Tag Archives: Swindon Arts Centre

Swindon’s greatest intellects clash at Think Slam

15 May

Swindon’s greatest intellects clashed on Friday night, at the seventh annual Think Slam.

(Full disclosure: Chronicler Louisa was one of the competitors, and I am contractually obliged to describe her as one of Swindon’s greatest intellects.)

Over three gruelling rounds, seven competitors did mental battle in the Swindon Festival of Literature competition run in association with the Swindon Philosophical Society.

Swindon, by the way, is unique in having this kind of philosophical thrown-down. Until another town or city picks up the gauntlet, the competition winner is, by default, the UK’s – and possibly the planet’s – greatest living philosopher (just think the USA and the baseball World Series). Continue reading

Profanity and insanity – Swindon is Blessed by Brian

12 May
brian blessed_3394Swindon Festival of literatureBrian Blessed

©Calyx Picture Agency Brian Blessed

*** Warning: this report contains swearing, obviously: it’s about Brian Blessed. ***

Brian Blessed is going into Space. This is a good thing, as it is probably the only place large enough to accommodate his personality. Certainly the stage of Swindon Arts Centre cannot not hold him.

If Brian Blessed were an astrophysical phenomenon, I think he would be a supermassive black hole, because strange things happen in his field of gravity. And he’s massive. Continue reading

Change Everything

12 May

Swindon Festival of Literature director Matt Holland gave a fist pump as last night’s author concluded at Swindon Arts Centre.

A full house, a double event (for the first time), attended by Swindon’s ‘movers and shakers’, cheering. Was this a celebrity? A high-profile fiction writer? Not this time. This was an author talking about the economy.

A festival fan had suggested the event and the festival took a risk that paid off.

The speaker, Christian Felber ‘flown in from Austria by way of Portugal’, is not an economist, he tells us. In fact he’s rather cross with modern economics (as cross as such a kind, smiley man such as Christian could be). Modern economics – and there is no other kind, it’s a very new discipline – is heartless.  He tells a joke – a student worries to a university professor that he cannot decide the course to study. The professor says to follow his heart. The student thinks then says, ‘business ethics’. The lecturer says, ‘then you will have to make a choice’. Economics only cares about itself and how much money is made – ethics is seen to have no relevance to it. It mixes up means and goals and forgets money is a means to an end, not the end. Continue reading

Beautiful and useful – The Saffron Tales

11 May

unspecifiedIn the 1930s, a country made a PR faux pas – it asked the rest of the world to call it Iran, the name used by its people, and not what the Western World named it, Persia.

In English, Persia is the sound of exotic mystery, the Arabian nights. It sounds luxurious. Perrrsia, the noise a cat makes when it’s happy; Iran sounds like someone fleeing. The relationship the West – and certainly Britain – currently has with the country is undoubtedly problematic and unhelpful as to our associations with the newish name, especially after the revolution of 1978 and the rise of Islamic militancy. And the capital city of Tehran is not one that evokes history or millennia of culture, as this afternoon’s author Yasmin herself describes it, ‘one of those Middle Eastern cities thrown up without thought or design.’

So former Middle Eastern human rights campaigner, now cooker writer, Yasmin Khan, wanted to reclaim the Persian magic of her mother’s homeland. It happened by accident; in 2012, when the Western-imposed sanctions on Iran hit hard, her grandfather died and she went to stay with her grandmother in the lush lands of the Caspian Sea where she spent some of her childhood and holidays, away from her home in Birmingham. For something to do she asked to be shown some recipes, and while she cooked she heard the family memories that went with them. Continue reading

Red Ken is among friends at Swindon Festival of Literature

10 May
DSC_2783  Ken Livinsgtone at Swindon festival of Literature

©Calyx Ken Livingstone at the Swindon Festival of Literature

“The reason I keep getting into trouble is that I’m always saying what I believe.”

At the height of KenGate (are we calling it KenGate?) I saw a funny tweet, retweeted by Swindon Festival of Literature author and comedian Dom Joly. It imagines Ken Livingstone on Mastermind:

“Your name?”
“Ken Livingstone.”
“Your specialist subject?”
“Not bringing up Hitler.”
“Your time starts n––“
“Hitler.”

There was a time (last week) when it seemed that Ken couldn’t stop talking about Hitler. So how long would it be before he brought up Adolf again? Within the first minute? Not at all? Read on to find out! Continue reading

There can be only one – Swindon Slam!

8 May

First off, a massive congratulations to all who took part in the Swindon Slam! this year (and every year). Everyone who took part wrote a credible piece of poetry and for some it was pouring their souls out on stage. In competitions if you win, or come in the top three, it’s the best feeling in the world, but if you lose it can be very demotivating. So I’m going to say, keep going! You are fantastic, want to hear more!

There were 15 amazing competitors this year, which equalled 29 diverse poems under three minutes or less – including those by comperes – mostly performed with aplomb.

Yes there were poems about beverages and love and references to dead famous poets, and poems about poems or not writing poems or taking part in competitions with poems (like this one).

There were also poems about war, bombings, addiction, the environment and Professor Brian Cox (of course). Continue reading

Meeting Isy’s mad mother and Dom’s one-eyed cat

6 May

Comedy night at Swindon Festival of Literature – the evening that gives your brain cells a chance to recover after events featuring deep thinkers and political heavyweights.

Continue reading

Cold War Nairobi and the Thing that calls itself I

5 May

So this Swindon Festival of Literature evening involved a spot of dancing to a cheesy tune, being stuck in a car park, and a wild-ish haired professor. Sounds like a good plot for a book.

Which leads into the first event’s theme, Poetry Swindon 78s, where the Richard Jefferies Museum’s writing class used scratchy old 78 RPM vinyl records as a creative prompt. At Swindon Central Library, we heard the tunes and the writers read their work.

Nairobi, a bubbly 1958 Tommy Steele number, became a Cold War spy tale by Ben Holloway. Ben’s nervous rapid delivery and breath-catching apologetic gaps suited the memories of a paranoid molehunt.

I had enough time to catch Anna-May Laugher’s Ready for the River from a 1928 track by The Rollickers – ‘Want to drown my troubles / and leave just the bubbles’. I was glad I bought the accompanying 78s book and could get to know this poem: a five-part account of a river, a living thing, accepting and eating anything thrown in it – dead things, oar cuts, memories – before it is consumed by drought.

Regretfully, I crept out and then spent 10 minutes stuck listening to the bleep of a Swindon car park help button (‘hanging on the help button’ flash fiction coming up) before I could head up to the Arts Centre, which meant I missed the first half of Roger Scruton. So apologies if crucial information is notable by its absence. Continue reading

Serious and deliberate, Sir Vince surveys the aftermath of The Storm

3 May
DSC_5436  Vince Cable Swindon festival of Literature

©Calyx Vince Cable at the Swindon Festival of Literature

There are two kinds of politicians: the quiet, steady-hand-on-the-rudder type, and the charismatic ones, who can seem appealing, but whose run-away mouths can often get them into trouble.

Serious and deliberate in his delivery, Vince Cable – who certainly falls into the former camp – nonetheless allows himself a joke at the expense of the latter.

“I see I am one of two speakers with a political background,” he tells the Swindon Festival of Literature tonight (Tuesday). “At least I don’t need to be looking around the audience to see where the Mossad people are.”

Ken Livingstone will be appearing next Tuesday.

Continue reading

Empathy Handbook – Roman Krznaric at the Swindon Festival of Literature

10 May
Roman Krznaric

Roman Krznaric

“A smart professional type was sobbing quietly in the corner of my train carriage. So many of us are carrying an intolerable burden. Be kind.”

So tweeted TV celeb Dan Snow, 6 May, and Swindon Festival of Literature retweeted, apropos of nothing, other than what a lovely sentiment and what an awful dearth of empathy there seemed to be around the election.

On Friday, philosopher Roman Krznaric shared how he lost his empathy at the age of ten, when his mum died. And he wanted it back.

This isn’t just a ‘what I did on my holidays and you might laugh/learn from it’ kind of tale. Roman has begun a rather civilised – (for what else could it be than one filled with hugs?) empathic revolution with the Empathy handbook, Empathy Library, Empathy Museum and Empathy Bus.

The Empathy Bus features a ‘human library’ where, instead of books, actual humans can be ‘read’; a chance to talk to people who have a completely different way of life to one’s own and, as novelist Harper Lee said: ‘step into their skin and walk around for a while’. Continue reading