Tuesday 26 June 2007

Total desolation.

An empty pop-up tent rolls stiltedly, like a tumbleweed with back trouble, across a landscape of forgotten things. I fight briefly with it. I do surprisingly badly in the tent versus supposedly-young-and-fit-man tussle, but reassert my manhood to a bunch of slightly hung-over onlookers by growling and telling them that I think I won.

I only use the word “forgotten” because it’s more poetic, though. The stuff left behind post-Glasto was truly astronomical in scale. I’d guess that fully 33% of people had “forgotten” their tents entirely. And half or so of them had forgotten everything in them. This level of waste was at once incomprehensibly repulsive and incomprehensibly surreal.

It seemed, to borrow a phrase from H. G. Wells, like “the rout of civilisation”. It would not have been surprising to learn to hulking metal machines had ripped through a refugee camp and left this wreckage in their terrible wake.

Even to walk through it could not ram home the scale and absurdity of consumerism and laziness. It seemed as though ground zero stretched to infinity. Blackened circles of charred wood where once camp-fires burned, the limp flapping of half-guyed tents in the brisk wind, programmes, tubs of sweets, sleeping bags encrusted with mud, and distant moving dots, the astonished and the appalled, moving through the destruction. It was not until this point, weaving through the remnants of an impossibly good time, that the festival site had seemed so huge.

It is a sad age where disposable income has outstripped the value of goods. A tent, at £40, is a snip on a weekend where the tickets alone set you and the friend back £150 apiece. The question begged by rational choice economic theory is why the Hell you’d pack away that worthless piece of mud-spattered canvas when you could save fifteen minutes now and buy a new, clean one for next year. The question begged by living on a planet with dwindling resources in a country with overflowing landfills is when the Hell was capitalism a moral system anyway?

Glastonbury is meant to be a green festival. It’s got hippie roots; it gives money to, amongst others, Greenpeace; my job title was not litter-picker, but recycler, and an impressive quantity of waste is recycled at the festival. Between acts, the giant LED TV screens compelled you to sign up to I Count which, they suggested, would help stop climate chaos. 70,000 people took its advice—approaching 50% of festival-goers—and yet, if I guessed correctly, about a third of people left their tents behind. I know no statistically-certain inference can be drawn from these two numbers, but it’s hard to imagine that the groups don’t overlap just a little bit. The hypocrisy of those in the middle of the Venn diagram is moronic.

The Who had it right. Truly this was a Teenage Wasteland.

Though I couldn’t spot a Pinball Wizard for the life of me.


  1. I can’t abide people who do things like that. I can’t understand them, either. I am, myself, a terrible consumerist, frequently laying out hard-earned cash for books & DVDs (and, far more rarely, CDs and suchlike) and I tended, when a student, to build up several feet of stacked Amazon boxes before I remembered to take them off to be recycled somewhere, but even so I don’t understand the “It’s not especially broke, but bollocks to it anyway” mentality.

    Apart from everything else, £40 for a tent still seems a lot to me.

    [Sure, £600 for a computer sounds, to me, to be suspiciously tightfisted and cheap, but that’s because, in my head, a “good” PC costs around a thousand quid, once you’ve factored in postage and monitors and things, and then it lasts you (I would hope) for up to five years or so, with a few minor upgrades on the way.]

    £40 for a tent, though, seems expensive. Especially if you use it for a few days and then say “Well, there we go. I’ll leave this here and buy a new one next year!” – I think this is partly because of aforementioned consumerism; that forty quid you don’t spend if you keep the tent can then be, for example, spent on DVDs, or something. By not forcing yourself to buy new versions of things you already have you can ensure you can buy other things!

    Even so, I don’t think it’s just my desire to own stuff that makes me reluctant to part with things; I grew up – unusually for a child of the latter two decades, it seems – very much in the ‘Make do and mend’ mentality. Partly, I suspect, that’s due to being dirt poor (you have probably forgotten the winter in year 9 when my cheap plastic-soled shoes had worn through and I went round with the hole patched from the inside with guttering tape until the January sales, but it happened) but I think it’s also partly just an ingrained world view.

    Yesterday, Ruth wanted a pen, so I chucked her a nearby Bic. As it happened it had hardly been used, but had been trodden on, so it’s outer casing was smashed up and missing bits, and it wasn’t really good for much. I suspect most people would’ve chucked it away at that point, but instead I took it and carefully placed it in the pot of pens we’ve got.

    Forwhy? Because, in a few weeks, the black biro I use to write my diary will run out of ink. And at that (distant but certainly forthcoming) point, I can take the full tube of ink from the busted case and the empty tube from the intact case and swap them. And then I can throw away the busted pen, and still be able to use the working one.

    I know ‘Make do and mend’ is awfully old fashioned, but I don’t really see what’s wrong with it.

    And I hope someone gathered all that stuff up and sent it to Darfur, or someplace…

  2. I love your finely honed sense of proportion… War of the Worlds? Atomic bombs?
    It’s some abandoned tents in a field near Glastonbury, for heaven’s sakes! Not Hiroshima.

  3. It’s some abandoned tents in a field near Glastonbury, for heaven’s sakes!

    Not to be a condescending little tosspot, but you didn’t see it. The scale of waste was truly astronomical, and the eerie post-apocalyptic feel can only really be conveyed by drawing analogies with doomsday.

    I think what shocked me more than anything is that there were “some” tents. And I kept walking. And then there were “some” more, and some more, and some more, and somore, and somore…

    If my estimate’s anywhere near correct, there were about 20–30,000 abandoned tents. If that’s not a fuckload of mindless waste deserving of a bit of hyperbole, I’m not sure what is…

  4. Hiroshima is an even more relevant analogy when you consider that it’s crappy western utilitarian ideals to blame both times round…

  5. Okay okay, my comment was slightly tongue-in-cheek, I was perfectly aware that you were consciously using hyperbole… I would just caution that equating the problems of consumerism with a single act that killed hundreds of thousands is likely to convince people you’re an enviro-loon, rather than someone who’s intelligent and well-educated who’s just appalled at the amount we waste.
    PS. Please don’t use this as an excuse to try and convince me that “waste kills millions too”! Hiroshima/Nagasaki are well-documented; the numbers killed by abandoned tents less so.
    PPS. Oh, and it seems your problem has quickly found one solution.

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