Anti-Hay Festival?

For the first time, as I’m not actually there, I’m reading about the Hay Festival and there’s both negative and positive.  But I am amazed by the vitriol expounded by some bloggers.

Class seems to be the recurring theme.  Middle class (described as hippies in one blog); upper class (double or even triple barrelled names); Jane Austin readers.  One person said the ‘good and great’ (meaning the ho-polloi) were rude and arrogant.

Well, it is true, for a minority of people only.  It depends what you go for and how you do it when you’re there.

It was because of Hay that I found writers like Margaret Atwood, Maya Angelou, Christopher Hitchens, etc.  And I have met some of the loveliest people there.  Kate Moss has to be one of my favourite writers and broadcasters (although I don’t think she goes any more) and Francine Stock who has a house in the area.

And the best events are often those that are not the big names.  My introduction to Margaret Atwood, for example, was on a cold, rainy Saturday morning at a 9 a.m. event attended, perhaps, by about 30 people.  It was a free event.  They were recoding it for Radio 4 and had some of the authors, who were attending the festival, write a short story on the theme of ‘Making Hay’.  We didn’t know who was going to be there but those were the days before we ever worked there.  There were three or four authors on stage, amongst them Margaret.

I’m afraid I don’t remember the story but I remember her voice and the power of her words.  It was absolute magic.

For Maya Angelou, V insisted that he wanted to go to see this black woman poet (poetry is not my favourite mode of writing) and, since I dragged him to most events that I wanted to see, I agreed, not really expecting to enjoy it.  But I was completely blown away by this powerful, deep-voiced, larger-than-life American woman.  She made the hairs on the back on my neck attempt orbital flight!  Wow!

Kate Moss was the host and founder of the Orange Prize for Fiction – often lesser-known female authors.  One of the sexiest women on this planet, in my view.  She beats Kate Mosse for me any day.  And when you get to know her, one of the sweetest, kindest women I have ever known.  Great broadcaster, writer, speaker and all-round great person.

And through the Hay Festival we found Scritture Giovanni, young writers from many countries which led us to Mantova and the beautiful and sweet M who runs it.  And for that we’re very grateful as it’s not so far from Milan.

And there is swearing, normal talk and working-class people there.  It’s you that isn’t seeing it, not them not being there.

And yes, there are the arrogant types from all classes and the snobby book types and the people who go to be seen rather than to see.  But, if that is all you see, then you are there for the wrong reasons.  You’re not looking properly.  I will always remember things and people that are special to me (not least S who is the best) from the various years.

I won’t repeat the Clinton quote, but one of things I’m sure he meant was that you should go there with an open mind.  Look past the middle-class hippies, the rude, double-barrelled upper and upper-middle class.  Don’t go to the events that you think are ‘beneath’ you, to see the authors that you think are not good or have nothing to say – but by doing that you may miss out on a real gem.

And don’t complain about the weather (‘the tent was too hot/cold/noisy’).  Relax, take a glass of wine at the Blaas tent (if it’s there this year), ‘people watch’ from the sanctity of your own world without being in theirs, meet friends, exchange ideas and if, at the end of it, you have taken nothing from it then, to be honest, it’s your fault, nobody else’s.

And, if any of you should read this post then try it again, without the preconceptions.  Look for the real people and enjoy.

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