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Countdown's Susie Dent was eloquent, funny, and utterly down to earth.

Oxford Literary Festival: The Final Day

Jeremy Smith's final day at the Financial Times Weekend Oxford Literary Festival, featuring Countdown's eloquent Susie Dent and the hysterical Marian Keyes
Editor-at-large Jeremy Smith

"There are no rules - so start creating."

Although I'm not particularly a fan of Countdown, this talk proved to be something of a revelation.

After all, a discussion on collective nouns hardly sounds enthralling. But as is so often the case at this festival - and this is true of it every year - the unpromising or just plain lifeless can be brought to life in a manner and way that simply delights.

Which is precisely what Susie Dent - yes, that Susie Dent of Countdown fame - delivered; an absolutely riveting journey into the weird and wonderful world of, and I'll say it again... collective nouns.

But before I explain how and why, let us first deal with the elephant in the room - what IS a collective noun? Well it's this - a 'skulk' of Friars, an 'abomination' of monks, an 'obedience' of servants, a 'rage' of maidens, a 'herd' of harlots, a 'murmuration' of starlings, an 'unkindness' of Ravens, a parliament of Rooks and best of all, an 'implausibility' of gnus.

Celebrated Irish writer Marian Keyes (© Dean Chalkley)


So you get the picture.

And presumably too, an idea of just how much this subject proved a natural crowd-pleaser.

Ms Dent was eloquent, funny, and utterly down to earth.

And when I least expected it, I found my self laughing out loud, not just once but several times.

In short, a 24-carat, top-of-the-range success.

And best of all, collective nouns it turns out can be invented by anyone.

There are no rules - so start creating.

Last call of the day - and festival!

Just popped into an interview with celebrated Irish writer Marian Keyes, and although only staying a few short minutes (I think I was the only male in the audience - in fact, one woman actually asked me "Are you the talk's 'token' male?").

Anyway, she was hysterical - sparky and gorgeously Irish, talking with all the speed of a 125 Intercity train.



- Jeremy Smith


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