Category Archives: Independent thought

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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Clopping through the shop

A Brace of Biddies

Wimmin who shop

Cagney and Lacey, Butch and Sundance, Weatherwax and Ogg

Confident Women

Giving no fucks

Loving the shopping, happy to be, zero fucks given

 

 

Reality? Are you serious?

Having recently experienced, as a relatively inoffensive sort of cove,  being blocked on social media by a couple of determinedly and avowedly  right wing chums I have reflected on how we choose our interactions, especially in our modern media-managed culture. I am very carefully neither right wing nor left wing – I think that party politics is part of the problem, not part of the solution. That leaves me free to admire or dislike policies from wherever I like without concern for dogma or loyalty, which is probably a good thing but some seem to find it a challenging concept.

Here’s the thing: thinking that the way wealth is currently distributed is inappropriate and damaging does not make me a communist any more than thinking a hand up not a hand out is the best approach makes me a Tory. And they are not mutually exclusive. My circle of chums is exceptionally diverse and through having conversations with all of them I have been able to – and continue to – challenge myself and my circle and think things through. My thoughts have changed considerably over time largely because I have had the brilliant opportunity to talk to so many, so many different, people with such a wide scope of views. It is quite possible to find Marine Le Pen charming and bright and bang on with some things, ditto Tony Benn when he was still here, and not have to clap on a pair of  left or right wings as a result. Really.  I have a lovely chum who is so right wing he falls off the edge and he is charming, bright, funny and has made me think, and has caused me to change my mind about more than a few things in the past few years. Yes, Barry, I am looking at you. And another achingly hip and alternative left winger who frustrates me to bits but who has also made me think and develop my ideas.

I have blocked a few people in my time, but always and only for abusive behaviour. It would have been a terrible loss to me not to have the chance to discuss things with people with fresh or complex ideas. The ones I have blocked have taken their interesting or complex ideas and made them into belligerent tools with which to hurt other people. Dogma and extremism are the enemies of humanity and taken to their conclusion have supported the development of tyranny and terrorism across the world. Wow. Blocking people certainly escalated quickly….

I suppose it is that microcosm of social media expanded to a global level that fascinates. Social media has so many advantages – the chance to meet people we might otherwise not meet, to share and engage, to see more of the worlds stage and understand it, to learn, to reach out. It also has its dark side – the trolling, the abuse and death threats, the groups that seek each other out in order to perpetuate and stoke their hatred, who urge violence and disorder. Nothing is off limits now. We see events happening in real time but through the lens of the people bringing them to us, not in reality. The BBC News teams, reduced in recent times to simple readers of entertainment rather than the joyously independent and courageous journalists of old, choose to show us their own version of events usually accompanied by sad or emotive music, while dragging the emotions out of victims of crime asking ever more intrusive questions and encouraging people to “tell us how you feel, you must feel awful/angry/gutted/whatever” for our enjoyment and gratification, not happy until a tear has been shed on air. The use of words and pictures in newscasting has become propaganda rather than literate – saying terrorists are “inspired by” with positive connotations rather than indoctrinated as they are, or  the use of the same tired old pictures of zimmer frames in items about older people, fat bottoms in jeans walking away from us in items about obesity, blurred faces dragging on cigarettes or hands holding cigarettes in items about smoking or poverty or addiction or anything else that might be a bit working class. News? Not really. And that gives people with something to hide an opportunity to hide behind the “fake news” barrier and cherry pick their own versions of events and present them as reality. Reality…..as in Big Brother? Or The Only Way is Essex? Or The Apprentice….? Or what is happening outside your own front door every day…….

So, this doggedly non partisan contributor urges caution. Listen, reflect, embrace. Question, even if it means you are rejected.  There is a bit of fabulous in everyone. Maybe I should mourn the loss of the people who blocked me…or perhaps I should not have blocked the abusive ones but should have tried to engage with them. But perhaps after all life is too short. Social media offers an opportunity not just to discuss and gossip but to make a difference, to join with others to change lives and reach out. Losing a few “chums” in order to do that is probably a sacrifice worth making.

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