Dad’s the word at father-themed festival event

20 May
Dr Anna Machin and Rebecca Stott

Dr Anna Machin and Rebecca Stott

My mind was still reeling from the subject of kids – or rather Kids Company and its charismatic founder Camila Batmanghelidjh – when I sat down to listen to two authors talk about fatherhood.

Dr Anna Machin was billed to talk about The Life of Dad: a study of the changing nature of fatherhood, and the physical psychological changes a man goes through when he becomes a dad.

The changing nature of fatherhood, huh? I guess 50 years ago I might have come home from work, hung up my trilby and trenchcoat, pulled on my slippers, and smoked my pipe while my wife put tea on the table. The children – if they weren’t reading books or painting a go-kart – would be playing with tin toys at my feet. Continue reading

Another Girl Another Planet

18 May
Libby Jackson

Libby Jackson

Space travel’s in my blood
There ain’t nothing I can do about it
Another Girl Another Planet – The Only Ones (1978)

The entertainment industry has always been better at putting women into space than the scientific community, and when women have left the earth’s atmosphere – or even got close to the launchpad – their achievements are likely overshadowed by those of their male counterparts.

Star Trek’s Lieutenant Uhura (1966) Jane Fonda’s Barbarella (1968), Ripley from Alien (1979) and Aliens (1986), Sandra Bullock’s Ryan Stone from Gravity (2013) – we know and love them all. But Valentina Tereshkova? Svetlana Savitskaya? Liu Yang? Show of hands… Anyone?

Author Libby Jackson touched down at Swindon Festival of Literature on Thursday to help celebrate some of these unsung women (as an aside, she didn’t have to travel 25 trillion miles to get to the Arts Centre – unbeknownst to those who booked her, she lives in Swindon’s Old Town). Continue reading

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.
Continue reading

Wouldn’t politics be better if women were in charge?

16 May
Dan O'Brien and Harriet Harman

Dan O’Brien and Harriet Harman

Wouldn’t politics be better if women were in charge? I mean, not the present woman in charge – she’s awful. Or the one off of the eighties – not least because, in practical terms, that would involve a zombie leading a zombie party. But other women.

Think back to the 2015 general election, and the televised Leaders’ Debate.

David Cameron in an act of hubris didn’t even bother to turn up. (This hinted at the arrogance he’d display once he’d called an EU referendum rather than tackle disquiet in his own party which turned the country’s citizens against each other, and set the UK on a course for economic disaster, before announcing he didn’t want to clear up the giant can of racist worms in shit sauce he’d opened and strolled off to spent time in a £25,000 shed on wheels.)

Nigel Farage was there, because it was television and he’d been invited, and so was Ed Miliband, still in recovery from being hauled over the coals by political heavyweight and mansion tax opposer, Myleene Klass.

But it was the performance of the three female party leaders that gave me a warm glow. The Green Party’s Natalie Bennett, Plaid Cymru’s Leanne Wood and Nicola Sturgeon of the SNP managed to debate the NHS, the deficit, affordable housing, immigration, and Trident without going red in the face and getting spittle over each other. Continue reading

Pam Ayres – My night with Auntie Pam

15 May
Pam Ayres recites 'But Don't Kiss Me' to Chronicler, Emma Smith 

Pam Ayres recites ‘But Don’t Kiss Me’ to Chronicler, Emma Smith

At the risk of sounding gushing before my evening with Pam – well, mine and the two hundred and nineteen others in the audience – I was prepared.

She was, I had been told, incredibly nice and funny. A fellow Lit Fest author, Gill Sims, referred to her as Auntie Pam even though she had never met her. And, it appeared all of sundry wished to claim her as their Patron.

All I knew was that she was a Patron of the Arts Centre and a funny poet, much loved by my now passed father in law. Therefore, it seemed only fitting that my mother in law and I came to see the poet that her husband had once repeatedly and loudly played from their stereo.

However, I clearly underestimated Pam Ayres’ legacy: she is instilled in both people’s psyche and hearts; a scene I witnessed and experienced first-hand with its fit to bursting, excited audience. Continue reading