Overheard at Hay

During this year’s festival we couldn’t help but notice that Twitter became a channel for people posting remarkable things that they had “overhead at Hay”. Here’s a selection of the best of them…


@rpb85 Overheard @hayfestival this morning: “But then where does one buy Parmesan in Hay on a Sunday, if the deli is closed?”!

 @sarfrazmanzoor Overheard at @hayfestival yesterday: ‘My gout’s returned- I think it’s because of all that dancing at the party last night.’

@Beaconsgirl  Overheard at #hayfestival ‘half the people here look like they got dressed in the dark’ – but surely crumpled linen is the literati look!

@kathycumming  Overheard at #hayfestival Part 5) “these are the most inorganic organic sausages I’ve ever eaten”

@beth_bate  Dad’s review of @marcusbrig: “Better than I thought he’d be.” That translates as: “Very good indeed and I liked his braces.”
@MartinChilton Football talk in #Hayfestival Telegraph Tent with@henrywinter – visitor says he once saw #ArseneWenger in Sardinia wearing budgie smugglers
@ThomRobinson Man to his wife in Morrisons: “Well you won’t find tarragon here.” #hayfestival

Stewarding at Hay

Another blog from my other half:

For someone who has been going to the Hay literary festival for the last 7 years, I have a confession to make.

I rarely read novels. The last I finished was Engleby, by Sebastian Faulks. it took over twelve months and I didn’t enjoy it at all. Before that, I think it was The Book of Dave, by Will Self.

And that explains why, for the first two years at Hay, I was extremely bored during the day. Whilst my very literary wife (currently taking her masters in English) was attending session after session, I sat around, read the Guardian, wandered into town, did the shopping, chatted to strangers in the Pub, scoured the bookshops for sporting biographies and Wisdens and attended the Early Edition for a laugh, before meeting up with Jill for an evening’s entertainment of music and comedy.

My days at Hay are now complete by being a steward. I was always struck by how helpful those in hi-viz jackets were, and now feel very proud to continue that tradition.

The large number of volunteers who collect your tickets, guide you to the last available seats and run around with the microphones love the festival as much as those paying to attend the sessions. I get to see some sessions whilst working inside the tents that I wouldn’t have seen otherwise (it surprised me that I knew so many words to The Gruffalo, and know the Rainbow Magic dance) and have made many good friends amongst those working at the festival.

It’s hard work, being on your feet for long spells and isn’t for everyone. You do need to bite your lip at times (One man swore at me several times as he claimed his event had been moved 5 times – it hadn’t) but the number of smiles and thank yous more than makes up for the very rare idiot.

A few years ago, Peter Florence attended a meeting about volunteers and their role in London 2012. “We want GamesMakers to be like the stewards at Hay”, he was told. It has been a pleasure to been involved in both events.

We are all counting the days off until 22 May 2014 when we can meet up with old friends again in a field in our spiritual home.

Jo Caulfield

I was still poorly on the Saturday, so my other half went on his own to see Jo – here is his review:

It’s so refreshing to listen to a very funny comedienne, as there aren’t that many about. Jo Caulfield finished her tour at Hay on Saturday, and kept her audience laughing until the end of the set (and then to the end of the queue to buy her CD and chat).

I squirmed with embarrassment (whilst laughing heartily) when Jo said that her husband wore a football shirt to watch his team on TV (like I do), and couldn’t understand why. After all, she said, ‘I don’t dress like a slut when watching Nigella.’

A case of mistaken identity developed into lunch and an invite to an evening wedding reception in a brilliantly crafted story, and the observations on shopping “All Saints; clothes for Dickensian syphilitic orphans” wickedly close to the mark.

The funniest routine for me was how Jo viewed a porn film which she was watching with her husband. I wouldn’t have noticed the matching Dualit toaster and kettle, or the kitchen cupboards, or the fact that when the plumber had fixed the Zanussi washing machine that the housewife put her white blouse in with her red mini skirt to test it.

I’m sure her next show will be just as well observed and funny.

Hay Festival Tweets of the Day – Sunday 2 June

@rachel_CRCymru @hayfestival we’re here! Very excited to see if giraffes can dance!
@mark_haddon even nicer being up on lord hereford’s knob & away from 4 million compacted book people (much as i love them)
@TracySortwell Last day of @hayfestival  It’s been different, but still mind blowing
@AnnaKHB Can’t think of a better way to spend a sunny afternoon than a singalong with @cerysmatthews
@cerysmatthews Reluctantly leaving Hay en route to Belfast. It was a bloody blast xxx
@rpb85 Overheard @hayfestival this morning: “But then where does one buy Parmesan in Hay on a Sunday, if the deli is closed?”!

Wifi, Hay and The Twitterati

It’s seems that this year more than ever people are tweeting from and about the Hay Festival.  For me this is a fabulous thing, not least because this year I’m not there.   There has been tweeting from Hay for several years but the volume and number of people tweeting seems to have increased significantly.

Social media and the Hay Festival may not be most comfortable of bedfellows.  There’s the location to start with.  Phone signals are poor and the site is “several mountains away from the nearest fibre-optic cabling” so the wifi has never been particularly reliable.    It’s fairly difficult to use social channels if you can’t connect in the first place.  Robin Lustig the journalist and radio broadcaster described the Hay Festival this week as a “digital black hole”.

The Festival has a very traditional flavour, maybe even more so since the Telegraph became the headline sponsor.   There are those that think tweeting from an event is a little ‘infra dig’. I’ve experienced several looks askance from fellow audience members in the past when I’ve been tweeting from events.  Tweeting and texting look pretty much the same and one Hay-goer posted this week if “Simon Schama keeps texting during other writers interviews gonna chuck a well-aimed Malteser at him”.

There is no doubt that social media can create enormous buzz around an event and publishers and authors have been embracing its potential.   Some also enjoy the freedom of being “off-line”.  So which is it to be?

It’s an important question.  The wifi was only free this year through the intervention of a benefactor (for the first time it was being charged out at £5 a day at the start of the Festival).

I’d be interested in your thoughts – should the wifi at Hay be as vital and free as the fresh country air or should the Festival be liberated from digital distractions.  Your comments please.

Rupert Everett

Rupert Everett is one of our most feted actors but he’s a great essaying too having been compared to Evelyn Waugh, Noel Coward and even Lord Byron.   His new memoir ‘Vanished Years’ is brim full of vividly described escapades with friends, family and A list celebrities. On paper Everett  is hilarious, self deprecating, captivating, comic and reflective.  He is all those things in person too.

The audience is packed and expectant, we spot Jeremy Irons, who will later be reading from T.S Elliot’s Four Quartets, in the crowd.  Everett takes the stage, glass of wine in hand.  His writing is candid, so much so her tells us that he fell out with Madonna over a previous book, though he adds he still adores her.   He is also a big fan of Oscar Wilde about whom he speaks intensely and of his importance to the gay cause.

Everett is generous with his advice to young aspiring actors “if you want to get a head, get a life first” and don’t be afraid of failing; “failure is the manure” that’s keeps you going and brings success in the end.  At the end of the hour the applause is resounding and a longs queue springs up at the festival bookshop to buy the new memoir .

Hay Festival Tweets of the Day – Saturday 1 June

@LizClifford13 Just saved a lamb from getting run over by the postman. That doesn’t happen in Tottenham #hayfestival
@Pete2Boogie: #firstworldproblems *Alert* the co-op has sold out of The Guardian, but the Spar has a few copies left.
@alexisdimyan Overheard @hayfestival “If a bomb dropped on Hay now, it would wipe out the majority of middleclass population” #hay13
@ashokahir “I wanted to bring a few Higgs Particles with me but they all decayed” a physicist’s joke from Rolf Heuer – “A Remarkable Year @CERN#Hay13
@rcolvile  Am absolutely loving @hayfestival. So many little shops, so many big brains…
@robinlustig: I’ll be heading later today for the digital black hole known as @hayfestival to answer questions from @philippesands at 7pm

Recording now on – the joy of radio at Hay

photoOn the basis that Hay is best when you have those wonderful serendipitous moments that surprise you, then do try and go to a live recording of a radio programme, or a TV show.

It’s good fun, professionally run by excellent broadcasters, and as it has a multitude of guests from all around the festival you get a compressed view of what you may have missed and what you might want a little more of later.

I did two this year, both Radio 3 programmes.

On Suzie Klein’s Radio 3 Drivetime programme, recorded live, we had Peter Florence, the founder of Hay; maths guru Marcus du Sautoy, psychologist Oliver James, historian and writer of a new book on 1913 Charles Emmerson and my favourite of them all, Amit Chaudhuri who was talking about his new tome on Calcutta. It’s a two hour show, and like the guests the audience were dipping in and out.

We also bought tickets for the recording of the brilliant The Verb with Barnsley bard Ian McMillan. That too had a ripe old mixture, lots of good things about Hay. A band called Wora, writers Rupert Thomson and Tiffany Murray and a Welsh language poet Menna Elfyn. Would I have bought a ticket to any of these individually? Possibly Thomson, but not a poet in any language, let alone a foreign one. But she was great. A real powerful discourse about her language and of the traditions of RS Thomas. And a lovely mixed reading, bouncing from one to the other.

A word on McMillan: he lined up at the end like a vicar on a Sunday, thanking his parishioners, conversing and cajoling. What a lovely chap. What a national treasure.

Hay Festival Tweets of the Day – Friday 31 May

@CraigMorrison01  Philip glass exits #hayfestival in a helicopter straight off stage that’s rock and roll
@NYR_Jugs88 Portaloo tweet, an ‘ideas tent’, lemongrass pie and PowerPoint stand up comedy, of course I must be at #HayFestival
@Jo_Caulfield My next Tweet will be 1,565,749 characters long & be performed live onstage this Saturday at the Hay Festival hayfestival.com/portal/index.a…
@stevebattle “I trained my attention [on the creative process] the way I would train a dog”, Philip Glass #hayfestival
 @cabbagegrower Many great experiences in my life and the 90 minutes with John Le Carre @hayfestival this afternoon will rank alongside the best. Brilliant.
@GrantRamage Heading up to @hayfestival in the motor with three pork pies, a bottle of Scotch and some Thelonius Monk. Anyone up for an all-nighter?

John le Carré Talks to Philippe Sands

John Le Carre

One of the most anticipated events of the entire Hay Festival was the double-length interview with acclaimed author of espionage novels and former officer in the British intelligence services MI5 and MI6,  John Le Carré.  He was making his very first visit to the festival to talk about his life work to Philippe Sands and discuss his new novel A Delicate Truth published in April.

The queue was immense and described by one Hay-goer as “more terrifying than London traffic. A literary stampede.” From the outset Le Carré is a captivating speaker.  He informs us that this is a one off, both his first and his last appearance at Hay and indeed his last appearance in public.

Long before he became an author and before he joined the intelligence services the writer was exposed to the darker side of human nature; “I had two experiences of criminality, one was my con man father, the other was teaching at Eton”.  “The attraction of someone with a semi-criminal background to the secret service” he adds ” is irresistible.”  Perhaps his experience of criminality framed his attitude to the legal profession.  He looks to Philippe Sands QC, and says “I distrust your profession.” Sands replies, “I do, too.”

Le Carré remains steadfastly anti-authoritarian “I want to stay outside of the tent” he says, with perhaps with knowing irony given the location.   He is cautious about the dangers of storytelling,  and cites the power of fiction over fact and its contribution to war and islamophobia.  “A desk is a dangerous place from which to watch the world”.

Acclaimed by many as the best of this year’s festival, the standing ovation at the end is a given.  Let’s hope he can be persuaded to make one last final appearance.