Saturday, June 02, 2007

Oh to be in Hay Now that Summer's Here

I am reading the Guardian's coverage of the Hay Literary Festival with a great deal of envy, not only because they have a formidable line-up of authors (including no less than four Nobel prize winners) but because ... well, if there is one spot on earth where the mystical ley lines of bibliomagic converge, it is in this tiny town on the border between England and Wales which has ... wait for it ... thirty-nine second hand bookshops! (The population is 80,000 so that makes it one bookshop for every 37 residents.)

Bookseller Richard Booth, whose empire quickly spread across all the empty shops in the town, as well as the former firestation and 17th Century Jacobean mansion, declared independence from both England and Wales in a bloodless coup on 1st April, 1977. No-one actually took him seriously, but it certainly put Hay on the map.

Our family once visited the town back in the early 1970's when were on holiday on a Herefordshire farm (yes, British people do such strange things!) and I remember spending a whole afternoon in just one section of one shop, utterly mesmerized by the choice of antiquarian books. I had glimpsed paradise, and one day, I have promised myself, I will return.

But has the festival, now in its 20th year (with150,000 ticket sales for 435 events) got too big, too impersonal and too concerned with commericialisation and celebrity glitz? Some critics think so, writes Andrew Johnson in the Guardian.

Another much smaller UK festival I read about with much envy is the Way With Words festival in Dartington, Devon.
A well-run literary festival should be something like a convivial garden fĂȘte - lots of strangers milling around in the sunshine and striking up conversations over a coffee, at the bar, waiting in the queue for the next event.
says author Penelope Lively in the Telegraph, who reckons that she's found bookish heaven in Dartington.

I know the venue well from my days living just down the road in Plymouth or visiting my friend Helen in Totnes and have happy memories of chamber concerts in this beautiful old hall, scones and clotted cream in the tea shop, and long walks in the beautiful gardens.

The trouble is perhaps that when I think of England I always see it on a perfect Summer's day and am just swallowed up by waves of nostalgia ...

(Top picture from Guardian blog, bottom picture form the Telegraph)


Greenbottle said...

ah hai...

you got it right that hay has a lot of 2nd hand book stores for such a small place, and i'm wondering what kind of people live there? a community of book addicts?

but not sure you mathematics is correct there madam...

... thirty-nine second hand bookshops! (The population is 80,000 so that makes it one bookshop for every 37 residents.)

bibliobibuli said...

sweetheart, i lifted that fact from one of the articles i read this morning. i haven't passed a maths exam in my life and am proud of it. you being a much more technical type can put your brain matter to good use and compute it. let us know, yes?

lil ms d said...

iw ant to go back to the UK!!! i miss my bookshops, the fish and chips nad my cheap crisps, and the kebabs and entering dusty bookshops by myself and forgetting everything else while i browse...

boo hoo.

Kak Teh said...

there was a time, i go there every year - now i only dream abt going. So very2 far. there was a nice docu on tv the other day and that will have to be enough for now.

animah said...

I miss walkable pavements that are wide enough for cars to park on them.

I miss wearing layers of clothing during summer that you can discard in stages when the sun comes out, and quickly put back on again when the sun goes behind a cloud.

I miss walking without sweat.

I miss the purple buses of Nottingham.

I miss the brilliant yellow green British grass.

I miss the Guardian and the Independent.

I miss people I don't know smiling at me.

I miss shop assistants saying thank you (or Ta Luv).

I miss cars stopping for me at a zebra crossing.

I miss the fearlessness of having an opinion.

sympozium said...

I Miss England! I'm surprised you've stayed so long in the tropics :-)))

Anonymous said...

"I miss the fearlessness of having an opinion"

I don't. And you, and everyone else, knows that as well. And you know where I live. :)

bibliobibuli said...

anon - you have lots of opinions, for sure!

i am afraid i lost your address when my hard disk crashed. still want to pass the book to you. pls email me again.

but i know what animah means. here in malaysia one constantly self-censors. (maybe anon doesn't)

Azmi said...

I've been there....and I wish I am there right now...and joining my sis and kids having a good time at a friend's farm in nearby Ledbury during their school break!!!All the books some for a few p's each only!

Don't you get homesick Sharon, like us Malaysians who were there during student years...I know someone who goes to Ledbury every year from here!!!Without fail.

Chet said...

I miss taking the National Express double-decker from Norwich, getting off at Stratford in East London, going into the newsagent for the latest copy of City Limits for a listing of what's on that weekend, dropping my things in my cousin's flat, and within 30 minutes (far less time than the NE d-d negotiating the crowded roads), be in Chinatown and vicinity.

Or am I remembering thro rose-coloured memories?

animah said...

Chet, Did you ever sit on the upper deck right at the front and feel you were flying through the English countryside.
Bit like Jack and Rose on the Titanic.
When were you in Norwich?

Chet said...

Animah - oh yes! But not a lot, since those front rows would be quickly taken up.

1986 - 89.

bibliobibuli said...

my, i didn't realise i would spark all this "homesickness' for britain with this post! you all remind me of that line in kam's book about when london was part of the malaysian empire ...

yes, i do miss home very much. miss london and its history and the feeling so so much happening around you. miss cornwall and walking the coast and fishing villages. miss the north norfolk coast too where my mum used to live.

lots of things i miss too - could give you a whole list of them

but when i get back to the UK lots of things piss me off. the weather first - miserable, grey, cold. (though in memory it's always summer!) then how expensive things are. how really bad the food is if you want to eat out cheaply (apart from fish and chips!).

Chet said...

I'm trying to think of something that pisses me off about the UK ...

Sorry, too early in the morning to think.

When I finally set foot on British soil last April 2006, it was 17 years since I was last there, so whatever pissy things about UK that I didn't like, I'd forgotten.

Sorry for the wide digression.

Anonymous said...

It IS strange hw our minds play tricks on us isn't it ? you always think things were better than they actually were.