Village Hall Talks at Wootton-By-Woodstock

The project was conceived to raise funds to renovate the village hall in Wootton-by-Woodstock, which was built almost entirely from timber over eighty years ago. Few who have attended the talks would disagree that the evenings have been an engaging mixture of serious insight and comedic observation and we think we are catering for the current thirst for live events in smaller venues.

The Sir Anthony Seldon Talk

The Sir Anthony Seldon Talk
Our first speaker of 2017 was Sir Anthony Seldon, former head teacher at Wellington College, in Berkshire, who has written or edited about 40 books, including biographies of John Major, Gordon Brown, Tony Blair and David Cameron. He has also set up several influential groups, including the Centre for Contemporary British History and Action for Happiness - and, indeed, his talk was called "How to Live a Happier Life in 2017"

Sir Anthony told us on January 13th that - out of his experience as a schoolteacher for ten years and a school head for 20 years, as well as a parent to three children and 60 years of challenging living - he had come to believe that we each have our own intensely personal journey to make in life. He suggested there are three distinct levels on which we can lead our lives and he offered suggestions about how we might move from one level to another.

The first level of human existence is the pleasure/pain stage, which goes little further than the behaviour of animals, he said. Life on this level is dominated by the incessant quest to maximise personal pleasure and to minimise pain. In his own case, after quite a fraught life in his 20s, Sir Anthony met his wife, Joanna, who helped him piece together his life again and he set out to explore many of the eight paths to happiness - from A for acceptance through to H for health.

He told us he came to realise that happiness is a totally different - and much more profound - experience compared with the pleasure he had pursued before. Longer lasting, it emanates from a meaningful connection with other people, from harmony with nature and works of art and with the deepest parts of oneself.

Sir Anthony said he noticed that the happiness of children was dependent to a huge degree on the quality of the parenting they received, and that some parents with great wealth often used money as a substitute for love. He suggested the happiest and most fulfilled people, and those with the happiest children, were those who were either not particularly affluent, or who had an attitude of almost indifference to their wealth.

Both these groups had a sense of perspective about money and recognised that their relationships and their own inner lives were of infinitely greater value. The most anxious and least happy people, he added, were those with the most material benefits who lacked that sense of inner value. He began to explore a further five paths, from I for Inquiry to M for Meditation, this time taking them far more seriously. He said the experience felt like being completely loved and accepted, and as if nothing in this world could possibly touch or disturb that state.

He recognised this condition as the core of his own awareness, as something that is always present and always deeply contented. It exists on a completely different plane to ordinary happiness and can even be present in the midst of sorrow and distress - and he details this state in his book, Beyond Happiness, which sold out following his talk. He insisted there is nothing self-centred about this experience, which centres on goodness, wholeness and completeness - and no worldly success or material possessions can compete with this greater prize. He told us he'd encountered many tests in his life - and none greater than being told in the summer of 2011 that Joanna had an incurable cancer. He told us it had brought together his family, cmaking them to savour the time spent together and not to fritter it away in petty squabbling and trivia. His love for Joanna deepened immeasurably as she declined until her untimely death in early December.

Sir Anthony took us through what he saw as the key steps to achieving a degree of happiness in an ever-changing and uncertain world. In a benign and non-hectoring way, he suggested:

  • 1 Accepting ourselves is the first step on the path to happiness.
  • 2 Belonging to groups, sharing with and receiving from them, is also important in our growth and is a potent source of happiness. Sir Anthony said we are all responsible for our character - and added that everybody can exercise more self-control and discipline and, in doing so, we will immeasurably improve our lives and happiness.
  • 3 To empathise with others can bring us happiness - dishing out criticism and rejection leaves us isolated and unhappy.
  • 4 To find happiness, he suggested that we need a single focus or, sometimes, a series of focuses in our lives. Decide where we want to devote our energy and we become a different person
  • 5 Decide whether our focus will be to minimize our pain and maximise our enjoyment, or to give our time and talents to help others. The latter will lead us towards happiness.
  • 6 Good health is vital to happiness, yet Sir Anthony suggested that we wantonly wreck our bodies, pollute our minds and inhabit dirty environments. We need to learn to live naturally, by allowing our body and mind to function healthily.
  • 7 Through inquiry, we will discover our fullest selves, including the contents of our unconscious mind. We will learn how to live fully consciously in the present moment, as opposed to being asleep, or half asleep, lost in thoughts about the past.
  • 8 The aim of an inner journey is to travel inside and also beyond ourselves and our current self-limitations. And by doing that, we come to see the world afresh, as it really is.
  • 9 Karma speaks not only of the impact of our thoughts and deeds but also to the way they come back to us. We are all interconnected in the most profoundly complex and subtle ways. Our good actions result in happiness and joy.
  • 10 Common to all liturgies is prayer - and to move beyond happiness - we need to cultivate an attitude of deep appreciation of everything we have in life, including what we do not like. The aim is a quiet mind - one which is alert and completely focused on the present moment.

  • A highly appreciative audience of about 130 packed the hall on a very cold night and every copy of Sir Anthony's books - Beyond Happiness; Cameron at Number 10; and The Cabinet Office - was sold. Sir Anthony donates to charity all profits from the sale of his books.

    "With barely eight words as notes, Sir Anthony led us for an hour through the stages which he felt necessary to achieve a state of happiness, as opposed to pleasure, and how even a condition beyond happiness can be achieved with the right mind-set and determination. He admitted that much of what he was saying has been said before - but the convincing way in which he put across his thoughts was so appealing that it gave it added impetus. I can't imagine many left the hall without a quiet determination to put some of his advice into practice - Bernard McNaughton, Oxford


    Friday February 10th 2017.

    His talk is called: The Joy of Railways

    Michael is a leading author, journalist and academic writing, broadcasting and blogging on transport, society and the media. He is the best-selling author of several highly-acclaimed books on Britain's railways, including On the Slow Train (Twelve Great British Railway Journeys); Steaming to Victory (How Britain's Railways Won the War); and his recently updated work, The Trains Now Departed (Sixteen Excursions into the Lost Delights of Britain's Railways). His talk will be packed with nostalgia and some enjoyable armchair travelling for a winter's evening.

    Michael is also a leading travel writer, reporting on journeys around the world for a variety of publications. In his academic role, he is co-editor and author of the book The Future of Quality News Journalism. Formerly, he was Deputy Editor of the Independent on Sunday, Executive Editor of The Independent, Head of News and Features at the Sunday Times; and he was also on the staff of The Times. Michael still regularly contributes to the national media, including the BBC, Daily Mail, Daily Telegraph, The Guardian, New Statesman, the Tablet, The History Channel, as well as the specialist and business press.

    In addition, Michael is chairman of the Springdene Care Homes Group in London and external examiner in the School of Media and Communication at Goldsmiths University, in London. He lives with his family in Camden Town, London.

    If you are interested in attending this talk or would like to reserve a ticket please Contact us


    Friday March 3rd 2017.

    Tom is one of the main presenters on BBC One's award-winning Countryfile programme which regularly attracts upwards of six million viewers on a Sunday evening, and appeared during the summer at Countryfile Live at Blenheim Palace.. He has had an extensive career in the BBC, including presenting special investigations for Panoroma. In addition, Tom has been a regular presenter of Costing the Earth on Radio 4 and, for the past four years, he has also been Director and media presenter of the company, Checked Shirt TV Limited.

    Tom began his broadcasting career with Sky News as a sound mixer before joining a trainee scheme with BBC News and worked on the Today programme and the BBC News 24 Channel. He later became a correspondent specialising in rural affairs, science and the environment and then took on the newly-created role of Rural Affairs Correspondent in 2012.

    After making contributions to Countryfile, he took over the investigative reporter role from John Craven in 2012 and, among his many highlights, was an interview with the Princess Royal on the controversial issue of badger-culling. He also hosted a series of live broadcasts for the BBC from the Khumbu Icefall on Mount Everest in 2013 when the team covered the 50th anniversary of Hillary and Tenzing reaching the summit.

    Tom went to Oakham School, in Rutland, and his father was John Arnfield Heap, a former scientific adviser who became the head of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office's Polar Regions Section from 1975 to 1992. During one edition of Countryfile, it was revealed that Tom is the great nephew of Thomas Gillespie, Olympic rowing medallist, who was killed in action, aged 21, at La Bassee, France in October, 1914.

    If you are interested in attending this talk or would like to reserve a ticket please Contact us


    Friday March 31st 2017.

    John is the BBC World Affairs Editor and has spent all his working life with the corporation, reporting from over 120 countries, including 30 war zones and he has interviewed many world leaders.

    John read English at Magdalene College, Cambridge, and his first job in 1966 was as a trainee sub-editor on BBC radio news. He later became a reporter and, on his first day, the former Prime Minister Harold Wilson punched him in the stomach for what he saw as the sudden and impudent appearance of the novice's microphone.

    John later became the BBC's political editor in 198081 and also presented The Nine O'clock News before becoming Diplomatic Editor in 1982. He had also served as a correspondent in South Africa, Brussels and Dublin and became BBC World Affairs Editor in 1988 and presented an occasional current affairs programme, called Simpson's World.

    John's remarkable reporting career has included many landmark events:

  • He travelled back from Paris to Tehran with the exiled Ayatollah Khomeini on 1st February 1979 - a return that heralded the Iranian Revolution as millions lined the streets of the capital.
  • In 1989 he avoided bullets at the Beijing Tianamen Square massacre and, later that year, reported on the fall of the Ceausescu regime in Bucharest.
  • John spent the early part of the 1991 Gulf War in Baghdad before being expelled by the authorities.

  • He reported from Belgrade during the Kosovo War of 1999, where he was one of a handful of journalists to remain in the Yugoslav capital after the authorities had expelled those from Nato countries at the start of the conflict.
  • Two years later, in 2001, John was one of the first reporters to enter Afghanistan, famously disguising himself by wearing a burqa, and subsequently Kabul in the US-led invasion of Afghanistan.
  • While reporting on a non-embedded basis from Northern Iraq in the 2003 Iraq war, John was injured in a friendly-fire incident when a US warplane bombed the convoy of American and Kurdish forces with which he was travelling. The attack was caught on film - a member of John's crew was killed and he himself was left deaf in one ear.
  • During the 2011 Libyan civil war, John travelled with the rebels during their westward offensive, reporting on the war from the front lines and coming under fire on several occasions.
  • In December 2016, he presented a Panorama special, called John Simpson: 50 Years on the Frontline, revisiting the people and places that have had most impact on him.

    John has received numerous awards and also published a dozen books chronicling his remarkable career, including his most recent book, called We Chose to Speak of War and Strife: The World of the Foreign Correspondent, which will be available for sale and signing at his talk in Wootton.

    If you would like to go on the waiting list please Contact us


    Friday April 28th 2017.

    Peter is author of The Silk Roads: A New History of the World, which has been an international best-seller. It was named The Daily Telegraph's History Book of the Year in 2015. whilst it also topped The Sunday Times non-fiction charts, remaining in the Top Ten for seven months - as well as being Number One in China, India, Ireland and many other countries around the world. William Dalrymple described it as a "historical epic of dazzling range, ambition and achievement" and The New Statesman described Peter as "the history rock star du jour"

    Peter is Senior Research Fellow at Worcester College, Oxford and Director of the Oxford Centre for Byzantine Research. He works on the history of the Mediterranean, Russia, the Middle East, Persia Central Asia and beyond, and on relations between Christianity and Islam. He also specializes in medieval Greek literature, and translated The Alexiad for Penguin Classics and was recently appointed as a special adviser to the United Nations..

    Peter also often writes for the international press, including The New York Times, The Financial Times and The Guardian and has contributed to many TV and radio documentaries. He was recently profiled about The Silk Roads in China Daily, China's largest English language newspaper, and in Good Times, in Pakistan.

    Peter studied History at Jesus College, Cambridge, where he was Foundation Scholar, Schiff Scholar and won the History Prize in 1993, when he took a first-class degree. He completed his doctorate at Corpus Christi College, Oxford, where he was Senior Scholar before moving to Worcester College as Junior Research Fellow. He has been Senior Research Fellow since 2000 and is also a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society, the Royal Society of Arts, the Royal Anthropological Institute and the Royal Asiatic Society.

    Peter has held visiting Fellowships at Dumbarton Oaks in Washington DC, owned by Harvard University, and Princeton, and has lectured at universities all over the world including Cambridge, Harvard, Yale, Princeton and NYU. Peter also chairs a collection of family businesses in the UK, France, Croatia and the Netherlands, including a group of hotels, which he set up with his wife Jessica in 1999.

    He is actively involved with several charities, mainly in the areas of education, international development, gender studies and classical music. Peter also chairs the Frankopan Fund, which has granted more than two hundred and thirty scholarships and awards to outstanding young scholars from Croatia to study at leading academic institutions in the UK, USA and Europe.

    A chorister at Westminster Cathedral as a boy, as well as a music scholar at school and later choral scholar at Cambridge, Peter is an accomplished musician and has recorded many albums as a singer and instrumentalist. He also won Blues at both Oxford and Cambridge for minor sports and also played for an England Football XI in charity games against Germany and Brazil at Wembley and has represented Croatia at cricket.

    He plays cricket for the Authors CC, which in recent years, have toured India and Sri Lanka, and played against the Pope's First XI in England and Rome. In August 2016, he was crowned Single Wicket Champion of All England at Broadhalfpenny Down, where many of cricket's rules and regulations were devised.

    If you are interested in attending this talk or would like to reserve a ticket please Contact us


    Friday May 26th 2017.

    Chris is racing correspondent of The Independent and lives in Combe, near Woodstock. He will be talking about his book, called Mr Darley's Arabian: High Life, Low Life, Sporting Life: A History of Racing in 25 Horses, which was published in 2016 to great acclaim and was shortlisted for the William Hill Sports Book of the Year Award.

    In 1704, a bankrupt English merchant sent home the colt he had bought from Bedouin tribesmen near the ruins of Palmyra. Thomas Darley hoped this horse might be the ticket to a new life back in Yorkshire. But he turned out to be far more than that - and, although Mr Darley's Arabian never ran a race, 95 per cent of all thoroughbreds in the world today are descended from him. For the first time, Chris traces this extraordinary bloodline through twenty-five generations to our greatest modern racehorse, Frankel.

    The story of racing is about Man's relationship with horses, and Mr Darley's Arabian also celebrates the men and women who owned, trained and traded the stallions that extended the dynasty. The great Eclipse, for instance, was bred by the Duke who foiled Bonnie Prince Charlie's invasion (with militia gathered from Wakefield races) and went on to lead the Jockey Club. But the horse only became a success once bought and raced by a card-sharp and brothel-keeper - the racecourse has always brought high and low life together.

    Chris expertly traces three centuries of scandals, adventures and fortunes won and lost, with our sporting life offering a fascinating view into our history. With a canvas that extends from the diamond mines of South Africa to the trenches of the Great War, and a cast ranging from Smithfield meat salesmen to the inspiration for Mr Toad, and from legendary jockeys to not one - but two - disreputable Princes of Wales (and a very unamused Queen Victoria), Mr Darley's Arabian highlights the many faces of the sport of kings.


    An excellent history. . McGrath is one of the finest sportswriters of this generation . Brilliant (David Walsh SUNDAY TIMES)

    A racing book like no other - a book of remarkable scope (Robin Oakley THE SPECTATOR)

    Erudite, wry and astute . .extraordinary horses and a rich seam of cultural history woven into a fascinating book (Melanie Reid THE TIMES, Book of the Week)

    A vivid, sweeping history of impressive scope. McGrath's eye for a story and eloquent turns of phrase will delight (Nick Pulford RACING POST)

    The introduction made my arms tingle as McGrath recalls Frankels's win at the 2000 Guineas at Newmarket in 2011... Racing life, social life and equine life are all neatly pulled together and expertly rendered into a compelling story. each chapter is a satisfying vignette of a Darley descendent, the jockeys, trainers, rakes and rank who were involved. Chance and fortune, deals and dodging - it's like Derby Day on the page (Alexandra Henton THE FIELD)

    A racy gallop . . a teeming, colourful survey [with] a great deal to inform and entertain (Nicholas Clee, The OBSERVER)

    A dark horse contender (EVENING STANDARD)

    If you are interested in attending this talk or would like to reserve a ticket please Contact us


    OX20 1DZ

    John Lloyd & John Mitchinson Talk, Summer 2009

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