Celebrating the launch of Oxford Castaways 2, published by James Harrison of Oxfordfolio, this debate opened up the question of what’s great, and maybe what’s not, about our city of Oxford.
Sylvia Vetta’s second collection of castaway interviews with ‘remarkable people linked to Oxford’ includes a fascinating range of people from musicians to politicians, and charity workers to theologians. The idea behind her interviews is, unlike the well-known Desert Island Discs of Radio 4, the castaways are not marooned alone, but would instead live together to create a new society, ‘Oxtopia’.
Bill Heine (of the infamous shark house in Headington) chaired Thursday’s debate. The panel included four castaways: The Rev. Charlotte Bannister-Parker, documentary film-maker Dai Richards, former Pegasus Theatre CEO and artistic director, Euton Daley and poet Jenny Lewis.
The questions centred on what features might make up this ‘Oxtopia’, how the future might look on such an island, and whether a utopia is really something you want to wish for.
The idea of a utopia, Euton Daley argued, is that there is no struggle, but without struggle there is no striving. In other words, there is a risk the society would remain staid and lack dynamism. Certainly, vitality was a must-have with panellists listing youth, music and rebellion as essential parts of Oxford that they would take with them.
There were also some more jarring areas of the debate. The ‘stuffiness’ of Oxford University, for example, was cited as something better left behind, but there were dissenting views. Unfortunately, a group of (hardworking I am sure), but accomplished and well-to-do panellists wasn’t perhaps the best demographic to be commenting on the topic.
That said, the panel was not entirely representative of the castaways in the book, which seems to contain a little more diversity, and is certainly worth dipping into.
Also worth noting is the excellent food put on by the Big Bang restaurant. No complaints there: a very nice meal, for a very reasonable price.
Overall this was certainly a thought-provoking event, that perhaps opened my eyes to a side of Oxford I’m not often privy to, although is always quite clearly there. And it was an interesting introduction to a new and intriguing book.