There are mermaids in the Hampstead Ladies’ Pond

There are mermaids in the Hampstead Ladies’ Pond.

They are the green kind, and the silver kind. The ones molded from bits of lake floor – from weed and wetness and the bones and bills of ducklings. The water is very dark in the Ladies’ Pond. There are shadows from the willows and the bigger trees. The leaves trail into the water, dipping into their own reflections, so it is hard to tell where the tree ends and where the reflection begins, a green vine spinning darker and taller and longer.

It is hard to tell where the water ends and where the mermaids begin. They move like you imagine they might: that is to say, not like you, with your white wet legs jerking at angles, propelling you awkwardly, forcefully, away from the dock and into the darker bits of the green-black water. Not like you with your shivering, and the sharp chatter of your teeth. Not like you treading the water to keep your head up, to keep your ears dry. Not like you, so clearly out of your depth, and out of your element, trying to talk while your tongue quakes in your mouth and your skin screams to return to the sun and the meadow and your half-read book on your sun-warmed towel.

They move like you imagine they might: like not half-fish, but like whole-fish, like a boneless being that might be more like 90, or 95% water, armoured and cooling.

A game they play: touching. Your small pink and white feet are so pretty, dancing up above, twitching and moving, always moving. A mermaid knows how to sink, but a human only knows not to, flickering and forcing, pushing to remain on the surface even as the water draws you in. You will do just about anything not to believe in the mermaids: you will believe in small tangles of weed, or lost fish. You will believe in imagination and fear, so you do not have to think about grey-green fingers tipped with greener nails, flashing out for a touch of skin.

When you’re in the water you keep your thoughts from the bottom, though they want, very badly, to drift there. It gets darker and colder down there, much more of both than you could tolerate for long, and there are things down there: we won’t talk about it. Don’t stir it up.

They won’t pull you in, but of course they’ve done it before. The mermaids want more – there’s not much room on the surface of the pond, what with the ducks and buoys and the chattering grannies, but there’s plenty down the bottom, where the sun doesn’t reach. Mermaids don’t breed – how could they? You’ve seen the pictures. You know how it works. Where would it go? But they probably won’t pull you down. They only want a touch. You’re very warm. You carry the sun.

They don’t allow men in the Hampstead Ladies’ Pond. This is a source of freedom for the women on the banks of the pond, who take their tops off and let their breasts loll free. Women look at each other’s breasts of course, because they can. Women are allowed to look at the size of each other’s nipples, the scars and the sag and the drape; pink and white and brown.

You don’t think about teeth on a mermaid, but they have them, and they get sick of fish. They nibble on weed, and suck down the occasional eel, but when they’re hungry, properly hungry, from the rigor and the rush of a life spent swimming, what they really like to eat is swan. It’s a sight, from above, in the Hampstead Ladies’ Pond, and if you were watching, you could see it happening: the bird, white and black and orange, on the black-green water, drifting across the surface. And then, beneath that, a shadow, a quick-flicker.

You can imagine how they do it: two quick hands wrapped around each orange foot and then a jerk beneath the surface. They have to be quick: if they’re slow, the swan will start into the sky, the way they can, and only two strong beats of those big wings and they’re up, and free, and safe – and a bird like that can lift a mermaid out of the water if it’s a small one (and they’re mostly small). But if they’re quick that’s it: beneath the surface is no place for a swan, and they break the wings, and the neck. A swan can break a man’s arm, so they say, but I’ve never seen them do the same to a mermaid. And then, from above, you’d see the stirring cease, and then perhaps, a drift of red. But there won’t be waste.

If you’re wondering where mermaids come from, don’t. They don’t breed, they just feed. I’ve never seen a pregnant mermaid. Thoughts like those are heavy ones, with a tendency to drift, and sink. It’s just a piece of weed. It’s just a silver fish.

Advertisements

My four jobs

I am 29 years old, 30 in September, and I have had four jobs.

  1. McHughs

Devonport, where I come from, is small and postcard-perfect. People know each other, and people stay. Families I knew there 25 years ago live their still. One man, John McHugh, owned three of the biggest restaurants in the village, making up some absurdly large section of the wealth in the area. One restaurant, big and white and damp at the seams, positioned on the beach with big, wide, white windows that offered panoramas of a volcano and a beach and an ocean, was where everyone had their weddings. My parents were married there. This was my first job: waitressing at weddings and birthdays and ordinary lunches, and for big bus loads of Japanese tourists who ate the oyster buffet dry. Fifteen years old, highlighted hair, working late, vaccuuming. I met my first boyfriend there. I met my second boyfriend there. John McHugh is dead now, but the restaurant remains, the site of weddings and birthdays and first meetings.

  1. Finc

Wellington, where I went to university, south of the north, has the largest number of restaurants and bars per capita of any city in the world – that is a fact which might be true, or might be made up, maybe by me. Finc was one of the many cafes in the city, dark wood and copper and crispy potatoes. I met some best friends there, and I met some cruel people there. I learned to talk and to charm. I learned that people disregard waitresses. I learned that Alice Cooper is not a woman. I learned to up-sell, and that people have strong feelings about the size of salt crystals, and the softness of butter. I was not sorry to leave.

  1. Sapporo High School

Sapporo, where I moved, when I decided not to be a lawyer, the coldest and furthest removed of all the cities, contains many high schools. I worked in one, with very long dark cold corridors, and scuttling students and banks of lockers and bowls of noodles and foreigners finding ways to be friends. I squatted over strange toilets and sounded out consonants, tried to win students over with my own strangeness. I am no teacher, not really, a sweating student myself trying to learn: the rules, the ways, the manners, the customs, the proper way of doing things. Unlearning: my crudeness, my Kiwiness, my dependency on the familiar. There is so much snow. So many crows. Beer, karaoke, two very cold Christmases. Another language – and, a man.

  1. Beamly

London, where I was born, where I came back to, tugged on a string I’d long acknowledged. And this job an entry point into a real life I’d long avoided: desks, and commutes and digital. Expenses, and a small (small) salary. A boss. A lunch break. Free apples on the table, Toblerones as big as my arm, Christmas parties in tunnels and hotels I could never afford. At first, any job, I-don’t-care-I’ll-do-anything, that kind of job and then: a best friend, a career, a family, more friends, connections, a grounding, a base. And then again: uncertainty, itching, moving.

It says something about who I am, this stickiness, this four-jobs-in-fifteen-years thing. You can spin it any way you want, as with anything: I am loyal. I am lazy. I am well-liked. I am boring.

Here is something that won’t be spun: I am leaving. Job #5 on the horizon, on the Northern Line, in the calendar, in the pipeline, in the offing. I am sorry I am leaving but not sorry I am going. I am grateful. I am growing.

An incomplete list of the things I love

Wine. For drinking.

Marian Keyes. For her humour and her brilliance and her rawness; for making me laugh more than any other books can; for an irrepressible voice.

Gilmore Girls. For speed and boldness and cultural references that fly over my head and for comfort when other things provide none.

Baths. For total immersion in water, for floating and warmth and the ability to lie very still behind a locked door.

Hair dye. For letting a human be a chameleon, for letting change be impermanent, for a box of a bit of something different.

Leather. For making me feel a little bit more exciting when I walk down a road on an early morning when I haven’t slept enough and don’t look like much.

Jewellery. For being gifted. For being different. For making a black outfit look like something. For being an easy birthday present.

Makeup. For hiding, for experimenting, for playing, for confidence.

Prawns. For being delicious.

Steak. As above.

And cheese.

Food needs its own list, really.

Neil Gaiman. For imagination and strangeness and not running away that time on the banks of the Thames.

Family. For safety and certainty and being around, always.

Change. For making things happen.

Friends. For love and for rants and martinis in dark bars; for holidays in familiar places and ideas and suggestions and possibilities. For shared interests and complete difference and never indifference.

Boyfriends. Singular. Boyfriend. For keeping things together.

Balsamic vinegar. For making everything taste better.

Blue cheese. FOOD GETS ITS OWN LIST.

Airplanes. For making distance nothing.

Snapchat. As above.

Skype. Same.

Afternoons in the park. For beer and grass stuck to skin and lying down and clouds and leaves and sitting in circles and tree trunks.

Endorphins. For climbing out.

Sports bras. For making breasts possible.

Late nights. For the things that can’t happen anywhere else.

London. For long walks and for distances; for everyone in it, even the bad ones; for food and drinks and smog and salt, for sadness and the cracks in the pavements. For the tube, and the bridges. For the small bits of sky between the buildings.

Water, anywhere. For life, obviously. For forming a margin. For finding an edge.

Books. All books. All the time. For escape and for comfort.

Grey’s Anatomy. For a reminder that life isn’t that bad.

Beds. For hiding.

Couches. For hiding, slightly less.

Rainy afternoons. For writing and sleeping and watching three movies in a row, all at once. For coffee and pizza and Pringles.

Writers. For writing.

Thinking about university

I was a good student. Have always been. Teacher’s pet, hard-worker, bit of a suck-up. Also, though, corner-cutter. Short-cutter. Not interested in any extra miles, in any direction, except maybe for English, because that felt less like running and more like moving.

But still: there’s something that you know if you’re quitesmart but not verysmart and actually prettylazy, and that is that you could actually be a lot better if you really tried, but finding that motivation to really try is really hard in itself, and so you really don’t, and then you find yourself in the same spot. The secret is: the person who finishes assignments ahead of time isn’t necessarily the good student – they’re the rushers and the pushers, and they’re not the ones doing the extra reading. Tell someone that they’re smart, and they’ll believe it, smartly, and to the core, and stop working because smart people are smart already, and smart people know enough to know that they know enough. Nobody tells me I’m smart anymore.

I was a good student, see, but not a great student. Motivated, but not compelled. Above average, but not impressive. By-the-books, as long as reading them didn’t take too long.

All of this to say: I’m back at university, and it all comes back. Not proper-back, life-changing back, in the way of my friend who’s thrown it in on his good law job and is backing himself for a Masters. Lazy-back, average-student back, in the way of my company wants me to upskill and is putting me through a short course (9 weeks, which two weeks in, feels long). That kind of back.

So, one day a week now, I set aside copy and promo lines and spreadsheets and get my teeth into it – a digital marketing course complete with videos and readings and tutorials and class discussions led by a small blonde woman with dark roots and hands that she clenches tightly in front of herself.

You revert really quickly, is what I have found.

There’s an element of gratefulness that I didn’t have before, one that I recognise from the mature students in my own law lectures, absorbing things and asking questions and contributing. I thought they were really fucking annoying. I’m probably still not quite mature enough to be a mature student, though my 22 year old sister might disagree. Old as the hills. Past it. But apart from that small element, which largely comes from Not Having To Do Real Work For A While, I’m the same student I was: competitive, easily frustrated, rushed.

I’ve done some growing up since my law school days. I ask more questions. I’m more willing to get involved in group discussions (20-year-old Scarlett wasn’t giving away her insights into the material, no way, no how, though she was quick to latch on to the cleverness of others, if it would help. Thanks, Conrad, for getting me through that summer paper). I’m also a lot more willing to read the additional resources, though I’m also more dismissive of poorly written articles. I’ve become a sponge – I blame Twitter, you can read forever on Twitter, though that’s how you come to believe you’re living in a left-leaning-Euro-loving-feminism-friendly-fantasy – and I always want to know more.

Probably inevitable, then, that doing this will make me want to go back. Reading and writing: they’ve always been the bits I loved best.

I still remember the first time I got a D on a paper – law, of course, public law, taught by a woman who so clearly thought us all stupendously stupid that I, in rebellion, began to believe I might know more about public law than she did. And then that paper, which confused a class of 300, and resulted in 70% of the class failing. Still, a D is a D, the teacher’s pet failing is still an unheard-of horror.

I rang my mother and cried, 20 years old in a heap on the hallway carpet, watching my career as a lawyer going up in smoke (only kidding, that had been smoked away months ago, the second I realised how much all the other people in my class wanted it, and how deep the depths of my particular apathy towards it all were). From a landline, because making calls from mobiles was expensive, and I wasn’t going to sob my heart out for $1.99 a minute. At least if I get a D this time around, the call will be cheaper.

A love letter to my black long-sleeved top(s)

It was first called to my attention in my first year of university, though I suspect the addiction started long before that. “You always wear that top,” the words of a man from Palmerston North, with bleached hair curling into his eyes, eating a pie sandwich. A pie sandwich, in case you were wondering, is a pie eaten between two pies, with tomato sauce for decoration. Not the kind of man, then, who one would expect to be making sartorial judgments, but this is university. A new world. He also liked to bet on grey hounds.

I did wear it a lot, this black striped long-sleeved top from Glassons, but not as much as he thought, because I owned three, identical and circulated. A bargain at two for $20 – which calls into question why I owned three, and I cannot answer – and the staples of my university wardrobe, partnered with jeans, and more jeans, and the one skirt I owned with screen-printings of Marilyn Monroe’s open mouth.

I’m not entirely sure what it is about the black long-sleeved top, except that it’s comfortable. It’s easy, and it suits me, covering the arms stippled with chicken skin and providing me with a comfortable camouflage for breasts that aren’t enormous, precisely, but big enough for me to notice when they draw focus from my hair, say, or my lipstick, or my sharp wit. Black suits my colouring, and it’s not a flattering thing so much as a familiarity thing. White makes me feel foreign and glaring, like stepping out into sun. Black is soft. Nicer, more interesting, people talk to me when I’m wearing black.

If pressed I could count them: the one from Zara that’s cropped with flared sleeves, and the other from Zara that’s a soft merino knit. The ASOS number with inside out sleeves and a V that gives things away. One from New Zealand, pilled with age, but with just the right neck, that balls to nothing in a bumbag or a front pocket. The body, with snaps at the crotch, that sits just right under a leather A-line skirt. The one with leather patches on the shoulder, another with leather sleeves. I like leather. The one emblazoned with Adele’s face (cheating, maybe, but it’s Adele, so we’ll allow it). The one I shrunk, but won’t throw out, in case it chooses to grow again, like one of those sponge dinosaurs in water.

There’s always a black top incorporated somewhere, under a romper or tied around a waist, stuffed in the bottom of a bag. And, of course, I can never find the one I want – the curse of owning at least 8 long-sleeved black tops, all of which serve a unique wardrobe purpose. My mother doesn’t understand. I don’t expect you to either.

It doesn’t stop with tops. It never does. I own at least 7 black dresses, and as many black skirts. Black singlets are mine in abundance – I think I have numerous pairs of black tights, but it’s summer and I can’t tell anymore, they’ve made love to each other and exist now in a Maniac Magee snarl. There’s no saving them, at least until October.

As I sit here in my long-sleeved black top, I wonder what will happen when I am a grown up, which is what will have happened when I don’t sleep in a garage or buy hard-boiled eggs because I don’t know how long to boil them for. Will my love affair with the black top end, brought to an abrupt cessation by a new capacity to buy blue silks and green chiffon? When I am an adult I will know what chiffon is, and how to say it. Like chignon. I will know about them too. And the UN.

The part of me that is already a grown-up (she sounds and looks like my mother; she spends a lot of time immersed in warm water with her toes controlling the taps) know that this is what will happen: I will buy just as many long sleeved black tops, but they will be softer, and lovelier, and blacker and the addiction will grow worse. In this ever-growing house of dreams, there is an entire wardrobe filled only with long-sleeved black tops, each catering to a different black top need.

And in this universe I will be equipped with the ability to put things on hangers, rather than shoving them by the fistful into drawers, so that when I need them, I can find them. The tights snake-nest, though, will still be there, growing and writhing and twisting, each day getting larger, incorporating more. You can only conquer the stocking nest by ripping it into separate pieces and setting each on fire, and who’d do that when each pair was a fiver?

In the writing of this piece, I have remembered why I only had three black long-sleeved tops at university, when four would have been the sensible number: I decided, on one shopping occasion, to branch out, and get the same style top in a different colour.

Coral. Fucking coral. Grown up Scarlett would never make that mistake.

There’s a freezer in my foyer

This is not an old house, by English standards, the standards that scoff at anything that’s been standing for fewer than two hundred years. It’s modern inasmuch as modern means “not very well put together”, with awkward corners and creaking floors. It has a green gate. It has four bathrooms. People are impressed by the number of bathrooms. “One between two,” I say, “and one for guests”. It feels nice to have a guest bathroom, even if the toilet roll holder falls to the floor every time you try to get some toilet paper. A small price to pay.

These are the things that are broken in the modern-ish house with the green gate: the freezer (we have two – there are higher numbers of most things in this house than is usual; Australians, X Boxes, televisions, vases, cupboards, copies of 50 Shades of Grey) (and also lower numbers of other things – spoons, bowls, wine glasses, full boxes of laundry powder), one of the four hobs, the washing machine, the dishwasher, the upstairs shower, the fan, the toilet roll holder.

Other things aren’t broken so much as old. The television, which hums. The couches, on which the leather peels like so much old skin. The paint job. The microwave. Whatever dripped slimily from U-bend when I unscrewed it to recover a pearl earring.

Things break one by one, toppling, as if the failure of one contributes to the load of the next, though the dishwasher did not have to freeze our ice cream, and it was never the job of the upstairs shower to keep control of the toilet paper. It’s become a bit like a tolerance test. You can handle a cold shower, but what if it’s coupled with no clean plates? The rankness of a dead freezer isn’t the worst thing in the world but if the television then doesn’t turn on when you want to watch Love Island… well. You don’t have to be an unreasonably intolerant person for that to rankle.

Of course, when something breaks, it gets fixed or replaced. Slowly, because this is London. Unwillingly, because of the same. We had a rat trapped in our dishwasher for 24 hours, which throws the 2 weeks without a working freezer into perspective. One stays with you; the other just makes for a room temperature gin and tonic, and there are worse things. I know bartenders and blondes who would disagree with me on the last, but they’ve never had a rat with a broken leg crying in their dishwasher, so they don’t know.

It’s almost a badge of honour, the breaking, when they’re simply worn through. We’re  a few in a long line of people who have resided in this space, bounced on these springs, stood beneath the sporadic spray and wondered, again, why seated showers weren’t more of a thing. The fridge has been stuffed with their choices (me: four different types of cheese and a brown bag of kale), their cupboards with the same (7 jars of canned tomatoes, 2 bags of chili flakes, some jam). We’re all just passing through, breaking things. We’ve broken the most, I feel certain of it. I know because there’s not much left to break.

He said to me the other day, “This is the nicest place we’ll ever live”. I scowled because plastic plants, and purple bath mats, and weeds on the balcony and the Christmas tree we’ve not taken down since 2014. Because our room has no windows and is built of cinder blocks, one stacked on the other like the work of toddler destined for not much. Because I am not a car even though I sleep in a space intended for a car and don’t mind it most of the time. Humans are smaller than cars, for the most part. Having a car’s bedroom as your own isn’t so bad. It’s about the same as a room temperature gin and tonic. The dangerous levels of carbon monoxide are intoxicating.

I don’t think I’m going to be a billionaire, exactly, I haven’t pictured a house on the Thames and a flat on Old Compton street, with a timeshare in the French countryside for good measure (except I did just then), so it shouldn’t have been a shock, being informed that I’ll probably never do better than 1/6th of a £3 million pound property in Marylebone.

But: we spent the weekend away from London, in a 16th century house with low beams and a spinning wheel on the staircase and casement windows – with lawns the size of London parks and a private cricket pitch and it suited me quite well, in case you were wondering. I’m not what you call an outside person, but I wasn’t against the space. And the lights. Cars don’t need sunlight to survive, but I’m beginning to suspect that I might.

It’s not that things were perfect. There’s plenty of falling apart in the putting together of a 16th century house, held up by scaffolding and the skin of its old wooden teeth. It’s just that: if it’s yours, breaking something simply means a broken thing. It doesn’t mean 9 electronic apologies, phone messages, meeting a fat deliveryman at the door who refuses to carry the freezer up the stairs.

I’ve lowered my expectations thusly: windows. Windows, and a freezer that resides anywhere but the foyer. And a timeshare in a farm house in France.

On having a choice

No one has ever spit on me, and told me to go home. Yanked at my clothing on a bus, informed me I did not belong. My passport is the same colour as yours, the maroon cover tells me I am British, I belong, this is home.

I was born here, but it’s not my home. Having my first home in Fulham, living in Marylebone now, having a British boyfriend: none of these things make me British to anyone but the government, the passport office, the conservatives of this country, all of whom would have me know that I am welcome, and that I can stay.

My home is New Zealand, which is what my other, blacker passport tells me, and my heart confirms. It has its flaws, but for all the failings I found, daily, for years, it’s the place my accent and all the cells in my body ties me to. The wide skies and the growing cities and the water, water everywhere, open seas around every corner.

I moved to London after years of pining for it, a yearning instilled in me by my mother and my movies and my certainty that New Zealand wasn’t quite the right fit. I wanted to be somewhere bigger and older and more full of possibilities; where everyone was a stranger, and strange. I wanted to be closer to other, and much much further than the familiar. I moved away as soon as I could, far, and then further. I settled myself. I was welcomed. It was easy.

The London I moved to was an invention of my own, but the place I found was better, much more swollen with things I never knew I needed – and then peppered, brilliantly, with the brightest sparks from home. A whole melted, mashed, marvellous pot of the unknown, laced always with the things that were hardest to leave, and ultimately refused to be left. Everything is much closer than I could ever have imagined. You can go half a world away and still be closer than ever before, and I did not know that.

The person I have become in London is much like that person who left New Zealand, but older, a lot more humble, more knowledgeable but less clever, and better for it. Blonder, and paler, and with a better palette for beer, too. I own a lot more raincoats. I’m more cautious. I’m more violent. You lose things, and you gain things.

The London I find myself, this new and changing person, in, has changed too. Suddenly, violently, like a personality switch, except that it’s not: it’s my old innocence telling me that. What bubbles up now has been there before, but I didn’t know it, or refused to acknowledge it: this white, well-employed, well-financed adventurer who after all has done nothing all that adventurous, and who has suffered nothing much worse than a round accent mocking. Don’t say “deck” to a British person, maligned fellow New Zealanders. You’ll suffer.

But you won’t suffer like other travellers, immigrants, movers, suffer. You won’t be sworn at, harassed, fired, chagrined. You won’t be sneered at, belittled, bullied.

London has changed and what I have now is a choice. In between shrinking from the racism and choking down the impossible rage, I have the choice to disappear. Waiting for me, a 35 hour plane ride away, is another land which hasn’t made this political decision, that mistake, a historical vote that might be a fuck up, could change the world, has shaken everything.

It’s easy to look at it now with longing eyes, that place where the dollar stands still, where jobs are un-compromised, and where my mother can look at me with eyes I know and tell me things will stay the same. It’ll take me back, no questions asked. It’ll have me.

There are plenty of people plotting their exit, because they can, and most of them are like me: the ones who can stay, if they want, but are choosing to go. The ones who run only because things have become worse, and harder – not because they might die if they stay. Not because running is marginally better than waiting to be chased.

The point of this is that choice is power, bound up with luck.

Alternatives and options are nothing but blessings. So I won’t talk about my choice anymore because I’ve already made it: to be here, to keep changing, to hope that London and England will do the same. Change isn’t always good, and choice isn’t always easy. I could run away, of course I could. I’m here because I ran away; that compulsion isn’t something that ever leaves you, but lies dormant, waiting for things to get difficult. I recognise it as weakness.

I came to London because I needed it. I’ll stay because maybe now it needs me – not the runaway, not the traveller, but the ally. And if I’m not that person yet, then I hope that soon I will be.

 

 

The politics of Glastonbury

Screen Shot 2016-06-28 at 9.02.39 pm

She’s wearing a pink tutu and a leather vest and her eyes are rolled all the way back in her head in a combination of mirth and something chemical. One foot, planted in a boot, planted in the mud, pulling, and the other stuck, deep. Her friends hover around her, working their fingers, working their jaws, a thousand strangers in the dusk, in the rancid reek of muck. A man behind her goes to his knees, yanks her boot free, plants it back on her foot. She thanks him, plods away. He stands, caked, wipes his hands on his shirt. He was already covered in mud. He doesn’t care.

Nobody cares, even though everyone cares. We’ve woken up to rain and hangovers and deflated mattresses, and whispered noises. Out, out, out. We’ve done something historical, or not done it, railed against it, but not loudly enough. 80% of the voters at Glastonbury voted remain, but that wasn’t enough. “He’s resigned.” “We’re out.”

Somebody has stolen £140 out of my backpack, which I left zipped in the tent, but by the door, with the money zipped in the smallest pocket, where everyone would have left it, the first place a person would look, because I was drunk and hungry and because we all do all the same things.

It’s raining and we move the camping chairs inside, in a circle, the Wellington boots kicked on their sides by the door. We are the festival-goers, three days in, three days wrecked. Eating meals in between dancing with pints, gathering beneath green flags flickering with an octopus, a yellow submarine, a walrus, a strawberry. Beatles-themed, you see.

We all live, now, in this muddy blue tent, railing against the guy ropes, sucking against the mud. We break Berocca into drink bottles. Later we’ll mix in vodka. The normal rules don’t apply here. Somewhere, out there, people sit in brick houses, in armchairs, sipping tea, and nodding their heads at their decisions. Get them out, they nod, make them leave.

We’ve left, left the politics behind. Last year there was no signal in this fenced-in silver circle that reeks of soil and silage and shit and throbs with grime, they say, but this year they’ve erected more poles to catch more signal, and this year there are just enough bars for us to know: we’ve left, we’re out, we’re gone. We’d message people on the outside, maybe, but what’s the point? It’s ours to deal with, later. For now, vodka in your Berocca, extra socks in your boots, tissues in your bumbag. I’d rather not have the signal, given the choice. Except for the weather forecast. Rain, obviously.

The people on the stages with the microphones feel a certain kind of responsibility as the clouds open and the crowds are drenched, lifting their hands and securing their hoods, lifting their feet so they don’t get stuck, stuck, stuck. “We’ll weather it together,” they croon, “we’ll fix it together,” between songs. But we’re not together, some of us stuck in the mud, and some of us elevated, and maybe that’s precisely what got us here in the first place.

There’s a girl in the crowd behind us with daisies in her hair, she might be eight years old in her pink raincoat. In the crowd, she looks like she’s floating, standing on a small folding stool, anchored to her spot by her father who clutches her, grinning into Adele’s first verses. He has a spare, and the shortest members of our parties suddenly find themselves up, out, higher, taller, up with the flags and the six foot men. “There’s so much more air up here!” Maybe that’s the point.

The world changes all the time, whether you’re wearing denim shorts and tiger ears, if there’s glitter in your beard and chemicals in your brain, if there’s vodka in your Berocca and if you haven’t sat down in a real chair since you can remember.

Jeremy Corbyn cancels his speech because the world is falling down, and when the world is falling down you don’t go to preach to a festival full of the converted. When the world is falling down, you bear down, go to your knees, form a last foundation. The bones of this festival are tent poles and caravans and canvas, skin and hair, crumbling and crushable, and there’s nothing here that’s worth any kind of permanent salvation. The work to be done is elsewhere, outside, inside marble houses and tall buildings made from old wood. Jeremy Corbyn, I suspect, would much rather be at Glastonbury.

I’m not, we’re not, the only ones who know how lucky we are. In a circus tent filled with children sitting on plastic bags, two tattooed men in black shorts climb each other and a rope, hand on hand, wrapped and clutched, set to fall, or fly. A woman in a red glittered bustier announces them, prancing across the stage, catching the light. Her tights are black and pigtails flick with her words. “I suggest,” she says, “that we just stay here! We voted remain! Why don’t we just remain? Why not?!” She clutches for claps and we do applaud, because we could do that. We could close it off, shut it down, eat pulled pork rolls and falafel until the end of our days. Adele could sing nightly, Coldplay serenade us to sleep. We have tents, sleeping bags. We have toilets. We have each other. Chris Martin, you have me. Beck, are you OK? Do you need some gum?

Sitting in that tent-circle with rain spitting against the plastic, a few hours since the votes were counted and done and everything went, as they say, to shit, they give me – some of them strangers – £10 each, one by one, none holding back until I have in my lap a pile of crushed bills, and all my stolen money back. Someone out there has my neatly folded notes, but he doesn’t have what I have.

We have, for the next couple of days, certainty, because here, behind the silver fence, we know what to expect. Piss-smeared seats and mud-tumbles, £5 sweat-warm beers and rain, rain, rain. Spitting on footpaths and swearing into the sky, bright lights and old smells and base thuds like quick hearts. Arseholes and idiots and awkwardness and theft. Constipation and ugliness.

So much shit. There is so much shit.