Over the past couple of days I have been delighted by quirky things which has me contemplating the concepts of conformity, compliance and “fitting in”. I have concluded that embracing the novel, the creative, the different, the quirky, enhances our lives in unexpected ways.
While traveling through the smallest town in Britain, Llanwrtyd Wells, I noticed a sign promoting an upcoming annual Bogsnorkelling competition. I later discovered that this town also hosts a marathon where man versus horse. A race that surprisingly a man sometimes wins. By celebrating its quirkiness this town attracts visitors from all over the world and so maintains its vibrancy.
Similarly, the town of Hay on Wye, close to the Welsh border with England, known in literary circles as the largest second hand bookstore in the world, credits its growth and reputation to a quirky man named Richard Booth (1938 – 2019). Mr Booth, an Oxford scholar and bibliophile had an idea to inject some life into an area he saw deteriorating by going to the United States in the 1970’s to buy up crates of books being sold off by libraries that were closing and shipping them back to Hay on Wye where he then opened seven second hand bookstores including converting an old fire station and cinema. A man of means he also bought Hay castle with the aim of drawing attention to the town which he accomplished through some very novel stunts.
Mr Booth proclaimed himself King Richard of Hay on Wye and made his horse his prime minister. Then, with the consent of the people of the town, and with tongue in cheek, on April 1st., 1977, he declared Hay on Wye an independent territory with its own flag and national anthem.
King Richard printed money on rice paper which was accepted in many shops as legal tender, he sold passports and baronies and earldoms for about 25.00 pounds and threw in a T shirt. His antics were successful in focusing attention on the town through his love of books, which has proven to be a boon for the town which boasts an average of one bookstore for every 55 residents.
An annual book festival now attracts Nobel prize winning authors, scientists and presidents including Salman Rushdie, Presidents Carter and Clinton, the latter calling it “The Woodstock for the mind.”
Today I met another quirky person, Tom Goddard, who has preserved the Victorian practice of decorating envelopes and turned it into an art form and social commentary solely for his own and our enjoyment . We chatted for about half an hour as he described his art which he displays but does not sell.
Thanks to people like Tom, the residents of Llanwrtyd Wells, and King Richard Booth, whose passion for books combined with his quirky personality helped a town flourish, people from all over the world enjoy the fruits of their efforts.
Perhaps we all could more readily embrace our own quirkiness and be less concerned about fitting in. Who knows, if we can do this, how much we might improve the lives of others.