Happy in the Hinterland Last Weekend

Last Friday, we drove the grey of the N3 into the wind and rain of the Irish Hinterland. Spires and ancient round towers arose out of Kell’s magical mists and I soon found myself installed in a front row pew in the church of Ireland, seeking adventures along a silk road.

Peter Frankopan took his place at the altar in a stylish blue (silk?) suit, and transported me East to the magic lands of Iran, Egypt, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Syria, Tibet. Waving his hands, his undulating Notting Hill/Oxford tones created a wonderful discourse, flowing with passion and interest. It seems my history has been mired in Western war fare, in crusades, in squalid sallies, in colonial battles, world wars, and King Henry’s wives instead of in the rise and fall of Mesopotamia, of Byzantine culture, of Persia, the truly great civilisations of our world, arising from the glitter and glory of the trading routes of the Silk Roads.   Compared to the glory of Sultans, Pharoahs, Ayatollahs, the people of Western Europe were little more than slaves (apparently the only thing of trading value). We had no riches, no spices, little in the line of the black stuff, not much in the way of sought after natural resources; somehow, though, we managed to convince ourselves, and others, that we were the centrifugal force of  history (obviously we had the gift of the gab, and those spears and poleaxes probably helped) while actually the original power and glory was invested in the riches of the East, now on the rise again. Note China’s new ports, gas pipes, and its railways being laid across Africa.  So, after 500 years, the balance is finally being redressed and the current conflicts in Afghanistan, Syria, Ukraine, Iraq, Pakistan are mere birthing pains for a new era (unless the West has a tantrum and starts throwing its upgraded boy toys around in pique).

It was, truly, an invigorating presentation, providing a different perspective, sparkling with brilliance. Peter Frankopan was wonderful to watch (you can see why from the photo below), and his sales pitch was fabulous. He must have been practising on those Silk Roads. I bought the book.

In contrast, the historian, Turtle Bunbury stumbled about the church  while he told us how ‘1847’ had presented itself to him as ‘the year’ to write about. It had been the year the plans for his ancestral home castle were drawn up, the year the famine had got going (he didn’t comment on the structural relationship between the two), the year the Bronte sisters had been published, the year the USA conquered California. This was reason enough for an hour of stories about Black Ben Forbes (?) and Tom Thumb who apparently graced 1847 with their presence. Interesting? No. The historian, John Bowen was much more sober and erudite in his presentation of the ‘Autobiography of Ireland’ which is a collection of original sources: amusing letters, articles reflecting the hundred years after the Rising.

I was looking forward to the Brexit Debate on Saturday morning – Chris Mullins, David Murphy and Mairead McGuinness and was very, very disappointed. It was lack-lustre, un-engaged, uninformed, smug, and comprised an indifferent discussion. Chris Mullins performed like an oil painted portrait with a withering smile, (like one of those spectral portraits in Hogwarts, just not as interesting); Mairead McGuinness glittered with EU self-adoration, and David Murphy manufactured the statistics to suit himself. They bored me, and I felt sad at their lack of spirit, humour and passion.

Thank God, passion was not lacking thereafter. Ed Thomas, director of The Hinterland (a Welsh detective series on Netflix) was fascinating. He was a friendly, bubbly character, but clearly with a dark side. Hinterland is a slow, beautiful but rather grim portrayal of the Welsh countryside. It reflects isolation and is very bleak. He was well interviewed by Georgina Godwin who also later did a great interview with Stephen Frears. The first thing Ed Thomas said was that most of his work was autobiographical and that Wales was a ‘laughing stock’ and a country that didn’t really exist.  He described how being Welsh in the late eighties and nineties was akin to being invisible. He left, changed his accent, pretended to be Irish, or a loud South London lout. I was taken aback. My mother is from a South Wales mining town. In my mind, Wales was a small, beautiful country, the home of a strong, vibrant people who sang, worked and evolved a strong chartist, social spirit. It is clear that in the late 70s and 80s, the closure of the mines, the shutting down of a community, the abandonment of a people laid waste to a wonderful country. Ed recently had to sell his home place of a 130 years. He told us his daughter didn’t know what a miner was. What a sad indictment of a British Government that cruelly turned its back on its working people. An excellent interview which was followed by a second excellent interview with Stephen Frears (photo below)

At first, I thought Georgina Godwin (photo below) was going to have a difficult interview. Frears (who has directed The Snapper, The Van, My Beautiful Laundrette, Philomena, The Queen amongst others) answered her questions in short sentences with brevity. He faced out to the audience and seemed to find it hard to turn his head to look at her when she asked her questions. But she handled him very well. She always had another question ready when he didn’t seem disposed to answer the previous one. She was well prepared, incisive and confident.

Frears was laconic, dry and humorous. Classic Brit. He reminded me of a dragon, lurking in his lair, watching with glittering eyes, a grim smile and high intellect. He told us how fortunate he was. He was a child of a time. He had a golden letter box through which, over the years, amazing scripts were posted. He was self-deprecating in a humorous way which showed us how brilliant he was. The 1960s to 1990s were certainly the golden era for film and theatre. Shane Connaughton whom we had seen in The Town Hall, in Cavan the previous Thursday (interviewed by Philip Doherty) had said something similar. Shane had been in the right place at the right time. I asked both Shane Connaughton and Stephen Frears how much politics had contributed to their success. Both responded positively. The hope and optimism, the belief in humanity, the resources, the investment in the arts, and people had helped them create and become great artists. This is the reason the Brits need a new Government. Oh, Jeremy Corbyn!



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