I started writing this when it was wet and cold at Hay – so cold you could see your breath – but somehow still worth it.
Not the kind of weather to spend any time at all on the dizzy heights of Lord Hereford’s Knob. Oh no.
Hay Festival’s weather is fickle. It alters in a heartbeat and a glimpse of sun suddenly makes all those deckchairs on the central lawn advertising holidays in Spain seem suddenly so appropriate.
People look visibly cheerier and no cars have had to be tractor-hauled from lagoon car parks this year.
The trouble with Hay is that it attracts more Londoners every year. All those Kensington and Chelsea parking permits evident in the car parks. This year they even screened messages in the marquees exhorting people to chat to their neighbours in the queues waiting to go into events. In years past, people didn’t have to be told. They just did it.
The Barclays Cycle Hire scheme, newly launched in London, had a display and when I went to get a nice free cycling map of London, the guy assumed I lived there – obviously did their homework and figured that Hay would be a good place to exhibit, being rammed with Guardian-reading literary London types. If that last sentence reads in a bit of a sniffy tone, I should just add that if I lived in London, I would BE one (a Guardian-reading, bicycling, literary type….albeit a literary type of the lowest order, Lewis Carroll and Blyton being my earliest influences). Actually it seems a brilliant scheme where you can hire one of their bikes for £1 if you never ride one for more than half an hour before changing it at another ‘bike station. I went all dewy-eyed and distracted thinking about planning a day out cycling the sights of London for a quid. More of that another time.
You can tell the London types. The women have very nice and totally impractical shoes. Are they bondage shoes? Those shoes with heels and straps and buckles? I don’t know. I don’t do restrictive wear. They looked a bit odd worn with footless black tights under skimpy denim shorts.
The men – I walked in behind a couple of City boys talking take-over tips – wear tweed jackets and blue trousers. The locals and the Unfashionable (yes you guessed it but in my defence, I still have spiffy nail-varnish) with much experience of Hay wear stout boots, jeans and layers that enable you to muffle up or sunbathe, whichever is more appropriate.
Hay improves every year but it never gets any cheaper. I spent ages in the Welsh Books section of Pemberton’s bookshop. They got really organised with different queues demarcated so the faithful could wait in orderly fashion to buy a book and get a signature from their favourite author.
I’ll be queuing for Tom Stoppard tomorrow. Probably the single piece of literature which made a huge impression on no2 son was Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia. I dug out his copy the other day and found it’s littered with his GCSE Eng Lit notes. I’m going to get it signed for him. I’m reading it today and loving it; Not only the cleverness and wit of Stoppard but the interpretive points made by no 2 son in his still-childish hand.
The author who impressed me most was Kashuo Ishiguro talking about Nocturnes his new book of short stories linked by common characters. He seemed such a measured, articulate quiet man, effortlessly and gently asserting himself with Guardian Book Club Chairman John Mullan, who was interviewing.
Mullan questioned his use of colloquialisms such as “actually” (I use that a lot in blogs) “to tell the truth” (yup, that one too) and “to be fair” (less likely to use that, to be fair, oops) in the short stories. He said they were the kind of expressions footballers use.
But Ishiguro said it was just the way his narrator expressed himself and while writing it, the least of his concerns was producing “literary English.”
And I thought “Yeah, let’s hear it for ‘basically’ and ‘actually’ because, although they are redundant, they lend a reality to conversation on the page.”
When he said “In general I don’t like any kind of rulebook,” I felt like cheering.
“I feel that for any writer to be obsessed with what is elegant or what is a cliché or not a cliché can become very inhibiting.
“Prohibitions have behind them a kind of snobbery or fear of being seen as lower middle class.”
I liked him a lot and he left me with the feeling that I should catch up on an awful lot of his work, which is what every author intends, I suppose, so 10/10 for marketing and all-round good-eggdom.
I heard about genes and the synthetic cell from Professor Steve Jones and listened to considerable Israeli-targetted ire from Michael Mansfield QC plus his conspiracy theory about Diana’s death – and heard a Michelin starred chef explain that it’s not just down to how you cook but that you should use the freshest, best possible ingredients to produce fabulous meals.
And there was a manic inventive and brilliant Ross Noble doing a show which went on for almost two hours which included the wonderful possibilities of hi-vis frillies to pep up the sex life.
For various reasons my time at Hay was limited – but one of the memorable moments wasn’t about a great author or a celebrity or a politician. It was about a sculpture, a life-style faux bronze of a young maiden, hair tied back smoothly seated on the grass cross-legged absorbed in a book.
Out of the passing throngs of people, a little girl aged about three years old, approached her, leaned forward slowly and planted a gentle kiss on her forehead.
It was a spontaneous outbreak of affection but much more graceful than those over-amorous toddlers who are so busy trying to kiss each other they topple over. I wondered what was going through her head. Kind of touching, actually. 😉
Reading Stoppard sounds a good idea as the ideas race so fast and furiously that at the theatre i am constantly playing catch-up.
Ishiguro was brought up in Guildford, my home town, so he’ll know a lot about lower-middle class and middle middle class preoccupations. Also how actually is used instead of um.
Lewis Carroll also lived in Guildford.
One of my aunts always reckoned that the tunnels rumoured to exist beneath the town were the inspiration for Alice’s rabbit hole adventures.
He’s buried in Guildford too, but on high ground, in the Mount cemetery where some of my rellies have been resting for a while.
Hi Isobel 🙂 I can imagine missing things seeing it performed because it’s thick with ideas, wordplay and references.
I’ve never been to Guildford but friends have use of a cottage on a canal thereabouts which sounds idyllic.I had no idea about the Lewis Carroll connection (thought he was Oxford!) so thanks for that. He was in Cheltenham in 1863 and stayed at a house in Charlton Kings with an ornate mirror said to have inspired the “looking glass.”
I have a love-hate relationship with Guildford. It was my home for a long time and I enjoy going back there, but it is a very status conscious town, which I find rather dispiriting, coming as I do from the wrong side of the tracks!
I don’t know Cheltenham, but I imagine it might be similar.
Ishiguru was an RGS boy which went independent when Surrey finally caved in and accepted the comprehensive system. The girls’ grammar – my old school – went comp. Now what does that tell you about middle class attitudes to boys’ and girls’ education in the 1970s?
Hah. Says it all, really, doesn’t it?
I was in the last year of grammar-selected kids before my school went comp. The “old guard” teachers didn’t know what had hit them when they suddenly had to deal with some little ruffians.
🙂 Continued to be a good school though and remains so today.
Chelters is pretty good from any angle, I feel. Visually lovely with many trees, cradled by the curve of the Cotswolds, with history, connections, one of those new ‘universities,’ decent shopping and a calendar choc-full of festivals.