Friday, 4 October 2013

Cheltenham Festival of Literature

Two competing festivals this year, less than 30 miles apart! At least till the end of this weekend. Tetbury, hub of Royal South Gloucestershire, attracts a wide local audience plus many loyal regulars from London and further afield, émigrés for the weekend, no doubt dipping into Westonbirt Arboretum for some Autumn colour during their stay. Cheltenham's twin tented villages draw many more all and sundry, an amorphous horde growing by the year, less dress-conscious than last night's gang.

Once, at a gathering near Tetbury, I fell into conversation with one of the RSG Set. "Where do you live?" he inquired. "Cheltenham," I replied. "Cheltenham?" He spoke the word as if he was rinsing his teeth with a wine he thought was corked. "Cheltenham? Completely beneath my radar."

At our Literature Festival events, you used to be able to meet up with friends: now it's a matter of chance whether or not, even as a long-established punter, you see anyone you know. Harri is one of the regulars: I remember seeing her and her mother at an early event in last year's Festival and being amazed by the thickness of their ticket bundle. Today, therefore, I requested a photograph: the wadge on her lap covers admission to 42 events, I gathered!

We were queuing to get into The Times leader conference: I loved it last year, an hour of rich theatre with a highly-articulate cast of six. The only disappointments this year were the absence of the editor, and the distraction of the large screen flickering away in the background, above the stage.

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