The word ‘genteel’ seems appropriate to the point of cliché when talking about Cheltenham. A town of Regency terraces and horse racing, antique shops and tea rooms. Hardly the ideal place to test the waters of feminist thought, we might think. But every year in October Cheltenham is shaken up – just a little – as the famous Literature Festival rolls into town. For nine days the pristine Imperial Gardens bristle with leading figures from the worlds of art, broadcasting and politics. This year the theme is ‘What does change mean to us?’ and investigations into attitudes towards women are high on the agenda. Stripy tights and silver pumps are the order of the day as Germaine Greer strides onto stage in the ornate Edwardian auditorium of the Town Hall. The windows are covered with long velvet awnings and a warm light from under the balconies provides an intimate atmosphere. She talks for an hour on her latest book, Shakespeare’s Wife. “Every time I hear a man at a dinner party tell his wife to ‘shut up dear’, I want to take him outside and shoot him” she begins. Well-natured laughter ripples through the audience. Her introduction soon gives way to the argument. Gesticulating passionately, she outlines a radical biography of Anne Hathaway; speculative, controversial, and persuasive. A broad sense of revelation follows every new piece of conjecture. Presumptions they may be, but Greer’s claims that Hathaway had a significant impact on Shakespeare’s work seem no less valid than those of the scholars who see this mysterious character through the filter of chauvinism. In the course of the hour, Greer piles on the questions. Was Hathaway really illiterate and uncultured? Did Shakespeare really write his plays away from home? Was the model of accomplished, emotionally intelligent womanhood portrayed in Portia, Cleopatra and Silvia really a work of pure imagination? Greer describes how Hathaway is perceived by academics: “Shakespeare, an innocent youth, is skipping down the lanes of Stratford when out comes Anne Hathaway, a big, hairy, randy old woman who wraps her legs around him and gets herself pregnant.” Of course Greer is following a feminist agenda with her reappraisal of this image. She owns up to a temptation to claim that it was Hathaway who wrote the plays, “but I’m not as brave as that”. Nevertheless, Greer’s ideas are all supported by what is known about society in Stratford at the time; it is hard not to agree with her that this has to be a better approach than groundlessly disregarding Hathaway’s relationship with the Bard. She admits that her conclusions are but guesswork, adding that “some guesses are better than others”, those ‘others’ being “informed with a casual contempt”.Her speech is met with resounding applause from the audience, Greer moves onto the questions and the lights are raised in the auditorium. Here we see hints of her tendency to play up her own image: “Who’d like to go first? I’d rather it not be a man”.“What about the bed?” chirps in an elderly lady near the front, alluding to the main weapon in the armoury of the Hathaway-detractors, the fact that in his will, Shakespeare bequeathed to her only his second-best bed. Here the strength of Greer’s arguments come to the fore, as she explains that it was typical for a husband to leave his widow the ‘everyday’ bed, on which conceptions, births and deaths took place, rather than the more lavish but less emotionally significant guest bed. The next question is from a man. The questioner stands up, takes hold of the microphone and, in a self-satisfied voice, asks “What about those women who tell their husbands to ‘shut up dear’?” There is a pause, and Greer bites her lip, the audience awaiting her response on tenterhooks. “It should be possible for spouses to communicate” she responds calmly, “This is why I can’t watch the Jeremy Kyle Show”, and points out that in Shakespearean drama women and men tend to communicate well, noting that this too could cast light on the marriage.As Greer leaves the platform at the end of the hour she is swamped by middle-aged women in cork sandals, the water pitcher is refilled for Douglas Hurd, and the hall is alive with conversation as the audience files out. Snippets such as “I had no idea”, “What I don’t like about her is…”, and “But I thought she didn’t like him?” indicate the strong impression she makes on the public. She revels in controversy, provokes inspiration in some and loathing in others, and is perfectly aware of this. But whatever you think of Germaine Greer, an hour in her electric presence leaves you unable to deny her energetic sense of purpose in questioning assumptions, unexamined truisms and the lazy acceptance of ungrounded dogma. Genteel she ain’t, but that just wouldn’t suit her. by Jeremy Cliffe
The second in a series of Regional White House Forums on Health Reform took place today in Burlington, Vermont. The forum was hosted by the University of Vermont and was moderated by Governor Jim Douglas of Vermont and Governor Deval Patrick of Massachusetts. Nancy-Ann DeParle, Director of the White House Office of Health Reform, represented the Obama administration. Forum participants included doctors, patients, providers, insurers, policy experts and health care advocates of all kinds both Democrats and Republicans who discussed the urgent need to provide high-quality, affordable health care for all Americans, and to curb skyrocketing health care costs that are draining our federal and state budgets, devastating families and small businesses, and undermining our long-term economic prosperity. Today s forum was a tremendous success, said Governor Douglas. The discussion was very helpful and with so many viewpoints represented, I know the White House will come away from this with many good ideas for how we build a more affordable and effective healthcare system in America. In keeping with the Obama administration s commitment to an open, inclusive, and transparent process for health reform, the forum brought together a diverse group of people to voice their concerns and ideas on reforming our health care system. Health care reform in Massachusetts has become a national model with more than 97% of residents insured in just two years, said Governor Patrick. But affordability is still a big challenge and we need payment reform and better cost containment across America to make healthcare truly available for all. Vermont, like Massachusetts, is a model for the rest of the nation, Governor Douglas continued. Our Blueprint for Health, Green Mountain Healthcare products and our Chronic Care Initiative are all programs that will help us bring down the cost of healthcare and lead healthier lives. We really appreciate the opportunity to share these programs with the rest of the country.And Nancy-Ann DeParle represented the Obama Administration. Today we continued our important national conversation on health reform, DeParle said. Exploding costs are bankrupting families and burdening businesses, dragging down state and local budgets, and piling up our national debt. The time to act is now.Regional White House Forums on Health Reform will also be held in Iowa, North Carolina, and California throughout the rest of March and early April. Anyone interested in participating in the discussion can visit www.HealthReform.gov(link is external) to submit their questions.
More are set to follow, with Liverpool well down the line in negotiations for Sporting Lisbon defender Tiago Ilori, while they are trying to hammer out a complicated deal for £20million-rated Shakhtar Donetsk midfielder Henrik Mkhitaryan. But the fact a bulk of the business has already been done – not taking into account striker Luis Suarez who is publicly courting a move to Real Madrid – will be advantageous to Rodgers, according to Ayre. “It’s always important. It’s not always possible but it’s always important,” said the managing director. “Particularly from the playing perspective, the manager and the coaches and all of the staff want to know that they’ve got the squad together, particularly ahead of pre-season. “We’ve worked tirelessly, a lot of people behind the scenes worked ahead of the transfer window to identify those players that interest us. Then the hard work starts, negotiating and bringing these deals together.” Liverpool were able to confirm the Aspas deal on Sunday after personal issues with his agents were sorted over the weekend. The 25-year-old scored 12 goals in 34 league matches as Celta Vigo avoided relegation on the last day of the season. By then a deal had already been lined up for a fee in the region of £7.7million. “It wasn’t a tough decision at all. I’m really happy to have come to a big club like this one,” said the Spaniard. “Having weighed up all my options for this window, a massive club like Liverpool was always my first choice.” Liverpool managing director Ian Ayre believes the early identification and capture of transfer targets gives the club a boost ahead of the squad’s return to pre-season training. Press Association Press Association Sport understands Sunderland goalkeeper Simon Mignolet will attend the Reds’ Melwood training ground on Tuesday for a medical before finalising personal terms on an £11million-plus transfer agreed on Friday. The Belgium international will be manager Brendan Rodgers’ fourth signing before the end of June after previous deals for Manchester City defender Kolo Toure, Sevilla midfielder Luis Alberto and Celta Vigo’s Iago Aspas.