Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Just like the old days

Richard Cohen and Shelagh Hancox were chatting in Montpellier Gardens as I walked by this lunchtime. It was good to catch up with Richard again. In the years when he directed our Festival of Literature, it was indisputedly true to its name: Joseph Heller, Kurt Vonnegut, E.L. Doctorow, Allen Ginsberg - they all featured in Cheltenham one glorious year under his aegis. And Shelagh's husband Alan Hancox (a seminal former Director) would then still hold court in his book-lined Prom basement treasure trove, and at home in Gratton Road till a late hour.

There are a few worthwhile events even in this year's juggernaut bookfest: I had just been to an interesting talk by Susie Harries on Nicklaus Pevsner, "Englishness, of course". How on earth did he manage to produce his 46-volume Buildings of England series, on top of teaching at Cambridge and Birkbeck? One of the answers was by not stopping for lunch: we learnt that he would set off early on a Monday morning from London with a week's worth of sandwiches.

Pevsner was fond of those familiar words of Whitman: "Do I contradict myself? Very well then, I contradict myself. I am large, I contain multitudes.” And Susie Harries' lecture made you understand why.

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