Beauty without the beast – Heather Widdows

21 May Heather Widdows, photo © Fernando Bagué

Back in my early thirties, a male friend poo-pooed the idea of plastic surgery. I might do it, I replied, when I age, if it looked real (and like me) and I could afford it. He was aghast. I wear make up, after all. What’s the difference?

Now I’m in my late forties, I look in the mirror and wonder. Could I get back to how I used to look? But, back then, was I so happy?

The point is moot. I don’t have the money and, even if I did, couldn’t justify the expense. But does the fact that it’s possible – and that some women do (and look good on it) – does this make me unhappy? Or dissatisfied?

Beauty is an incredibly complicated thing. At Swindon Spring Festival, Professor Heather Widdows shared the findings in her latest book, Perfect Me.

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Poetry, the Enlightening Art

19 May

The 23rd Swindon Poetry Slam did even more than what it said on the tin.

Co-organiser, Clive Oseman, has written elsewhere a detailed review of the poets’ performances. But I believe more has to be said.

This was not about competition but all about celebration. Of course we followed the established Slam knockout process and by common agreement, Jemima Hughes emerged as the rightful trophy holder. On another night, the way these things go, the winner could have been any of at least half a dozen other contestants such was the national-level standard of the poets.

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A witty and articulate host, delivering a splendid writing workshop

19 May

She steps down from the carriage into the yard. Behind the snort of horses and whispers of wind, there is silence. It clings to the branches of the trees, hides in the hedges and the nooks of walls…

So begins The Huntingfield Paintress (Pamela Holmes’ first novel). And my day at Lower Shaw Farm begins in exactly the same way. Arriving early for Pamela’s workshop, I find the farm crowded with silence. The only activity comes from three ducks. The trio quack their way around a corner, briefly inspect my shoes – presumably to check my shoelaces are not made of bread – then waddle away to attend to some undoubtedly serious duck-business elsewhere.

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It’s lucky number seven for Chronicler Louisa at the Think Slam

19 May

After seven years a contestant and four times a finalist, our own Festival Chronicler Louisa Davison lifted the Swindon Spring Festival / Swindon Philosophical Society Think Slam trophy on Saturday night.

Swindon’s sharpest minds gathered to philosophise, debate and – in our winner’s case – rap and swear in three-minute rounds.

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If youth knew, and age could

19 May

Last Sunday night this reviewer was bowled over by the vitality and wisdom of an autistic children’s dramatic performance. Everybody by Revolution Performing Arts. On Monday night, this reviewer was treated to New College students researching and performing original work on the past, present and future of the Arts in Swindon: Our Swindon.

So much for youth: they do seem to know. They do seem to ‘get it’. They do seem to care and to participate and to share. In these and other ways, Swindon Spring Festival is doing what it says on the tin and is celebrating arts, literature, and ideas.

As the packed, thirteen-day Festival reached Wednesday lunchtime of its second week, we queued to listen to the other end of life’s journey: old age. Carl Honoré, having built some international following with a previous book, In Praise of Slow urged us to, take a leaf out of the aforementioned youth and “smash it in our old age.” He urged us to forget about sitting on our sofas, alone at home and to, wherever possible, exercise and stay socially engaged. Exercise and social engagement are the closest thing to a ‘magic bullet’ for older people Carl enlightened us.

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Polarisation, populism, and pessimism – the causes of Brexit and how to address them

18 May

Next week, Britain goes to the polls to elect its representatives in the European Parliament. It’s an election that shouldn’t really be happening: if all had gone to the Brexiteers’ plan, we’d be out of Europe by now. But Parliament’s understandable failure to unscramble the eggs from the omelette before March 31 means it’s off to the booths we go.

And one of the greatest ironies of the Brexit fiasco is that we’ll be doing it with far more enthusiasm than we ever showed for European elections when we were still fully-subscribed members of the club.

If predictions are correct the Brexit Party, buoyed by the anger of frustrated Brexit supporters from across the party political spectrum, will romp home, taking their seats at a Parliament in which they have no real desire to sit.

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Psychoanalyst gives a lesson in Not Working

18 May

I’m sorry this post is so late – it’s been a busy 24 hours.

In my defence, it really has, but as Josh Cohen suggested at Swindon Spring Festival yesterday (Friday) this is not so much an apology as a self-righteous desire on my behalf for you understand how very, very busy I am.

Author, psychoanalyst and professor Josh was talking at Swindon Arts Centre on the topic of Not Working. In “a culture of overwork and hyperactivity, where being busy is a source of pride,” inactivity, he argued, can be good for us.

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Lost yourself in a good game recently?

18 May

Since I began attending Swindon Festival events, I’ve heard politicians of all parties discussing politics, historians talking about history, philosophers philosophising, and comedians cracking jokes. But never did I imagine I’d hear a psychologist discussing World of Warcraft.

For five or six years the MMPORG (or Massively Multiplayer Online Role-playing Game for the uninitiated) was an important part of my life… and my wife’s.

With a new baby in the house, our opportunities to socialise were diminished. Not only did World of Warcraft (or WoW) fill our evenings or hellishly early mornings – and become an important distraction for my wife during hours of breastfeeding – but you could interact with your friends. Dungeon raiding became our new clubbing.

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The Creativity Code—Marcus du Sautoy

16 May Marcus du Sautoy. Photo © Fernando Bagué

For me, it’s all about socks. I’m obsessive about wearing a matching pair—unlike my eldest son who just grabs the first two in the drawer. I find that behaviour even odder than his socks but, then, he finds my sock-matching fetish equally peculiar.

Obsessions can, of course, be debilitating. My socks are in various shades of washing machine-faded black and precision-pairing is time consuming. But, one wonderful day, a fabulous time-saving thought came to me in a flash; if I can’t see the difference then it actually doesn’t matter! Now I just grab the first two darkish items in the sock drawer and put them on. Like son like father.

This marvellous new way of seeing the world was truly liberating. Corn Flakes need not be Kellogg’s and my British gas is no longer supplied by British Gas. My next vacuum cleaner purchase could be something other than a Hoover whilst a broad vista of yeast-extract options has opened out before me.

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Hamlet (My Experience)

16 May Milo at Hamlet, photo © Fernando Bagué

As I walked into the Theatre I noticed somebody sitting centre stage. Their hoodie was pulled up over their face. They sat cross-legged and had their arms out stretched. Every now and again they would screw their hands into tiny balls and release them again.

The strange figure had a horseshoe-shape of chairs around them. I presumed other actors were going to come on and occupy these chairs, but nobody came. Eventually Festival director Matt Holland gave us a helpful hint: “You are supposed to sit in the chairs.” My Mum and I had heard there was audience participation, but I hadn’t even thought of being on stage so close to the performance. Someone had the right idea and was already up there, so I followed after, getting the best seat I could.

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