Greenbelt Blog - day 3
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Date: August 2007


'I find it mind-boggling now to remember how we managed at Greenbelt before mobile phones.'


Philip Purser-Hallard, surefish's Greenbelt blogger, believes that Greenbelt places Christianity into the context of everyday life – infusing the sacred into the secular.

I find it mind-boggling now to remember how we managed at Greenbelt before mobile phones.

Admittedly mobiles existed when I started attending Greenbelt in the late 80s and early 90s, but in those days the only people actually using them seemed to be yuppies and strangely telegenic FBI agents.

Any kind of rendezvous with one’s fellow festival-goers involved pinning pieces of paper to communal notice-boards (where a Darwinian struggle for prominence and visibility played out daily, confounding our creationist brethren) and a designated meeting-point which inevitably consisted, within half an hour of the festival starting, of the muddiest square metres on the entire site.

Mobiles make this sort of thing a lot easier, but they also raise expectations.


At Greenbelt these days, there are always two or three friends whose whereabouts you urgently need to know, four or five who have to be informed of your own movements, and six or seven who you need to make arrangements to meet up with sometime, at some point, on one of the days when both of you happen not to be doing anything else, or not quite so much.

(The other major contribution phones make, of course, is allowing those festival-goers who turn ours off during talks to tut and sigh when someone else lacks the same forethought. T’ch. Huh.)

This year’s festival has been strong on comedy – and on queues for the same. Having found Peterson Toscano very funny indeed last year, I was looking forward to his new show, ‘The Re-Education of George W Bush’, but I was pre-empted by hundreds of early queuers.

Accordingly I arrived nice and early for Paul Kerensa’s show on the book of Genesis, which didn’t do me the slightest bit of good as the entire Grandstand building had to be evacuated due to a suspected (but fortunately non-existent) fire.


Experienced though we may be with both queues and evacuations, the British don’t seem to be very good at re-establishing one after the other, and when we were finally allowed into the venue it was as an unholy scrum.

Fortunately I did get in, and found Kerensa’s show extremely funny, very rude and occasionally wise.

This afternoon – assuming queues allow – I’ll be at African comedian Daliso Chaponda’s ‘Attack of the Colonies’.

Greenbelt in the early days may have been wet, but it was also ‘dry’, in a Prohibition-era-America kind of sense. Alcohol was prohibited, even in the privacy of one’s own tent, and there certainly wouldn’t have been a bar, let alone a real ale venue.

If there had been, the evangelicals would have tried to exorcise it.

The real ale tent was an innovation of Greenbelt 2006, and paved the way for a great tradition in the making, the Beer and Hymns session (sponsored this year by Surefish).


The sight of – I’d estimate – around 2,000 beered-up Christians belting out ‘Tell Out My Soul’, ‘Thine Be the Glory’ and ‘And Can It Be?’ was impressive, awe-inspiring and – when trying to get to the bar – just a teeny bit annoying.

It would also, I suspect, have left dedicated teetotaller Charles Wesley feeling terribly conflicted.

Before the communion service earlier that day I’d been to the on-site Quaker meeting, where one of the attendees had pointed out (approvingly, I think) that the founders of Quakerism would have been similarly startled at the idea of a Friends’ meeting taking place on a racecourse.

Greenbelt is about many things, but one of the most important is placing Christianity into the context of everyday life – infusing the sacred into the secular.

Drunken hymn-singing, worldly meditation, profane comedy on biblical subjects, all serve to erase that artificial boundary – revealing, as the festival’s motto puts it, ‘Heaven in Ordinary’.

Long may they all continue.

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