Edinburgh Book Festival: Joan Bakewell, The Ideas that Shaped Me, Review

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Joan Bakewell with Ruth Wishart in the chair.
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Joan Bakewell belied her age, which apparently is eighty three, and looked stunning in an orange coat with her blonde hair, carefully arranged for this appearance! The chair for this Edinburgh Academy Event was Ruth Wishart who introduced her as "the thinking person's journalist" which seemed to please Bakewell on two counts: first, that she was referred to as 'a journalist' and then the word 'person' was used which made the reference gender embracing.

Wishart also said that, of course, she was now a member of the House of Lords - the only legislature with more members than actual seats in the House! Bakewell added that while still a journalist she spent three days a week in the House of Lords. She said that as the Government was always in a hurry, the House of Lords did valuable work in amending legislation and getting it fit for purpose. Bakewell mentioned the disability allowances debate where the Lords stopped what was effectively a halving of the disability allowance which George Osborne had proposed. She said that she was very proud of this work by the members of the House of Lords which performed a really useful service.

Her interest at the moment was in medical ethics committees which decide how patients are to be treated and given drugs to make them better. Although she herself is non-medical she did feel that the ethics committees did a lot of good. She also touched on the programmes run for BBC where people recounted their problems and what they hoped might happen and then looked at what actually did. Some of the cases she saw were absolutely heart-wrenching and what was said of the person's experiences sometimes made her voice crack they were so moving.

However, it became increasingly difficult to find people who were prepared to share their experience with others on the programme. At the time, the Ethics Department was subsumed into something called the 'Factoral Department'. There was not the money, nor the will to carry on with something which was seen as having a number of 'problems'.

At this stage Bakewell gave two readings from her new novel 'Stop the Clocks'. These, she said, were a selection of autobiographical essays with one about relationships, courtship and marriage with a few messages about the formula to adopt. One reading was set in a girls' grammar school and described the sexual awakening of a young girl and her young man. It described how they had wandered up a lane together with Rubin (the boy) stopping every so often to take a longer kiss. It describes how the next morning she took out a piece of chalk and marked the stopping places and there were six in all. These areas she marked with a cross, however, this was Stockport where it rains a lot so the crosses were soon gone!

Talking about the referenda and the results, she said that she was very pleased that Scotland voted to stay in the Union as she would have encountered a deep sense of loss if Scotland had voted to leave. Having been brought up during the Second World War she recalled the time when we all stood together as Britain and defeated the enemy. She said that she felt the same about Brexit, with the loss of the European link as she saw it.

Turning to questions from the audience, she was asked why had she decided not to go to weddings. She replied that this was because she was never asked! Besides she had been to too many funerals and her friends were rapidly dying off!

Next she tackled wages: she said it was a scandal that the Chief Executives of the top companies were earning on average five million pounds a year. This, she said, was many times the take-home pay of the average worker. She was passionate about trying to bring earnings much more into line with having a reasonable differential - no one needs five million pounds a year!

This was a thoroughly good session and Joan Bakewell has certainly lost none of her appeal or her journalistic 'bite'!

Stop the Clocks: Thoughts on What I Leave Behind(Feb 2016) by Joan Bakewell is published by Virago