Event report: Port Eliot Festival

Ladies who make lunch: the Idler Café at Port Eliot

We spent the last weekend of July 2017 at the Port Eliot Festival in Cornwall where we put on our own mini-festival of fun with over forty acts. We held 20 talks and 20 outdoor events and though the heavens opened on the Saturday, everyone remained in good spirits and we had packed houses all day.

Dance teachers The Mudflappers kept everyone cheerful with their dancing lessons on the Idler Lawn, which we renamed the Idler Swamp for the weekend.

Tom at Port Eliot

We started on Friday morning with a talk from me about my business guidebook, Business for Bohemians, now available in paperback, where I recounted the various failures and disasters from our five years running a bookshop and event space.

This was followed by a talk on hygge from writer Louisa Thomsen Brits and the groovy undertakers Ru and Clare Callender.

Geoff Dyer, whose talk followed, said of them: “They made death sound so appealing I considered killing myself.”

Matthew Green presented his work in progress on the ghost towns of Britain, and we rounded off with music from Mostar Diving Club. Outside Bill Anderson held an idle beekeeping class and Andy Wright held a bread baking class.

On Saturday the genius Ben Moor kicked things off with a brilliant and bonkers illustrated story called Pronoun Trouble which somehow combined Daffy Duck with the two different spellings of “laundrette”.

Philosopher Jules Evans was up next, encouraging us to seek transcendent states and get out of it a little more often.​

Economist Andrew Simms made the case for the four day week, bringing some closely argued rational and learned arguments in praise of idleness. Amorist editor Rowan Pelling chatted with Victoria about starting a sex mag, then Oldie editor Harry Mount treated us to enthralling insight into what happened behind the scenes at the chaotic Brexit and Remain campaigns. The most brilliant Lucy Cooke showed us a glimpse of her new book to be published in November, revealing that penguins are nothing near as nice as we think they are – the males being rapists, necrophiliacs and paedophiles.

Finally Chris Difford of Squeeze presented his Idler Songwriter award. He’s been running an online course with us and chose Matthew Wilkinson’s song “Therapy” as winner. Matthew played the song, and then Chris ended the day with a rousing rendition of “Cool for Cats”.

Outside Ben Moor took various teams to play Frisbee Tree Golf in the lovely grounds and Mark Vernon discussed Stoicism and Socrates with punters.

On Sunday novelist and Guardian columnist Tim Lott delivered a lecture on story-telling that attacked what he called “post-modern bullshit” – the idea that narrative was for wimps. He also meandered into a discourse on the nature of evil.

Poet Clare Pollard gave a terrific reading of her motherhood poetry and sold out of her books afterwards.

Next up was my interview with health food entrepreneur Craig Sams. it was Craig who brought brown rice, Afghan coats and macro-biotic foods to this country, and whose fans included John And Yoko and Prince Charles. Later he launched Green and Blacks chocolate with his with Jo Fairley. He remembered the time John and Yoko came in to his restaurant. the in-house band got very excited, and started wondering what to play. The waiter came over to them while they were jamming with a ten pound note and a piece of paper that read: “Mr Lennon would appreciate some silence while he eats his macro-biotic food.”

We heard from London Evening Standard journalist Joy Lo Dico who recently bought a 100 acre woodland, and the ordained Saddhu and Sanskrit expert Sir James Mallinson delivered a brilliant talk on the extreme idling pursued by India’s holy men, who are revered for their ability to do literally nothing for hours or days on end. Pus crafts on the lawn with Ros Badger and Stephen Fowler.

The weekend ended with a rousing DJ set from Crispin Hunt, who played the originals of all the songs we love, including “Hanging on the Telephone” by The Nerds and the original of Led Zep’s “Dazed and Confused”.

Thanks to Dirk Lindner for all these great photos.