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19/02/2017
BBC Radio 4

    Editor's note: In Thursday's programme Melvyn Bragg and his guests discussed Gerald of Wales. As always the programme is available to listen to online or to download and keep - AI

    Hello

    Well, that took the biscuit! By the way, Gerald of Wales was exceptionally tall for his time and a fearsome, warrior-like man. That's about the only thing we didn't get in! Sometimes an academic conversation turns into a romp without ceasing to be an academic conversation. This was one of those. At the end I didn't know whether to burst out laughing or to applaud. Instead, as usual, we had a cup of tea. Looked at a croissant. Passed on it. And then cleared up the studio for the World Service to take over with matters of international importance.

    Went back to the office which is mercifully near now that we have moved three blocks away from Soho. Saw Cherie Blair in the street outside a local Italian. Clearly after a breakfast power meeting. "Don't come near," she said, "I've got a stinking cold".

    And on to the office which is next - in case I haven't told you - to a stern and splendid Welsh church which could not be more appropriate. Who raises these coincidences?

    Always a pile of stuff to do in the office. Oh, I forgot, before we came back to the office, Tom Morris and I went across the road for a coffee and did more work on the five programmes on culture which we're going to put out from December 31st onwards. It's an ambitious project. There are obviously problems of casting, selection, writing, production and delivery. Apart from that, I think we should have a good time.

    And then to lunch with yet another academic who is writing a book about my books, which is flattering and intriguing, and it was a good lunch. (I pinched that last phrase from Hemingway in a writerly fashion.)

    With a bit of spare time I went into Regent's Park, it being a sunny day, and was met by flocks and flocks of young girls in fancy dress. I do mean flocks. Perhaps I should say hordes. Some were dressed as Superman, some as Batman, some as Spiderman. Many were dressed as angels, wandering round the park with great insouciance. Some were dressed as cowboys; they occupied the southern part of Regent's Park. I did not stop to ask why. I just thought that this was a vision and some Anglo-Fellini was shooting it from behind a tree.

    And back to the office for work on a talk I'm giving tonight on John Constable up in Hampstead. He rented a cottage in Hampstead for several years and used Hampstead Heath as an extension of Dedham.

    At the moment I'm most struck by the crowdedness of London, which is neither intimidating nor oppressive but entirely enlivening. Why is this? Am I in a good mood? (Not particularly, I've had a lousy time with health and other, more serious matters.) Is it that the sun is out today? (A possibility.) More likely it is because people themselves in this part of London, in this bubble of Europe, feel exceptionally cheerful. Seize the moment. I'm going out this evening to be cheerful alongside the rest of them.

    Best wishes

    Melvyn Bragg

    PS: Among the usual cluster of emails there was one about the beaver which may take your fancy. It comes from the Chief Executive of the Scottish Wildlife Trust, which is currently involved in a pilot scheme to reintroduce the animal to the Argyll countryside:

    "Aesop's Fables presented the myth about beavers sacrificing their own testicles to hunters in the erroneous belief that the testicles were the prize. In fact it is the castoreum in the anal glands which was sought by hunters. Castoreum contains salicylic acid from which aspirin was developed; it is also used as base for perfumes, and in the USA is still used as a food additive. I am happy to report the beavers in Argyll still have their testicles and anal glands intact."

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