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In Our Time: The Battle Of Tours

Melvyn Bragg

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Editors note. In Thursday's programme Melvyn Bragg and guests discussed The Battle of Tours. As always the programme is available to listen to online or download to keep.

Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the Battle of Tours of 732.


I still think (though what does an amateur know?) that not enough weight was given to the Venerable Bede.  He was also a saint.  He also wrote the foundational history of the English-speaking peoples and one of the great history books of the Western world.  He reported on the Battle of Tours about a year after it had happened.  He didn’t report it in the sense of dashing off an article in the local newspaper.  He put it in his book and recognised its significance.  I think that lends weight to the larger claims made for the Battle of Tours.  But it has to be said that the three brilliant scholars who sat facing me were unmoved by the implication I was clearly (in the space of about seven seconds) trying to get over to them.

Bede was up in Jarrow and we claim him for the North.  Up there over the New Year I had a unique experience in my life.  I was walking on a fell path, ill-advisedly, and the wind came up at about twelve o’clock with such force that I simply could not move forward and did not dare turn round in case I was blown back down the mountain.  It was an extraordinary feeling of exhilarated helplessness.

After the programme this morning Tom Morris and I went to talk about the series that we’re going to do in addition to In Our Time in 2015.  No real prizes for guessing.  Then along to the office and down to pick up a suit that I picked up in a sale and needed a bit of alteration.  And off to have lunch with Joseph Connolly at the Garrick.  Joseph Connolly, apart from being a novelist and a gourmet, made it his business two or three decades ago to collect first editions of contemporary novels in mint condition.  It was a bold and good move.  He is one of nature’s amassers of information.  Lunch is a treat.  All you do is eat.  He talks the very good talk.

Out into what proved to be a depressing drizzle, though not of Cumbrian proportions, and so jumped in a cab to go down to the House of Lords.  I have never in my life been in a London cab and submitted to so much breezy propaganda.  Everything good about Cuba was rehearsed between the National Portrait Gallery and Westminster Palace.  The crimelessness, the equality of women, the way in which children were nourished, etc, etc.  He had been advised to go to Cuba by some Canadian passengers he’d carried several years ago.  He now goes every year.  He is not a communist, he says, but he is a socialist and he believes in justice and Cuba is heaven.  It was like sharing the cab with a compressed, all-speaking Wikipedia.  His former taxi (now rather clapped-out) has been painted with the Cuban flag and is to be donated to a museum in Havana, to which everyone should go immediately for a vision of the world as it should be.

In the Lords they were debating the implications of the World Wide Web on its 25th anniversary.  Before that, Peter Hennessy had introduced a motion about the future of the Civil Service.  This one was introduced by a most energetic and positive Martha Lane Fox, who magnetised a large attendance.  It’s worth saying again (I’m sure I’ve said it before) that the quality of speakers, their depth of information on the topics put forward, is quite extraordinary.  Let’s take this one: David Puttnam, John Birt, Beeban Kidron, Anthony Giddens, Martin Rees, Onora O’Neill … on and on it goes.  Superbly well-informed people talking intelligently and without the chicken yard yapping of the other place.

Now, as I speak, I’m doing this and then a bit of reading and on to have a non-drink (dry January) with Howard Jacobson.  And then to bed.

Best wishes

Melvyn Bragg

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