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The Glastonbury Carnival – EA Vol. XX


Encyclopaedia Avalonia Vol. XX …

Ah yes … the annual “Glastonbury Carnival”, much enjoyed by stout Glastonburgers[1].

To most people the word “carnival” conjures up images of people dancing in the streets, sultry night air, wild music and even wilder abandon. This is something of a contrast with the bizarre phenomenon that arrives in Glastonbury in the middle of each November. People come from far and wide to see it. Crowds of people, up to 100 million strong, line the streets, muffled to the eyebrows, their pinched and frozen faces seeming even whiter in the reflected glare of the ten billion light bulbs that edge and adorn the processional, tractor-drawn floats.

Each float blasts out a different song – usually “Tie a Yellow Ribbon”, “If I Was Rich Man” or one of Abba’s “Worst Hits” – and these raucous sounds compete both with each other and the yammering generators that are towed behind each float. No one in the crowd dances, for there is no room to move and you wouldn’t want to dance to these songs anyway. Besides, Glastonburgers – especially the stout ones – rarely dance and certainly not in public on an icy-cold High Street. Perhaps they are simply overwhelmed, pushed into hypnotic trance, by the sheer volume of sound and light. The exhaust fumes from 10,000 gallons of diesel fuel must also take their toll.

In fact the only people who dance are those on some of the floats. This “dancing” usually consists of a short sequence of vaguely synchronised movements, about 20 seconds for the complete routine, endlessly repeated over and over to the same jingle as the float grinds slowly along its bulb-lit way. The whole procession takes over two hours to pass. That’s a lot of 20-second dance-routines per float, more than 360 to be precise.

Each float has a different focus and judges award a prize for the best one. It’s a curious thing, but many of the themes seem to centre on sado-masochism. Witness, for example, a float called ‘The Flight of the Valkyries’: as Wagner’s dramatic music poured forth, a variety of scantily-clad men and women lustily whipped other scantily-clad men and women who were chained to poles on the ‘ship’s deck’. The crowd was suitably stunned, but this was possibly shock from the absence of an Abba song.

Preparations for this grand Carnival begin long beforehand, when the floats begin to take shape. The Glastonbury Times[2] has described how:

“All over the region miniature building sites ring to the sound of hammers and portable radios far into the night, and in a couple of months … traffic on the main roads will become chaotic as crocodiles of enormous edifices, their secrets coyly draped, lumber painfully up hill and down dale, followed patiently by vehicles large and small, unable to go about their lawful business until the sacred carnival floats reach their destination.”

The usual result, the article noted, was “Thirty or so Young Farmers doing a step-and-kick routine dressed as golliwogs.”

[1] Not be confused with Glastafari.

[2] Published by Unique Publications.

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