And so to Greenbelt, which although only a weekend ago feels like ages! This was my first GB for a couple of years, and I went by myself as HD didn’t have enough leave; this time I was also working for the first time since my first GB in 2003 when I was a venue steward.
There were loads of positives. Of course, catching up with lots of lovely people, from the wibsite, from Ship of Fools, from my old London church, from York, even from my (very first) university (embarrassingly H recognised me but I only recognised her when she told me 😮 ) is always the biggest highlight, and what I love about GB (and what is very different from Womad – we have on occasion bumped into a friend or two there, and last time a couple of years ago we camped with HD’s brother and sister and brother-in-law and their kids, but mostly it’s just us and the music). I camped with York friends (one of the things I was working on was the Visions service, and the other bit of it was working in the Soul Space venue, which was also headed up by someone from Visions), so got to spend quite a lot of time with them, and then I had a very happy couple of hours after the Visions service going to the Shipmeet at the fab Tiny Tea Tent, where it was wonderful to catch up with folk again. And then on the last day, once I’d got my tent down, I spent the late afternoon and evening with ship and wibsite friends (including Pants, Auntie Doris and Cal amongst several others. I also managed to bump briefly into Tractor Girl but sadly didn’t manage to get the chance to grab a cuppa with her (that was one of the highlights of a previous GB for me 🙂 ).
Because I was working I didn’t get to loads of things – I caught about the first 15 minutes of Billy Bragg’s set before having to go off to Soul Space to work, and the main other things I caught music-wise were Kate Rusby and the Unthanks. So I guess it’s fair to say I really wasn’t very adventurous this year, just went with tried and tested favourites (having said that I’d not seen the Unthanks live before, I’d definitely like to see them again though). Talks-wise I started off at Abide (a tiny venue populated by the meditative/storytelling-types) to see a really promising-sounding talk on allotments and atonement, but which turned out to be quite dull so I gave up after 10 minutes, and tried (and failed) to get in to see Richard Wilkinson talk about inequality (the queue was too long so the venue closed before I could get in – I did buy the talk though to listen to on the journey back and am sorry to have missed it, and I have also bought the book The Spirit Level). I did though get to see the whole of Mark Thomas’ 2 hour set (which I think he has already toured, or at least started to, as he made reference to a bit of it not going down so well in Glasgow) detailing his walk along the length of the Israel-West Bank wall. He was absolutely brilliant, and I’m definitely going to get his book – he was funny, absolutely hilarious, but also heartbreaking – polemical, angry, funny, it was leftie comedy at its absolute best. I loved his story about the British Consul in East Jerusalem, and some of his one-liners were unexpected but quite brilliant (particularly the “Luton should be illegal” one – I can laugh at that as that is where HD is from – and his reason for coming to GB, despite being an atheist – “missionary work”). The Big Top was absolutely packed, and deservedly so. I laughed and cried, it was quite quite brilliant.
The other comedy (er, I mean anointed ministry time) I caught was Reverend Gerald Ambulance. It is always such a blessing to receive ministry from Lewisham, and the good reverend was on fine form.
In Soul Space (which is the mellow area for prayer, reflection and generally chilling out) I was basically a glorified bouncer, and didn’t really get the chance to be too involved in anything actually going on as I was too busy doing the (whispered) crowd control thing. Having said that though, I thought what I heard of the nChant service and especially Orthodox Vespers sounded absolutely beautiful, and I’ll have to try and check out some more of that if I go back. I learnt that after 3 hours of whispering to people (directions, requesting they turn their phone off, taking appointments for spiritual direction, that sort of thing) my throat absolutely killed me in the morning, it felt like I’d been yelling football songs at top volume on 10 pints. Which was a bit ironic!
Another highlight for me was the Visions all-age service on Saturday afternoon that I was participating in. Thanks to my madchurch experience, all-age worship is something I am somewhat allergic to, and I must confess to not being entirely convinced it would work, but on the day it all went beautifully, it was fantastic to see so many children and adults really engaging with the various aspects of the service, and to get such good feedback afterwards. I didn’t go to the main communion service on the Sunday (as it invariably annoys me – as it was I could hear bits of it from my tent and thought it sounded a bit shouty, so I’m glad I gave it a miss), so Visions was probably my main God-bit really. It would be so lovely to find something similar up here. Ho hum.
One thing I did find was that it was a real old slog driving down all the way to Cheltenham. I was lucky to stay with my in-laws to break up the journey both ways, but even with that it was a bit of a hike. I think realistically my days of going to Greenbelt every year are probably over, although I am also sure that this won’t be my last festival. It was certainly fantastic to catch up with people – here are some selected highlights: