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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

The Rising: Fijian-inspired dance

9 May The Rising, photo © Fernando Bagué

This amazing piece of work really did put the Spring into Swindon Spring Festival. With powerful dance moves and great music, The Rising delved into the Fijian Culture.

The group made it clear it was a tribal piece by the way they moved, the sounds they made and the music. The dance moves gave the feeling of a war like battle playing out, a whole story made without a single syllable of English. The story consisted of fights, love and a feeling of a community. Continue reading

Books, babies and blogging with Slummy Mummy, Jo Middleton, and Young Adult author, Karen Gregory

8 May Jo Middleton

Jo Middleton is much like her writing: instantly likeable, witty and fun. A former marketing employee, Jo quit and followed her dream of becoming a freelance journalist. With little to no experience, she noted down editors’ names from magazines and asked them what they would like her to write.

Her first writing break came writing for South West Holiday Parks and shortly after she started a blog to increase her portfolio. As a single mother of two, she embraced the adage write what you know and wrote on the subject of parenting. And so Slummy Mummy was born.

Talking about her writing journey, Jo acknowledges apologetically that for many it is not easy, but ten years on from her choosing to start a blog it is understandable why she has been successful.

Jo’s writing is honest, on receiving her first free product of hand cream to review she wrote, “keeps my hands soft and moisturised, but smells like cabbages and old peoples homes.” Continue reading

Love Factually – an honest assessment of love or an antidote for the sickness?

8 May

When Laura Mucha, author of Love Factually, The science of Who, How and Why We Love, was asked why she wrote a book about love, she answered: “because I just didn’t understand love.” And in honesty, who does?

Raised from a young age in an all-woman household (by her mother and grandmother), Laura was not privy to relationships and took to quizzing those around her to help develop her understanding. As an adult, after a cardiac arrest which caused her to face her own mortality, she chose to return to the question of love and write a book about it.

Love, according to Laura comes in different forms: lust, romantic love and companionship. And partners, too, can be secure, avoidant or anxious in relationships – a state which is heavily influenced by our upbringing. Continue reading

Let’s Go Wild – Isabella Tree

8 May Isabella Tree © Fernando Bagué

Isabella Tree’s event, on her book Wilding, was all set for a cosy evening at Lower Shaw Farm’s ‘centre’, with forty or so people, cups of tea and talk of restoring a bit of balance back to the countryside.

However, the allocated tickets sold out. More were made available, and they sold too. There was no choice but shift the venue to the cowshed, with seating for a hundred. Still the tickets sold… benches were added, and more chairs dragged from all corners. By the time the talk was about to start, the cowshed was packed tighter than a, well, than a cowshed. An intensively farmed cowshed. And that’s where Isabella Tree comes in.

Isabella Tree in the Lowers Shaw Farm cowshed © Fernando Bagué
Continue reading

Running for friendship and survival – with Omer Homer and Bella Mackie

7 May Bella and Omer

When it comes to running, it seems most of us fall into two camps; running to escape thoughts and feelings or running towards a goal.

Omer Homer, a training Para Olympian hopeful, firmly falls into both. He runs to win but acknowledges that running has made him a different person. Omer started running in 2017, his target to win the Swindon Half Marathon – an ambitious goal given Omer had never run before, had no former training and has severe injuries from an encounter with an exploding landmine. However, Omer completed the Swindon Half Marathon in just 1hr 22min 49 sec and ranked in the top 1% of runners.

Continue reading

Morning Song – Dawn Chorus

6 May Farmyard Circus
Danny

The sweet melody of the bagpipes started the show,
a great way to begin the Dawn Chorus,
the 26th in a row.

Farmyard Circus

The Farmyard Circus, with hoops, bats and prong
ignited by a fiery wick,
I never knew the wonders that could be made,
from a flaming stick.

Continue reading

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