Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Hay Festival 2014 - Overview and Review #1

This is the second year we have braved the rain and mud for the love of literature, to attend the Hay Festival, although, as him indoors in a Geography Teacher, we attempted a 50/50 split between literary/topical events. 

Slightly sodden book sculpture at Hay

Day 1

Ian Goldin - Is the Planet full?
The event took a standard lecture format, with Goldin pacing the stage whilst talking through the overall ideas of his book (Is the Planet full?), which primarily focus on the political and economic issues the world faces relating to population density. Although the book is written solely by Goldin, the ideas within are based on the combined efforts of a group of academic experts at Oxford University, aiming to answer the 'big questions' about the planet and its problems. Despite the relatively dry subject matter and basic lecture format, Goldin did manage to come across as informative without seeming overly rehearsed.

The most interesting thing taken from the lecture is that the answer to the question 'Is the Planet full?' - is no! It apparently isn't! This answer, and the reasons given for the answer, go against everything I have ever been taught, and yet make complete sense.
Goldin tells us that (bearing in mind that the lecture is merely a precis of the book), the majority of the problems encountered by populations around the world, particularly those in the developing world, are not really 'natural' problems that can be blamed on climate change or poverty, but all stem from politics. An example he used was desertification and drought in a number of African countries, as the populations in these regions have no choice but to live on unmanaged land which is incapable of supporting large scale agriculture (a lack of birth control in these countries only adds fuel to the fire).
Goldin's main point was that a limit on population growth only means that, as a whole, the planet would be less likely to produce the creative thinkers the world needs, and that the planets problems would still exist, but without the minds willing and able to combat them. 

Equally sodden green space

Richard Dawkins - An Appetite for Wonder
Evolutionary Biologist Richard Dawkins is known for his strong, often controversial views, so I was expecting a lively debate followed by a few mouthy questions from the audience, this turned out not to be the case, as Dawkins was here primarily to promote his new autobiography. The event took the form of an interview, with Joan Bakewell asking Dawkins about his childhood and the beginnings of his career as a scientist. 

The interview touched on some of his more controversial views from the past, including how his childhood shaped his 'nature/nurture' ideals, and his changing views on atheism and God as the popularity of his work increased. 

The audience questions were were also a little staid, the only intrigue coming from a priest who questions Dawkins secular Christianity and point of view of the paranormal (Dawkins felt that it is impossible to be religious without accepting the paranormal, and said his views were getting more secular as he aged due to nostalgia).

Tony Fadell talks to Stephen Fry - The Podfather
A general discussion between Techophile and God-like genius Stephen Fry, and entrepreneur and former Apple Inc. Vice President Tony Fadell. It would be remiss of me to call this an interview, which is what the Dawkins event was, as Stephen did the majority of the talking, asking Tony Fadell a few fanboy questions along the way. The format was partly like listening in on a random conversation between two rambling geniuses (amazing) and partly like an advertisement for Nest Labs and Apple Inc. (less amazing).

The two talked about the beginnings of Apple Inc. and the character of Steve Jobs, and Fadell's involvement in the invention of the iPod, as well as discussing the new Nest Learning Thermostat. This was all very interesting, although it did feel like we had heard it all before, and both Stephen's questions, and the audience questions, came across as a little too pandering for my tastes. 

My favourite bookshop in Hay - Murder and Mayhem

Jennifer Saunders - Bonkers: My Life in Laughs
The actress and comedienne Jennifer Saunders, being interviewed by Francine Stock about her autobiography. 
First of all - amazing entrance - pure Ab Fab. Jennifer stumbled on stage halfway through the introduction by Francine, whilst doing Eddy's trademark shrug/huff confusion, bemoaning the fact that hers was the only event sponsored by a nursing home - you probably had to be there, but it was perfect.
This event was the most simple of the day, with Jennifer discussing her childhood and early comedic origins (with Dawn French and the Comic Strip), associated with a variety of personal pictures popping up on the big screen. All of the enjoyment of the interview came from Jennifer's natural warmth and funny bone. She wasn't trying to be funny or impress, but was honest and easy going. I particularly liked the idea that she only decided to write an autobiography in the first place as Dawn French's was so good, and decided to base hers on a series of funny anecdotes, rather than any 'filler' about her birth etc.

Stephen Fry - Shakespeare and Love
My favourite event of the day, for a number of reasons. For me, this event had everything that 'The Podfather' event has been lacking, and was everything I expected of Stephen Fry and more. Stephen casually entered stage right, and proceeded to bumble around taking books out of his little man-bag (and dropping them), whilst telling the audience what Shakespeare meant to him and why he chose this subject matter. He was so honest, witty, passionate and seemingly uninhibited about his love of Shakespeare, and it was utterly infectious.

Stephen spoke about what Shakespeare meant to him, studying Shakespeare at Cambridge, the idea that the bard was homosexual, whether Shakespeare really did write all the works attributed to him (he did), the love within his sonnets, the comparison between tragedy and comedy, and the epic love story from Anthony and Cleopatra.

The whole thing felt like a warm chat between friends, but this friend had a seemingly encyclopaedic knowledge of the works of Shakespeare, as well as an infectious, boundless passion. The only points at whicj Fry referred to a text, rather than his won sizeable brain, was when reading out sonnets and quotes to us, which was a joy in itself.  

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