Friday, October 12, 2012

Our Last Visit to Cheltenham Literature Festival

Too young for Beatlemania and too old for Take That hysteria, I've never queued for hours for a pop concert or screamed, cried and fainted in the presence of my idol.  But during our third and final visit to the Cheltenham Literature Festival I very nearly did all of the above mentioned, and it all began in Swindon.

Leah and I were sitting on the 9.54 train to Cheltenham eating our Danish pastry breakfast (we've got fed up with sausage baguette) when Lucy Worsley - yes the Lucy Worsley joined us.  When I say 'joined us' she didn't bring her own Danish pastry and sit with us but she joined the train and was a mere four seats away.

Lucy Worsley is Chief Curator at the Historic Royal Palaces, based at Hampton Court Palace.  Star of numerous TV programmes including If Walls Could Talk; Elegance and Decadence, The Age of Regency and most recently Harlots, Housewives and Heroines Lucy was also on her way to the Cheltenham Literature Festival where she was due to speak at our first event of the day.

Having stared at the back of her head for the duration of the journey, I would have happily carried her bag to the Town Hall where she was due to speak, but of course Lucy was met at the station while Leah and I made the familiar twenty minute walk to the gathering of tents at the two town centre festival sites.

Lucy has an easy manner with her adoring fans who filled the elegant Grand Main Hall in the Edwardian Town Hall, peeping round the door and giving a wave as she checked to see if we were all seated.

The subject of her illustrated talk was the much maligned George IV, but was he the selfish, greedy and generally despicable character history would have us believe - Lucy asked.  She put up a good case for his redemption, citing his strict upbringing, loveless parenting and rigid education.  His thwarted military career and general lack of purpose all contributed to his decadent behaviour but I found it difficult to forgive his treatment of the women in his life.

Lucy then invited her audience to come and meet her at the Waterstones tent.  Clutching my copy of If Walls Could Talk, I rehearsed some clever comment I would make to her when my turn came to approach the table.  Of course I did nothing of the sort, but gabbled, blushed and said something worthy of an over excited prepubescent Justin Bieber fan. I'm sure Lucy, like JK Rowling with her 'I love you Jo,' fans has this happen all the time.  If not her meeting with me might turn out to be pretty memorable.

Next on our agenda was Mad Men to Moon Rockets in which Joan Bakewell, Juliet Gardiner and Sadie Jones explored the 1950s.  Joan Bakewell spoke fondly about the post war decade she remembered as far from dreary while Juliet Gardiner reminded us of events of the time and the burgeoning teenage influence on fashion, fun and finance while Sadie Jones told us how she had drawn heavily on her mother's memories of the time when writing her novel The Outcast. Each of the speakers brought their own extremely interesting take on the 50s and each agreed it was possibly the more exciting precursor to the much written about 'Swinging Sixties.'

The last event in our 2012 Cheltenham Literature Festival experience was Ladies of a Certain Age which took place in the Spiegeltent, a travelling wooden tent of mirrors, leaded glass and velvet, worthy of a visit in its own right.

Lucy Adlington of the History Wardrobe performed a series of readings featuring ladies of a certain age from the novels of Jane Austen, including the humiliating put down poor, dowdy Miss Bates receives from the eponymous heroine of Emma.  The audience also got to see the workings of the fashions of the day as Lucy showed us the underpinning of the Regency dress.

And so it was all over for us for another year!

The above image of the Spiegeltent reminded me of A Bar at the Folies Bergere by Edouard Manet

Lucy Adlington as Miss Bates