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Queues, quirks and quintessential Englishness

Forming a queue used to be part of our national character.

It defined us as a nation. Foreigners always commented that if there were more than three people together, a queue would be formed. I thought this habit had all but disappeared, so I was delighted when my wife and I visited Hay Book Festival and found that our old English habit was alive and kicking. If you wanted to visit the loo, get an ice cream or get into an event – join the queue. I overheard one couple remark to each other as they waited for coffee: ‘We can enjoy this queue for a while, until it’s time to go in.’

Our trip to Wales has become an annual event and we appreciate the idiosyncratic and the more serious talks and the sense of camaraderie when leaving an event that involves a discussion with a fellow visitor of the merits or otherwise of a particular speaker. Our favourite this year was Nick Robinson, the well-known BBC political commentator. He spoke with a light authority and charmed his audience with his understanding of the British political system. When asked by a member of the audience who the next prime minister would be he said: ‘Someone you don’t expect. The oddson favourites have a habit of upsetting their colleagues with chance remarks or a snub and so fail to get political backing.’ At one stage he explained how David Cameron invited him to have a cup of tea. When David told him that he was going for the job of leader of the party Nick almost fell off his chair with surprise. ‘Oh, really! Err…’ he exclaimed, before recovering himself.

Book festivals are a fairly modern concept. Some people compare them to largely defunct political meetings or to a church service without the religion. Hay is a very middle England affair with a range of serious or not so serious items up for discussion, all of course based on a book.

I like the history items. The Iron Curtain by Anne Applebaum, is an account of post-war continental states and the cunning devices that autocratic systems used to subjugate the people. ‘They go for the youth leaders,’ she said. ‘Scouts and youth church leaders get arrested first.’ As we left somebody asked me: ‘Did you enjoy that?’ We immediately fell into step and discussed the effects of despotism on mid Europe, post-World War One, while walking – as you do!

I bumped into Fiona Razvi, Director of Wimbledon Bookfest and Mandy Mallen, co-ordinator of the Big Tent who gave me the latest news on Wimbledon Bookfest. ‘Paul Merton and Darys Matthews have just signed up,’ Fiona announced. They are joining a prestigious list including Roddy Doyle, Sir Max Hastings, Darcey Bussell, Howard Goodall, Michael Palin and more. Wimbledon Bookfest is ‘up there’ this year with the likes of South Bank and Hay. In SW19, we can all enjoy the Art Trail, International Music Festival and of course Wimbledon Bookfest - so get ready to form a queue.

Tony Kane is founder of Time & Leisure Media Group and editor of the Wimbledon, Wandsworth and Putney editions of Time & Leisure Magazine.