Arts: A nasty attack of festivalitis

In a farmhouse bedroom near Hay-on-Wye, Michael Glover realises he is sick of the literary circle
Click to follow
The Independent Online
THE MOMENT I wake up, I recognise that there is something seriously wrong. Something appears to have gone amiss existentially. Am I turning French perhaps? I walk across to the window to check the scene.

The brilliant blue tractor (shining even more brilliantly in the rain this morning) is still there, parked side on to the barn, looking like some scaled-up dinky toy or some dear illustration from a Postman Pat picture-book.

And that hutch of ferrets is still beside the car: those fierce, mink- blonde beauties - few women ever had such gorgeously rangy nails - that I have gone out to inspect from time to time. They clamber up the wire netting with such excitement when they see me observing them, hoping that, after all, I may be something bite-size. Being sensible, I disappoint them every time.

No, it can't be that then. I'm still here in this farmhouse bedroom in Hay-on-Wye. I have not been physically displaced. And then it strikes me, what the real reason is for this weird sense of vertigo and nausea and anxiety, such an unpleasant mixture of extreme states. I am, after all, suffering from something very familiar to me, something that has attacked me before in such places as Cheltenham, St Andrews and ... well, yes, here, too, of course. I am suffering from an acute attack of festivalitis.

I have been at this festival for about five days, and today my dear and distinguished colleague John Walsh will turn up, as sure as San Francisco bestraddles the San Andreas fault line. Even as I think these thoughts, I see him, the dear, dear man, in my mind's eye, cranking up the old Buick Six in that cream double garage of his somewhere well off the beaten track in Dulwich, the pockets of his linen jacket well stuffed with talk tapes.

But what, in essence, is this disease? What are its causes and its symptoms? And what is its cure? Festivalitis is brought on by an over-exposure to literary people at literary fests such as this one. And you tend to suffer worst from this one because it is, generally speaking, the longest and the busiest. Late spring Hay Fever knocks that oh-so-familiar autumnal Cheltenham Malaise into a cocked hat.

This week, I have seen them talking about themselves and their epic achievements to other epic achievers; and I have seen them, when in states of mild, late-evening distress, talking to themselves alone above some Portakabin mirror.

I have seen them being interviewed by the ingratiating; feted and applauded by the ignorant. I have seen them signing their books and, between one signature and the next, tossing off some glib, toothsome answer to the world's most intractable problems. And the owner of the precious signed copy, 20 quid and spiritually lighter, has gone away happy and personally blessed.

I have listened to the Australian novelist Peter Carey telling us how vile and conscienceless novelists are as a breed. How they have no qualms whatsoever about plundering whatever they happen to see, or intuit, in the faces of friends or loved ones - or ex-loved ones - in the higher interests of literature.

I have seen them flashing through the streets of this modest market town in their official cars, and even leaning far out of those same cars' windows in desperate, random bids for attention. Can a single wave - or even a single pensioner's mild coo - be worth an arm in peace time?

I have listened to David Hare spilling his two-a-penny secrets about the West End stage, and I have felt secretly vindicated by the sudden appearance of some sheep dog in the entrance to the marquee - and twice, thrice vindicated when that same sheep dog has proved to be Hare's most attentive listener.

And now I am sick up to here with it all. Now it is back to the smoke - the filth, the violence, the pollution of lives fully lived. As far as I am concerned, the whole damnable literary chat-pack can join hands and jump into some deep, local Arthurian pool. And may a thousand Excaliburs be poised, upright, to receive their tenderest parts.

Yes, the entire self-serving, self-congratulatory circus is quite ridiculous. Why choose these and not others, for example? The whole thing is so absurdly, so calculatedly random. Yes - I must say it again, and a little louder this time - why choose these and not other novelists, poets, dramatists?

What did they do with my own CV, for example?