Taking Out The Trash

30 Jul 2008

It ends the way it began, an inch of cheap scotch and the long silent walk back to the tent. Adventuring alone is a skill, and I'm rusty.

It's not unusual; walking around the festival, I see hardly anyone staying alone for extended periods. By Saturday afternoon, I'm not doing it either. The vibe is strong, and takes a little getting used to. In a packed performance on Friday night, someone pushes past a listener, hitting him hard with his backpack. The victim gestures at the pack and yells something over the music. As the offender turns, I'm expecting a fight. He repeats himself: "Your backpack's open!"

No one's offended or even surprised when I turn down the mushrooms, the joint. Even late, plenty of people are drinking tea, not beer. The litter pickers don't have much to do. This is civilised. With perfect weather and an intelligent crowd, this must be as good as music festivals get - and that's very good indeed.

Like a night out with friends lasting three days, the music's the excuse but not the headline. Martha Wainwright has incredible stage confidence and an unusual voice. Devon Sproule mesmerises us, makes me think of Jewel's early albums. Show Of Hands have a hit - Cousin Jack - that sends shivers down my spine. I grew up with this music; I can't get away from it.

The ticket's £130, or free if you're spending eighteen hours emptying bins. I wanted to try that, and now I have, and I don't need to do it again. The shifts are writ in stone; I missed plenty of acts I wanted to see, and was so, so tired for some of the others. But the network is amazing, and makes the festival; we all look out for each other because none of us has slept.

There's thirty thousand of them and a few hundred of us, so the Crew campsite is the place to be. We race sleeping bags, pass plastic bottles of vodka and fruit juice. In the early hours of Sunday morning we speak nothing but French, and are nearly universally understood. Or think we are. Everyone's conversational after a few fingers of Sainsbury's Special.

Not so much in the morning. The Sunday shift is murder, was always going to be. I don't feel as bad as I expect, or half as bad as I deserve. In fact, Tuesday's eight-to-six-thirty at my desk job takes a lot more out of me; the physical work may be relentless and sometimes miserable, but it is good for you.

Sunday shift aside, it's over fast. The weekend's already running in reverse, memories unwinding as I speed-pack the tent on Monday morning. I don't have the day off. The carshare home's hair-raising, the post-holiday workload crushing. But that's okay; I wanted it to be. Plenty of others are hitching back, or staying on for double shifts on minimum wage at a silent site. Like a player moving up a grade, my adventures are merely par in this crowd. I heard tales of sitting all night in a bus stop waiting for a backpack, of leaving a note on the kitchen table saying "Gone to Amsterdam", of working all day and still making Glasgow by dawn. Some sounded miserable and no doubt they were, but nevertheless I'm jealous.

Maybe this is getting too easy.