Despite the Hay Festival’s slogan for this year being Imagine the World, for me this was the year I didn’t fall over. In 2018, we’d tried to cram everything into one day and while rushing, I tripped over my long trousers, and crashed to the ground. An experience that combined pain and humiliation, I was keen to avoid a repeat – so hemmed my trousers in advance and doubled the length of our visit – which seems to have worked.
With time now for a leisurely stroll around the town itself, with its quirky little shops, grand selection of eateries and wonderful array of secondhand bookshops, I particularly commend you to Shepherds whose sandwiches made using a gorgeously tasty range of artisan breads are bettered only by their fabulous range of ice-cream. For those of you who don’t have time for a visit to town, they have two stalls in the Festival tent – pay a visit, it’s truly excellent!
But a visit to Hay isn’t all about the shopping and the eating … there are a marvellous range of events on offer each day. This year, my chosen authors were Amitav Ghosh, Bart van Es and Kate Nicholls (who will have their own posts in due course). Each author’s talk was fascinating, covering subjects ranging from a rainforest in Bengal and plague in Venice during the 16th century, via uncovering hidden family history and hiding Jews from the Nazis during WWI, to feline immunodeficiency virus in lions and bringing up children in Botswanna. While I hadn’t read any books in advance, each discussion has added to my overwhelming TBR pile, one short extract even giving me actual chills.
I also sat in on a couple of panel sessions – the first where historians Antony Beevor, Bettany Hughes and Simon Shama, actors Edward Fox and Joanna Lumley together with biographer Artemis Cooper, all gathered to share their memories of Cooper’s historian father, John Julian Norwich. There followed the BBC Wales recording of Tonight at Hay which offered the broad church of comedian and presenter Nish Kumar, bestselling author Tracy Chevalier, forensic scientist Angela Gallop and journalist and travel writer Monisha Rajesh. And speaking of churches, the final panel was on the Radio 4 Beyond Belief show where two creatives (a poet and a street artist), a theology lecturer and a psychologist/neuroscientist discussed the creative process and beliefs.
Each day closed for us with humour – the first from National Treasure – or is that National Trevor – you’ll have to see her show for an explanation of that, Sandi Toksvig, and comedian and co-presenter of Infinite Monkey Cage, Robin Ince.
Ince was there to talk about the subject of his new book I’m a Joke and So Are You: A Comedian’s Take on What Makes Us Human – that of consciousness, taboos and offence, and how we use humour to deal with death. The Guardian’s Stephanie Merritt describes him as “quite possibly the UK’s best-read comedian” to which I would add – author of yet one more book being added to my massive TBR pile.
But if you don’t come away from Hay with more books to read, something is surely wrong!
© Debra Carey, 2019