From Carpe Diem to #Yolo – seize the day, urges Litfest philosopher

12 May

Roman Krznaric © Calyx Picture Agency

Carpe Diem is one of the world’s best-known philosophical mottos, according to Roman Krznaric.

It has endured since it was coined by the poet Horace in 23BC, and today is one of the most popular tattoos (Dame Judi Dench, no less, had it inscribed on her wrist for her 81st birthday), been adopted by songwriters (like Metallica’s Carpe Diem, Baby), has inspired inspirational slogans (see Nike’s ‘Just Do It’) and is the defining line in the movie Dead Poets Society.

Google the aphorism, and it throws up 25 million search results. Continue reading

Let’s make a benign UKIP!

11 May

Catherine Mayer © Calyx Picture Agency

MEN! THIS IS FOR YOU!

After the local elections in May 2017, Catherine Mayer hoped to have time to reflect, space to promote her book on women’s equality (Attack of the 50FT Women) and perhaps write the next one, she told us at Swindon Festival of Literature.

But then in April,  a 50FT woman got in the way. Theresa May called a snap election.

As president of the Women’s Equality Party (WEP), a woman PM should please Catherine. And in a way it does. But not when Mrs May talks about girl’s and boy’s jobs on BBC 1’s flagship magazine programme, The One Show. This kind of thing is why Catherine accidentally began WEP.

In 2015, at London’s WOW Festival, Catherine made a ‘rambling’ speech about 9 million women staying away from that year’s general election ballot box, and the achievements of UKIP. Despite returning just one MP – small fry for the 25 per cent share of vote – UKIP were still instrumental in Britain beginning the process of leaving the EU. Despite herself a Remainer – for the equal rights brought about by the EU – she said ‘UKIP taught us important lessons. Popularity can cause seismic change.’

So, she joked, ‘Let’s be a benign UKIP.’ Continue reading

And now on Radio LitFest…

10 May

Philip Hook and John Rees © Calyx Picture AgencyBeing a regular attendee of the Swindon Festival of Literature can sometimes be like being an avid radio listener. Most of the time, you know what you want to hear – whether that’s the Today programme or Top 40 Singles Chart. But sometimes, something just catches your ear while you’re scrolling along the dial.

And that was what Tuesday night was like for me – tuning in to an unexpected but enjoyable two hours of art, history, and politics. Continue reading

The woman behind the voice

9 May
Charlotte Green

Charlotte Green ©Calyx Picture Agency

There are few  people who could open a presentation by reading the football scores but such is the familiarity of Charlotte Green’s voice one immediately felt you knew the person behind the sound.

Scores of mariners around the British coast relied on her clear diction, comforting delivery  and calm style to keep them company in the wee small hours or during a force ten through Finisterre.

Such was her affinity with the forecast that her BBC colleagues called her the ‘Fisherman’s Friend’.

She has such a voice so distinctive, that people recognise her speaking even before they recognise who she is.

Charlotte mentioned one rather elderly lady who, on being introduced to her for the first time said, ‘Don’t you sound awfully like yourself?’ Continue reading

Ideas changed my life – Francesca Martinez

9 May

Looking at Francesca Martinez’s book, Swindon Festival of Literature director Matt Holland said, ‘Let’s talk about the end.’ Francesca laughed – ‘Don’t give away the end!’ Then turned to the audience, ‘It’s alright – I don’t die!’ Matt grinned – ‘I really like you.’ And she replied, ’I really like you too, but I’ve got a boyfriend.’

This is the tone for Francesca’s event. She made her name firstly in BBC school-based drama, Grange Hill, back in the 1990s, before embarking on a career as a comedian and then as a social commentator and campaigner. Her appearance at the Festival is belly-laugh funny but also profound.

But (*whispers*) there’s something I have to tell you. She’s disabled!!!

Of course, I’m not mocking her. I’m too afraid of a hilarious (for everyone else) putdown (and also, FYI, not a dick). I’m emulating her teenage self before she had a life-changing conversation with Hot Dylan – Francesca was so desperate to be normal that she would make friends then share that she was disabled, like they wouldn’t have noticed she was ‘wobbly’. Continue reading

We need to talk about the Donald

9 May

The cat fancying bright orange elephant in the room didn’t take long to be exposed as Lionel Shriver drew parallels between the disappointing present and the dystopian future she imagines in her latest novel The Mandibles.

‘Since Donald Trump became president the dystopian novel has become popular for some reason’ said the American with a wicked glint in her eye.

Dystopian novels, she argues, are not about the future but about what people are afraid of in the present.

Her case is compelling, Shriver is a writer at the top of her game, peppering her talk with sardonic sideswipes and dark humour in conjuring the background to the genesis of The Mandibles.

Fake news and a Mexican border wall both feature in the novel which was written in those halcyon days before Trump had even entered the running for The White House.

Shriver has seen the future and it’s not a pretty sight. Continue reading

Mental memory writing with Terry Waite

8 May
Terry Waite © Calyx Picture Agency

Terry Waite © Calyx Picture Agency

Terry Waite was taken hostage in 1987 in Beirut, Lebanon.  He had been working as a hostage negotiator, and had been promised by the captors of two hostages – one very sick, and the other one about to die – that he would be allowed to see them.  Taking a huge risk to his own life and freedom, he went to Beirut to see the prisoners, whereupon he was captured and held – primarily in solitary confinement – for almost five years.

Amazingly, he has not suffered from any post-traumatic stress disorders, and this seems to be in large part because of the power that words and language have given him throughout and since his ordeal.  Continue reading