Thursday, 29 May 2014

Hay Festival 2014: Overview and review #2

Day 1 of our little jaunt to Hay Festival was packed to the rafters, to the point where we didn't have time for food (I love the food court at Hay as well, big loss for the day), so we planned day the to be a bit (lot) more leisurely. We ate double the amount of food needed for a human body, had a wander into town and did a bit of reading (the soggy grass and piles of mud did detract from this).

Flowers on sale in a relatively rain free Hay on Wye
Day 2

Broadcasting House - BBC Radio 4
The 8.30am start for this event seemed painful at first, especially as we were staying in a B&B 40 minutes away from site, however it turned out to a blessing in disguise. We were early enough to beat the crowds to a decent parking spot in town, a leisurely breakfast pastry with the Sunday papers, and a really chilled out event.

This event was broadcast live of Radio 4, which I pathetically found supremely exciting, with presenter Paddy O'Connell. The auditorium was only half full, maybe due the early start time, and Paddy gave us all a run down of the layout of the show ans what he expected from us. 

The show - an interview with politician Alan Johnson (plus questions from both a Labour and non-Labour audience member), a panel discussing the Sunday papers (with two volunteer audience members fishing a few stories out each, plus special guests), and a discussion about the BBC coverage of the anniversary of World War One (with historians Andrew Taylor on stage and Mary Beard on the phone). All of this plus a few pre-recorded interviews at interludes, including Paddy interviewing Speaker John Bercow on a tennis court!

The whole event/broadcast was really interesting, particularly seeing behind the scenes - presented Paddy O'Connell was unbelievably professional, not a stumbled line or a nervous twitch to be seen. Due to the time/nature of the show, all discussions were quite short, with no topics were discussed in depth of course. Also, a show of hands indicated that there was not one single UKIP voter in the room (and over 80% of the room voted), so woohoo to Radio 4 (there may have been a few UKIP voters in the closet, but at least they had the good grace to be embarrassed).

Anthony King - The Blunders of our Governments
Author and Economics professor Anthony King, talking about his latest book. Whilst a chairperson was on stage with Anthony (I think mainly to compere the question and answers at the end), this was primarily a lecture, as Anthony talked us through the chapters of his book, interspersed with a few anecdotes and some nice juicy government gaffes.

A lot of what Anthony spoke is common sense and included a lot of hindsight, however he was very naturally funny and easy-going, and everyone loves a good government gaffe right? I mean, as long as you pretend the same people aren't running out country! 

The compere came into play for the Q&A's, where Anthony left the longest time for questions of any of the events we went to, and this was definitely where he shone the most. Lots of insight and knowledge, plus even more idiotic government activity and a prediction of future gaffes!

Jeremy Paxman - Great Britain's Great War
Paxo takes the prize for my favourite event of the day - I'm sure he would be very proud. I had not read his book about World War One, but had seen the associated television series, so was really excited about the prospect of him going into a bit more depth in person. 

As expected Paxman was extremely professional in his delivery of the lecture, and fill the stage with natural aplomb, somehow the event still felt very up close and personal. I think the subject matter, and the fact the he based his 'tour' of the events of the Great War on the experience of his great uncle (who died at Flanders in 1915).

Paxman took us through questionable recruitment processes, trench warfare, German superior defences, transition from horses to tanks, conscientious objectors, gains of the war, and the fallout from the harsh Peace Treaty. He used a series of pictures from the war as a starting point for each topic change, including one of his great uncle with his battalion, this made the event much more personal and intimate, whilst still being thoroughly informative.

The Q&A at the end focused solely on the Great War and Paxman's knowledge of them, and we were specifically told not to asked any probing questions about the BBC! The audience did largely stick to this rule, but I definitely got the feeling Paxman was disappointed about this!

Simon Singh - The Simpsons ans their Mathematical Secrets 
Does this not seem like the coolest idea for a book ever? Singh gave a PowerPoint presentation so he could highlight every example he described of maths hidden within The Simpsons, on the big screen. 
Apparently The Simpsons has lots of hidden maths within it, stemming from original show writers Al Jean and Mike Reiss, both of whom liked to hide maths within scenes to create layered comedy, that maybe only a few like-minded fellow geeks would notice. These hidden numbers are often important numbers, such as googolplex and Pi, and can be hidden in blackboard ramblings, as taxicab numbers, in shop names etc.

My favourite example is actually from Futurama rather than The Simpsons, and involves the robot Bender seeing the binary number 1010011010 reflected in a mirror, and proceeding to run away screaming. This joke is never actually explained in the show, but 1010011010 in binary for 666.

Singh also devoted a large section to discussing the tragic, genius mathematician Srinivasa Ramanujan and the invention of taxicab numbers - I implore you to Google this man immediately - he deserves to be famous amongst more than just mathematicians.

I have since purchased this book to pore over at my leisure - its obviously a non-fiction read but is somehow also an ideal choice to curl up with in a comfy chair for hours!

One of the many glorious books shops in the town
The pretty pictures throughout this post, and the part 1 post from Hay, are all from our sojourn into the town centre. Books shops galore, market stalls and street food are always a winner. If only the crowds would bugger off.
Lovely display in a lovely bookshop

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