The Rain in Hay…Brightened by The Two Johnnies


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.

Dr Phil Hammond: How to Get the Best from the NHS


I’m comforted by the good Doctor shaking my hand on the way into Llwyfan Cymru, saying “You look well”. The night before, I was reminded of my upcoming 60th birthday when a question was asked of Jack Dee’s Help Desk about how (or more correctly who) to harvest a stool sample, as the NHS write to all of us approaching the big birthday, screening for bowel cancer.

The entertaining and informative session focussed on how we can fix the NHS. By taking responsibility for our own well-being, Dr Phil reckoned that over 70% of visits to the GP can be avoided.

I’m a T2 diabetic, and have successfully managed my condition by diet and exercise. Dr Phil illustrated his point by using CLANGERS as an acronym to assist people in living a healthy way:

C to Connect with people and don’t live in isolation to others;

L to Learn new things and continually challenge yourself;

A to be Active;

N to Notice the world around you and savour the moment;

G to Give Back, do something nice for someone, smile, volunteer;

E to Eat well;

R to Relax, take time out to chill; and

S to Sleep, getting 6-8 hours of good quality sleep is fundamental.

“Every day you don’t need to use the NHS, someone else benefits”.

An Afternoon with Pam Ayres


From the moment that Pam Ayres walked onto the Tata stage, she captivated her audience with humour, wit, facial expressions and a perfect sense of timing. Her introductory piece was a poem about the arrival of a letter from the pension office and it was the start of a series of hilarious poetry and stories which had the audience in an uproar, I have seen Pam Ayres on television but her impeccable delivery of her material and the twinkle in her eye can only be appreciated in a live show.

What was unexpected for me, was the sensitivity with which she described things such as the departure of her son for university and the arrival of her grandson into her family.

Most people know that her husband features in some of her material (not always in a positive way) and I think that he must have a forgiving nature as they have had a long marriage.

This session was one of my highlights of Hay Festival this year because I laughed so hard that my stomach ached for hours afterwards and it is wonderful to witness a true craftswoman practice her art.

Coastlines, The story of our shore by Patrick Barkham

Photograph by Martin Godwin.

Photograph by Martin Godwin.

A couple of years ago, I was sitting in the Reindeer in Norwich with Patrick when he spoke of his next writing project. The idea was to celebrate the 50th anniversary of “Enterprise Neptune”, the National Trust initiative to “ the most precious portions of coast from rampaging tourism and industry”.

To date, some 742 miles of the total 3,000 coastline of England, Wales and Northern Ireland is now owned by the National Trust. Patrick’s book isn’t a travelogue, but a collection of stories about our relationships with the Coast forged by our childhood memories (building sand castles, inclement British summers), the romance of the sea (weekends in Brighton being cited in divorce cases) and the role that the Coast plays in providing a living and a defence in wartime.

Don’t expect a glossy coffee table book with loads of colour pictures, but a series of stories which paint a picture of how the Coast shapes our lives.

Hay Festival Tweets of the Day – Thursday 28 May

 Chuffed to have  as my walk on music today at but gutted that I missed the opportunity to see them last night

 Up next at : The Dark Net. I get a shot of rum every time 4chan is mentioned.

 Where else do you get to have a chat with Greg Rusedski’s wife and Bill Oddie?!

 Today at I had the surreal experience of chasing my piano as it slid a foot across the floor mid-Mendelssohn, live on

Five years of Hay Making


Pic by by Zoe Broughton


By Virginia

Our fifth Hay has come to an end and I am struggling with my re-entry to normal life, as I do every year.  I wistfully look to Twitter and Facebook, see I’ve missed Alan Bennett and long to be back. I’ll get over it by tomorrow, but tonight I’m feeling bereft.

Each time we come to Hay, I have a worry it won’t quite meet expectations. Each time I leave thinking I needn’t have worried. This year was no exception. As usual, we camped at the fabulous Wye Meadow  campsite, opposite the festival site. Run by four siblings, it has excellent facilities, and a warm welcome. We’re gutted that the Brown family who’ve looked after us so well are giving it up next year, but are hoping someone well else will take it on.  After last year’s mudfest, I’m glad their last year has been sunny.

beth (2)

Pic by Claire Cole

I went to some great talks and loved blogging about them.  Sitting in the press room was a fascinating experience as I watched the real journalists rushing in and out to events. Boy they work hard – onsite for hours running from one talk to another, chasing interviews and then filing copy. I found it a challenge taking notes, writing up, self editing and grappling with wifi to get my articles out and I was only posting once or twice a day. They were writing several, often having to mug up on writers they knew nothing about.  Extremely impressive.

I always come with my three kids, who are total bookworms. They love Hay because everyone reads and authors are huge celebrities. Beth had to go early because she’s doing GCSEs but she enjoyed Sarah J Maas, Simon Singh, and discovering a spooky antique shop in Hay-on-Wye.   Claire had wondered whether it would be so good this year, and then discovered a whole load of new authors she can’t wait to read. Jonathan found a new favourite writer – Frank Cottrell-Boyce – enjoyed writing his first blog about the talk and was thrilled when Cottrell-Boyce retweeted it.  It was fun camping with our friends Zoe and Mati, hearing about each other’s events, chatting over hot chocolate, watching the sunset, and the stars rise above us on a cold clear night.

For once (and despite David Mitchell predicting it in ‘The Bone Clocks’) it didn’t rain. It was a little chilly on occasion, but a revelation to be able to sit in the courtyards enjoying the sunshine.  Simon Armitage walked passed me at the entrance. Simon Armitage! (Only a poet could make me swoon). I met Simon Singh, Frank Cottrell-Boyce, Non Pratt, Louise O’Neill who were all lovely. I didn’t manage to interview Jessie Burton, but really enjoyed my conversation with Chris Woods, whose insights into war reporting were fascinating.

I’ve been following Making Hay for a while now, so I’ve really appreciated having the chance to blog this year, and enjoyed the reviews of my fellow bloggers.  I highly recommend it as a way of catching up on the experience. And if you’re heading to Hay yourself, it looks like the weather’s holding, and there are still plenty of goodies to come. Hope you have a blast.

See you next year.

Hay Festival Impressions and Connections


My first Hay after years of wanting to go, now made possible by a friend and her daughter, and a rather beautiful yurt on the banks of the Wye.

I’m used to Glastonbury, a festival the size of Sunderland, so I was slightly surprised when we reached a small field about a mile out of town.   I was expecting to see large pointy ‘circus’ tents, but instead found a vista of huge white marquees with interconnected tunnels, and open grassy quads in between.  This was clearly a tried-and-tested system; apparently Hay often has terribly wet weather, so the covered areas are a necessity; this is a festival of people queuing for events, and no-one wants to do that in the peeing rain.

We arrived on the Thursday, the first day, and it was very quiet and very cold.  The venue tents had not had time to warm up with hot bodies, and the sun had not been out long.  Then whoosh!  On Friday the sun came out, the stars were out and the stimulation levels had reached epic proportions; it had livened up considerably and by the Saturday, the place was buzzing.

They allow wine bottles and champagne flutes into Hay, something I have not seen at a festival in a long time, and there were people sat around sipping and reading.  Reading, writing, thinking, discussing.  Imagine what could happen with all that reading and thinking.  It might lead to more thinking and more writing and more books, and more reading … what joy!

The sheer quality of the speakers was breath-taking, and it had been very hard to chose who to see.  It was also quite intense and exhausting – on the Saturday I saw seven different speakers, with barely a break in between.  Maybe too much, but I wanted to cram in as much as possible.

And all that talk of Connections.  The theme cropped up at the very first lecture, and thread its way through my festival.  Mick Collins urged us to connect with nature, the planet and our inner Self; the Bands tried to connect through music with the audience and judges during their Battle.  Diaspora are by definition connected – and disconnected – from their homeland or original group;  Henrietta Bowden-Jones connects science with art in her online exhibition of The Art of Science.

Shami Chakrabarti urged us to remain connected to each other through empathy; put yourself in the position of that refugee, and connect with their plight.   AC Grayling encouraged us to read even more books, as therein lie connections to the past and other people’s experiences.  Germaine Greer talked of connections between all women, across the generations, and David Brooks asked us to connect with our inner peace and calm, not money and power, and find our ‘eulogy self’, the self we will be remembered for when it’s all over for us.

Ian MacMillan connected us to each other by having us write a poem together, and we connected concealed lines together to make five-line nonsense poems, only to find many of them made perfect sense.  And of course, the comedians connected us to our inner beings, each other and the absurd, by making us laugh at ourselves.

Hats off, then, to the organisers, who manage to get the cream of British and International thinking into a tiny field in a quaint old town in the middle of Wales every year.  It’s taken me a long time to get there, but I’m certain it won’t be my last festival; I am connected to Hay now.

Victoria Hislop Interviewed by Georgina Godwin


Victoria Hislop made her mark as a novelist with her story of a leper colony, ‘The Island’, in 2005 and is now promoting her fourth novel ‘The Sunrise’ at the Hay Festival. She disarmed the audience immediately when she expressed her surprise at the turnout in the Telegraph Tent as the Archers were at the BBC stage next door. In addition to her novels, Victoria is an experienced travel journalist, short story writer and has been involved in the development of the Greek television adaptation of ‘The Island’. She has also taken up a role as an ambassador for Lepra.

‘The Sunrise’ takes place in northern Cyprus in 1974 during the Turkish coup which divided Cyprus into 2 zones, the Greek Cypriot and the Turkish Cypriot areas. The Sunrise in the title is a luxurious, almost vulgar, hotel situated in a seaside resort frequented by the jet-setters of the pre-separation era. The plot is a love story between two families, one Greek and the other Turkish, who are caught up in the conflict and end up taking shelter in the Sunrise hotel.

Victoria Hislop is a feminist (with a small ‘f’ she says) and loves to write about the impact of men’s decisions to go to war on the women caught up in the conflict. She has an in-depth knowledge of Greece and her people and her love of the country is obvious to the observer as she describes her travels there.

Victoria discussed the importance of music as she writes and states that she has one of the largest collections of Greek music of anyone in Britain. The woman herself has a gentle demeanour however expresses a wonderful sense of humour, intelligence and wit which made the session a pleasure to attend.

Alan Bennett, Nicholas Hytner, and The Lady in a Van


Alan Bennett was joined on the Hay stage by Nicholas Hytner, known for his work in the National Theatre, to preview and discuss their new film ‘The Lady in the Van’. The story is based on Alan’s memoirs of his relationship with Mrs. Shepherd, a homeless lady who lived in a van, moved onto his drive for three months and ended up staying there for 15 years. The memoirs became a successful play starring Maggie Smith and once again, she takes the lead in the film production.

The audience was treated to several clips of the film and judging by the roars of laughter, I think that anyone who goes to the cinema to see this film will not be disappointed. The film script was written once Maggie Smith agreed to take part in the film and she appears to embrace the role so wholeheartedly that you forget she is an actress playing a role. The film is narrated from two viewpoints of Alan Bennett, as the man who offers compassion to the woman and as the writer who observes and records the story.

The presentation was filled with humorous moments as both Alan Bennett and Nicholas Hytner described the reactions of the neighbours in the street of Camden where they filmed, how layers of filth were created, a weekend when two homeless men took up residency in the ‘prop’ van so that it had to be sanitized and refilled with sterile filth, and the determination of Mrs. Shepherd to form her own political party.

However, the main message of the evening was about humanity. Mr. Bennett observed this poor homeless woman being tormented on the street and that interfered with his creativity as a writer and so, he issued that invitation to move onto his drive. When he speaks about her, Alan Bennett uses words of respect and he was able to see beyond the dirty clothes and offensive smells. I discussed this presentation with a woman in the queue at the bookshop and she echoed my description of the sense of humanity that marked the presentation.

At the end of the hour Alan Bennett was presented with the Hay Festival Medal for Drama and the audience rose to their feet. He responded with a humorous story and left me wishing that the man who is Alan Bennett was a friend of mine.