Hanif Kureishi ‘The Last Word’, with Rosie Boycott.

He’s my favourite author and my favourite grumpy old man.  Apologies to Hanif, if he’s reading this, but I love some of his rants when he’s being interviewed.

I’ve bought, but not yet read The Last Word, but delighted in his cutting humour. He gave an irreverent and satirical commentary on the so called influx of immigrants into the country which is ruining us, if you believe what the papers say.

How much of Mamoon, the main character in the book, asked Rosie Boycott,  is Hanif Kureishi?  As a child, he was surrounded by drunken old Indian men,  many his uncles.  They were a great inspiration for him. Rosie then asked how much of his own experience was in the film, Le Weekend?  Films are full of people having sex for the first time he said, and he began to wonder what it would be like to be married to the same person for 30 years and still have sex with them. Where was the danger and when to leave them?  The inspiration came after looking back at photos of his 40th birthday party, realising that all the couples had parted company apart from him and his filmmaker friend Roger Michell.

The conversation then turned to the problem of growing up as the product of a mixed race marriage, something that informed a great deal of his writing. He confessed to writing as a response to the sheer terror of being chased by gangs because of his colour. Reading literature at last made him feel that he wasn’t alone, and that the problem belongs to society.

He is troubled by the shift toward religious fundamentalism by Muslim youths, reflected in his novel, My Son the Fanatic and wants to write in a more comedic manner. “How do we support young Muslims attracted by the radicalism of Islam?” one audience member asked.  By getting them to read more widely he answered, and give up the fantasy reflected by the papers that “the white person is disappearing into a sink of immorality” because this is not the truth.

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Owen Sheers

This lecture on Dylan Thomas really brought the poet’s work alive for the audience.  Leaving behind his wild lifestyle, Owen Sheers homed in on the richness and brilliance of his use of language and form.  Thomas was a “seismic event in English language poetry, often taken to heart by people who don’t read any other poetry”.  Sheers’s delivery, with his quick wit helped explain the form and musicality of poetry in an accessible way.  For Thomas, what mattered was “the sound of the words”. We were treated to several readings of Thomas’s poems, from Sheers and others including Andrew Motion (on film).

Dylan Thomas “works out of memory and out of the landscape itself”  according to Sheers. He’s a huge fan, though he confesses to be a bit fed up with the public’s idea of Thomas, a one man male voice choir on the page.  He was a poet who took risks, his writing lost him readers as a result. Sheers finds that Thomas’s later poetry, whilst thinner on the ground was of much finer quality. The final reading was of the great poem, ‘Do not go gentle into that good night’, a response to the death of his father. It was read by Paul Muldoon. and there was more than a murmur of appreciation from the audience. “That’s what Dylan Thomas does to an audience.”

A Hay festival steward’s day – and night

This mornings blog is provided by my husband, who has been coming to Hay with me for 8 years, and stewarding for the last 6. This was his day yesterday –

After nine hours of stewarding, some light relief was needed. Although I was pleasantly surprised by being amused and interested in what Charles Moore had to say about the Iron Lady, I can’t say that I was inspired to read Homer (the two presenters reminded me of Baddiel & Newman’s professors), or learnt anything from the two American presenters of The Mortal Instruments (six instalments of escapism for “young adults”).

First up was Suggs, the lead singer of Madness. I saw his one man show “My Life Story in Words” last December, and I’d highly recommend you get to see it before it closes. This was different, as instead of being accompanied by a pianist, Suggs was prompted into vignette by Martin Chilton. Inspired to write on the day of his 50th birthday whilst laying in the bath, hungover after a party at Wiltons the night before, and seeing his cat die, he first reflected on his childhood. His dad (a heroin addict) left at the age of 3, and he was brought up by his mum, a Jazz singer in the Colony Club in 1960’s Soho. This led him into a world of social misfits, who gravitated towards somewhere which got around the limited opening times of pubs and intolerance by being a private members club.

His real name is Graham McPherson (but only his mum, the Inland Revenue and the Police call him that). He was schooled in Wales for a while, but on return to London he was picked on for his funny accent and being a “haggis” and decided on a change of name. Opening his mum’s encyclopaedia of Jazz Music at random, he dropped a pin and landed on the letter E of…Peter. Thankfully the surname of the obscure flute player from Kentucky was Suggs. He didn’t answer to his real name for months, until everyone, including teachers, finally accepted it.

He cited Prince Buster and Ian Dury as musical influences, Tommy Cooper as an absolute hero (his impersonation in his stage show brought the house down) and The Liberty of Norton Folgate as the favourite song he has written. Currently working on a new album provisionally titled “Where have all the Wan*ers Gone” and touring with Madness in December, he is a national institution and an all round top bloke. As you might have guessed, I’m a big fan.

Next up was Robin Ince, “in and out of his mind”. A three hour show, squeezed and edited into one, delivered at a rate of knots. I was laughing so much that I couldn’t make many notes.

He spoke fondly of Brian Blessed appearing on the Infinite Monkey Cage (2 and a half hours of the most delightful tinnitus I’ll ever have), showed his frustration with suggestions for curing insomnia (have you tried camomile tea, a comfy pillow? No, I sleep on manure and broken glass) and a lack of interest in football (what do you think of Chelsea? It’s been a very pleasant flower show so far).

A long but pleasant day, apart from the rain, mud and sliding the car out of fields (many thanks to Colin for the pushes!).