I think the Hay Festival’s byline of “Imagine The World” is one of the best lines ever because that is exactly what you are given the luxury of doing. You get to truly imagine the world and so much more. Seeing the world from every angle possible and imagining the bigger pictures each and every speaker creates. My four girlfriends and I have just come back from the Hay Festival, at the gorgeous Hay On Wye in Wales, both uplifted and exhausted. It is just so incredibly inspirational to sit and listen and absorb such a diverse selection of thoughts delivered from fascinating minds. My poor little brain is struggling to cope with the amount of information it has tried to soak up during our time there and I’ve returned home with mixed feelings – fully inspired to find a way to change the world but also feeling deeply in awe of their brilliance. Not only were all the authors and experts absolutely captivating on their specialist subjects, but even the audience questions seemed more intelligent than most. It made me want to get hold of the microphone and ask Stephen Fry a seriously erudite question, but I wouldn’t have been able to – I would have got tongue tied and asked him what his favourite colour was instead.
We stayed first with our friends, the artist Janet Lance-Hughes and her architect husband, together with Helen Lederer and her husband – such a glorious location:-
Then we went to see her exhibition at the wonderfully located River Cafe:-
This year was the Hay Festival’s 30th anniversary and it felt even more busy than usual. There was an armed police presence for the first time and the demographics seem to have reduced in age which was good to see too – that more young people than ever are enjoying the talks. The Telegraph wasn’t sponsoring it this year and I wasn’t aware of a significant sponsor. I don’t know why they’ve stopped doing their Hay shop – there seemed to be a lot of vintage clothing shops, but not much else. I guess people don’t really arrive to purchase anything but books. Good to see a few more covered areas to relax in, but not required for our two gloriously sunshiney days.
I had the privilege of being given a press pass as a blogger to cover the events so huge amount of writing notes that I couldn’t interpret was done:
So some of the highlights we saw?
Letters Live 2
The gorgeous Jamie Byng introduced the session because Canongate Books publish the very impressive books Letters Of Note Deserving Of a Wider Audience – essential coffee table reading for every household. Juliet Stephenson was amongst a highly impressive group of actors who read out a selection of funny, sad, powerful letters producing joy and pain in equal measure. We listened to Antoine Leiris’s letter to the killers of his wife at the Bataclan entitled “You Shall Not Have My Hate” and wept silent tears as we thought about the recent Manchester bombing. We laughed at the letters Napoleon wrote to Josephine and then loved a brilliantly written blog post about advice to a younger self. So much to enjoy and such a great concept.
Garry Kasparov talks to Stephen Fry
DEEP THINKING: WHERE MACHINE INTELLIGENCE ENDS AND HUMAN CREATIVITY BEGINS
20 years ago, in May 1997, the world watched as Garry Kasparov, the greatest chess player in the world, was defeated for the first time by the IBM supercomputer Deep Blue. He talked to Stephen Fry about how that had affected him describing it as a “golden age, when machines were weak and my hair was strong.” He talked a lot about Artificial Intelligence and how he has tried to embrace it, but argued that you can’t call it “intelligence” as a machine will never have purpose and humans will always make mistakes, so Deep Blue is more about “interface”. You see? I basically have no idea what he was talking about.
Stephen Fry highlighted one issue about how you can’t rely on machines to get things right, quoting a Russian translation of “out of sight, out of mind” as being interpreted incorrectly as “invisible idiot.”
Kasparov tells his side of the story of Deep Blue for the first time – what it was like to strategise against an implacable, untiring opponent – the mistakes he made and the reasons the odds were against him.
They discussed education and about how the way our children are taught needs to change. Children don’t need to use their memory anymore, so they need to stop teaching by rote and introduce a far more interactive approach to teaching – one that embraces all the elements of our fast growing technology.
Tracey Emin in conversation with Dylan Jones
TALKING ABOUT ART
I think this was my favourite talk. She talked to the editor of GQ magazine, Dylan Jones. They are clearly friends and so she was relaxed and open. I thought she was AMAZING. Very honest and quite humble. When prompted to come up with a byline for the Hollywood movie of her life she said “Mad Tracey From Margate Comes Good.” She said how good it was to do something you love and be recognised for that.
They discussed her honest approach to her art, using her life events as inspiration for her extraordinary works, such as The Bed and her Tent amongst others. Her honesty is key to her art in understanding “who I am”. She noted how the world had changed in the last 30 years and how there was far more openness and honesty in general as people have embraced the first person. She feels that things are moving too fast now, that people are no longer taking the time to touch things, develop an emotional connection and are not being discerning enough. “Art should make you stand still, stop and think and be something you feel, life is too quick now and people are not really feeling anything. Without the feeling you don’t develop a soul”.
Dylan asked her to discuss her need to be “self-obsessed”, which she changed to “self-focused” and went on to discus the fact that because she didn’t have a partner or a family “all I have is my art, that is my obsession, not me. Art is a part of me.”
She gave her opinion on Brexit; “I cried when I found out – I’m friendly, I don’t believe you should fuck your neighbours over, you should support them”. She’s going to vote for the Women’s Equality Party, noting that she can no longer vote Lib Dems because of Tim Farron’s issue with homosexuality.
She talked about her past reputation with sex and alcohol and said that she had changed. She now related sex with love and had moved away from her hedonistic approach to life in exchange for a slower pace. “It was a hell of a lot of fun, but I can’t to it anymore, I’m too old, I want to paint, work, swim, walk, I don’t want to be on the front page of a paper again for all the wrong reasons”.
Edvard Munch and Egon Schiele are her favourite artists and she talked about her pride in being asked to be the contemporary artist in an upcoming show of his and how she cried when she was invited to do so because it was a dream come true.
They talked about how she felt when her tent installation got burnt down. “In Everyone I’ve Ever Slept With, she used the process of appliqué to inscribe the names of lovers, friends and family within a small tent, into which the viewer had to crawl, becoming both voyeur and confidante – she said she “felt huge relief” because she had decided that she didn’t need reminding about some of the people she had slept with and that although she had been offered £1m to do it again through insurance, there was no way she was going to do that. She put it into perspective by noting all the atrocities in the world right now and how irrelevant the tent was in comparison.
Gina Miller and Henry Porter talk to Helena Kennedy
BREXIT BRITAIN 1 – SOVEREIGNTY
When I booked to see Gina Miller at The Hay Festival, there was no talk about a snap election, so this talk was fascinating. They addressed who actually holds power in Britain and how she successfully led the legal challenge to the government over parliamentary prerogative. She discussed her shock at the level of hatred she and the judges received as a result. “Permission has been given for people to behave in the most despicable way”. She told us that it was not just Twitter trolls, but that she had received handwritten letters on gold embossed paper with names and addresses sent directly that included hate statements such as that her children would be beheaded or they would shoot her in front of them. She said people were not frightened, not hiding and think it’s permissible to rage but that she “will not let bullies like this win.” Their values are so far removed from hers that she and everyone else still need to keep fighting.
They have urgently set up a website called Brexit Record in order to monitor the economic impact of Brexit and highlight areas where Brexit is already starting to bite. She doesn’t recommend a second referendum but is in favour of a civic movement with a strategic and sophisticated approach to influence parliament. She blames the real lack of opposition in a democracy already damaged by a vacuum in the centre and believes there is a place for another party, “Brexit was an expert free zone”. She does not believe the UK is capable of going it alone, “we need Europe” and as such she announced “I may well take her back to court” over any laws that include taking the rights of British citizens. She believes that for our children’s sake it is so important that we have the row. “The system is not broken, but we have the wrong people in the system.”
Her plan for tactical voting has been difficult owing to a lack of time. They are aiming to dent the landslide “and give her a bloody nose” working with a number of MP’s on key chosen seats.
We loved dancing to Kobo Town. Such energy. Founded and fronted by émigré Trinidadian songwriter Drew Gonsalves, Kobo Town’s music has been variously described as “an intoxicating blend of lilting calypsonian wit, dancehall reggae and trombone-heavy brass” – Guardian. After the global success of their 2013 album Jumbie in the Jukebox they are now releasing Where The Galleon Sank.
THE CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS PLATFORM: A NEW ENLIGHTENMENT?
Stephen Fry, Bettany Hughes, Lawrence Krauss and Martin Rees
This panel was incredible. Such a collective amount of intelligence sitting in one space and marginally mind-blowing to listen to. Classicists, polymaths (what even is that?) and physicists sat together to debate the question of whether the “expert” and elite knowledge was under threat. Not at Hay it’s not. In a world of broken institutions and failing states, of corrupted democracies and of post-truth politicians; in a world of fake news, faith schools and fundamentalism, we need a rational and humane voice. We need a new Enlightenment. Where do we start?
They discussed the current divides that are occurring by making people fearful – that’s how you make people do things….and it’s very scary. “Release your fear” they agreed, in every village there are village idiots, but now that we all live in a global village, there are still the idiots,but it has become far more immediate a problem and needs to be addressed more quickly.
They discussed the state of education and how ticking boxes and learning facts need to change to encourage a different level of inquiry.
You shouldn’t really need to be right, it’s fine to question, to disagree, you just need to convince people to “think.” Bethany Hughes said that we are in “an age of cataloguing the world rather than comprehending it” and that there is an echo chamber causing problems with getting information out to the wider world.
Stephen Fry quoted Bertrand Russell, saying “kindness and clear thinking” were the two most important elements we need to hold dear and all agreed that it was acceptable not to know the answers, better to say “I don’t know, lets find out” than pretend you always know the answers. “Those who are certain are stupid, those who are intelligent are doubtful”.
Their final suggestions for a hopeful future included “To Peace and Life”, “Question, reflect, repeat”, “Think long term, think globally” and “don’t try and be clever, we are all clever here, just try and be a little kind”.
We managed to commandeer poor Lawrence a little later in the evening for a photo:-
Fat Freddy’s Drop
Fresh from the “Love Saves The Day” festival in Bristol, what a great performance the seven-piece band gave. Everyone in the huge Tata Tent dancing their little heads off. Lots of people came specially to see them at The Hay Festival as they are now internationally renowned. The New Zealanders have a wide range of musical talent, from reggae through to soul and jazz with a brass band backing. Fat Freddy himself was a very powerful presence, involving several costume changes, appearing at one point on stage wearing a silver crown and cloak. Later, from where I was standing it looked as if he was just in his vest and underpants, but I could have been wrong….
He was there to talk about his new book, but what an opportunity to listen to his views on the state of democracy just prior to the general election. He wanted to know where our new centre of gravity was and how had we ended up with no relevant leaders. He is horrified at the parallels he sees with Nazi Germany and very worried about our future. As a Liberal he said he could not fail to be optimistic, but “Optimistic Armageddon” was the way he described how he was currently feeling. He too has set up a new website called More United UK, a crowdfunding to help elect candidates who agree with their values of less hate, less division and more unity, regardless of what party they are from. 80,000 people have already backed them and perhaps this is the civic movement that is needed.
Watch this space.