I am trudging around a field in the middle nowhere with mud up to my genitals. The joining instructions for the annual HowTheLightGetsIn festival at Hay-on-Wye does not include advice about avoiding looking like a filthy puddle by the time you get to do your talk.
I was booked to speak at a few sessions on men being absolute bastards, and arrived on Friday at the same time as the torrential rain. ‘It was beautiful last week,’ said the driver who met me at Hereford station. ‘Hope you’ve got your wellies?’ For the love of god, I thought, why would I have bloody wellies? I live in London.
After a restless night with no mobile phone signal or internet connection, I’m picked up from my B&B. ‘Please take me forthwith to the quaint, village Outdoor Clothing shop,’ I ask the driver, who looks like he has been up all night ferrying folk talking bollocks about philosophy around the narrow roads. ‘I want the finest wellington boots known to humanity.’
The shop is thronged with some of Europe’s most renowned scientists and authors. But there is no hierarchy here. We are all scrabbling around trying to find our welly size and nicking the odd stray umbrella from some poor sodden sod. But in fact, it’s obvious who the important people are. While I go for a fifteen quid pair of rather ugly Dunlop wellies, the professors of biochemistry and famous novelists are choosing the Hunter brand and shelling out £110 for patterned designer affairs.
By this time my socks have rotted and the rather attractive suede ankle boots I have stupidly arrived in are caked in mud. Replacing them with a pair of trainers that cost more than a Bullingdon Club bar bill, I am now skint and fucked right off. Serves me right thinking I could mix with this lot and come out of it smelling of roses rather than drains.
My only consolation was bumping into filmmaker Nick Broomfield, with whom I spent a few minutes talking about sadistic abuse and death row. It lifted my spirits.
So, on I go to the festival, looking like a lesbian who has had been kidnapped and held for a year in a North Face clothing factory with nothing but a copy of The Well of Loneliness and a dressing up box to keep her occupied.
The green room inhabitants are divided into two distinct sorts: urbanites who enjoy their rain-soaked hair and mud-splattered clothing and think they look like war reporters, and muppets, such as myself, who rock up dressed respectably but end up with trench foot.
To warm myself up when back at the B&B I buy a bottle of single malt, which, after one sip, I knock off the dressing table onto the stone floor. A fair amount splashes on my one clean pair of trousers that happen to be a light gray colour. My tears mingle with the mud and the rain and sweat, and all I can hear is the contended snoring of the famous novelists and world-renowned scientists in the adjoining rooms while the mantra, ‘class will out’ gets louder in my head.