It’s lucky number seven for Chronicler Louisa at the Think Slam

19 May

After seven years a contestant and four times a finalist, our own Festival Chronicler Louisa Davison lifted the Swindon Spring Festival / Swindon Philosophical Society Think Slam trophy on Saturday night.

Swindon’s sharpest minds gathered to philosophise, debate and – in our winner’s case – rap and swear in three-minute rounds.

Carl Rosier Jones
Image © Fernando Bagué

In the first round of heats, Paul Archer, Carl Rosier Jones, and Al Golding went head-to-head-to-head.

Paul talked about nuclear power as the only viable solution to meeting the energy demands of a fossil fuel-free world.

Carl talked about the risks of taking shortcuts – from using traffic rat runs to keeping colleagues out of the loop at work. Not cutting corners, he argued, was less stressful and more fulfilling in the log run. And besides, he asked, would you cut your life short?

Al Golding
Image © Fernando Bagué

Al turned the ‘tell them what you’re going to tell them, then tell them’ rule on its head by describing a mysterious something that would make us the happiest we’d ever been, the angriest, and the saddest. It would enrich our lives, empty our wallets, and leave us feeling exhausted. The answer to the riddle – revealed at the end – was ‘family’.

In heat two, Martin Hawes, Louisa Davison and Martha Parry were drawn from the Think Hat.

In an unplanned riposte to Paul, Martin explained why nuclear power was not the answer to our energy needs. He even brought a prop with him: a four-inch diameter ball which we’re guessing wasn’t actual plutonium, but represented the amount of the element required to build a bomb that could flatten Swindon. Since 1940, he said, the world had stockpiled 500 tonnes of plutonium, which has a half-life of 24,000 years.

Louisa’s talk was rubbish. She vented at Nestlé’s new product – cereal with a disposable bowl and spoon – and asked why should the multinational company profit from creating waste. Referencing The Great Pacific Garbage Patch – three times the size of France – she urged government to introduce a tax on packaging, and to outlaw waste. She invited us to imagine a future in which rubbish was illegal, and acted out a comedic scenario where a houseguest dobbed in her friend: “Hello? Police? I’d like to report a bin.”

Martha Parry
Image © Fernando Bagué

Martha, of the Mechanics’ Institution Trust, talked about her vision for the building. Mothballed for 33 years, the facility was the centre of community life for railway workers for a century. She explained how she would like to rename it, replacing ‘mechanics’ with ‘citizens’ and creating “a central focal point that helps people find their place.”

After the first heats, Al and Carl were out of the running with 230 and 235 points respectively. Martha, who also scored 235, went through on the casting vote of Judge Supremo Matthew Taylor. Paul scored 242, Martin 260, and Louisa 262.

Martin Hawes
Image © Fernando Bagué

In the semi-final, agnostic Martin urged Christians to obey the Sixth Commandment – though shalt not kill. He argued that there was very little ‘fiddle factor’ in the commandment, and noted that The Church had created the idea of a Just War to permit the Crusades, the Conquistadors, two world wars, the holocaust, and Iraq. Channeling John Lennon, he urged Christians to Give Peace a Chance.

Martha returned to the Mechanics’ Institution. Having half-renamed the building, she suggested, why not tinker with the second part of the name? The Citizens Institute – a reading room, a forum for public meetings, and a place for music – would be an organisation inside a building that would forever be known as the Mechanics’ Institution.

Louisa talked about being a woman in a patriarchy. She introduced us to bonobos, chimp-like primates and our closest genetic relative. The apes, she explained, had evolved in an area where food was plentiful. Unlike the war-like chimps, bonobos live in a matriarchy. She quoted Virginia Wolfe, who said women could win their independence with “a room of one’s own, a lock on the door, and £500 a year.” And she praised the singer Beyonce for her 2018 Coachella Festival extravaganza, featuring 200 mostly-black performers, rehearsed for months but given space to shine onstage. It was, she said, what female leadership should look like: co-operation and collaboration.

Matt Holland tinkles his ‘patriarchal bell’
Image © Fernando Bagué

Channelling Beyonce, Louisa urged all the females in the audience to raise their middle fingers, and started rapping: “I got my own cash, middle fingers up; My house is a mess, middle fingers up; I’m bossy and I swear, middle fingers up.” And then, as Festival organiser and timekeeper Matt Holland started to ring the three-minute warning bell: “Ignore the patriarchal bell, middle fingers up.”

Paul Archer called for radical reform in housing law and taxes to enable young people to get back onto the housing ladder. From 71 percent in 2001, the Conservatives’ Property Owning Democracy had shrunk to 63 percent by this year. The appearance of 1.7 million landlords – older people who owned more than one property – had created a new gentry class, he said.

While the votes were counted, Judge Supremo and former Downing Street policy wonk Matthew Taylor was asked to say a few words. He decided to award every entrant an honorary prize: Carl won the prize for originality; Al won the sincerity award; recalling the patriarchal bell, he gave Louisa the obscenity award; and Martin took the award for breadth of thought.

Paul Archer
Image © Fernando Bagué

Paul, whose arguments had centred around government policy, won the award for worthy wonkery. And the Mechanics’ Institution, he suggested, should be renamed the Martha Institute. He awarded her the prize for relevance – and “actually making a bloody difference”.

The semi-final results were: Martha 233, Paul 245, Martin 252, and Louisa 257.

Martin demanded corporate action to tackle pollution and climate change. The environmental crisis, he argued, would never be solved while big business put the needs of shareholders before the planet. He asked us to consider a world where CEOs worked together to ensure their products complied with the highest possible environmental standards.

Louisa Davison
Image © Fernando Bagué

Louisa, who as the highest scoring slammer from the semi-final had effectively ‘won the toss’ and opted to bat second, gave three minutes on how, like Ghandi did with his Western suit, we should burn the school uniform. It represses women, she said: it’s expensive (three weeks wages for a woman working part-time at minimum wage to kit out two children), it creates washing and prepares children for wage slavery, where the work uniform is now the preserve of low-skilled workers and those in the gig economy.

It was a close-fought final, but with a score of 240, Martin was pipped to the post by Louisa, with 249. She thanked the judges and the audience with a grateful “I’ve been doing this for seven bloody years. Thank you everybody!”

And with that final expletive, she left the auditorium to find some other people to boss around and swear at.

Think Slam compere Sara-Jane Arbury confers with Judge Supremo Matthew Taylor
Image © Fernando Bagué

Words by Peter Davison. Image © Fernando Bagué

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