24 June 2013

Festival of Ideas

I came from the South, and went North. And two weeks later, a festival started in my new hometown, largely taking place in the buildings of my new employer, with as its theme “North and South". It was the York Festival of Ideas. What a welcome!

I found out when I was waiting at the information desk, wanting to sort out the issues with my key card. As the person in the queue before me seemed to have a rather complicated query, I picked up some leaflets. It listed some talks; I was attracted to one about local lunatic asylums. 

When I checked online I found out that that one was sold out. But there turned out to be so much more than the talks from that flyer! I figured I should have another look at what was on offer exactly. 

And then a chap walked into my office with a spare ticket for a Festival of Ideas talk on astronomy. That was fate making a point. I went! It was quite interesting. And then I decided to get a ticket too for a talk on local hero/villain Dick Turpin. (He had gone from South to North too!) I had some very vague memories of having watched (fragments of) a TV series about the chap as a small child. Decades later I had found out this had been loosely based on a historical figure. And having moved to the place of his death, I figured it was time to separate man and myth. I must say, the romantic hero from the book (“Rookwood” by William Harrison Ainsworth) and the TV series based on that are a much nicer chap than the properly unpleasant character the real guy was. 

The fictional Dick Turpin

And then there were talks about Antarctica; one report of an attempt to drill a subglacial lake, and a talk about life in the snow, and why it matters and how you detect it, and a talk about the chemistry of snow. I couldn’t make it to the Arctic talks (North AND South, after all.) I like this festival! It offered such a variety of general knowledge. And there was often some wine to be enjoyed before and after the talks. And the Polar talks were on the East campus – I hadn’t been there yet, and it was nice to have a look there too. And you get to know some colleagues who go too a little bit better. 

And it’s far from over: I have a ticket for a talk on how the English North is depicted in literature. Has it perhaps been wrongly depicted as grim? And I have a ticket for Seamus Heaney. I never read his poetry, but what better way to start than have him read it to me himself? And I want to go to some of the festival exhibitions with Hugh, when he comes visit me over the weekend. And who knows what I’ll ad hoc! I hope they do this every year…

 Seamus Heaney

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