So that was Greenbelt 2012…

Greenbelt 2012 will forever be known in Greenbelt history as the year of the mud…

The result of no wellies…

Muddy guy lay down in the mud for a free pint.
Graham found his hiking boots didn’t quite cut it.
Always good to see the purple wellies being well used.
So, so much mud. And obviously, you don’t get that much mud without a decent quantity of water. Like the river that ran through G:Source (the exhibition area, which my friend Shannon frequently referred to as the G:Spot – awkward) ending up a foot deep in places.
 That water was moving at quite some speed.
At every single one of my previous 14 Greenbelts I’ve come prepared for mud. Some years there was *some* mud – I remember a particularly quagmirish beer tent three or four years ago – but never has there been so much of it. But you know what? It wasn’t anywhere near as bad as I thought it could have been. Admittedly, I managed to be under cover during every single one of the torrential downpours that occurred on Saturday afternoon; and yes, none of my tent mates informed me that water was coming up from the ground into the tent until after they’d sorted it all out; but I still had to navigate the fields of deep sludge for two days. Even friends with children said it wasn’t as bad as they thought it would be – everyone was cheerful and the only people I heard complain were those sans wellies. 

As ever, there are many highlights from my own experience of the festival – the silent disco has already been documented, as has my day of doing absolutely nothing from the programme, but there was more. For a start, hanging out in the Performance Cafe is always well-worth doing, simply because of the quality of the performers. Saturday night was a particular highlight thanks to Harry Baker and his poetry. Hot on the heels of his highly commended Edinburgh Fringe appearances, his set at Greenbelt had the audience in stitches, even when performing in German. (The ever fabulous baby Jacob was particularly delighted by the German rapping – that child clearly already has a thing for hip hop.) Lost? You need to watch some videos…

A slightly more musical and spiritual highlight was the Rend Collective Experiment. I tell you, it takes something special to get me into a venue for 9am at a festival, but these guys are something special. Somehow I’d missed them live previously, but had seen enough YouTube videos to know that I wanted to experience them in the flesh. For years and years I’ve found spiritually enlightening worship at Greenbelt hard to come by, but this was absolutely the best worship experience I’ve had there in a long time. You could say that they were the Mumford & Sons of worship bands, but that would be doing them a disservice. They’re creative, Norther Irish, have an awesome collection of instruments and a percussionist to whom I have awarded the title of ‘best beard and jumper combo at Greenbelt 2012’. Oh, and they resurrected a classic Graham Kendrick tune without a hint of irony and did it much justice (an entire blogpost is brewing on this topic).
To be honest, nothing says Greenbelt more than slam poetry and folk worship. Roll on 2013…

The sound of silence

The very first night of Greenbelt saw me and my companions realise a joint 2012 First – attendance at and participation in a silent disco.

Our presence was very much thanks to the person who had the honour of being the first friend I bumped into on site – former colleague George Luke (in a record 5 minutes) – who happened to be one of the DJ’s that evening. In fact, there was a silent disco every night during the festival, but Friday night was the only evening there wasn’t a programme conflict with something crucial. (Well, something crucial in the eyes of the others…)

Silent DJ’s at work.
(Photo from here, courtesy of St G’s very own Elaine.) 

We arrived at the Big Top and immediately had a sense of foreboding. The vast majority of our fellow disco-ers were significantly younger than us. In fact, we whiled away a few minutes before the headphones were handed out playing a game of “who looks more out of place here than us”. In fact, we quickly became grumpy old women as far as the teenagers were concerned, disapproving of their stampede to acquire headphones, rather than queueing sensibly…

[My state of grumpiness towards idiotic teenage behaviour continued all festival. In fact, perhaps I’ve now actually become a grumpy old woman permanently? After one of the rainstorms I came across a ridiculous gathering of teenagers in the toilets which prompted the following tweet:
“Having a “I judge you when you wear weather-inappropriate clothing to an outdoor festival” moment. Looking at you, teenagers drying pants…”

I dislike waterproof clothing as much as the next reasonably fashionable individual, but seriously, flimsy summer dresses on a day when heavy rain was forecast? Foolish.] 
Back to the silence. 
The premise of a silent disco is that it’s held in silence – you wear headphones through which the music is played. Often there’s more than one channel and DJ’s compete over whose tunes get the most listeners and best reactions. This means you could be in your own world dancing away to something, when a cheer will alert you to a better track on the other side. 
On our evening there was a mix of world dance music on one channel and hip-hop/general pop stuff on the other. To be honest, we would have preferred a bit more cheese (which is what the DJs played on Sunday night – we could hear dancers singing along from across the site). The best bit of a silent disco is without a doubt when a total tune is played and the entire crowd move as one. In our case, this was the Cha-Cha Slide – courtesy of George – which worked fabulously. (Worst bit of this particular silent disco? The teenagers conga-ing to everything. Why??) Singalongs are also great, obviously, because no one can hear themselves sing but outside all you can hear are voices singing as one, a cappella. I’m slightly ashamed to admit that in our case, this moment happened with Call Me Maybe…

I was so consumed with the dancing that I had no idea just how unflattering a horizontally striped jumper looks when you’re moving from side to side at speed…

I utterly loved it. Despite the annoying teenagers and the not-quite-my-style music, it was totally freeing. It didn’t matter what other people were doing, the headphones enabled you to be in your own little world, dancing your heart out. Plus, if you took the headphones off you could have a perfectly normal volume conversation with people, unlike the ridiculous shouting that has to be done in clubs. My only complaint was that I could get the headphones to stay on my head securely while I flailed around like a mad thing. 
Please Greenbelt, more of the same next year? Muchus gracias. 

The day I – supposedly – did nothing

Just like last year, I managed to get through the whole of this year’s Greenbelt without attending a single talk. Unlike last year, I did actually intend to – they were diligently favourited in the (rather good) iPhone app – I just didn’t quite manage to get them. I did many other things on the programme though, several of which I’ll review over the next few posts…

And the mud – I haven’t mentioned the mud…
However, rather spectacularly, on Sunday I failed to attend a single programmed item. Seriously, not a single thing. No communion service, no mainstage gig, nothing in the Big Top, no dance class – nothing. Instead, my diary was full of social engagements including a 6 year old’s birthday party, tea with a group of fabulous women, more tea with a favourite friend & their baby, and a gathering of Twitterers. 
By the end of the day (which included a few more spontaneous meet-ups too) I was feeling a little as though I’d wasted a day of a festival, however, it then struck me that:
(i) As previously mentioned, it’s the people that make Greenbelt for me.
(ii) I’d ticked off many a Greenbelt essential during the day. 
(iii) My conversations are often as stimulating (or more so) as an average seminar. 
Before you judge me on that last point, I’m not singing my praises, I’m just making the point that I like discussion about things that interest me and often it can go pretty deep. So if you take the social events and tea drinking it actually looks more like this:
Birthday party – Inadvertent participation in the making of a Greenbelt film. [Genuinely true story. We had to rehearse the singing of Happy Birthday multiple times…] In addition to this, there was important discussion about the future of the Methodist Church (old habits die hard). 
Massive amount of maternal dedication here.
Daughter requested a castle birthday cake – mother delivered, despite camping.
Fabulous women – An opportunity to meet like-minded people who are friends of friends (or friends already), which made it an excellent networking opportunity. Significant discussion about relative merits of the various summer Christian festivals and the development of new website Threads [more about that anon]. Amusingly, it unfortunately also included us walking out of a panel session on women in the church – it’s not that we didn’t want to be there, it’s just we hadn’t realised it was about to happen in the cafe we’d just sat down in. 
Lovely friend & lovely baby – Only visit to the Tiny Tea Tent all festival and that’s always a Greenbelt essential. After putting the world to rights, we managed a second essential – churros. Bliss. 
Spontaneous meet-up #1 – Want time alone at Greenbelt? Tell your friends you’re off to charge your phone somewhere. Want to be insanely bored at Greenbelt? Go off to charge your phone and spend an hour tethered to a wall. It’s a no-win situation. Thus I was delighted when Sara came to find me and we managed a brief catch up and a discussion of Twitter vicar-bots and the joys of social media – something that could have featured in Vicky Beeching’s talk on the subject, which the earlier birthday party had clashed with. 
The lovely baby also joined me spontaneously while I was phone charging.
Beer Tent Tweet-Up – So I was meant to join in a tweet-up, but I failed to find them, partly because I was waylaid by a fellow trainee vicar and partly because I couldn’t see them when I had a brief look. Instead, a group of us chatted for quite some time about the following: missional communities; theological education; the idiocy of Michael Gove and Free Schools; and, most Greenbelt-y of all, how to prepare a group of ordinands for a trip to Israel-Palestine. 
Sunset at the Jesus Arms – a definite Greenbelt essential
Spontaneous meet-up #2 – Greenbelt wouldn’t be Greenbelt without its contributors, therefore managing a cuppa in the contributors’ lounge has to be a Greenbelt experience that can’t be refused. It was great to finally meet a Twitter friend in the flesh and make a new connection with a female vicar from my neck of the woods. 
All in all it was a great day. Sure, my sister managed to go to more talks that day than in the last 5 years combined, but at least one of them was about naked men in the Bible… Oh, and I although I went to no talks at the festival itself, I did listen to one (Ian Morgan Cron’s Jesus, My Father, the CIA and Me) on the way home and it was jolly good. Thus my new tactic is to download all the talks I wish I’d heard so I can listen to them during my many hours of London walking – brilliant multi-tasking…