Friday, 17 September 2021

Playing truant

Well, this is odd. Since mid-July I've paid £25 to be a Friend of the Appledore Book Festival, and bought tickets for a dozen events at a total cost of £137. The first event I can attend has already kicked off, but here I am, still in my caravan, writing this. What's up?

Simply put, I am rebelling against an event-attending schedule that will tie me to the Appledore area of North Devon on most days in the coming week, starting today. I want to do other things; or just stay in the caravan and enjoy the view while quietly relaxing.

I'm not saying I'll bunk off every one of my booked events. But I'm giving myself the option to attend or not as I wish, and not feel compelled to go. 

A waste of money paid? No. The Festival will simply retain the money for each missed event, and I'll regard it as a willing donation towards a worthy annual happening.

Has the time come to stop going to the Festival? Probably. It's not my prime reason for visiting North Devon in September. I just love coming here, and the Festival has been an extra. I first came to North Devon on holiday, on my own in the caravan, back in 2009, and didn't start going to the Festival until 2012. I skipped 2013 and 2019, but otherwise have attended the Festival every year since. In fact attending became almost an annual ritual, part of my yearly cycle of activities. 

But it has now lost its novelty for me. I've grown too used to seeing celebrity authors close up to get excited about it any more.

It wasn't just the authors. I used to enjoy the sensation of temporarily becoming part of small-town life, and getting to know local people. Some were friends for a while. I nearly moved to Appledore to be part of it all. But I reconsidered, and stayed in Sussex, and I now feel I did the right thing. 

The Festival itself has changed. It was still small-scale back in 2012. It had intimacy. There was a feeling that Appledore was collectively thrilled to be hosting famous people who had written a book, and felt honoured by their presence. Indeed, amazed that they should come. 

But now the Festival has become slick and professional, very efficient but rather impersonal. And the pandemic social-distancing requirements still in force have only reinforced that trend. There is still a local ticket office, the same as ever, but well-in-advance online booking is now normal, and electronic tickets and notifications are standard. All to the good in many ways, but I miss the old paper tickets sent through the post. E-tickets sent by email are not the same. 

And yet when taking the train into Exeter last week, what a boon it was to buy tickets online with an app, and simply present the e-ticket to the guard on the train by holding out my phone so that he could scan the screen. And to use the same e-ticket to get through the automatic barrier at Exeter Central. 

It clearly depends on what the ticket is for. Perhaps a paper ticket represents a tangible momento of the Festival event, in a way an electronic image cannot be.

But back to the main thrust of this post. I no longer feel it's vital to turn up to each and every event, and I'm happy to do something else instead, if the mood or inclination so takes me. I am, after all, 'on holiday'. 

What if I skip all of this year's events? Will I feel awful about it? Quite possibly yes. Not awful because guilty; but awful because illogically sad about breaking with a long-established personal tradition. 

So I'd better attend at least one or two. I expect I will make a point of joining a 'history walk' next Tuesday, for instance. Maybe I'll be truant for the first weekend, but from Monday, two days ftom now, make a point of turning up. I'll probably be glad I did.

Will I dress up and go to the drinks party on the last night, and chat with restauranteur Rick Stein? Hard to say. As much as I'd like to chinwag with him, do I really enjoy drinking and parties enough to be there? Even if I get to take pictures of him (and the other glitterati) with Lili, my new Leica camera?

I'd gladly go to one of the Friends' fine-dining occasions they used to have. But those are off the menu this year. Sigh.

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