004 – In The Swamp – IOW Festival 2012

Third Day (cont’d).

Gazebo CUNT! Ryan’s trip. Recovery Day. Pootopia. Lucy flees. Another weird piss story. 

We read a lot during this time. When we returned from our walk, beaten, still quietly hungry, we sat ourselves in the tent and opened our books. Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee and Geronimo: A Biography. Probably we past an hour and a half like this, stopping to quote passages or report facts occasionally, before Yuri suggested going to the gazebo for a smoke. It was unoccupied at the time. This was about as close to quiet as the campsite got.

The gazebo was set up without the bottommost leg extensions. It could only be sat under. There were chairs left from the night before and evidence of the previous evening’s inhabitation and inebriation. Laughing gas canisters were in the cup holders of the fold up chairs. Two black bin liners hung on the corner, filled mostly with beer cans. In the middle, there was a pile of muddy rubbish, more beer cans, a sleeping bag, a caped cigarette lighter. On the ceiling of the gazebo, written backwards, so as to be seen correctly from above, was the word ‘CUNT’, complete with exclamation mark and underlined for emphasis.

The previous night I’d gone to bed listening to the people next door. A small, private party was taking place in the gazebo. We assumed it was Lucy and her friend. A few other people too. Maybe another woman and some guys. We’d caught little bits of conversation as we went to bed. Throughout the night there were mentions of dreadlocks, of speed and laughing gas. Other things gleaned in the spaces between disturbed sleeps. Someone saying how having a child had given her a new perspective on life.

It was sitting under the gazebo that we met Ryan. He got out of a nearby tent, stretched then looked around for while. He seemed slightly dazed. It looked like he was trying to decide on his first course of action. What was close and what could he be bothered to do? He was wearing some kind of leather pimp coat, puffed out at the collar and sleeves with fake fur. Outrageous pimp coats were popping up on people around the festival. Visible where his hung open was an olive green army pullover. He told us later that there was an Oxfam stall selling all sorts of crazy old clothes.

After a minute or so of sitting together and listening to the disarray of the festival site, we got talking.

‘What bands have you seen?’

‘None,’ he said. ‘I’ve not even been down to the main stage. I got halfway there and came back. It’s too far away.’

When we asked what he thought about the Isle of Wight he said he only came because Glastonbury wasn’t on this year and he’d got hold of a couple of cheap tickets. He told us he hadn’t been up long, he was having trouble adjusting to the waking world. The night before he’d been under the gazebo, and as he told the story, I began to recognise parts of it. He was connecting the half-heard conversations I’d listened to as I drifted in and out of sleep; the dreads, a little girl, something about David Seaman.

Ryan had taken a heroic cocktail of drugs. There’d been nothing in his system for ages but last night he drank, smoked, bombed speed and took MDMA. Maybe a few other things. He wasn’t sure. It was a distinct possibility. After everyone else had left the Gazebo in the early hours, he sat in a camp chair. He couldn’t sleep because he thought there was a small child sitting next to him. It had been a frightening experience. It wasn’t helped by the black bin liners that hung either side of the gazebo corner, which morphed into thick, ropey strands of hair that blew at him.

While we slept a few feet away, he tried to put his mind in order. The process became more disturbing for Ryan when, at some point towards the tapering of the cocktail’s effects, he thought he’d gone blind.

Eventually, I brought up David Seaman.

‘Oh yeah,’ he said. ‘I thought I was having a kick about with him for a while. You know, just shooting.’ It was evident that Ryan had only slept a few hours as he sat sinking in the chair.

Their party ripped through the night and staggered into early morning. Yuri and I were both asleep. As the sun rose, started to turn the tent into an unbearable sauna, Ryan was sat in the same spot, waiting for his sanity to return. He said today was for recovery. He already had a beer in his hand but that was it for drugs. He was waiting for Eddie, his friend, who’d promised to come back to his tent to get him. Eddie was out with their drugs and hadn’t been back all day. Ryan tried to get hold of him but couldn’t, nor could he get hold of Victor and Cass.

We told him how we helped Cass and Victor put up their tent and a couple of hours later she’d forgotten us. We bumped into her for the first time several times, each time we introduced ourselves again.

‘She’s always smashed,’ said Ryan. ‘She’s got every drug in the book.

‘Besides trips,’ she told me later.

I asked her if she’d done acid.

‘Loads of times.’ She told me this with a can of Stella between her knees, spliff in hand, and while sorting speed into a little ball packed in rizla.

We offered Ryan a joint but he declined. He said he used to smoke a lot, it was the first thing he thought about in the morning and he couldn’t sleep without it. He sometimes smoked when he was drunk but it just put him to sleep now and otherwise it made him paranoid. He said for him, it got to be that he was dependent. He grinned under designer stubble and looked at us, ‘But I don’t know how bad you boys are.’

Today was Ryan’s recovery day and he wasn’t going on a mad drug binge like last night. Least of all after playing football with David Seaman, going blind, and being followed by a ghost child. He’d already visited Pootopia. The toilet block you pay £2 for because these toilets are, in theory at least, nicer than the portaloos provided. The hope was that they wouldn’t have shit and piss overflowing the bowls. We asked him how it was.


It was made up of two benches running parallel to one another, each had holes for shitting, the holes connected to tubes which guided your shit into a compartment underneath, where all the poo was stored communally, below your feet. There were thin, canvas walls to separate you from your fellow toilet users. These didn’t shut properly. It smelt and however loud they pumped music—the flatbed truck that housed Pootopia had big speakers by the entrance—you still sat next to a cacophony of grunts and farts.

I was disappointed by Ryan’s damning review of the place. It had been my light in the dark and even still I was reluctant to visit. Ryan gave us a little insider advice about a row of four portaloos that were out the way, hidden behind a white double decker coach and cleaned out daily. We went to them.

When Ryan returned from his second trip to Pootopia, he reported that the visit had been worthwhile. ‘Last time was the only time I ever paid two quid for a fart,’ he said.

A day later and we could wait no longer. A visit was essential. The toilets behind the double decker weren’t a secret anymore. We walked up creaky stairs to a long, green painted trailer with the word ‘Pootopia’ written in yellow along the side. In each canvas cubicle was a book. Nice touch, I guess. Mine had a Match of the Day 1987 compendium. A book older than me. I didn’t read it. Pootopia was part miserable dive bar toilets and part understocked charity book shop.

While I sat there, my mind ran away. People were passing my cubicle, underfoot the bare wooden floorboards of the trailer shifted and creaked. I knew that we were sat above a pit of shit. My nightmare scenario had the rickety, wooden floor give way and all of us Pootopians neck deep in the excrement of the most unhealthy fucks in the country right now. The same people who were filling their faces with booze, nachos, too-thin burger patties and mystery hotdogs.

Back at the gazebo, conversation drifted to Lucy and her friend. They’d left on the second day. Ryan, Eddie, Victor and Cass had spent Thursday night with them and Ryan gave us his impression. He said they were shy but nice enough, that he thought they were uncomfortable around all the drugs. He went on to say, ‘They’re filthy girls…some of the things these girls have done.’

I was curious about the depravity that was shared with him but he wouldn’t go into detail. He did explain that they’d played ‘I never…’ and that’s where all this had come from. ‘They were drunk,’ he said, almost as if to wipe the memory from his mind, like their intoxication neutralised the uncomfortable truths he’d heard.

The first time we met, Lucy was drunk and lecturing us about the hazards of marijuana. Now she and her friend were gone and they’d left everything. The gazebo, their tents, their airbeds, their sleeping bags. It was a fire in the night escape. A weary eyed exodus, essentials only. Maybe a faint sense of humiliation just behind the deep stomach nausea. Can you remember the stuff we told those guys last night?

Apparently they’d been talking about leaving Thursday night. We asked about their reasoning and Ryan said, ‘They just couldn’t handle it, I guess’.

First time away from home butterflies turned into first time away from home blues. The fear had set in. What have we done? Why are we in this muddy field surrounded by drugs and strangers and strangers on drugs?

Ryan started to talk more about his past. Getting a job helped him to stop smoking weed. He worked for his dad and the hard work and hours meant that he had neither the time nor inclination to get high. He also spoke a lot about his experiences at Glastonbury. He’d been to a lot of festivals, mostly with Eddie, who at the time was still somewhere on the festival site enjoying or regretting a drug-fuelled adventure of epic proportions. He had been missing in action for over twelve hours.

Everyone we spoke to said how bad this festival was and Ryan echoed that. He looked at his hands, his expression a mix of dismay and disgust and said, ‘I don’t remember my hands ever being like this at Glastonbury.’ He brought some dry soap—antibacterial gel—but found it nuked everything on his hands, natural oils and bacteria alike, leaving them dry and cardboardy and layered with sterilised mud.

‘99% of bacteria,’ read Ryan then he showed us his mucky palms. ‘Doesn’t look like it.’

Cass and Victor arrived and joined us under the gazebo. We introduced ourselves to Cass for the third time. She and Victor were both gone. They’d brought pimp coats too. Victor’s was a grey wolf-hair coat and Cass’ a flowing, gown-like, white fur piece. They slumped down onto their camp chairs with drinks in hand. It was an odd relationship that centred mostly around Cass taking the piss out of Victor, Victor trying to ignore it, slowly cracking, his patience slipping and finally responding in kind.

It started with Victor slouched in his chair. His eyes were closing. They grew heavier as we watched. He fought to keep his spine straight and his vision clear. It was five in the afternoon but they had taken a lot of drugs.

‘You pussy. Come on, Victor. Come on. You falling asleep?’ Then she’d shake and tip his chair until he snapped back to wakefulness and steadied himself. ‘You lightweight. You lightweight!’

She took the piss out of him as long as he was conscious enough to hear it. When his head lulled, she prodded him so that she could resume. They shared insults as freely as drugs. This is how it was most of the short and intoxicated time I knew them. Eventually Cass relented—partly because me, Yuri and Ryan were backing Victor—and allowed him to crawl into their tent. He was asleep before he’d zipped the door closed. Ryan picked up Victor’s feet and stuffed them inside. Cass found this all hilarious.

She was open and manic. Victor was trying to keep up. She had a tent full of chemicals and he had a head full of worries. He was the designated driver and camp organiser. It was his responsibility to keep them together in this chaos. When it was over, it was he who had to lead them to the buses and then into their car and back to wherever they came from.

The gazebo was a shelter and social hub. You were protected from the swells and tides of the festival grounds. With Victor a victim of his girlfriend’s lifestyle choices and Ryan despondent from sleep deprivation and drugs, we chatted to Cass for a while. Outside the boundary lines of the Isle of Wight festival—and I mean the temporal and spacial boundary lines—she was a carer. She had two kids. She and Victor had been together a couple of years now. He was the son of a woman who had married one of Osama Bin Laden’s brothers.

I stopped her. I had to call bullshit. Ryan confirmed the story and for some reason this gave it a legitimacy it probably didn’t deserve. After I let the idea settle it seemed unsurprising that this crazy woman would be dating Bin Laden’s distant nephew. It was the perfect embellishment to their characters.

She went on, ‘We didn’t really come for the music. Just Pearl Jam. Otherwise this is just a party thing.’

It’s what I said about spiritual cleansing through reckless abandon and altered states. In our world, danger is kept behind a cordon and wars are something you wage from comfortable chairs. With everything nerfed or out of reach, this might be one of the last ways a person can learn something about themselves. This is a tribal dance. A coming together of nations. And it’s all lit by string lights and neon advertisements.

One story that Ryan recounted and which was later confirmed with video evidence and in high detail by Cass, was that she and Eddie had drunk her urine out of a wellington boot. One of Ryan’s wellies had been lost to the mud on the first day. A spare boot was hanging around from then on. He’d brought another pair but these were too small, he complained. This was another factor contributing to his underwhelming festival experience.

In response to the policy of having no more than three toilets per 10,000 heads and in keeping with the festival tradition of pissing where ever, Cass decided to urinate in the disused wellie. For whatever reason, piss still warm in the boot, she thought, why not taste it? So—and we watched this on video—she raised the wellie to her face and drank from it. She held the liquid in her mouth and gargled. Her face was straight. No hint of disgust. She could have been drinking orange juice. After she swallowed everyone looked at her for a reaction.

‘Just tastes like warm water,’ she said. ‘Here,’ and she offered the goblet of piss around.

Ryan and Victor turned it down. ‘I’m alright.’

Eddie decided to try it. He took a mouthful from the pissy, sweaty, muddy wellie, swished it around and gulped it down. ‘She’s right. Just tastes like warm water.’

The rest of the video was Cass running around the ring of chairs under the gazebo, boot in hand, sloshing it toward Ryan and Victor. Ryan and Victor running away. Eddie sat comfortably.

About Luke Smith

I travel around and write about it. When I'm not travelling around, I write about whatever seems meaningful to me at the time; these are usually meditations on current events, finding ways to survive the crushing existential grind of modern civilisation or vaguely philosophical musings.
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1 Response to 004 – In The Swamp – IOW Festival 2012

  1. Pingback: In The Swamp – Isle of Wight festival 2012 – Complete | Journeys Through Pre-World War 3 Britain

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