Last day blues…

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The last full day at the festival with friends is always tinged with a little sadness and some degree of exhaustion. Early mornings, late nights, overloading on fizzy, ice creams and irregular sleeping patterns fail to spoil our enjoyment however. Listening to Marcus Brigstocke talk to Steve Punt (a.k.a Eric Idle) and Will Smith (Veep and The Thick of It) about their comedy inspirations and early career was both funny and inspiring. The session reminds of how much brilliant comedy our wonderful nation has produced, long may it continue, although the medium of delivery for new comics may be changing (i.e. YouTube)

The sun is shining again and I’ve got far too many layers on today to be comfortable, so it’s refreshing to be in the cooler Telegraph stage for the delightful Vikram Seth, in what seemed to be a vehemently ‘Guardian’ audience. Much to our delight one audience member confessed that she asked for a copy of the Guardian at the Telegraph stand…

So I’m off to buy a copy of Vikram’s new volume of poetry, A Summer Requiem, after admittedly struggling with A Suitable Boy (must get round to it soon) after listening to him talk about his life, his writing, his love of the ‘red stuff’ (like myself, he finds it aids working…) and music.

The Rain in Hay…Brightened by The Two Johnnies

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Normal Hay service was resumed this morning, as the heavens opened and a cold northerly wind blew us down the hill from our base in Craswall. Our morning brightened as we attended ‘The Two Johnnies do Emma’, a.k.a John Crace of The Guardian’s Digested Read (& latterly their parliamentary sketch writer) and ‘Superprof’ John Sutherland, master of the classics.

Despite not having read Emma until a week or so ago, Crace skilfully applied his ‘digested’ approach to the novel, to the obvious delight of most of the audience (more of that later), while Sutherland pondered the obtuse such as ‘what were the toilet arrangements in Emma’; ‘why doesn’t Emma want to be married’ and ‘was Mr Knightley a Paedophile?’ He later concludes that there are several hints in the novel regarding toilet arrangements, Emma has witnessed her older sister bearing 5 children in 6 years and dreads the same fate for herself – and, thankfully, Mr Knightley only has honourable intentions, phew!

John Crace then ventured into the afterlife of the classics, digesting Death Comes to Pemberley by P.D James, cleverly weaving in the titles of Austen’s other novels before concluding that often, ‘a classic novel is not in want of a sequel’ – he was then reprimanded by an audience member for ‘ruining Emma’ for her – but then, we are all entitled to our opinion, it’s just made me want to read Emma again, after an absence of some 25 years.

Lunchtime delights and Hay Fatigue

We must be getting old, or so it seems. A few years ago festival fatigue would have taken much longer to set in, but come Monday night we awaken from a long lie in, breakfast in the sunshine and solitude of our base in Craswall, and mosey on down into Hay for a lunchtime session of Tessa Dunlop for me and a bit of stewarding duty for Pete. Tessa doesn’t fail to impress, despite her intended companion Pamela Rose (a 93 year old Bletchley Park girl) having been hospitalised the day before (get well soon Pamela!), she brings the whole era to life, is animated and captivating as she recounts the stories of the fifteen ladies (or girls) she had spent a year interviewing and getting to know, before publishing her book, The Bletchley Park Girls. When asked how difficult it was to keep e secrets they had, one of the ‘girls’ simply replied ‘it wasn’t difficult, because no-one ever asked what women did for the war effort’.

My next session was equally educational, as Amitav Ghosh gave us a quick historical insight on how the opium trade formed the foundation of the capitalist economy in the nineteenth century. His new book Flood of Fire is a follow up to River of Smoke and Sea of Poppies and has taken him ten years to complete. Ghosh explored a plethora of little known words as he takes delight in exploring sound and language in his literature, (I now know the original meaning of ‘doolally’, hilarious!) I am adding the fascinating trilogy to my ever growing pile of ‘must reads’.

Simon Armitage – ”What I did on my Holidays’

IMG_1060Probably our nation’s greatest poet, Simon Armitage has published a follow up to Walking Home called Walking Away – a very entertaining travelogue of his walk along the south west coastal path as a modern day troubadour, reciting poetry to groups of people in exchange for bed and board. He undertook the challenge after getting ‘itchy feet’, he confessed, needing to get out into the world in order to discover things to write about. The south west path was almost the same distance as the Pennine way, and although it seemed to be an easier walk, it required a great deal of concentration, as in one direction was a steep cliff and the sea beyond…

He read an extract detailing a horrendous night spent at a Butlins Holiday Camp, which, he admitted ‘could have formed a book on its own’ During the walk he encountered the generousity of strangers and met some good people, and it was these experiences that kept him going despite the tiredness and melancholy that often accompanied him. Walking gives him a balance between writing in solitude and being out in the world, finding and experiencing things to write about. Training for the walk wasn’t something he thought about; ‘walking on day one is training for day two!’

After a slide show of photos (‘what I did on my holidays’) from the walk, he confessed that he probably won’t be writing any more fiction or non fiction, feeling that he is more ‘wired up for poetry’ Either way, I still remain an avid fan.

Andrew Scull: Madness in Civilisation

Fascinating session with Professor Andrew Cull, who has documented 2000 years of madness – a term which has been used on and off for centuries, and has now been reclaimed by some of those suffering from mental illness. He illustrated the talk with a series of slides taken from his book, often disturbing in nature as he guided us through the various manifestations of the illness and it’s cures. 

What was surprising was that in the past, medical meanings existed in parallel to the superstious explanations of madness. His book also explores how novelists illustrated the subject, from Ibsen to Zola, including of course Charlotte Bronte’s Bertha Mason, the infamous ‘madwoman in the attic’. What’s clear (and for me, disappointing) is that the history of madness is not a linear one, with theories and treatments lurching back and forth over the years.

Graham Swift

 It starts with a tingle

…says author Graham Swift, as he tries to explain his process of writing, having returned to the genre of the short story after an absence of many years. This was how he started his writing career, as a teller of short stories, and at that time he never imagined becoming a novelist.

Nine novels later and he’s published a collection of 25 stories called England and other stories His belief is that the function of fiction is ‘to reveal the invisible world, the unspoken, I try to tell a story that wouldn’t otherwise be told’ he said, he is drawn to those inarticulate characters as ‘most of life is inarticulate.’ He then read ‘Saving Grace’ from the collection, a simple but cautionary tale of love, race and morality.

Bob Stanley and Mark Ellen

Bob Stanley and Mark Ellen talk about…Pop Music.

You know you’re in for a treat when there’s a record deck on stage and vinyl propped up against the table.

Bob is a journalist and one third of Saint Etienne.  He has written an 800 page book Yeah Yeah Yeah:The Story of Modern Pop. Mark is a journalist and TV presenter (Live Aid, Old Grey Whistle Test) and was the bass player in Tony Blair’s first band. He’s just published a book Rock Stars Stole my Life! A Big Bad Love Affair with Music.

We were treated to I’m in Love by Fats Domino, which got two ladies in the front row bopping, Hey Bulldog by The Beatles, All Day and All of the Night by the Kinks, Amateur Hour by Sparks and a Captain Beefheart track which I didn’t catch. You can’t beat the sound of the needle hitting vinyl.

Some great stories were told about Lady Gaga (she definitely is a woman), Van Morrison (two types of people, those who like Van Morrison and those who have met him), Mick Jagger (has laughter lines, but nothing can be that funny) and Paul McCartney visiting a pub in Harrold.

Great entertainment, and a really upbeat way to end our Hay.