Our Travel blog
We awoke in good time to get to New Wine, a few miles away near Shepton Mallet and after a leisurely breakfast checked the details and discovered that we should have been there Friday afternoon for a full stewards briefing. As it happened the horrendous traffic would have prevented us getting there in time but nevertheless we rather felt we’d started on the wrong foot.
Our fears though were unfounded as the crew, stewards and staff were unfailingly polite, helpful and gently dismissive of our apologies. The warmth we felt continued as we set up camp with friends in our little encampment high up over-looking the site. We started work that afternoon and settled in to meet our fellow stewards under the amiable leadership of Tony, our Blue Team leader.
New Wine is a Christian festival of talks, seminars, children’s activities, worship and some music spread over 2 weeks, with most delegates attending one of the two weeks. I’ve written some personal reflections on my experiences of the spiritual aspects separately so this entry is a summary of our more down to earth nitty gritty stewarding experiences, as per the other festivals we’ve worked at.
New Wine is well organised, as befits the largest festival we’ve worked at, aside from Hay perhaps but that was not residential. Stewards were divided into teams and worked a five day rota with Tuesday – the delegates ‘day off’ organised differently.
During the week we took on a variety of tasks which included:
Patrols were mostly fun. We’d wander around in our purple stewards’ tee shirts with a high vis jacket and a radio with an ear piece to keep us in touch and to report in. Apart from the occasional misplaced child this was mostly a customer service job. On patrol we developed the Policeman’s ‘Plod’. This is a slow walk where you swing each foot in turn, letting the downward momentum carry your boot on the upswing, pendulum like and thus proceed in an orderly fashion, slow and steady and alert for miscreants or anything amiss, like fire buckets being used as goal posts or BBQ’s raging out of control.
It’s a strange festival to work at, the hours were long at the beginning of the week and because of the split shift pattern it felt like you didn’t get a break, all your time between shifts was spent eating or relaxing. This was fine except that we wanted to go into some of the seminars and festivities but felt too exhausted to do so. Nevertheless we had the good fortune to be camping with friends who revived our spirits when they flagged and the fact that we turned up with a bottle of Fire Cracker cinnamon whiskey and a keg of Old Speckled Hen helped!
On the Tuesday the delegates had a day off from their itinerary and most made for the local delights of Wookey Hole, Cheddar Gorge or whatever other diversions this part of the world holds. Most decided to descend upon the main gate en-mass and based upon their experiences of previous years the organisers had a plan to cope with so many cars moving on site. Our part in this plan was to be marshals directing traffic. I ended up as a kind of human roundabout at a major intersection in front of the main gate. Alison was doing a similar job on the opposite side of the site. 99% of drivers were patient and cheerful in spite of the volume of cars and Somerset Council’s decision to deploy rolling roadworks on the same day that 10,000 people want to look at a Wookey’s hole or a valley of cheese.
The mathematicians among you will of course realise that 1% are unaccounted for. These are the people who either drive Audi's (except Ro and Jade of course) or should go out and buy an Audi so the rest of us have fair warning. People drove against the direction of traffic and insisted that they were correct despite all available evidence, like signs every 10 meters, marshals at every junction and there clearly being no space on the road for two lanes. Still, like I said the vast majority were gracious and charming, swapping smiles, jokes and encouragement. In fact a characteristic of this festival was the pervading family atmosphere and friendliness of delegates, many of whom went out of their way to thank the stewards for what they were doing.
Anyone working at the festival was fed three times a day. The catering was a remarkable venture, feeding up to 1200 people three times a day in a huge marquee. The first day the option was ham or cheese salad and we feared for a week of this but from the next day on there was ample breakfast, good lunch with a hot veggie option and rather lacklustre dinner – which we skipped for the most part because it was, well, lacklustre and early for us too. But overall, it was a great feat and delivered with good humour and charm despite the early hours and long queues.
One duty I had was stewarding The Bible Society marquee during an afternoon showing of The Peanuts Movie. If a room full of sticky pre-teens wasn’t enough the film was diabolically bad, although I guess a 50+ year old bloke in a neon vest wasn’t the filmmaker’s core demographic. Scanning the audience I could see that most children looked attentive, their parents less so. Generally fathers were asleep, stooping forward on their chairs, occasionally their head would nod violently, they’d snort and jerk upright with wide eyes, trying to recall where and when they were. A faint glimmer would cross their face, relief that little Peter and Jane were still beside them watching the film, then realisation that it was The Peanuts Movie and they’d gently drift off again. Others went for the full legs out head back approach to napping, propped across the chair like a warped plank, arms flaccid by their sides and head dangling over the back of the chair. Occasionally I’d see one with a bulb of dribble hanging from the side of their mouth, as if their head was leaking while they slept, the children nearest staring at them rather than the film in gruesome fascination as a puddle formed beside them.
The women present were more resilient in the ways of childcare, they’ve sat through many films of dubious quality and seemed to use the time more effectively, chatting, knitting, rearranging changing bags, eating and some actually watched the film. I wondered if these were just veteran nappers, wise women who could catnap and recharge while appearing to be awake and alert. This is a formidable skill and means their offspring are always wary and on their best behaviour. Meanwhile they could always use the fathers as trampolines without fear of waking them.
The week got easier as we went along, the hours less demanding and we became familiar with the duties. All in all it was a worthwhile and enjoyable festival to work, the crew were fun, you always felt like your contribution was appreciated and like most festivals we’ve worked we came away with new friends, which is a positive bonus of our lifestyle.
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