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Friday, 22 March 2013

Programme launch, Festival lift off

At midday yesterday, Thursday 21st March, the beginning of spring, when days triumphs over nights, in the space that was, for many years, Swindon’s Reference Library, the 40-page full-colour programme of the twentieth Swindon Festival of Literature was launched.

What fun it was!

It drew a crowd of 80-plus, dignitaries mixing with Festival followers, standing room only. And all appeared to enjoy the LSF bites to eat, the surprise presentations, the impromptu head-to-head Think Slam competition between Sara-Jane Arbury and the Festival Director, the musical rendition of W B Yeats’ Song of Wandering Angus by Kelly McKosker and Linda Lee, the words of congratulation and farewell from resigning Council Leader Rod Bluh, and the assorted piecemeal intros and perorations by the undersigned.

But most of all, the programme, a lovely little booklet if ever there was one.

Lasses of the launch were announced, for being helpful, directly or indirectly, to the Festival, to Literature development in Swindon; for having ideas; for often having to do things alone but doing so in a way that helps, supports, and involves other people; for actually getting on and doing things, instead of moaning; for asking questions that lead to good ideas; and for doing all they do without making a fuss or big deal about it. There were three people who qualified on these grounds. It so happens they were all women: Jill Sharp, for Life Writing workshops and work with BlueGate Poets; Fran Bevan, for research and writing about Swindon’s heritage and history; and Barbara Thompson, for her work at the helm of Swindon Film Society and Swindon Film Festival both of which are full of crossovers with Literature.

For me, after feeding the hens and stoking up the farm stoves, the day had started with the funeral of John Reynolds (1928 – 2013) racket-stringer extraordinaire, for the stars at Wimbledon, Wiltshire players, and the undersigned too, and a musician and artist to boot. His daughter Jane told us delightful stories about him, with irony, love, and beautiful respect. John was another one of those good people, who was skilled and reliable and simply got on on with things, sans fuss or bother. Doesn’t George Eliot mention the value of such ‘ordinary’ but wonderful people towards the end of Middlemarch?

By early afternoon, the launch was over and box offices at venues round town were buzzing.

The day ended with the usual and necessary Swindon LitFest debrief that included nourishment in the shape of Spanish tortilla and wine, participants in the shape of Festival workers, extra friends in the shape of far-travelled siblings, plus plenty of good cheer round the Dairy table at Lower Shaw Farm.

It was a wonderful day and we are already looking forward to May, even as the snow falls.

Matt Holland