REVIEW – Devizes Arts Festival– Simon Calder @ The Corn Exchange 21st June 2022

Travel Tales

Andy Fawthrop

Well, we’re on to week two of the Devizes Arts Festival, but there’s been no let-up, as the entertainment continues to come thick and fast. Following Florian Felcitta’s wonderful Free Fringe performance in the Three Crowns on Sunday afternoon, and yesterday’s highly entertaining talk from gardening expert Adam Frost, last night it was the turn of The Independent’s travel writer and commentator Simon Calder.

I suppose there was a deep irony at play in Simon coming to D-Town, a place that last saw a rail service back in the 1960s, and which “enjoys” the bus services of a third-world country. Added to which, of course, was the added insult of it being the first day of the national rail strike. Simon’s day had started very early (as early as that of our esteemed milky editor) in his attempt to catch the first (still running) train of the day from London to Gatwick. And even then, his only purpose in being at Gatwick at sparrow’s cough was to be aboard the first Gatwick Express back to London, just so that he could report on the experience for various TV and radio stations. His quest turned out to be forlorn – the first train failed to run (staff shortages), and the second one only managed ten miles before it broke down. It was the start of a day which, he remarked in an understated stage whisper, had “gone completely Tango Uniform”. If you don’t know, Google it.

Following that, he’d made his way via Swindon, and the rigours of the cross-country 49 bus, to finally haul up in The Vize – and there were plenty of graphic pictures to prove it, including a shot of him in Tea Inc. doing yet another media despatch. Having played this early sympathy card, and got the near-capacity audience fully on-side, Simon was off on his more standard presentation on the life of a travel journalist, using photos of funny signs from around the world, personal travel experiences, and his reflections on such issues as the Covid travel restrictions, and the sub-optimal outcomes (for travellers at least) of Brexit.

His style was confident and brisk, with quips, asides and much dry humour in evidence. He was deft in praising the charms of D-Town, whilst playing to the gallery by snarking at Melksham, Swindon and Trowbridge. He’d done his homework all right. The main presentation having concluded, Simon spent a good half hour fielding audience-generated questions (ably delivered by DAF Chair Margaret Bryant) and providing helpful and hilarious advice on topics as wide as Avios points, best and worst places to visit, when to board an aircraft, the quality of airline catering, the value of rail travel, tourism in post-conflict Ukraine, and the feasibility (or otherwise) of electric planes.

An altogether professional and entertaining evening, and another coup for DAF in getting a media personality down to our neck of the woods.

The Devizes Arts Festival continues for the next few days until 25th June at various venues across town. Tickets can be booked at Devizes Books or online at www.devizesartsfestival.org.uk


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