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BARBICAN LIFE


smile – one of delight and wonder – a boy who has been let into the sweet- shop and cannot believe his luck. He said ‘I couldn’t resist it, when uncensored access to the archives was offered to me’ - the Dartington audience smiled with him. We also sympathised with Stella Rimington (now a spy novelist) when she reminded us that John Major had started this 'transparency' exercise – he decided that MI5 should come into public view, gradually – but nobody had actually told Ms Rimington that her name was about to be announced as the next head of MI5. In fact, she did not even know that she had been appointed to the post! The press camped outside her house, and the family had to move.


So much for communication, then.


…. I went out into the wide lawn musing about matters which are usually far from my mind, in the quiet corners of the Barbican, where I cook meals, supervise homework, sew on name tags and drive to Friday night floor-ball practice. My husband and child were occupying deckchairs, book in hand, drinking tea on the beautifully kept lawn which is outside the Great Hall. I joined them. After supper, I was taken by my son on a ‘pilgrimage walk’ to the small immaculately kept Japanese garden, and back to our room via his two favourite sculptures in the main garden. We sang our evening prayer to the lawn terraces quietly, in unison, as they used to in Shantiniketan, encouraged by Tagore. The Dartington estate is itself a landmark location in the history of liberal ideas – the Elmhirsts were educationalists with a particular view – live and let live, learn and thrive intellectually, acknowledge your achievements with good works, and pass on what you have learned, when you ‘have enough’. Rabindranath Tagore was a close friend – one of the rooms in which talks are held is named after him. The equivalent place in India of course is Shantiniketan, the university town which Tagore built, along the lines of this magical place. Two of my aunts have houses there – a very civilised way to live. Kay Dunbar and Steven Bristow who have been running the literature festival ‘Ways with Words’ have carried on in the spirit of this thinking, in who


Tagore with Gandhi in 1940 in Shantiniketan, the university town, where 'songs of praise' are still sung in unison in the gardens


they invite to speak at Dartington. This is their 20th year. Not as old as Hay, and in an entirely different style, which is lent by the surroundings of Dartington Hall, and its residential feel, Ways with Words president, Roy Hattersley, said it best: ‘I look forward to it all year’. Breakfasts buzz with anticipation of the day to come – dinner is often the informal forum for the endorsement of a new novel or it's critical dissection. Festival goers are many, but those of us who have been attending for some years pick up where we left off last year, and for these ten days, it is as if the intervening year had never been – we refresh our acquaintance and our reading lists with like-minded ease. We confess our indiscretions and laugh together, which lightens the load. We sit quietly together and watch the sun play on the grass. We talk to the speakers, and they talk to us. In the spirit of Tagore and other social reformers and dreamers, Sunday morning saw us facing Robert Skidelsky – now those of you who don't know his work on Keynes have had a narrow escape – two volumes of detailed and loving analysis, taking in his vision and his milieu – a marvellous foray into that whole social and intellectual circle – if you start reading it, it is likely to make you miss meals or work deadlines. Skidelsky based his talk on Keynes's later paper: ‘Economic possibilities for our grandchildren’. It was a wonderful vision of life and leisure in the post-industrial society. So what, then, is this ‘Good Life’ we should embrace?


In 2007 the average real per capita income was $27,000 – in 1930 it was $6,000 – so we must of course have arrived - 2% growth annually should almost have wiped out the need for


15


work, according to Keynes. Between 1870 and 1950 there has been a sharp fall in the hours worked of course, but since 1980 or so it has been flat – a 40 hour week now, and no sign of the 'satiation' which would herald our adjustment to working less, and 'enjoying' many more hours of leisure.


We continue to be driven by an induced insatiability of ‘wants’. There is a massive deficit in ‘gross national happiness'


Through the bye-ways of


conventional economics we travelled to arrive at a last question – someone asked: our unspoken fear is that in this extra leisure time which might be afforded, we may be prompted to look within – and we are all afraid of doing


Festival goers at Dartington Hall


Kay Dunbar and Stephen Bristow – the festival directors


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