Symonds Yat dance weekend – the good

On Saturday morning a group of us headed over to the Hay Festival. Originally only two of us were planning to go, but we’d been explaining its literary nature the night before, and at breakfast a few others asked if they could join us. The Hay Festival is a week-long event, run by the Guardian, at which authors and thinkers debate, lecture and engage with anybody who wants to come along. I’d never actually been before, and was looking forward to it. Hay-on-Wye turned out to be further away than I’d anticipated, and after a lengthy journey via the sat-nav’s favourite country lanes we parked in the wrong car park and walked up to the festival site.

It was a gloriously sunny day, and we wandered beneath the tents. While the others bought “sheeps’ milk” ice cream I wandered into the official bookshop, and looked up to see Neil Gaiman:

Queue for Neil Gaiman

He’s one of my favourite authors, and for a few moments I hovered in front of a woman I later realised was Anne Fine, and took a couple of pictures. I had Fragile Things in my bag, and made to join the signing queue, but a lady ahead of me was turned away as they’d closed the line. She was most annoyed, wanting to know why. I wasn’t, strangely. It would have been cool to get something signed, and I even had something not-too-stupid to say – I was going to wish him luck with his new dog – but I didn’t mind not being able to say hi. Maybe I’m not as dazzled by celebrity as I used to be.

I think the Hay festival isn’t designed to be something you just turn up to. There’s a huge amount going on, but most of it is scheduled and ticketed, and the most interesting things were sold out well in advance. I’ll certainly go again next year, but shall plan ahead. We walked around the stalls for a while, and just before lunch caught the shuttle bus into Hay.

This is an incredibly obvious thing to say, but there really are a lot of bookshops in Hay-on-Wye. I can’t understand how I’ve never been before. I’ve also no idea how they all stay in business. One in particular was enormous, and I nearly got lost upstairs. Every aisle looked like this:

Shelves and shelves

It was too much, actually. I could easily spend ten minutes going through the contents of an individual shelf, and spend days in there without realising. I’ll have to go back with Abi. None of the bookshops we visited had any comics or graphic novels, strangely. I wonder whether it’s because they’re too niche, and keeping a decent stock would require a reasonably detailed knowledge of a subject your average book lover doesn’t find interesting…I can’t think it’s a snobby thing.

The town itself was decked out in bunting, and it was a lovely day to walk around. Despite numerous warnings from Lynsey, I got sunburnt. No excuse.

We had some good times dancing, too. It’s rare to have a ballroom not in the basement, and it was nice to dance in the evening sunlight:

Packed dancefloor - 4

On Sunday we drove home via Ross-on-Wye, complete with steampunk fish and enormous houses, and Ledbury with Mrs Muffins and happy dogs. I also drove into this particularly evil bit of kerb:

Evil kerb

on my new-last-week tyre. Whoops.

But the best thing I saw all weekend was the people who ran to Harry’s side on Saturday night. Although ultimately unsuccessful, they knew what to do and didn’t hesitate. I was barely aware what was happening, and they were already working. They’d undoubtedly deny it was brave, but anybody who has the ability and presence of mind to react and help in such situations has my full admiration.

Not a weekend I’d want to repeat, but there were good times too.