It’s Hay Festival again. I won’t go droning on and on with the usual bountiful enthusiams. Suffice to say that it’s worth an annual pilgrimage even if you’re only slightly interested in books, book people, films, culture, hedonism and breathtakingly Welsh countryside.
Unusually, I went up to Hay-on-Wye on Sunday without any pre-booked tickets. I thought I’d just busk it and take my pick from what was available.
Even if you aren’t attending any of the talks, there is still more than enough to keep you occupied. You can relax in a deckchair in the sun with the paper or a new book (pre-loved) for 50p from the massive and excellent miscellany at the Oxfam bookshop. Or you can treat yourself to something shiny and new or author-signed from the main Festival Bookshop accompanied by a Shepherd’s ice-cream cornet – a double damson perhaps.
You could stroll down the road to Hay town and buy a couple of still-warm Welsh cakes, fresh from the griddle in someone’s front garden. In Hay there is a whole world of bookshops and quite a few pubs, plus the river if you fancy a bit of canoeing. Second thoughts, canoeing options are limited. Basically in Hay you can only canoe if you bring your own but canoes can be hired at Glasbury a mile or two upstream.
But back to the festival. It always helps when the sun is shining. The best view of the site is from the top of the Macmillan car park (raised £200k for Macmillan Cancer over the years) and you can’t help but stand and consider just how perfect everything looks with creamy blobs of sheep seemingly placed perfectly on impossibly verdant fields.
This year they had a ‘returned tickets’ board where, for a goodly donation to charity, you could pick up a ticket that someone else couldn’t use. I took up a ticket for Ian McMillan’s How to Write A Poem workshop, which was hilarious, inclusive and punctuated by his Barnsley banter. We were all involved in making up an epic poem featuring a ghostly hairy hare with a hare-dryer but there were also big laughs in creating a whole load of ‘consequences’ style random poems which were ridiculous and surreal. Some are here on the BBC Get Creative website
I busked it again with a ticket for Germaine Greer, the Grande Dame of Feminism. She is always thought provoking and didn’t disappoint again this time. She might not have the answers but she hits a lot of nails on the head…
“Girls are being lasered until there’s not a hair left on them. They are like newts!”
I had a good snigger at her Jane Fonda diatribe.
“..And there’s poor old Jane Fonda. I mean, it’s cost her a fortune. She’s got a back full of steel, a replaced hip and a replaced something else… I don’t think it’s a brain – I think it’s a knee.
“You just think, Jane, there must have been more to life. Think of the things with her money and clout she could have done. I remember when we thought she was going to save the whale.”
She is certain that women generally have less self-confidence than men. Boys’ mothers are “convinced that everything they do is fantastic – even if they are obviously dorks!,” she said.
“The girls need re-enforcement from their fathers and that’s much harder to get. It’s harder to get his attention and it’s harder to be taken seriously.”
I stupidly left it too late to get a ticket for the final event with Stephen Fry, Sandi Toksvig and the director of Oxfam talking freedom. I wasn’t particularly heart-broken. I was cosy enough in the Friends tent with my second Pimms and oodles of time to read.
People-watching is de rigueur at the Festival. Each year there seem to be more Londoners than the last but it’s a change to see the yummy mummies with their impeccably-spoken children. The only Welsh accents I heard were from some of the women working at the Festival, which was a shame but maybe I just wasn’t over-hearing the right conversations.
The one thing I’d like to tell Peter Florence, esteemed Director of the Festival, is to get the message our there that at Hay, we are all of one mind, so don’t be shy or restrained.. ..talk to people! It’s always interesting to hear what people thought of their last talk, which celebs they have spotted, what they’re currently reading.
Interestingly, the guy at the long table in the food tent had just been to see Andrea Sella, the excellent chemist and communicator that I blogged about when he blew my mind with his massive test tubes and explosive experiments at Cheltenham Science Festival. The guy who saw him at Hay was impressed too, although here was a technical problem with the lighting that meant the experiments weren’t as clear as they could have been.
I had the distinct impression that the Festival has got bigger, better and prettier. I loved the strings of lights over the top of the lawn tent and at the entrance – also loved the new fish café and the option to have crab salad and chips!
Going back for a more limited visit tomorrow (Weds) to see Jack Dee and then the wonderful Alan Bennett…and then there’s next weekend, a bit of H for Hawk, some Lewis Carroll early on Sunday and to close the Festival, my fave virtuoso violinist, our Nige.