Okay, if a B&B shower has a switch and two dials, would you also expect a toggle? – a secret, unfindable toggle? – to be involved in producing hot water and therefore preventing hypothermia and/or trench foot? I’m just asking – nothing to with my life, or the fact that I can have no sensation below the knee.
Dear reader, what can I say ? It’s been a busy fortnight. Two telly things, three radio things, two tent-based readings and an amount of travel that would stun a drug mule. Although, for those of you who are interested, my eyelid spasm seems to have cleared up, my noddy head tick is abating and I now have only the dearlordspareme head shaking manoeuvre – which sadly often intervenes just when someone is asking, “Would you enjoy more pudding?” or “Can you take these spare crates of Pringles?” or “Should I put my hand here and insert tab 3b into slot 6?”
As intelligent and comely folk you’ll realise that being a writer doesn’t just involve sitting alone in a tower crafted out of endangered species and scribbling. We now have to be physically manifest. This reminds our publishers we exist and assists our little books in going out and prospering. It is, of course, very pleasant for a turnip like myself to end up having media conversations with grand people like Chris Smith and Naomi Klein and Shashi Tharoor and Mariella Frostrup – all of whom were entirely pleasant – unless I suddenly recall that I’m a turnip and have to stab myself with a fork to prevent laughter and/or fainting from compromising my performance. If I think of myself as representative of sensible people I know, then I can feel I’m on steady ground and not either suffer from an absurdity-induced migraine or disappear up my own importance. Although that last sentence may indicate I already have. And occasionally I get to bang on about allowing people to enjoy the arts, get near the arts, or just be able to read a book if they want.
The festival scene feels much more familiar – if no less unreal. Charlestone was lovely: insightful and charming audience – some with fetching hats – sunshine in the garden, the welcoming big house to peer at while wondering how the Bloomsbury Set ever got any writing or painting done, given their apparently insatiable need to jump whatever they fancied. My admiration for J. Maynard Keynes is only increased by the knowledge that he undoubtedly developed some of his ideas while any number of people were humping his leg like ill-disciplined beagles.
And then on to Hay-on-Wye, the mystery shower toggle and the usual joy of sipping tea while adrift in a quagmire. I can see my breath – it’s May and I can see my breath. I’m still breathing? Oh look, there’s Jimmy Carter – shorter than I’d imagined. I imagined Jimmy Carter ? When ?
Well done to all three of the Hay audiences I encountered from 8.30 am to 8.30 pm – and all of the others who made it through – huddled there, listening and giggling and sneezing. The ability of British people to support literature, in spite of a virtual media blackout on matters bookish and in the face of long-distance travel, floods, tempests and shuddering tents never fails to inspire me. Hay and its many subsections is, of course, famous for paying most participants with things, rather than money. The effect is much the same as finding a number of quite affluent strangers have guessed what you’d like for your birthday – vaguely charming and yet…