Saturday, 7 March 2009

Think global, drink local

I've had goose-pimples twice already today. Perhaps a literature festival wouldn't be an instant thought for thrill-seekers but two talks today really got my blood flowing.

Firstly, a talk with Justin Marozzi and John Gimlette, chaired by local travel writer (is that an oxymoron?) and lecturer Joe Roberts. Both writers have documented their experiences with interesting travelling.

An encounter with an American GI led Mr Gimlette to retrace the US Forces' path up the Western Front in WWII with this 86 year-old veteran of the campaign, Putnam Flint. Gimlette chronicles the journey in Panther Soup, the soup of the title being the muddy mess that the American Panther Division left in their wake. This is an insight into the war and a personal story of a soldier coming to terms with the actions, both necessary and repugnant, of his army.

Justin Marozzi's wingman for his book The Man Who Invented History was Herodotus, the much-maligned Exaggerating Great-Uncle of History, or the Father of Lies, as some would have it. Amongst academics, Herodotus is seen as a fine stylist but a 'bullshit artist,' Marozzi explains to those of us who don't know (don't tell me I'm the only one never to have studied Greek classics.) But Marozzi likes the old chap for the very reason Plutarch et alii show such disdain for him - he's readable, he's an 'amiable buffoon' and he is a 'barbarian-lover'. A story-teller with an actual interest in the peoples he visits? Yes, he sounds like a decent sort to me as well.

Goose-pimple No 1: History reclaims some sensory, human detail.

Later, author of Real England Paul Kingsnorth and photographer Adrian Arbib give a rip-roarer of a seminar on the branding and blanding of the British landscape. Not for the first time at the Fest, we're talking about the effects of globalisation here - homogenisation, the dilution of culture and the death of the community as the supermarkets and developers roll out their grey monoliths. Two case studies from Kingsnorth laud the diversity of British apples and the importance of the good old-fashioned British pub. This is a popular theme in the media at the moment - recent noises have come from, amongst others, long-running activist Prince Charles - and more power to them.

Arbib further illustrates the importance of this activism with examples close to home (Solsbury Hill) to those further afield (developers in Oxford feeling the full force of the opinions of the British public.)

Kingsnorth feels vindicated by the recession. As a Marxist friend joked recently - capitalism is a lovely idea in theory but it just doesn't work in practice. 

Goose-pimple No 2: the battle for English culture puts my dander up.

My hunger for rabble-rousing whetted, I hit the streets. And, after a big, long, late lunch with two American MA Writing students discussing drinking culture home and away, I'm feeling like a big, long, late nap. When I wake up, I think it would only be right to show my support for my local ale house.

In between, my tip for the evening slot is more pomes. Claire Crowther and Greta Stoddart read from their own work and talk to poet and lecturer Carrie Etter, 7pm in't Guildhall. Have a good Saturday night - the week has whizzed past hasn't it?

Sam 'The Uncommon' Reader

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