John Walsh: btw

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The Independent Online

Six inches of rain fell on writers and readers, just and unjust, at the 21st Hay Festival last week – not an unheard-of state of affairs in this town, but it produced the worst engulfment of mud ever seen by the organisers. New arrivals were told their best course of action was to drive to a village three miles away, and take a bus back. It was impressive, under the circumstances, how bravely everyone kept their spirits up ...

Kathleen Turner, the vampiest vamp of 1980s cinema ("You're not too bright are you? I like that in a man,") flew in to promote her autobiography, Send Yourself Roses. Finding herself and daughter Rachel billeted in a cottage with no car, no phone and nothing in the fridge for breakfast, she decided to walk to a shop. When the rain started, she stuck out a thumb – and a car screeched to a halt. The driver took her to a nearby garage, and said, conversationally, that he was going to the Hay Festival. So, she said, am I. He looked puzzled. "I'm an American actress," she said, "called Kathleen Turner." He volunteered to wait while she bought her groceries, then drove her home. "It's the first time I ever hitchhiked in my life" said La Turner, impressed by this evidence of Welsh gallantry to strangers.

Audience contribution of the week came from a lady in the fourth row at a lecture by Professor Raymond Tallis, doctor, neurophysicist and poet, about the human head and the secret codes enshrined in activities as speaking, kissing and blushing. The lady took exception to his claim that spitting was a hostile act. "Once, in Africa, I was spat on in a perfectly benign way by a witch doctor who was a friend of the family," she announced. The audience collapsed. "My father was a missionary," she explained, to redoubled howls.

Apart from the excitement of having the militant environmentalist George Monbiot try to perform a citizen's arrest on John Bolton, top neo-con at the US State Department (perhaps George shouldn't, on reflection, have published his intentions in The Guardian the day before), floral radicalism broke out when Tim Smit, deviser of the Eden Project, took the stage. He explained the iniquities of the cut-flower industry and its reliance on Eastern sweated labour. At the end of his talk, the festival presented him with a long-stemmed rose. He sniffed it, suspiciously. "Argh," he said, "the stench of slavery ..."

Crushing disappointment twice over for the writers shortlisted for the Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize for comic fiction, who included Alan Bennett, Garrison Keillor and your humble scribe. Not only were they pipped to the prize (the honour of having a pig christened with the winning title) by Will Self, in a secret announcement on Monday; they could have found the result in the Hay programme, which has been available for three weeks. Sad to relate, Mr Self did not actually meet the prize porker in person; animal health rules insisted that they could only be brought together, virtually, on a Internet piggy-site.

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