‘Mustard, Custard, Grumble, Belly and Gracy,’ Michael Rosen & Quentin Blake
‘Is That a Fish in Your Ear?,’ David Bellos
‘Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi,’ Geoff Dyer
‘Out of Sheer Rage: in the shadow of D.H.Lawrence,’ Geoff Dyer
‘Mafia State,’ Luke Harding
‘Johnson’s Life of London,’ Boris Johnson
‘Thinking Fast and Slow,’ Daniel Kahnemann
‘My Song,’ Harry Belafonte
‘The Art of Fielding,’ Chad Harbach
‘The Moor’s Last Sigh,’ Salman Rushdie
‘Imaginary Homelands,’ Salman Rushdie
‘See Under: Love,’ David Grossman
‘The Ministry of Special Cases,’ Nathan Englander
‘The Feast of the Goat,’ Mario Vargas Llosa
‘Ingenious Pain,’ Andrew Miller
‘A.A.Gill is Away,’ A.A,Gill
(all signed, two presents, one ex-Southender)
Further Signings Signed:
Stephen Fry (x2) (‘The Fry Chronicles’, ‘The Hippopotamus‘)
Sue Townsend (‘The Growing Pains of Adrian Mole‘)
Mark Haddon (‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime’)
Ian McEwan (‘Enduring Love’, ‘On Cheshil Beach‘)
Patrick deWitt (‘The Sisters Brothers‘)
Michael Morpurgo (‘The Mozart Question’)
Celebrities Successfully Stalked (photographically):
John Challis (aka ‘Boycie’ from ‘Only Fools and Horses’)
Boris Johnson (Mayor of London)
Nobel Laureates present at festival: twelve
From Thursday, 31st May, to Sunday, 10th June 2012, I was one of around 80,000 people to descend on the normally small, sleepy, book-infested village of Hay-on-Wye for the Silver Jubilee of the annual literature festival, now possible the largest of its kind in the world. I cunningly disguised myself as a Steward by; a) wearing a luminous yellow steward’s jacket; b) being extremely friendly and helpful to everyone throughout the course of the festival, and c) being an official Steward, all of which allowed me to sit in for up to twelve hours a day on non-stop, hour-long lectures, talks, symposiums, musical shows and comedy acts, meeting many of the writers, actors, comedians and musicians in-between events. I was going to calculate how much money volunteering saved me over the course of the festival, but there’s no time for that: it must have been in the region of £750 though, which makes my (surprisingly low) total bill of £162.50 for books bought at the festival bookshop seem like a bargain.
Since moving to London four months ago, I have been trying to wake up early every morning. (n.b. ‘early’ is an extremely relative term: what I mean is that, despite not having to leave for work until 12:15pm most days, I still make sure I wake up at 9am, even on days when I’m not working, to make sure I’m not wasting my days). One of the things I do in the hours between regaining consciousness and leaving for tour-guide duties is to watch at least two TED videos in bed, (TED in bed: a good title for an album…); the newest talk and one of the 1,000 or so I haven’t seen from the back catalogue, (meaning, at this rate, I will be caught up in around three years time).
I’ve often wondered how it would feel to attend one of their weekend/weeklong lecture events, and then on the first Saturday of the festival, in the middle of a Hilary Mantel discussion on bringing 16th century history to fictional life, in a tent in a water-drenched field in a tiny village in Eastern Wales, I realised: Hay Festival is my own, personal, annual, 10-day long TED Literature festival.
Where else could I meet a Nobel laureate in economics (Kahnemann) and literature (Vargas Llosa), barely missing a third in Medicine, (James Watson, of Watson and Crick DNA fame, having to leave early due to prior engagements)? Or get to chat to some of my literary heroes, from childhood, (Adrain Mole creator, Sue Townsend, heartbreakingly fragile due to illness, yet still insisting on writing lengthy dedications to each of the fans in her book signing queue, despite being practically blind; the first poet I ever read and loved, the brilliantly bearded Michael Rosen; although sadly again, Terry Pratchett got away from me); or from adulthood, (it was surreal to be able to meet Salman Rushdie, one of my all-time favourites, and to now be in possession of a signed ‘Midnight’s Children,’ or to chat about London with its mayor, Boris Johnson).
Hay is about more than just books these days, though: music and comedy play an almost equally important role in the festivities. One evening, treating myself to one of the daily concerts, I was lucky enough to see Billy Bragg give his tribute to American folk legend Woody Guthrie, part of the celebrations of the centenary of his birth. Each musician and band during the week had been asked to perform some Guthrie songs, but since Bragg had been asked a few years ago to team up with the band Wilco, add music to and release long-lost Guthrie lyrics, it was an especially memorable experience, (especially impressive thanks to Bragg’s excellent southern American accent).
The live stand-up from Tim Minchin, Jack Dee, Bill Bailey, Rob Brydon and others was a fun way to round off a hard day’s literaturising, but as far as comedy goes the entire festival was topped off by the most surreal experiences my life so far. After seeing a talk by Tony Robinson, (Baldrick of Blackadder fame, for all those fans of great 1990’s BBC comedy), I was waiting for The Public to finish getting their autographs before I nipped in for a photo. The last guy was taking an age chatting to him, a guy dressed like a tramp, and he seemed to be hassling Tony trying to give him his phone number or something. After a moment, I realised that he wasn’t giving him his number, he was getting it from him, and I was just wondering how he’d convinced one of our British comedy legends to hand out his (presumably fake) mobile number when Tony Robinson turned to his wife and said:
“Darling, come here, I want you to meet Mr.Robert Plant…of Led Zeppelin fame…”
Yep, the tramp was none other than one of the Legends of Rock, who proceeded to discuss Welsh history with us for ten minutes, and the need for a Braveheart-style movie on Cymru hero Owain Glyndwr. I was still in mild shock when I emerged from the signing tent, ten minutes later, only to hear Mr.Plant call me over and ask me for some directions. I obliged, in exchange for a photo, which he was happy to pose for.