Patrick Barkham

Badgerlands. The twilight world of Britain’s most enigmatic animal.

Patrick Barkham spoke eloquently and even-handedly about the Badger. His grandmother, Jane Ratcliffe, was obsessed with badgers. She was a fervent campaigner for protection and also ran a rescue centre.

Whilst fairgrounds displayed “a monster badger which terrorised the district with its destruction of sheep & cattle” and badger baiting was (and still is) around, it took a banker writing Wind in the Willows for attitudes to begin to change and for the Brock, a Middle English slang name for badger, to get a fairer press.

In the course of research for the book, Patrick ate badger. A road kill chef created a stir fry with hoisin sauce from Asda – “Dense, chewy and unpleasantly strong.”  It repeated on Patrick all the way home from Bournemouth.

The polarisation over the cull was an issue for the country and society. Whilst it’s clear that the costs to cull Badgers were far higher than vaccination, and the target to cull 70% of Badgers wasn’t met, there isn’t a simple answer. There is a vaccination for cattle, but it is only 60% effective and vaccinated cattle can’t be exported to the EU.


The last weekend…

The last few days of the festival are always a little bit sad, with their ‘end of the party’ atmosphere. We’ve packed a fair bit in before we return to normality including three novelists who couldn’t be more different.  Ian McEwan,  returns to Hay to do his research with the audience, treating us to extracts from his new novel The Children Act, tackling the serious subjects of religion and family life.  Asked how much of him appears in his novels he replies ‘my fingerprints are all over all of my characters’.  The delightful Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie talked about her new novel, Americana, which explores the sense of self, truth and identity of a Nigerian living in America. The interview was deliciously flirty one, Ted Hodkinson is obviously an avid fan.

Helen Fielding revealed quite a bit of the Bridget Jones within, dropping her microphone pack twice and admitting she got Ibsen and Chekov confused, much to her embarrassment.  Her new novel, Mad about the Boy (spoiler alert) has killed off the lovely Darcy and finds Bridget five years down the line trying to rebuild her life.  The same themes come up, as Fielding reminds us that our characters do not really change over the years, despite the fact we have new roles as wives, mothers and so on – our childish and playful natures never really leave us.

For me, it was a week enriched by tales from the two world wars, my favourite novelists and poets, the discovery of new authors, getting to love red mud, the art of dressing in layers and meeting lots of lovely people in the queues and at the events – 2015 has been booked!

Musings of a Hay Festival volunteer steward

Hay Literary Festival 2014

Osvaldo Ardiles was introduced as being famous not only for football, but for being in a chart topping record. “I’m not singing”, he responded.

Two women brought tickets for Cherie Booth’s talk on her mothers career, and asked a steward if they could sit in the front row. “Are you big fans?” “No, we are going to stand up and walk out in protest as soon as she starts her talk”. And they did. I’ll bet she lost sleep over that.

Parking in muddy fields has been a challenge. I inadvertently splashed a child with mud in the @carparkathay. His dad wasn’t happy with me.

Queues started for Benedict Cumberbatch three hours before the event start time.

Queues for Bear Grylls were so large, they had to be directed onto the muddy grass. You would expect that someone keen to see the great explorer would not get too upset about some mud on their shoes.

Patrick Barkham on Badgers: “it isn’t a black & white issue”

Highlights for me:
Tapas black rice at Ibérica;
Sunday lunch @ The Groucho Hay;
The Bulls Head;
Lava bread & cockles at The Swan;
Meeting up with old friends;
Talking to so many nice people.

What have I learnt:
Bubble bum gas. It’s what comes out when you are tickled;
Handed a microphone, it helps if you talk into it;
How Suggs got his name;
Pippa Middleton’s bum has a tweetbot;
Geoff Hurst was on £60 a week in 1966;
People don’t read the information they are sent with their tickets or in the programme.

See you all again on Friday 22 May 2015!

John Crace and John Sutherland

Crace and Sutherland, a.k.a ‘The Two Johnnies’ ponder the question, “what of today’s literature will still be being read in 100 years time?” This enjoyable session featured the thoughts of the ‘Superprof’ Sutherland and the hilarious ‘Digested Reads’ of Crace.

Sutherland’s book, ‘How to be Well Read’ takes 500 novels; his own recommendations, as well as his pastiche on Victorian writing, proving, according to him, that just because he has a Phd in Literature doesn’t mean he can write. The questions “why do books survive from long ago?” and “what would be the Howard’s End of the 21st century?” were pondered, and we were treated to Crace’s version of Wolf Hall hoping that Hilary Mantel would get the joke as it underwent the ‘Cracian Digestion Process’. He attributes her presence in his version to her strong authorial voice in the novel.

Finally we heard the Digested Read version of Pippa Middleton’s party tips, hilarious for both audience and reader. Not sure if this one will be in Sutherland’s book. I suspect not…

David & Hilary Crystal

The linguists have teamed up to write a geographical journey of the English Language around Great Britain. Entertaining as always, they narrated their way through extracts of their latest book, Wordsmiths and Warriors. David identifies how, if you were to draw a circle around any location in England, you will discover some surprising things about the history of our language. From the very beginnings when the Danes invaded England and were defeated by King Alfred, to an actual memorial to dialect writers in Rochdale, they have uncovered a wealth of information about the history of the English Language.

Chris Tarrant – Dad’s War: Father, Soldier, Hero

It was a much quieter, humble and more reflective Chris Tarrant being interviewed and very sensitively by Paul Blezard. He suffered a stroke last year, rather terrifyingly during a long haul flight but has fully recovered.

His book about his father is a touching and poignant tribute to a much loved man, who, Tarrant discovered whilst researching for a programme for Channel 5, turns out to be a bit of a war hero, to his family’s surprise. Like many men who fought in WWII, his father hardly ever spoke about his experiences, even to his own wife.

It was the burglary of his Dad’s house, the day before his funeral that uncovered letters in a previously locked desk drawer. The discovery of these letters led Tarrant to five men who were still living and had known his father. Until then, he had never known he had been at Dunkirk, much less the actual details of his experiences there. One of them, Dougie, told him ‘I liked your Dad, but he was bloody mad!’

Tarrant spoke with enormous warmth and pride about his father, of the man he knew, and of the war hero he later discovered.

Margaret Drabble – The Pure Gold Baby

Peter Florence welcomed back to Hay the woman who was the first ever novelist they invited in 1988.  This time she was here  to talk about her novel The Pure Gold Baby. Margaret Drabble admitted to finding it difficult to find the right narrative voice for the novel about a young single mother of a severely mentally handicapped child. It is a novel of themes rather than characters, focussing on how time passes as we get older, how we become more reflective. It deals with the paradox of a child never growing up, always needing its mother. The young mother in the story will never be free from her role. Drabble admits that her writing process has slowed down as she’s got older. She finds she is less inhibited than she was as  an a young writer, asking herself “is it worth doing?”. Peter Florence asked her about the first sentence of the book, and what ‘prolepsis’ means – she explained that it is a literary device meaning a kind of ‘poetic foreshadowing’. She felt that her publisher and editor would hate it, but at this stage in her career she felt that she could get away with it! The novel is based on the situation of a good friend of hers, but she didn’t tell her she had written it until she had finished the book.  Luckily the friend approved and only made a few factual corrections to the manuscript. Drabble favours fiction over fact, as “it allows you to generalise, fiction frees you to make speculations, make theories about how things develop”. She had always been haunted about her friends situation, but also wondered if she had the right to write about someone who could never read what she’d written.