Welcome to Glastonbury, the biggest communal mudbath in the land

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The Independent Online
THE RAIN came down on another Glastonbury Festival opening yesterday, reviving memories of last year's mudbath and dampening some enthusiasm with the prospect of a repeat performance.

After a dull, drizzly start, black rainclouds finally engulfed the huge natural arena in mid-afternoon. More of the same, with attendant mud fights and mayhem, is forecast.

For medical services, it means packing away the calamine lotion and rehydration kits and breaking out elasticated bandages to treat the twists and sprains of those who, perhaps a little the worse for wear, have fallen flat on some part of their anatomy. For the police, it has initially meant a relatively routine time. "It's the quietest festival I can remember," a spokesman said. "So far."

Up the hill in the healing field, where alternative practitioners ply their trade, one early rush gave an indication that many of this year's festival goers have been concentrating their early efforts under cover. A sign outside the "fest aid' tent announced: "Condoms for hire. Small deposit required" - a humorous comment on the fact that they had run out of supplies.

"We give them away for free and we had hundreds, but they've all gone already," said Paul Diprose, who marshalls a group of National Health Service nurses in the field to complement Fluffy Welfare, Indian Head Massage and a Yin Yang Marathon.

Mr Diprose also reported a steady stream of "fence-related injuries", referring to those who came a cropper while scaling the 14 ft steel perimeter fence to avoid the pounds 80 entrance fee.

But it was all proving too much for Shining Bear, who was reclining on a sheepskin rug in his tent advertising "Didgridoo Healing". He was getting some rest in before appearing with Rolf Harris in part of last night's show, he said.

"The sound of the Didg' takes the thinking mind on a spiritual journey, allowing the natural healing process to take place," explained Bear, a huge - well, bear of a man with piercing blue eyes. "I've seen some incredible results, especially with emotional stress and trauma."

On the other side of the valley, at festival medical services, business was a bit more brisk. Here the 100 or so conventional staff are co-ordinated by a doctor wearing a head-set and microphone, and people wear green bibs and baseball caps.

By yesterday afternoon, they had treated more than 700 of the 100,000 people estimated to be on site. The addition of another soul, in the shape of this year's first festival baby (there were three last year), was averted by a quick referral of a mother in labour to hospital.

Otherwise, it was the usual range of sprains and burns from tent fires, treated in the 17-room medical centre. Psychiatric services reported a quiet time, perhaps because no one had had the chance to get seriously paranoid from the range of illegal substances available.

Police yesterday reported the arrest of three people for possession of drugs and 21 for dealing. A new mobile analysis unit allows quick processing of cases and avoids having to give dealers bail, which would enable them to go back to work. In the five weeks leading up to the Somerset festival, there were 250 arrests for drug-related offences by those suspected of stockpiling for the event and more than pounds 1m of drugs seized - mostly cannabis.

Certainly there was plenty of weed and goodwill in the air on Wednesday night, when the gathering crowd resembled a ragged medieval army on the eve of battle. Banners flew from Canada, Jamaica and South Africa, and combat gear was the favoured sartorial statement. There was a heavy flag bias in favour of Inger-land, and last night the main performance by James was put back so football fans could watch the England match on a huge screen.

Weather and mishaps apart, the general aim was to have a good time. Richard, of Newcastle, did not even know which bands were playing. "I'm not really here for the music," he said. "I just come for the ... thing."