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Book and Culture Cafe highlights - Tam Dalyell & The National Museum of Scotland

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Clare English Clare English | 12:20 UK time, Thursday, 8 September 2011

I've never been a good passenger.. always the first to throw up at the slightest provocation. On a tour of Ireland as a young child, I asked my parents to pull over on a rural lane to allow me to get rid of the nasty taste brewing in my throat. My parents - old school, no nonsense - told me to shut up and stop being such a baby. I still recall the scene a couple of miles down the road as my father struggled to keep the car on the road while simultaneously mopping up the stream of sticky mess flowing down the back of his neck.

So when I heard that one of my Book Café guests had endured a nightmare journey by taxi to the studio and was looking a bit green around the gills, I felt for him with all my heart. Tam Dalyell isn't one of life's whingers.. what he IS, is one of life's battlers. In a career spanning more than forty years in the House of Commons, this Labour back bencher became the scourge of those in power. He famously accused Margaret Thatcher of lying during the Falklands War and he didn't have much time for Tony Blair's intervention in Iraq . Now those skirmishes and so many more, are faithfully recorded in Tam Dalyell's pithily titled memoirs, THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING AWKWARD.


It's a chunky volume with much to entertain the history nut.. for starters, a cast of colourful ancestors including the notorious Black Tam. But it's the political passion that screams out from every page. Dalyell wasn't capable of playing the long game, currying favour and achieving front bench prominence. He positively enjoyed digging around and unearthing inconvenient truths no matter how uncomfortable his revelations were for anyone of any political hue. As a young(ish !) political reporter in the 90s, I regularly saw Tam in action in the chamber; as he rose to ask a question, a collective groan went up - MPs on all sides knew they were about to hear Tam fire off another interminable volley of forensically crafted questions. Here was someone who didn't give a stuff about being popular or amusing. He told me himself that he was a bore and didn't mind it one bit! In today's House of Commons, you'd be hard pressed to recognise many faces, never mind a first name, but mention TAM and you could only be talking about one person. Read the book and you'll get an idea of the man's unwavering strength of conviction - a fascinating record of half a lifetime spent in politics. The nightmare taxi journey was well worth the effort, Tam.


On Tuesday's Culture Café we took you on a virtual tour of the newly refurbished National Museum of Scotland. My producer Esme Kennedy told me she wanted to make a documentary that recorded the entire process - the removal of old exhibits, the refurb, the personnel involved, the restoration of artefacts, any setbacks, triumphs etc. We met so many people involved in the refurbishment programme and although they all looked exhausted, you could see the pride and excitement in their eyes. They knew this was going to be an amazing project, a once in a lifetime opportunity that they HAD to get right. We recorded the last instalment before many of the exhibits were back in place but even so, you couldn't fail to be impressed by the grandeur of the Victorian main gallery, a wedding cake interior suffused with light. The new entrance is rather enticing too so if you haven't been to Chambers Street yet, what are you waiting for? We've talked you through it, try it out for real.


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