From our gates in St Quentin la Poterie to a coffee at Marie’s Le Bengali in Uzès is a distance of just under five kilometres and takes me about 40 minutes, which is – serendipitously – the duration of a single podcast of Melvyn Bragg’s In Our Time. Schlepping there and back makes me something of an expert on at least two topics each day.
For those unfamiliar with this excellent programme, I should explain that the admirable Melvyn gathers around a microphone a collection of learned academics, each of which is a specialist in the subject of the day. I have downloaded the complete back catalogue and enjoy choosing the educational backdrop to my walk from the huge, eclectic collection of programmes.
Currently, I am able to tell you a great deal about the Putney Debates and Evelyn Waugh’s Decline and Fall, the war of 1812 and Bertrand Russell. I can tell you very little, however, about game theory and Fermat’s last theorem, despite listening to each of those programmes twice. I suspect this is because Bragg, representing the intelligent but non-specialist listener, was also struggling to prompt his very smart guests and ask the questions necessary for elucidation. But like him, I did try.
A friend of mine, in his post-graduate days at Nottingham, used to walk to Forest games in the company of fellow academics. To pass the time, they would take turns to deliver a paper on the way. I have always thought what an excellent idea that was.
A walk through the French countryside, with In Our Time on the headphones, is my version of that pastime. And when I arrive at my destination, I have the pleasure of coffee and conversation, pastis and producteurs rather than analyses of the failings of Forest.
Thanks, Melvyn. (And sorry, Martin.)
Today's listening: John Fahey at the Great American Music Hall in 1975, thanks to a free download from Wolfgang's Vault. His Tribute to Mississippi John Hurt is sensational.