To be or not to be? Do it. Do it! Think Slam at Swindon Festival of Literature

20 May

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So I decided the night before the Think Slam that I was going to do it. Do it. Do it.

That needed to be said several times as the only time I previously entered the Think Slam, I came last. But that’s me. Utterly nail it or completely miss the point. I am not an inbetweeny kind of woman.

So on Thursday I finally had three solid ideas in my head for the three times three minute pieces, and checked on the off chance that there was a place left in the competition. There was. Okay, I now had one chronicler piece to write up that day. Check. Two for Friday. Check. And three think slam talks to hone for Friday evening. Oh gawd. I really don’t like life to be simple.

And to really make it interesting, I woke up on Friday to a nasty headache.

At 1pm, after chronicler Pete shoved some painkillers down my throat, I began to write. I spent three hours on the first talk and an hour on the next two. I work quite well under pressure, fortunately. The chronicler pieces would have to wait.

After Sandrine Berges’s interesting talk on unsung hero Mary Wollstonecraft, it was time for the Think Slam to commence.

I tweeted that I had two aims: not to come last and not to trip up the stairs.

So far so good, I didn’t fall over my heels on the way there or the way back. My talk was applauded: ‘Why we should teach five year olds about sex.’ Obviously I’m being deliberately provocative. I’ve taken note that this works well at a Think Slam. Yes, even in philosophy competitions, sex sells, or at least bags a few more votes.

The results were in and, according to director Matt Holland later, I’d ‘won by a country mile’. Yay!

Next round: the semi finals. My fellow competitors were Sam Loveless, Joanna Ryan, Kevin Lester and Jill Sharp. Sam and Jill tied in forth place. (Sam did doing extremely well given that he had even less warning than me to take part i.e. half an hour before Sandrine’s talk. His work as a radio presenter on Swindon 105.5 comes into its own here.)

My next talk was: ‘Why public services should be run by non-profits.’

This time I lost out by two points, coming third behind Joanna Ryan, and Jill – who just scraped into the semis.
Gnashing my teeth at missing out on the Champagne and possibly a fifty quid note, I settled back to enjoy the final two.

I should probably mention that Jill’s second talk was inspired. She answered Hamlet’s false dichotomy and told him not to oppose those sea of troubles. No, it won’t end them (and alikened this to current Middle Eastern conflict). Instead he should have married Ophelia and lived happily ever after.

Joanna also had a great central conceit for her second talk. She compared the devotion shown to ‘pillar saint’ Simeon Stylites who stood on pole for thirty seven years, as irrational as the respect shown to Sir Alan Sugar, ‘both are over esteemed and overvalued.’

Hmmm, next year: need brilliant central image at the heart of each talk.

Jill’s final three minuter mirrored Farmaggedon author Philip Lymbery’s talk, back at the start of the festival. “Rousseau argued against ‘right is might,’” she began before saying that animals should have the right to live as nature intended. Just because we humans have dominions over animals, doesn’t make it okay to treat them poorly.

Next year: ensure I name check a philosopher or writerly person in each talk.

Joanna’s final talk was ‘capitalism – you’re crap!’ Although I agree with the sentiment, I suspected she didn’t think she’d make it to this end of the competition.

During the final vote counting, we heard from Sandrine. The Think Slams are judged by members of the audience but the guest philosopher has the deciding vote (if needed) and is invited to remark on proceedings so far. I should also note that each contestant gives a thirty word bio to host Sara Jane Arbury by way of introduction. Mine went something like this: ‘Louisa Davison thinks too much and writes too little, mainly about the zombie apocalypse.’ This was a knowing wink to Sandrine who I know writes historical zombie fiction. She said she was disappointed that I hadn’t mentioned the undead in my talks. Annoyingly, my final one was going to be: ‘It’s crucial to prepare for the zombie apocalypse.’

Then the winner was announced and Jill took the competition (and the £50 note) convincingly.

Further stuff:
All my talks are published at If you were one of the contestants and want to stick your talk there, let me know. (I was asked at the event if transcripts existed, so would be good to put them online.)

The other talks:
John Little – used a telephone directory to show how proportionally little time the human race has existed.
Sam Loveless – time is an illusion but also one of our best advancements; can we cope with the pace of change? If milk prices has risen the same as house prices, a pint today would be £10.51.
Chris Eddy – language – whatever I say has the force of a binding decree.
Maria Bryan – there’s no justice in the care system
Joanna Ryan – Does work have intrinsic value? We have fetishised it.
Kevin Lester – Only those not yet corrupt by wealth or the needs of survival should be allowed to vote i.e. 16-25 year olds; G8 members need to be democratically elected.
Jill Sharp – Everyone needs a private life where we can express our inner most thoughts.

The fifth annual Think Slam in conjunction with Swindon Philosophical Society was held at Swindon Arts Centre on 16 May 2014.
Words by Louisa Davison. Photos by Calyx Pictures.

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