After half an hour waiting in my second cue of the day I was catatonic. The people behind were chatty at first but grew markedly frosty when little Sylvian exclaimed (finger pointing for dramatic effect) she's the one that booed bankers in the Tata tent! (more on that later) As the father's face froze in a glacial manner, I clocked the Barclays logo on his salmon/pink Lacrosse sweater. Suddenly the Festival's 87 page brochure became a compelling read.
It also enabled me to feign obliviousness to the tuts from the family in front, who clearly disapproved of my 6 year old catching stagnant water in his open mouth as it dripped, in torrents, from the side of the tent. There were some big questions posed in the forward, such as Who are we in 2014? and What do liberty and equality look like? I leafed through the brochure for answers. Apart from one black face on page 57, all the other images depicted happy white families enjoying the Festival's delights.
I looked around at the hundreds of people cueing, eating in the café and walking around the corridors. I even paid a visit to the press office. Everywhere I looked, the whole day, there were white faces. Around 10% of British people are BME. The answer to the question, who we are in 2014 then, won't be found in the hideously homogeneous Hay brochure (eat your alliteration heart out Francesca Simon), or indeed the corridors of the festival itself.
This was my first foray into the world of the literati. My son is an avid consumer of the Hiccup Horrendous Haddock the Third series of books by the splendicious Cressida Cowell (who encourages playing with words, as opposed to traffic or fire). She was our main attraction and didn't disappoint, inspiring children and adults alike. I was slightly disappointed to learn of her privileged background. I liked imagining her sagesse as being born of a life of privation and adversity but my preconceptions could not deny Cowell of her genius.
There are core themes that form a thread which weaves its way, seamlessly through her work. In a tribe of burley Vikings, Hiccup is the "weakling". He employs wit and intellect to defeat brute force and idiocy. Prejudice, she reveals, is a product of fear and insecurity. Although Cowell clearly coddles her penchant for the pantomime villain, her complex characterisations challenge us to see the potential for good in everyone. But perhaps the most compelling theme for me is her call to arms, to children everywhere, to question everything.
Children's thirst for knowledge and their innate curiosity is satiated by questioning things we take for granted. That's how they make sense of a sometimes incomprehensible world, even for adults. Cowell revealed that her next book would depict Hiccup growing up and his political awakening. So, when she said that anyone seeking fortune should go into banking rather than writing, I found the sound boooo involuntarily oozing out of my mouth and dissipating like flatulence into the ether. It was an instinctive reaction to the contemporary pantomime villain and the children loved it. Those in close proximity joined in, much to their parents' disgust. Not surprising, given the demographic and sponsors (including Barclays Bank), there's a good chance many of them were b***ers.
When I saw the first black face of the day on my way out I wondered how he would answer the second big question posed in the brochure's forward, What do liberty and equality look like? Surveying the sea of white faces looking back at him I can only imagine his answer, Nothing like this.