I hear with my little ear: Podcasts 8-15 December 2022

The History Listen (ABC) An Object in Time: The Briefcase looks at the 20 July 1944 plot that saw Claus Von Stauffenberg take a briefcase loaded with a plastic explosive, timed to detonate after about ten minutes. Actually, there were two bombs but Stauffenberg was only able to prime one in time because of his loss of an eye, one hand and two fingers in earlier war injuries. As it was, there had been a last-minute change of location, and most of the force was absorbed by the table leg and so Hitler escaped injury except for a perforated eardrum (although three others were killed). The plot involved military men, who had disdained Hitler from the start for aesthetic reasons, but lent their support at various times. Why 1944? It was clear by now that Hitler was going to lose- perhaps it was, as Stauffenberg claimed, a matter of honour- to prove that there had been resistance within Germany after all.

Travels Through Time. Antony and Cleopatra: Jane Draycott 31/30 BCE You know, I’ve never seen a film or play about Antony and Cleopatra but somehow I gained the impression that they killed themselves together. They didn’t. Instead, it was a sort of Romeo-and-Juliet gone wrong sort of affair and the two suicides were separated by over a week. Jane Draycott starts with 2nd September 31 BCE and The Battle of Actium, where Antony and Cleopatra separately made their escapes with their navies in tatters, each ending up in a separate city where they try to work out what to do. Scene 2 takes us to1st August 30 BCE when Octavian captures Alexandria. Cleopatra had been in contact with Octavian, trying to strike a deal that will mean that the Ptolemy dynasty can continue through her children . The rumour gets around that she has killed herself, and so Antony, already deep in depression, disembowels himself. But she’s not dead! Scene 3 is 10th August 30 BCE. Cleopatra had already tried to kill herself twice, stabbing herself after Antony had died, and then trying to starve herself. She gained permission to go to her mausoleum to mourn Antony, so she dressed herself in all her regalia. Draycott thinks that the snake story is logistically unlikely but somehow or other she kills herself, having sent a letter to Octavian telling him that she won’t be part of his triumph. Her son was killed and her other children were sent to Rome. Jane Draycott has written a book about Cleopatra’s daughter called Cleopatra’s Daughter: Egyptian Princess, Roman Prisoner, African Queen.  It sounds good too. Somehow all these podcasts just end up adding to my already enormous To Be Read list.

Emperors of Rome And blow me down, if Dr Rhiannon Evans and Matt Smith don’t put out their latest podcast The Death of Cleopatra and Antony at exactly the same time. I was amazed at my misconceptions about this death that were challenged by the Travels Through Time episode with Jane Draycott, and so I was pleased to hear Rhiannon and Matt (am I on first name basis after all this time?) confirming the real story. With a million caveats about the sources, it’s much the same story with a few extra bits thrown in. For example, Cleopatra arrived home in Egypt before the news of the defeat at Actium reached Egypt, and so for a while she was able to spin it as a victory. She had good reason to think that perhaps Octavian might extend mercy to her- after all, King Herod (yes, that King Herod) swapped sides from Antony to Octavian and he survived, and she still had her enormous wealth. Despite their relationship, Antony and Cleopatra negotiated separately with Octavian, who played them off against each other. (As Dr Evans says in this podcast of Octavian “He’s a git, isn’t he?”

History Hour (BBC) The episode Referendums and Teletubbies is a bit of a grab-bag. It starts with Tim Marshall, the author of The Power of Geography talking about the 1995 referendum in Canada over whether the province should declare independence. 94% of eligible voters participated, and although it seemed that the ‘yes’ vote would win, after coming from a very low base, in the end it was only a 1% victory to the ‘No’ vote. Since then, support for independence has declined. But they’re difficult, referendums about independence, with cultural, nationalistic and economic motivations intertwined- see for example, the Scottish referendum (2014) , the Sudan referendum (2011) and the Catalan independence referendum (2017). The program then goes on to talk about the sacking of Gough Whitlam, featuring an interview with Paul Kelly, and Praveen Jain, an Indian photojournalist who witnessed rehearsals for the destruction of the Babri Masjid by Hindu crowds in 1992- something that the government said occurred ‘spontaneously’ but obviously didn’t if they were rehearsing for it the day before. Then there is the cousin of Brazilian Jean Charles de Menezes who was incorrectly identified as a terrorist in London, and who was shot by police. It finishes with an interview with Anne Wood, who created the Teletubbies as the first television show designed for 2-3 year olds. (I am now more familiar with Teletubbies than I ever thought I would be).

Conversations (ABC) I always enjoy watching Dee Madigan on the Gruen Transfer- she’s smart and sassy and even though I shudder at the world of advertising, she seems a good egg. But in Dee Madigan’s Precarious Early Life we learn about her turbulent upbringing that would have looked quite benign from the outside. Her father had been a parish priest who embarked on a relationship with a parishioner, whom he married after receiving a dispensation from the church when she fell pregnant. In a short time there were four children, but he was a poor father. Although the children received a private Catholic education in bayside Hampton, and the family ran antique shops successfully, he was a bad money manager and businessman. They bought into Bunratty castle with other couples, but when that became messy, they decamped by Gippsland where he purchased the pub. But he did not stay around for long, leaving the family there with the hotel. By 18, Dee was pretty much on her own. How amazing people’s lives are.

Rough Translation “As Russians approach his town ‘the cat must still be fed’.” As a local historian, I grieve the loss of local newspapers. Despite their variable quality and frequent inaccuracies, they give a view of ‘events on the ground’ that are often missed in state and national newspapers. But perhaps the ‘big data’ available on the internet to people across the world means that you don’t actually have to live in an area to be able to write about it. This is what Emily Sachar, the editor-in-chief of a community news site in Red Hook, New York found when she advertised online for an editor. An application landed from Pavel Kuljuk, a Ukrainian journalist, whose obsessive approach enabled him to sift through data to provide a hyper-local take on current events. But as the invasion of Ukraine unfolded, Emily gradually encouraged him to write about his locality, even though some of her readers resented this insertion of international world.

History Extra. I know a couple of people who have undertaken the Camino de Santiago recently, two for religious reasons and one for the ‘bucket list’ challenge. Pilgrimage, past and present features Peter Stanford, the author of Pilgrimage: Journeys of Meaning. He points out that pilgrimages feature in Islam, Judaism (Jerusalem), Buddhism (the Bohdi tree) as well as Christianity but they are now increasingly a tourist offering.

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