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Friday, 6 May 2011

MAY 2011: Is the Festival telling a story?  

On 3rd May, Gavin Pretor-Pinney came to town, with waves, of every kind. On sound waves, he surfed, hordes of happy people in a happy auditorium. Pointing out that, in terms of waves (and maybe life too?) peak, peak, peak is not possible. There must be troughs too. Furthermore, all sorts of waves on which we depend are an omnipresent in our lives.  Then he got us dignified festival folk to do a Mexican wave, and we did a beauty!

He was followed by wild swimmer-with-child Kate Rew, who reckoned that cold water gives you a thrill. Maybe you but not me :-).  She spoke of seeing our lovely world anew, from water level, like a vole from its hole, or a roach from its river. We rippled with delight.

Next day, cooly-clever Kate Williams told us how boring her academic research was until she came across the - beautiful, voluptuous, sweet, seductive, splendid, etc. choose your own superlative - Emma Hamilton, who was an 18th century celeb, posing for olden-days painters in page 3 ways called 'Attitudes'. Plus ca change.

That evening, James Geary marvelled at metaphors, as we did too; and pointed out, to any pedant present, that 'a simile is just a metaphor with the  scaffolding left on'.  He gave time to aphorisms too. Like this one. 'Mirrors would do well to reflect a little longer before sending back images.' But metaphors remained memorable, like some jobs are jails. That night, my job was a joy.

On Thursday 5th May, Professor Lewis Wolpert told a big and largely ageing lunchtime audience that old age has no adverse effects on sexual activity. There was a slight intake of breath but hands remained folded on laps. He also said that experiments showed that eating less increases age. Starved rats live twice as long as well-fed ones. And added that, apart from the right genes, the key things to living long are diet and exercise.

In the evening, Robin Hanbury-Tenison, who had had an explorer's adventure getting here from Cornwall, said there was evidence that explorers were people who had domineering mothers. Furthermore, they do not have to be nice people. But no famous explorer was first to sail round the world.  It was a slave.

To end the day, Michael Wood reminded a full house that anyone can generalise but the thing to do is to particularise, because every single place tells a story, its own story.

Is the Festival telling a story?