Just back from a fractured week in Powys and Herefordshire, where Alex and his young cousin playfully broke up the otherwise Proper Grown Up stuff of the Hay Festival, and my breathing in of the lush green hills of Presteigne, in old Radnorshire - home of the very well-groomed (albeit naive) Pristine Christine, the best green teen of Presteigne.
Hay-wise, with my mother in mind (she be a fan), on the first Saturday evening I'd elected to go and listen to Paul O'Grady in conversation with Sandi Toksvig. Sure enough, as he waxed lyrical on the second volume - The Devil Rides Out - of his memoir, his wit, warmth and self-effacement beguiled the thousand-plus audience in the pavilion. On the back of previous Hay experiences (below par interviewers and chairs), Toksvig pitched perfectly.
The following day, I committed only to Javier Cercas' session, intelligently and generously chaired by Jon Gower. I knew little of Cercas, but from listening to his appearance on World Book Club a few months ago, I expected sufficient hooks of interest. The particular quality of his that drew me in, was his appetite for forensically unpacking social and cultural 'moments', or actions - the title of his session, The Anatomy of a Moment, saying as much. The historic thread that ran through much of Cercas' discussion concerned the transition in governance of Spain. At the heart of this was the failed coup d'etat of Colonel Tejero, of 23 February, 1981 - during Spain's shift to a liberal democratic state. And, phew.
Monday began with an air of gaiety - which many of the audience (of about 300) may not have expected from 'The Lost City of Stoke-on-Trent' - primarily, a sales pitch for Matthew Rice' book of the same name - an aesthetically pleasing document of the city's industrial cultural heritage, and traces thereof. With his wife, the potter Emma Bridgewater, opening the discussion with an account of her recalling her first experience of Stoke-on-Trent - a wave of mixed emotions and the thought, 'I didn't know that places like this existed', I had a feeling that I was about to be taste-challenged. From 'those who should know better' (the plummy, the well-bred), I struggle to tolerate that kind of socio-environmental ignorance. Gladly though, bottom line interests aside, both speakers turned it around, and chair Tristram Hunt batted well for the city, too. It was especially pleasing to gauge that the vast majority of the audience were not Stokies on sabbatical (or holiday, or parole), but more broadly interested vultures of socio-industrial culture - the end-of-session questions from the floor were, as my sister would say, top-notch. From that, I moved on to listen to Catherine O'Flynn ('The News Where You Are') and Mark Watson ('Eleven') speak of their most recent novels, both of which centre around characters who are on big personal quests, that see them ask gentle philosophical questions. Again, this was well-chaired, by Stephanie Merritt - no cloyingness, just walking the main protagonists through a well-balanced discussion of their works - as separate entities, albeit with big thematic cross-overs.
Otherwhere, culturally-speaking, there's a feature on Lady Gaga, written by Stephen Fry, and published under the FT banner. It's over a week old now, it's fannish but good, and it's here. And I'm really liking In Treatment - the talking therapy drama, from HBO, with Gabriel Byrne and a strong supporting cast - not least of whom, Hope Davis' Mia is spookily well written and acted.