I’m on a train to Bath for the weekend and there is one entire first-class carriage that has been privately reserved. “Keep out” notices are posted on the doors, making it feel even more exclusive than normal first class. I am not, I hasten to add, inside this VIP carriage, and I spend most of the journey wondering about it. “Who’s in there?” I think, and what kind of special treatment are they getting?
Things become clearer when we all get out at Bath Spa. I recognise someone from the old music-biz days and guess that the carriage is full of an industry posse on their way to Glastonbury. In the car park at the station sits a fleet of shiny black Mercedes people-carriers – the kind that wait on the tarmac beside every helicopter in Succession, ready to ferry the hapless Roys to a new luxury location where they can continue being miserable.
Later, I will discover that it was the Foo Fighters in the Secret Carriage, on their way to play their Secret Set, and if I’d spotted them I could have tweeted about it and broken Glastonbury, so let’s be thankful for small mercies.
Although I was on the same train as Dave Grohl, I’m the only person who doesn’t appear on stage with him over the weekend, and that’s because I’m not even going to Glastonbury – I’m just watching it on telly like I do every year. On Twitter the musician Luke Haines makes me laugh out loud with his comment about the relentless cheerfulness of the TV coverage: “I’d like to see just one really cantankerous BBC Glastonbury presenter,” he says. “Someone who loathed every f***ing blade of grass.”
It’s true that the coverage could do with the occasional moment of someone standing there with their arms folded, rolling their eyes or making a snarky comment. In our sitting rooms we’re all having a whale of a time watching the bands we love, but at least half the time we’re slagging someone off or being bitchy. Aren’t we? Don’t say we’re the only ones?
When I think about it, I realise that people on TV are in general too cheerful. Always a bit overexcited. Nature programmes, house hunting, music festivals – they all get the same bouncy energy, and I feel patronised, like I’m a child who needs to be soothed and reassured at every turn.
It conveys to me a kind of anxiety – a fear that viewers might switch off if they’re not constantly told that what they’re watching is amazing.
Possibly I’m just being grumpy, but I’m not good with all this glossing over. It makes me miserable. I watch people talking about buying their “forever home”, or being in their “happy place”, and my inner voice becomes dark and cynical. “You do know you won’t actually live there forever…” it says. And, “You know you might sometimes not be happy there…”
The phrase that really sets my teeth on edge is “making memories”. You hear it a lot these days; I don’t know where it came from. Talking about a holiday, or spending time with kids, people say, with heartfelt sincerity, “We’re making memories!” Occasionally I can be heard yelling back at the telly: “STOP TALKING LIKE THAT. YOUR LIFE IS NOT A PHOTO ALBUM WHERE YOU CAN EDIT OUT THE PICTURES YOU DON’T LIKE.” I should probably be a therapist – I’d be really good at it. As long as my patients didn’t mind being shouted at.
In a calmer mood, I can see that the point I’m trying to make is that, ideally, we should try to live our lives while they’re happening, rather than detaching ourselves, and packaging up experiences to be enjoyed in retrospect. It’s just too neat, isn’t it? It leaves out so much that is messy and complicated.
And what on Earth could be messier and more complicated than Glastonbury? I love the dramas and the things that go wrong just as much as the triumphant successes. This didn’t feel to me like a great year, though, and I struggled to find performances I truly loved. Ben and I spent a certain amount of the weekend being generally disgruntled, and I joked that if we just pressed record on ourselves making snarky comments, we’d probably have a hit podcast.
On the other hand, we would also probably be attacked for being too negative, so perhaps we will keep our strong opinions to ourselves.
This article appears in the 05 Jul 2023 issue of the New Statesman, Broke Britannia