Date Posted: 20th March 2017

It’s a week exactly since the Words by the Water began to pack up and leave town; a week since I did my last chairing; a week since I assumed the recovery position and retreated into a darkened room to think.

The festival certainly delivered what it promised – words and ideas in plenty. As usual it came full of surprises. Richard Cohen arrived for the very first talk of the festival – How to write like Tolstoy – with a long wooden box which he had brought with him by car, by air and by Virgin trains from New York where he lives. This was carefully placed under the coat rack in the green room.  It contained  his sword - I had to ask didn’t I?  He was once a member of the British Olympic fencing team and was returning via Manchester for a fight he had arranged. So before I went on stage to introduce him, I had my first fencing lesson along with Emma Jane Kirby who was about to speak about refugees.  I’m still not writing like Tolstoy but I know how to stand to fight a duel.

Other delightful surprises were delivered by Marie Elsa Bragg (yes she is Melvyn’s daughter) who has written a novel, Mellbreak based in Cumbria and she had the longest signing queue of the festival.

Who would have thought pencils could be so interesting or 148 notebooks found in a skip could tell such a fascinating detective story.  There were revelations about the Snowden story by two Guardian men, Luke Harding and Ian McEwanl and a look at the night sky with Star Man Gary Fildes who helped to build the Observatory at Kielder.

My little art spot – Art a life changer – unearthed even more surprises than I had anticipated. Dolly Daniel told her story of buying her first Kelly drawing. She was driven almost 1000 miles by a friend in a smart car to collect it from the gallery. This I knew but I was astonished to learn that she had sold her car to buy it. She still has no car but she relocated to West Cumbria and has added to her art collection.

On the front row I noticed someone last seen about 20 years ago in Zimbabwe. She led me to the wonderful sculpture I found there which I exported to the gallery garden.  It reminded me of a dinner party one evening at her home in Harare to which she had invited several expats when the man sitting opposite me, staring over my head, suddenly said ‘ That’s my mother’s house in that picture!’ It was a painting of a terrace in Cleator by Percy Kelly.  Jack’s mother owned a bakery, Eldons, in that terrace famous for its pies.

Percy played a big part that evening at the theatre. His paintings do have a way of changing people’s lives. So Tuesday found me back at Tullie House gallery in Carlisle working out the details of the retrospective exhibition which is now accelerating towards me.  September isn’t far away!