Just over seven months ago, on a drizzly summer day, I took this photo. The setting was Hay-on-Wye – a tiny town nestled between the foreboding valleys of the Powys-Herefordshire border; Welsh by a wisp with part of the town situated in England and the other in the land of St David. The Hay Festival of Literature and Arts has been an annual celebration of all aspects of creativity since 1998 and has remained a fixed point in the British calendar since then – being descended on by droves of authors, journalists, poets, lecturers, actors, musicians, artists, school children and tourists in Whitsun week.
Hay itself is a sleepy place, albeit one with a wonderfully sprawling collection of second-hand book shops. In fact, on entering Hay you are greeted with a sign beholding “Hay-on-Wye – Town of Books”! The very fact that such a town can survive and that this festival of the Arts continues to grow year on year, attracting some of the greatest authors, poets, comedians and thinkers of the 21st century is surely uplifting in our current climate of library closures and bookshop decline – a topic I mused on over a year ago in my post “The demise of the local bookshop”.
Ironically, my bemusement at the Hay Festival of Literature and Arts being sponsored by The Telegraph (for some reason it tickled me at the time) morphed into excitement when I had the great pleasure of meeting Lisa Armstrong; Telegraph Fashion Editor, ex Times Fashion Editor and Vogue contributor. I had half an hour to kill between Michael Morpurgo’s glorious Annual Hay Library Lecture and David Bellos’ fascinating talk on language in translation, humorously entitled “Is that a fish in your ear?”, and having been alerted to the fact that Lisa had given her own talk earlier in the day I was off on a hunt to find her.
To put it into context, Lisa Armstrong’s Times Magazine columns accompanied my Saturday afternoon lunch for as long as I can remember; I’d even go as far as to say that she was one of the reasons I became so interested in fashion because of her ability to make it appear accessible to me, a thirteen, fourteen, fifteen year old schoolgirl. I arrived, a little out of breath I might add, at The Telegraph tent only to spy her chatting with a festival-going couple. I hovered, debating whether to pluck up the courage to introduce myself. In short: I did. She was lovely, gave me advice about becoming a journalist and complemented me on my black felt hat. I was a very happy girl. What’s more, she very kindly agreed to have a photo with me and even snapped me for The Telegraph’s festival style blog!
Experiencing Hay was, without doubt, a true highlight of my year. Sitting in a huge tent, my pen poised above my favourite RSC notebook and surrounded by other fellow Morpurgo devotees I felt inexplicably at home. Even more so when Michael, as I like to think of him, boomed;“Cutting library funding is the stupidest thing this government has ever done”, amid cheers and applause from the delighted audience. A phrase which has stayed with me ever since the festival came from his lips too: “Reading is the oxygen of enlightenment”. A metaphor so strong and so true it doesn’t even feel like it should be granted metaphor status.
My favourite quote from the festival came courtesy of Twitter; “Only at Hay-on-Wye would a talk on fonts be so popular it has to move venues twice”. There is something so honest and uplifting about that sentence which embodies this festival in the accolades it deserves. I can’t wait to be returning this year. If you’ve never been – go. I dare you.