LIT FEST DIARY: Getting excited by history lessons and trainspotting

LIT FEST DIARY: Getting excited by history lessons and trainspotting

LIT FEST DIARY: Getting excited by history lessons and trainspotting

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

First of all I’d like to apologise to Professor Robert Bartlett of Scotland’s University of St Andrews.

When I made reference yesterday to how ‘modestly attired’ you were and got jeered, what I actually meant to express was how comfortable, relaxed and accessible you looked (a lot of literary types can appear so stiff and guarded).

I apologise for any misunderstanding and if necessary will happily place a £25 gift voucher from M&S in the post.

Now, where was I?

Oh yes, Witches: A Tale of Sorcery, Scandal and Seduction... I mean, what’s not to like?

At 10am on a grim, wet Tuesday morning, it seemed the perfect antidote to the inclement weather and better still, its host and speaker Tracy Borman, friend and colleague to BBC’s Lucy Worsley (but without the hairstyle and TV series) was enchanting.

Foxier and fresher than her more media ‘dahling’ peer, Tracy brought the dark, satanic world of 400 years ago to grotesque and perverse life (and no surprise, the audience – which was mainly women – lapped it up).

Understandably, torture, interrogation and runaway misogyny can joyously light the blue touch paper of the most docile of audiences and like a Mississippi preacher, Tracy quickly whipped up the excitable throng.

So much so in fact, I and the few other men present in the audience started gazing down at shoes as we became increasingly burdened with the guilt of our forefathers.

Tracy sketched out what constituted your typical everyday witch – cat ownership and a crooked nose. These ‘traits’ were apparently enough to inspire 17th-century villagers to go out a-hunting with flaming torches.

Shaken, but pleasantly so by this expose, I needed something a tad more comforting, and found it in buckets at travel writer Tim Parks’ talk on the railways of Italy.

Was this event open only to trainspotters I hear you ask?

Well it might have been but goodness what interest it would have held for them since it was so extraordinarily alive and vibrant.

Parks’ eloquence, wit and delivery were utterly joyous as he explained just why travelling by train in Italy can be such an exquisite affair (and ‘affair’ is the very word as I’m sure the rest of the audience – like me – fell hopelessly in love with the colourful eccentricities of this country’s railway network).

In fact, senior executives at First Great Western would do well to introduce a little Italia into our drab and miserable services. At least it would make cancellations seem more potent and theatrical.

And finally top tip for today? Oxford author Philip Pullman and John Lubbock, founder of the Orchestra of St John, do Desert Island Discs tonight at 7pm in conversation with Paul Blezard at the city’s Sheldonian Theatre complete with live orchestra. Unmissable.

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