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  • Archive for May, 2010

    Hay Fest: Karen Armstrong – Faith at Work

    2010 - 05.31

    Karen ArmstrongInterestingly, in 13 sessions at Hay, I have seen only one female speaker (excluding two women in the Saturday night Guardian Debate: Is Reason Always Right, in which all six panellists managed to both agree and disagree with not only one another but also the motion, to varying degrees, regardless of whether they were in attack or defence of it), and that was religious historian Karen Armstrong, asking Does God Have a Future?

    About half way through her hour, I still didn’t have a clue whether God had a future or in fact how she was addressing the topic at hand; early on, her talk largely consisted of entertaining but inherently fictitious anecdotes about conversations between God and his apostles. She started though by noting that we often first encounter God along with Santa Claus – hardly an auspicious point of introduction for a child, and Santa Claus has the benefit of being much more easily understood. Discussing God, she continued, involved talking about a different level of reality to the one we see and routinely exist in – and not for instance an alternate, unseen but detectable reality such as the atomic world, but the Ultimate Reality. By this time, I was feeling my atheism to be increasingly confirmed, not challenged.

    And then with Santa Claus, Ultimate Reality, apostles and fictitious conversations with God aside, things started to get interesting. Karen began to explain Brahmanism, the Indian search for the connection with God in the self, or more specifically, in silence. (more…)

    Hay Fest: Michael Jacobs across the Andes

    2010 - 05.31

    Saturday 30th May 2010

    Michal JacobsIt’s the end of my second day of Hay Festival, I’ve seen 10 of my 13 sessions and have just emerged from a talk by Michael Jacobs (no, not actor MJ, but author of Andes, The Ghost Train through the Andes, The Factory of Light, Between Hopes and Memories), a travel writer obsessed with all things Spanish who is now following his in grandfather’s footsteps through South America.

    After a rather shaky, verging on ballistic start, during which I had no idea what he was rambling about to the point of genuinely considering the cardinal festival sin of pulling out my phone to send a few text messages, Jacobs somehow seamlessly evolved from a nervous bumbler into a gripping speaker. When he first bounced shyly onto the stage (a paradox, I understand, but he pulled it off), I wondered how this chipper greying chap in the bright floral shirt could possibly be an internationally renown travel writer – surely every con artist in the world would see him coming and rub their hands in glee. He’s practically Two Flower from Terry Pratchett’s Discworld, minus the protection of the Luggage.

    And then I realised that this is probably his secret weapon and the very reason for his success, for like any entertaining travel writer, his holidays are invariably disaster-struck.  He admits that it’s practically a law of the universe that he attracts every possible calamity and madman en route. (more…)


    2010 - 05.12

    I once took a wrong turn cycling home from Chelsea, and accidentally came across a sanctuary within South Kensington – a magnificent church towering from a garden island around which roads bent and houses stood a respectful distance back. I immediately resolved that I might one day live in one of those houses, abandoning plans for habitat on Orme Court – but had stumbled across this paradise so very accidentally that I could never find it again by purpose.

    Tonight I did find it again, more or less by accident again, as these things tend to go. The church has an identity, St Mary the Boltons Church, and I now know how to get there again. I first passed it under snow; tonight I passed it on a mild spring evening, and it was more beautiful again. I haven’t a religious bone in my body, but I do love churches, these awe-inspiring monuments of excess dedicated to an idea.

    And like the first time I passed St Mary, I was tonight struck by the peace of this petite garden state. Turning from Brompton Road all sounds of traffic dropped away; the experience was jarred only by a policeman with his flashlight remonstrating some hapless driver for owning a vehicle with insufficient tire tread. Passing this odd couple, I came face to face with a small fox, frozen at the sight of me. It turned and leapt the iron fence, back into the garden island. Cycling all the way around the island, I was astonished to come across another fox – or perhaps the same? – squeezing through the fence away from the other side of the garden. Again it saw me, and swiftly turned tail, lithely scooting back into the church grounds.


    Brit Writers Award: into the third round

    2010 - 05.12

    I didn’t have the best start to yesterday. Woke up feeling somewhat worse for wear for 7am spin, bailed out of 9:30am spin to teach off the bike and by the end of Balance, felt like lightly defrosted death. When I went to bed in the afternoon for a little nanna nap, I didn’t expect to wake up at 5:30pm having slept through my writing time and needing to be teaching Combat less than an hour later. Whoops. But despite this small scheduling crisis, I still checked my emails (force of habit) and was instantly perked up by the following arrival in my inbox:

    From: enquiries@britwriters.co.uk
    To: enquiries@britwriters.co.uk
    Subject: BWA Round 2 Results
    Date: Tue, 11 May 2010 17:26:17 +0100

    Dear Member

    On behalf of the Brit Writers team, I am absolutely delighted to inform you that you are through to Round 3 of judging for the Brit Writers’ Awards Unpublished 2010. Congratulations!!

    Considering there were over 21,000 at the beginning, you have done extremely well to have made it this far – so very well done!

    There is now an intensive period of judging by high profile judges, who have a very difficult job on their hands as the quality is so high. The finalists should be decided by the start of June 2010.


    Easy smiles

    2010 - 05.07

    Every now and again I come across something that reduces me in seconds to a hysterically giggling wreck. I’ve seen a lot of very funny election-based images and videos the last two weeks, but they’re mostly extremely crass – and all the funnier for it, even if I don’t necessarily agree with the political sentiment.

    This makes me incredibly happy and has utterly nothing to do with the election, and I’ll wager it can make you smile too. Where can I find me one of these boys?