Hay Festival

Norwegian Wood

The scent of fresh wood
is among the last things you will forget
when the veil falls.
The scent of fresh white wood
in the spring sap time:
as though life itself walked by you,
with dew in its hair.
That sweet and naked smell
kneeling woman-soft and blond
in the silence inside you,
using your bones for
a willow flute.
With the hard frost beneath your tongue
you look for fire to light a word,
and know, mild as southern wind in the mind,
there is still one thing in the world
you can trust.

-Hans Børli

Oak, Oak, Sycamore, Ash, Ash, another Ash. As I got my eye in it suddenly seemed as if almost every other tree by the roadside was another Ash. Light green leaves ruffled in the breeze, from a distance shimmering like feathers in the hot, hazy light.

I'd never really noticed before. I had to stop doing this little game and concentrate on the road as I drove my family back from three days of hot sunshine, living under canvas and feeding minds with the thoughts of interesting, and kind-hearted writers and thinkers.

A day earlier, as I'd sat outside in a buttercup sprinkled meadow, looking at my signed book and listening to the quiet, I felt that this was all I wanted. The time to spend with family, without an agenda.

Hay books

At Hay this year I bought two books. Both of them left me with the profound thought that what I want is connection. Connection to tasks of labour, using skill and mindfulness.

There is a lot of talk about mindfulness at present. It's pretty much "on trend". Yet nothing I had read had given me the same joy as hearing a Norwegian talking about the act of cutting and splitting logs for the fire. The joy of the task, the danger, the use of one of man's oldest tools to create fuel and energy in a way that respects the planet, nurtures nature and fills the soul.

Later, at Robert Penn's talk I discovered that a fallen Ash tree had almost no value, yet take some planks and allow a craftsman to bring out the beautiful objects hidden inside and you finally arrive at something such as a chair that most of us cannot afford.

Both books made me realise that we need to value the small things a lot more. Real life, simple life, honest work - all this has a value that we've in someway forgotten. And in forgetting that value we've started to take these things for granted.

That's why walking in the woods, looking at the bluebells, harvesting and making things from the forest, building fires - all of these things are more and more important to bring us all back to earth, back to the real world that is out there, away from screens and beeps, and vibrations and glowing pixels and likes.

Signed book

When I had my books signed by both Lars and Robert, I couldn't think of witty remarks to make to these men. All I could say, and all I wanted to say was thank you. Thank you for writing books that speak about life and living. About the joy that comes from performing a simple, yet physical act well. About celebrating the beauty of the Ash tree and it's gifts to us, through introducing me to men and women who make, who create real physical things, that others use.

And thank you for spending a little time with me, rather than just signing and saying "next". Spending a few moments to share your passion and ask me why I wanted to share it with you.

We went to bed when the light faded. We woke to the cacophony of a late May dawn chorus. We reset our body clocks to nature, which happened surprisingly quickly. Laying in bed at night and in the morning we listened to the sounds of wind, quiet voices, distant sheep on velvety green meadows. We sat outside and drank tea out of metal mugs boiled over a small gas flame.

Hay camping

There was time to talk. Time to listen and watch people doing what we were doing and enjoying just being outside.

We passed Salman Rushdie walking between two bodyguards.

We ate Polish Perogi and stew. Welsh cakes and crumpets cooked and then smothered in butter. Cold crisp wine that tasted even fresher out of a plastic wine glass with a crooked neck.

We walked out to the toilets and sinks late at night and early in the morning, our feet washed with cold dew that glistened on grass and tents until dawn.

We slowed down. We breathed. We talked. We laughed. We learned.

That, was Hay.

Hay festival at night