The riots started slowly with the homeless and the lowly
Then they spread into the heartland towns that never get a wristband
     – Paul Simon, Wristband

Wristbands were an innovation this year for the How The Light Gets In festival at Hay. I know this because I had to ask for them eighty times a day from surprised festival goers drifting across from the older, more established Hay Festival two miles down the road (where on-site deckchairs in the sun were still free at the point of use). The forty percent of on-heel swivelling Fexiters should have thought about stewarding: perks were not just free site entry but also free entry to this younger, more obviously philosophical festival’s debates and talks, which I tried to take fullest advantage of.

How were they? What did I find? More than in previous years I found assertively silent audiences if speakers thought the wrong way on things. But to give HTLGI credit, at least they had the guts to book a slew of bad taste thinkers with the potential to embarrass audiences mute. At the main Hay Festival, which I managed to get to now and again, embarrassing thinkers fell at the booking hurdle. They weren’t even there.

Might this change in future? For example, would a Brexit kick off wider changes so that zones of cultural complacency such as the Hay Festival had to respond and change accordingly? Who knows. What’s certain is that the Hay Festival and the audience at HowTheLightGetsIn are at present sealing themselves off into a world of comfort-thinking and binge-feeling and it’s a shame. It means it’s getting boring. And it wasn’t so long ago that Hay wasn’t boring. For a good six or seven years for example Christopher Hitchens would rock the boat on Iraq and Islam, occasionally telling audience members to fuck off.

Hitchens’s appearances became the reason to go in these years; he became a fixture. Who now most fits this description? Probably Marcus Brigstocke. Decline is all around us. Not just decline; exhaustion, lethargy, decadence.

If we remain in the EU, next year there’s talk they’re just going stick David Mitchell in a field and that’s it. David Mitchell in a field.

Here are a few snaps and notes on 12 days with the bien pensant au festival (click on an image to start):


  1. It’s interesting to see that Hay-on-Wye is twinned with Timbuktu, another town with a magnificent collection of books – and with a better reputation for accomodating alternative points of view – at least until recently.

    Of course the Islamic culture conserved at Hay’s twin is more than a thousand years old, and has had the time to go through all the stages of fanaticism, secession and accommodation to reality which religions experience. Environmentalism (or, more generally, Guardian-reading Right-Onism) is still at the first stage.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Paul,

    I didn’t see his talk as I was on duty at the riverside box-office, but I did see him as he came through the box office later and surprised him by shouting ‘Piers Corbyn!’. I asked him if he’d had a good reception from the HTLGI audience and apparently he went down well. Down to his eccentric style, perhaps?

    Anyway, I hope he’s checking Cliscep out. He was keen to investigate us here.


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