The armed police were very attentive as we neared the venue for our first experience of working as stewards at a festival. We were headed for Cornbury at Great Tew in Oxfordshire, not far from Blenheim. Some American big-wig (or toupee) was visiting the palace, which may have diverted the attention of our guards. They appeared unable to influence the ubiquitous roadworks which reduced the access route to single track. This might prove to be quite an impediment when the expected 20,000 people per day arrive.
We rocked up on Wednesday, to allow time to settle in before our first shift on Thursday afternoon. The blue 5-man tent was pitched in the half-empty crew-camping field without any fall-outs and we settled down to a well-deserved gin and tonic. This needed to be drunk as it wouldn’t stay cold for long in the 28 degree temperatures as the cold packs couldn’t stay frozen, even in the cool box. The country was experiencing a heatwave, unprecedented since 1976, the year before I took my ‘O’levels. The ground was like concrete. Roger had suggested buying a mallet the previous day which proved invaluable when trying to drive home the pegs of our own tent and those of several others in our vicinity, who struggled to achieve the same aim with various implements and footwear.
A litre bottle of tonic with added gin later, we followed an uneven grassy path around the outside of the punters’ empty campsite. The earth was parched and cracked, fissures burrowed into the crops courageously ripening in an adjacent field. Small clusters of rooftops could be seen hiding in leafy clumps as we made our way down to the pub in the nearest village. England were playing Croatia in the semi-finals of the world cup and there was no TV at the campsite. The pub overflowed onto the front terrace, the back garden inexplicably closed. We assumed these were all the locals gathering, as a community, to watch the national team qualify for the final. We met most of them back at the campsite that evening, so only as ‘local’ as us. The result hadn’t dampened our spirits.
Despite the heat of the day, I awoke during the night with an odd sensation of cold, something I’d not felt in these past few weeks. We’d unzipped the sleeping bags and laid them on top of a double sheet but they kept sliding off. A fleece top was conveniently on the top of my opened backpack so I added this to my PJs. I’d only brought light-weight sleeping bags (and a small blanket to sit on) as I thought we’d be too hot, like at home where a sheet has sufficed. Socks would be included in my nocturnal wardrobe the next night.