Conversations (ABC) – Lost at Sea: Losing faith as a Navy Chaplain was broadcast on 26 April 2022. It is an interview with Collin Acton, who also featured in an article in the Saturday Paper (19 November 2022 – but it’s behind a paywall). After a fairly tempestuous relationship with his father, he joined the Navy as a 16 year old as an engineer and underwent your typical evangelical Christian-type conversion experience. He undertook divinity training (no mean feat for someone who had left school so early) and took up a position as an Anglican chaplain in the Navy. Gradually his faith withered, but that had serious implications for a ‘professional Christian’ a as chaplain is. He most enjoyed talking with people, and the fellowship of his church, but he found more and more defence personnel were traumatized by Afghanistan and the boat turn-backs. Much like the position of chaplains in schools and in an increasingly atheistic society, he is raising questions about whether the chaplaincy role can only be played by Christians.
History Extra: Wild places and Wild people: a short history of commons. The episode featured Professor Angus Winchester, the author of Common Land in Britain: A History from the Middle Ages to the Present Day. I’d only really thought about ‘the tragedy of the commons’ and the Enclosure Act during the industrial revolution, but ‘the commons’ had been contested for much longer. The Statute of Merton in 1236 that said that all the land belonged to the manor, although cottagers had rights to wood and pasture, as long as they only took what was proportionate to what they owned, and did not sell them commercially. The commons were traditionally used for recreation, musters and protests. Even with enclosure, those who had a common right were granted a portion of the newly-enclosed land. The ones who were really hung out to dry were the landless peasants. In the 1860s, there was a shift to preserve the commons for recreational access. Interesting- it challenged a lot of my preconceptions.
Emperors of Rome. Episode XXXIV Titus and the Siege of Jerusalem. Titus was born in 39CE in Rome, and his father was Vespasian. This meant that Titus grew up in contact with the imperial family, and indeed, being the same age, he studied with Brittanicus. He had a military upbringing, and served with Vespasian in Jerusalem, and when Vespasian was acclaimed as Emperor, Titus stayed behind in Jerusalem to ‘clean up’ the military action there. He undertook a 7 month siege of Jerusalem, a fortified city with huge symbolic importance for the Jews. After finally breaking the siege, he set the Temple on fire (thus attracting eternal opprobrium in Jewish histories), killing and capturing people for slavery. Then he went back to Rome. Episode XXXV A Pleasant Surprise from the Emperor Titus sees Titus take power. At first it looked as if he was going to be a bit of a playboy (like Nero) and his affair with the Judean Queen Berenice didn’t go down well. But when his father died and he took over, there was a sudden change. Although he only ruled for two years, he was generous in his building program, and took the kudos for opening the Flavian Ampitheatre (now known as the Colosseum) which his father had commenced, and for the rebuilding after the volcanoes in Pompeii and Herculanium and yet another fire in Rome in 80CE. He died of fever, and was promptly deified. Apparently his last words were “I have only one sin on my conscience” – then he died, leading to all sorts of speculation about what the sin was. Episode XXXVI The Debut of Domitian. Domitian was Titus’ brother, and he didn’t share any of his brother’s illustrious upbringing. He was a bit of a loner, and the change in the family fortunes didn’t come until he was 18. He did act as the representative of the Flavian family when Vespasian was coming back to win the civil war, and while Titus was still in Jerusalem, but he threw his weight around and wasn’t popular. In fact, Matt Smith likens Domitian to Uncle Fester and Titus to Gomez in the Addams Family. Anyway, when Titus died – and it genuinely seems that Domitian didn’t have anything to do with it- Titus took over.
Travels Through Time. I didn’t like this one much. Louis XIV, The Sun King features historian Philip Mansell who may have written a lot, and may know a lot but was far too digressive for this format. He chooses the year 1700 and all three episodes take place at Versailles. The first is on 17 November 1700, when Louis’ grandson is chosen as Philip V of Spain, thus uniting the Spanish and French, even though this means that France will become embroiled in the War of Spanish Succession, when the Hapsburgs challenged Philip’s claim. The second episode is a military review during 1700, of which there were many, where Louis would inspect his personal bodyguard. Mansell emphasizes that the French crown had both military and divine aspects. The final episode is also in 1700 when a procession of freed white French slaves takes place before Louis, who has purchased or swapped them from the Muslim Algerians. This was a largely performative act, as much of Louis’ other functions were, demonstrating his generosity – although the Protestants and people in neighbouring countries wouldn’t agree.
Take Me To Your Leader (ABC) I really enjoy Hamish Macdonald’s work, and I actually prefer him to Patricia Karvelas on RN Breakfast when he steps in. In this eight-part series, he looks at current world leaders who have been influential in the past and who are likely to be around for a while longer (that’s a brave call!) In Episode 01 Xi Jinping, he talks with three people who know/have known him in various guises: Sarah Lande from Iowa, who has known him since he visited her home in 1985 as a low-level party member on a fact-finding trip to America; Dr Feng Chongyi, Professor in China Studies at UTS who fell foul of the regime when he went on a research trip to interview Chinese figures who were interested in liberal and democratic ideas; and Sue-Lin Wong, Southeast Asia correspondent at The Economist. After Xi Jinping’s father fell from grace with the party, Xi was sent to the countryside as part of the Cultural Revolution. He worked his way back into the party, becoming Vice-President and Secretary to the Secretariat of the Party- a very influential position. (I tell myself this as I seem to be the Eternal Secretary of different organizations I’m involved with). In regard to the question of Taiwan in the future, both Dr Feng Chongyi and Sue-Lin Wong point out that China transformed Hong Kong without a single military action, largely through infiltration of civil and government organisations.