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Hay 2011 concluded

June 9, 2011

Friday: We awoke in our little piece of heaven, far up in the hills of Craswall, to bright blue skies and warm, warm sunshine. The boots and jumpers were tossed aside, and it was on with the sundresses and sunscreen (shorts for the boys of course!). After a lazy morning we adjourned to one of the best pubs in town, the Three Tuns. Lunch in the courtyard garden with all our friends was accompanied by fine cider – just what I needed to hit the shops. No events until this evening, but oh, how they were worth the wait. Victoria Coren amused us all with her tales of the sometimes seedy world of the poker den. Thankfully these days it’s cleaned up it’s act, but the characters still remain. She explained how the skill of the game is what attracts her to it – the strategic thinking is not something a gambling addict would be interested in, as it lacks the ‘hit’ they require to feed their habit. She spoke fondly of her father Alan – to whom the book appears to be a kind of love letter to.

The hilarity of this event was juxtaposed by the beautiful, often gentle music of Cerys Matthews and her hugely talented band. A long way from the days of Catatonia, she has now released a new album, Explorer, full of her take on old folk songs from the places she has travelled to plus her own compositions. Her rich, powerful, husky Welsh voice is just as adept at belting out a tune as it is singing a beautiful Welsh lullaby on which she ended the evening with.  

Saturday: The sunshine is hiding again, mist and rain prevails. Three very different events today. Marcus Brigstocke, Hanif Kureishi and Ralph Fiennes. Marcus spoke eloquently about his coming to terms with being an atheist in a great interview by Peter Florence. Once we got over the new, amusing facial hair (he is the station master in the new production of The Railway Children) it was easy to relate to his experiences – we know there probably is no God (as the infamous bus advert said) but some struggle to find an alternative to fill the void.

Hanif Kureishi was actually playing the role of interviewer – despite the board outside the Wales Stage bearing only his name!! Still, he was as provocative as ever, and was heckled as he mentioned the word “shag” – perhaps a disgruntled Telegraph reader unused to such language? He dealt with it in typical alpha male style, inviting Mr Heckler to “see you outside afterwards, mate”.  The man left soon after….. Kureishi then interviewed the author Lisa Appignanesi, about her book All About Love. He was obviously cynical about the whole idea of love, drawing on his own life experiences – which gave the interview a lively and antagonistic feel. I thought Appiganensi dealt with it with enormous good humour and respect for her friend. You ended up feeling sorry for him!

Ralph Fiennes showed us a few clips from his new film, Coriolanus. Great timing too, as it’s part of my MA course in October….so, aside from ogling the lovely man, it was an interesting and worthwhile session. I so agreed with what he said about actually watching Shakespeare being performed before reading it, it puts it all into context.

My other half spent an emotional hour and three-quarters as the actors read out from Torture Team, prompting him to join Amnesty International. Enough said, I think. Read the book. His mood was cheered slightly by an extra event, DUBBYA – as satirist Jay Sanders played the ex-president of the United States. I think you had to be there.

Sunday: Packing, cleaning up the barn, tears from 8-year-old Max who is always so sad to leave. We drove down to the site for our last events. Pete in with Marcus for the Early Edition. Jane and I for another dose of Hanif Kureishi. Ariane Koek drew out what attracted Kureishi to the essay form as she talked about his Collected Essays. ‘It’s more direct’ he confessed, like a documentary on paper. He made us laugh when he described how being a writer is “really, really, boring. I mean, one day you find yourself wandering around in your pyjamas all day, trying to write, the next you are in a field, in a tent, talking to people about why and how you write”. It was certainly the most multi-cultural event I’ve ever attended at Hay, which is not surprising considering his subject matter.

A lot has been said this week about what differences we’ve noticed now the Telegraph are sponsoring the festival. Certainly there were less bags containing the daily paper around. The illustration on the bags reminded me of somewhat Nazi/Cold War/Russian propaganda drawings, rather than something advertising a wonderful event where free speech, culture, and new ideas are celebrated. The demographic seemed slightly different too. I wonder whether the man heckling Kureishi would have appeared under a Guardian sponsorship? Voices, fashions, comments overheard – it all did seem different, somehow. One or two regular faces in the crowd were missing – a protest, perhaps? The interviewers seemed a little more guarded too. Something I cannot really put my finger one. Perhaps the new sponsors are finding their way. Whatever it is, we still love, it and have just secured some accommodation for next year – we’ll be back!

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