Chapter Seventeen

Cold & Wet Festivals


On my return to Las Palmas, I found the boys eagerly waiting to know about Brazil but I was sad to hear that my brother Jimmy had been to visit us in Las Palmas whilst I had been away and so missed seeing him.

We packed the caravan for the return trip but we had now swapped Anna and Cindy for two Spanish boys, Jacko and Chay. They were hardened street traders so we were taking them to work the summer season for us.

The first festival of the year was about to take place. I just had time to pick up some more stock in London and also twenty 1000-foot rolls of clear industrial polythene sheeting 6 foot wide. The festival was in the North of England at a place called Bickershaw, in Yorkshire. It was almost a certainty that it would rain, but I was prepared.

The festival site was on a farm high in the Yorkshire hills and by the time we arrived, the narrow country lanes were already awash with thick sticky mud. The rain plus the 1000s of vehicles had churned up the ground so much that we would not have been able to arrive at the show if the boys had not helped by pushing the rig through.

The first day was great, the sun shone onto the 100,000 festival goers. I put out 4 pitches and they all did well. The second day it started raining at daybreak. Waves of icy water drenched everyone and high winds destroyed most of the tents. The festival grounds began to transform into a quagmire. I got out the rolls of polythene sheeting. ‘Avoid the rain – Buy a pane’ was the sign that I made to sell the sheeting. The boys set off in every direction, slashing knife in one hand and plastic roll in the other. We sold a 6ft long piece, 3ft wide for 35 pence. The rain poured and we slashed; the people almost fighting each other in desperation to be next in line to buy a piece of protection. Within hours we were sold out. I made a £900 profit on the plastic and on top of that, saved a few lives.

The rain continued all day and those with plastic sheets became very popular. Groups of three and four or more people would try to huddle together underneath. The third day the rain continued and now the people were becoming desperate. The roads leading back to the highways were all blocked by swamped cars. Many people were suffering from exposure. The radio was declaring the festival a disaster area and informing their listeners that the Army and Air Force had been called in.

As I turned off the radio, I heard the helicopter rotors as they landed on the perimeters of the site. Hospital tents were thrown up within minutes of their landing. Stretcher bearers were out collecting the hundreds of half-conscious exposure sufferers. The Army could be seen in the distance ploughing their way through the flooded fields in special tracked vehicles. It had all the appearance of a First World War battlefield. Operation clean-up took about a week. Eventually the roads were cleared and then our turn came to be towed the few miles through the flooded lanes to the highway.

The next festival was a free one run by Baron von Lima. As it was in Pontoise, France, I decided to go in a taxi which I bought for the trip. I took the igloo inflatable tent and Charly and one of my temporary workers, Paul also accompanied us. The other boys stayed in London to work the streets; the King's Road, Piccadilly and Oxford Street pitches were doing so well.

The Pontoise festival site was similar to the one we had just been to: soft fields in the wilderness. This time I bought 30 rolls of polythene from Paris. The clouds above were thickening as we joined the masses. Everyone was busy setting up their tents or making small lean-tos out of the surrounding trees; another temporary city in the making. We soon found a good spot to set up our pitch and inflate the igloo.

We opened up shop but sold nothing. Instead of the usual rush to buy our signs and symbols, we were harassed by French youths. Some even went as far as spitting at us, in between calling us ‘Filthy Capitalistic Pigs’. It wasn’t long before the Baron came to see us, his attitude also being hostile. He told us to stop selling as the whole festival was devoted to love, peace and harmony without profit. No-one was to gain anything materially. He concluded by saying that if we continued selling, he would have all our stuff confiscated.

Well that was that. It was obvious that rain was due and so we would not be able to sell jewellery anyway. Paul decided to go and get drunk whilst Charly and I decided to get our heads down in the igloo. As we drifted off to sleep, we heard the thunder and the heavens opened up. The rains began to pour once again but we were so tired we even ignored the possibility of selling a few ‘panes’

I awoke to the sound of someone crying. I opened the zipped tent flap to see a young couple, flimsily dressed, huddled together on the rain drenched ground. She was crying in gasping sobs intermingled with the sound of teeth chattering exclamations of coldness. I offered them shelter in the igloo which they accepted and entered without hesitation. There was just enough space for five people to lie down comfortably and so we left a space for Paul and tried to sleep.

Paul eventually arrived, clawing at the tent, searching for the zipper. I opened the flap and let him in. He was completely out of it, still clutching an almost empty whisky bottle. I helped him in and laid him down in the space by the flap. He was mumbling to himself as I once again turned down the kerosene light down to a dull glow. The rain outside was still pouring as I lay there listening to the spinning wheels and whining engines of the sinking cars.

Everyone else was asleep in the igloo but suddenly Paul grumbled as he raised himself totteringly to his knees. I could not see what he was doing, there was a short silence then the sound of trickling water. I was just wondering where the tent had sprung a leak when the girl began choking and spitting and gasping for air. She sounded like somebody drowning. I jumped up and turned up the light to see Paul kneeling over her face, penis in hand, and urinating into her mouth. I pushed him out into the rain as the girl began retching. Paul obviously did not know what he was doing as he was so drunk. It took a while and a few cups of coffee to calm the girl down but eventually we all fell asleep again.

The next morning, I found Paul asleep, along with some others, underneath the taxi. The festival was a disaster, the field had sunk under the weight of so many people and the rain had once again turned it into a mud bath. I decided to give the plastic sheeting away and so we spent the entire day slashing and distributing. That night, with the help of about twenty security men, we pushed the taxi back to the highway.