The wild trend is everywhere today, from wild swimming to foraging for food in the wild. Wild thinking has a place amongst this revival, delighting us and reminding us of our natural creative abilities.
Over the past year I have visited some highly intelligent fields. In the midst of thickly woven hedgerows and weather-worn sheep, I have stumbled upon some of the foremost thinkers of our time. This is not because there has been a sudden increase in rambling amongst intellectuals – though goodness knows, intellectuals have a natural tendency towards rambling. Rather, “ideas festivals” where people gather for a few days in rural location to share their latest work have blossomed in to a significant cultural trend in the UK.
The Hay Festival, an annual event on the Welsh border, started this back in the late 1980’s. Originally authors gathered in and around the small village of Hay to talk about their latest book. Today, the festival takes over Hay and a temporary town of white marquees is erected on the village’s edge to accommodate hundreds of authors, journalists and (latterly) academics. These creative types are joined by thousands of spectators who come to listen to a wondrous miscellany of ideas, reflections and stories. The Hay Festival sells almost 250,000 tickets to events each year and attracts speakers such as Hilary Mantel, Anthony Giddens, Martin Amis, Stephen Fry and, indeed, US Presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter. They have nice ice-cream too.
Across the UK this trend is growing; some like the Cheltenham Literary Festival – together with its off-spring the Cheltenham Science Festival, the Cheltenham Jazz Festival and the Cheltenham Music Festival – are established cultural landmarks (and before any comments, I understand that Cheltenham isn’t a field; its included with a little creative license as an example from outside of a city context) Others like the Secret Forum at the Wilderness Festival in Oxfordshire or the Hub at Latitude Festival in Suffolk are more guerilla in nature, introducing a twist of intellect to events with a wider draw. This year also saw the return of rural film festival Borderlines.
Thinking, Outside the Box
Two reflections. These wild thinking events are a genuine pleasure to attend. There is a certain holiday giddiness as thinkers unpack their suitcases and indulge in an away-day. They laugh lightly at theories, introduce the occasional f*** word and admit that there are some things that they themselves are baffled by. It’s refreshing to listen to the authors and intellectuals, at the same time sparkling and uncertain, behind the books and papers that necessitate they are black and white.
Notably, these festivals have grown up well away from the traditional education and research sectors i.e. the universities and intellectual societies. They have grown up far away from cities, especially the capital. Rebelliousness, independence and difference come with their “other” locations (and I recommend the Odditorium at the Wilderness in particular for ideas on the edge). It’s a happy reminder that the act of thinking and creating belongs to all of us, everywhere, rather than just those in the formal education sector or the capital.
Ideas, it seems, flourish in the fresh air.
I must suggest an Odditorium at my university.