Sadly, it was unavoidable. Ever since The Hat burst into the house last June, brimming with the latest noos from the chaterati. I thought, I simply must introduce my little grits to a proper middle-class mouthful, if only to elevate them from mama's vulgarities, gleaned from the gutters at roundabouts and junctions.
Reader, I have learned a few things. Take waterproofs, for one. Honestly, the weather should be given an ASBO, pissing on my middle-class aspirations. It ruined my fantasy, to wit: tottering the streets of winsome Hay-on-Wye in a delightful cream linen-and-silk Boden combo, clutching my Folio editions of classic nineteenth-century novellas translated into Latin.
Also, do not bother booking advance tickets for speakers, unless you are with the Friends, or your life depends upon seeing Author X (in which case, get psychiatric help). The booking office never posted my tickets, and you can buy them there anyway. The young woman at the box office with the extreme hair vaguely addressed my left ear when I complained they'd had a month to send me tickets and I'd paid one pound fifty for the significance of a stamp. There's lots of adminstration she murmured, looking spectacularly uninterested.
In fact, all the staff are a bit like that. The young man who heard my winge about the pointless wifi smiled charmingly from behind his ruffled hair and Aran sweater but similarly demonstrated complete indifference. After a while I began to suspect all the staff were English Literature students from Surrey finding something to do in their year off before they began the publishing internship with Random House.
That is the next thing to learn about the Hay Festival. It sounds rather obvious but the people who go there are from the middle class. This is not true in the home ed world where you can meet the hippie-alarming to the I am a doctor and my wife is two doctors at the same workshop on space rockets. So if you are looking for a festival that cuts vertically through UK society, then probably do not choose Hay. It is safe, predictable, comfortable, and non-threatening.
Which leads me to the questions given to the audience at the end of the speaker session. Well, I can imagine a middle-class fight breaking out over an aggressive statement about an apostrophe. I began to be caught up in the moment at one point where I had a half-arsed question to ask from a feminist perspective. I'm jolly glad I kept my mouth shut; I would have been shamefully upstaged from the Cartesian radical dualist perspective, which shows how it all quickly descends. (But I might go next year, just to see if I can ask a question from the covalently-bonded phenomenologically-placed epistemological perspective.)
Finally, you may as well leave all your ipods, ipads, satnavs and anything at home, because Hay-on-Wye has serious connection problems. It is like being in their nineteenth century. Evidence: Standing watching the drips patter off the awning, waiting for the next session, covertly listening to an elderly gentleman struggle with his mobile phone to have the following one-sided conversation: Hello, Dahlia, is that you? Is that you Dahlia? Oh dear oh dear oh dear, Dahlia? Are you there? Dahlia? I'm shortlisted for the Rathwarlinson-Buxtomony Prize and I was wondering if you could help me out with the communications for it. Oh dear. Are you there? Dahlia? Are you there?
Hay-on-Wye Lit. Fes. summed up in three words. Rain. Books. Yurts.