I hear with my little ear: Podcasts 1-8 October 2020

Heather Cox Richardson. As a matter of course, HCR always asks for questions before her History and Politics Chat on Tuesdays. On 6th October she received over 2000 questions! She started off by talking about the importance of not letting Trump control the conversation, which he certainly has been doing since being diagnosed with COVID. She said that Trump is taking up where Joseph McCarthy left off- a politician can blatantly lie, knowing that the lie will be reported, and that newspapers will print the lie because it is news. She also talked about voter suppression and the history of the Secret Service.

In her History of the Republican Party podcast of September 10, she looks at the election of 2000 that brought us George W. Bush (along with its hanging chads) and September 11. Ah- the irony of the Republican Party claiming that only the Republican Party could keep America safe from terrorists, when September 11 occurred on their watch (not unlike Trump now claiming that he is the Law and Order President when violence is occurring under his administration.) It was here that the practice of governing by ideology began, and the use of signing statements and evocation of a world other than the reality-based world took root.

America If You’re Listening. How Trump widened racial divides for political gain looks at Trump’s long history of racism. He took after his father Fred in his racism, and don’t forget his active role with the Central Park Five. Then there’s the AltR, and Charlottesville, and Black Lives Matter….

Women and Evacuation in the Second World War. This podcast comes from the excellent History West Midland website, which looks to have some really interesting material. In the four-part episode I listened to, historian Maggie Andrews talks about her 2019 book Women and Evacuation in the Second World War. We all have the mental picture of the children standing with their little cases, waiting to be evacuated, but this book looks at the experience of the mothers who packed those little cases; those who accompanied their children and those women who acted as foster mothers. Episode 1 Introduction to Evacuation sets the scene. The evacuation program was set into train even before war was declared, with a great deal of upfront planning that all fell apart completely when it was actually implemented. Then came the ‘phoney war’ war, when nothing happened and by Christmas, many of the children had returned to their homes. Then when the bombing started in earnest, there was a rush of evacuation, much of it initiated and arranged privately. Once the war was over, some children arrived home fairly quickly, others took months if not years. Some never returned home. Episode 2 Mothers Who Waved Goodbye had me in tears while striding around the park. The idea of a mother whose six children were being sent to six different homes cutting up her only towel into six (useless) pieces just seemed too sad. Episode 3 The Mothers Who Accompanied Their Children looks at the women who, in the first wave, accompanied their children as part of the school evacuation, and then when the bombing started, fled with their children hoping to find private accommodation in the country. Episode 4 Foster Mothers takes the other perspective: that of women who had their lives turned upside down by children, sometimes accompanied by their mothers, who came into their family homes. This is a really interesting, emotionally affecting series of podcasts about another time when people were told “we’re all in this together”, even though they weren’t. [I was tempted to get the book until I saw the price. I’m always disappointed when a book is published by academic publishers, who obviously think that only university libraries are likely to purchase it. But – oh good- the State Library of Victoria has it as an ebook.]

‘All the King’s Men’ by Robert Penn Warren

1946, [reprint 1974], 479 p.

You have to hand it to New English Library publications – they have the most hideous covers. (I’m not the only one who thinks this: check out this posting on ‘Risque and Exploitative New English Library Covers from the 1960s and 70s‘. I now realize that the cover of this book is positively tasteful in comparison.) There are many other editions of this Pulitzer-Prize winning novel, originally published in 1946, but it was republished ‘Complete and Unabridged’ for a British readership in 1974. I’ve had in on my shelf for years and no doubt picked it up at some fete or something, having seen it mentioned on several people’s lists of ‘Great American Novels’ or suchlike. I really had no idea what it was about

From the blurb on the back, and the 1974 introduction, I learned that it was loosely based on Huey Long, who was planning on challenging Franklin D. Roosevelt for the Presidency in 1936, but was gunned down by an assassin the year before. I had heard mention of Huey Long in passing, in one of the excellent Heather Cox Richardson’s history chats, but I only knew him as a corrupt populist. I resisted the temptation to Google him, and I’m glad that I did, because I just took this book on its own merits.

The Huey Long character in this book is Willie Stark, a man who starts off as a small-town ‘squeaky wheel’ agitating for a straight deal to build a new schoolhouse in his town. He ends up Mason County City Treasurer, and it’s at this point that he meets Jack Burden, a journalist for the local Chronicle newspaper. Burden is a failed PhD candidate, brought up in the small town named for his family, Burden’s Landing. Burden starts following Stark’s career, as he takes on the entrenched political machine. At first Stark is unsuccessful and used as a pawn in other people’s political machinations. He is a poor public speaker, too focussed on facts. Burden gives him some off-the-cuff advice and Willie Stark, the populist politician and political boss is born.

Burden believes that he can be just a disinterested observer, like the historian he aspired to be, but he finds himself drawn into Stark’s orbit. When Stark asks him to ‘find some dirt’ on Judge Irwin, an older family friend from Jack’s hometown Burden Landing, Jack complies, although at first he holds on to the information that he uncovers. Jack’s childhood friends Anne and Adam Stanton are also drawn into Willie Stark’s machinations, and it is the compromises that Jack asks them to make at Willie’s behest, that leads to the climax of the novel.

This is a novel just as much about Jack Burden as narrator as it is about Willie Stark, the ostensible main character. It is about populism, power and political games, and I can well see why so many people have seen parallels with Trump, another populist ‘outsider’ to Washington. It’s also about history and personal choice, ethics and compromise. It reminded me a little of The Great Gatsby, with its narrator off to the side as Nick Carraway is, and also of Frank Hardy’s Power Without Glory in its exploration of politics and power.

It really is beautifully written. Warren is a confident author, with convoluted but always controlled sentences and an incisive eye. How about his description of a man who has just been shafted by Willie Stark? “[His eyes] were as numb and expressionless as a brace of gray oysters on the half shell”.(P. 155) [I shall not look at oysters the same way again!]

The book was written in 1946, echoing events which had occurred ten years earlier, so it was a contemporary book that, for us as 21st century readers, is set in an earlier time. As a contemporary author, however, Warren feels no need to set up the stage as in a historical fiction. It is jolting, however, to encounter the frequent and unembarrassed use of n—– and an insouciant racism that would disqualify it instantly as a school text.

Because, surprisingly, that’s what it has been. My hideously-covered book belonged to ‘A Major’ of 6C, (Form 6 later became Yr 12), and from his/her notes at the front, the book was obviously read. It is 479 pages of very dense print, and I just can’t imagine that you would ask any 17 year old to read it today, notwithstanding the racist language.

This was the ‘complete and unabridged’ version. The earlier version, for American readers, omitted a long chapter about Jack Burden’s PhD thesis. Even though if found it personally interesting, the book would not have suffered from its omission.

I can see why this book has appeared on ‘100 Best American Novel’ lists. It is well written, it has a complex chronological structure, and it carries its dual main-character nature well. It might have sat on my bookshelf for years, but it was well worth keeping and reading.

My rating: 9/10

Sourced from: My own bookshelves!

‘See What You Made Me Do’ by Jess Hill

2019, 416 p.

On February 12, 2014 a woman stood in her driveway, raw with grief and changed Australia’s mind about domestic abuse. Her 11 year old son had just been killed by his father. She had been warning for years that her former partner was a danger to her son and now her fears had been realized. Family violence can happen to anyone, she said, irrespective of how nice your house is, or how intelligent you are.

Jess Hill pinpoints this moment as when Australia began to listen. It was not that there had been no debate previously: Heather Osland’s imprisonment for murdering her abusive husband had caused controversy; Julie Ramage was the face of the middle class victim of domestic abuse, and there have been countless other terrible cases where the partner and/or children were murdered, often with the suicide of the perpetrator. But somehow Rosie Batty’s articulate composure in the midst of horror made the whole country listen.

Hill’s book explores domestic abuse in Australia today and she carefully identifies it as domestic abuse rather than domestic violence, because often coercive control is subtle and non-physical. But coercive control has many common features as if, as she says, there was a perpetrator’s handbook. Although the focus of her book is on male abuse of their intimate partners, she also addresses the violence of women, although noting that even though male victims fear the consequences of their abuser’s actions, they are not usually in physical fear of their lives. She looks at the effect on children, as well as on parents. One chapter near the end addresses the issue of domestic abuse within indigenous communities and the many indigenous women who have spoken out against it.

It’s a fairly analytic book, especially in the early chapters, where she sets up dichotomies, interspersed with individual stories, often given under a pseudonym. There’s a narrow line to be drawn here: honoring the story and the woman who has entrusted it to her; showing complexity; and yet not presenting a cavalcade of narratives. There is also a fine legal line that she needs to tread, to avoid identification of children. For the male perspective, she relied mainly on court documents and affidavits.

Those legal and ethical writing considerations notwithstanding, I must confess that for much of the book, I felt as if I were reading an extended Saturday newspaper article or a Quarterly Essay. I don’t know whether it was the book, or whether it was me, but it seemed to really tighten up with the chapter looking at the legal system and the perverse outcomes that have arisen from legislation to amend the Family Court, especially during the Howard years, in response to men’s rights groups. ‘Parental Alienation Syndrome’ was a thinly-researched argument which resulted in women (especially) acquiescing in arrangements that their children were baulking against, lest she be designated the hostile party and be banned from seeing the children at all. I was reading this book while the newspapers were reporting the Coroner’s inquest into John Edwards’ murder-suicide of his two children, Jack and Jennifer, and his wife Olga’s later suicide. It was like watching Hill’s description of the perversity of the court system and the power of the independent lawyer appointed to represent the children’s interests being brought to life.

She closes the book with a critique of the Federal Government’s domestic abuse strategy and its wishy-washy targets which look at attitudes and systems but not the most telling and easily computed statistic of all: that of the number of women killed by intimate partners. And lest it all seem too hard, she identifies policing strategies that have worked, although her North Carolina community-justice approach made me just a bit uncomfortable about public shaming. Shame, Hill argues at the start of the book, is what turns impotence into omnipotence and I do wonder about a causal factor being used as the corrective.

This book won the Stella Prize for 2020. The prize has gone to Non-fiction previously. The winner in 2019 was a memoir with The Erratics; Alexis Wright won it with a biography with Alexis Wright’s Tracker in 2018, and in 2014 Clare Wright received the Stella Prize for The Forgotten Rebels of Eureka.) The Stella Prize website describes itself as “a major literary award celebrating Australian women’s writing, and an organisation that champions cultural change.” I do find myself wondering, though, whether this book received the prize more for the second part of the mission statement than the first. The writing is clear and analytic and it integrates policy and personal narrative. But is it ‘literary’? (whatever ‘literary’ means). I think I’d be looking for an unusual structure, or an imaginative approach, or vivid imagery – something more than ‘investigative journalism’. I don’t deny that the book is important, both in its breadth and its analysis, and its emphasis on domestic ‘abuse’ as distinct from ‘violence’ it may well have shifted the conversation. But I guess that’s my problem – that it’s part of a conversation- rather than a distinctive and imaginative voice that somehow soars above the hubbub.

My rating: 8/10

Sourced from: ebook from Yarra Plenty Regional Library

I have included this book in the Australian Women Writers Challenge

I hear with my little ear: Podcasts 25-30 September

Heather Cox Richardson. In the relative tranquility before the Presidential debate shitstorm, on 29 September Heather answered questions about the Supreme Court which, interestingly, up to Susan Day O’Connor always had someone sitting who was not a judge. Amy Coney Barrett is an originalist- someone who believes that the constitution cannot be changed and who rejects judicial activism. There was also a question about the First Amendment and lying, and she finishes off with the question “How do we heal?” which she answers by looking at other times in America’s history when society was similarly riven.

Her History of the Republican Party of 3rd September Part 14 looks at the history of the Clinton years, from the perspective of the Republicans. She follows through with the Movement Conservatives, who were disappointed with George H. W. Bush and who were horrified by Bill Clinton. She does quite a bit of editorializing in this episodes, I guess because it’s coming into living history.

America If You’re Listening (ABC). The last two episodes of this analysis of Trump’s first (oh, please let it be his last) term of office credited him somewhat in at least standing up initially to the NRA and not starting any wars. But in How Saudi Arabia Found an Ally in the White House there’s nothing redeeming at all in Saudi Arabia’s cultivation of Jared Kushner and Trump himself.

Conversations (ABC) Tracking the trial of a Mississippi murder is an older episode from 2013 where John Safran talks about his book Murder in Mississippi which I reviewed here. Listening to the podcast is quicker than reading the book.

My very own little socially distanced Spanish Film Festival #2

Well, it’s the 11th and so that’s the end of the Instituto Cervantes Festival Pelikula 2020. Not quite the same experience as being at the cinema but certainly very socially distanced. So distanced in fact, that I was all on my tod.

  1. El Cuadro. This is a documentary about the Velázquez painting ‘Las Meninas’. It is, in effect, a talking-heads documentary, with the reflections of various art-historians and curators (both Spanish and American) discussing this famous painting. It is divided into different chapters, interspersed with puppet images. It is a very imaginative and engaging way of presenting a documentary about a picture which, let’s face it, doesn’t have a lot of action as such. Certainly, you’ll see much more in ‘Las Meninas’ after viewing this documentary. Sorry- no English subtitles in the trailer.

2. Mudar la piel. Another documentary, produced by the daughter of the real life Juan Gutiérrez who acted as a secret mediator between ETA and the Spanish Government. Juan was assisted by Roberto, who ended up being exposed as a Secret Service spy after he betrayed his friend Juan and his role in the negotiations. Now his daughter Ana wants to make a documentary about the reunion of the two men, which her father agreed to – surely only out of love for his daughter- but which Roberto had qualms about. No wonder. I found myself becoming really annoyed at the naivete and intrusiveness of the daughter. I read Berta Isla recently, which was also about the ‘back story’ of a spy, and it seems to me that no-one in the secret service, even one who had ‘gone rogue’ as Roberto did, would ever agree to this documentary.

3. Asamblea. A satire of a very earnest group of people who meet together to ratify a decision (never explained) that is about to go to the Board (likewise never explained). The facilitator is very keen to get it approved, but the group resists, unwilling to rubber stamp a decision that will be made without their consent anyway. It’s like every deadly, politically correct, jargon-laden meeting that you have ever endured.


4. Arima. I’m not sure that I really know what happened here, but there is a group of women living in a small Spanish village whose lives are disrupted by two (?) strangers. A single mother lives with her daughter, who keeps running away and saying that she sees a ghost. The single mother becomes involved with a man, David, who is new to the village, who may or may not be a member of what seems to be a strange sex club. He seems to spend a lot of time running around in the dark with a gun and two savage dogs- or is that the other man? Or are they the same man? Meanwhile, the daughter is often minded by another woman, whose brother disappeared in the forest years ago, and who seems to be haunted by him. I have no idea what it all means, but it was very atmospheric and rather scary.

I really enjoyed my little Spanish Film Festival, even though all of the subtitles were in English which didn’t benefit my Spanish much. Can’t say I understood all the films, but I enjoyed the experience.

My very own little socially distanced Spanish Film Festival #1

I live in Melbourne, and we have been locked down over two separate periods. The first lockdown from about 24 March lasted until 12 May. The second, much more onerous one started on 9 July and is still in force in October. These are the things I miss most:

  • Seeing my children and grandchildren (although for the last fortnight we’ve been able to see them outside as long as there are only 5 of us, and within 5 km of home).
  • Being able to catch up with friends at a cafe with good coffee in a real cup and food on a china plate (Why, oh why, didn’t I do more of this in the interregnum between the two lockdowns?)
  • Going to the cinema (they opened briefly on a reduced scale, then shut again).

Numbers 1 and 2 I will jump at, as soon I have the chance, but I don’t know when I’ll feel confident to return to the cinema again. The idea of sitting in the dark, someone either side of me, and people coughing and sniffing as they inevitably do, really creeps me out.

I always look forward to the Spanish Film Festival and the Latin American Film Festival, which screen at the nearby Westgarth Palace Cinema. Neither festival occurred this year, but I’ve been enjoying the Instituto Cervantes Festival Pelikula 2020 which is being screened online for free! The films are only available in Australia, Phillipines and Thailand for free, and they only screen for 24 hours. They are subtitled in English – unfortunately, not in Spanish because I like the challenge of reading Spanish subtitles. The festival runs between 3 and 11 October so there are still a couple of days and films left.

Here’s what I’ve seen so far:

  1. The Reconquest. Actually, I don’t think that this was part of the Pelikula festival, but it was time limited. Who knows how I got to know of it. It’s about two 30-somethings who keep the promise that they made as fifteen-year olds to meet up in 15 years time. Beautifully filmed but so very s-l-o-w. I’m sure that I aged 15 years watching it.

2. La Filla de Algú. Eli is a lawyer working in the family law firm. On the morning when she and her father are about to act in an important case, her father disappears. Despite being 7 months pregnant, she goes off looking for him. She is secretive and evasive – I wouldn’t want her as my lawyer. The ending was very abrupt and indeterminate.

3. Jaulas .(i.e. ‘Cages’) I really enjoyed this film. Set in an Andalusian shanty-town, a young girl, her mother and her disabled uncle escape their violent father/husband. The family keeps caged birds, and like the birds, they are all trapped. The ending was a little ambiguous (what is it with all these ambiguous endings?) but I’m going with a positive plot resolution rather than a more chilling one.

I’ve booked for another four films, so that will keep me busy. If you’re interested in joining in, here is the link:


They are all subtitled in English.

‘The Enlightenment of the Greengage Tree’ by Shokoofeh Azar

2017, 268 p. Translated by ‘Adrien Kijek’

I knew that this book had been shortlisted for both the Stella Prize for Australian women’s writing, and also for the Booker International. It has been translated into English by a translator whose pseudonym appears only in the bibliographic details at the front of the book. Having only recently become sensitized to the nuances of translation by learning another language myself, at first I felt a frisson of annoyance that the translator was so invisible. However, I learn from a review of the Europa edition of the book, where the translator is designated ‘anonymous’, this was at their request and for reasons of safety. The fear and repression felt by the translator pervades the book too, where the political and personal grind remorselessly against each other. The magical realism with which the book is imbued is a relief, both in terms of self-protection for the characters and for us as readers.

Roza, the mother of three children Sohrab, Beeta and Bahar climbed the tallest tree in the grove, a greengage plum tree, and it was there that she received enlightenment at exactly 2.35 p.m. on August 18, 1988, the very moment that her son Sohrab was hanged under the instructions of the Supreme Leader Ruhollah Khomeini. The family had fled Tehran in the wake of the Iranian Revolution in 1979, but the unrest followed them to the small village of Razan as well. Not that her daughter Bahar physically followed them to the remote village: she had been killed during 1979 and as our narrator, is now a ghost, still present to her family, but dead.

The book combines historical detail – the mandate of wearing headcoverings, the appearance of men bristling with guns in the back of utilities, the disappearances and hangings – alongside a world of dragonflies, riotous growth of plants, jinns and mermaids. It’s a rather discombobulating book to read, with frequent time shifts and a permeable edge between the traditional and historical, and between the spirit and political worlds. The men with guns may have come, with their fundamentalist theology, but the traditional Persian beliefs in the spirit world underlie outward compliance and inward resistance. So too does the traditional way of story-telling, with a long story-within-a story that wreathes without a full-stop for ten pages.

This is also a family story, as each member responds in their own different way to the challenge of living through traumatic times. Roza, after her three-day stay in the greengage tree, leaves her diminished family; Beeta turns into a mermaid; her father Hushang immerses himself in his books before returning to his family home in Tehran, where the family has sequestered itself. His brother Khosro turns to mysticism, as a way of inuring himself from changes that he does not support. And Bahar moves among them restlessly, with love and impotent compassion, waiting for them to join her.

This is not an easy book to read, especially if you dislike magic realism. For myself, I see it playing a dual role in this book: as a way of laying claim to a way of viewing the world, but also as a form of resistance. Given that this book was trumped in the Booker International by the bleak and shrivelling The Discomfort of Evening, there is much more to hold on to in this book, which would have been a more worthy winner, in my view.

My rating: 8.5/10

Read because: Shortlisting on Stella and Booker International prizes

Sourced from: Yarra Plenty Regional Library

I have included this on the Australian Women Writers Challenge.

‘The End of Certainty: Scott Morrison and Pandemic Politics’ by Katharine Murphy QE 79

2020, 98 p

Journalism has long been described as the first draft of history and that’s certainly the case with Katharine Murphy’s latest Quarterly Essay The End of Certainty: Scott Morrison and Pandemic Politics. The arrangements for the Quarterly Essays are usually locked in a year ahead of time, and Katharine Murphy thought at first that she would be writing a profile of Australia’s unexpected Prime Minister, Scott Morrison. But in this Year of Madness, events overtook her and instead of writing an essay based solely on his personality, she interweaves it with a chronology of the unfolding of the COVID pandemic and the politics it has engendered.

No matter where she stopped this essay, things would have continued to change. As it is, her essay starts with her interview with Scott Morrison during “some of the last hours in which Morrison hoped the second wave in Victoria could be avoided”. Events have moved on since then, and so too the civility that marked the for-public-consumption ‘unity’ of Morrison’s National Cabinet of Prime Minister and Premiers, which has sidelined Parliament, the Opposition and the usual cabinet processes. The gloves are off now. Since she wrote this essay, Victoria’s second wave has quite rightly come in for criticism, but Morrison is now cheerleader for opening borders and patting the head of Liberal-run NSW, suggesting that deep down Morrison really is Prime Minister for New South Wales. She doesn’t mention the COVID Commission Advisory Board, headed by none other than resources businessman Nev Power, and its championing of a gas-led recovery.

If her aim was to paint a portrait of Scott Morrison, even she would admit that she has not been particularly successful. The emphasis on the pandemic has pushed any further consideration of Morrison’s character offstage. I have learned nothing about his education, his life before politics, or his position in the party. His route to the Prime Ministership is left unexamined. Apart from his Pentecostal faith, which is off-limits for reporters, the Morrison she portrays is a pragmatic and transactional shape shifter. He learned from his much-criticized inertia with the bushfires, where he couldn’t actually do anything. He’s certainly into doing now, but curiously absent when things go wrong.

So much has changed for us in the last nine months that it’s hard to keep track of the trajectory, and her tracing through of the early response to news of Wuhan is valuable as history. But her essay ends, as the title suggests, in an uncertain way. Pragmatism, in the absence of anything else, is amorphous.

Murphy doesn’t say this, but I suspect that Morrison is more ideological than she suggests, and I think that we will see it in the budget that awaits us. But for that, and for any real sense of how this pandemic has changed us, we will just have to wait.

My rating: 7/10

Sourced from: my Quarterly Essay subscription.

I have included this on the Australian Women Writers Challenge.

Six degrees of separation: From ‘The Turn of the Screw’ to….

It’s the first Saturday of the month, and so it’s Six Degrees of Separation day. The rules of the meme are here. In October the starting book is Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw which I confess to not having read. But I gather that it’s about a governess – and I have read about governesses, so off I go!

The first governess I thought of was Caroline Newcomb, who shifted across from Hobart to Port Phillip in 1836 to act as governess for the (in)famous John Batman’s family in the very early days of Melbourne’s settlement. She ended up in Geelong, where she met Annie Drysdale, and together the two women formed a partnership to run sheep on the the 10,000 acre Boronggoop property on the Barwon River as women squatters – certainly a novelty at that time. Their lives are described in Miss D. and Miss N. where Bev Roberts edits and annotates Anne Drysdale’s diaries.

Sometimes I’m a bit of a purist with my historical fiction, but I love it when a novelist does the research then subverts it completely. This is the case with Peter Mews’ Bright Planet, which takes its name from a real ship that often appeared in the Port Phillip Shipping News columns. It’s set in a Melbourne known as Bareheep in the early 1840s, complete with a mixture of historic and fictional characters, and like Robyn Annear’s Bearbrass , it’s a real hoot.

Eleanor Catton’s The Luminaries uses astrological principles as an organizing structure for her sprawling (and too long, in my opinion) book about the New Zealand gold rush in Hokitika. It’s a bit like a great big Victorian door-stopper of a book with myriad characters. I thought that it was technically clever, but just too long-winded.

Think New Zealand, and think Janet Frame. Owls Do Cry was her first novel, a thinly disguised autobiography, and it is often considered to be New Zealand’s first modernist novel. It’s a startlingly original book, dealing with mental illness and it still packs a punch after more than 60 years.

Speaking of owls, I Heard the Owl Call My Name by Margaret Craven is a quiet, meditative book about a young priest who, unknown to him, has only a few years left to live. He is sent to minister to a small Indian village, where Christianity, commercialism and the outside world are encroaching on the traditional myths and practices that the villagers share with him. It’s a beautifully written book, but a bit ponderous.

Not at all ponderous is Marie Munkara’s Every Secret Thing. It is a series of tales set around an Aboriginal mission in far northern Australia with the Mission mob, the Catholic clergy, trying to convert the Bush mob who lived just outside the Mission. The Bush mob move back and forth between the arbitrary strictures and efforts of the clergy and their own more grounded life outside. They are clear-eyed about the hypocrisy and smallness of these white priests and nuns, but they are also painfully aware of the degree of control that the mission has over their lives. It is imbued with a quick, cutting, deft wit that overlays anger and sorrow.

And so that brings me to the end of my chain. It seems that with the exception of one book, I’ve stayed mainly in the Southern Hemisphere this time!

I hear with my little ear: Podcasts 17-24 September

Heather Cox Richardson . In her History and Politics Chat of 15 September, she picks up on the claim that mass hysterectomies were being performed on women in ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement_ hospitals without informed consent. She is not absolutely convinced, given that it is just part of a much longer complaint about the COVID response in ICE facilities, and it did not come through established whistleblower channels. Nonetheless, she does go on to talk about the eugenics movement in America, and the use of forced sterilization among indigenous and disabled settings. After answering some other questions, she also talks about why she is so concerned about ICE agents and other forces controlled by the Dept. of Homeland Security

Then on 24 September, with RBG’s death, the hypocrisy of the Republican Party, and Trump’s ambivalence about accepting the result of the election, she tries to soothe things down a bit. She warns not to accept whatever result is announced on Election Night, because it will not be the final result. She also advises that we think about how we, individually, will act on principle and non-violently after the election. She then talks about the Supreme Court and the threats to American democracy.

And in the Thursday History of the Republican Party on 27th August Part 13, she picks up again on Ronald Reagan, who racked up debt, prompted the Great Divergence in wealth between the rich and poor, and drew on the cowboy, individualistic motif as imagery, especially with the Iran/Contra affair- whoever thought THAT was a good idea? (She explains it well). George H. W. Bush, who was really more of a traditional New Deal type of Republican was forced to court the Movement Conservatives to be elected, even promising ‘Read my lips, no new taxes’ (a cowboy trope again).

The Real Story (BBC) What everyone wants to know: When Will We Get a COVID-19 Vaccine? An epidemiologist, the chief executive of the Wellcome Trust and the Indian government’s Department of Biotechnology, the Senior Vice President responsible for Research & Development at Inovio Pharmaceuticals in San Diego, California, and a familiar voice, Chris Smith, Consultant virologist and lecturer at the University of Cambridge and presenter of ‘The Naked Scientists’ podcast

The History Hour (BBC) Prohibition in India. How Indian women in the 1990s campaigned to stop the sale of alcohol in the state of Andhra Pradesh to protect women from domestic violence and safeguard family finances. The history of America’s healthcare system, how the UN was eventually persuaded to apologise for the 2010 cholera outbreak in Haiti and the horror of being caught up in one of the most notorious hi-jackings of the 1970s, plus the birth of Reddit, one the world’s most successful websites.

Start the Week (BBC) ‘The Radical Agenda’ has Rachel Holmes, the author of a recent biography of Sylvia Pankhurst, Owen Jones who has recently published a book about the Corbyn election and why it went so wrong, and Conservative columnist Danny Finkelstein (although he says that he argues for ‘moderation’, not ‘conservatism).

America if you’re listening (ABC) One of the things we have to grudgingly admit is that Trump hasn’t launched America into a war yet, even though North Korea and Iran have both looked pretty dicey. How close did Trump get to nuclear war looks at the influence of John Bolton whose recent book might have provided comfort for anti-Trumpers, but Bolton himself always was a war-mongering official.

Science Friction (ABC) has a three part series Click-Sick about medical misinformation on the internet. Part 1 Why Sharing isn’t always Caring looks at the family friction that can arise when some members of the family trawl dodgy medical pages. A bit ho-hum.

In Our Time (BBC) Oh good, new episodes! I don’t really know much classical history at all, so I was interested in this podcast about Pericles. He was seen as a bit of a class traitor at the time, as he came from one of the best families, but really promoted democracy. He was elected fifteen times, gave a famous speech at our version of Anzac Day, and ended up dying of the plague, which broke out under his watch.