Thursday, June 30, 2005

SLATFATF Part I - Sandgropers

Susan

Without Sue I would never have come to London at all and for that alone I owe her absolutely everything that was great about the last two years. Jen facilitated the idea too, but it was Sue’s six weeks in Australia during which she offered me the chance to look after her house in London that got me out of Perth in nine weeks flat. Sue is one of the handful of friends I have over here that makes a truly profound impression on all who meet her, each person who talks to her comes to me with a hushed ‘oh my god, Sue is so cool …’ I hesitate to try and sum up her character in one sentence, but I think it is because Sue is entirely awake to herself that she is so admired. Sue will always epitomise for me awe inspiring cooking, asides that make your eyes bug out and (and I use the word advisedly) an earthiness that makes you feel like you have found someone who really knows where her towel is.

Jacinta

I actually cemented my friendship with Jacinta under entirely false pretences. Our first meeting in London was a boozy day on Clapham Common drinking wine for five hours, watching an Australian Rules Football Final and knocking around with Aussie footballers in the pub. I don’t wonder that she was then bewildered by that girl’s disappearance, since I promptly went back to my museum attending, almost tee-totalling self. But to her credit she has stuck with me through dry spells in drinks, men and good humour, and she is, for me, the ultimate easy-going creature. She is endlessly good humoured, entirely accommodating and she is so infrequently catty that when she does judge someone in a less than flattering light I tend to trip over in surprise. I can also attest that most of my nights of alcohol consumption have been under her tutelage, and I think she will be pleased that she has such an influence in that area. There are certain places in London that I never venture without my Jacinta, and I think we will have saucy memories to laugh over for many years hence.

Monica

Monica has been a friend for seven years, the kind of friend that can see you only once a year and is able to look at you and simply KNOW what has happened to you in the intervening time. We share both spooky similarities and yawning differences, and we have both been through forging experiences over here that mean we have shared things that go far deeper than we can imagine. No matter where we have been, once sitting across from each other, no amount of time and distance could change our understanding. Living with Matt and Monica was an experience not to be repeated for many reasons, mainly because we never got any sleep because we couldn’t stop talking and not the least because there really aren’t too many couples like them floating around.

Matt

From ‘I have a question …’ to Pun Pong and beyond, Matt has been an extraordinary (and that is not just his height) presence in my London stay. Turning the challenging of your assumptions, ideologies and expectations into a kind of parlour game, his particular brand of friendship is always invigorating. As a man who likes to tell tales from the other camp and the man who really wants to know what our camp is thinking, it has been big, it has been great, and I just can’t think of the ultimate pun to finish on …

Jac and Warren

As my fourth set of housemates, I think that Jac and Waz are best summed up in a little comment that Jac included in one of our bill paying notes.

Internet: £8 (excellent value)
Council Tax: £39 (not so excellent value)
Getting to live with two awesome housemates, one an amazing dancer and one the source of endless corkers: PRICELESS.

Jac really is a great dancer, bless her cotton socks, and she sells herself short on the corkers front because she is a Twohig, and if there is anything the Twohigs are exceptional at, it is pithy one-liners. But I must say that it is Warren’s unforgettable comments that usually have me repeating them in super-sonic tones of disbelief before I fall about laughing while trying to write it down somewhere. For your amusement:

When breaking open a soft-boiled egg : Yum! Rooster juice.
When contemplating our gas faux-log fire: Great! Bush television.
When discussing visiting policy for my room: So when the hat is on the doorknob, you are partaking in horizontal refreshment?
When I laughed too hard at the ‘horizontal refreshment’ comment: You’ve gone and blown a pubble valve.
When admitting he was too tired to do anything but go to bed: I’m just going to black snake it.
‘Got a head on it like a bucket full of smashed crabs’
(Thanks mate ...)

Jen

It is a difficult thing to review a long-running and much loved show, and The Jen and Claire Show has been running almost as long as The Mousetrap in London’s West End, give or take about 40 years or so …

Jen coming over to start her visa as I ended mine has been the source of much pleasure because we share a very specific passion for a very specific English Experience. Indulging our penchant for Regency texts while tramping around pretty pieces of wintry wildernesses may mean that some long-suffering friends may have wished we had new material, but we know what we like, don’t we my dear Miss Leen?

Beyond the fluttering fancies and heaving bosoms of those days of Austen, seeing the face of someone so important to me in one life on the train platform of another life is a moment of supreme happiness. Sharing the experience is always so much better for me, and sharing it with someone who understands what it means to me is even more important.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

So Long, And Thanks For All The Fish

Last July, when I mentioned that my first year in London was drawing to a close to Matt, he reminded me that I had not done the last year by myself. He was too right - housemates, drinking(!) buddies, travelling companions, old friends from home, new friends from home, new friends from London, visitors from home – each person that entered my life over here formed a memory that ties my heart that little more to this land and I am eternally grateful that they provided for me that cocoon of a great group of friends.

Last year I got a few people a small token of my appreciation for their part in making my first year in London bearable. My personal debt to my friends over here has increased quite a bit in the past year, however, and I want to officially give my heartfelt thanks to the people that have BEEN London for me.

Friendships when you are travelling are a truly wonderful experience. Firstly you have the Perthites, people with whom you can swap that special currency of ‘Perth hey?’ Within the Perthites you have old friends, friends of old friends, siblings of old friends, new people who know someone you know and, most satisfying of all, completely surprising faces of people you met once or twice in Perth standing next to you on the Tube. It gives you an entirely new appreciation for the size of Perth and the social web that we live in.

Then there is the Australian connection, which, after two years, becomes a little tired and loses it’s immediate bonding status because there are just so many of us here! Truth be told, I gained only one friend from the purely Australian connection, and Kim picked me more than the other way around.

The exciting new frontier of friendship over here is everyone else that is not Australian. At the end of two years I can’t help smiling at the list of people that I get to thank. There are plenty of English, a few other Brits and a pleasing selection of Europeans. Not all of them were met through work either, which gives me much pleasure, because finding friends on the streets is extraordinary good luck.

Finally, there are those from Perth who stayed in touch with me over the two years I was here. When I got over here there were surprising silences from some friends, and unexpectedly loquacious mailings from others. There were dedicated letter writers and two very special people who were always on the phone to me.

And now for the epic Oscars speech … I’d like to thank the Academy, everyone at home and …

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Frailty, thy name is woman!

I have only six more weeks to go in London and I really should be starting and ending each day with wailing and the gnashing of teeth.

Instead I am having night after night of brilliant conversations with friends who are already becoming a wrench to leave behind, and it is entirely because I am leaving that I am having such a good time.

I was afraid that my moment of fear, which inspired the entry below of the same name, was going to be a permanent state. That my fear of the known would hamper my ability to settle my affairs over here. Yet the limits of my time here and finality of my imminent departure from my real life has woken something unusual in me.I have become a grinning martyr to my love of Britain.

Instead of wallowing, I am barefacedly declaring that I am leaving a fulfilling life behind to be buried in a cultural backwater. I am declaiming right, left and center my ambitious plans for my stay in Perth, the writing and the reviewing and the wonderfulness that I will bring to Perth from my travels. I am blithely listing off the many Visas I will be completing in the next six years, confident in my endless cultural elasticity.

Far from putting a brave face on it, I am staring my devils in the face and it is paying off, because I am now the most soothed, complimented and beloved of people. As each friend meets me in ‘Non-denial’ stage and is calmly regaled with my horror at going home, they rise magnificently to the occasion and not only assure me that it is entirely unfair that I am going, but that I was well on the way to being a dangerously brilliant Londoner and that they had every confidence in my ability to get out of Perth at the appropriate time.

I should try this leaving thing more often!

Originally posted on Exiled Britophile, a blog I updated for about twelve months when I returned home from London. Due to it's frank discussion of how horrid I found Perth, these pieces had only been read by my London readers until 2011.

Fowl

It’s been a week since I read this little gem from Alan Coren’s column in the Times, but now that Wimbledon has actually started and Henman has won his first game, I think it is time to bring to your attention one of Coren’s Corkers.

Tim Henman is, right after Jonny Wilkinson, my favourite English sportsman because he symbolises for me an inexplicable aspect of the English psyche. Henman is the best English tennis player at the moment, he has been ranked 4th in the world, he is currently 21st, he holds eleven titles and he gets to the quarter, semi and finals on a regular basis. But he has not won Wimbledon, and for that little oversight, all his overseas achievements are ignored. The love / hate relationship between England and Henman is epic in its dichotomy, the country prepares to back him to the hilt, but are completely resigned to him crashing out before the finals.

Every Wimbledon, the whole of England manages to say exactly the same sentence at least once …

‘Henman is playing again this year, and you know, even though I know he won’t, I really wish he could win it this year.’

I have nothing but admiration for the man, he is a great player and a good man, yet there is only one title he needs to win to obtain the kind of hero status the Rugby Team got after the World Cup, and it just keeps eluding him.

I have made it my life’s work to love and understand the English, but to this day, I still can’t explain their surprising inability to regard one of their great sportsmen as anything but an abject failure.

For the non-London residents, SW19 is the postcode for Wimbledon.

There is a way to stop Wimbledon fans shrieking “Come on, Tim!” Forgive me, but it has to be done, and it can be done simply by putting his superhero status into perspective, thereby reducing our unreasonable expectations of him. We can achieve this by placing as much emphasis on the second syllable of his name as on the first.

Think Batman. You are now in a position to imagine Tim getting up each cock-crow, popping down to the Hencave, emerging as his fluffy alter ego, and clucking off to SW19 in his little brown Henmobile. Faster than a speeding pullet.

On a side note, I was just watching a smidgin of the Safin-Philippoussis game, with Philippoussis 1 game to Safin's 2. G'ah! I can't mention the cricket any more, please don't tell me I will have to stop mentioning the TENNIS now! If only I weren't so keen on actually watching the matches for other more aesthetic pleasures.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Tiger, tiger, burning bright

I am being stalked.

My last weeks in London are being lived in parallel, one with me frantically running hungry eyes over my beloved London trying to remember everything, one finding me freezing at inopportune moments with the overwhelming knowledge of going home.

My thoughts of home are stalking me through my work day, my bus rides, my dinners, my sleep and each of my conversations. At any moment I may say something or see something or hear something that triggers a memory of home and my stomach disappears, my lungs turn to concrete and I seem to exist outside time for the split second that it takes for one of two crushing feelings to rip my throat out.

I can never tell which of my two stalkers will pounce on me next.

The fear is like one of our famous venomous snakes lurking in the dark, ready to sink its’ fangs straight into my chest and freeze my blood.

I stand on Pall Mall each morning, admiring the sight of the National Gallery and will find myself mentally standing in the middle of the Hay Street and my mind giggles hysterically at the little High Street that is the Perth CDB.

I get an excited email from a friend looking forward to my return and I recall the girl they knew and I want to turn and run, knowing that I am nowhere near that carefree, thoughtless and uncomplicated creature they waved off two years ago.

I open my favorite Sunday paper and feel the real weight of isolation in the knowledge that after only a few months their clever and sneering pop-culture asides will mean nothing to me because I will not be up with the latest vicious gossip and will be oblivious to the latest news on the street.

And the worst thought is that of trying to talk to those at home about the last few years without sounding bitter. I tried it when I started saying goodbye to everyone here, but as the time available to me shortens I find my anger and frustration rising again, choking my ability to put a brave face on it.

On the flip-side, the anticipation is like Hobbes from Calvin and Hobbes, completely primal and incredibly stimulating, it feels so familiar because it is my devotion to each person I count as friend and family distilled to its’ purest form.

I read a review of a friend’s band, discover he is quite the rock star now and I laugh until I cry because I have so much to catch up on.

I listen to a track from a WA band and I see the beautiful crowd of healthy and happy young people standing in a tiny venue enjoying the laid-back coastal sounds of our particular crop of homegrown culture.

I hear the long list of people who rang Mum to ask if I was ok after July 7th, people I know well, people I have never heard of and I fully appreciate just how many people are waiting for me to come home.

I think of standing in one of our parched top paddocks watching the dust-ridden heat haze, I think of sinking my feet into boiling white sand and swimming in the gaspingly cold sea, I think of that heat, that sky, that air, that light, and I can feel myself tear in half from the agony of being two people, one doomed always to be homesick.

To be truthful, trying to keep my feelings in check is like trying to swim against the retreating tide. I know that wave is behind me, I know it is going to leave me gasping and choking on a golden shore, but I really would rather not be going through that tangle of limbs and stolen breaths that is a good dumping.

I just hope I get washed up on Yallingup beach with my tiger, and not the snake.

Originally posted on Exiled Britophile, a blog I updated for about twelve months when I returned home from London. Due to it's frank discussion of how horrid I found Perth, these pieces had only been read by my London readers until 2011.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Dispatches from the Bookshops : Hay Festival Part II

PART ONE HERE

Gloriously Normal


Our B&B was a working Hereford farm called The Grove Farm run by Lynne Lloyd and her husband (we never caught his name so he became Farmer John). Our fellow guests were two Yummy Mummies from Kingston and they were such caricatures, with their white linen trousers, primary colored designer leather handbags and condescension to Lynne. We had a fascinating conversation on politics on Sunday morning in which these two women were racist, hypocritical and snobbish with complete aplomb and without a trace of irony.

I was particularly conscious of their particular brand of Londonitis because I had gone for a little trek around the farm earlier in the morning with Farmer John and had had a fabulously earthy conversation about animal husbandry and cropping in our two different countries. It is so frightfully nice to talk to someone who is not from London …

Michael Buerk


Jen and I were assigned to the largest venue for Sunday’s penultimate sessions, consisting of mainly political heavy hitters. Michael Buerk was the early morning session, talking about his career as a BBC Foreign correspondent, then BBC newsreader. He managed to get himself drawn into a rather derogatory commentary on newsreaders without journalistic training and was quite clear in his disregard for them. He went on to give the BBC a bit of a going over, so at the time I thought that his comments on newsreaders would be the least newsworthy of his comments, but they got out and the last two weeks has seen a storm in a teacup blow up around the journalist / non-journalist divide.

Robert McNamara and Jon Snow


The next session easily rates as one of the most interesting hours of my life. Robert McNamara, 89, US Secretary of Defense during the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Six Day War and the man who sent the troops into Vietnam was sitting with an eminent Cambridge Professor and the highly respected political interviewer Jon Snow to discuss Weapons of Mass Destruction. McNamara was short and sprightly and took control of the discussion from his very first address, which was an incredibly sobering few sentences on the number of nuclear warheads currently on 15 minute alert in the USA. From there on in the audience was almost motionless in its concentration on Snow’s astute interviewing and McNamara’s emphatic replies.

I am not going to reproduce the 60 minute discussion, or even summarize it, because the points raised deserve far more learned reporting than I can cover here. I stood at the back of the venue, microphone in hand to mic for the question session and had wave after wave of shivers ran down my back as I watched McNamara on stage. Here was a man who helped shape the century I was born in and that my parent’s generation grew up in. Not only was I in the presence of such a figure of living history, but he was giving us the benefit of his over 40 years of international diplomatic experience by charting the direction the world should take in the future. Whether I agreed with his views or not, I was simply captivated by the time I got to spend with the little American who had made decisions that shaped the world.

Jen and I had to mic an extremely large tent, with Jon Snow directing us to the audience members he wanted to speak and an audience that were so desperate to air their views they would try to hijack us on our way around. I was quite jealous when Jen got her mic to a punter in record time and discretion and was thanked by Snow from the stage. Certainly bets me getting to be in the same room as him and John Humphries behind the scenes at the Oxford Festival.

Jane Fonda


The well-preserved Jane Fonda was on next and the audience was suspiciously weighty with men of a certain age group. Jen and I left for lunch not long after she got on stage, but I was glad that I heard the first few moments. What I hadn’t known until Jen told me a few minutes before she got on stage was that she had been very involved in opposing the Vietnam War. Thus I was able to appreciate the interviewer’s first question to Fonda, which was whether she had been able to talk to McNamara backstage. She had been able to talk to him, and she told us that she had asked him if he would have sent those troops in again, and his answer was no. The audience started to clap and she shushed them to qualify what she thought of the comment. She said she had just seen The Fog of War, the film on McNamara, and a film on Henry Kissinger. She asked the audience who we thought of the two would have ever said they were wrong and admitted that she had new respect for McNamara being able to admit that he had changed his mind.

I too found that the most interesting characteristic of the man, that for one of the original hawks in Washington, his one message on WMDs was the desperate need for a stop to military intervention and an absolute reliance on diplomatic solutions.

Nick Sherrin


The rest of the day was taken up with smaller and far less interesting sessions, but we were able to sit down in a chair for the first time in two days of stewarding to listen to Nick Sherrin spend 50 minutes reading out his favorite quotes ahead of his new collection of quotes. I have long been a collector of quotes, updating and revising them each year since I was about 12. What can I say? I have an all encompassing love of the written word. Almost an hour of non-stop classic quotes was good exercise for the lungs as you tried to stifle giggles so you could hear the next one. Despite the fact that he recounted quotes from great literary favorites of mine including Stephen Fry and Alan Coren, it was a quote from David Beckham that chose to stick in my mind – ‘We definitely want to have Brooklyn christened, but we are not sure into which religion yet.’

Sunday Sightings


We shot through on that note, grabbing our bags, saying our goodbyes and exiting the canvas city for a real pub meal and some sleep ahead of our shopping trip through the famous selection of Hay on Wye bookshops on Monday.

My celebrity moments on Sunday consisted of Zadie Smith again (she was following me), some of the lovely old Professors I had seen on various panels through out the two days and a moment of standing next to Princess Diana’s brother Charles Spencer. Jen and I had been taking tickets at the VIP entrance for the McNamara talk and she had been making eyes at me whilst I was oblivious to the posh accents next to me conducting a conversation about whether there was time to get a coffee before the show. Once they were safely drinking coffee a few feet away Jen and the other guests hissed that I had been right next to Earl Spencer. I made sure I had a good gander and he really was an impressively tall man – comes from all those generations of armor-wearing I suspect.

Tramping


Hay on Wye is on the border between Wales and England, and each night we drove 20 minutes into England to our B&B. Sunday night we drove that in the early evening and were able to fully appreciate the view. Our road ran along the edge of a hilly range, and to our left the hills dropped away in three lush green waves into the blue of the sky. The richness of the colors that weekend was intoxicating; the sky was luxurious in its light blue, its evening purple and its midnight black; the endless green forests, fields, hedges and hills were broken by only the grey slate of the towns and the white fluff of the sheep. We stopped by the road on the way home and ventured a little way into the forest, walking on black loam covered in moss so it felt that we were walking on a mattress.

Once home, I was absolutely determined to stand in a field surrounded with only animals, so we set off up the hill behind the farmhouse just as dusk was creeping across the valleys. We trekked through wet shin-high grass, stomped indiscriminately on sheep droppings, got a whiff of a decaying corpse on the way up, and I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed the escape from all things city. Once at the top of the hill we were surveying a valley that seemed so familiar because it was just so British, isolated farmhouses in the valley, fingers of fog reaching over the hills and the silence muffling the soft noises of the animals around us. Two ponies headed over to us for a pat, and I stood in mindless pleasure with fresh air in my lungs, a warm equine breath in my ear, my hand on her soft coat and the dark gradually hiding our view to leave all well with the world.

Monday


Hay On Wye is best known for having the most bookshops ever, so Jen and I spent the morning lusting after seriously old editions of favorite authors. I bought a ninety-six-year-old edition of Villette, primarily because it came with a bookmark that was a scrap of 1949 newspaper dated just two days further into June. Jen, being a discerning buyer of old books, took home a few more than I did. Once again the drive home was long and involved endless traffic horrors and I owe Jen for her stress-free driving demeanor under trying conditions - the weekend would never have happened without her.

Getting home was a bit like waking up from an exotic dream, everyone was talking about mundane topics, no brilliant authors were meeting and chatting in small islands in the crowds on the tube and there was no endless program of fascinating lectures to tempt and amaze you during the day at work. From pirate supplies and dead poets to Pentagon hawks and aristocrats, it was a weekend that you just wouldn’t be able to get anywhere else but this fabulous little island.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Dispatches from the Hedges : Hay Festival Part I

We packed sneakers (they should have been wellies), we drove a Vauxhall (it should have been a Range Rover) and we had tongue-in-cheek nicknames (Kiki and Bunty). The Hay-On-Wye Literary Festival was never going to know what hit it (and it didn’t because they couldn’t tell what our accent was!).

The Great Escape


It took us six hours to get from Kingston to our Farmhouse B&B, including a tense 45 minutes around midnight winding our way through Herefordshire lanes one car wide with hedges so tall they seemed to close over our heads. I always love the journey out of London, from the smell of the grey prison of London to the smell of the green grass of England. We drove over the Severn Bridge, painted a luminescent baby blue, its struts fanning out in your peripheral vision like a peacocks’ tail as we drove over it. Jen was duly impressed with the Welsh hills, the hills of South Wales just as clean-cut and handsome as those around Snowdonia.

Setting the Scene


We had to wear sexy day-glo yellow jackets a la road workers. We had to be on our feet from 10 to 10 Saturday, 11 to 6 on Sunday. I was really pushy and tried my hardest to get to the sessions I wanted to see, if they needed me there or not. The free food was awful so we were quite glad we had bought our own. The Festival was held in a field with huge canvas venues wrapped around trees and holding gardens and restaurants and lots and lots of literary luvvies. The weather was nowhere near as bad as it could have been.


Dave Eggers


Dave was just the kind of humor that I liked, deadpan delivery of straight faced absurdity. Jen was singularly unimpressed with my ‘Dave Eggers’ routine that I memorized for her since she didn’t get to see it, so maybe it will be funnier in print.

Claire’s ‘Dave Eggers’ Routine
Our magazine (McSweeneys) is run out of an office in San Francisco above our Pirate Supplies store. We stock eye patches, peg legs made to order, planks by the yard and lard. You don’t pay money for the lard. You just give us a lock of hair. Once a month we take all the locks of hair and mate them, picking those we think look like likely pairs.

We started the Pirate Supplies store because our first one in Brooklyn didn’t do so well. We stocked supplies for the amateur taxidermist to keep trophies of the animals that they had run over or slain themselves. You know that you don’t stuff animals anymore? You just put the skin over a mould and so we had mole moulds, rat moulds. The other half of our stock was for Competition Ferrets. Our best selling product was Ferret Shine.

We have just set up a Superhero Supplies shop in Los Angeles, we have things like invisibility cream which is really just water in a jar with a label. We also have a Capery from which you can purchase you superhero cape. First we establish whether you fight crime in rain or in sun, at night or during the day. We decided the color, material and cut of the cape accordingly. Once the cape is on there are three steps that you pose on to check the drag on the cape, and then industrial fans are turned on and we check the aerodynamics of your cape.

Our next shop will be in Chicago, one side all chrome and glass to sell CIA spy materials, the other side floored with woodchips and stocked with flannel shirts and flannel based materials for Lumberjacks.
End of Claire’s ‘Dave Eggers’ Routine

Dave then went on to talk about his latest book which was the story of two young men from Sudan who had been driven out of their villages by the civil war, sent to Ethiopia to be trained as soldiers and were eventually sent to America as refugees.

One member of the audience asked Dave what his cape was and he confided that it was synthetic plaid. Nice.

John Carey


I must admit I walked out of John Carey’s talk on the importance of the Arts because it was six hours since I had had a drink and I was almost dead. I did enjoy the first few minutes however when he said that people owned famous paintings because to own art that means something to you separates you from those who don’t understand art at all. Yes, THAT is being an intellectual snob!

Simon Singh


Simon Singh gave a brilliant talk about the Big Bang for dummies, including electrocuting a gherkin to illustrate the Doppler Shift and playing Led Zeppelin backwards to illustrate the leaps of deduction the mind can make under suggestion (and I did hear the word Satan when he played Stairway to Heaven!). Question time arrived though and the microphone was handed to a ten-year-old lad who proceeded to ask two astute and complicated questions, what was there before the Big Bang and what is the universe made of? Simon spluttered and declared ‘No more kids please …’

Joseph Fiennes


The heart-throb of the weekend was Joseph Fiennes giving a very exclusive performance of a one man play that was still in production. The play was being produced by a tight three person production team of the actor, a successful young producer and a young poet and writer. Jen and I simply left our respective posts to sneak in, much to the venue manager’s disapproval. Once Joe got on stage the back of the venue filled up with female Festival staff and I saw women old and young smiling slightly and twirling their hair around their fingers. Joe gave a great performance of the war poet Keith Douglas, and although I too must have been smiling approvingly at him, I was struck by the extraordinary text the actor was working with. By the end of the performance I had transferred my allegiance to the playwright, one of the most famous of young welsh poets, the very attractive Owen Sheers. I was passing the microphone around the audience for questions and was called up the front of the venue and, standing three meters from Mr Fiennes and Mr Sheer, I was all too impressed by their star-power. Yum.


Jonathan Safran Foer


Jen and I stayed on in our new venue for the young American author whose second book had missed out on the rapturous reception his first book had garnered. After a dismissive review we had both read in the Festival sponsor, the Guardian, we were not expecting the excellent session that ensued. Jonathan was supposed to have been interviewed by the festival director, but at the last moment a young and extremely pretty blonde girl walked on stage with him. She was doing a reasonable job of interviewing but the author seemed a little cool until about ten minutes in a member of the audience delivered a fantastic heckle to the young woman and things turned interesting.

The woman in the audience asked her to stop asking silly questions and let Jonathan just talk. The interviewer was speechless with embarrassment and her guest rose to the occasion magnificently, deftly deflecting the heckle from his host to himself and taking control of the entire situation, warming up fast and delivering a crowd pleasing reading of his book interspersed by some amazing insights into his writing process and the art of creating his unique narrative voice.

Jen and I were both impressed with the smidgen of the book we heard and with his graciousness and obvious intelligence. Definitely an author that is as fluent at observation and recording in real life as in prose.

Saturday sightings


The Jonathon Safron Foer interview was a bit of a star studded event, with the luminous literary couple of Zadie Smith and Nick Laird in the first row, Zadie looking like a glamorous fashion muse and Nick looking every inch his publicity photo (I have seen that brown leather jacket he was wearing in at least three publicity shots). I was even lucky enough to hand the microphone at the same event to the comedian David Baddiel, a man with permanent five-o’clock shadow that he leaves to grow to an unkempt and uneven beard.

My favorite sighting for Saturday was the marvelously dressed Paul Blezard, who had entered my life at the Oxford Literary Festival when I saw him striding around Oxford in splendidly eccentric tweed suits that made his silver hair and strikingly tall frame a beacon for every eye. The same selection of loud suits was in evidence at Hay, and while they gave him the unmistakable air of camp, everywhere he went he drew the coy glances of women and was almost always engaged in booming literary discussions with stunning Sloane Rangers.

PART TWO HERE