Monthly Archives: February 2023

I hear with my little ear: Podcasts 1-7 February 2022

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.

‘The Unfolding’ by A.M. Homes

2022, 396 p.

This book is set in a very specific timeframe: from Wednesday 5th November 2008 to Tuesday 20th January 2009. Ring a bell? Probably not. I’ll help you out. It’s the time between the election night that saw Barak Obama elected as President of United States, and the day of his inauguration the following year.

If you’ve ever been to an election-night function as a volunteer, you’ll recognize the awful, chin-trembling bleakness of defeat when the balloons, the music, the party pies all of a sudden take on a bilious yellow hue. For white, racist, life-long Republicans that election night -more than any other before it- must have seemed like the world was shifting on its axis. And so we meet Hitchens, nick-named “The Big Guy” who decides that something must be done. He calls on his mates, fellow-Republicans, entrepreneurs, a crackpot historian, a tax lawyer etc, all rich, entitled, puffed up with their delusions that they can change history if they get the right people onside and pull a few strings. And so they launch into a series of sleazy meetings with ‘fixers’ and quasi-military figures where men talk in catch-phrases and allusions, plotting to somehow over-turn Obama’s election, to set the world right again. If we hadn’t seen Rudy Giuliani sweating away in the All-Seasons Garden Supply car-park, or January 6th, this would just seem like farce. Not any more: as the author of this book, published in 2022, knows only too well.

While all this is going on, the Big Guy has his own problems at home. His wife Charlotte is an alcoholic who finally seeks help for her addiction; his daughter Meghan is at boarding school and starting to question her own views on life and politics, after joining the family jaunt to the polling booth to vote for John McCain. The family has its own secrets and it is forced to face up to them, while Big Guy is escaping reality through his ham-fisted political manipulations to try to go back to the good old days.

This book read very much like a play, with a heavy reliance on dialogue. There are no chapters, but instead a series of ‘scenes’, each identified by date and location. There are probably a lot of political references and in-jokes that escaped me, and I felt my Australianness keenly while reading the book. What an unsavoury group of people. How depressing that they’re still here.

My rating: 6/10

Sourced from: Yarra Plenty Regional Library

Read because: I heard the author on a BBC Start the Week podcast (see my response to the podcast here). This podcast has a lot to answer for.

I hear with my little ear: Podcasts 25-31 January 2023

Background Briefing. Is is just my inattention, or is there less news about the protests in Iran recently? Under the Eye of Iran Part I explores the surveillance of Iranian people here in Australia. There are interviews with young women now resident in Australia, one who was happy to give her name, another who did not want to be named for fear of repercussions on her family back in Iran. It was chilling to hear of this young Iranian girl, out on a night on the tear with friends whose “F*** you” to a man who told her to behave more discreetly led to her sitting in court, facing charges that could have led to her execution. Also has an interview with Kylie Moore-Gilbert, who has spoken out since her release from prison. [Update- just in the last week (i.e. mid February) there is news of the protests beginning again]


History Hit/Gone Medieval I’ve been reading Simon Sebag Montefiore’s gigantic The World which has made me aware of how much I don’t know, about anything, really. I listened to Mongol Empire where Matt Lewis talks to Dr. Nicholas Morton, author of The Mongol Storm: Making and Breaking Empires in the Medieval Near East. The Mongols emerged out of a confederation of nomadic tribes, led by Genghis Khan, and they rode wave after wave, integrating conquered societies into their empire. There were differing responses to conquered communities: if they submitted early, they were treated more humanely. In 1220s they invaded Armenia and Georgia, in 1230 the Near East and in 1260 Syria, but they were stopped by the Mamluks. In 1241 they defeated Hungary and Poland in a fleeting raid, but they did not return as planned because they broke down in a Civil war in the 1260s. The legacy of the Mongol Empire was the increase in scientific knowledge and the growth of trade.

Full Story There was plenty in the news about the death of George Pell, and I was interested to hear David Marr’s take on it. David Marr on the Life and Legacy of George Pell doesn’t hold back at all (as you might expect) declaring right up front that “George Pell was a danger to children”. The conservative Catholic Church of George Pell was a shame machine, generating over 4000 complaints between 1980 and 2015. Pell moved easily in political circles, and was able to leverage funding and the founding of the Catholic university system. The Ellis Defence that was put forward under his leadership relied on old rules. He did apologize on behalf of the Catholic Church, but not for his own personal role. Marr suggests that, with Pell’s death, it is going to be difficult to maintain scrutiny of the Church.

You’re Dead to Me. I would hate to be the historian on this show. Ivan the Terrible features Prof Peter Frankopan from the University of Oxford and Russian-born comedian Olga Koch. Ivan used violence as a form of political control, although he wasn’t alone in that- violence was ubiquitous throughout Europe. Much of his time was spent in a power struggle with the Boyars, and he ended up dividing Russia into two.

Axios I’ve never really got into Twitter, but Elon Musk did, and he bought the company. Although that wasn’t clear during this series, which was recorded while Musk was negotiating to buy it, and then withdrawing, and then buying it again. How It Happened: Elon Musk vs. Twitter discusses Musks’ moves throughout different industries and his tolerance for risk, best exemplified by his expansion into autonomous self-driving Teslas- an experiment that uses us. The most recent episode, which dropped in January this year after a three-month hiatus, examines his first few months as CEO of Twitter, and the challenges facing his other companies.

History Hit To mark The International Holocaust Remembrance Day on 27th January, Anne Frank’s Life After Her Arrest takes up her story after leaving the Secret Annexe and up to her death. Dan Snow is joined by Bas von Benda-Beckmann, historian and co-author of After the Annex: Anne Frank, Auschwitz and Beyond, to reconstruct Anne’s life after her arrest. We don’t really know whether the family was betrayed or not: Otto Frank believed that they were, but it is possible that the police discovered them as part of a search into forged food stamps. They were sent to Westerbork prison camp in the Netherlands, where the girls worked recycling batteries. This prison allowed families to stay together, and although there were rumours about the death camps, there was an effort not to panic the prisoners. They were sent on the last train from Westerbork to Auschwitz, arriving on 6 September 1944. Up until May 1944 only 20% of the passengers survived the selection process for the gas chambers, but the demand for slave labour meant that by this time, 65% went to work as slave labour. Much of this labour was senseless. In November 1944 Anne, Margot and Peter’s mother were sent to Bergen Belsen, while Anne’s mother died at Auschwitz. At Belsen, the system was breaking down and there was no food, although parts of the camp were better than others because ‘high value’ Jewish prisoners were kept there for prisoner swaps. Mrs Van Pels was sent on to another labour camp. It is now thought that Ann died in early February 1945, not March as previously thought.

The Philosophers Zone (ABC) Conspiracy Theories, anti-Semitism and fun is a repeat of a program originally broadcast in May 2022. In it, Charles Blattberg, Professor of Political Philosophy, University of Montreal discusses his essay ‘Anti-semitism and the aesthetic’ where he argues that conspiracy theories have an aesthetic dimension. He identifies four manifestations of this aesthetic: savouring details; playing for fun; putting on shows and fantasizing. There’s lots of labels and definitions here (in a very philosophical way) but he notes that conspiracy theorists tend to underestimate incompetence, and that it is not possible to reason with a conspiracy theorist – you can only mock them. Very theoretical, but interesting. There’s a link to Blattberg’s lengthy essay on the ABC site.

‘To Calais, in Ordinary Time’ by James Meek

2019, 382 p.

I have only read one other James Meek novel, The People’s Act of Love, although I’ve often seen his articles in the London Review of Books. I read The People’s Act of Love before I started blogging. It was set during the Russian Civil War that followed the Revolution – a time when fortunes and allegiances shifted in response to the global political situation, and when loyalty and survival were pitted against each other. Meek’s most recent book To Calais, in Ordinary Time is likewise set in 1348, a time of political flux, but this time politics is rendered hollow by the threat of plague. This book was published in 2019, before our own world was to face its own plague, and to read it in 2022 is to find resonances of which the author would have been unconscious, as the plague is at first just a rumour, dismissed, politicized or seen as divine intervention. But by the end of the book, the plague dominates, throwing into question social distinctions, faith, and the nature of commitment.

The book involves a journey from South-West London to Calais, two years after the battle of Crecy where a group of archers under Edward III routed a larger French army and went on to capture Calais. A band of battle-hardened archers is gathered together by knight Laurence Haket to return to Calais, and young serf Will Quate is nominated by his liege lord to join them. The other archers, led by Hayne, had been involved in the sack of Crecy two years earlier and had taken captive French noblewoman Cess, who was forced to accompany them back to England. Now they are heading back to Calais again, and they are joined by Lady Bernardine, Wills’ master’s daughter who is escaping an arranged marriage to an older man; Thomas, a clerical administrator on secondment to an abbey who, while not an actual priest, is steeped in the church; and Hab, a swineherd with desires of his own. While they are heading to France, the plague is heading towards them.

The narrative is told in different voices. The cleric Thomas writes his first-person narrative on parchment, in a high, intellectual tone; while the third-person narrative depicts Lady Bernardine as speaking in a lofty, French-inflected language. Will, Hab and the archers, on the other hand are depicted as speaking a form of dialect : not quite Chaucer, but with many unfamiliar words (‘neb’ for face; ‘steve’ for voice) and a curious sentence-construction. Meek sustained this well throughout the book, although I confess that it often tangled my reading.

What I found most confusing, though, was the names. Hab (the swineherd) is very similar to Mad (one of the archers); Mad (the archer) is very similar to Madlen (Hab’s ‘sister’); Hayne (the leader of the bowmen) is very similar to Haket (the knight). Add to this abbreviations (Cess for Cecily; Berna for Lady Bernardine), some gender-bending, and a play within in a story- and I didn’t know where I was for much of the book. In a way, my own confusion mirrored the other-worldliness and the unfamiliarity of the 14th century setting. It did resolve, particularly as the plague set in and different characters dropped away.

In her blurb for the book, Hilary Mantel wrote:

Fans of intelligent historical fiction will be enthralled by a story so original and so fully imagined. Meek shows the era as alien, which it is, and doesn’t falsify it by assimilating it to ours. But his characters are recognisably warm and human.

I confess that I found myself wondering if I was “intelligent” enough for this book, because I did find it challenging. But as Mantel points out, Meek has created a world on its own terms, with disorienting little twists, that reinforces that his characters are not just ‘us in funny clothes’ and he sustains this across the whole book. And, by chance, we bring to this 14th century world our own 21st world view of plague which, for me, only enhanced the book further. It’s a remarkable- but challenging- book.

Sourced from: Yarra Plenty Regional Library

My rating: 8.5/10 (….eventually….)

I hear with my little ear: Podcasts 17-24 January 2022

Sirens are Coming (ABC) This seven part series (plus a bonus episode) is written and presented by Matthew Condon, who wrote a trilogy about organized crime in Brisbane, comprising Three Crooked Kings (2013), Jacks and Jokers (2014) and All Fall Down (2015). I’ve been meaning to read these books for a while, even though I am not a great fan of true crime, because by now they almost have the status of being history (after all, they always say that journalism is the first draft of history….)

In many ways, this podcast goes over the same territory as his trilogy, but he takes a slightly different perspective. Yes, he’s talking about crooked cops and politicians but he considers them through and from the perspective of four very brave women who worked in the sex industry over a period of about 40 years. Episode 1 The Great Survivor takes us back to Brisbane in 1958 when three bent coppers- Glen Hallahan, Terry Lewis and Tony Murphy- form ‘The Rat Pack’ which extorted sex workers for protection money – a pastime they dubbed ‘the joke’. Two of their early recruits were Dorothy Edith Knight, who fell in love with Glen Hallahan, and Shirley Brifman, who did their dirty work in Queensland’s first-ever Royal Commission into police misconduct. Episode 2 From Kickbacks to Paybacks is set in the 1970s when an enquiry is called into the goings-on at the National Hotel, a favourite watering hole for the Rat Pack.. At the enquiry, Shirley Brifman lied to protect the police while Dorothy Knight was the first person in Queensland to wear a wire in a sting operation to take down her former lover, Hallahan. Episode 3 The FallOut sees Brifman dead, supposedly of a drug overdose, after appearing on This Day Tonight and admitting that she had lied to the National Hotel Enquiry. Meanwhile, Dorothy Knight was holed up in a safe house, reaping the consequences of snitching . Episode 4 Old Dogs, New Tricks moves into the mid 70s as the sex industry expands to the Gold Coast as well, and Simone Vogel moves up from Sydney and establishes herself as a power. When she wanted out, she disappeared too. By this stage, one of the Rat Pack, Terry Lewis, had been appointed Queensland Police Commissioner. The cold case has never been solved. Episode 5 Change is Coming takes us to the 1980s, as heroin hits the streets. ‘The joke’ has now transformed itself into the “new joke”. Lewis is still Commissioner, and although Murphy had retired, he still was heavily involved in extortion. A new madam emerges, Katherine James. By this time, Four Corners screened ‘The Moonlight State’ in May 1987, leading to the appointment of the Fitzgerald Enquiry. Episode 6 The Greatest Show in Town Katherine James (a pseudonym) was fundamental to the Fitzgerald Enquiry and corrupt police and politicians fell like dominoes. In the Bonus episode – Katherine want to talk she speaks publicly for the first time. Meanwhile, although the joke is at an end, police have a new form of intimidation – entrapment, described in a Episode 7 Bonus episode. Queensland lags behind the other states in its legislation regarding sex workers, and you find yourself wondering if the Rat Pack really is in the past….

Emperors of Rome Episode XXXI Enter Vespasian. Vespasian was from equestrian ranks and his father was known as an honest tax collector (which was obviously big deal). He was born in Rome in the Sabine hills in 9CE. He went with Claudius to Britannia and was rewarded with a province in Africa. But he wasn’t particularly ambitious and ended up returning to Rome broke (which shows that he wasn’t ripping people off enough) and set up a business trading in mules. In 66CE he was sent to Judea by Nero, partially to neutralize him as a competitor, and also because there were religious issues there over monotheism and taxes. He is written about by Josephus, a Romanized Jew, who depicts him as ruthless. He declared loyalty to Otho, but once Vitellius defeated him, he made his move. Episode XXXII Vespasian as Prophesised discusses the various prophesies about him e.g. a tree, a dog dropping a human hand at his feet, his supposed healing powers, and eagles seen in the sky fighting. He entered a traumatized Rome which had undergone a series of civil wars. He recognized the authority of the Senate, was generous with the senators and the people, and began rebuilding temples. He started the Flavian amphitheatre (now Colosseum) and the Temple of Peace. He finished off Claudius’ temple, to reinforce his links with Claudius. Episode XXIII Emperor Vespasian, Becoming a God reviews his 10 year rule. He was popular, approachable and modest, with high morals. He didn’t claim the title of Father of the Country (PP), and although he did raise taxes, he spent them on culture, the arts and education. He died naturally at 69 years of age, joking on his deathbed “O dear, I’m becoming a God”. He was probably one of the 5 best emperors; he ended the civil wars; he commenced the Colosseum and started a dynasty. Not bad.

London Review of Books Dorothy Thompson was known as the ‘First Lady of American Journalism’ and also as The Woman Who Interviewed Hitler. She tried to get an interview with him for seven years, and when she finally succeeded, she had to submit her three questions in advance. She wrote him off as useless, and hinted that he was homosexual, which didn’t please the Nazis one little bit so they promptly expelled her after the Night of the Long Knives.. She was born in 1893, was university educated and worked as a freelance journalist. She was involved in the suffragette movement, and was married to the writer Sinclair Lewis. It’s hard to pigeon-hole her opinions. She saw FDR as a proto-dictator but anti-isolationist, and she was a fierce advocate for American involvement in WWII (but not necessarily boots on the ground). She wrote an essay ‘Who is a Nazi?’ where she argued that Nazism attracted people holding particular social and economic views (suggesting that ‘the Jews’ might have been Nazi under different circumstances). In fact, she was quite anti-Semitic, despite wanting America to be involved in the war. She often promulgated ideas too early, before people were ready too accept them e.g. that there should be no harsh reparations against the Germans. In the podcast, Deborah Friedell argues that it is impossible to overstate her significance as a journalist early on, but that she increasingly became viewed as a crank.

Strong Songs. Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody I’m not always familiar with the songs that Kirk Hamilton deconstructs, but everyone (even me) knows Bohemian Rhapsody – and how much he has to work with here! This is a replay of an earlier episode, but it’s really good. He is full of admiration for Freddie Mercury’s vocal skills and the judicious but lavish use of Brian May’s guitar. Really good. And who can resist watching the Live Aid concert.

‘A Man Called Ove’ by Fredrik Backman

2012, 337 p.

Although this book purports to be about a curmudgeonly old man, the American film (renamed ‘A Man Called Otto’) stars Tom Hanks so he certainly couldn’t be too curmudgeonly. As someone who has experience of Grumpy Old Men (Reader, I married one) Ove is only eye-rollingly annoying with a heart of gold. It was altogether too saccharine for me.

There are advertisements at the end of the book for the author’s other publications, My Grandmother Sends Her Regards and Apologizes and Britt-Marie was here. They sound just like this book with an misunderstood older person covering a hidden warmth who blossoms under the attention of others. Pardon my cynicism.

Sourced from: purchased e-book (it was on special)

Rating: 5/10

Six Degrees of Separation: from ‘Trust’ to….

One sure sign that time is elapsing faster than I realize is the way that the Six Degrees meme on the first Sunday of the month comes round so quickly! I missed the January one, but here I am for February. It is hosted by Kate at Books Are My Favourite and Best, and the idea is that she chooses a starting book – in this case Trust by Hernan Diaz. I haven’t read it, of course (I almost never have read the books she chooses to start off the Six Degrees) but I gather that it’s about a wealthy 1920’s New York power couple.

How to proceed? I was tempted to go with titles of one word, linked to an emotion or state but instead opted to go for the (more predictable?) route of New York books. Of which there are many.

I’m really enjoying Amor Towles’ work and I just loved Rules of Civility (my review here), set in New York in 1937, and evocative of all those black-and-white films with the Empire State Building in the background and imbued with New York glamour.

For me Edith Wharton exemplifies Gilded Age New York. But which to choose? I could go with The House of Mirth or The Age of Innocence, but perhaps I’m settle on The Custom of the Country with the deliciously named Undine Spragg, who arrives in New York craving money and social celebrity, and moves through multiple marriages to get it.

We visit New York twice in Hanya Yanagihara’s To Paradise (my review here), once in 1893 and again in 2093 with an interlude in Hawaii in between. It’s a big book, with recurring characters in different guises, and I loved it.

You’ll never find a copy, but when I read Donna Merwick’s Death of A Notary (my sort-of review here), I’d never read history written like this before. The first part is a conversational, present tense, rather speculative narrative that pieces together the small documentary fragments that refer to Janse, the Dutch-speaking notary in Albany, who commits suicide in the late 17th century, a number of years after the English have taken possession of New Amsterdam (which they renamed New York). The second part is an extended footnotes section, where every ‘invention’ in the first part is sourced and validated; every assumption is justified, and every source is credited- it’s watching the historian at work.

Another book that I read prior to blogging but which has stayed with me is Colum McCann’s This Side of Brightness. It starts in 1919 with the tunneling under the Hudson River, then pendulums forward to 1991 with Treefrog, a psychotic derelict living in the tunnel. There’s a real symmetry in this book- the narrative moves forward and back until the two characters become one.

It’s odd to add a biography here – Ethel Rosenberg: A Cold War Tragedy by Anna Sebba (my review here). But both Ethel and Julius Rosenberg grew up on the Lower East Side (why is it ‘on’ and not ‘in’ the Lower East Side?) and in many ways, they had a very ‘New York’ upbringing. In my mind, they are inextricably linked with New York.

So, I might have stayed in New York, but I’ve travelled from the late 17th century to 2093, with socialites, notaries, tunnel diggers and spies.

Movie: Metropolitan Opera ‘The Hours’

At first, I didn’t think that I was going to like this Metropolitan Opera movie of ‘The Hours’, despite its stellar cast of Renee Fleming, Joyce DiDonato and Kelli O’Hara. I’ve read the book; I saw the Nicole Kidman film; and now the opera. With all three narrative lines running at once on the stage- something that isn’t possible with a book- at first it sounded very screechy with rather banal lines.

But by the end, the theatre was completely silent, with audience members holding their breath. It was very, very good.

And how did I even know who Joyce DiDonato even is? Through this video, that I discovered during lockdown. I’ve followed her ever since.