Dom Joly: Hay, a middle-class Valhalla, complete with saucy vicar

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The Independent Online

I'm down in Wales, working at the Hay-on-Wye literature festival for 10 days. I've tended to avoid festivals in the past, as I have an aversion to hippies and chemical loos.

I assumed that this would be very different – a kind of middle-class Valhalla where anything malodorous or displeasing to the eye would have been cleared, like the pre-Olympics streets of Beijing. In reality things are every different, and "travelling types" mix with country folk and scores of local organic hippies.

It's a pretty little town sitting, unsurprisingly, given the name, on the river Wye. For this one week it sees an influx of around 140,000 visitors, leading most residents to vacate their homes and rent them out at London prices. I heard of one family who have moved into a tent in their garden while some publishing bigwig rests his precious bottom on their indoor furniture.

I've got a lovely converted coach house but discovered, to my horror, that my mobile doesn't work here and that there was no television. I contemplated 10 days without 'Newsnight' or other fixes, and wept quietly in my upstairs sitting room surrounded by inedible organic muesli and New Zealand honey. I was way too embarrassed to ask my hosts for a telly, as this might imply that I was not a "reader" and this is, after all, a literary festival.

Fortunately for me, a member of my production team sensed my impending depression and telephoned my hosts with a request for a magic goggle box. One was quickly found and delivered to my residence, much as a delivery of cocaine and a couple of hookers might have been. I lay, happy as Larry in my old Welsh penthouse, soaking in my weekly fix of 'The Apprentice'.

Sadly, as with all narcotics, there was a downside the next day. Having howled with laughter at the pretentious idiocy of doomed contestant Raef, I discovered that he'd been to my old school, Haileybury. Not only was this embarrassing, in that I was now inextricably linked to this be-suited ponce, but there was now another famous old boy poised to steal the glory from former Beirut hostage John McCarthy and me.

Fortunately, I'm too busy to worry about this kind of thing for long. I'm producing a daily behind-the-scenes report for the Sky Arts coverage of the festival. My first report was about the vagaries of the local weather. Last year the festival was totally washed out and it looks as if this year might not be too different.

I decided to vox pop some locals in the town market to get their advice as to what to wear. The first person I spotted was a rather large vicar who told me that I would definitely need wellies and a fold-away umbrella that I could "whip out whenever necessary". A double-entendring vicar was too much to hope for on my first day, and he disintegrated into snorts when he realised what he'd said. "You won't use that bit will you?" he pleaded. Of course not, vicar.

I headed off to the Blue Boar – my unofficial festival headquarters. Sitting on the table behind me were four very typical festival-goers. They were talking about some drinks party that they'd arranged that evening. "Don't worry," said one, "it's been strictly vetted so there's nobody coming that isn't either easy on the eye or properly intelligent." I downed my pint of Black Fox cider with sadness. It looked as if I was not going to be invited to this particular bash. Still, only half an hour until 'Takeshi's Castle'....

Dom's literary antics appear daily on Sky Arts at 8pm

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