OIR: Gwenda Major on Words by the Water

Article published on March 14, 2016.

Just back from a three day visit to Keswick for the Words by the Water festival: the fourth year I’ve attended and it just gets better and better. There’s a fantastic range of interesting talks on offer which makes it very difficult to make choices. Of course there are the big name speakers such as Melvyn Bragg, Ben Okri, David Hare and Richard Dawkins but also lots of lesser known speakers on fascinating subjects.

Most of the speakers have a book to promote so it’s almost impossible to resist coming home with a stack of new books to savour.

This year, quite by chance, my three days began and ended with the Celts. The first talk I went to was by Anna Pavord, the gardening columnist and author of such books as The Tulip. She was talking about her new book Landskipping and proved to be a delightful and eloquent speaker on the evolution of our appreciation of landscape. Pavord is proud to be a Celt, born on the Welsh borders but now ‘hefted’ to West Dorset and memorably said that landscape is ‘stitched into her.’

The last talk I went to was given by Professor Alice Roberts who gave a fascinating illustrated lecture, completely without notes, about the Celts, who they were and where they may have come from. She is such a natural communicator who knows her subject inside out and the theatre was packed for her talk.

In between these two talks I attended an enthusiastic lecture about The Alhambra, the wonderful little Keswick cinema which is now one hundred years old, as well as a talk by Juliet Barker to promote her new book The Brontes:a Life in Letters. Barker assured the audience that we are facing five years of Bronte mania, beginning this year with the two hundredth anniversary of Charlotte Bronte’s birth. Her talk aimed to counter the misinformation given in The Life of Charlotte Bronte, Mrs Gaskell’s well-meaning but misguided attempt to portray her deceased friend as a pious, long-suffering paragon instead of the -real life – spiky, rebellious and often outspoken author.

In complete contrast I also heard Sir John Dermot Turing give a talk about his uncle, Alan Turing, in which the speaker did a brisk myth-busting job to set the record straight about Turing’s work on the Enigma machine, his later conviction for gross indecency and subsequent suicide. The talk was given immediately before a showing of The Imitation Game which I had missed when it first came out.

Keswick is a wonderful little town at any time, surrounded as it is by the Derwentwater fells, still snow-streaked at the moment. When Words by the Water is in progress there is nowhere I would rather be. I’ll be back again next year for more.

Gwenda Major
March 2016

See also Linda Hepworth’s account of this festival to compare and contrast!

[In a subsequent part of the correspondence, your Editor confided that, ‘I think it was either Hard Day’s Night or Help that I saw at the Alhambra pretty much when it came out. Many holidays in the Lakes had their rainy days and my parents finally gave in to my musical obsession on one of them!’ to which Gwenda replied,
‘One of the books I came home with is Will You Take us in Please?  100 Years of the Alhambra Cinema in Keswick by Ian Payne who gave the talk.  I’ve just done a quick check and A Hard Day’s Night was shown in June 1966 and Help in July 66 so your visit is part of history.  It’s still a great little cinema with a free cup of tea or coffee on arrival – the owner/manager Tom Rennie announced at the talk that he’s just signed for another five year lease.’ Nice!]

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