The Ways With Words Literary Festival has been running in Southwold for the last few days and we were lucky enough to get tickets for some of the speakers. We had expected an insight into the authors' latest books and perhaps a little background on how they were written and indeed that's what we got with Robert Harris and Salley Vickers but in the other talks, each by a widowed author, we found ourselves witnessing an emotional insight into love and loss - subjects very close to our hearts now that we are in our later years.
Barry Norman, on our screens for over twenty six tears, was widowed in 2011 and it was little surprise to see this veteran presenter fight back welling tears in talking movingly about SeeYou In The Morning the book that he has written about his wife of 53 years. The title is the five words the couple shared each night before going to sleep and it was difficult not to listen to the talk (or even to recall it now) without finding a lump in your throat. We bought the book ( we bought almost all of the books the authors were promoting) and Barry signed it for us. Being passionate about films I thought about what to ask him as we waited in the queue but was for once lost for words when he did the signing - pointedly signing to Marion and John when the man alongside had written John and Marion on his prompting slip. I felt that this demonstrated the importance that he placed on a wife.
But we realised how well Barry had controlled his emotions when, on Saturday morning, we listened to Allan Ahlberg. Anybody who has had children or grandchildren during the past thirty years will be familiar with Allan. I can still recite Each Peach Pear Plum by heart some thirty years after it came into our lives. And it's still in our lives today as Rose, Catherine and, eventually Melody will sit down to hear us read it to them. Allan lost his wife Janet, the illustrator of those wonderful books, almost twenty years ago but from the onset of his talk ,which he gave in the manner of a storyteller gathering children around his feet, it was clear that she has never left him. As he took a teddy bear from his holdall and dressed it in a hat and scarf that had once been Janet's his emotions overtook him and the audience was stunned into silence to see a man who minutes earlier had joshed and joked with us, lose all composure and weep quietly. It was a poignant moment for all who witnessed it and spoke more of the power of love than a thousand words could ever do. I've always resolved to live life as fully as possible and Allan's grief drove home the importance of cherishing every moment we have with those who we love.
Penelope Lively (to whom we will be eternally grateful for giving us the fabulous The Ghost Of Thomas Kempe to read to our kids) was widowed some years ago. Her talk did not dwell on her love for her husband but love was never far behind what she said as there was an overpowering sense of passion for her family in everything she said. She has written a book Ammonites And Leaping Fish a memoir about ageing (again close to our hearts). She's a sprightly and thoroughly modern eighty year old and reminded me of my own mum who is 87 and will probably (like Penelope) be sitting at her iPad using Skype, iTunes or email as i write. I've often asked her about writing down her memories which will one day be lost but she's just too busy to do so.
It's back to Southwold to see Jeremy Paxman tomorrow. I somehow doubt that he'll leave us with tears in our eyes - they'll be for the first person to bring up Russell Brand. Looking forward to it. It's been a brilliant literary festival. We always promised ourselves to get to literary festivals when we retired and have talked about getting to Hay on Wye for years. I'm glad that we finally managed one and I'm sure that we'll be going back next year. It was interesting to see the make up of the audience. The average age must have been over sixty and women outnumbered men by at least four to one. Does this signify the end of reading for young people or did the chosen authors simply appeal to an older crowd?
Here are some of the books we bought while we were there.
I'll leave you with a topical and relevant song