenged, we decided we’d be ok as we sported an assortment of wristbands, even if not the correct one.

The avenue of stalls were opening, stocking and decorating. A sign for the Hairy Bikers Pop-up Restaurant leant against a huge triple teepee at the end, blocking our way. We veered to the right, past the English sparkling wine double-decker bus bar, across the top of the area from where to watch the main stage lower down the slope. Through the gate at the bottom, still unchallenged, (we should have gone this way in the first instance) we climbed back up the hill on the far side of the arena and arrived at the main glamping site. Everyone, except 2 people, was dispersing, our neighbour was disappearing along a track, having wondered where we’d got to, as she knew we were in the same team.

The two remaining people, the couple we had walked back with from the pub the previous night, directed us to our supervisor. After our profuse apologies he said that he still needed 2 more people to man the lower glamp site and as we knew where it was…. We agreed but explained that there was no point going back as there was no-one there. Oh, there would be, they’d set off five minutes before, so we turned round and retraced our steps through the middle of the arena and found a man in an orange hi-vis jacket, who was managing this lower site.

We grabbed the opportunity to have a nosey in these posh tents. One of the teepees contained a full sized double wooden bed and three ridge tents had en-suite bathrooms. There were six places with their own tilting mirrors and a hairdryer each in the pamper tent. We said our cheerios and headed back up the hill again, to our campsite for brunch – bacon, egg, sausage and beans cooked over the camping stove – before our return to start shift at 1pm.