A Young Festival

The first Jersey Festival of Words took place this weekend and what a great success it was. This is a young festival, in every sense of the word. I do not mean that as an insult but rather as a compliment. First, I discovered that the only reason I was there was because the chairman’s wonderful 15 year old daughter had heard me speak at Hay in May and told her mother she would like me to come to Jersey. What a compliment. I could not have been more delighted to be invited by a young, sparky, clever girl with a passion for fashion. Secondly, there were children’s events built into the programme rather than be run as a separate series of workshops and lectures. Well done Jersey! When I walked into the Green Room I was greeted by Jo behind the bar and asked if I would like a cup of tea and a sandwich, which was very welcome. She reached into the fridge and produced a small selection of sandwiches. ‘Hidden!’ she told me. There had been a stand-up comic workshop for children held earlier in the day and they had made short work of the sandwiches when they were let into the Green Room for a break. I thought that was lovely and I was delighted to meet one of the junior comedians who, at that moment, was lying on the floor with his trainers tied to a chair by cable ties. The atmosphere was so unpretentious and delightful that it was impossible not to get swept up in the genuine enthusiasm of the organisers for this new festival.

When the time came for me to do my presentation I got changed into my 1940s dress, shoes, hat and make-up and launched onto the stage with a mixture of nerves and excitement. The auditorium of the Opera House is handsome and the stage was set with two arm chairs so that it felt a little like a wartime sitting room. I was talking about Fashion on the Ration and it was fun to lift the skirts on wartime clothes rationing to a new audience. No turn-ups on men’s trousers and a shortage of corsets always get people laughing but the serious side of the wartime fashion industry also surprises people. For example, the benefit to the economy of fashion exports rose almost four-fold between 1939 and 1945. Not something widely known. It is also the case that with a lack of fashion to report on, the editor of Vogue decided to educate her readership about the war, running articles written by the American photographer, Lee Miller, as she made her way across France with the US Army in 1944 and 1945. The editor, Audrey Withers, took the decision to publish Lee’s photographs from a German concentration camp in Vogue, something almost unthinkable today.

After the talk was over I was invited back to the Green Room for a glass or two of Prosecco to celebrate the end of a very successful first festival. How lovely to be included in what was essentially a private party. I have written earlier this year about a bad festival experience. And about my good ones too: Hay, Dartington, Fowey etc. But Jersey is truly something special. Already on that Sunday evening the committee members were talking about possible events for next year. And they were intent on consulting their teenage experts on what would work for the young as well as for the older readers. Give me a young festival anytime!

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