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Friday, 26 February 2010

Kites



I am bereft, lost and lonesome. My morning fix of radio heaven has been withdrawn - just like that. This morning I was wallowing in the ambient waters that is BBC’s Radio 4, soaking up the honey’d tones of Neil MacGregor when at the end of 15 minutes of pure indulgence, I’m told that the next series of “ The History of the World in One Hundred Objects “ won’t be until the beginning of May.

I had been puzzled because the programme was billed as running for a year and since the programme started it’s been on 5 days a week. 52 times 5 is not 100 hence my puzzlement. Now I know – the programme’s off air for months.

I cannot urge you too strongly to listen in to this 15 minute slot; except of course it’s finished for the moment but is retrievable on the BBC’s iPlayer . It’s such a simple idea: take a hundred works of art and artefacts from the collections at the British Museum and during each 15 minute slot describe the object, its historical, cultural and geographical setting.

So far the object that has thrilled me the most has been the Olmec stone mask from Central America. I’d never heard of the Olmecs until yesterday – they were around 2,500 years ago- so pretty ancient and their social pattern laid down the template for the subsequent civilisations that prospered in that part of the continent – the Aztecs and the Incas.

But all 30 objects so far featured have been absorbing and the narration has brought alive, in a small way, the peoples that made them and their times.

Another programme I try to catch is “In Our Time”. This is a discussion programme hosted by Melvyn Bragg (a writer and commenter on the arts who’s been a permanent feature on our airways for decades). Each week the programme will take one subject and with the help of a panel of experts explore in some detail the ideas and context behind it.

Melvyn doesn’t limit himself to the arts; by no means, science, philosophy, history, religion and culture all get the Bragg treatment. . This Thursday it was John Calvin – it’s the old joke about Calvin’s Hell being at 4000 Kelvin – and I found it quite interesting. To be honest it wasn’t one of the best. It’s all down to Melvyn’s enthusiasm for the subject and his guests. If they’re top class and he’s enthused, the sparks fly and its three quarter of an hour of riveting drama. Like the one on Calculus and the other on the Science of Time; knock out!

I love ancient history and the telling of the story. I trace it to my passion for Robert Graves’ “Greek Myths”, and a world of giants, gods and heroes. The thrill of being drawn in, unknowingly, and there before your eyes are the fields of Troy, or the fearsome gargoyles and sphinx that ensnared the ancients.

I don’t need pseudo – history: just serve it raw. Tom Holland’s “Persian Fire” is not only full of wonderful detail about the Persians (Cyrus, Darius, Xerxes and the rest) but it was told with such vigour and descriptive verve. I was one of the hoplites facing the might of Darius’s army at Marathon and I was there, with Leonidas and his 300 at Thermopylea. I was with Xerxes seated on his throne overlooking the bay Salamis as he watched helplessly as his magnificent fleet was suckered into a trap before his eyes as his bulky vessels were out manoeuvred by the agile and wily Athenians and their allies. God that was so good.

But I couldn’t help feeling sorry for the great Persian King of Kings who processed from Persepolis on a road of gold and decapitated subjects certain that the irritating Greeks would be swatted by his mighty war machine.

That defeat did it for him. He was murdered in 465 BC by Artabanas the commander of his royal bodyguard. You can’t remain King of Kings after a serious grubbing from the smelly Greeks.

And until early May, it’ll be the BBC’s “Daily Service“ on Long Wave for me.

After Calvin it’ll be a doddle.

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