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Loner: Go to a Literary Festival

So as this is my first proper blog post I just want to reiterate that the idea of this blog is that it is a lovely healthy compartmentalising (if compartmentalising is healthy) mix of things to do either with your boyfriend/girlfriend/person you would put "it's complicated with" on facebook if anyone ever did that; your mates and yours truly - yourself.

On top of this concept I thought everything I was going to include in this blog should be:

1. In London - maybe some of them should be done anywhere in the world, but for restaurants, plays, exotic yoga classes etc I wanted to learn and pass on everything new and exciting I found in this brilliant city through writing Loner. Lover. Friend.
2. Less than £100 - on the basis that I don't really want to spend more than £100 per week socialising, as I would bankrupt myself more than I already have, and it means more people can enjoy anything I find and recommend.
3. Things that - if people read this in real time (and in some cases even if they didn't) - anyone could just walk into and do or book right away. No but wait until next year, no places it is impossible to get into unless you are a C-list celebrity or book 9 years in advance, just uncovered gems we could all head on down to or book today if we felt like it.

So I thought it only makes sense that my first blog post should focus on the fabulous time I had at Hay Literary Festival, which by the way is:

1. A tube, 2 not very regular trains and a bus away from London... right on the English Welsh border.
2. Far less than £100 if you did not have to pay for a train fare, anywhere to stay when you get there, food or rehydration; but assuming you have to pay for all of these things, far far more.
3. Several months ago in May, and not on again, until next May.


But hey ho as Hay Festival for me is the perfect first blog post for Loner. Lover. Friend, as it really challenged me to be a better loner, and reminded my how great being all alone with just your own mind and the stimulating words of someone else really can be for company. Which after all is one of the proper deep down purposes of this - that we'll never be the best lovers and friends we can be until we are good loners.

Sooo Hay. Sorry if you are someone who has heard of Hay Festival, but if you haven't, it is a Literary Festival in the little historic book town of Hay-on-Wye in the beautiful Brecon Hills. For 2 weeks amazing speakers from nobel prize winners to historians to Benedict Cumberbatch to Mary Berry talk about books they've written, books they've loved and just general amazing inspirational and fascinating things they've learnt in life and want to pass on to a small (by Glastonbury/Lovebox/Wilderness standards) but supremely captive audience. Although it all started in Hay-on-Wye, today Hay festival is held in 14 others venues across the globe from Budapest to the Maldives to Nigeria to Mexico. I went to the original Welsh one though innit.

When I turned 25 I made a little list of things I wanted to do before I was 30 (which I can waffle about in more detail later) and one of them was Hay. I guess - to keep with the pattern of lists of 3 - this was for these reasons:

1. I loved school - particularly English Literature - and I love a festival, so one that seemed to combine both these things, the best school lessons, but in a field where you can also buy local ales and £8 slices of pizza and fudge and local cheddar seemed like a good plan.
2. Chris Evans talks about it all the time on BBC radio 2, and I am the biggest fan (and possibly only, bar my boyfriend who is forced to listen to it against his will) twenty something daily listener to his breakfast show. He is just so chirpy, really gets me going for the day. Thus I trust everything he says, like "Hay festival is bangin'" Nb. don't think he's actually ever said "Hay Festival is bangin'" but something of that sentiment.
3. Cos I thought it would be a bit of a challenge to spend that long (2 days) totally alone, somewhere far away I didn't know, and I wanted to make sure I could do it, and come out stronger as you do by defying any challenge. Now before you close this window because you think I am the most small town person ever - suggesting Hay in Wales is somewhere far and challenging - please let me defend myself. I used to be a lot better at being alone, without signal or technology in far away lands. I even got a bit Eat Pray Love-y when I was doing my classic post uni South East Asia travelling and insisted I stay out by myself afterwards. I have had many a taxi driver who can't find your hostel at 1am in Vietnam/waking up to realise you are sharing your sleeper train bunk bed with a whole Indian family/turning up at your booked hostel to find they have given your room to someone else sort of problems which I have faced totally alone and been totally ok. But that was when I was 22, young, single and carefree, but now I am 25 and settled and in a relationship and I do things like worry about whether I am too tired to go out for dinner and drinks on Thursday and a night out on Friday and I make excel spreadsheets of my finances. The appeal of being alone has lost its glisten, cos hey anything I do alone - have a bath, eat a whole bar of mint chocolate aero whilst watching TV, lie in bed and listen to music - are better when he is there. Oh gosh I just threw up on myself, sorry. I hope you managed to keep your vomit in, but either way you get the point. Why be alone when you don't need privacy? It is nice to have someone around to get that second bar of minty aero from the fridge when you can't be arsed but you know you really want it.

So if you are still reading let me tell you a little more about all things Hay, and how I really did find a little bit of that "sure I have accidentally found myself in a brawl in the women only queue at this weird train station in this Indian town I don't even know the name of, and sure that Indian woman is using her big beautiful gold bangles to try and hit me on the head, and sure the police are now coming, but dya know what I'm ok" attitude.

If I was to talk about everything that was great about Hay, and all the wise things I learnt (like they make black pudding pizza in Wales) you would be here even longer than you've been here already so I am going to keep it to 5. Ok 6, sorry, I am a waffler, I'll get better.

1. Toni Morrison

Toni chatting away at Hay
Oh Toni. Toni Morrison was definitely my main reason for getting my act together and going to Hay this year. The nobel prize winner in 1997, I studied her novel Beloved for my A-Level English Literature coursework, and found it one of those "now I've read this I'll never be the same novels." (I mean not wildly different, like I'll still like cocktails and shoes with wedges, but something in me has got a little wiser). Beloved is based loosely on a true story of a enslaved black woman during the times of the slave trade, who took the life of some of her children, and attempted to take the life of the others, to save them from a fate she believed far worse than death: growing up a slave. Toni Morrison, a New Yorker, a mother, a descendant of slaves was suprisingly unintimidating. She started by making jokes about how she'd used sweetcorn as sexual innuendos in her very serious novel. Hearing someone as incredible as Toni Morrison speak about their work was amazing, a few rows back is probably the closest I will ever get to a brain so big and clever. I could start my own  Toni Morrison at Hay spin off blog, but in the name of succinctness, I'll touch on just one thing she said, which was about the ending of her book, where one character Paul D reminds Sethe that "you your best thing Sethe. You are". Luckily we don't have to overcome the incomprehensible struggles and choices slaves endured and made in
Graffiti of Toni in Vitoria, Spain
America for hundreds of years, and many people in the world still have to overcome today. But however easy our life is in comparison, I think that is a lovely thing to take with us and remember, whatever our worry or hurdle, we're our best thing.

2. The clean and shiny porta loos.
And on a way more shallow note: the porta loos were quite frankly, incredible. No dropshots, no poo piled high above the seat, no sick on the floor, not even a skidmark. We are talking toilets that flushed, toilet paper galore, porcelain freaking sinks with running water. Turns out the reason portaloos are gross at all the music festivals isn't just because portaloos are gross full stop. It all us twenty somethings who consume 8 pints of beer, a dodgy burger, 3 double vodka and cokes and then block the portaloos with 4 packs of baby wipes. Woops. Live and learn. But for a nice loo, head to Hay. I wish I had taken a picture to add below, but frankly I don't think I could capture them more beautifully than they were in the flesh.

3. Only having to pay for the talks you actually go to
Imagine if at festivals you only had to pay to see the bands you actually wanted to, and not for all the weird electro ones on the programme that all your friends want to see but it is hard to sing along to? At Hay, you only have to pay for the talks you are going to, which means you always get to see what you want properly without crippling your boyfriend by climbing on his shoulders (as you book in advance) and it is kinder to your bank balance. All Hay talks cost from free to £15, with most sitting around £7 and most sessions lasting an hour and a half.

4. Chris and Christine
One of my big things I was nervous about when going away by my lonesome was meeting Chris/Christine (I didn't know it was 2 people yet), the B&B Hay Festival "find me a room" service had found me whilst warning they had not vetted the B&Bs. Probs didn't help I was meeting them "outside the clock tower" at 11pm. Just sounds like the beginning of a horror movie. But as it turns out Chris and his wife Christine (2 of them) are some of the nicest people and best chefs I've met, with a very comfy bed and very friendly chocolate labradors. If you want to sample a night in one of their amazing beds, wake up to this view from your bedroom and eat one of these maple syrup, walnut, banana and creme fraiche bagels for breakfast, look on their website here: http://www.thesmithy.webeden.co.uk/



5. Ruby Wax
I can never decide whether I find Ruby Wax that funny, or just a bit weird and I am not sure if Hay settled things one way or the other. But she knows her shiz when it comes to all mental health surrounding depression, stress and anxiety, having recently got her master's at Cambridge! At Hay she talked about things that could get scientific, boring and depressing in an interesting and amusing way so that was good. I liked her chat about Dopamine. That is the hormone which makes us want to study for our exams, write a blog after our full working day, bother to go to 2 different friend's birthday dinners in one night, and all round make us want to make the most of our lives. However, in too higher dose dopamine can also be the thing that makes you freak the hell out when you get to the underground platform and there is not another tube for a whole 4 bleeding minutes and you are running late anyway because you decided to squeeze your beach holiday ASOS order, painting your nails and checking your instagram in your spare 10 minutes that day. Constant amounts of dopamine make us way more likely to get anxiety problems (looking at me here) but if we keep on like this high levels of dopamine have been linked to cancer, schizophrenia and loads of nasty things. I often dip in and out of practicing mindfulness and general relaxation bits to keep my mind of my worries, but one that Ruby taught me really works. Basically your brain can't be panicking when one of your senses - smelling, hearing, seeing, touching is really working hard - your brain just can't be in two places at once. So next time you're panicking look really hard at something - really taking in the colours, the glint, the depth of what your are looking at. Or smell really hard - concentrate on how the rooms smells right now and how it changes. You'll feel your brain jumping in again and pulling you back to your worries, but if you keep at it, it works really well.

6. And finally - Hay-on-Wye itself. 
Festival or no festival, Hay-on- Wye is certainly worth a visit, for its cobbled lanes, beautiful Brecons views, independent delis and cafes, retro cinema, award winning pubs and restaurants and it's burnt out castle which now houses a street food market, fortune teller and antiques shop. And of course its book shops, because Hay is not just book crazy for the last week of May and first week of June, but all year round. I loved it so much, I even googled the house market prices round there, as I could see myself spending my Saturday eating fresh fettucine in the street market, walking it off in the Brecon's and slobbing in front of an old movie in the cinema that night. And for the price of a 2 bed flat in Peckham you could own a 4 bedroom detached cottage overlooking your massive garden. Commute on a Monday morning would be a bitch though.

Hay Castle no longer homes any Welsh kings and queens, but a restaurant, street food market and a fortune teller amongst other things.

Totally chose the book with the good covers at Booth's bookshop (pictured below)

Booth's Bookshop claims to be the largest second hand bookshop in the world, it was started by Richard Booth who proclaimed himself King of Hay (honestly) and helped turn it into the internationally renowned book town it is today

Hay 2015 isn't available to book yet, but will be by the end of 2014/beginning of 2015 and you can do so here.

Here are some other literary festivals I fancy going to this year, next year one day, which are not quite as far a field:

Like Hay you just buy tickets for the events you go to, so that is nice. My highlight speakers include Caitlin Moran, Margaret Atwood and Judi Dench.

Just down the road, cheap as chips (lots of free talks), sponsored by Brew Dog, and I have seen loads of people who went last year hanging around with a fabulous canvas tote. All round excellent stuff.

So this is quite a new one, which happened last year in Hyde Park I believe, with lots of modern fiction authors. However, I can see nothing about it on their website, so maybe they are not planning for one next year? If no, they are doing writing and creative group trips to Italy, so if there is no literary festival in Hyde Park next year, we can console ourselves with a writing trip to Tuscany next September.

So if you fancy a 2 day trip to Hay next year, how much will it cost you?

Not propestorous I guess for something which is essentially a mini break, but cutting out the bed and train and heading to something a bit more local would make it cheaper!

Vicky x

Top photo copyright - Harper's Bazaar

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