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Time to return to Hay-On-Wye for an update from our guest blogger, Andrew Campbell, who is currently soaking up the literary atmosphere as a volunteer steward at this year's festival!
FRIDAY 24th MAY.
Hay. Fine weather. No need for
wellingtons. A steady procession of visitors enter the festival site. Cheerful,
chatty, eager with anticipation. First time visitors will know no difference,
but the site has been reconfigured. Interestingly it is now smaller in size,
but appears bigger. A sleight of hand or just another example of the magic of
this place. It’s good to meet fellow colleagues from 2012. “Had a good year?”
everyone seems to ask. It feels like a reunion which it actually is. The
hesitancy of newly inducted stewards is apparent, but like the first day of
school will soon disappear.
Commence work at “Barclays”, the
largest venue (1500) and mecca for all the big name speakers. First up is John
McCarthy, who is supposed to be talking with Sandi Toksvig. Big problem is that
she’s ill. Unusual for Hay and for some attendees there is disappointment. She
is a draw in her own right. McCarthy instead delivers a reading, but
conversations are invariably better. The subject of Palestine is clearly a
passion and he receives respectful attention. Prior to the talk commencing I
chat to a gentleman taking notes. “That’s the sort of thing I suggest to my
students when sitting in lectures”, I quip. A conversation ensues. Turns out
he’s note taking for a blog. We have something in common (if you haven’t
noticed you are reading mine right now)…but that’s where the similarity of
sorts ends.He’s a blogger with a
difference, no less than Benedict Brogan, Deputy Editor of the Daily Telegraph!
He graciously accepts my excuse for not having renewed my DT annual
subscription and generously shares some blogging tips. Short, incisive
commentary is best, so I make no apology now for my change in style. It’s the
Benedict way. We become best friends.
To a smaller venue next. The
Landmarc Stage. Title of talk: ”Futures in the Making”. All quite intellectual.
Both speakers and audience appear equally challenging. I shall be making my
debut here tomorrow as Venue Head, so concentration levels are at an all-time
high. Visitors file out thoughtfully (something they always seem to do at
presentations). Perhaps they are contemplating their own personal futures …
Head on over to the Wales Stage
for a music performance. Hay covers a multitude of artistic presentations.
Rokia Traore, a singer from Mali is performing. She comes with a big reputation
and does not disappoint. The music is pulsating; pockets of the audience,
unable to contain themselves, break out into unrestrained dance; some of the
seated look on with envy, weighing up thoughts of how they might look if they
joined in. The place as they say, “is rocking”. Truly a captivating
performance! My working day ends up at Barclays. Another full house for Irish
singer Christy Moore. A musical contrast; an audience comfortably seated and
more constrained…but no less the poorer for that.
SATURDAY 25th MAY.
Hot and sunny today. The wind has
dropped. No sounds of flapping canvas.Visitor numbers seem high. Bump into my new best friend, Benedict, early
on. We discuss blogging (what else?) and I compliment him on his posting which
I had read earlier. Brevity, reflection, salient points. These are my new
reference points. Help out at Barclays and listen in to Eric Schmidt, CEO of
Google. Astonishing revelations and insights. Schmidt delivers with a languid
and easy style. Spot my work colleagues Lucy and Chris on the front row (where
else?). Never mind Google Glass. Medical tablets have been invented to
determine your state of health. Simply swallow and check the feedback on your
mobile phone. Plenty of bemused reactions to that! No time here to discuss his
coverage of “code wars” (cyber space attacks); or social revolutions; or
political influences surrounding broadband provision. Better to buy his latest
book. Make my way to lunch. Surprisingly BBC Middle East Correspondent Jeremy
Bowen swerves masterfully out of my way into a food court. Has he had a rugby
past - or is it a developed skill to stay alive in dangerous places?
Spend most of my day at Landmarc.
Was amused by Irish writer Colum McCann’s response to an opposing point of
view, “I accept what you say, but I’d like to examine it”. Clearly it was
nonsense to him then. Make a mental note to use that one at work. Out on the
boardwalk, I get asked by Lord Stern’s wife for directions to the Green Room.
We walk across together chatting briefly about climate change issues. I can
safely report that despite his underestimations of former predictions, he does
sleep well at night. In the Green Room spot an all-time hero, AC Grayling in
thoughtful conversation. What wonderful hair! The boardwalks are now teeming –
and there is hardly any room for deckchairs on the grass. But the crowds seem
content.Bump into friends from Carmarthen.
They appear enthused. Again on the boardwalk I get asked for directions. This
time from Welsh Govt Education Minister Leighton Andrews and wife. We walk and
talk, Leighton holding his white rose (which is given to all presenters). It
doesn’t hurt to mention that my day job is at Swansea Met. A piece of
information that I pass on later to First Minister Carwyn Jones , when he comes
to present at Landmarc.
My day ends in more sombre
fashion. Faction Theatre are delivering a tribute play about gay rights
activist David Kato, who was murdered in Uganda. Controversial. Shocking.
Moving. It reflects much about the human condition.
38,000 tickets sold yesterday.
Car park spaces suggest less numbers today. Still busy though, but more room to
breathe on the boardwalks. .
Was able to catch Hans Blix
earlier in the day. He revealed truths that we already knew but the audience
was no less astonished. “Iraq has taught us that we must act upon fact not
fiction”; “if you break the pot, you own it”, were just two of his lines. Uncomfortable
listening for any former Prime Ministers in the audience. I was drawn by interviewer
Jon Snow’s pink socks during the session. Quite striking, quite bold. Much in
keeping with Blix’s presentation.
Spot Benedict in the Telegraph
Tent and ask him how he managed to be brief about Schmidt yesterday. “Not easy”
was the response. So I’m human after all. He was dashing off in the direction
of Carl Bernstein’s presentation – one journalist in support of another I
suppose. Return to Landmarc to set up geneticist Adam Rutherford’s talk.
Science was never my thing, but his ability to explain difficult concepts with
ease impressed. Had he been my “chem” teacher at school, who knows how life
would have turned out? For the record – and you heard it here first, we are all
descended from rocks. Yes rocks. My thoughts as well!!
The IF Campaign, “Enough Food for
Everyone” brought a sense of sobriety late in the day. One in eight people on
the planet go to bed hungry each day. Esther Mweto, from Malawi, grew up with
such hunger. Her testimony was moving. Former Jain monk, peace activist and
pacifist, Satish Kumar, known for his 8,000 mile walk to all nuclear powers 50
years ago, electrified the audience with his oratory. Calling for more dignity
for farmers, his message made perfect sense. Reflected on the way home about
the contrast between Schmidt’s Google advancements – against a world that still
cannot feed itself. Very much food for thought.
MONDAY 27th MAY
November returned with a
vengeance today. Strong winds; lashing rain; low temperatures. Despite the
conditions British stoicism was evident amongst festival goers. There was a
grim determination to enjoy it; a sense of pride in seeing it through. Queues
were patient and polite; cheerfulness and humour to the fore.
Stella Rimington, ex MI5 chief, lightened
the gloom with a riveting performance. Not at all George Smiley. More like the
neighbour next door. Down to earth, personable, appeared entirely
“normal”.Fascinating insights into a
life living with secrets. Was totally against the invasion of Iraq – and
believed Government put pressure on the Intelligence Services to “sex” up the
dossier. It was again not a good day for ex Prime Ministers.
My most embarrassing moment of
the day was asking Edith Grossman for her ticket when she entered the venue.
Unbeknown to me, she was the guest speaker. Grossman is arguably the world’s
leading literary translator. A reserve list of ticket applicants bore testimony
to the fact. Think she found it all very amusing. Hope so. Must remember though
to purchase her latest translation of Garcia Marquez’s novel when next in
“Low Impact Travel” was the last
talk tonight. Many suggestions were given. Apparently overland travel reduces
the carbon footprint and brings people together. It connects individuals and
communities. Had a random thought that perhaps Satish Kumar was onto this 50
years ago. Perhaps there is nothing new under the sun.Sadly Benedict was nowhere to be seen today.
So no blogging chats; no top tips; no thoughts about how to compose that
masterful turn of phrase. Bearing in mind the weather he might have left for
London. It seems therefore an appropriate juncture to end this particular
literary excursion. I trust the insights have been interesting – and provided
some “feel” about this most special of festivals! And that one day you might