From Hay Festival, with love and venison

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Greetings from the sick bay! Honestly, small children get bugs so often that it’s a good job we’re not Tudors, because we’d always be hanging up herbs over the door. Since they eat a reasonable amount of fruit and veg and spend a lot of time outdoors, I have to conclude that their immune systems are going through an experimental phase. Trying out every new virus that floats by, in addition to getting a nose piercing that doesn’t suit them and listening to grunge.

Silver linings, though: poor H is no longer throwing up and is at the ‘lying dolefully in bed watching Netflix’ stage of things, which means I’m sat next to him, monitoring his temperature and (CRUCIALLY) not having to move much. In fact I’m reminiscing about the weekend at Hay Festival we just had. Which was, as is tradition, wonderful.

Have you ever been somewhere that feels so much like it was made for you, you never want to leave? I feel that way about Hay-on-Wye. Who decided to build a little town up the slopes of green Welsh hills, all warm stone, pretty cottage doors, and views of the lazy river moving sluggishly through the valley below? Who thought that what this little town really needed was an abundance of book and antique shops, with the occasional ice cream parlour to break up the nerdery? Who decided to hold an arts festival there, and invite all the people you love violently to talk books at you for hours? Who put an old-timey Ferris wheel by the river and lit it up at night? It wasn’t me, but it could have been. I love it so much it’s embarrassing.

This year our fantastic boy-watchers, days off work, finances and lack of foetuses all combined to let us do what we’ve been planning for ages, and camp overnight. We booked a little campsite halfway up the opposite side of the valley, and arrived to find they were waiting for us.

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Even a three-hour car journey is brilliant when you’re pretending to be young and free and unwrinkled, and no one is filling nappies or having a meltdown, and you’re listening to an old radio adaptation of the Narnia books and feeling all these twenty-year-old feelings, and you also can’t move for sugary snacks. TOOTH DECAY, WE OPEN OUR ARMS TO YOU.

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There’s Hay, on the other side. And the only rainstorm we saw the whole two days, which coincidentally happened to be the only half hour in which we were trying to put up a tent. #soggypants

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I do like a town with a mission statement. And a proper appreciation for bunting.

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The festival site is right at the other end of Hay, which handily means you end up walking miles and burning off your sugary snacks. Our first talk this year was David Mitchell (Cloud Atlas author, not comedian). He talked very thoughtfully and beautifully about writing complex plots at your kitchen table, and how joyful the process of writing is: put one phrase against another, a surprise here and a evocative word there, and add in some punctuation and pow, see what you’ve made! ‘Semicolons are like bow-ties’, he said. ‘Lots of them are overwhelming, but just one in the right place makes the whole thing pop’. YES. So now I want him to be my literary uncle, and ply him with cups of tea so we can sit in comfortable jumpers and talk for hours about adjectives. Can someone arrange this please, y/n.

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In between, we stopped in at the food tent (venison burgers or BUST), read newspapers in deck chairs, and literally could not stop ourselves doing this:

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Next came Marcus Brigstocke and Steve Punt talking about climate change – hilarious – and a quick wander into town for ice cream and hot chocolate.

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YES PLEASE *weeps*

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On the way back we found a path by the river, got a tiny bit lost but not too much, and surprised some sheep in a golden-green field, which was smashing.

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By this time it was getting dark, and the lights were all lit. Just the right sort of atmosphere to listen to Neil Gaiman talking affectionately about Terry Pratchett, and to cry a little into your sleeve, and to resolve to reread ‘Mort’ and be a better human as soon as possible.

We walked up the hill in the dark with the Ferris wheel lit up behind us, and a firework display just starting over the river. We rolled up into our airbed knowing that no one but the birds would wake us up the next day. And I remembered, as I always do at Hay Festival time of year, that we are people still, and we can talk about things other than potty-training, and that of all the boys I love with every part of me, I loved the one I married first and best.

Thanks, Hay. See you next year.

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