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Festival Finale – Things WILL only get better

21 May

SwindonLitFes_2018_0020_Jacob_Hi_Ho&Darine_Flanagan_previewAt the finale of the Finale of the Swindon Festival of Literature, circus performer Darine carried Jake and the festival into a new era – next year it morphs into Spring Swindon Festival of the arts.

One could be forgiven for feeling reflective. Laura, of musical act the Glow Globes, observed, “Is it a little melancholy tonight because it has been 25 years and things are going to change?”

A film showed us the growth of the festival from a programme of twelve events to over fifty. “Who told us festivals to look forward to this week include the Cannes Festival and Swindon Festival of Literature?” festival director Matt Holland asked in a short audience quiz. The answer was Radio 2. Continue reading

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

What have the 1790s and robotics in common? – Rachel Hewitt and Alan Winfield

12 May

At first glance I didn’t think a talk about the 1790s and robotics (on the same bill at the Swindon Festival of Literature) would have much in common.

But I was wrong.

For one thing, quack doctor James Graham invented an electrical sex bed in the late 18th century, and, people being people, one of the robotics questions from the audience was, when will we get a sex robot? (Alan is actually chairing a panel discussion in Hay on Wye  about this very thing. It’s sold out.) Continue reading

John Tusa makes a noise – but softly

12 May
photo pf Fernando Bagué

John Tusa ©Fernando Bagué

It’s a funny old thing. For someone with a memoir entitled Making a Noise, its author, John Tusa, did anything but in delivering his lunchtime talk at Swindon’s Arts Centre. Which is not to say he whispered – that’s not what I mean at all. What I mean is that he had a considered, measured and calm method of delivery. Nothing frenetic here.

The subheading of Making a Noise, ‘Getting it right, getting it wrong, in life, the arts and broadcasting’ attracted me. Who hasn’t done and who isn’t still doing that? Well, the getting it right and wrong part at least. Continue reading

We are all nurses – Christie Watson

12 May
Photo of Matt Holland and Christie Watson

Matt Holland and Christie Watson ©Fernando Bagué

I’m drawn to kindness, and I was pleased to see an event on this subject at this year’s festival. We live in a country of increasing homelessness and poverty (again) – to hear/read about kindness feels more important than ever. 

I’ve also been a psychiatric nurse myself during the 1980’s and 1990’s, in one of those old asylums, and sometimes kindness was not part of care: lack of time and lack of resources always pushed kindness to the outer edges in those cold enormous wards, and people were dehumanised by this. 

Christie Watson’s book is impressive. She raises the awareness of the quality of good nurses through stories that highlight her own twenty years of kindness and dedication: “Sympathy, compassion, empathy: this is what history tells us makes a good nurse.” (p.8).  Continue reading

Radical Looking with Ben Okri

11 May

So, when I looked into Ben Okri’s book, The Magic Lamp, before his event at the Swindon Festival of Literature, I kinda got it wrong. I thought it was a collection of grown-up fairy tales* with accompanying illustrations.

This wasn’t just a simple error. Nope, this missed the point of Ben’s book.

Ben has an artist friend, the painter Rosemary Clunie. He loved her work so asked if he could borrow a painting for a few months, to live with it. “And then I went into the painting, literally, and came back out with the text.” Continue reading

Making money is art and working is art and good business is the best art. —Andy Warhol

9 May

IMG_6022 (2).jpg

Thrust from the mellow harp strings and oboe world of Classic FM into the writhing snake-pit of arts funding, Darren Henley is a man who relishes a challenge.

Three years into his role as Chief Executive of Arts Council England, Henley is unenviably sandwiched between the downward pressure of the hands of government and the desperate grubby fingers of the arts community.

One wants return on investment the other creative freedom. Continue reading