Kindling 2016

Another year, another Wood Festival – and another tent filled with the thoughts and passions of amazing people. My little empire, a small geodesic dome, has become one of my favourite places. I get to invite people to speak on subjects that interest them – and the results, well, while it is not as carefully crafted as a TED talk, can be rather special.

I won’t go through everyone – but here are some of the highlights.

George Monbiot – I have been wanting to get him here for three years now – so glad he came and spoke on the theme of rewilding – he opened proceedings, thus setting an impossibly high marker for following acts in terms of eloquence and audience …

George Monbiot

George Roberts stepped into the breach when I found that my second speaker was unable to appear (while my first was on stage) – thank you George for poems that continue to startle and sparkle.

George Roberts

Merryl Gelling was given the chance to talk about Oxfordshire’s mammals (she is chair of the Oxon Mammal Group of which I am the world’s least attentive member) – she was assisted in her presentation by her very own small mammal … who sort of stole the show! Lovely to hear about otters making their way back into Oxford – and one being seen right by the Hinksey swimming pool!

Merry Gelling

Great to have news of the update of the success of the Oxford City Farm in getting planning permission from Lucie Mayer – she has been and talked each year about their plans – now it is really happening.

I had booked in Tom Burnett on a recommendation but had not followed up what he planned to talk about very well – so I thought it was about playing football in Palestine … which it was, sort of … but it was also about the plight of Palestinians who are finding themselves subject to a brutal regime. He went out with the Bristol-based social club – the Easton Cowboys and Cowgirls. As he pointed out, yes, there are some idiots who shout about wiping Israel off the face of the earth, but for the majority of Palestinians, there is a desire for peace – painting them all with the same brush is like assuming all Americans are represented by Donald Trump.

Easton Cowboys

Saturday night is always tricky at Wood – working hard all day means I feel I have earned a pint … but I have to work hard the next day too – and in this instance also had to get up at 0630 to ensure my son was bathed and smart for choir duty … which was always going to be a challenge.

Tiger facepaint

However, I managed it while having fun too – highlight of the night – Xogara.


Sunday – bleary Sunday – came with a shock of sun. When you run a tent like Kindling the rain can be your friend, driving people in for cover … damn you sun … but still there was a demand – for Richard’s didgeridoos!


I was very disappointed that the entire field of the festival did not descend to see Stevyn Colgan – he is one of the QI elves – witty and with a voracious need to know things, he was wonderful. Buy his book! He is as close as I am ever likely to get to Douglas Adams or Stephen Fry …

Steven Colgan

Following on was Charles Foster – his latest book, Being a Beast, is magical – eccentric and transcendent nature writing (I think I said something like that for the book cover) – how does it feel to be another animal? Not an easy task to accomplish – and I will be finding out more from him when we share a stage for the Oxford Festival of Nature on the 8th June.

Charles Foster

How to become a climate rebel was the mission of a quartet of mischief – Danny Chivers, Sheila Manon, Phil Ball and Richard Howlett … tales of derring-do from blocking Heathrow runways to months in a Russia prison – but what is the best way to tackle this global issue? They were brilliant, challenging and entertaining.

climate rebels climate rebels 2

Somewhere along the way I talked about hedgehogs – I packed up my tent on Monday lunchtime – it is now Wednesday afternoon and I am still shattered. The Kindling tent makes me equally happy and tired! So, who will be on stage next year? Will Robin, Megan, Claire and Joe Bennett let me back in? Leave a message if you have a story to tell.

Quite Interesting

One of my favourite things on television is QI. Funny, articulate, intelligent and frequently delightfully rude. And I even have a claim to fame … a couple of years back there was a thought of doing a sort of QI-lite that would include members of the public in a quiz with similar lines of questioning, but fewer jokes, and Rufus Hound (I put the link in as I did not know who he was). There was a pilot and I was recruited as an expert who had to present facts about hedgehogs to the contestants, though for the life of me I cannot remember why – whether they were guessing which was false – or I was asking questions. All a bit of a blur. I do remember that I had a little dressing room all to myself – and it had a bed in it, on which I slept. I also remember that they gave me a small brown envelope with cash in it to cover my ‘expenses’.

And that was it, I have heard nothing more of the idea, which is a shame as I reckon I could make a go of the Alan Davies part (if you have not watched it, it is worth a detour. He makes me laugh, a lot).

So why here? Where is the hedgehog link to which I am obliged to massage all ideas into?

The latest QI Annual arrived on the desk of the BHPS as it features a two page spread all about hedgehogs. Yippeeee. It even mentions my mentor, Dr Pat Morris. In fact, here are the pages for you, to give you a taster before you rush out to buy it:

And I am delighted, very delighted, that our dearly beloved hedgehog should receive such attention. BUT – and you will notice that that is a big but – I could not help but notice a certain similarity between the combinations of words used in their publication and a certain book about hedgehogs to which many of you will be familiar (and if you are not, now is your time to follow this unsubtle link to Amazon to remedy the situation forthwith).

So what to do? I am going to drop them a polite line, but what should I ask for in compensation for this insult? I was thinking of a dinner date with Mr Stephen Fry … perhaps with a trip to the opera thrown in, all at the expense of the programme. That would make for a Quite Interesting night out.


Following on from this I got a lovely response from John Lloyd – creator of QI, and producer of such icons of tv-land as Not the Nine O’Clock News, Spitting Image and Blackadder …

Hello Hugh,

You were right!

Here’s the response from our researcher, Mat Coward.

Yet another of your fans!


It reads:

Hello, Dame Sir Lloyd of the Empire!
Yes indeed, his book was one of my main sources for hedgehogs. A wonderful book – one of the best wildlife books I’ve read in years. In fact, I ended up buying two copies.
all best


But still no Fry-up … should I press for more?