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Saturday, 11 May 2013

Fits of absolutism, stromatolites, gastric-breeding frogs, poetry, piano,
and a man with a stick

‘Radio 4 represents important strands of Bristish culture, as does the Swindon Festival of Literature’ said former Controller of that station Mark Damazer.

‘Furthermore, you do not relate emotionally to a television channel but you can love Radio 4’. Festival followers nodded approval and murmured agreement, to all of that.

But radio lovers are rarely happy, he told us, when, in fits of absolutism, the big Controller makes significant changes, like killing of a key character in The Archers. But, apparently, they always get used to it.

Getting used to the big figures that need to be used when talking about the Universe is just not possible. When Paul Murdin, discoverer of the first Black Hole, which he still remembers with boyish delight, spoke of a million million galaxies and stromatolites formed 3.5 billion years ago, minds boggled on a rainy night in the Swindon Arts Centre.

In setting out to answer the question whether there is life elsewhere, he took us on journeys to planets galore but nowhere could carbon residue be found, nor any dead bodies. Intelligent life is rare, if only because it takes so long to evolve in relatively stable conditions, and such conditions are rare in our turbulating universe. Or something like that.

Paul’s answer to the question posed in the title of his book, Are We Being Watched? was a pretty emphatic no. Oh dear. Some people were disappointed while others were made to feel extra-grateful for the life we have here on Earth.

Special adviser to HRH the P of W, Tony Juniper segued neatly from no life in the cosmos to the natural life on our planet, declaring, not a little angrily, that, ‘regarding Nature as a nuisance is one of the biggest misconceptions made by modern man.’

‘Nature is not an impediment to economic development’ he declared. ‘It’s an aid!’ This is why we must not let anymore species of flora and fauna go extinct. Gastric-breeding frogs were once our friends. But they are gone now.

Also on Friday night but across town, Swindon poet Hilda Sheehan drew a huge crowd for the launch of her first collection, The Night My Sister Went to Hollywood. For one Festival Chronicler’s take on her fabulous night of poems, people, and piano playing at The Platform, see

And to find out what The Man with the Stick did, you’ll have to find someone who was at the sell-out gig at Swindon’s prize-winning Central Library.

Though I try my best, I have not yet mastered omnipresence.

Matt Holland
Photo credits: Richard Wintle – Calyx Multimedia