Greenbelt blog: day 1
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Date: August, 2006



Philip Purser-Hallard on his first full day of the Greenbelt festival

This year’s Greenbelt festival started early for me, as I spent Friday morning helping my wife Beatrice, and her artistic collaborator Anna Thorpe, construct their impressive seventeen-foot sculpture outside the Christian Aid tent.

A chained, abstract figure constructed almost entirely out of dustbins, it’s intended as a showpiece for the ‘The beat goes on’ campaign.

It’s designed so that the sculpture itself can be drummed, and exciting things will be happening to it over the course of the weekend.

It was fairly exhausting work, what with drilling holes and carrying turf and dropping bins onto scaffolding poles. (Well, all right – shouting up to a contractor up in a cherry-picker who was dropping them. Well, watching my wife shouting, at the very least.)


Last night we weren’t good for anything much except drinking beer and eating Moroccan-style pizza, then wandering around the site soaking up atmosphere before finally sitting in on some of Maria McKee’s main stage performance.

Today I’ve been rather more organised, even managing to get up in time for this morning’s Iona-style Wild Goose worship – an excellent way to start the day in prayerful and thoughtful mood.

I then went and asked awkward questions at Simon Morden’s panel on ‘How to read Science Fiction’. It was a very accessible introduction to the subject, whose popularity rather tested the limits of the festival bookshop’s sofa-based ‘lounge’ venue.

Christopher Booker’s talk on ‘The seven basic plots of storytelling’ was fascinating but contentious – the kind of seminar which succeeds so well in making you think that you want to take the speaker aside and argue with them forcefully for several hours afterwards.

It was also beset by ‘dark forces’ in the form of sudden torrential rain (which has been alternating with skin-scorching sunshine all day) and an evil samba band playing next door. (The band probably wasn’t actually evil, in fact, just overly loud.)

Then to lunch with friends in the Organic Beer Tent – where we agreed in deploring this year’s deleted selection of beers, like the bearded middle-aged CAMRA freaks we are. (Although on reflection I was actually the only bearded person present. Facial hair probably wouldn’t have suited Bea, Rachel or Elaine.)


The two ales and a lager they are serving are perfectly decent, but oddly there are rather more ciders (and even a perry, the pear-based equivalent), which doesn’t reflect either general availability or the venue’s name.

One of the slogans of this year’s festival is ‘One Festival, Many Faces’.

Greenbelt, like God or science fiction, is notoriously difficult to define (actually probably rather less so than God, to be fair)… but this seems as good a description as any.

This one weekend a year represents many different things for different festival attendees. For some, Greenbelt is a music festival like Glastonbury or Reading, while others might go the full three and a half days without hearing a band except in passing.

Many see Greenbelt as a space for theological, political and artistic reflection; others come for the visual or performing arts (this year looks like a particularly strong one for comedy); while friends assure me


Greenbelt is yet another entirely different experience when you have kids.

I’m quite sure there are festival goers who spend the entire weekend in the beer tent, the pizza emporium or the Tiny Tea Tent.

Of course most of us pick and choose from the various events on offer. For some of us, Greenbelt is no less than our church community – a genuinely multi-faceted, gloriously diverse experience.

Although, if I could suggest a slogan for next year, it might be ‘One Festival, Many Beers’.

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