Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Don't ask about my phonebill....

Library visit

While I was around the corner using the printer, Bo trashed the kids corner and fell asleep in the corner.

Outdoor living, before the rain began

A man with four sheds

Just as Ollie was settling into his shed, we were invited over our friend Derek's place down in Hay. From the street his place looks like a regular double fronted terrace, but out the back, beyond his standard back garden, a flower-lined path winds round, leading to a fantastic secret garden, with not one, but four sheds. Derek is a landscape architect, so not surprising that he discovered probably one of the best gardens in the centre of Hay. On the last night of the festival we sat around a campfire, cooking sausages, watching the sun go down, and listening to music from The Sound Castle. Perfect.

Plays in Hay

Went to two fab plays during the Festival: Dead or Alive at Booth's Bookshop and The Hay Play at the The Sound Castle. Will definitely look out for future productions by Feral and Pentabus.

Herb Farmacy

I helped the Herb Farmacy shop in Hay in a teeny way before the festival, and as a thank you they gave me several pots of creams. Having worked my way through them, the one I like most is their 'Divine Light Face Cream' with echinacea, marshmellow and calendula (76% organic ingredients), perfect for my slightly oily skin. Check out their website for photos of their beautiful farm in Eardisley and to browse their products:

Festival finale

The sun did come out, on the last weekend, and everything felt better. Ol had a good week, mostly meeting Indian contacts, on the back of introducing Mark Tully and some good product placement by our kind friend Jules at her BandB! I was sad when it was all over and life felt less sociable, friends gone and all the local crowd exhausted, but was glad to have a roof over our head for the weeks of non-stop rain that have followed.
I've missed out a lot, but that's all I have time for. Ending on a lightweight note, the boys got a kick out of seeing Justin Fletcher live, which was better than it sounds:

Can you spot Seth and Bo in the mosh pit?

The future of travel writing, according to (from R to L) Chris Moss, Les Lumsden, Oliver Balch and Michael Kerr. 

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Festival follow-up

My iphone died this week, taking with it all my notes from the Hay Festival and any interesting quotes I had to share with you. I'm pretty sure I didn't note down anything from the women in business workshop (from left to right, Heather Gorringe, Wiggly Wigglers, Sally Bailey, Baileys Home Store, and Jessica Seaton, Toast) - just some honest and amusing stories from Heather Gorringe, it was an o-kay event. However, I am enjoying the goodie bag from the three businesses (thank you!) and today had fab lunch with Emma Metcalf of The Write Team, who I sat next to at the workshop. Thinking about it, I have also bumped into others since who were at the workshop, so maybe it's a good thing to have events like this that attract more locals and inspire new ventures and networks?

De-camped (from semi-camping)

Our home during the festival (it would have been lovely had it been as dry as it looked it in this photo) and the walk home from the campsite to kettle and wifi and friends at Pottery Cottage.


The first weekend of the festival we had Indian friends in town - Kanchen and Kanika, mother and daughter, from Dehradun, stayed in Pottery Cottage, and Salil and Ameya, father and son, from Mumbai, did B&B up at the farm.

Late on Saturday evening we all went to hear William Dalrymple on , accompanied by an Urdu singer. The words were lost on most of the audience, but not on our four guests who had differing opinions on the lyrics which they debated on the drive home.

The evening before I had cycled down to The Sound Castle to hear the brilliant Frente Cumbiero from Bogota. The best part though was seeing most of the audience sitting stiffly in their seats and uber cool Kanika and Kanchen (best mum dancer I've ever seen) rocking the dance floor.

We then took them down to The Globe to hear our friends Jim Eliot and Mima Stilwell aka Kish Mauve. They write and produce for artists like Kylie Minogue and Will Young, and he was there at The Globe when we arrived, chillaxing around a table in the Welsh drizzle with a bunch of our friends.

The gig was fantastic, just in a pretty small yurt, with usually understated Mima looking way too cool too cool to hang out with any of us! Then, as the Hereford Times, no less, reported (see pic above) - they were joined Will Young. Brilliant evening, and even our friend Kaniks, used to hanging out in the coolest bars of Mumbai with the coolest Indian set absolutely loved her first Friday evening out in the sticks in Wales.
(Forgot my camera charger this weekend so no iphone pics, sorry!)

Yankees in Hay

It was such a treat to have our dear American pals from Buenos Aires, Ian and Cintra, with us in Hay for a few days, with Henry and newborn Luca. Both in the fairly unique position of having been living in Argentina for several years, without family connections (well, I do have second cousins there but I didn't see much of them) and working freelance, friendships with like-minded people were really important. Ian, Cin and Henry - and about 20 other friends - just a few hours after Bo was born, and I think sharing experiences like forms a special bond. It was Ian's first trip to the British Isles and it bucketed it down for the occasion. We did make it up to the Begwyns before the rains began, but the rest of the time we all pretty drenched. Cintra had been to the festival years ago, but I'm sure this time was more memorable as her husband was speaking. Ian was talking about his book The Vineyard at the End of the World with novelist Andres Neuman, at an event chaired by Ollie.

('...a beautiful, accomplished novel: as ambitious as it is generous, as moving as it is smart.' From a review of Andres Neuman's first novel in English, The Traveller of the Century, in The Guardian this weekend.)
Looking forward to seeing the Scott-Mounts again in Argentina in September!

Slow moving blogging

I'm being hopelessly slow catching up on this blog. So tonight I'll do as much as I can and then write off anything else I've missed. I have managed to break my iphone though, so you'll be spared day-to-day photo updates of our lawn (sowed grass seed last week and with all the rain it's already sprouting up nicely and looking sort of green).
Ok, back to the festival...

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Hay Festival artists parking

Guess which is ours??

Boy-free day

I had a nice bit of mooching around Hay on my own on the last day of the festival, looking at the pop-up shops up at the Castle (I liked the pottery in the pic below). I ran into my friend Hannah, also fancy-free without her two small boys and snapped this cute pic of her and Gwyneth.
Imp-free, I also went to the business workshop for women with the female founders of Wiggly Wigglers, Toast, and Baileys Home Store. Heather Gorringe of Wiggly Wigglers was wonderfully warm and open, but really the best part of the event was meeting other there, one of whom is a really interesting contact for the project I'm quietly working on. We're meeting next week, so it was worth going to that just to meet her. 

Kate Modern

We panicked before the festival because our lovely regular babysitter, Georgia, had taken on three temporary jobs. Fortunately her equally lovely mum, Kate, stepped in and looked after the boys - with the added perk of doing puppet shows for them. The boys slept in amongst her artwork (we drop them off there and pick them up when we're heading home) as she opened up her home for he annual exhibition, Kate Modern!

Artisans in Hay

Artisans at Hay once again took over the Buttermarket in Hay on the first weekend of the festival. I got to catch up with Alejandra, from Peru, and Gustavo, from Buenos Aires, who now live in Builth Wells and are both very creative. This time they had something new to sell: pottery! I really liked these tea cups.
My friend Maureen Richardson was also there, selling her paper creations. She never sits still, she's fab!

Fiction writers at Hay 25

'The shop of crap'

I kind of enjoyed the interview with Mark Haddon at the festival. He was let down by the interviewer, I felt, and it just felt a bit 'nosy', rather than giving him the opportunity to say anything that interesting. There was a lot of talk about all the Hay references in his latest book, The Red House, and he read the part where he describes 'the shop of crap' which sells anything and everything. He mentions all the main places, Shepherds, The Granary, The Globe etc, and talked about the book cover which is based on the Willow pattern plate with a crack in it, which apparently the US publisher rejected because American readers would return it thinking it was faulty (really??). He just seemed a really decent guy whose writing comes a fascination with people and how they work, particularly those he has no experience or contact with.

He mentioned the screw-up by the publishers in putting on the back cover blurb of the first edition of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time that Christopher had Asperger Syndrome, which Haddon intentionally did not mention in the book. Later in the week we had supper with Tobias Jones and his family and he was telling us that on the spine of one of his books they put Tobias Hill and the whole print run had to be pulped. So that made us feel better about the typos we've spotted in India Rising. The evening with Tobias and Francesca was a bit of a highlight of the week. What lovely people! They live with their three kids in a woodland shelter in Somerset, which they run as an open household for people in difficulty. It's a really great project and selfless 'lifestyle' and they talk about it in a way that's really down-to-earth, and not at all worthy or weird. Check out their website at:

Ol went to hear Grace McLeen and Chad Harbach, both brilliant, and I was meant to hear Emily Perkins but another event clashed with it, so I gave the ticket to a friend who really enjoyed her.
I'm looking forward to reading The Forrests.

Sarah Raven on Wildflowers

 Wildflowers peeking through the stone wall at Pottery Cottage

I remember when I was about 12 or 13, in the days when I used to pore over the Laura Ashley Home catalogues dreaming up what I would do to different in my house, I read a magazine article about Sarah Raven and her cutting garden in Sussex. I have followed her ever since and have several of her books. So I really enjoyed hearing her speak at the festival this yea about her best-selling book about wildflowers.

My mother's father was head gardener at country estates in the West Country, so my mum spent her childhood in pretty isolated settings, surrounded by flowers, and with the freedom to roam woodlands, meadows and hedgerows. She loves wildflowers and my main memory of her from my own childhood are the times she was most animated - pointing out wildflowers and picking flowers from the hedgerows to bring home to our house on the edge of the city. Sarah Raven's father was an amateur, but highly accomplished, botanist and she spent most of her free time with her father during her childhood going off in search of wildflowers that he would paint and document.  Now that I'm a mum, I love hearing about what things people remember from their childhood (love Desert Island Discs for that), I suppose as inspiration to do similar things with the boys. So often, the happy memories are of parents sharing something they are passionate about with their kids, and that enthusiasm being infectious.

I digress. Here are some random snippets and tips from Sarah Raven's talk.

- Good publicity for Yorkshire (after a bumper year of free PR on the back of the Hockney exhibition) as she repeatedly talked about wildflower sites in North Yorkshire, mostly Wensleydale.

- If we don't look after our bees, we won't be enjoying strawberries in the UK in 10 years time as they'd have to be pollinated by humans, rather than naturally by bees, which would cost a fortune, and make them totally unaffordable. Plant flowers that attract bees!

- On foxgloves: 'Like a high-rise flat of cafes for bees. They start at the bottom and work their way at the top.'

- How to remember the names of wildflowers. Pick one, find out what it is, put it in a vase by your bed. Building that kind of 'relationship' with a flower for a week will impress the name on you.

- Is it ok to pick wildflowers? Yes, if there are 100 or more of them!

- If you sear wildflower stems for 20 seconds in boiling water they will keep for a week.

- A lot of talk about 'Yellow Rattle' (Cockscomb) which she has found to be present wherever unusual wildflowers are growing in abundance.

- And finally, having seen her photos of the Outer Hebrides I definitely would like to visit there. Wow, it looks absolutely stunning.

Festival style

The Hay Festival isn't cool, in a way that Hay itself isn't either. I mean that as a compliment. It's all about quality and genuine talent (there is so much unsung talent in this town) and relationships (many of the speakers have a long-running connection with Hay), rather than being pretentious or playing to current trends and fads. I find Hay as a town, and the festival, really refreshing for that. The festival also does at a great job of reflecting the rural setting and it's nice to see all local businesses (many of whom have been around for as long as, or longer than the festival) doing the food and the shops on site, and no big brands. Compared to when we were last at the festival, over a decade ago, it's very slick and professional, but I enjoyed that the retail opportunities were to buy things like Mushroom Logs, and that I knew several people who had been involved in planting up the flower beds, which really were beautiful.I thought maybe there could have been more stands on the site (I'd exhausted them by day one) so there was enough to keep exploring over the ten days, but what was there was really impressive, and maybe it's better to keep it small to ensure it's all local and the best quality?

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Prophet of doom

On day three of the festival I heard publisher, Cambridge academic, and author of Merchants of Culture, John Thompson, speak on the future of publishing in a digital age. There's a good summary of his talk here. Although he was pretty upbeat, the takeaway point for me was that the biggest threat in the UK is to medium-sized, independent publishers like....Faber.

Thank yous

The last few weeks have been quite stressful, and I only survived it thanks to some super kind friends in Clyro. So, mega thanks to: M and J for giving the boys and me a bed for the night (in their very cool barn room) on a night when I was really desperate; J and C for giving us their key so we could sneak and have a bath (during a week of camping in the rain) and wash our clothes; to J, another laundry angel, and for adding the boys to her brood and driving Bo to Crocs in the mornings; and to D and S for giving us their dryer, which has transformed one room living in the rain into a manageable experience. ALL, THANK YOU.

My garden gnomes



A day in the garden

Day two of the festival, and our wonderfully kind friend, Phil, turned up at Pottery Cottage with a trailer full of tools and machinery and with Ollie spent the whole day working on our garden (leaving me to enjoy the festival without two kids in tow). Ol loved it - a much needed break from working on a computer - and our garden was transformed! Phil was very methodical and organised everything, we could never have done it ourselves, and by the end of the day the soil had been dug, raked and rotivated. It shouldn't be long now until we have a lawn for the boys to play on, which will be far less fun than the mud, but much nicer to look at.

(Note Ollie's yellow wristband - that was our entry pass to The Globe Hilltop campsite down the hill - where we stayed for a week during the festival. It got wetter and muddier as the week went on, but wasn't quite as bad as it sounds.)

Festival fun (and sun, for one day only!)

The days before the festival, before the rains began and the crowds arrived, it really did look very pretty. Almost all local businesses had dolled up their space for the ten days, with bunting, lots of handpainted signage, and special festival exhibitions in galleries dotted around town.
On the first Friday after school we jumped on the the Festival shuttle bus with our friend Jules and her girls and took the four imps for ice-cream at Shepherds' pop-up shop. The North girls were cannier than us and opted for the Hay 25 special 'Blackcurrant and Champagne' flavour, which came with a Hay 25 wafer (very exciting and object of much envy if you're aged 2!).
Earlier that afternoon I'd been to the Hay Library Lecture where Michael Morpurgo was speaking. If you ever get the chance to hear him live, take it, because his storytelling is pure magic. I can't wait for the boys to be old enough to read his books.

Peter Florence introduced Hay's BRILLIANT librarian, Jayne Evans ('The person who done more for books than anyone in this town'), who then introduced Michael Morpurgo.

His speech (which he read, with much feeling and animation that I can still hear many of the phrases in my head) covered the closure of libraries, the plight of children in Gaza, and reading programmes for children of asylum seekers in the UK. He closed with a reading of his brilliant short story, I Believe in Unicorns, which you can read here.

I cycled back home feeling very inspired, particularly for a project I'm working on...
Here's the man himself, with aforementioned Shepherds special ice-cream.  
Photo by Clara Molden, Telegraph, grabbed from the Hay Festival website.

It looks gorgeous in the sun, doesn't it? Mmm, that didn't last!