Hay ho

Something about being at Hay Festival compels me to sit and scribble. This is what I wrote yesterday.

So here I am back at Hay Festival again. A lively breeze is whipping the tops of the trees, the creaky aluminium-framed tents are protesting and the tall pastel ripple-edged flags are waving as though frantically trying to catch some attention. We are surrounded by green pastures.

The Festival site floor plan is much the same, which is welcome. It’s always good to know the short-cut to the less-popular loos, for a start. And if you only have 20 minutes between talks, it’s sensible to work out a rat run to the Friends bar. They re-named the Guardian stage the Oxfam Stage and kept the Barclays Wealth Pavilion – the biggest auditorium of all. Successive comedians have been disappointed by the interior. They come expecting a Wealth Pavilion to be lit by sparkling crystal chandeliers and stuffed with gold, frankincense and myrrh instead of rows of black plastic seats and a stage set which looks like its made from random off-cuts of B&Q MDF.

The Telegraph is sponsoring this year’s Hay Festival and I have yet to observe the effect that may have except to note that the Telegraph tent welcomes the public, provides comfy seating, big plasma screens, computers showing aspects of the website and newspapers whereas the Guardian yurt was small enough to take only the Guardian writers who actually enjoyed sitting on the floor to tap into their laptops.

The mobile phone signal is, as usual, pretty dire and the Wi-fi promised by the Friends of Hay (for I am on friendly terms with the Festival, although missed the Friends booze-up this year) is weak. They really ought to get some gigantic phone mast up, disguised as a giant elm tree or something equally symbolic.

At Hay there are so many people purposefully striding, meandering or just stopping to chat or wonder where they are and what time their next talk is, that you really need to have some kind of communication with your companions.

Texts like “Friends Bar 2pm” “Shepherd’s ice cream queue? Banana toffee crunch!” “Lawn, by tap, double deckchair. Cappucino” or “Car keys? Waterproofs!” are essential.

On a practical note, it’s a shame that Cider Corner has been replaced with yet another coffee bar. That cider was something, especially quaffed accompanied by a bag of crisps sitting on a hay bale beneath a tree with a new book in hand.

Three talks so far. Professor Steve Jones, who I admired loads, talking genetics but sadly not saying anything I haven’t heard him say before. I probably go to too many Festivals.

But I hadn’t seen Paul Theroux at a Festival before. Such a great travel writer and an excellent talk – especially as his new book The Tao of Travel points out how some travel writers are great big fibbers because it’s obvious that they’ve made a lot of it up and wilfully conceal the fact that while they pretend to be journeying in spendid isolation against the elements, they are having conjugal visits from the wife and carousing with groups of pals.

And then, to a packed Barclays Wealth Pavilion and a prolonged and effusive welcome applause, Professor BRIIIIIAAAAANNNN COX!!!!! (It wasn’t actually Kermit who introduced him, Muppet Show-style but it would have been good if it had been…)

Some people might think he’s a pretty boy TV presenter who used to be in the band that provided the soundtrack to the landslide New Labour victory in 1997.

Well that’s true, he’s all of those things but hang on, he’s also a Royal Society research fellow, a Professor at the University of Manchester, a Professor of Particle Physics and an active researcher working at the Large Hadron Collider at CERN. And he takes part in a science-based comedy show, and attends festivals to give talks and turn people on to the wonders of physics.

Can you sense a little hero worship seeping through the text? Well yes. I haven’t been around much but he’s the most impressive, articulate captivating speaker I’ve ever seen; a premier league communicator, transforming with considerable zeal, complex ideas and theories into language even people like me can understand.

He was giving the Royal Society lecture. Paul Nurse, President of the Royal Society introduced him and said Professor Cox (known locally as Mr Universe)  was at the forefront of making science part of our shared TV experience. Thank God, I say. I hope couch potatoes and particularly their little couch spudlings will pay rapt attention and be enthused and encouraged to study Science.

Anyway, you’ll be delighted to know that the Large Hadron Collider is running beautifully. They haven’t found the Higgs Particle yet and if they don’t within two years, they’ll know it doesn’t exist and start the search for something that isn’t the Higgs Particle but does much the same job of creating mass.

They have confirmed the 12 essential particles that make up matter and what sticks them together. Humans aren’t that complicated – we’re only made of electrons and up and down quarks. And we’re completely permeable as far as neutrinos are concerned. Billions of them pass through us and everything else here on earth all the time. I won’t go into further details mainly because I don’t have any.

So, although I admit I didn’t have my usual enthusiasm for Hay this year, it won me over yet again. Just being there among the crowds, absorbing the vibe, browsing the book shops – Pembertons and the Oxfam shop (Hay town centre’s bookshops still to do) listening to stimulating talk and ideas from interesting authors, scientists, commentators was mentally invigorating.  What’s more, some enterprising chaps were pedalling bicycle-powered tuc-tuc things to transport people to the town centre and back.  There was no set fee – people could pay what they wanted to.   It was a nice “green” add-on.

Hay is a kind of annual therapy to which I just might be addicted.

Author: janh1

Part-time hedonist.

10 thoughts on “Hay ho”

  1. I was hoping you would let us know your thoughts on Hay, Jan. I will read it in the morning. Loads of press coverage, it seems to be rather more controversial than usual.

  2. Lovely blog. Maybe I should have gone to Hay instead? (Instead of the trial cycling…)

    I too am a fan of Prof Cox. Part of that is down to the fact he is so genuine… always himself, in front of the camera or not.

  3. Claire, you would *love* it. A programme thick with interest – fascinating town full of friendly people – and plenty of entertainment in the evenings. Consider a holiday one year?

    Thanks Pseu and Araminta. Honestly, just read the above sentence, again and you’d think I was marketing it but I have no connection with the organisers whatsoever, just to be clear!! 🙂

  4. Sounds like the cider stand was a bad omission!
    I always liked the town of Hay, good for book shopping obviously, but with the success of the festival it has got rather ‘precious’ over the years. I used to go through it driving between Carms/Pembs and Brum and stop for lunch. It all became terribly green and lentil ridden at ludicrous prices so I got to taking the bypass instead!
    Sounds like one of those professors upset the wogs with statements of the bleeding obvious re breeding with cousins!
    Quite amusing considering how PC the whole thing had become.

  5. Yes it was, Tina! I know what you mean about ‘precious’ but I think it’s saved by the friendliness of the people.

    Yup that was Prof Steve Jones. Only stating what I’ve heard him say before. He only deals in fact. Hard luck if you can’t cope with the truth isn’t it? 🙂

  6. Bloody funny actually! Bet it was suitably amusing watching the Guardianistas wriggling on such hallowed ground!

  7. I have been reading about it – bits and bobs, in the Telegraph; it does sound idyllic…
    They had a link to Tristram Hunt, the civil war historian and utter heart throb. Oh I was in seventh heaven from just reading that. 🙂

  8. Sounds like I should try to get to the UK some time to attend both the ‘cheese rolling’ and Hay!

  9. Claire, you might find some Festival stuff on Sky Arts channel. By fair means or foul Mariella Frostrup usually persuades authors and slebs into her tent for interviews/discussions.

    🙂 Boa. The cheese rolling’s pretty basic but only a 2 hr run from Hay, which you would definitely enjoy!

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