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Radio review: The Long and the Short of It, Abortion Under Lockdown, and Drama: The Penny Dreadfuls present: Don Quixote

12 June 2020

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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.

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