Luke Blackall: Hay-makers united by love of books and dislike of rain

Man About Town: You can throw your pint at the stage for AC/DC, but not for AC Grayling
  • @lukeblackall

I've often thought how nice it would be to go to the literary festival in Hay-on-Wye, but my June weekends kept getting filled up with other summer parties and music festivals. This year, however, I'm at my first book festival. I wasn't sure how to deal with the rain as it poured down, turning all uncovered areas to marsh.

Of course, you expect rain at a music festival, and the reveller's response to it is usually to go and sit in a music tent and drink cider until you forget the fact that your clothes are wetter inside than out. But at a literary festival you can't do that.

I also realised that you can throw your pint and its plastic cup at the stage for AC/DC, but do that to AC Grayling, and it's a different matter.

Having said that, after watching Professor Grayling outlast the other literary luminaries on the dancefloor at the GQ/Soho House party, he could be more of a rock star than people give him credit for.

Hay attracts both wordsmith superstars (such as Salman Rushdie and Ian McEwan) and those commentators who inhabit the arts pages of the papers. You are never sure exactly what they do, but they always have a book to sell.

And it is also an out-of-the-capital meeting point for the Establishment. Indeed, there were rumours that London's mayor Boris Johnson had stood up Alan Yentob, the BBC's creative director, for an early-morning swim. But after reading that Johnson apparently chose to go skinny-dipping, I think it was a lucky escape for the BBC man.

Before I went, I wondered if it might be all Bloomsbury Set parties where stylish, bookish types drew on long cigarette-holders before spending the evening swinging. I spotted a few of these, but the average festival-goer was refreshingly normal.

Apart from the types who rush to ask long questions after talks to show off to the author and audience (is this a form of sexual frustration?), most are just united in their love of literature, and their dislike of the rain.

Before you worry, it wasn't all debates about Joyce and the future of publishing. I was also invited to charge around the countryside in a four-wheel drive at the Land Rover Experience at Eastnor. Research suggests women buy more books than men, and I would hazard a guess men buy more four-wheel-drives than women. Now, if someone could create a festival that combined cars and books (but no reading while driving), they could be on to a winner.