There was much to see on my trip to Edinburgh last month — and I have been meaning to get the photos up here ever since I got back — but I think the sight that tickled me most was this book in the shop of the National Museum of Scotland. To paraphrase Father Jack’s reaction to a well-known entertainer’s constant appearance on the telly: “Those fellas again!” They really get everywhere.
“The sky’s beginning to bruise, night must fall and we shall be forced to camp.” Poor old Monty.
I lost a deeply enjoyable evening investigating the Cuss Yeah Wes Anderson Tumblr.
And by the way: the blog is now five years old. I don’t quite know how that happened. Then, I was living at home in Dublin doing my undergraduate degree; now I’m in London, in gainful employment, via a master’s in Oxford.
Record sleeves imagined as book covers: very satisfying.
Since moving to the UK outright, I find myself more and more appreciative of Irishisms, which has led me to watch quite a few of such videos as the above — not always an edifying experience. This one, though, is particularly good, and particular to Dublin, which is all the better.
I highly recommend watching Richard III: The King in the Car Park, currently available on 4oD. It follows the unearthing of the skeleton through to identification, though it’s not really for the science that I suggest you watch it — the scientists are uniformly excellent, but they are poorly handled by an overly jokey and “personal” interpretation by the production team. It is worth watching for the depiction of a genuinely odd lady from the Richard III Society, who, at least according to the programme (of which she has a production credit), was the driving force behind the discovery of the skeleton. She is absolutely the most irritating person to have around any sort of serious scientific work, which of course makes her unintentionally hilarious. One scene in particular is the funniest thing I have seen in weeks. It comes when a skeleton has been located, and the archaeological dig’s osteologist has painstakingly transferred the bones — suspected but still unverified as those of the king — to a cardboard box for transportation to the lab for tests. The look on her face when she is asked by this eccentric woman from the Richard III Society to drape the cardboard box with a Ricardian pennant, for the sake of the trip in the van, is fried gold.
This week I horsed through the entire series of Judging Dev, an RTÉ Radio 1 programme from 2007 (all ten parts are available as podcasts here). I’ve never been overly confident in discussing Irish political history. I think this excellent clip of Dara Ó Briain does a lot of the work for me (from 3.06 to the end, about three minutes). Ó Briain tells the story of a time when he talked in a show about his granny, who fought with the IRA. He was approached afterwards by an English audience member taking issue with this, and Ó Briain, explaining his thought process in the moment, runs through a potted history of twentieth century Irish politics, which merits a round of applause. ”You’re all being very polite with a round of applause, because you recognise the bit that I’ve clearly learnt off, but really — in a way that I don’t get in England — you’re all sitting there going, ‘Ah, you left a lot out. Frankly that’s a very trite reading of the last century of Irish politics — I mean there’s the foundation of the Republic, the Constitution, there’s lots more to it.’” I feel simply incapable of that kind of reaction: there’s just so much Irish politics to go round, so many personalities and parties which turn into different parties or entities whose names mean totally different things depending on the specific year you’re talking about (as Ó Briain says, it’s one thing for his granny to have been in the IRA, but that was quite another thing even ten years after her involvement, let alone the 70s or 80s), that I never feel I can have a handle on it, let alone sit in judgement on another’s reading of it. There’s so much of it that it seems inevitable that one must make a very piecemeal narrative of it.
This is where I have found the Judging Dev radio show so gratifying. The radio show focuses, naturally enough, on the figure of Dev, which is useful for my purposes in two ways: first, you can hardly get a more important Irish politician of the twentieth century than Dev, so you might as well get to grips with him; secondly, Dev hung in there, and any decent telling of his life is also a telling of Irish history from the Rising through the foundation of the State, the Constitution, the Emergency, the doldrums of the 50s right up to the Troubles. Diarmaid Ferriter, the mainstay of each show, is a good chair full of intelligent prompts to the two guests who feature in each episode to ensure a rounded tale. But Ferriter is also well able to get out of the way when, say, TK Whitaker or former president Paddy Hillery is telling first-hand tales about Dev’s behaviour.
Its half-hour episodes never outstay their welcome, yet en masse the show’s five hour running time is as in-depth on one political figure as I need to be going on with. It’s certainly done its job in giving me a much more nuanced view of the man: I have always had De Valera marked as the very type of a humourless priest, while his involvement in Republicanism, a movement too closely associated with the wanton destruction of life, does not endear him to me. But as a few people reminded us over the course of the run of this series, we never had Dev the dictator, at a time when many European states were sprouting dictators. Dev never wavered in instating a popular democracy in the fledgling Irish state — indeed, with its popular elections for the head of state and referenda for any change to the constitution, one of the earliest such democracies. We’re all an admixture.
It’s whetted my appetite now for other single-topic runs — recommendations are very much sought! Please do add them in the comments.
Since seeing Lincoln a week ago I have taken up Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, the book on which the film was, in part, based. This is both because I loved the film and because, in seeing it, I felt ashamed of the massive gap in my knowledge in the shape of pretty much all American political history. I am not far into it yet, by proportion, but I am enjoying it very much; it doesn’t scant on details such as this:
“Despite his humor, intellectual passion, and oratorical eloquence, [Lincoln] had always been awkward and self-conscious in the presence of women … His gangly appearance and uncouth behavior did little to recommend him to the ladies. ‘He would burst into a ball,’ recalled a friend, ‘with his big heavy Conestoga boots on, and exclaim aloud– ‘Oh–boys, how clean those girls look.’” (p. 92)
Excellent idea: Irish designers got together in aid of Temple Street Children’s Hospital to “dress up their favourite worst feedback from clients” in the form of fundraising posters.
You can see the full run here.
Via my good pal Pádraig I discovered this charming story of a Baltimore hairdresser who — entirely outside academe — has contributed significantly to classical scholarship. Well done, Janet Stephens!