The FT Weekend Oxford Literary Festival 2014

Monday, 31 March 2014

Such a wonderful time at the FT Weekend Oxford Literary Festival this year with too many high spots to mention. But not least among them was Philip Pullman's brilliant off the cuff comment during our Musical Milestones event at the Sheldonian with John Lubbock's excellent Orchestra of St. John. 

We had been talking about the inspiring, civilising effect of good music (as a prelude to a Shostakovich piece that PP had chosen - having learnt from one of the musicians of the composers near execution and timely, fortunate survival) and he said the great legacy of western civilisation to our species was:

1. Empirical scientific method
2. Liberal parliamentary democracy
3. The full symphony orchestra… with piano.

As you might imagine, the highly engaged audience sighed with appreciation at the pithy analysis.

And then…

At the closing dinner on Saturday night, in the inspiring surroundings of Christ Church's great hall, (or Hogwarts dining hall to HP fans) with its oak tables gifted by Henry VIII, Margaret - call me Peggy - Atwood gave a keynote speech billed as "Storytelling: Hints and Errors." 

Opening with a pair of highly entertaining and beautifully illustrative short stories and via an anecdote about her partner, Graham Gibson, a ladder, a roof and squirrels in the attic, she came to the hints section.

In her trademark laconic monotone and with timely wry grins over the top of the lectern at the audience, she said that a really good hint for a great story was to " write about naked people….. people like to read about naked people…. we all like to read about naked people… I don't know why…. but I suppose, no naked people… no people!"

An explosion of laughter ensued, shaking the Tudor walls and rattling the stemware on the tables.

I could tell you also about Paul Bailey's gloriously indiscreet gossip at his event, Jim Naughtie's Civil Service insider knowledge and Ed Stourton's superb account of the pipelines that brought WWII servicemen to safest over the Pyrenees, but with so much of the festival, as with life, you sort of had to be there. 

Yours aye,
 

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