Listowel was bustling with visitors. These included famous names and autograph hunters, readers and writers of prose, verse and drama. Much of the festive activity was centred around the town square, where girls wearing red t-shirts sidled up to passers-by and pointed clip-boards at them.
Some of this red army of statistic-hungry girl-guides seeped like ants up into the neighbouring streets and into the local bookshop. There I pretended to be immersed in my browsing while listening to people being questioned.
There was a shop in the main square doing a roaring trade in ice-cream cones, emitting a steady stream of questionnaire-fodder onto the sunny footpath. The data-hunters swarmed eagerly while their prey complied between licks of their ninety-nines.
We wandered around the town several times in the three days we spent there. We sampled cafés, pubs, restaurants and fast-food joints. We went for walks by the river and peered over at the race-course. We admired paintings and listened to music. We relaxed in the sun. We attended workshops, learned things and wrote them down. One evening we noticed a commotion in the corner of the town square. On investigation we found a literary pub-crawl, with a local theatre group enacting scenes outside each pub. We tagged along for a while and did a little dance at the musical intervals.
We walked past the clip-board bearers. We turned around and walked past again, a bit more slowly. We tried on our most ‘helpful and forthcoming’ faces. We attempted to perfect an ‘approachable’ walk.
We went to the shop and bought ninety-nines. We stood around outside the shop and ate them, posing in what can only be described as a ‘congenial’ stance. Still nobody took the hint so instead we went to the Listowel Arms Hotel, which we identified as the hub of the whole festival. This nerve-centre would surely be full of literary-types and therefore the ultimate survey hot-spot. We would bestow the gift of honest feedback and accurate information upon the festival organisers. Our opinions would shape the Listowel Writers’ Weeks of the future.
Unfortunately the only attention we attracted was that of a wild old man, sporting a wide-brimmed cloth hat and a massive ginger beard. His accent and quick slurred speech were difficult to understand but he loved talking to us. He asked us whether we were poets or writers before declaring “I’m a racist and I make no bones about it.” Then he proudly produced a lovingly handwritten song from his pocket entitled “I hate wogs”. It was a litany of all the violent and even cannibalistic acts he wanted to commit to every ethnicity. My eyes widening as I scanned the page I actually laughed out loud at the absurdity of the situation before we hastily made our excuses and found another place to sit.
We skipped to the circus and then around the town square one last time before taking the road home. “Maybe we look too silly to be part of a serious survey.” I concluded. “I guess I’ll just have to write about it in my blog.”