Culture House Daily

Julie Bindel goes to Hay-on-Wye and comes back with trench foot

28 May 2014

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.’

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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.

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Show comments
  • Clare Summerskill

    Excellent piece. I always come away from reading Julie’s articles far more informed than I was before. For example, previously I had no idea of the difference between a Dunlop and a Hunter Wellie.

  • global city

    Trench foot is one of the many physiological reactions you can get if you put oneself amongst so many guardianistas at one…. it overwhelms the immune system of nice people.

  • Hexhamgeezer

    How deep was the mud?

    • Sara Maguire

      Great column. I giggled at the lovely way Bindel has of poking fun at herself and others in similar measures. I could SO see the ‘war reporters’! More please!

  • Jean Genie

    Great column! It really made me smile. (Take heart – my Hunters split after a few outings and I was told they were not covered by the warranty as I had worn them!)

  • Kitty MLB

    Did we really need to know where the mud was upto
    hardly graceful.And totally unsuitable considering you were
    in the beautiful Hay on Wye.
    The reason why writers etc where Hunter Wellies are the
    most comfortable and hardy boots ever.Any suitable
    for those who live in or near the countryside.
    And I assume the place was Leftie free. Just nice, interesting
    and polite middle class people. Excellent!

    • mitate

      so *where*, apart from the countryside, does one *wear* one’s hunter wellies; those hunters that feel no different from any other welly?
      if it wasnae for your wellies, where would you be? you’d be in the hospital or infirmary… immortalised by billy connolly. and there’s me thinking i might learn something about hay-on-wye.

      • Kitty MLB

        Why do you keep using the word ” One” are middle class people
        not allowed hunter wellies ? are only the aristocrats allowed
        hunter wellies.
        They are expensive but there is such a thing called Christmas.
        And you only wear them in the countryside, they support your ankles
        other floppy wellies do not.
        Oh,and hay- on – wye is a delightful little English gem, enchanting.

        • mitate

          hunters are county, their image only reinforced by their cost. i’ve owned one pair which gave no more support than any other welly. but they look nice. as for hay, many’s the hour i’ve spent joyously trawling its bookshops…though not in green wellies.

        • Jack Doran


  • heather harvey

    hope this is going to be a regular slot from Julie poking fun at the middle class loveliness we love to hate and hate to love – this one and last week on masterchef really cheered me up. Maybe Tate expo on civilisation could be a target next week…

  • UrbanFox

    Ha, ha, ha! Love it! Just back from Hay myself and this describes it perfectly, though I missed most of the rain so didn’t have to join in the ‘Withnail and I’ welly convention. It is true that you would hope that rain, mud, slippery slopes and adversity would be a leveller, but as Bindel says, you look around and upper class gazelles and Bupa protected old rhinos just seem to be gliding through it all.

  • MaxSceptic

    What a waste of electronic ink.

    Nearly as bad as Tanya Gold.

    • dmitri the impostor

      sludge – writers – wifi – shops – wellies – sludge – professors – mwah! mwah! – film makers – great unwashed – sludge – daaahling

      ‘There’s never been a better time to subscribe!!!’

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