An England fan in Vilnius …

Blogging has just got a whole lot more difficult as the laptop on which I usually write is also our principal means of viewing the World Cup.   Watching the matches has, however, sparked memories of previous world cups, some of which are vaguely related to the topics about which I write on this blog.

The last World Cup, in South Africa, doesn’t really fall into this category. My most substantial memory is, ironically, not watching a match.   We were at the Glastonbury Festival and chose (wisely, as it turned out) to see Ray Davies perform on the Pyramid Stage rather than go to the big screen to watch England v Germany. We were cheerfully singing along to “Sunny Afternoon” as England fans were converting en masse to become enthusiasts for goal-line technology and David James was picking balls forlornly out of his net

The 2006 World Cup coincided with a very busy period in the EU’s intercalibration exercise, which I have written about before (see “Still travelling, still thinking…”, “Remembering Jean-Gabriel”). I have my mobile telephone bill for June/July 2006 as a strange memento of that period, as it records calls from no less than seven different countries as I criss-crossed Europe (two, to be honest, were for calls from airport transit lounge and our visit to Portugal was no more than a quick hop across the border from nearby Vigo one evening for some sightseeing and a drink).

I was in Vilnius, Latvia, for a large meeting of national representatives involved in the intercalibration of rivers from across northern and central Europe. Each evening, small groups would peel off from the post-dinner gatherings in the hotel bar to go and watch their country play. On the second evening, it was England v Trinidad and Tobago and I headed into the old town of Vilnius with a colleague to find a sports bar showing the match.   The final 2-0 score line, as I remember, flattered England whose opponents that day included a player who I had seen a few weeks earlier turning out in a League One match against Hartlepool.

En route home from one of these trips I visited the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art in Gateshead where there was an installation that consisted of a tunnel lined with TVs each tuned to stations from around the world.   The idea was that the dark tunnel full of these flickering images would provide a dislocating experience that emphasized the world’s cultural diversity. They had, unfortunately, chosen a bad time to display the installation as about three quarters of the television stations were showing the World Cup in one form or another. Instead of highlighting our differences, it had the opposite effect showing how, for that short period, the world was remarkably united in its preoccupations.

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I wish I was at Glastonbury …

The Glastonbury Festival is all over the media this weekend and the images have triggered my own memories of visits in 2009 and 2010.   There was the music, of course.  Not just the headline acts – Neil Young, Blur, Bruce Springsteen, Stevie Wonder and more – but also the unexpected pleasures on the smaller stages.  Then there was the variety of exotic food outlets, and the pleasures of just sitting in the sun soaking up the atmosphere.

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Edward reading the Sunday paper in the enormous shanty town of tents at Glastonbury in 2010.

One of the memories dovetails very neatly with the themes of some of my recent posts – about the struggles of John Snow and others to provide London with safe drinking water.   Glastonbury is an enormous temporary town, the size of Sunderland, yet with the most basic plumbing and sanitation.   For four days or so, we are plunged back into the type of city that John Snow would have known.  A city where water has to be carried from standpipes (wells in Victorian London), where water is only warm enough to shave with if you have a stove to heat it.  And, most pertinently, there is only the most basic sanitation.  The toilets at Glastonbury are notorious although, probably, no smellier than the average London street in John Snow’s era.  The biggest differences are that we have, thanks to John Snow and other from that era, made the link between foul water and disease, and that our noses are more finely attuned to the smells.

Another strong memory of Glastonbury 2010 is persuading my family to watch Dizzee Rascal rather than the then barely-known Mumford and Sons, tonight’s Pyramid Stage headliners.  I’ve never been forgiven for that.

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A forest of legs in front of the West Holt Stage, awaiting Dr John’s set in 2010.

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The crowd in front of the Pyramid Stage for Tom Jones’ set in 2009.   Glastonbury Tor is just visible in the distance.