Category Archives: Radio

Nothing new about armed maritime escorts

 

There’s nothing new about armed ships escorting British traders to their maritime destinations.( Royal Navy to accompany  UK-flagged ships in strait of Hormuz 26/07/2019) It happened a great deal during Napoleonic times. In the Irish port of Cork, there were often up to 70 ships in harbour waiting both for fair winds and for the trans-Atlantic naval escort to be organised. However, it was Walter Raleigh, favourite pirate-sailor of Queen Elizabeth I, who put his finger on it, writing: “Whoever commands the sea commands the trade; whoever commands the trade  commands the riches  of the world and consequently the world itself.”

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Filed under Articles, Iraq, journalist, Observer newspaper, Radio, Travel, Uncategorized

It was an unusually sunny spring day and perfect for my plans: a two and a half hour train journey from Oxford across the border into Wales with the journey ending  in Cardiff,  a city I knew precious little about. Not that that mattered. My mission was simple:  to the find the statue of Wales’s most famous son. And everyone would know where that was, wouldn’t they? The Welsh are famous for being famous. After all, there’s Dylan Thomas, Tom Jones and Charlotte Church. There’s even the Prince of Wales himself.

There was no tourist office at the rail station so I asked at the first window: “ Could you tell me where I’ll find the statue of your most famous son, please.” When the  woman shook her head I moved on quickly. No point in adding to her embarrassment. The next ticket clerk shook her head apologetically. “ Don’t know about a statue but there’s a lot about him at the hospital.” And rightly since Nye Bevan was the founder of the National Health Service, Britain’s greatest humanitarian achievement ever made and all the  remarkable as it was introduced while Europe was still recovering from WW2.

As a champion of the poor and committed to nationalisation, Nye Bevan was disliked by the Conservative Party. During the war, he had pushed for support for the Soviet Union in its fight with Germany which is why Churchill called him “a squalid nuisance.”

The election following WW2 brought the Labour Party to power allowing Nye Bevan, on July 5  1948,  to introduce the National Health Service.

It’s a short walk from the rail station to Cardiff Castle – an architectural confection built by the Bute family from Scotland who made their money from Welsh coal – and there  I found a tour bus which took me round the city where we saw the new housing developments at the docks which consisted mainly of service companies now that there is no coal to export.

The tour guide had lots to say about the way in which the city had benefited from the Bute family. They donated various buildings and sums of money to Wales and in particular to the city of Cardiff, Not so much though about the way in which succeeding Bute family had prospered as coal magnates. Right now, in 2019, we are on the 7th Marques of Bute though the third one was the one most financially active,  making him one of the richest men  in Europe.

Strangely, although the Marques of Bute was mentioned three times, the guide never once referred to Nye Bevan and the institution that has made him famous.

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12 July, 2019 · 3:07 pm

I’m a heroine only in my dreams

So I was walking along the road this morning straight into the rain, trying to get a bit of speed up  and thus mislead the walking app on my phone into thinking I always walk at that speed, when in the distance, some two traffic lights away a blue light showed up coming towards me. Police or ambulance? Ambulance. I looked back up the road to see if there was any sign of an accident but the road was empty. Nothing.

Then, as the ambulance drew level, I tripped and fell. Down. The ambulance stopped and the driver leaned out the window but before he could say anything, I waved him on.” Don’t stop for me,” I called out, “I’ll be ok.”

He nodded and carried on.  Painfully, I got to my feet and started to hobble along, slowly at first but as the road was empty and no one to witness my plight, I picked up pace.

Reader, none of this happened. There was no ambulance. I didn’t fall. I just imagined the whole thing in order to lessen the boredom of the morning walk. Sometimes I witness a car crash and am  the first on the phone to call 999 and give the person directions so precise that I am complimented for my powers of observation.

Tomorrow, it’ll be something else but I’ll be ready. Heroines always are.

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Filed under Alan Bennett, balsam, poplars, Regents Park, traditions, Books, boredom, daydreaming, Radio, Uncategorized, walking

Hisham Matar and the lost father.

His latest boook, The Return, has just been broadcast on BBC R 4.

It is heartbreaking and for that reason I don’t think I can now read the book. On the other  hand, it is so heartbreaking that I know I must read it.

The Return is  a memoir about his search for the father he fears he will never find.

In the Country of Men, a novel, is about a child’s search for his father. It ranks high in my chosen books and I have always been glad I read it. I am now reading it again.

It is about a marvellous man – the father in the story – who disappears from his home in Libya, is sought in Cairo and disappears again.

Since writing the novel, Matar has gone in search of his father again and so found out more about him.  The memoir is about loss and also about the man who has  been lost.  Lost forever? Only the writer knows.

The final sentences in the radio broadcast were so powerful that I was left alone, in the silent kitchen, the only other person there with me Hisham Matar.

 

 

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Filed under Books, Life, literature, Radio, Theatre, Uncategorized

What is it with older actors? Three women to watch.

Three theatre women worth watching:

Diana Quick: just finished a run at the Theatre Royal in Bath – The Big Meal. This is a challenging play by US writer Dan LeFranc which tells the story of a family through five generations with all the actors playing multiple parts.

Quick was married  to fellowe actor Bill Nighy for some 27 years and her daughter, Mary, is also an actor.

Diana Quick played the part of Margery Kempe in a radio play of  mine that BBC Radio broadcast a few years ago. I liked what I heard but I really wanted to see this character in the flesh. One day….

Clare Dunne: currently playing Hal in the Donmar Warehouse production of Henry lV parts l and ll.

Dunne has worked a lot with Gary Hyne’s Galway-based Druid Theatre Company.  I saw her play Major Barbara at the Abbey in Dublin and she gave it all that that part needed. The Donmar production, directed by Phyllida Lloyd, has an all-female cast and is the second of three such Shakespearean productions with Julius Caesar the first.

Henry lV runs till Nov 29

 

Eileen Atkins: currently playing the lead in The Witch of Edmonton at  the Swan Theatre, Stratford on Avon.  In a recent interview in The Observer, she was asked if playing a witch was typical casting for ” a mature actress.” And she replied: ” Of course. Even today  there’s a resentment  of what you call mature and I call old people.They are thought of as witches. ”  Atkins is seventy-something. Directed by Gregory Doran, she  plays the part of a woman , in 1621, who takes up witchcraft in self-defense. As the Observer notes “…tiresome, isolated, loquacious, she is the sort of neighbour you might prefer to avoid.”  Sounds a bit lke Margery Kempe to me. I’ll know next week – I have the ticket bought.

The Witch of Edmonton runs till 29 Nov

 

 

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A few books mentioned at the Blenheim Literary Festival, some on Syria, one on the Duchess of Marlborough

Blenheim Palace Literary Festival

Blenheim Palace, in Woodstock, about 10 miles from Oxford, is the ancestral home of the Churchill family. In 1704, John Churchill, a brilliant strategist, defeated the army of Louis XlV at a small town on the Danube, called, in German, Blindheim. In gratitude, Queen Anne built for him the palace known as Blenheim Palace in Woodstock and at the same time made him the first Duke of Marlborough. John Churchill was married to Sarah, an ambitious beauty who became a lady in waiting to Queen Anne and greatly influenced her.

In 1964, the writer Ian Rodger, to whom I was married, was commissioned by the BBC to write a radio play in celebration of the 90th birthday of Winston Churchill. He chose, as his subject, the story of Blenheim. He researched the diaries and papers of Sarah – no Google in those days – and returned home one day triumphant, having unearthed an entry in Sarah’s diary: “My lord returned from the war today and did pleasure me twice in his top boots.”

The Blenheim Palace Literary Festival was held this week (Sept 14th…) One of the speakers at the festival was biographer Anne Somerset whose book, Queen Anne: The Politics of Passion describes how the friendship between Queen Anne and Sarah Churchill came to an end, precipitated by Sarah’s claim that the friendship was destroyed by the Queen’s lesbian infatuation with another lady-in-waiting. A book worth reading if you are at all interested in that period.

 I came to Woodstock for the discussion on Syria and before it started, spent a while having a wander round.The notice on the Bear Hotel (where Liz Taylor and Richard Burton stayed when visiting Oxford) filled me in on some more history: around 1100, Woodstock was a favourite place for Henry ll, father of Richard the Lionheart, and it was here that he had meetings with his lover, the fair Rosamunde while still married to the tempestuous Eleanor of Aquitaine ( Katherine Hepburn in The Lion in Winter.)

 

 

The Syria session was lively with Eugene Rogan, head of the Middle East Centre at St Anthony’s College, Oxford and author of the wide-ranging The Arabs: A History, Lindsey Hilsum Channel 4 editor of international news and author of Sandstorm: Libya in the Time of Revolution, David Aaronovitch writer and commentator, the whole event chaired by Munir Majid, author of 9/11 and the Attack on  Muslims.

My own book, My Home is Your Home A Journey Round Syria, with an introduction by Eugene Rogan, is about a very complex country and its even more complex peoples. Here’s a link to it:

http://wp.me//p1Frlu-2K

If you want to know what it’s like to visit an Arab family, hitch a life with some Kurds, ride a bike around Damascus, stay in a one-star hotel, listen to a desert poet, ride a camel, overnight with some desert nomads,fight off a sex-hungry host, spend Christmas 3000 feet up a mountain…. This is the one.

Order from me directly (info@bullstakepress.co.uk) and your signed copy will be posted the same day.

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