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Hay adventures 2011

June 3, 2011

Well, we arrived to the sight of an optimistic blue sky, warm sunshine, and astonished looking sheep at our base in Craswall. Swallows crash-dived in the fields beyond the barn with amazing grace and accuracy. The location never fails to melt away the workday blues, in an instant. Despite the serenity, we can’t wait to explore the site at the Hay Festival. We raced down the Craswall runway, past more startled sheep, lush hedgerows, towards the familiar bustling town. After meeting friends in the aptly named “Friends Bar”, we return to our haven for the week, fall into our marshmallow beds after too much wine as my mind races in anticipation of the week ahead.   

Saturday: Bleary and bug-eyed from lack of sleep, my limbs ache as the mist and mizzle descends into the more traditional Hay weather mode. Paul Theroux entertains this morning with travellers’ tales, all solo of course – in Africa, Singapore, even Dorset. I can relate to what he says about the invisibility that comes with age, the bonus being that he blends more easily into the background and gets amongst the people. Nothing against us tourists though – we don’t have the luxury of time as we snatch a week or so here and there in-between our work-ruled lives.

Poet Don Paterson was interviewed by writer and playwright Owen Sheers . Paterson is a dry, laconic Scot with a distinctive voice, both aurally and in a poetic sense. He urges us not to make poetry complicated, as studiers of the art often do – and this is not what the poet has in mind.  Pete has the joy of stewarding the Hexagon, where kids make and draw things with illustrators. listen to stories while their parents sit back, only needed for urgent toilet breaks, of which there are many! I retire to a deck chair in a sunny spot, snatching a piece of rare Hay sunshine this week – cold winds and damp mizzle has prevailed.

Sunday: A day for philosophy and poetry – the marvellous Mary Warnock, who, whilst no longer religious, recognises the need for it, talked about how some people believe  that without religion there cannot be morality. She argues that religion is a home for morality, not the other way around. A.C. Grayling talked about his secular “bible”, The Good Book – and urges us just to do the most good we can. We end out day with our favourite poet, Simon Armitage as he reads from his collection – a plethora of funny first lines and poignant poetic stories.

Monday: A free day, spent lazing at our barn in Craswall, to re-charge the batteries and drink up the fantastic view. Evening – Barry Cryer doing an A-Z of funny stories and jokes. I haven’t laughed so much for ages, although the woman in front of me barely raised a smile, perhaps too much Botox, or maybe she needed some sense of humour surgery!

Tuesday: Tim Smit talked Heligan, Eden, regeneration, and a whole lot of common sense. He strays from the question (and indeed forgets it from time to time), but is inspiring, optimistic, hopeful, and full of alternative ideas which use a completely different business model from the norm.  His is a message we should all listen to – expand your horizons and experiences and bring that ethos to work with you. From a new business model to his idea of the “Big Lunch”, we cannot help but feel inspired, but this country needs more people like him in a position to influence.

Later that day we saw John Crace & John Sutherland – affectionately known as “The Two Jonnies” in conversation about what constitutes a classic novel. Classics are often things we aspire to be knowledgeable about, and many of us boast of reading classics that never leave out bookcases. Crace read his hilarious “Digested Read” of Daphne De Maurier’s Rebecca, hitting on exactly the right key points of this much-loved classic with a just dose of satire.

Tuesday evening, crisp and potentially frosty we go to see a unique band, Ojos de Brujo, a blend of flamenco, hip hop, jazz and everything else in-between.. We met locals who enjoy the festival as much as we do, danced to the infectious rhythm – a fantastic evening, apart from the shock of the cold night air as we dashed back to the car before making the long journey through twisty-turny lanes back to Craswall.

Wednesday: An early start to see John Boyne interviewed by Paul Blezard – much coffee required after our late night, red wine and dancing. I found it incredible that an author of Boyne’s stature (7 novels and a major film, The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas) could barely fill the festival’s smallest venue, The Moot. The surprise of the day was when one member of the audience informed Boyne that he had inherited his uncle’s letters which told a story that almost mirrored that of Boyne’s latest, The Absolutist. I hope he can find someone to help him write and publish his book; I was half tempted to offer my services!!

Perhaps the most surprisingly good event so far was Mark Skipworth’s interview with James Cracknall and the former rugby star Brain Moore.  I saw the sensitive side of these two sportsmen – Cracknall as he regaled how he was knocked off his bike by a speeding lorry and suffered personality changing injuries to his brain. It was touching to hear how he found his wife in tears as she watched old footage of him, in order to try and remember the sparkle he used to have. Brian Moore talked about his autobiography about how he was abused as a child by a family friend, and his adoption and the subsequent emotions as he discovered his biological family. There was a moment where you could hear a pin drop as he gathered his emotions before continuing with his story.

Thursday: We start the day with a lecture from Alison Smith on the Tate’s watercolours exhibition. This was the first time Art has been represented at the festival I believe; I can’t wait to go to see it for myself. The rest of the day was filled with the fantastic poetry of the National Poet for Wales, Gillian Clarke, and the unique talent of Wendy Cope – a woman who tells it how it is; you would not mess with her!  She let down a lady in the audience gently when she asked her to read her favourite poem, “When I am old I will wear Purple” – it is accredited to Jenny Joseph after all…

Friday onwards – watch this space!

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