British Airways are on strike, which means our flight has been changed. Returning from Mexico City via Madrid feels fitting. This is where my Hay Festival International Fellowship journey began. Each trip to Latin America has been broken up by a stop at Aeropuerto Alfonso Suarez Madrid-Barajas, and this is also where I wrote the first blog, en route to Segovia, just short of a year ago. Things have come full circle.
As now, then the headlines were consumed by Brexit; a year on, the Irish border is still the issue. I open Facebook to a sponsored ad from the UK Government. Get Ready for Brexit it says. There are thousands of shares, hundreds of comments, likes, loves, hahas, wows and angrys. The country is still as divided as ever it was over this. ‘Go Boris!’ says one person. ‘See you in the queue for potatoes,’ says another.
It has been good to be away from it all for a few days, to be in another country where no-deal will not affect the supply and price of potatoes, the social fabric, our friends’ ability to come and go. Mexico, of course, has enough problems of its own.
A big part of international travel is the sense of perspective it gives. 35,000 above mid-Atlantic, contemplating the flight path drawn out across a global map, the slightly random selection of cities selected to be marked and named – Caracas, Dakar, Basel, Seoul – creates a sense of scale that dwarfs any one prime minister or problem, any one pitiable navel-gazing country. The world is shown in relief: deserts and jungles and seas. Time zones are marked rather than national boundaries. As the world spins and hours dissolve into the twist of a wristwatch crown, there is a sense of endless possibility.
I tell Alys Conran, the writer who is my successor as the Hay Fellow, how I sometimes look at the map on the entertainment screen and wish the plane would just turn off as if down a lane in the Welsh countryside. I look at the oversized icon creeping across the ocean and think: ‘Let’s just go to Dakar!’
Nevertheless, when we reach the departure gate I buy The Guardian Weekly. I just want a catch-up; spare me the details. ‘Events moved at breakneck speed this week in Britain’s race to the bottom,’ says the paper. ‘After prime minister Boris Johnson announced plans to prorogue parliament – effectively shutting down debate – for five weeks in the buildup to 31 October, rebel MPs attempted to launch a bill aimed at halting a no-deal Brexit.’ Having flown in from Mexico it is somewhat depressing to find Britain’s democratic institutions described as ‘creaking at the seams’.
The fact that British Airways planes are grounded by the strike seems prescient. Our own free movement relies on Iberia, the Spanish carrier. In my first blog post for Hay I wrote about how the gold lettering on my passport was fading. After all the travel this year, some the words have now nearly disappeared: ‘United’, ‘Great’ and ‘Northern’ have all vanished from the somewhat baroque full name of a country that may well be on course to have to shrink its title anyway.
I also wrote about cortados. At Barajas this time it’s Alys who buys. As a former resident of Barcelona, she’s a ‘cut’ coffee drinker too. Her Spanish is far superior to mine. She’s going to be a fantastic Fellow.
It has been great to be in Querétaro together. I’m slightly envious of the fact that with Segovia, Arequipa, Cartagena and Hay-on-Wye, of course, to come, Alys doesn’t quite yet know just how fortunate she is. But I’m ready to hand this over now. I reach to find a baton to pass. Duty Free is stacked full of Toblerones. One of them will do.
Pob lwc, Alys, and muchas gracias a todos. This whole year has been dipped in chocolate.
Dylan Moore is editor of IWA's the welsh agenda and Creative Wales Hay Festival International Fellow 2018/19, travelling to each Hay Festival edition, exploring issues of displacement and exile. His debut collection, Driving Home Both Ways, is out now.