I saw a juggler at Glastonbury. He was standing on a bicycle on a big pole, maybe 10 metres up, juggling a flaming torch and a club and I think a toffee apple. He looked like an ordinary sort of fellow, he said he’d been doing this since he was 12 but he didn’t look like a man whose main occupation was juggling. There was no mystique to the performance; his patter a mix of well-practised (but still perhaps not entirely faked) nerves, chit-chat and oiling up to the crowd. The actual juggling was as brief as the danger required, a quick burst of skill and then he climed down, profusely thankful. It was impressive, likeable, but the lack of pretension also showed up the lack of point – why do people do it?

It’s that basic bafflement that I’m sure lies behind the shorthand disdain for juggling and other feats of circus skill you find in rants like k-punk‘s. Juggling is one of those things which nobody will really contest if you take the piss out of – like pan pipes in music (which I also find quite pleasant). Why the blanket disdain? There’s the very rational urbanite’s distaste for street performers blocking off great chunks of road as they draw the gawpers. (But that makes no sense in a festival context). However juggling, fire-eating and suchlike are difficult to do and can be spectacular: they are also physical technologies that involve a re-imagining of one’s body and a grafting onto it of extensions – weren’t jugglers medeival posthumans, ur-cyborgs whose reflexes aspire to machine regularity?

Ahem. Anyway what I liked about seeing the one at Glastonbury was how quickly it happened – I saw a crowd, wandered over, heard enough to establish the parameters of the feat, saw it happen, wandered off to something else. The special flavour of Glastonbury comes from the combination of hippie languor (perry, ale, fields, sunshine, mild arcadian drugs) and an ultra-modern concentration of stimulus (so many people, so many things happening, so many freaks, something new every 2 minutes).* Very little indeed of that combination comes over in the music played on the big stages, which is why – sorry K-Punk – you really do have to actually go.

*(In the last issue of WORD there was an article on the festivals of the 70s which made the point that the key component of going to one was how little you actually did – waiting, waiting, waiting in front of a stage getting stoned or hammered with very little else going on. This seems hugely far away from the instant-city vibe of modern Glastonbury, and not in a good way.)