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Roger McGough, My Perfect Weekend, The Daily Telegraph

“It’s a love-hate thing: I like being on stage; I hate people looking at me.”

“My perfect weekend is pleasantly frequent: a literary festival weekend.  You are cocooned amongst nice, like-minded people.  I take my two youngest ones, Isabel who is 15, Matthew, 18, and my wife, Hilary.

Often I do a Friday night performance, for adults.  On the perfect weekend it would be in the early evening. With a festival, you are probably doing only fifty minutes, often with another speaker, so it’s not so nerve-wracking.

Sometimes I wish there were look-alikes doing it on my behalf, going round the world, signing books, getting drunk.  It’s a love-hate thing: I like being on stage; I hate people looking at me.

On Saturday morning I’d probably be nursing a hangover if I’ve done a show.  The family are always keen to have full English breakfast, which usually means me trembling with them.  It is an opportunity to indulge – kippers or scrambled eggs, black pudding and things.

My daughter is of shopping age, so off we go.  We may buy clothes, pottery, jewellery, pictures, shopping in nice old shops.  Festivals are always in lovely towns to walk around –  Bath or Hay-on-Wye, Aldeburgh or St. Ives – discovering the highways and byways, nooks and crannies, the feel of the place.

Lunch would be light because I would probably be performing later.  I’d head down to the writers’ tent or room or yurt or igloo, have lunch, keep away from the wine, meet people.  Festivals are a chance to see old friends – increasingly old – poets and children’s writers.

Children’s writers tend to be more outgoing.  Whereas poets sometimes feel hemmed in.  You go somewhere and in walks the novelist, or the broadcaster with a book out, who are getting so much attention and you’ve been plugging away for years.  But you are a poet and wouldn’t do anything else.  And you can share these gripes and encourage each other.

Hilary reads current novels and she’ll see whatever is going really, novelist talks, politics.  The kids, the last time they wanted to see anything to do with fashion or art. Matthew, now he’s going to the adult stuff that I don’t understand.

The book signings are interesting.  Once there would be people my age or younger.  Now it’s different generations.  I signed a book for a woman my age, who had her daughter with her, who had her little daughter with her.  Three generations wanting books.

People tell you, ‘I saw you perform when I was a student’ or ‘I saw you in so-and-so’.  They place you in their lives. It’s a small part of their lives but it’s nice.

And people bring their poems.  You half expect it and are flattered but I don’t quite know what I can do.  You can encourage them but you can’t get them published or introduce them to an agent and sometimes that is what they really want.  I think, whatever I’m going to say is not going to be enough.

If the Friday performance was for adults, then Saturday would be children.  After the first 15 minutes, if the audience are with you, you can experiment.  You become more relaxed and enjoy it more.  They do, so you do.

I don’t glow afterwards.  You come off and it just disappears.  It’s not like show business.  The only problem with show business is I can never play golf.

Usually you finish quite early, so it’s ‘Let’s go and find a restaurant’.  Sometimes the kids say ‘Iz gonna be boooring’ so Hilary and I go.

On Sunday we should go to mass but usually it’s an excuse weekend.  Providing I get home in time, I’ll go on Sunday night.

If the hotel has a pool we’d take advantage of that.  Isabel will do the ploughing up and down on my behalf and I’ll just swim a couple of lengths.  And when there is a gym, I’ll do some treadmill or weights, in a light-hearted way.

If it’s the end of the festival it will be winding down but it could be the beginning and you’ve got to drag yourself away.  We try to see our friends before we go but there is a lot of coming and going.

At a festival on my own, I spend more time with mates going off and drinking together.  But my perfect literary festival weekend is with my family.  That’s the nice thing about it.”

26 August 2006

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