Monday 2nd July 2012
EVEN now, fifteen years later, I recall with ease the pictures of that sunny Saturday morning by the Market House, when, despite the boisterous Brighton football fans and uncomfortable police presence, the launch of the Ledbury Poetry Festival reached an almost magical conclusion.
When it’s busy, you need a bit of luck, finding anywhere to park on the High Street.
However, as our stylish, open-topped Morgans came through the traffic lights at the end of Homend, two other vehicles simultaneously vacated prime positions, like ballroom dancers ceding the floor to the bride and groom.
While the production manager in me silently applauded this attention to detail, beer glasses and voices were being raised:
“Mike-ee Read… Mikey-Mikey-Mikey-Mikey, Mike-ee Read!”
The bare-chested boozers assumed he’d come for that crucial match against Hereford.
We shook hands with festival staff and dignitaries, talked to children writing poems, added our own to the cloud of balloons.
“Sorry about this,” apologised an embarrassed, sweating official, head cocked in the direction of those now throatily intoning a hundredth chorus of:
Mike and I exchanged glances, nodded an unspoken agreement, and headed inland.
It was easier than I’d feared. The drinkers crowded round their celebrity mate, listened when he explained why he couldn’t go to the match, chanted his name again, waved to the nervous Brownies down the street, and agreed to stop singing during the festival’s opening ceremony.
A few even scrawled football slogans on the tags we gave them, for attaching to balloons.
Early yesterday morning, I stood by that same corner of the Market House, while Emma Purshouse and Steve Rooney entertained forty-odd people at a Poetry Breakfast. This remarkable festival now has both a strong history and a bright future.
It was chilly and overcast, but I’m sure I could see, once again, a hundred blue-white balloons ascending into a sunlit sky, accompanied by cries of: