10:00 am Laughter Is The Best Medicine

Tipping the family members out of their beds in order to attend Helen Lederer’s early session, was worth every grumble when she rewarded us with an entertaining hour of comic indulgence. The miseries hanging over from the late night before disappeared as this talented performer took to the stage, treating the audience to a ten minute display of her stand-up comic talent. By the end of her introduction, she had won the hearts of most of the audience.

Helen is at Hay to promote her first novel ‘Losing It’, a tale of a middle-aged woman’s participation in a paid trial to lose weight. As she loses weight, she hopes to save her house. The heroine has tried all kinds of faddy approaches to her weight-loss, some based on real-life experiences and Helen made us giggle as she read a passage about the All White Clinic for colonic irrigation. Helen states that she writes in a new genre of ‘mid-lit’. Her type of comedy is about recognition & making it feel as though she & her audience are ‘as one’.

The serious dilemma of working as a woman in comedy (a male dominated industry) has encouraged her to promote the new ‘Comedy Women in Print’ award (CWIP). Behind the funny exterior, lurks a clever, observant mind.

Intelligent comedy reading for the middle aged – I look forward to reading her novel.

Review: Mavis Nicholson talks to Sarah Compton

I can only hope to be as sparky and sparkling as Mavis Nicholson when I’m an octogenarian. Her book, What Did You Do In The War, Mummy? is a collection of interviews with women about their wartime experiences – from WI stalwarts to spies to the little known but awesomely named ‘landjills’. The audience for this event was definitely on the older side and there was much knowing nodding and finishing of Nicholson’s sentences for her.

Nicholson had two particularly interesting takes on social change and the Second World War. First, that while women found freedom, independence and adventure in the war, by and large they went back to ‘ordinary’ lives afterwards. What changed most were their expectations and relationships with their daughters – they gave up on liberation for themselves but wanted it for the next generation. Second, she argued that women’s willingness to be volunteers is ‘why they don’t rule the world.’ Women want to be liked, so they are content with gratitude; men want to be admired, so they start to compete.

One particular woman stood out for me: Odette, who spent two years in solitary confinement as a prisoner of war. To stop herself losing it, she would mentally redecorate people’s houses – and was often surprised on returning home that they hadn’t followed her advice.

There was definitely a sense that no one had ever asked these women to tell their story before. At a time when every celebrity has churned out three autobiographies by the age of 25, it’s worth remembering whose memories really matter.

Lyndsey writes at teadevotee

John Kay: Wednesday

What I had expected was ‘the credit crunch for dummies’ what we got was something of a fireside chat about the economy with opinion writ larger than explanation.  Interviewer Jesse Norman didn’t so much interview as throw in some observations of his own; he is after all an author and academic in his own right.  The plum voiced Conservative PPC looked less at home at Hay than Kay, who is a centrist business economist and adviser to the Scottish National Party’s First Minister.

The chat was edifying and Kay gave us some clear views both on what went wrong and what we might do to set out on the long road to recovery.  He also provided one of the great soundbites of the economic crisis with Kay describing the integration of retail and investment banks as like ‘linking a utility to a casino’.

Stephen Fry: Monday

Desmond Tutu is supposed to be the headline ‘act’ at this year’s Hay Festival but I’m not convinced that Stephen Fry is not the bigger draw.  Tickets were sold out weeks in advance and there was a real sense of anticipation on the site as the hour of his homage to America approached.

Fry did not disappoint.  He fulfilled the role of chat show guest to Festival founder Peter Florence’s genial host.  The session was richer in anecdote than in structure but no worse for that.   With the voice of Billy Wilder, Fry reported that Agatha Christie had been a poor writer of dialogue but in the mind of the great Director “plots like a fucking angel”.  We were told of the Kenyan view that ‘Obama’ could have been their first “white” president and heard tales of Alistair Cooke’s charm, generosity and brushes with Hitler and Bertrand Russell.

Stephen Fry is rapidly turning into a national treasure and it is events like this that will help to seal the deal.