In the beginning…

As any movie trailer worth its salt will tell you (with gravelly voice): “it’s been a year in the making”. But damn if it hasn’t been worth the wait.

Marking yet another milestone by kicking off its 20th year, the Oxford Literary Festival stormed out of its starting gate this fine April morning (though admittedly it’s even warmer now) with a typically eclectic harvest of Jewell Parker Rhodes discussing her ‘Louisiana Girls’ trilogy, Humphrey Burton celebrating Yehudi Menuhin, David Baddiel introducing his latest children’s book and Lauren Child discussing her inspiration for Charlie and Lola.

Hemming and hawing then between a Titan of music and goddess of picture books, I plumped instead for some local talent, courtesy of Simon Horobin, a professor of English at Oxford University, who attempted to explain ‘How English Became English’. And very succinctly he did it too.

Although, in truth, at first I couldn’t stop thinking - it’s actor Charlie Sheen from tv’s Two and a Half Men (try it: Google Mr Sheen and you’ll have an exact duplicate of Professor Horobin). That aside, what could have been a ferociously dry subject was refreshingly brought to life, using real-life examples of…um… British supermarkets.

In particular Waitrose and its sign “10 items or less/fewer” and Tesco’s “up to 10 items’ notification which triggered much nodding among the clearly pro Waitrose audience.
Trust me, you had to be there to appreciate his lightness of touch, but it WAS entertaining.

And especially so his story about the mother of the British man who had his ‘selfie’ taken with the EgyptAir hijacker this week.

Apparently when the world’s press contacted his mum, instead of first professing her relief at his safe release, she instead seemed more concerned about correcting a frankly trivial point - “The picture is clearly not a selfie as everyone has been describing it,” she apparently said. “He’s in it but not taking it…”

Good then to see that some people still have standards over how newspapers twist and play with language.

Indeed, even Barack Obama came in for a little good-natured ribbing because of his much repeated phrase - ‘the enormity of the task ahead’ - which marked the start of his presidency.

In all, good fun, entertaining and worth the ticket price. And nice to know too that Professor Horobin can always moonlight as a tv lookalike…