In which it is June and a number of occurrences occur

So the blogging every Friday without fail is going terribly well, don’t you agree? Apart from that today is Monday, but I think we can all agree that Monday is very nearly Friday give or take the odd weekend.

Anyhoo, this particularly Monday is also the 30th June, so I thought I would tell you about a number of things that have occurred this month. Hardcore readers, who’ve been with us since the beginning of blogtime, will recall that I do like a bit of a summer festival, not those loud, modern-musicky festivals that involve camping and reading preparatory Guardian articles about festival fashion, but rather those more safely middle-aged festivals where it’s considered acceptable to stop between events and have a nice warming hot chocolate and possibly a scone. This month I have attended two festivals of the latter sort, and one actual gig in an actual field to which I wore actual wellingtons. I shall relay my thoughts on all three forthwith.

1. Cheltenham Science Festival

The good people of Cheltenham are pretty much prepared to have a festival for anything. Jazz, literature, music, horse racing – they really don’t care – if you can put up a marquee and print a brochure, they’re totally up for it. The first week in June is the annual science festival, at which I took in talks and panels on the genetics of intelligence, animal communication, war and medicine, the maths of The Simpsons, animal senses, quantum mechanics, and saw somebody whacking ping pong balls with a chocolate hammer, all of which was quite interesting. It’s also very jolly to be at events about things I know nothing about, because new knowledge is always exciting. Did you know, for example, that there’s a sort of snake that has infra-red sensor things that mean it can spot a bat flying over head in pitch darkness and grab the aforementioned bat out of the air for its dinner? I did not know that, but now I do. Hurrah for knowing more stuff.


2. Worcestershire LitFest & Fringe

Worcestershire LitFest is in its 4th year, but this was my first time involved with the organisation. I hosted four events – a rather lovely author panel with equally lovely cake, and three novel writing workshops.

Me, Sue Moorcroft, Liz Harris and Christina Courtenay
Me, Sue Moorcroft, Liz Harris and Christina Courtenay

Teaching writing workshops is always fun – it’s pretty much one of my favourite things to do, and I’ve not taught for a while so it was top fun to get back into it with a brand new group of students. Hopefully they enjoyed themselves at least half as much as I did, and weren’t too freaked out by the woman at the front of the room wittering on about Prince Charming and necrophilia. (Yes – they were part of the same conversation, but they were totally related to the point of the lesson. Totally. Sort of. A bit.)

Asides from leading those events I also got to attend a couple of others. My personal highlight was seeing Lou Morgan at 42-Worcester talk about her writing and particularly about writing YA. She was interesting and funny. Yay her!


3. Deacon Blue in a forest to which I wore actual wellingtons, but also took a garden chair to sit on like an old person might.

Now the young whipper snappers amongst you are now furrowing your perfectly wrinkle-free brows and asking ‘Who are Deacon Blue?’ Well they were big in the late 80s and early 90s and, I can now attest, are rather marvellous live. Your lack of knowledge probably means that you’re not even aware that if you ever have sufficient money in your kitty to buy a dinghy the only right and proper thing to call her would be Dig-ni-ty (which you would sing loudly and with gusto.) Trust me young people, your lives are poorer for this lack of knowledge.


So that was June. I trust you all had an equally pleasant month.


And before I go, a quick reminder that Sweet Nothing is currently 99p for kindle. That offer either finishes today or next Monday (I’m not 100% clear on how Amazon monthly deals work!) so if you want it, go get it now. Off you go….  For those of you who are still here, if you think you’d be interested in writing workshops where the tutor witters on about Prince Charming and necrophilia in between dispensing great wisdom then please get in touch and I’ll add you to my mailing list.

Festival season for the old at heart

The UK’s summer festival season is starting to build up. Glastonbury kicks off today. T in the Park is two weeks later, followed by Reading and V in August. But that’s not the festival season I want to talk about. I want to talk about the one that kicks off in Hay, meanders round Cheltenham at various points in the year, depending on whether you prefer to have your boat floated by science, literature or jazz, and probably takes in a few RHS shows for good measure. I’m talking about the, much more refined, festival circuit of the middle-aged and middle-class.

I did the *proper* festivals, in a half-hearted sort of way, during my student years. I stood in muddy fields pretending to care about serious music, but my heart was never really in it. That should probably have presented an early clue to my deep inner lack of cool. I don’t really care about music. I like a good beat. I like a tune you can dance to. I even quite like a good lyric in passing. But none of those things  inspire any great passion. I have friends who get music, who buy music every week, who talk about new songs and new bands they’ve discovered. Those are the friends who look at me in horror when I tell them that I don’t really buy new music. I already own enough for the repeats not to come around often enough to be annoying. Why would I need more? So big music festivals were never my natural home, but back then I never would have guessed how totally and unsalvageably uncool I would ultimately turn out to be.

The real suspicions came the first year I attended an RHS Gardening Show. I told myself I wasn’t really going for me. I was taking my mum, and only going to keep her company. That was a lie. As soon as I walked into the special secluded world of order and pretiness that is an RHS Floral Marquee, I was captivated. Everything inside the marquee is perfect and scented and arranged beautifully. And there are plants to buy and catalogues to collect and read through later. It’s how the shopping will be in heaven. Since then I’ve been to the Malvern Spring Gardening show five times, Chelsea once, and Tatton Park twice. The gardening shows started my decline. 

Cheltenham Literature Festival probably sealed it. The first time I went I saw Lynne Truss, and nodded along with her slides of humourously misplaced apostrphes, follwed by Judi Dench. Dench was every inch the grand theatrical dame. She was interviewed on stage by her own biographer, and when she forgot a story, she simply commanded the biographer to tell it for her. Since that day “having my own biographer” has been my single greatest life ambition. I digress, and sadly I don’t yet have a minion to finish the blogging for me, so back to the point. My natural festival environment isn’t the Pyramid Stage, it’s a seat in a theatre or marquee with someone who has achieved a middle-level of fame talking about their book and then answering a few questions from the audience. And then, in between the talking, you can have wine. It’s really very civilised.

This year I’ve done the Hay Festival (talks on human evolution and poker), Cheltenham Science Festival (risk in the media, Fermat’s Last Theorem, and human extinction), Gardeners World Live (planting in containers and planning your borders) and Cheltenham Food Festival (no talks, but lots of hanging around the wine stalls saying “Can I just taste that one again?”) I think, added together, all that means that it’s time to face facts.

I am crashing headlong into middle age, and it sort of suits me. I like gardening. I like baking. I like staying in to read a good book. I like films with a proper story. I like TV programmes where you can hear the dialogue. I still like  a festival; I still like to sit on the grass with a cold drink. I’d just prefer to do it somewhere with nice food and toilets that no-one’s vomited in (or on).

So who’s with me? Who else is prepared to put their hand up to not being cool, and not really missing it? What are your nerdiest passions? And what’s your favourite summer festival?