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.

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