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Music, magic and mud

Give it a go

Mention Glastonbury and most people think of drugs, rock 'n' roll I and mud. So would you make a family outing of it? Victoria Neumark did

Can I go to Glastonbury, Mum?" asked Tom. "No," I replied automatically, my mind full of mud baths, mugging and mad drug-pushers. "Mu-umm," he wheedled, "Bob Dylan is playing." Suddenly scenes of horror dissolved into the summers of my youth: floaty dresses, intoxicating music, beautiful people. "Let's all go," I said, inspired.

A peak moment: as the opening chords of "Blowing in the Wind" plink out over the muddy crowd in the muddy field, thousands of arms wave and the early evening sun escapes from behind the clouds. And suddenly it's as if everyone was singing, upturned faces alight. Two young men stagger to lift my youngest son, so that he, too, can see Dylan's snarly face, cracked with age, wracked with intensity, cranking out oddly nihilistic words for a rock anthem: "The answer is blowin' in the wind".

Then - it's over. Our neighbours replace Jeremy in nine inches of mud and trudge off with friendly waves. All four of us look at each other. "It was good, Mum," admits my Oasis-mad son.

OK, I admit it, I am a serious, long-term Bob Dylan fan, so for anyone else that might not have been the peak Glastonbury moment. But you would have to have sold your soul to comfort not to have responded to the three days of music, magic and mud that was Glastonbury 1998.

Five hundred acts, 17 venues, 100,000 people buzzing with good humour - you can't turn your head without seeing, hearing or feeling something different. Travellers bang their drums, children gawp at a flea circus, fortune-tellers offer tarot cards and aura massage, three little boys offer "Four tins of spaghetti for Pounds 1" and the dance tent is awash with human excreta. ("I always thought dance music was shit," says one wag.) It's not the school fete, but it's not Saturday night looking for a fight either.

The key image, repeated endlessly, goes like this: a person, old, young or very young, gets their foot stuck in the mud. The relentless surging crowd stops its tidal pull to and from gigs. They laugh. Then everyone gathers to help pull the leg out. Then they all move on. And everywhere, music fills the air.

We move on, too. We can fletch an arrow, carve a stone plaque, learn to play the didgeridoo and knap flints with people who live in a neolithic village. We watch a determined theatre troupe enact a scene from a music box. We see clowns and jugglers and trapeze artists. We spin plates, try out the slide, have a flapjack, chat to some other families. In the theatre tent, some Indian musicians cast their slow spell of tabla and sitar. Outside, as we skid, the rain eases and a double rainbow glimmers over the Mendip hills.

So those are the peak moments. Then there are the troughs. It rains. Then, it rains again. Then, just to keep its hand in, it rains some more. The ground turns slowly from mud to slime, to soup and finally to thick, deep porridge. You cannot sit down at all, anywhere. So our legs start to hurt. Jeremy falls face downwards in the mud for the second time, gets up covered in mud and so distressed. The nearest tap has run out of water. We turn up too late to hear Rolf Harris and suddenly the rain gushes down, so that water runs down inside our clothes like drops on a window-pane. We get to the front of the 40-minute queue for the non-smelly, tested-in-Africa, squat-on-the-ground loos and realise we have forgotten the toilet paper.

In torrential storms on the first night, Jeremy and I get lost and panic in the huge crowds jammed in front of the TV screen for the England-Colombia football match. He is soaked to the skin and whimpering when we get back to the tent. We finally drift off to sleep, me wrapped around him to warm him. I awake to the pounding roar of music from the dance tent and a steady "plop" on my face. There is only one leak in the tent, but it is directly above my head.

At times like these I remember Hegel's dictum. Pleasure, he says, is effortless consumption. For us, Glastonbury was never going to be effortless. We have never been camping together, and I hate getting dirty.

But going to a festival, and such a big one, is like entering another universe. Forget the washing up - and the washing - when are Catatonia playing? Never mind the shopping, have you seen my crystal wand? Careful of that drunk lurching through the mud. "Sorry, missus." Here we are back at the Tipi Field. Have you ever tried tempura? What are those people doing? Is it Tai Chi? No, it's the dance of fire. Who is that playing? It's Spiritualized. Gosh, they are rather good.

So it goes. Tom and Robert worm their way to the front at the Lightning Seeds ("Wicked!"), join the packed crowd to watch the World Cup football on television ("Fantastic!"), and Primal Scream go wild ("Nutters, Mum!"). I was going to go home. But the sun shone, Jools Holland was playing on the main stage and the only way to get a cup of tea was to go down to the market stalls. And once you're thereI well, you're there.

So it goes. Who's that on the Jazz World stage? J-World. Hmm. Singapore noodles or veggie burgers? Is that Hothouse Flowers playing? "Have you seen my blue gerbil? He's come to every Glastonbury since 1992 and I've lost him in the mud." Heard about the latest drug being touted? "Placebos! Five for Pounds 1!" How were Blur? "Mental!" Did you seeI? Did you hearI?

How were Pulp? "You can't imagine, Mum," says Tom, "how good they were. The crowd just wentI Oh!I They just went! It wasI" He is utterly lost for words. "It was," he says eventually, "really good."

The Glastonbury Festival takes place every year during the last week of June. Tickets to next year's event can be bought two to three months in advance through HMV and the festival Web site on www.glaston99. Children under 14 go free

Tips for family festival-goers

* Pack: black bin-liners for wet or dirty clothes; at least one change of clothing more than you need; suncream, plasters (for blisters), a water bottle, mobile phone if you have one (make sure any independent children know your number).

* Write family details on young children's arms in indelible pen.

* Be sure to pitch tent on edge of field. That way you can find it in the dark.

* Bring torches, waterproofs, boots, even if the sun is shining.

* Waterproof your tent before you come (you can buy a spray).

* Arrange times and places to meet and synchronise watches.

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