Archive by Author

Change the pictures, change the world – Kate Raworth and Doughnut Economics

21 May
Kate Raworth

Kate Raworth

Kate Raworth wanted to change the world. She tried it in a village in Zanzibar. She tried it in the UN, and then at Oxfam.

But her days as an economics student came back to haunt her. How could a ‘social science that studies the production, distribution, and consumption of goods and services’ (Wikipedia) be so far removed from ‘real-world economic challenges’? In all her forays into social justice, she banged herself against an economic brick wall. It’s impossible to create lasting change when the system itself is wrong.

Kate decided the main problem was the wrong pictures. Surely money, you may ask? But no, pictures – with a glut of blank spaces for people to fall into. University economics 101 uses a series of very memorable diagrams by a young US professor, Paul Samuelson, drawn after the second world war. These pictures, Kate said, sit at the back of visual cortex and influence our thoughts.

Just as memorable (read: creepy) was his aim for them: he wanted to ‘lick the blank slate of the mind’. You may recognise their simplistic black marks – the ones where a line starts at the bottom corner of the graph and zooms off to the top (GDP and unlimited growth); or a toilet door-style man whose only concern is how much things cost and how much he has to spend; or those hump back hill ones where some people lose out at the start before everyone starts to win; or where horrible waste is made, but don’t worry because prosperity will clean it up.  Continue reading

Dad’s the word at father-themed festival event

20 May
Dr Anna Machin and Rebecca Stott

Dr Anna Machin and Rebecca Stott

My mind was still reeling from the subject of kids – or rather Kids Company and its charismatic founder Camila Batmanghelidjh – when I sat down to listen to two authors talk about fatherhood.

Dr Anna Machin was billed to talk about The Life of Dad: a study of the changing nature of fatherhood, and the physical psychological changes a man goes through when he becomes a dad.

The changing nature of fatherhood, huh? I guess 50 years ago I might have come home from work, hung up my trilby and trenchcoat, pulled on my slippers, and smoked my pipe while my wife put tea on the table. The children – if they weren’t reading books or painting a go-kart – would be playing with tin toys at my feet. Continue reading

Another Girl Another Planet

18 May
Libby Jackson

Libby Jackson

Space travel’s in my blood
There ain’t nothing I can do about it
Another Girl Another Planet – The Only Ones (1978)

The entertainment industry has always been better at putting women into space than the scientific community, and when women have left the earth’s atmosphere – or even got close to the launchpad – their achievements are likely overshadowed by those of their male counterparts.

Star Trek’s Lieutenant Uhura (1966) Jane Fonda’s Barbarella (1968), Ripley from Alien (1979) and Aliens (1986), Sandra Bullock’s Ryan Stone from Gravity (2013) – we know and love them all. But Valentina Tereshkova? Svetlana Savitskaya? Liu Yang? Show of hands… Anyone?

Author Libby Jackson touched down at Swindon Festival of Literature on Thursday to help celebrate some of these unsung women (as an aside, she didn’t have to travel 25 trillion miles to get to the Arts Centre – unbeknownst to those who booked her, she lives in Swindon’s Old Town). Continue reading

Camila Batmanghelidjh treats festival crowd to an unexpected conspiracy thriller

17 May
Camila Batmanghelidjh

Camila Batmanghelidjh

Barely pausing for breath, Kids Company founder Camila Batmanghelidjh took her audience on a roller coaster ride of conspiracy and intrigue when she appeared at Swindon Festival of Literature on Wednesday.

I’ll admit, I was expecting an exploration of what went wrong at Kids Company, and why.

I was fairly sure I wouldn’t be hearing an apology. After all, Camila ends her book Kids – Child protection in Britain: The Truth with the line ‘je ne regrette rien’.

I guessed blame for the failure of the charity might have been laid at the door of civil servants – after all, that’s exactly what she was doing the day after Kids Company folded, on her whistle stop damage limitation tour of any broadcast outlet that would give her airtime.

What I wasn’t expecting was a tale of sinister forces taking down a high-profile charity to damage the credibility of then-prime minister David Cameron. Continue reading

Will Self ponders anti-Semitism, punctuation, and whether flowers are the souls of bunny rabbits

17 May
Will Self

Will Self

Will Self has been described in many ways, but perhaps not often in the way he introduced himself, as a sunshine-filled Jeeves and Wooster character who believes, with a warm heart, that “flowers are the souls of bunny rabbits”.

Luckily, most of us in the audience were long enough in the tooth to see the sardonic humour bristling away, and not for a minute about to fall for such a feeble attempt at dislodging us from our understanding of the blunt nature of Will Self: author, raconteur, journalist, one-time stand-up-comedian, reviewer, and as he himself puts it, opinion monger.
Continue reading

Wouldn’t politics be better if women were in charge?

16 May
Dan O'Brien and Harriet Harman

Dan O’Brien and Harriet Harman

Wouldn’t politics be better if women were in charge? I mean, not the present woman in charge – she’s awful. Or the one off of the eighties – not least because, in practical terms, that would involve a zombie leading a zombie party. But other women.

Think back to the 2015 general election, and the televised Leaders’ Debate.

David Cameron in an act of hubris didn’t even bother to turn up. (This hinted at the arrogance he’d display once he’d called an EU referendum rather than tackle disquiet in his own party which turned the country’s citizens against each other, and set the UK on a course for economic disaster, before announcing he didn’t want to clear up the giant can of racist worms in shit sauce he’d opened and strolled off to spent time in a £25,000 shed on wheels.)

Nigel Farage was there, because it was television and he’d been invited, and so was Ed Miliband, still in recovery from being hauled over the coals by political heavyweight and mansion tax opposer, Myleene Klass.

But it was the performance of the three female party leaders that gave me a warm glow. The Green Party’s Natalie Bennett, Plaid Cymru’s Leanne Wood and Nicola Sturgeon of the SNP managed to debate the NHS, the deficit, affordable housing, immigration, and Trident without going red in the face and getting spittle over each other. Continue reading

Life without poetry… poetry without life

14 May
Hilary Davies

Hilary Davies

An event that starts with Anna Wickham’s words is going to have a head start in my world. I can always rely on festival director Matt Holland for this. Matt walks around with her words in his breast pocket, and in his head.

I married a man of the Croydon class
When I was twenty-two.
And I vex him, and he bores me
Till we don’t know what to do!
It isn’t good form in the Croydon class
To say you love your wife,
So I spend my days with the tradesmen’s books
And pray for the end of life.

From Nervous Prostration

This is the measure of a great festival director who not only last night celebrated his first ever guest of 25 years ago, Sebastian Barker, he also celebrated women and their contribution to arts, war, and life. Continue reading