Review: Mavis Nicholson talks to Sarah Compton

I can only hope to be as sparky and sparkling as Mavis Nicholson when I’m an octogenarian. Her book, What Did You Do In The War, Mummy? is a collection of interviews with women about their wartime experiences – from WI stalwarts to spies to the little known but awesomely named ‘landjills’. The audience for this event was definitely on the older side and there was much knowing nodding and finishing of Nicholson’s sentences for her.

Nicholson had two particularly interesting takes on social change and the Second World War. First, that while women found freedom, independence and adventure in the war, by and large they went back to ‘ordinary’ lives afterwards. What changed most were their expectations and relationships with their daughters – they gave up on liberation for themselves but wanted it for the next generation. Second, she argued that women’s willingness to be volunteers is ‘why they don’t rule the world.’ Women want to be liked, so they are content with gratitude; men want to be admired, so they start to compete.

One particular woman stood out for me: Odette, who spent two years in solitary confinement as a prisoner of war. To stop herself losing it, she would mentally redecorate people’s houses – and was often surprised on returning home that they hadn’t followed her advice.

There was definitely a sense that no one had ever asked these women to tell their story before. At a time when every celebrity has churned out three autobiographies by the age of 25, it’s worth remembering whose memories really matter.

Lyndsey writes at teadevotee

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Michael Deeley: Thursday

Matthew Field has written an extraordinary biography about the exceptional film producer Michael Deeley.  His knowledge of Deeley’s work is so encyclopaedic that once during the interview Deeley asked Field for a point of clarification on his own work. 

We were told of the challenges in making the ‘Italian Job’ and even the tale during the filming of ‘The Italian Job’ of the driver and private plane on standby in Milan in case the mini car stunt scene went awry and Deeley needed to escape from the Italian police (life/art?).  We even heard what would have happened after the cliff hanging ending of the film – solving on of cinema’s great mysteries.  The producer pulled no punches in his distaste for The Deer Hunter writer/director Michael Cimino and their disagreements during the making of the oscar winning epic.

We were treated to clips from both of these films plus excerpts from ‘The Wicker Man’, ‘Don’t Look Now’ and perhaps the finest film which Deeley has produced; ‘Blade Runner’.  If you want to know which version of ‘Blade Runner’ to watch, Deeeley was clear the ‘the final cut’ is the definitive version.

5 Reasons I’m Troubled by The Guardian Yurt

Last year Hay sponsors the Guardian had a House of Hay…literally a house, made of hay, at Hay.  Genious.  Actually it was very good, it doubled as a base for journalists and as a host venue to intimate chats with said same.  Last year I sheltered from the rain and had a very fine organised natter with Emily Bell.

This year there is a Yurt instead and it troubles me for a variety of reasons:

  1. It’s not really a Yurt it’s a bell tent with scatter cushions.*
  2. There are no events – seemingly no possibility of engagement with the august organ.
  3. It is ambiguous, the inviting carpets and cushions suggest relaxation but can anyone go in or is it just for Guardianistas?
  4. Even Sarfraz Manzoor appears to prefer Ascaris.
  5. C’est un peu pretentious, non?

* Wikipedia – A yurt is a portable, felt-covered, wood lattice-framed dwelling structure used by nomads in the steppes of Central Asia.

Frank Close: Tuesday

I have to confess to being slightly concerned when the eminent particle physicist took to the stage wearing a short sleeve T-shirt pulled over his long sleeved collared white shirt.  Not a great look and not aided by image of the cover of his book ‘Antimatter’ emblazoned on the t-shirt.  I think perhaps that Frank thought this form of advertising more likely to encourage the audience to buy the book (rather than less).  

This judgement call was echoed in the constant references to Dan Brown’s ‘Angels & Demons’.  Presumably this was another marketing ploy – along the lines of the fact behind the fiction of ‘Angels & Demons’.  I have no interest in Dan Brown and having fallen for it once will never read another of his books.  Frank Close is a real expert, the explanations were fascinating and I left wanting more of the physics and less of the marketing.

Jake and Dinos Chapman: Saturday

Jake and Dinos are less intimidating in the flesh than they are in print and the explosive confrontations into which other interviews have descended did not materialise at Hay.  In fact unreserved contrarians though they are they make quite a charming pair.

There is a line and Jake and Dinos are on a mission to cross it, which they did in this interview but in the main it was  engaging and revelatory.  Perhaps the most interesting insight from the session was their reaction to the fire in Leyton, east London which destroyed many priceless works of art belonging to Charles Saatchi including their acclaimed installation ‘Hell’.  In response to the claim that orginal art can not be recreated they are working on a reversioned installation – this time called ‘Fucking Hell’.  Tracey Emin’s famous tent the explicative ‘Everyone I Have Ever Slept With’ was destroyed in the same fire and the artist has been  adamant that she could not recreate it …. so, they claim, Jake and Dinos have recreated it, and they plan to show it and perhaps even produce multiple versions.  I hope that’s true.