World in Action

This documentary series, broadcast on ITV, was an important part of my education in current affairs and politics when I was growing up.  The 30 minute programmes opened my eyes to global issues as well as the social situation in Britain.  It ran from the early 60s until the 90s but I was most aware of it during the 70s, a decade when some of the most amazing programmes were broadcast.

BlogWorldinActionThe programme was created by ITV when it wore its regional and federal structure with pride, a situation that meant that different television companies contributed their best ideas to the network knowing there was competition in intellectual terms from the other companies in the ITV group.  Maybe this is why ITV has dumbed down over the years at the same pace as it has become one company rather than a federation of regional franchises.  Granada was the company in the Manchester and north-west region.

I encountered some of the most important journalists of my youth on this series, John Pilger the most notable.  His films about Vietnam were excellent.  I also remember programmes about the far right National Front party which was growing in the 70s and Gay Pride, a film from 1979.

This series was broadcast at a time when television treated its viewers as grown ups.  It is in my hinterland.  What’s in yours?

 

The Innocent Anthropologist

I first read Nigel Barley’s account of his early anthropology field work in the 80s, not long after it was published in paperback.  I read it again recently; my new regime of picking books by random cards threw up ‘re-read a book from the shelf’ and this was the one I chose.

The strangest thing was that I remembered it as a very funny book but, on this re-reading, I could not find the comedy at all.  It was still a worthwhile reading since most of the substance I had completely forgotten.

Nigel Barley entered field work among the Dowayo people of Cameroon in Africa. The book shows the reality of life in the field and the extent to which the very cultural differences being studied can, themselves, cause problems with conducting the research. He spent a year among the people learning about their culture, something which was built around the concept of becoming a man through circumcision.  He also shows how hard it is to complete a study without affecting the community by his very presence.  He writes well on the contradictions of ‘them watching me while me watching them’!

I was amused at the way Barley decided on the Duwayo people for his study.  It owed more to the idea that other parts of the world were ‘already taken’ or tied up in war or strife.  His ‘choice’ was a good one, though, since the differences were suitably remarkable from the tonal language to the extreme style of circumcision.  His study of the people is less frustrating that his dealing with the state bureaucracy; he needs to stay on the right side of the law to obtain the permits and visas necessary to stay.  After 18 months, leaving is also a bureaucratic process!

I was glad to re-read the book and was amazed that I remembered so little of the detail, remembering instead the theme and tone of the book.  It made me wonder how many other books on my shelf would also stand a second go at reading them.

BlogInnocentAnthropologist

A Level History Without Tears

The best thing about reading A Level textbooks for history is the knowledge that there is no exam at the end of it. Add to that the fact that there is no course work either!  For both of these reasons studying units of the History curriculum for A Level is pure joy.  Maybe this is what education used to be like before politicians got involved.  Maybe studying for the sake of it is what is needed to produce good learners.  I should not like to deny the students seeking validation the experience of exams but, for me, those days are over.

The A Level textbooks continue to provide the right level at which to access high quality information on a topic or period in history.  The Access to History series I have used also directs you to particular historians if you want to study specific areas in greater depth.

I started a couple of years ago with a unit on the USA involvement in Asia after the Second World War, particularly in Korea and Vietnam.  Since then I have studied a unit on Presidents of the USA in the later half of the Twentieth Century (but I did this before the last Presidential election), a unit on the Indian fight for independence and, most recently, a unit on Germany from defeat in 1945 to reunification.

I studied British and European history for my own A Level back in the 70s, before many of the events in these books had even taken place!  This, though, is the way to study history without tears.  I recommend it.

On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer

In the final pages of Mark Thompson’s book ‘Enough Said’, he makes reference to this poem by Keats.  Having been reminded of it, I read it again after many years. It is in my hinterland.

On First Looking into Chapman’s HomerBlogKeats
Much have I travell’d in the realms of gold,
And many goodly states and kingdoms seen;
Round many western islands have I been
Which bards in fealty to Apollo hold.
Oft of one wide expanse had I been told
That deep-brow’d Homer ruled as his demesne;
Yet did I never breathe its pure serene
Till I heard Chapman speak out loud and bold:
Then felt I like some watcher of the skies
When a new planet swims into his ken;
Or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes
He star’d at the Pacific—and all his men
Look’d at each other with a wild surmise—
Silent, upon a peak in Darien.
John Keats

Snake

This poem by D.H. Lawrence was one I learned at school, using the words to speak aloud that I had no clue about their meaning.  In such ways did I pass through education, realising much too late how important these things were.

Snake

A snake came to my water-trough
On a hot, hot day, and I in pyjamas for the heat,
To drink there.

In the deep, strange-scented shade of the great dark carob tree
I came down the steps with my pitcher
And must wait, must stand and wait, for there he was at the trough before me.

He reached down from a fissure in the earth-wall in the gloom
And trailed his yellow-brown slackness soft-bellied down, over the edge of the stone trough
And rested his throat upon the stone bottom,
And where the water had dripped from the tap, in a small clearness,
He sipped with his straight mouth,
Softly drank through his straight gums, into his slack long body,
Silently.

Someone was before me at my water-trough,
And I, like a second-comer, waiting.

He lifted his head from his drinking, as cattle do,
And looked at me vaguely, as drinking cattle do,
And flickered his two-forked tongue from his lips, and mused a moment,
And stooped and drank a little more,
Being earth-brown, earth-golden from the burning bowels of the earth
On the day of Sicilian July, with Etna smoking.

The voice of my education said to me
He must be killed,
For in Sicily the black, black snakes are innocent, the gold are venomous.

And voices in me said, if you were a man
You would take a stick and break him now, and finish him off.

But must I confess how I liked him,
How glad I was he had come like a guest in quiet, to drink at my water-trough
And depart peaceful, pacified, and thankless,
Into the burning bowels of this earth ?

Was it cowardice, that I dared not kill him?
Was it perversity, that I longed to talk to him?
Was it humility, to feel so honoured?
I felt so honoured.

And yet those voices:
If you were not afraid, you would kill him!
And truly I was afraid, I was most afraid,
But even so, honoured still more
That he should seek my hospitality
From out the dark door of the secret earth.

He drank enough
And lifted his head, dreamily, as one who has drunken,
And flickered his tongue like a forked night on the air, so black,
Seeming to lick his lips,
And looked around like a god, unseeing, into the air,
And slowly turned his head,
And slowly, very slowly, as if thrice a dream,
Proceeded to draw his slow length curving round
And climb again the broken bank of my wall-face.

And as he put his head into that dreadful hole,
And as he slowly drew up, snake-easing his shoulders, and entered farther,
A sort of horror, a sort of protest against his withdrawing into that horrid black hole,
Deliberately going into the blackness, and slowly drawing himself after,
Overcame me now his back was turned.

I looked round, I put down my pitcher,
I picked up a clumsy log
And threw it at the water-trough with a clatter.

I think it did not hit him,
But suddenly that part of him that was left behind convulsed in undignified haste,
Writhed like lightning, and was gone
Into the black hole, the earth-lipped fissure in the wall-front,
At which, in the intense still noon, I stared with fascination.

And immediately I regretted it.
I thought how paltry, how vulgar, what a mean act!
I despised myself and the voices of my accursed human education.

And I thought of the albatross,
And I wished he would come back, my snake.

For he seemed to me again like a king,
Like a king in exile, uncrowned in the underworld,
Now due to be crowned again.

And so, I missed my chance with one of the lords
Of life.
And I have something to expiate:
A pettiness.

D H Lawrence

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My History

blogmyhistoryThis memoir by Antonia Fraser has a specific theme and one that works well for both form and content.  It relates her development as an historian but shows how her early life and her education influenced her.  Having parents who were impressive in their own fields provided an impetus for her to plough her own furrow, yet her mother was a renowned historian herself and her father was a politician and academic.  One of her brothers also wrote history books.

There is no doubt that she was well-connected; her first job working with George Wiedenfield of the publishing house helped her as she became a writer but this book shows that it is the passion, commitment and determination that get books written.  I was reminded of the autobiography of Sir Richard Attenborough when he talked about the years of hard work pursuing his dream of making a film about Gandhi.  For Antonia Fraser, the passion was Mary, Queen of Scots.  She realised her dream and wrote a best seller and a well-regarded history book.  Her work includes fiction but it is her historical work that built her reputation.

This book does not give equal attention to her brothers and sisters but her parents feature largely, mostly because they were powerful influences on her.  Oxford features too, not just as a University but as her home city.  In many ways it is fitting that this city was her home since it is a city steeped in history.

 

 

Read All About It

Thinking about the Kingsley Amis novel, ‘The Alteration’, reminded me of how I found out about it back in the time before the internet and access to large book shops.  I was a keen reader as a boy.  School provided most of my reading material but, as I grew older, I came to see school books as school work and I wanted reading material from elsewhere.  This is where a television programme called ‘Read All About It’ came in.  I discovered it by myself on a black and white television set we had left over when the family colour one came in.

On my own in a room, I watched it every other Sunday night.  (As I recall, it was alternated with the BBC’s film programme hosted by Barry Norman, which I also enjoyed.)  Each week Melvyn Bragg presented a show with three guests.  Each guest recommended a book and everyone discussed each other’s choices.  That was the simplicity and the strength of the programme.  The gift to me was that these were all paperbacks so affordable.  Also, the books were not always new to bookshops so I could find old copies or even locate them in the local library.  This was not the marketing machine at work but a celebration of books and readers- it worked.

Melvyn Bragg went to ITV to present the major arts programme in 1978 and I don’t remember ‘Read All About It’ surviving his departure.  Instead, it remains as a happy memory of a time when I was eager to find books for myself and not rely on school any more.

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