TRUTH and Reconciliation comes in all shapes and sizes. It can even come in the incongruous form of The Long and the Short of It (Radio Ulster, Saturday, available on podcast from BBC Sounds), in which the six-foot-four comedian Tim McGarry and the vertically challenged Orangeman Dr David Hume engage in genial argument about aspects of Irish culture and history.
Last week’s subject was the decline in the Protestant population of the Republic after 1922. It has been described as a polite form of ethnic cleansing, but has caused a great deal of impolite controversy over the decades.
Mr McGarry declares himself a humanist, but here he took the Catholic Republican line. While few would dispute that it has been easier to be a Protestant in the South than a Catholica in the North, Mr McGarry was sceptical of the assertion that the South became, in Dr Hume’s words, “a cold house for Protestants”.
There was a lot of history here: the Fleming murders of 1921, and the Limerick riots of 1935, just two of the events that the traditional canon of British historical knowledge tends to bypass. Just as significantly, the two presenters, supported by appropriate scholars, have created a format for creative dispute that is neither patronising nor polarising.
No such platform is available for the disputants in the United States’ abortion wars. In Abortion under Lockdown (part of the Documentary strand, World Service, Tuesday of last week), Philippa Thomas explored the effect of recent enforced closure on the abortion clinics in Texas. A peek into a world pre-Roe v. Wade, was the judgement of one clinic manager, referring to the landmark judgment of 1973 by which abortion rights were guaranteed across the United States. In this world, women unable to access services in one state might travel hundreds of miles to a more liberal legislation.
There is considerable suspicion of the policy of banning abortions during the height of the pandemic, a policy defended by the Republican Governor of Texas on the basis that abortion is elective rather than emergency surgery. And, although the ban has been lifted, that suspicion remains.
If no amount of lockdown will induce you to read the 800 or so pages of Don Quixote, then Drama: The Penny Dreadfuls present: Don Quixote (Sunday, Radio 4) offered an hour-long summary. “One of the most unreadable novels ever” is how the company described their source material, and the narrative was peppered with similar jokes, acknowledging that the only bit anybody knows is the bit with the windmills.
Particularly commendable is how this production, originally broadcast in 2018, managed to sustain both narrative and comedy for one hour. “Stay with it, or you’re a Philistine,” was the challenge of the narrator. For once, it wasn’t hard to do so.