Talking to people

I’m very happy to have given two talks in the last few days, both in my home town, Banbury.

The first was an “Antarctic Evening”. Soon after I got home from my trip to Antarctica earlier this year with the BBC weather presenter Peter Gibbs, a local friend – community organiser Steve Gold – suggested people might be interested to hear about my experiences. Would I do a talk? Maybe for the local young homeless charity BYHP? I agreed, then Peter agreed, and Steve and the tireless Tim Tarby-Donald of BYHP took over organising venue hire and ticket sales and a raffle. Last week Peter and I spoke to 170+ people in the Town Hall. It was standing room only.

What a thrill, talking to a receptive audience about Antarctica. Rather emotional, actually.

I talked about ways we might be able to understand what Shackleton meant, when he wrote – after his safe return from Antarctica – “We had pierced the veneer of outside things.” And I’m afraid I also quoted myself, because I’m proud of the blog post I wrote in my cabin on the ship heading south – click here to read it.

Peter’s talk, after mine, was brilliant, mixing personal reminiscences of his posting to Halley in the 1980s and his emotions on returning this year with explanations of some of the science being done there today, using animations and video clips. Few people can explain why Antarctica matters for global research and climate science better than Peter. It was a pleasure to listen.

And he also played a breathtaking short video made by BBC polar camera specialist David Baillie, who was with us on the journey south, filming for the Horizon programme, aided by expert sound recordist Doug Dreger. View it here. It’ll knock your socks off. It held the hall transfixed.

Later, BYHP said the evening raised the largest amount they’d ever made in a single event. Which made me even happier.

Then a few days ago I spoke at Banbury’s Literary Live festival, talking about changes in travel writing over the last couple of decades, some of the places I’ve been – including Antarctica! – and some of the challenges now facing journalists, media and publishing.

For those who were there – and those who weren’t – I mentioned the brilliant Jordanian film Theeb (which I’ve written and spoken about before), the writing of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Teju Cole, Lydia Ngoma, Lola Akinmade Åkerström, Raja Shehadeh and Tharik Hussein (listen to Tharik’s award-winning two-part documentary on America’s mosques here) – as well as my favourite book of the moment, The Good Immigrant.

Literary Live is a lovely small event, very grassroots, very personable, cheerful and worthwhile. Lots of interest from families and teenagers. And they pay their speakers.

I feel very lucky. It’s been a brilliant few days.