Magazine article The Spectator

Festibal Fury

Magazine article The Spectator

Festibal Fury

Article excerpt

My eyeballs go hard when I'm angry, or they feel like they do anyway. Last weekend I felt like I had a couple of marbles in there. I don't know why exactly. It could have been for any number of reasons. One, I think, though, was because I was missing the annual San Fermin feria at Pamplona for the first time in four years.

It is said that when they went through the trouser pockets of Hemingway's headless corpse they found tickets for the bullfights at the Pamplona feria, due to start the next day. In other words, he blew his brains out because a psychiatrist's appointment prevented him from going to the party. He was, in fact, the simple hearted fellow he always claimed to be. Or senile. Well, I think I know how he felt. Apart from the bulls in the streets and everything, the San Fermin festival at Pamplona is simply the biggest and best party possible. Go once, and if you like that kind of thing you want to go every year.

So maybe I was a bit gutted at having to read about the feria in the newspapers this year, instead of seeing the blood on the cobbles myself at first hand. This year our national newspapers contented themselves with daily casualty lists. The worst gorings of the week-long bull-oriented festivities, I noted, were sustained either by youths from the Anglo Saxon settler nations, or by elderly Frenchmen.

So what did I do instead? I was Dad for the weekend. And on the Sunday, the last day of the feria, the day they release the legendary Miura bulls into the narrow streets and there is pandemonium, I took the boys on a gentle cycle trail along the riverbank. For lunch we sat on the lawn of a stately home and ate cheese and pickle sandwiches. The stately home was hosting a so-called literary so-called festival. There was nothing remotely festive about the affair, though. No one was laughing. Nobody was drunk. On the contrary, everyone looked profoundly depressed. People were going about with slow, deliberate steps, whispering. We'd been to jollier funerals.

My lads are at an impressionable age and I didn't want them to go away thinking that what they had seen had anything to do with literature. So I carefully explained that if William Shakespeare had been confronted with anything like this he'd have run a mile. As far I as I could make out, I said, English literature was about ladies and gentlemen loving each other, or about the doings of our native mammals. …

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