BLOG Nathan Munday

NWR Issue 110

Hay Festival – Winter Weekend

I felt like one of Tolkien’s wet hobbits as I walked around Hay-on-Wye on 28 November. The place reminded me of Bree, especially with the rain and the Prancing Ponyness of the Swan Hotel. I had come for the town’s annual Winter Weekend that promised rigorous debate, mince pies, mulled wine and roaring fires. Attending the talks and touring the bookshops became an ideal introduction to Richard Booth’s famous micronation. It rained all day.

Thankfully, most of the events were held inside the Swan Hotel or the Castle. In the Swan, the rooms were occupied with book lovers, authors and the odd literature student that stuck out amongst the older crowd. I entered a long, oak-beamed, purple-lit room where background jazz contributed to this dose of culture. Suddenly, I joined a great scramble for seats in a mix of false politeness and sheer determination to get the best view. Unfortunately, I got an uncomfortable chair that belonged in the garden.

The first event I attended was Silk Roads: A New History of the World. From the Garden of Eden to ISIS, Peter Frankopan’s politically-charged presentation placed the centre of the world in Iran and the ‘Stans’, challenging our subliminal Eurocentrism. We discovered that the Silk Roads are ever evolving as the dromedary caravans have seemingly given way to pipelines. Out of popular demand, Frankopan is returning to the summer festival!

I escaped for a while and found the old cinema. This was my favourite bookshop. I found a copy of Robert Graves’ White Goddess and some Welsh-language books before drooling over an old leather tome; the student discount was not sufficient. Afterwards, I went to the food festival and the wind made the canvases flap. But there was cheer nonetheless! Instead of mince pies, I ate the best steak pie that I’ve ever had, accompanied by Good King Wenceslas from the drenched brass band.

I retreated to my garden chair for Flora Fraser’s discussion with Corisande Albert. Her new book, The Washingtons: George and Martha promises a ‘House of Cards’ view into the corridors of Mount Vernon. It’s an important book that tells the story of a great woman who completed this powerful couple.

My favourite event was Rob Penn, The Man Who Made Things Out Of Trees. It’s the story of the Ash tree, its history and its usefulness in our history. Rob Penn spent a year making as much as he could out of one whole tree. He listed the myriad uses for ash before giving us a glimpse into the dying world of craftsmanship and their passed-down knowledge that is never recorded in books. We watched a brilliant video on bowl-making. I know, it sounds dull but if we ever started from scratch, these people would literally be worth their weight in gold! We were told about a tent-peg maker whose customers include Bono and the Queen, an Austrian sleigh-maker and one of the last wheelwrights in Britain. Penn urged us to re-think about our forests, banishing that common, urban perception that their principal use is firewood. It was an inspirational talk that took me back to my own treehouse days which were long and full and exciting.

One last thing remained; I was able to pay homage to the King of Hay who kindly allowed me to leave some New Welsh Review Christmas offer leaflets in his palace, Richard Booth’s Bookshop. It was a bit strange really, the shop was full of old men and in the middle of them was a melancholic Santa Claus sitting down with two elves. I eavesdropped; they were talking about mortgages!

A candle-lit guitar recital, singing by those roaring fires, listening to more book talks, Thrill Collins, Fflur Dafydd and storytelling events are just some things that filled up this very full and warm weekend.

Nathan Munday is a PhD student at Cardiff University.


previous blog: Dreams of Anne Frank
next blog: Welsh Short Story Network: Herring & Komodo Dragons


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