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Friday, 17 May 2013

Temptation, genes, and farting in public

‘Crime rates go down on wet days’ said Nick Ross to the Festival followers who had made their way through the rain to the midday talk at the Swindon Arts Centre.

‘Furthermore, all crime rates have come down in the last thirty years, despite the scarcity of shop counters leading us to temptation, so don’t believe what you read in the papers or see on TV’.

Former television crime-buster was now myth-busting. After Nick’s fascinating and informative talk, rated by many one of the best of the Fest, life on the mean streets of Swindon did not seem so bad. More danger maybe in the town’s theatres, since eighty percent of the notionally law-abiding members of the audience admitted to former crimes.

And then on came geneticist Steve Jones to tell us that nurture has it over nature, or at least that genes can be encouraged or discouraged to take us one way or the other. He began by promising to retell the Bible as science but allowed himself to get side-tracked by racehorse breeding and graphs, and failed to return to the good book. So, in order to discover what he’d intended to tell, we had to buy his good book. A shrewd bit of salesmanship by the passionate prof or merely a mental lapse?

No such gaffs by the terrific Tom Holland, who, after hailing Swindon the cultural capital of Wiltshire, without any discernable irony, swept through the ancient world with a youthful and linguistic delight that never faltered, even for the gory bits.

He got laughs too, for example, when claiming that Sodomites happily farted in public. Not only did his talk finish precisely on time, he also fuelled debate in the Q&A by keeping to his word to ‘leave combustible propositions to the end.’

Meanwhile, in a converted cowshed, Professor Chris Rhodes told members of Swindon Climate Action Network that universities need to re-examine what they are teaching if future generations are to be ready for climate change.

We are certainly ready for the final three days of the twentieth Swindon Festival of Literature.
Matt Holland
Photo credits: Richard Wintle – Calyx Multimedia