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Radio review: Free Thinking, The Falklands Now, and The Verb

14 April 2022

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Free Thinking (Radio 3, Thursday of last week) heard from archaeologists about ancient burial sites

Free Thinking (Radio 3, Thursday of last week) heard from archaeologists about ancient burial sites

ARCHAEOLOGISTS have a saying: “The dead don’t bury themselves,” which, roughly translated, means that funerals and memorial services are not for the dead, but for the living. The ways in which people are buried and the objects that are interred with them say more about the people doing the burying than about the deceased.

So, as Lindsey Buster explained in Free Thinking (Radio 3, Thursday of last week), we should not always assume that burial objects found in ancient graves are gifts for the gods or knick-knacks for the afterlife. They may be things of sentimental value to the bereaved, with powerful associations for those left behind.

We don’t tend to think of Iron Age man as being emotional, still less sentimental. Wasn’t life too brutish and short for all that soppy stuff? Not according to Dr Buster, who related findings that she has made on digs in Scotland to the keepsakes that we might today retain of our loved ones. Matthew Sweet’s other guests on the programme owned up to some: tins of beans, pairs of worn-out shoes, and — in the case of Sweet himself — a jar of pâté well past the date of fit consumption, which he has held on to in memory of a dear departed friend.

This year marks the 40th anniversary of the Falklands conflict, and, in The Falklands Now (Radio 4, Tuesday of last week), we discovered how islanders have a great deal more than knick-knacks by which to remember the dead. The British territory has been transformed in the intervening years into an affluent, cosmopolitan community, with a per-capita GDP that is fifth highest in the world.

At least the Falklands, according to the people that Mike Wooldridge talked to, are no longer some colonial headache, a drain on UK taxpayer resources that successive governments wish to be rid of but don’t have the courage to do so. A recent referendum, in a population comprising people whose origins are as far-flung as Taiwan and Brazil, demonstrated almost unanimous support for remaining British; and no British veteran of the conflict visiting the Islands will ever be required to buy himself a drink.

Yet one is left wondering how long the good days can last. At Christ Church Cathedral, Port Stanley, a foodbank caters for the workers who can barely afford the high property prices, similar to those of the south of England. The stalemate with Argentina over ownership is, in the words of one islander interviewed here, exhausting; and post-Brexit tariffs are not helping. Whether the 50th anniversary will be as joyous an occasion is not clear.

In contrast, it was with joy unadulterated that The Verb (Radio 3, Friday) marked its 20th anniversary. Whether you cheer or moan depends almost entirely on how you respond to the presenter, Ian McMillan, the “Bard of Barnsley”. The star turn at this party, from beyond the grave, was W. B. Yeats, whose reading of his own poem, “Song of the Old Mother” — part speech, part song — reminded us that performance poetry is not a recent invention.

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