Shapes of everyone – everybody at Swindon Spring Festival

15 May Everybody by Rapport, photo © Fernando Bagué

An expectant hush descended in the Swindon Arts Centre auditorium as Swindon Spring Festival director Matt set us up for mike-drop moments. We were to have a unique opportunity to listen to the unedited words of a team of teenagers, teenagers comfortable in their own skin, bold and beautiful, in Everybody by teen performance group, Rapport (Revolution Performing Arts).

I said ‘unedited’, but I mean that teachers or mainstream media have not massaged and cleansed their messages for popular consumption. The script, lighting, sound, choreography and music – the whole performance – had been produced by the young people themselves. Refreshing to say the least.

Everybody kicked off with, well everybody, the whole cast, school-uniformed up, with the usual personal tweaks for style, fashion and independence eg bomber jacket worn halfway down the back, ties askew and mini skirts at a level of choice. Cartwheels and mickey-taking ‘floss’ dancing animated the stage.

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Take back meal times, says Bee Wilson

14 May

Seasoned food writer, award-winning author and journalist Bee Wilson declared Swindon Spring Festival her favourite of all the literary events she has attended globally, not least because it links words to spring and nature.

Our food speaker, back in Swindon from the Big Apple for a lunchtime festival slot, discussed the demise of mealtimes.

Author of four other food books, Bee Wilson is a foodie passionate about the impact of our modern lifestyles on our eating habits and the so-called food we consume, which she shares in her new book, The Way We Eat Now.

The act of eating, according to Bee, was once an opportunity to stop. Today, meal breaks are seen as a disruption to learning and living. A case in point is China, where chairs were taken out of school canteens to reduce the time spent at lunch and increase the overall periods in the classroom.

However, no matter how busy we feel, we have one thousand hours more free time a year than those of previous generations; we use time differently, said Bee, choosing leisure activities like Twitter and online shopping instead of a long lunch break.

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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.

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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.

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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