Making Hay

Summer is here and there is  the  sound of marching feet. Those same feet who wore Dr Martins in the 60s and clashed  with police are now shod in  sandals and  as the days lengthen make their way to Hay on Wye for the  extremely  well run Literary Festival. Which is  where I was on Saturday. These festivals have sprung up like drug dealers and why they are successful is a source of discussion. Cheap show business, some kind of pilgrimage where the immortality of saints  rubs off, just literate fan ship, something  for the educated classes ,who are living too long ,to do? Some of these authors were attracting 1000 plus to their talks at a cost of £8 a go.

First up was Huw Lewis Jones flogging his  book of “unpublished” photographs of that first conquest of Everest. This was based around the other Kiwi , George Low, who  the author  considered the third man after Hilary and Tensing  on the first ascent. Maybe. Lewis Jones was very much  a new man ,tough and as handsome as the mountains he had climbed, emancipated  enough to bring up his three  year  child to the stage and in touch enough with his feminine side to  describe those magnificent climbers as beautiful, loving, emotional etc.

However surely one of the worst one liners in the history of anything ,is Hilary’s,who when asked by Low as he descends “Did you get to the top?” Hilary replies “Sure we knocked the bastard off” Sorry, it doesn’t  even match Tensing’s “Climbing up is optional ,climbing down is mandatory.”

So dusting the snow off our sandals we were off to see , the  one all writers hate, Robert MacFarlane whose book Old Ways has followed his others into the  best sellers. He is young, bright good looking, articulate and very interesting about the relationship between man, the paths taken and what might be called psycho geography. He was very funny about  the ley lines which have a bit of local following around Hay. That is, however colourful the idea of walking in straight lines regardless of contour maybe ,its bonkers.

Then  its off to hear Richard Holmes dragging himself away from the 18th century Romantic poets to write a wonderful book about ballooning. This guy is a real pro. Deep, funny, well paced ,a natural story teller. And his book about balloons both past and present involves a lot of  wonderful stories. Many of them tragic. The lovers who go up and lose control and how the man throws himself out to save his girl. How Custer lay quaking in the bottom of the basket. And how those first balloonists took their lives  in their hands as they flew into unconsciousness to find out  where the stratosphere ends.

Now we go into  kick about time. Roy Strong on his auto biography. Now the dwarf like Strong admits to reinventing himself. His hair and beard are Confederate general. His back ground veers from lower middle class to working class  and back again while  his accent remains oh so upper class. He unforgivably hates his parents. But he is delightfully right wing,he weeps for the grammar schools that gave him a chance, he admits that the  arts should learn to pay their way.  In his sequined jacket and his bejewelled  ears he admits that in a different age he would have been full on gay rather than just outrageously camp. Still even  this jack booted listener was  won around by a man who has  had several successful  careers and loves the Church of England.

The next day we spot him  at the service in Hereford Cathedral, the jacket then is more muted, a tie is worn and the trousers are loud check. At the cathedral he didn’t stop to sign autographs.

Then we  are off the hear the big beast, William Dallrymple. He has researched the first Afghan war(we are now on our fourth)  and the results of the first should have taught at least this country that Afghanistan, although its easy to conquer is impossible to pacify. Anyway it’s a tour de force, almost an hour of this rugby playing hero stomping about the stage and listing the  eventual deaths of  nearly all the 20,000  who took part in that first expedition in 1839. Then again we put a stooge on the throne, then again it was  waste of time,blood and treasure.

 Apparently when Home took over from Macmillan he asked for a tip on being Prime Minster. The story goes,Mac looked up from his paper and said,”You’ll be alright as long as you  don’t  invade Afghanistan”. If only Blair had listened.

By now the tea bells are ringing but we have  one more round . To hear Antonia Fraser talk to Simon Jenkins  about her book on the Great Reform Bill. Jenkins,  one of my heroes was disappointing barely going through the motions, while Antonia Fraser was magnificent,still in a faded way beautiful, still articulate,still a fully fledged literary star. She seems to have got  over the death of her Nobel prize winning husband. Or maybe she just hid the tears well. No reinvention here, born well she just keeps going.

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One Response to Making Hay

  1. CG says:

    JG HT XX CG

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