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Past Lives

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Simone Byrne Simone Byrne | 15:35 UK time, Thursday, 29 July 2010

Past Lives is a documentary which investigates historical puzzles and quandaries for listeners. Presenter Mark Stephen tells us about his latest investigation.

Stirling Castle

Stirling Castle

For a jobbing radio presenter, Past Lives is a lesson in humility. Every time you kid yourself on that you know a little about Scottish history along comes another tidal wave of queries and questions that proves, beyond peradventure, that you know next to nuffink.

I mean, how many other BBC programmes get correspondence from listeners containing the sentence "if you'd like to see the underwater pyramids - bring a snorkel"?
How many other programmes team up a dapper septuagenarian with a rather glamorous Deputy Lord Lieutenant to talk about the perils of "cheap affection" and "funny-smelling lucozade"?

In a small bedroom cum office in Thornhill, I've been shown photographs of Kicking Horse, a survivor of the Battle of the Little Big Horn, (yup, the one that did for General George Armstrong Custer, the original "Gorgeous George"), and a band of genuine Kiowa warriors in Ghost shirts and feathered head-dresses, standing on the rocky shoreline at Broadsea where I used to play as a child.

I love the fact that an irate local minister once phoned up Blair Drummond Safari Park to complain about the troup of escaped baboons which were sitting on the kirkyard wall spoiling a funeral he was conducting.

Imagine my astonishment when a guy I'd drunk several pints with at the Kenmore Hotel, John Niven, a fella I'd been told had, "a painting and decorating business.... " turned out to be a world expert on medieval painting techniques. John leads one of the teams of top craftsmen and women currently restoring the Royal chambers at Stirling Castle.

The producer, Debbie McPhail and I wandered around the apartments with our mouths open - it's stunning, beyond stunning and we were even more gobsmacked when we realised just how priviliged we had been - there are people actually working on the project who haven't been allowed in to see it yet, castle staff have had to resort to keeking in the windows.

The days are sometimes long and the roads are sometimes even longer, but the people we meet are lovely folk and the stories they lead us to are almost always fascinating. Past Lives is great fun but don't ever think you "know" about Scottish history - we could be on five days a week and never come near scratching the surface.

Listen to Past Lives on BBC Radio Scotland Mondays, at 1130 and on iPlayer.


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