Saturday, June 02, 2007
Hay was, as usual, mind-blowing, although at one point we did have a fleeting disloyal thought: is it getting too big? The festival used to be held in the village school but it outgrew the school some years ago and is now held in a tented encampment - that gets bigger every year - in a field on the edge of the village. (Which is fine until Hay puts on one of its spring monsoons as it did this week, and you spend your time ankle-deep in red Welsh mud, and the churned-up car parks resemble the Somme. That we stayed with it either says something about the Power of Literature or a fear of getting stuck trying to leave.)
The slightly suburban location means the audience is captive – especially when wet - and they can thus charge twice as much for food and drink as they cost in down-village Hay. But it’s worth it all if only for the company of fellow book-worms: snippets of conversation in queues – like the boy (passing a line of people clutching books, waiting to have them signed by their favourite writers), saying ‘But Daddy, what's it a Festival of?’
Standing at the bar in the Swan, I heard a voice I recognized. Standing next to me, in snow-white Afro and beard, looking like an octogenarian Jimi Hendrix, was Wole Soyinka, whom I had just seen talking about The Power of Literature. There aren’t many Welsh mountain villages in which can you share a pub counter with a Nobel Prize winner.
Another difficulty is in choosing what to see out of 416 events: we’re getting pretty good at it and this year had only one dud. Crime writer Ruth Rendell made it clear with her monosyllabic answers that she hated the whole thing and was only there because it was in her contract.
But, Rendell apart, it was canvas-to-canvas joy – so good that it’s difficult to identify highlights. Was it Simon Schama doing his impersonation of Simon Schama doing The Power of Art? Or A. C. Grayling on The Form of Things? Or Brenda Maddox on Sigmund Freud and Ernest Jones; John Julius Norwich on Mediterranean History; Colin Hubron on the Silk Route; Roy Hattersley on Shakespeare; Terry Eagleton on The Meaning of Life; or my favourite biographer, Hermione Lee, on Edith Wharton (who once lived with Henry James in the house right opposite ours and whose parents are reputed to be The Joneses that people tried to keep up with? All, ALL, gob-smacking. Yes, I know they’re only 60-minute distillations of lifetimes of erudition, but what a waste it would be if they went unheard!
Oh yes, and an Aussie stand-up called Sarah Kendall, discussing linguistic problems between our two countries. (What we call 'flip-flops', Aussies call 'thongs' - so when she gets foot problems she tells the chiropodist it's probably from wearing thongs...)
We return heavy-laden with books – him 19, her 18 – and yes, we’ll be back next year, for the tenth time
So now I’m donning lederhosen and the DG her Julie Andrews habit and we’re off to the Austrian Tyrol to get our minds unblown. It has to be easier than Welsh.