If only I could write like Eye Can Write – Jonathan Bryan

13 May

Before committing my words to the page on Jonathan Bryan’s Spring Festival appearance, I felt trepidation. After spending an hour in the company of him and his family, I, like many others in the room, including our host, Matt, had been moved from tears to laughter to awe, as a result of his command of language and beauty of his prose.

Jonathan has severe cerebral palsy, a condition that makes him incapable of voluntary movement or speech. This disorder, until recently, blighted Jonathan’s ability to communicate subjecting him to a world of silence, where teachers and alike spoke to him loudly and simply in a tone that, in his words, is usually reserved for babies and foreigners.

It was not until the discovery of a life-changing eye-gaze spelling board that Jonathan was able to unlock the silence and close the void between him and the outside world. His first independently-spelled word was ‘myriad’, a word which ‘heralded the silence of those around him and the ending of his.’ Continue reading

Carbon footprint expert wants ‘thinking’ at the core of climate change solutions

12 May

One hundred years ago we couldn’t smash the planet if we tried, Mike Berners-Lee told his Swindon Spring Festival audience on Friday evening. Fifty years ago, we could if we tried. But today we can do it without trying.

In other words, if we don’t watch it, we will blunder into destroying our liveable planet.

And we’re stuck here.

Mike has calculated that the energy required to send one person to the nearest liveable planet, with all the accoutrements to survive in space and to set up a colony, would take the equivalent amount of all humankind’s energy for a year.

Fortunately, earth’s a pretty nice place to be stuck. But it won’t be by the end of the century if we don’t act now and act hard.

Continue reading

If you want to know about greed, pride and lust, ask a politician

11 May

Having served as a politician for more than half a century, you’d expect Kenneth Baker to know a little about sin.

His reflections on The Seven Deadly Sins combines a number of his passions: his faith, art, satire – particularly the work of 17th century social critic and artist Hogarth – and politics.

Continue reading

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

Why do so many of us believe in angels – and what does it say about us?

8 May

Why do so many of us believe in angels?

In this post-truth age, I wasn’t all that surprised when I read that a third of people in the UK believe in angels, and that one in ten say they’ve experienced ‘the presence of angels’.

The findings, so far as I can tell, come from a YouGov poll conducted in March 2016 – just a few months before the referendum that delivered us Brexit.

It was published at a time when the then-justice secretary Michael Gove was trying to persuade us that “people in this country have had enough of experts” – those analytical and methodical enemies of the people. It was feelings, not facts, that mattered.

So yes, angels, why not?

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