O.L. Festival (3) Dogs Who know when their owners are coming home

If a student at Corpus Christi College fails to get a top class degree then they deserve a good slap. It is the most beautiful learning environment on earth, like a pale golden nunnery in a scented garden. Perfectly inserted into this paradise is a modern lecture hall where I heard Rupert Sheldrake - maverick scientist/heretic, discuss the ten dogmas of science.  I love any lecture where a tiny old lady asks detailed questions about String Theory and is not assumed to be referring to crochet.
His opening notion - that scientists subscribe to these dogmas in working hours and then many go home and  are happy to believe that their dogs know when they are coming home, that their children are not mere robots and that there is a God - was a great starting point. He believes that scientists should at least be prepared to contest some of these dogmas (the conservation of matter; that all matter is unconscious; that all nature is mechanistic etc. ) which according to him have some quite insubstantial foundations. I would like a partner who can remember when I'm coming home.

Oxford Literary Festival (2) Short story prize in Hogwarts Dining Hall

I was in Hogwarts Dining Hall! A table set up in The Hall at Christ Church College like the Last Supper with grumpy Hanif Kureishi at one end a dashing Melvyn Bragg next to him plus Andrew Holgate, the literary editor of the Times - who set himself up to be knocked down by the others which made me like him instantly- Alison McLeod and two skilled performers, to honour the finalists of The Sunday Times EFG Private Bank Short Story Award.
The extracts read from the six shortlisted stories took us from a beer trip to LLandudno to  the American Civil War. The Beer Trip to Llandudno by Kevin Barry won my vote - touching, restrained and perfectly pitched - a story that gradually unwrapped the deep bonds that bind a group of emotionally scarred males. The judges agreed and he pocketed the £30 000. For a writer like me the CVs were rather terrifying, all the finalists were shortlisted for, or winners of, major prizes - (and I don't mean the "Guess the Weight of the Paper Mache Cow," prize that I won at the Girl Guides' jamboree).

Oxford Literary Festival (1) Defy the ageing effects of gravity - stand on your head!

Oxford makes you feel intellectual before you've even had your breakfast. The Times-sponsored literary festival with events held in a range of colleges around the city, made me feel especially learned. I only had a day there so had chosen three diverse events:- Jane Shilling talking about women and middle-age; the Times/EFG short story competition shortlist and Rupert Sheldrake discussing science and its dogmas. I would perhaps have got more out of Jane Shilling's interview if I'd already read her book - The Stranger in the Mirror. A review by Melanie McGrath in The Telegraph claimed she had uncovered a middle age 'rich in ambiguity and nuance’ and found the fun to be had in discovering 'what remains of the wilder joys of love and sexual exploration’ as well as a mature pleasure in 'an orderly, settled life, self-knowledge and formed tastes.’The interview however didn't seem to mine this aspect of her book(we got the negatives:- loss of fertility, empty nest syndrome, sagging bodies, boo hoo).  The book does sound well worth a read for her elegant writing and the fact there are so few books about middle-aged women that are not patronising.  I don't want to sink into terminal beige but neither do I want to wear purple and monstrous rings that make me drag my knuckles on the pavement.  I know the secret to a good middle-age (when I get there, of course): get rid of mirrors; stop reading womens' magazines even in the newsagent's and have a good laugh with your friends, then spend half the day on your head to offset the effects of gravity on your body - you can pretend you're doing yoga and get an entirely new perspective on life.