Archive by Author

Polarisation, populism, and pessimism – the causes of Brexit and how to address them

18 May

Next week, Britain goes to the polls to elect its representatives in the European Parliament. It’s an election that shouldn’t really be happening: if all had gone to the Brexiteers’ plan, we’d be out of Europe by now. But Parliament’s understandable failure to unscramble the eggs from the omelette before March 31 means it’s off to the booths we go.

And one of the greatest ironies of the Brexit fiasco is that we’ll be doing it with far more enthusiasm than we ever showed for European elections when we were still fully-subscribed members of the club.

If predictions are correct the Brexit Party, buoyed by the anger of frustrated Brexit supporters from across the party political spectrum, will romp home, taking their seats at a Parliament in which they have no real desire to sit.

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Psychoanalyst gives a lesson in Not Working

18 May

I’m sorry this post is so late – it’s been a busy 24 hours.

In my defence, it really has, but as Josh Cohen suggested at Swindon Spring Festival yesterday (Friday) this is not so much an apology as a self-righteous desire on my behalf for you understand how very, very busy I am.

Author, psychoanalyst and professor Josh was talking at Swindon Arts Centre on the topic of Not Working. In “a culture of overwork and hyperactivity, where being busy is a source of pride,” inactivity, he argued, can be good for us.

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Lost yourself in a good game recently?

18 May

Since I began attending Swindon Festival events, I’ve heard politicians of all parties discussing politics, historians talking about history, philosophers philosophising, and comedians cracking jokes. But never did I imagine I’d hear a psychologist discussing World of Warcraft.

For five or six years the MMPORG (or Massively Multiplayer Online Role-playing Game for the uninitiated) was an important part of my life… and my wife’s.

With a new baby in the house, our opportunities to socialise were diminished. Not only did World of Warcraft (or WoW) fill our evenings or hellishly early mornings – and become an important distraction for my wife during hours of breastfeeding – but you could interact with your friends. Dungeon raiding became our new clubbing.

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The Creativity Code—Marcus du Sautoy

16 May Marcus du Sautoy. Photo © Fernando Bagué

For me, it’s all about socks. I’m obsessive about wearing a matching pair—unlike my eldest son who just grabs the first two in the drawer. I find that behaviour even odder than his socks but, then, he finds my sock-matching fetish equally peculiar.

Obsessions can, of course, be debilitating. My socks are in various shades of washing machine-faded black and precision-pairing is time consuming. But, one wonderful day, a fabulous time-saving thought came to me in a flash; if I can’t see the difference then it actually doesn’t matter! Now I just grab the first two darkish items in the sock drawer and put them on. Like son like father.

This marvellous new way of seeing the world was truly liberating. Corn Flakes need not be Kellogg’s and my British gas is no longer supplied by British Gas. My next vacuum cleaner purchase could be something other than a Hoover whilst a broad vista of yeast-extract options has opened out before me.

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Hamlet (My Experience)

16 May Milo at Hamlet, photo © Fernando Bagué

As I walked into the Theatre I noticed somebody sitting centre stage. Their hoodie was pulled up over their face. They sat cross-legged and had their arms out stretched. Every now and again they would screw their hands into tiny balls and release them again.

The strange figure had a horseshoe-shape of chairs around them. I presumed other actors were going to come on and occupy these chairs, but nobody came. Eventually Festival director Matt Holland gave us a helpful hint: “You are supposed to sit in the chairs.” My Mum and I had heard there was audience participation, but I hadn’t even thought of being on stage so close to the performance. Someone had the right idea and was already up there, so I followed after, getting the best seat I could.

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On dresses, wigs and still being human

15 May Leslie Tate and Sue Hampton, photo © Fernando Bagué

Every time I drag myself away from social media and engage with real human beings, I feel a buzz. With community events over the years, and especially with the Literature – turned Spring – Festival the buzz of attending events is palpable.

Even if, or often especially if, the speaker is not a ‘celebrity’, listening to a person who is knowledgeable and passionate about their subject is almost universally rewarding – heart-warming, brain-stimulating, thought-provoking and fun. I can make a comment or ask a question afterwards. What’s not to like?

No more so was this illustrated than at Sunday night’s event, Ways to be Equally Human. We were privileged to hear two people who, from the start, exuded that they were ‘comfortable in their own skin’ – no pun intended – as one speaker spoke of her alopecia and the other of his ‘cross-dressing’.

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Shapes of everyone – everybody at Swindon Spring Festival

15 May Everybody by Rapport, photo © Fernando Bagué

An expectant hush descended in the Swindon Arts Centre auditorium as Swindon Spring Festival director Matt set us up for mike-drop moments. We were to have a unique opportunity to listen to the unedited words of a team of teenagers, teenagers comfortable in their own skin, bold and beautiful, in Everybody by teen performance group, Rapport (Revolution Performing Arts).

I said ‘unedited’, but I mean that teachers or mainstream media have not massaged and cleansed their messages for popular consumption. The script, lighting, sound, choreography and music – the whole performance – had been produced by the young people themselves. Refreshing to say the least.

Everybody kicked off with, well everybody, the whole cast, school-uniformed up, with the usual personal tweaks for style, fashion and independence eg bomber jacket worn halfway down the back, ties askew and mini skirts at a level of choice. Cartwheels and mickey-taking ‘floss’ dancing animated the stage.

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Carbon footprint expert wants ‘thinking’ at the core of climate change solutions

12 May

One hundred years ago we couldn’t smash the planet if we tried, Mike Berners-Lee told his Swindon Spring Festival audience on Friday evening. Fifty years ago, we could if we tried. But today we can do it without trying.

In other words, if we don’t watch it, we will blunder into destroying our liveable planet.

And we’re stuck here.

Mike has calculated that the energy required to send one person to the nearest liveable planet, with all the accoutrements to survive in space and to set up a colony, would take the equivalent amount of all humankind’s energy for a year.

Fortunately, earth’s a pretty nice place to be stuck. But it won’t be by the end of the century if we don’t act now and act hard.

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If you want to know about greed, pride and lust, ask a politician

11 May

Having served as a politician for more than half a century, you’d expect Kenneth Baker to know a little about sin.

His reflections on The Seven Deadly Sins combines a number of his passions: his faith, art, satire – particularly the work of 17th century social critic and artist Hogarth – and politics.

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A man for our time, naturally

10 May Will Abberley, photo © Fernando Bagué

Fittingly, this inaugural Festival Richard Jefferies Lecture focused entirely on Richard Jefferies himself, with the presenter, Will Abberley, introducing the talk with a quote from Jefferies in which he appeals to us: “To find health, happiness and wisdom in natural landscapes. Let us always be outdoors.”

This statement perhaps sums up the underlying message of everything that Jefferies left to us: nature is the answer; the colours, the vistas and the sounds, and the hope and joy that they fill us with, helping us to discover hidden depths within ourselves, through an unnameable ‘divine’ something. Continue reading