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Friday, 22 October 2010

Manchester Literature Festival - Jeanette Winterson - Manchester Sermon

Star Rating – 7/10

Why did I end up with a strange mix of lesbians and Church of England vicars in Manchester Cathedral on a wet Thursday evening I hear you cry? Actually I was asking myself the same question. The reason I was there is that I felt that I really should make the effort to attend at least one event from the Manchester Literature Festival programme – avid reader as I am. And this event featuring Jeanette Winterson was the only one I could actually make.

I have not read any of her books (a major admission I know) but I have read articles she has written and seen her speak often on the TV, and found her engaging, so I thought it was worth a punt. I didn’t bargain for the choir singing evensong before her sermon, or the rather patronising introduction by the Dean of the Cathedral, (at least I think that is who he was), preaching to us before Jeanette took to the stage, and even telling the audience not to applaud at the end of Jeanette’s piece as that was not the done thing in church – priceless!

So I was getting more and more concerned that I had made the wrong choice of evening’s entertainment and really should be hugging a large glass of Chianti in a small bar instead, but I was at the furthest point that you could get in the cathedral from the door so I had to stay put and grumble. But then Jeanette took the floor, and she was captivating. She spoke for around 20 minutes about how today’s values and the worship of money, consumerism, and celebrity were damaging us all. She referred unashamedly to the Bible story of the last temptation of Christ as the centrepiece of her sermon. The language she weaved her sermon around was thought provoking, lush, full, funny and totally entertaining.

She cast each page of her text aside on the floor as she had finished with it, so that she was surrounded by a sea of beautiful words. We heard of the heritage of Manchester itself – Cottonopolis – and how the city itself had worshipped the creation of wealth of the detriment of its soul. She brought us bang up to date with cautionary tales of greedy bankers and insincere leaders – ‘Tony Blair anyone?’. Temptations to destroy our souls indeed. She is a true wordsmith and I thoroughly enjoyed listening to every word she spoke.

But then we had the lesbian vicar of Burnage as the mistress of ceremonies – although why she felt the need to mention her sexuality I am not sure. She invited us to join in a question and answer session with Jeanette and other assorted panel members as ‘participation partners’. Please… The only partnership I wanted at that stage was one with the aforementioned small bar – so I snuck off to Tom’s Chop House with Jeanette’s wonderful words ringing in my ears.

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