Monday, 26 May 2014

Fawnography - Andrew Strong

I’m lucky enough to live close to Hay on Wye, it’s my destination of choice on a wet Sunday afternoon.  The bookshops go on forever, and there are one or two decent places to eat, not something that can be said of many small Welsh towns.  I’m a food snob, and a book snob, and a snob in general, so when the festival comes around, I tell everyone I know who intends to go that I prefer Hay when it’s quieter, when I have the place to myself.

After all, most people who attend the festival are not there because of a hunger for all things literary.  What they want more than anything else is to see, and if possible talk to, a celebrity.  This doesn’t interest me at all. If I go, I'm there out of sheer intellectual curiosity.

Yesterday, however, after tramping through heavy rain from the car park in town to the main festival site, one end of Hay to the other, and thankfully having seen not one celebrity, I found a quiet bar, bought a hideously expensive pint and slumped myself in a sofa.  I’d arranged to meet friends there, but they were scattered about the site, and none of them genuinely interested in books (unless you include ones by Alan Titchmarsh) so I had a few minutes to plan my intellectual journey for the day. I don’t know about you, but when I attend things like this I always have to have a focus – whether it’s poetry, or fiction, or history, I have to prepare myself, consider in advance what perspective I intend to take in order that I’m not thrown in any direction, and end up completely adrift on a brown sea of aimless hogwash.  (Hay is muddy, remember).

And then Adrian Edmondson walked into the bar, in wellies, and he stood right next to me and I could actually hear him talking. 

Those few minutes were very difficult for me, you understand.  I was suddenly sucked under by just the sort of empty headed nonsense I had hoped to avoid. I remember, ten years ago, having a pee next to Adrian Edmondson in the toilets at Leigh Delamare services.  He was more famous then.  I didn’t speak to him on that particular occasion, of course.  It would have been very inappropriate, but here, in a bar, well, this was a different matter.

I found I couldn't help myself from continually glancing up at him. Not because I am in awe of him in any way, but more likely because I was considering how his comedy is in an intellectual tradition that follows Beckett and Pinter, and I was thinking I could go up and ask him something along these lines but decided against it because he might think I was a tosser.

After Edmondson left the bar (he drank two pints when I had managed just one) I decided I would go and look for my friends so I could just mention, in passing, that I had just seen a very famous comedian, and making sure I shoehorned Beckett and Pinter into the same garbled sentence so I could impress upon them that I was interested in Edmondson from a cultural standpoint and really his fame was of no interest to me.  He’s just a bloke like other blokes, he drinks beer and uses the urinal (I have witnessed both, remember).

So I hurried out of the bar, fighting against a tide of bodies making their way to some ‘talk’ or other. I pushed through the middle class masses wondering why it is that they feel this need to see someone talk. It’s as ridiculous as listening to someone paint. Why go all the way to Hay to see people talk?  Similar talks are all over the internet. If you are truly interested in what these people have to say, then just stay at home and watch the videos on youtube. Or better still, read their books.  It’s all very hollow, isn’t it?

And then I saw the great Australian novelist Tim Winton, and wasn’t that Martha Kearney just behind him?  And what the hell is John Bercow doing here and, suddenly, looming out of the light like a great galleon emerging from fog, there is Stephen Fry, right there, in front of me, smiling, avuncular, our national treasure.  He was being ushered towards the new signing area next to the bookshop, nodding, his massive brain working away.

Lower status celebs (like Bercow) sign books in the main shop, but those of bigger stature, like Fry, sit in a sort of corridor next to the shop, so fawning admirers can line up and wait their turn for a few seconds of unselfconscious, fully paid, staring.

I am above all this, of course, and when I eventually meet my friends, I quickly steer the conversation to the Theatre of the Absurd and just drop in the fact I had been in a bar with Adrian Edmondson, and wasn’t it pathetic that grown men and women stare and whisper, and that I’d also seen Stephen Fry. 

One of my friends, Gary, then mentioned that he had a ticket to see Fry talking about Shakespeare.  Gary has never seen a Shakespeare play in his life.  So why, I wondered, was he so keen to hear what Fry had to say about the bard?  I have all the BBC Shakespeare on DVD, as well as one or two of the Branaghs. I'm serious about my Shakespeare, not like Gary, who's just a dilettante. But off he went, ticket clasped in his hand, his eyes glazed over in expectation. Fool.

Later that day I made my way back to the car park in the town, still curious as to the true nature of the festival.  What is this desire human beings have to be close to famous people, who, just because they choose to write, or perform, are given inordinate status?  I was thinking this, and as I entered the car park, much emptier than it was earlier on, there walking towards me was Blackadder himself, Rowan Atkinson. 

I tried not to stare, but there was nobody about, no one could see me, so it didn’t matter, and Atkinson had his eyes on the tarmac, obviously keen not to meet my gaze, so I had a big long look.  He isn’t as tall as I expected.  Not much between him and Bercow. 

Anyway, I got into my car, and starting the engine felt a trifle disappointed that there was no one I could tell about my encounter with a superstar.  But, like I said, I’m above all that, so decided to keep it to myself.  


A Wilson said...

Very good!
I was thrown into a complete spin the first time I went to Edinburgh to give a talk: there, in the Authors' Yurt, right opposite me, was Colm Toíbín. I immediately felt as though I might throw up and had to get up and leave. Why had I been asked to this festival when there were people like HIM there? I was a nobody who wrote books about kittens and puppies. I did not deserve to breathe the same air, etc, etc, etc. Utterly ridiculous, I know. If ever I am in a tent with famous writers again, I shall think of your post and smile.

Heather Dyer said...

Very funny!

Becca McCallum said...

Great post, really interesting and funny. Thanks for sharing.

Sue Purkiss said...

Glad you shared!