Hay ho

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.      😉

Author: janh1

Part-time hedonist.

18 thoughts on “Hay ho”

  1. Did Felicity Kendal play Lady Croome, Zen? She’s got such great lines. Unless it really WAS ages ago she’d be too old for Thomasina. How about Bill Nighy? Remember who he played? I like him. He does elegantly louche very well.

  2. Thanks PapaG. It will be just my luck if he’s not signing. But the action speaks louder than the thought… or something like that. 😀

  3. Hi Jahn1

    OK, I admit it. I googled Lord Hereford’s Knob. I am sure that you fully expected somebody to and probably had a fair idea that it might be me.

    Interesting but not very big in Jock terms, to be fair.

    Thanks for the blog. Deep joy as always.

    Even deeper joy that they rolled that cheese down that hill a couple of days ago, H&S notwithstanding.

  4. It is Hay ho time again?

    Very amusingly described and I loved the fashion tips! 🙂

    Romancing the faux bronze maiden sounds like a most wonderful photographic moment missed, but I can imagine the little girl anyway. Was it a particularly tactile bronze or did she perhaps look sad?

  5. Zen. Hello again. I’m guessing Felicity K could have played Hannah?

    Greetings John. 🙂 If Lord Hereford were only with us today, I’m sure he would be gratitifed, as I am, that you took the trouble to Google his Knob! I don’t put these things in just for effect you know. Agreed. A mere pimple compared to a Munro.

    Oh yes, the cheese rolling. I was at Hay but had spies at Cooper’s Hill. I haven’t had time to blog it but maybe I should. I sent last year’s winner a message of support and then congratulations. Thought he might have been grabbed by the fuzz but all credit to the fuzz who sensibly didn’t try to kettle anyone and stuck to their watching brief.

  6. Hi Araminta – yes! It was the most perfect photograph but as always at these moments, my snappy camera was deep in recesses of handbag.

    Actually, the head tilted down and concentrated reading could easily have been mistaken for crestfallen sadness. How perceptive of you to notice that when you weren’t even there! 🙂

  7. You really seem to capture the atmosphere of these events. Your posts are a pleasure to read – it’s almost as if I were there.

    Kashuo Ishiguro sounds just my sort of author – non-pretentious!

    I saw that the cheese-rolling had gone ahead – gave a little shout of joy, and hoped you might write something about it! 🙂

  8. Apologies for commenting excessively on my own blog but as we are comparing Lord Hereford’s with some of the Scottish heights…. this is going on at Fort William today and if I could wave a magic wand, I would be there watching my hero Steve Peat. I would obviously wave it again to get back to Hay in time for Stoppard.


    This, for those interested, is the World Cup Downhill course:


  9. Yet again I haven’t made it to Hay, but have really enjoyed this description of it all.

    Kashuo Ishiguro – I have read several of his books and have really enoyed them. Always amazed at the variety of styles he can write in. Have heard radio interviews of him and agree that his lack of pomposity is very appealing.

    The child’s kiss on the statue was beautifully described too.

  10. Hi again, Jan.

    Well your description of the little girl was beautifully done, and as the mother of two daughters, it reminded me this is exactly how they used to deal with sadness. A kiss would always make it better! They used to do this to me, when I was lost in a book.

  11. Hi Pseu. Next year, maybe? If you plan your day out you could catch some authors, a few short films and a band or a comedian in the evening! While Chelters is the best pure literature festival, Hay is great because of the calibre of authors, the sheer breadth of events, the matchless surroundings (need good weather to appreciate) and a town bulging with books a short stroll down the road.

    That’s very sweet Araminta. 🙂 Kisses were in short supply from the boys. Cuddles were the thing with them.

  12. Thanks again Zen. I can just imagine him in the part – demands flamboyance, colour and over-acting. Finished it yesterday. Need to try and get hold of a recording of a performance now.

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