I watched the stars - Alan Titchmarsh looking un-horticultural and a nice as pie Jeremy Paxman

Jeremy Smith

Jeremy Smith

First published in News Oxford Mail: Photograph of the Author by , Features Editor. Call me on 01865 425435

T HANK God there are still some writers who act like writers – who drink like fish, are unafraid of attracting sideways sneers and glances, and who, when push comes to shove, are just really, really great storytellers.

Indian author Prajwal Parajuly is one such individual – someone who despite being outrageously intellectual is happy to settle for upsetting an entire restaurant with the volume of his laugh (if only all writers could take themselves less seriously).

His debut collection of short stories, The Gurkha’s Daughter was shortlisted for the Dylan Thomas Prize and his latest novel Land Where I Flee is garnering rave reviews.

So naturally you’d have thought I’d have attended his talk on New Indian Writing yesterday afternoon.

But purposely I didn’t because sometimes I think it’s better to see writers in their natural habitat than in cold, sterile lecture theatres (otherwise it's just like peering at a tiger or penguin in a zoo; you see the animal but not the creature).

Instead, I busied by attending the Blackwell's marquee just outside and to the left of The Sheldonian.

Every day since Saturday, this glorious little bookshop-cum-coffee house has played host to an astonishing diversity of speakers, all bounded by one strict and very inflexible rule – that their talks last no longer than 15 minutes.

This has meant that during the last week, visitors have been treated to the following – short, crisp, pithy explanations of the European Union (Simon Usherwood), Classical Literature (William Allen), The Antarctic (Klaus Dodds), Ancient Greece (Paul Cartledge), Modernism (Christopher Butler), Russian Literature (Catriona Kelly), Planets (David Rothery) and Numbers (Peter Higgins). Every one of the above was free, energising and fun (hell, you didn't even have to buy a coffee or shortbread to attend).

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And you know what? I learnt something each time.

Oxford Mail: Alan Titchmarsh has fond memories of his days as a horticultural student in St Albans

  • Alan Titchmarsh

As for ‘stars’, I watched much-much-older woman’s pin-up Alan Titchmarsh supping coffee and looking completely un-horticultural on a light green sofa, while Jeremy Paxman was as nice as pie to everyone at his lunch table (almost all of whom incidentally looked pale with fright and sexual frustration in equal measure).

Oxford Mail: Melvyn Bragg talks about the bible in St Albans Cathedral

  • Lord Bragg

Definitely the big tip for today is Lord Melyvn Bragg at the Sheldonian Theatre at 2pm.

Lord Bragg, the Cary Grant of culture (and if he were a woman it’d be Audrey Hepburn), is coming to Oxford purely to be introduced by me, which frankly isn’t flattering but bullying.

Still, I won't let that resentment colour my portrait of a man who has done for the arts what George Clooney did for paediatrics in ER.

And please, if you do consider attending over the next three days, remember this – you will be welcome, even you don't have a blue rinse, a fat cat Civil Service pension or a bizarre attraction to Medieval rubbings...

email: jsmith@oxfordmail.co.uk

twitter: @oxmailjsmith

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