Family fun at Swindon Festival of Literature

13 May

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Who’d have thought Death would have a sideline in sausages?

Anyone, I guess, who’d followed the reason for the Grim Reaper meeting a pig to its logical conclusion, ie to make bangers, bacon, chops and other stuff that you won’t find in a kosher/halal butchers.

This was the end of Piggery Jokery – a wonderfully funny puppetry tale of nature told to us by Hand to Mouth Theatre at the Swindon Festival of Literature’s Family Day, at Lower Shaw Farm – when Piggy Wiggy met the Grim Reaper of Winter.

The audience of children and adults sheltering in the barn from the rain, perched on mattresses and straw and hanging from the huge hammock enjoyed this ‘whimsical perambulation through the seasons.’

With its Dark Ages/pagan vibe, it’s a simple enough tale of a man growing his vegetables and fattening his pig through spring, summer, autumn and winter.

The Droning Crone’s (Su Eaton) ridiculously catchy tune played on an accompanying hurdy-gurdy (the most entertaining scene change music I’ve heard in a long time – I’m going to recommend it to BT and other companies I’ve the misfortune to spend a lot of time on phone-hold) and delightful puppetry by Martin Bridle demonstrated the beauty of a simple story well-executed (excuse the pun) with plenty of humour.

No talking Babe pigs or Tamworth Two saved from the slaughter house here. No BFF lions and giraffes. No sugar coated kids’ tales. What really happens is that pigs are fattened to eat, and Piggery Jokery with all its buffoonery told it like it was for Piggy Wiggy. And small people (and big ones like me) were in stitches.

The Family Day is the delightful result of what happens when the Swindon Festival of Literature does something at its home of Lower Shaw Farm.

If you’ve never been: LSF began life as a communal farm in a village near Swindon, then watched as housing estates grew around them. But rather than be nimby about it, they embraced the development and it is now an oasis of agriculture married with creative activities – one minute hatching ducks, the next hosting yoga and poetry groups – and the organiser of the twenty year old literature festival.

It rained today but, rather than put a dampener on activities, it felt like a natural part of the event. Children could still play under the shelter of the barn, kitted out with mattresses and climbing forts, and still get plenty of fresh air. Adults could still eat the LSF home-cooked grub outside, dry under the eaves of the cosy old farm buildings which host the workshops and sleeping areas.

And it’s so friendly. It’s like being invited to someone’s home to enjoy a day of story telling where kids are encouraged to be kids, and good food is a really important part of the day.

Other activities included Daisy-May the Faerie of Nature, Chris Park’s campfire storytelling and his harmonica blues-playing wolfhound, Vicky Hirsch’s miniature theatre workshop where participants made characters out of wooden spoons, and a welly walk.

A reading by A F Harrold from his latest book, the John Majoresque The Boy Who Ran Away from the Circus and Joined the Library, was preceded by a high wire act above the heads of festival goers.

Harrold turned out to be a kindly, fuzzy, animated giant of a man whose silly poems and prose kept kids rapt. There were poems about iced buns (watch the video here), midnight feasts and the author’s unique clubbing clobber – “I’ve got a special suit, it’s entirely made of ants. It tickles when I wear it: now… watch me dance!” – which was illustrated by some suitably wacky grooving.

But the author was also keen to impart literary advice to would-be writers, such as this nugget: “It’s quicker and easier to write a poetry book, because it takes fewer words.”

The day was brought to a conclusion with three familiar tales from Greek Myths: Stories of Sun, Stone and Sea as performed by its author, Sally Pomme Clayton. Although billed as the ‘finale’ it was a bit of a graveyard slot for Pomme, her audience comprising of happily exhausted kids and adults dozing in the cosy warmth of the wood burner. All credit to her skills that she kept our attention to the end.

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