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Lighting Up the Dark: Jim Al-Khlalili on The World According to Physics

12 May

Jim Al-Khalili’s presentation for the Swindon Spring Festival (online) was a bit of a tease; a clever and fabulously clear description of all that’s currently wrong with Physics but without telling us what needs to be done about it.

For that you need to buy his new book, The World According to Physics.

That won’t be a burden for me. I already own three or four Al-Khalili’s and admire his clear writing, his innovative TV explanations and his inspiring Life Scientific on the radio. I’m a bit of a fan and so hearing him almost tell me what was in his new book was a genuine treat.

What we got was ‘an exploration of the shoreline of our island of knowledge in the ocean of our ignorance’. Exhibit 1 was dark energy. I well remember reading about this myself, for the first time, in the late 1990s and thinking (in Rabi’s famous words concerning an earlier discovery) ‘who ordered that?’

So what is dark energy?

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There has to be an alternative

8 May

Rob Hopkins is on the warpath. Perhaps warpath is the wrong word because it’s difficult to imagine Rob being angry and because he wants everyone to get on in a lovely community.

At the Swindon Spring Festival online tonight, Rob told us he wants a national imagination act.

When we say ‘imagination’ we don’t mean the commodified creativity, blue sky thinking that sells stuff. Like Dr Curry said on earlier on today, this is the kind of unbidden stuff that requires the right conditions. A society that creates values happiness over pleasure. Money can’t buy you happiness?

Was it like this, before, back then? Rob isn’t interested in rosy-tinted glasses. When we come out of Coronalockdown, he doesn’t want things to go back to the way they were, he wants a new future, because business as usual is an ecological ‘suicide pact’.

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Enchantment and concrete magic

8 May Patrick Curry

What is enchantment? Is Dr Patrick Curry (Swindon Spring Festival online) talking about fairies at the bottom of the garden? Probably not with a Dr in front of his name. Though the Godfather of modern detective procedurals who had Sir as a title, Arthur Conan Doyle, believed in tiny winged pixes and mediums.

Dr Curry means ‘concrete magic’, as coined by philosopher Max Weber.

Ok so is he talking about Brutalist architecture or the M6 spaghetti junction?

“There are many mysteries here,” Patrick says. “You are not in charge; it is a gift. If you are lucky to be graced with its presence, you can learn from it.” Interviewer Matt comments, “It is unbidden….A balance between the unbidden and making it happen.”

Like what?

Falling deeply in love for one. Hallucinogenic drug taking, illustrated by the mescaline imbument of the author Aldous Huxley for another (though I think Dr Pat undermines his enchantment point by saying Huxley took it for purely academic reasons).

Ah here we go. Fairies or: elves. Lothlaurien is the ‘heart of enchantment’ in Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. The elf Galadriel is ‘present and yet remote’. “Fairy is where you find yourself when you are enchanted.” but “We can’t stay there because we are not fairies.”

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Swindon Sainthood Found on Ferndale Road

8 May
Writer Alice Jolly

Tony Hillier writes about the prologue event of Swindon Spring Festival, with Alice Jolly, which, given these unpres-(stop!) times and that it has gone online, he has renamed the ‘Lockdown’ festival.

In these Virus Days, no book could be more timely. In these corporate days, no book could be more community; community in the making and community in its people-powered storyline.

But it’s a story with characters and clues, suspense and reveals; it is not a standard community activity with agenda items and AOB:

“Just because some committee says so? They’re not the government.”
“They are now.”

Award-winning writer and creative writing tutor at Oxford University, Alice Jolly, was brave enough to mix it with long-established book reading group members in Swindon. You know – that Swindon with its 25 year Festival of Literature and its thriving poetry and writing groups as well.

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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

Swindon should get knitted

17 May

Charles Landry

Charles Landry

Swindon should get knitted. It’s a sentiment that Swindon’s Stitch N Bitch ladies would no doubt agree with.  Charles Landry, author of The Civic City in a Nomadic World,didn’t exactly say that of course. But he did say, when asked his feelings on Swindon, that it is:

  1. The most difficult place to navigate he’s come across and
  2. It somehow doesn’t feel quite knitted together – that it lacks cohesion.

I reckon he’s got a point.  #SwindonIsAwesome – lots of fabulous things and fabulous people. But I can see what he meant. 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.
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