Category Archives: Hay on Wye

Hay Festival 2019 part one, edited highlights

I arrived at Hay on Wye under a sky covered in monochrome laburnum clouds that soon gave way to a warm dry green wonderland. And my gosh I loved Hay this year. My first joy was where I stayed – a beautiful house with lovely hosts and an enviable, huge  and eclectic art collection which brought great happiness –  I wish I had had more alone time to inspect it. But even more delightful were the three women with whom I shared a breakfast table. They were a similar age to me, that is to say mature, and it quickly became clear that around that table no fucks were given, not a one, and we laughed and chatted. We fell easily into our roles: There was a woman-in-charge who poured the coffee and passed the butter unprompted, a mildly forgetful, hesitant  widowed healthcare professional who twittered (in the old-fashioned non-technical way) and a sharp but warm social comforter who reached out and oiled the conversation. They were charming, spiky and lovely, and only one of them liked Dylan Moran. And that didn’t matter. My role was mostly as audience for a welcome change – this break was an intended opportunity for me to speak less and be more alone. Our hosts were a fascinating mix of charm and snob – if he had crowbarred Prince Charles into the conversation any more it would have consisted only of the words Prince Charles – but were warm and accommodating and most importantly made excellent coffee. They opened their house to us without boundaries and with considerable skill and character and displayed  the talents one would expect of creative psychotherapists. They sat in the middle of their wonderful, colourful, often surprising home which was set in the most diverse and pleasing grounds and hosted us with ease and care. Interesting and ingenious they contributed brilliantly to my Hay Festival.

 

As for the Festival……..

Billy Bragg was possibly not at his most comfortable on stage surrounded by a clutch of white middle class privilege but the room was with him and he more than hit the spot with wit and charm. Boom. He built up and promoted the three dimensions of freedom: liberty, equality and accountability. My heart sang as he described their importance, they chimed so closely with me and yet are not trendy or popular and indeed are casually  trivialised, often manipulated. Hearing them normalised and promoted was a good, good feeling and he did it with passion and skill. He equally efficiently destroyed the current faux freedom that veneers the neoliberalism we endure while it imprisons us, but always with respect and courtesy towards other viewpoints. That was, in essence, the point. I needed that.

The poetry collective,despite busting a gut to be diverse and inclusive ( LGBTQ, people of colour, some disability) they failed. No older people. Inclusivity doesn’t cease to be relevant when one is over 25. They were brave and heroic to stand on stage and expose their poetry, but for me they were selfobsessed and selfserious. The phrase “write about what you know” hung heavy on the air and that’s ok, many of the poems were (while being formless, also ok) were worth hearing and benefited hugely from the speaking, offering a degree of depth and clarity. After a while, though, and I own this, they merged, made up in equal measure of pain, victimhood and wistfulness. Also ok. All ok, but not attractive to me. Which is also ok.

Last one on this post, best till last and all that. Benjamin Zephaniah. What can I say? Best gig ever. Possibly, if it mattered to me (it doesn’t), a tad age inappropriate for me, I loved the heat and energy of not only the performers but the audience too. Audiences are a large part of a gig for me and these did not disappoint.  I hugely admired the woman singer in the band, not dressed to thrill or please anyone but herself in her choice of comfortable t-shirt and baggy trousers, her voice and her hot energy blew me away; the bass player who played a fabulous butt-throbbing bass was a greybeard and rocked right alongside Benjamin and the woman singer (apologies I didn’t hear her name) and way harder than the young people who tentatively at first and then bolder and bolder got up to dance at the front of the room. Those dancing people were as much a joy as the performers, all of them memorable, and their happiness when Benjamin left the stage to join them and dance with them was enough to bring tears to my eyes. Zephaniah was a force of nature who absolutely re-connected my politics and my poetry engaging and connecting with the whole room. A funny, kind and passionate man and performer who charmingly took Trump et al to pieces without malice and without violence. He reminded us of our power and our hearts. But he definitely left Trump and others in pieces. I couldn’t dance – never have, too self conscious and now too disabled – but my head and heart danced and my feet beat the rhythm. Zephaniah bounced, rocked, smiled, taught and charmed all evening. And his music and words, the powerful intoxicating music and words, moved us, caught us up and took us alongside the troupe to a magical musical poetic place. The politics and poetry of fun and fairness. Priceless.

 

Part Two of the edited highlights to come soon. Hay is made up of the visitors as much as the performers and this year they charmed and entertained equally and the venue was also unique.

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Hay Festival 2014

The Hay Festival couldn’t be more middle class if it changed its name to Pippa and married its cousin. And I love it. And if it becomes more Hay Market than Hay Festival at times, with the clear purpose of shifting tomes, then who cares? It delivers what it promises: a literary festival, a celebration, putting the word above all else and giving us all permission to sink into a proper vocabulary and literally indulge in wordplay.

 

I have spent most of this week sloshing around in mud listening to and talking with people who love words, people with something to say but who reached that point by listening to others and by reflecting and not by following dogma.  Joyfully reaching for the right words and finding them, hearing new ways of using them, turning context on its head and finding a new way to slip the surprisingly appropriate word prolepsis into general conversation – thank you Margaret Drabble! – has been a genuine inspiration.  Rustling about happily under the trestle tables in the Oxfam bookshop in the boxes filled with rummageable delights waiting in the dark to be found was the best time I have had in weeks. Possibly months. WarHorse and Michael Morpurgo  thrilled everyone, watching Marcus Brigstocke casually overtake a bunch of feathered aliens without a second glance on the path outside the Friends coffee shop was a little surreal, noticing the fact that we probably all had a proper education under our belts and were using it to good effect was a significant pleasure, and hearing children pronounce their words properly and insert the letter “t” in the right place was phenomenal! No extraneous or dropped aitches either, bliss! Not a baggy trousered foul mouthed rap artist in sight or hearing, and there were times when I was one of the youngest in the queue, and it is a long time since that happened………

Listening to a group of academics with serious life experiences attempt to shed light on prison life and its consequences – dear to my heart – it occurred to me that even in a room full of Telegraph readers, and I am one, the Grauniad Effect (my husbands media drug of choice)  was apparent. Most of us gave a damn, giving the lie to political drubmongers who like to insist on the differences rather than the similarities between groups of people.  That was also apparent in other conversations, and one that focussed on corporate greed was particularly pertinent. The workshops around Social Enterprise were a real pleasure and welcome at the heart of the Festival as a demonstration of how things can be done  ethically and well.

Downsides? Well……..I was unprepared for the ill mannered stampede of middle aged middle class audiences as they clambered over and around people to find their favourite seats! The wonderfully patient and charming stewards allowed those of us with mobility issues into the tents first to avoid catastophe – no-one wants Hay Headlines about mangled elders or the dissed disabled – but as soon as the hordes, or to use their title Friends of Hay (and I am also one) were released into the tents all Hell broke loose with disabled feet trodden into the dirt and bags ground into the floor as they shouldered and elbowed their way to “their” seats. Clashes were inevitable and there was,  I am sorry to say, a degree of braying involved at times. And although the lavatories maintained their dignity against all odds I did occasionally wonder, as I took my ease,  on  the number of buttocks that had been pressed against those seats during the week……..I was also a little alarmed to find I shared Jonathan Millers haircut and colour so startlingly that I wondered who had put the mirror on the table as I entered the bookshop……..

Being a seasoned Hay Friend I staggered my meals so that I ate between the usual meal times and avoided the crowds and it was very pleasant with all tastes catered for, although I did wonder if vegan and gluten free also meant salt and pepper free a couple of times as I searched for seasoning – but once I had found it the food perked up. In fact, the food even for us fussies was indecently good and I enjoyed it very much. Good choices, well prepared, charmingly served. The people running the show, from box office to stewards to food hall and more, deserve a medal!

The B&B, The Old Vicarage in Prestiegne, where I always stay was, as usual, perfect and this year they even have alpacas as well so I woke to the sound of sheep, alpacas and chickens and a real symphony of birdsong, and breakfasted brilliantly with a view over the fields and with the sound of a stream in the background. It couldn’t have been better. Best start to a Hay Day ever.

 

And now my Hay Days are over for 2014, but the mud is still on the car and my boots – and my jeans and my skirt and my jacket! And I have a fresh stash of books, images and memories and the certainty that words matter, that we can use them better, and that we should.  And I will plan for next year when I hope that we will make Hay in the sunshine and not the rain and I can rummage and read and rest and draw comfort from more wordsmiths. Hay Ho.

 

 

 

 

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