Why baking lockdown sourdough bread may taste restless

9 May

Ironically, watching this event on The Art of Rest was not very restful. Of course, I was typing away what I heard as I was committed to reviewing it so that was an important factor.

However, that being said Claudia Hammond knows so much that she wants to share and bases everything in her book (and perhaps her life) and certainly in this talk, on research so she is sure that is evidenced and henceforth ‘right’ or ‘correct’ if such phrases have any meaning for us here.

Continue reading

Blood and Water

9 May

Born in Nigeria, poet and vicar Catherine Okoronkwo has lived, studied and worked in many places around the globe. Just thirteen months ago, Catherine morphed into the Lockdown Swindon Vicar of All Saints and Saint Barnabas churches – serving some of our multi-cultural communities of our welcoming town.

Early in the session for Swindon Festival of Literature 2021, Catherine mentioned she is driven to tackle social injustices wherever she finds them – so she grabbed my attention straight away, I was hooked the whole forty-five enlightening and lightening-paced, minutes.

I was drawn in, then cast into the unknown when Catherine also opened with her unique perspective of being a “three culture child”, So what was all that? about I murmured to myself. The vicar poet simply and carefully explained that she was born in Nigeria and brought up by Nigerian parents but left the actual country early at three months to live with her father’s UN posting in Israel. Further Westernised influences followed throughout her life including in the USA. Umm a patchwork poet indeed I thought.

Continue reading

Every town needs a Tony

7 May

As Tony says, ‘every town should have a community poet’.

I first met Tony back on the Domestic Cherry vintage poetry bus at the first Swindon Poetry Festival. He introduced himself as Swindon’s Community Poet and I had no cause to challenge him. He launched himself with that title back at the turn of the century and it has been accepted ever since.

At the start of his event at the Swindon Festival of Literature, fellow poet Sara-Jane Arbury asked him what he meant by ‘community poet’. Tony thanked everyone for coming and then…choked up. This is Tony. He is a heartfelt witness for all manner of social ills because he loves people, especially in his adopted town of Swindon. ‘Scratch the surface and you find diamonds’. This is a metaphor designed for newish towns like Swindon and Slough and a.n.other big towns-which-should-be-cities up and down the UK without a cotswold-beige prettiness or A-list pop band-venues or sophisticated shopping, it is the community which makes it, and Tony has firmly embedded himself in that community – and loves it. Tony is the one who sets up the maypole dancing on the first day of Swindon Festival of Literature. He is the first on the Beehive dance floor, or even jives around to the auditorium music as the Swindon Arts Centre audience waits for the author to begin their talk. Not bad for someone threescore years and ten.

Continue reading

Did radio help us through the pandemic?

7 May

More than any other media, radio helped us through the pandemic. That’s the view of journalist Miranda Sawyer, audio critic for the Observer newspaper.

Unusually for a Swindon Festival of Literature guest, Miranda doesn’t have a book to promote.

Sure, her book on middle age, Out of Time, is available – but that was published in 2015.

And there’s a new book in the works about long-term relationships, but that – she admits – is overdue. She hopes to finish it by the end of the summer.

Meanwhile, she’s been invited to talk to the Literature Festival – which is as much a festival of ideas as it is a festival of books – about radio.

Continue reading

How to be a Refugee

7 May

Simon May’s appearance at Swindon’s Festival of Literature on the 6th May posed some interesting questions to those of us watching on our comfortable sofa at home.

Simon’s book, How to be a Refugee – one family’s story of exile and belonging, told an extraordinary story of survival in the days of Hitler’s Nazi Germany and beyond.  He pointed out that in today’s world of migration, although a refugee could, on the surface, integrate into a new country through social adaptation, did they actually assimilate, adapt their soul, shed who they really are?

In the book, Simon looked at his own family who had Jewish ancestry and lived in Germany, and wanted to portray an unknown side of life there.  Even before Nazi Germany they had changed their religion to fit in with German culture and think themselves German first and Jews second.  His grandfather converted from Judaism to Protestantism and Simon’s great uncle was a Catholic priest.  This integration was of no avail when the Nazi Party looked at race not religion.  Simon’s grandfather in 1933 was expelled from his profession as a lawyer because of his ancestry and died of a broken heart.  His mother, Marianne, arrived in the UK in 1934 but later in England from 1938 to 1948, found being German was now a problem to be hidden.  She was deemed a stateless enemy alien and subject to a night time curfew.  This indeed saved her life when one evening she broke her curfew, was put into custody and later that night her home, where she should have been, was destroyed by a bomb.

Continue reading

Opening Pandora’s Jar

6 May Natalie Haynes

I’m somewhat late to the party apropos Natalie Haynes – and even then, I was in the kitchen.  It’s only of late that I discovered Natalie Haynes Stands up for the Classics on BBC Radio 4. And it’s more recent still that I clocked that Natalie has enjoyed a longstanding, stand-up career. Among other things. Imagine then my delight to see Natalie’s name in the literature festival programme.

Continue reading

“I’m sorry for your loss” becomes Swindon’s gain

5 May

We may not all agree why the chicken crossed the road but in his Nine Ways to Conquer Death Zoom talk, Kevin Toolis was very clear that we English cross the road to avoid death and Irish people cross the road to show empathy for death.

Of dual identity, Kevin grew up in Scotland but with a strong Irish tradition that had a different attitude towards social death. By way of vivid example, he described that recently his aunt – aunt had a full-scale Irish wake with an open coffin next to the Christmas tree.

Continue reading

Will the handshake survive the pandemic?

5 May

Hi, I’m Pete. It’s nice to meet you.

Okay, close your eyes. Imagine we’ve just met and I’m saying that to you. In your mind’s eye what am I doing? Chances are I’m offering you my right hand.

It’s an interesting thing, right, the handshake? The story of our most familiar physical greetings ritual – not as intimate as a kiss, nor as subservient as a bow – would’ve made an interesting read at any time.

But during a pandemic, The Handshake – A Gripping History by Ella Al-Shamahi becomes even more relevant. And poignant.

Continue reading

A Bite of the Apple

5 May Lennie Goodings

Swindon Literature Festival’s offering at noon today was Lennie Goodings and very interesting it was too as she discussed her book A Bite of the Apple, on four decades of ground breaking publishing. Here she sets out how Virago began, with its different female personalities, to publish and showcase women’s literature. Virago wanted to give women a voice and bring them, and their writing, out of partial obscurity into central stage but there was also the difficulties in making money from writing.

Lennie came from near Niagara Falls, Canada, but was inspired by 84 Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff and the many bookshops then in London to come to England. She only intended to stay a year, but soon found herself in the world of book publishing, often controlled by men. Eventually she joined Virago, then a very small company comprised of women, where they took it in turns to clean the office amongst other things. Here she came involved, back in the late 1970s, in a new wave of real and powerful publishing; new wave feminism. However, even today, Lennie said, women’s books were only reviewed by other women and the word ‘writer’ is not universal, as when used alone, it usually refers to a man, so attitudes still need to change.

Continue reading

Rabbit, Rabbit, Rabbit …

4 May Jasper Fforde

… you’ve got more rabbit than Sainsbury’s. It’s time you got it off your chest’ – sang sang Chas and Dave back in 1980. In that song they alluded to the use of the term ‘rabbit’ in its meaning of talking a lot. ‘You don’t half rabbit on’ And in his conversation with festival organiser Matt Holland, author Jasper Fforde suggested that’s one interpretation we can extract from the title of his latest tome, The Constant Rabbit. The notion being that we talk a lot – but perhaps without ever making any substantial changes.

Mr Fforde is clearly fond of, and has great fun with, parallel universes, anthropomorphic characters and allegory to make social commentary. So he set his Thursday Next series of books in a rather fab sounding alternative Swindon where Swindonians keep Dodos as pets, have a monorail and the Seven Wonders of Swindon – though with the demolition of the Double Helix of Carfax it’s now six and a heap of rubble. Meanwhile Fforde packs his Nursery Crimes series to the rafters with anthropomorphic characters and Shades of Grey is a commentary on class structure and strictures – and colour. In The Constant Rabbit it seems you’ll find all that combined.

Continue reading