Lost Treasures of Rome – Channel 4

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Back in the day, when we “did” Pompeii at school via the Cambridge Latin Course, we had to draw pencil-and-ruler diagrams showing the layout of the Stabian baths.¬† Kids today, however, have got programmes like this, which use computer generated images of Romans wandering round the bathing complex (er, suitably covered to preserve their modesty ūüėĄ) and using strigils.¬† How much cooler is that than a boring old diagram?!¬† Also, the Cambridge Latin Course made it sound as if the baths were mainly for men, whereas this programme told us that there were hot tubs (well, hot baths) where groups of women would sit and gossip.

Don’t get me wrong: I have fond memories of the Cambridge Latin Course.¬† But my 11-year-old self would have loved all the CGI Romans wandering across the screen during this programme ūüėĄ.¬† And I’m sure that the Roman Life sections of the textbooks never mentioned the ladies’ spa.

There was an awful lot of digital reconstruction in this programme, of everything from funerals to slave markets to animal sacrifices.¬† There was even CGI food.¬† But there was a lot of proper archaeology as well, with cavers being brought in to assist … and we learned that, when they weren’t in the hot tubs or using the strigils, Pompeiians spent a lot of time eating street food, going to sporting or musical events and drinking locally-produced wine.¬† It sounds like some sort of paradise ūüėĄ!

Amazingly, around a third of Pompeii still hasn’t been uncovered, even after all these years of work – and there’s so much there that archaeologists are able to try to piece together individual life stories, such as that of a slave who obtained his freedom and became a wealthy man.¬† ¬†The technology used by the Pompeiians themselves was impressive, too, especially when it came to heating the baths.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen an archaeological programme use so much CGI before!¬† ¬†It seemed a bit odd seeing all these cartoon-ish type characters trotting around in the middle of a serious documentary, but it was certainly entertaining, and I hope that this series makes its way into schools because I think it’ll really bring things to life for pupils studying either Latin, ancient history or classical civilisation, especially younger kids.¬† ¬†CGI Romans – whatever next?!

The Colour by Rose Tremain

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I read this for a Facebook group reading challenge.¬† It sounded interesting, but unfortunately I didn’t really get it.¬† I think it was meant to be very symbolic and allegorical, but I could have done with a bit more actually happening.¬† Also, there were several minor characters whose stories weren’t tied in with the main plot very well, making it seem disjointed.

In 1864, a recently-married couple called Joseph and Harriet Blackstone emigrate from England to New Zealand.¬† Theirs is clearly a marriage of convenience rather than love.¬† Harriet has obviously only married him because her best alternative was becoming a governess.¬† He’s married her because he doesn’t want a love match, for reasons which are explained later on.¬† ¬†Joseph goes off to join the Gold Rush, leaving Harriet to look after his elderly mother.¬† He then starts paying a young man for “services rendered”.¬† Harriet goes to look for him, to tell him that her mother’s died, and gets involved with a Chinese gardener with a foot fetish.¬† As you do.¬† There are also some neighbours with a sick child, and a Maori woman who used to be the child’s nanny, but the stories aren’t tied together in a coherent way.

I think the idea was that looking for gold was an allegory for lookin’ for love in all the wrong places, lookin’ for love in too many places, but the book somehow felt unsatisfactory.¬† ¬†It’s had good reviews and was nominated for a prize, so maybe it’s just me; but, as I’ve said, I didn’t really get it.¬† ¬†The idea was to read a book set in New Zealand.¬† I’m sure that there are lots of great books set in New Zealand, but this isn’t one of them!

Back in Time for Birmingham – BBC 2

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I love the role of food in social integration.¬† As immigrant groups do integrate in society, the language tends to fade away, the clothes tend to fade away to some extent, and even religion tends to fade away, but the food comes down through the generations, and goes out there into wider society.¬† ¬†Ignoring the millennial rubbish about “cultural appropriation”, I love the fact that I can go into a local cafe and find dishes on the menu which have been brought here from all over the world.¬† Or, in the case of the Birmingham Balti, been invented in the UK but based on food brought here from elsewhere!

OK, enough about food.¬† It’s great to have another “Back in time” series.¬† Although how come Birmingham gets its own “back in time” series, and other cities don’t?!¬† ¬†Having said which, this wasn’t so much about the history of Birmingham as about the history of British South Asians.¬† ¬†That’s quite problematic because, obviously, there’ve been vast differences in the history of British South Asians – for example, the high proportion of British doctors who have South Asian heritage may not have very much in common with British Asians living in multi-generational, working-class households in Birmingham, Bradford, Blackburn, Bolton etc.

I thought that what BBC 2 did here was very positive¬† – a portrayal of an upwardly mobile family, the first generation living in poverty, working long shifts in factories and not really mixing with anyone outside their own community, the second generation setting up their own businesses and having more contact with other communities, the third generation going to university and entering professions, and the fourth generation feeling much more free to do whatever they wanted, and finding a successful balance between their British identity and their Asian identity.¬† ¬†That obviously hasn’t been every British Asian family’s experience, but it’s been that of many, including the real history of the very likeable Sharma family who took part in this series.¬† ¬†It’s also been the story of other immigrant groups in British history – again, not that of every family, but of many.

I’m pleased to say that, unlike the infamous “Back in Time for School” series, this wasn’t overly political.¬† Oh, there were some anti-British comments, but would one expect anything else from the BBC?¬† ¬†It was, for the most part, positive.¬† Quite a bit of general nostalgia in there, and general generation gap stuff, but it was generally the story of post-war South Asian immigration to the UK.¬† And, yes, it was very Birmingham, but you can find similar stories in many other places.

In the first episode, we heard about how most of the early immigrants were men intending to make some money and then return to their original homes, like, say, Italian immigrants to the USA in the late 19th centuries.¬† ¬†But many, even most, of them chose to settle in Birmingham, and brought their families over to join them.¬† We saw the men living in lodging houses, with shared kitchens, and even beds being shared between people on day shifts and night shifts.¬† And, in those days, there was pretty much full employment, and manufacturing jobs were readily available, with women often doing sewing at home.¬† It’s an experience common to earlier immigrant groups too.¬† And, as time went on, many young men started up their own businesses, often with market stalls – the Asian-run market stall is still a very common sight here in the North West, as well as in Birmingham.¬† But the culture of the Indian sub-continent wasn’t forgotten, and we saw the growth of the British Asian cinemas, and TV programmes, and marriages still tending to be arranged.¬† And having a Hindu blessing on a new home.¬† My next door neighbours are Sikhs, and they had a Sikh blessing on the house shortly after they moved in.¬† ¬†Nice idea.

In the second episode, we moved on to the 1970s, with immigration from Bangladesh, during and after the 1971 war, and from East Asia.¬† We learnt that one of the grandfathers had come from Uganda –¬† and BBC 2 did manage to acknowledge that South Asians had prospered under British rile in Asia, before reverting to BBC 2 type and trying to blame Britain for everything Idi Amin did.¬† ¬†We also heard the familiar story of how most “Indian” restaurants in the UK were actually opened by people originally from Bangladesh.

And we saw the family opening their own business – a corner shop.¬† ¬†People used to refer to corner shops as “Asian shops”, because they usually were owned and run by British Asians.¬† They still are, certainly round here.¬† When the Desai/Alahan family took over the corner shop in Coronation Street, which had previously run by Alf Roberts, some people complained that it was perpetuating a stereotype – but it was an accurate stereotype, and people have presumably accepted that, because no-one moaned when the Panesars took over the Minute Mart in EastEnders.¬† ¬†Before the days of 24 hour supermarkets, in particular, the “Asian shops” were just invaluable, because they were usually open long after other shops had shut.¬† ¬†We also head about how Bhangra music had originated in Birmingham, which I have to confess that I didn’t know.

The daughter, however, went out to work in a factory, and we heard about the Imperial Typewriter Strike, in which Asian women walked out after learning that they were being paid less than their white counterparts.¬† Their white female colleagues supported them: the unions did not.¬† Interestingly, she said that she hoped that this would dispel the stereotype of Asians being meek.¬† Now, I would have said that there was a stereotype of Asian women being quite bossy, so I was surprised by that.¬† ¬†Obviously, neither of these stereotypes are true of groups, only of individuals, but I was quite surprised by the “meek” comment.¬† We also heard about the rise of the National Front, following the oil price crisis of the mid-1970s, and again during the difficult economic times of the 1980s.¬† ¬†There’s always a risk that rising fuel prices and inflation will lead to social unrest, and I sincerely hope that we’re not going to see that again, either here or anywhere else affected by Putin pushing up the cost of living.

On a more positive note, cricket was mentioned!¬† My elder nephew’s in a cricket team, and a high proportion of the other lads are British Asian: cricket does seem to be so important in British Asian culture, and let’s hope that the recent unpleasantness at Yorkshire CCC won’t affect that.¬† And we heard the children talking about¬† finding a balance between British culture and their Asian heritage: finding a balance is always going to be an issue in an ethnic minority community, and hopefully that’s working well for them.

The 1980s and 1990s saw more integration, with cultural movements both ways РBritish food into South Asian households, and South Asian culture into British TV programmes and music, with specific reference to Goodness Gracious Me, EastEnders and Madhur Jaffrey.  We also heard about British-born children being sent to Asian language classes, the daytime club movement in Birmingham, and the importance of corner shops in making Bollywood videos, internet calls to the Indian sub-continent and online dating available to British Asian communities.   And it was the history of Birmingham too, with deindustrialisation and the rise of the service sector.

And we heard about second and third generation children going to university, and the pressure that they felt to choose courses associated with professions and bragging rights.¬† Oh yes.¬† People from many minority communities will have been nodding their heads there!¬† ¬†But the Sharma children, whom I think are in their early 20s, said that they now felt freer to do as they chose, and it was lovely to hear them both say at the end that, whilst they’ve struggled to balance being both British and Asian, making this series has helped them to do that.¬† There was a lot of talk about fusion.¬† And a lot of that was about food, which was where I started!¬† ¬†Excellent series: I really enjoyed it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

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What a peculiar book. I’m not entirely sure what I made of it.¬† It centred on the deadly serious subject of a (fictitious) young woman from Special Operations Executive being held and tortured by the Nazis, and yet it was written in the style of Bridget Jones meets Adrian Mole meets Allo Allo ūü§Ē.

Two young women, best friends, were on an RAF plane which crashed over Occupied France.¬† The pilot was Maggie Brodatt, a working-class Jewish girl from Stockport.¬† That seemed like quite an unlikely background, and the surname Brodatt doesn’t even exist; but I suppose it was possible.¬† Also on board was Julia Beaufort-Stuart, a member of Special Operations Executive, an upper-class, Swiss-boarding-school-educated girl from a castle which sounded like a cross between Glamis and Balmoral.

Maggie managed to find British contacts there, and was disguised as the visiting cousin of a local French family, but Julia fell into the hands of the Nazis, and was tortured, and witnessed other prisoners being guillotined.

It sounded like a very deep and serious book, but it was written in a very light and flippant way.¬† ¬†Most of it was told in the first person, the majority by Julia, some by Maggie.¬† Some of it sounded a bit Allo Allo-ish, but the style was generally more reminiscent of Bridget Jones, with the repeated use of “dead” for “very” adding in a strong sense of Adrian Mole.¬† ¬†Also, a lot of the place names mentioned had been changed but only slightly, which was just odd – Oakway for Ringway, Reddyke for Reddish, Ladywell for Ladybower and Ilsmere Port for Ellesmere Port.

It kept me interested all the way through, but I just can’t make my mind up what I thought of the use of such a light style of writing for something as horrific as what happened to Julia, and for the entire picture of the extremely important work being done by both young women.¬† It was certainly something different!¬† ¬†As I said, it kept me interested, but it was just … strange!

 

 

The Queen’s Lady by Joanna Hickson

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This is the sequel to The Lady of the Ravens, telling the story of Joan Guildford, nee Vaux, later Poyntz, who was a lady in waiting to Elizabeth of York and (probably) Catherine of Aragon, and Lady Governess to both of Henry VII’s surviving daughters.¬† It runs from 1502 until 1520; and it was a joy to read a book set in the later years of Henry VII’s reign and the early years of Henry VIII’s reign, a period which generally gets overlooked because of the dramas of the mid-1480s before it and the late 1520s after it.

There are a few annoying little historical inaccuracies.¬† Margaret Beaufort did not have the title of Queen Mother.¬† The future Charles V was Catherine’s nephew, not her cousin.¬† Catherine had an English grandmother on one side and an English great-grandmother on the other side, not two English grandmothers.¬† Just minor things, but they annoyed me.¬† It doesn’t take much to annoy me ūüôā .¬† ¬†But the actual events are described accurately – insofar as we know them.¬† There are some gaps in time during the book, meaning that Flodden Field isn’t mentioned, which was a bit odd; but I suppose it didn’t directly affect Joan.¬† ¬†But she was at court throughout much of the period, and also accompanied Princess Margaret to Scotland and Princess Mary to France, as well as being present at the Field of the Cloth of Gold, so there’s plenty of high politics going on.

The book’s told in the first person by Joan, and we hear all about her life, including the death of her first husband and her remarriage to a much younger man, as well as about the lives of the Tudors.¬† There are also a number of presumably fictitious minor characters, who add to the picture of life at the time, notably Joan’s maids and their husbands, and two Moorish girls who were in Catherine’s household.

Apart the minor inaccuracies, I thoroughly enjoyed this book.¬† I would imagine that there’ll be a third book in the series, because Joan was one of the witnesses at the infamous trial concerning Catherine’s marriage to Arthur.¬† ¬†I shall be looking out for it, all being well – and thank you to Amazon for making this one available on a 99p Kindle deal.

Who Do You Think You Are (Matt Lucas) – BBC 1

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¬† This was a fascinating episode.¬† How incredible for Matt Lucas to find out that his grandmother’s first cousin had been Anne Frank’s family’s lodger, and was actually mentioned in her diary.¬† ¬†Anne had remarked that this man was rather irritating and hung around even when the family had dropped heavy hints that they wanted some privacy.¬† ¬†That’s very Anne!¬† ¬†I once read an article which said that lessons about the Holocaust should focus on accounts of the horrors of the concentration camps, rather than a teenage girl’s witterings about how annoying adults were and whether or not she fancied Peter van Daan; but, as I said in an online discussion at the time, the point of reading Anne’s diary is to be reminded that she was just an ordinary girl, not some kind of “other”.¬† An ordinary girl who had the misfortune to be born into a group of people whom another, evil, group of people classified as “other”, but who was just like any other ordinary girl from any other sort of background.

Tragically, Matt learnt that his grandmother’s two aunts and most of her cousins had been murdered in the concentration camps.¬† ¬†She’d been able to escape to Britain from Berlin, where her family lived before most of them moved to Amsterdam in the sadly mistaken belief that the Netherlands would be a safe place, and it was poignant to see Ukrainian flags flying over many of the public buildings in Berlin during his visit there.¬† ¬†We know that Vladimir Putin’s family suffered terribly during the Siege of Leningrad, and yet he’s putting millions of Ukrainians through the same sort of hell.

This really was very moving.¬† There’ve been other episodes in which celebs have found out that members of their family died during the Holocaust, and they’ve all been moving; but for Matt to find out that he had a family connection to Anne Frank, whose story, as he said, is the one Holocaust story that everyone knows, was really something.

 

The Rebel Daughter by Miranda Malins

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This is a prequel/companion novel to The Puritan Princess¬†, told in a first person narrative by Bridget Cromwell, the eldest daughter of Oliver Cromwell and wife of Henry Ireton (and, following Ireton’s death, of Charles Fleetwood).¬† It’s told in the present tense, which I do find annoying – it makes me feel as if I’m back in the Infants, reading a Peter & Jane or Janet & John book – but it’s a fascinating story of weighty events combined with the domestic lives of the Cromwell women.

Civil War novels are generally about Cavaliers versus Roundheads, but this one focuses on the in-fighting between the Roundheads – Presbyterians versus Independents (which really ceased to be an issue in England, if not in Scotland and Northern Ireland, after the Restoration, but which was crucial in the late 1640s), the Putney Debates, and the role of the Levellers.¬† However, there’s no mention of the Diggers, which is a shame.¬† I find it interesting that the leader of the Diggers was from Wigan!¬† I also find it interesting that here are pop groups named after the Diggers, the Levellers and the New Model Army, but that’s beside the point.

The book finishes, apart from a brief epilogue, in 1652, so we don’t get the famous “In the name of God, go” speech, but there are numerous references to the frustration of the press and the public with politicians on all sides.¬† Some things don’t change very much over the years.¬† It’s particularly interesting to see two very controversial subjects, the execution of Charles I and the atrocities committed by Cromwell’s troops in Ireland, led by Henry Ireton, from Bridget’s viewpoint.

Puritans don’t get a very good press in England.¬† What do we know about Puritans?¬† They banned Christmas (with specific reference to mince pies) and they stopped people from playing football on Sundays.¬† Boo, hiss.¬† They went round people’s houses looking for old men who wouldn’t say their prayers, and taking them by the left leg and throwing them down the stairs.¬† There’s that brilliant episode of Blackadder in which Lord and Lady Whiteadder come to visit, and criticise absolutely everything that Edmund does.

Puritans who went to America, however, are seen in a rather romantic light.¬† That’s actually quite odd, given the way they treated Quakers and Baptists, and the Salem Witch Trials; but it’s that idea of wanting to found a New World, a New Jerusalem.¬† That in itself is problematic, given that Puritanism in in Dutch form was a major contributor towards apartheid, the idea of a chosen people who could help themselves to someone else’s land, but the romantic idea lingers.¬† And, having just typed “A New Jerusalem”, I’m now going to be earwormed by Carly Simon’s “Let the River Run” all day.¬† ¬†I love the fact that she wrote that song as a hymn to New York.¬† Much as I love Hubert Parry’s musical setting of “Jerusalem”, I take great exception to William Blake suggesting that a town/city with “dark satanic mills” is the antithesis of a New Jerusalem.¬† Gah.¬† Sorry, that’s totally beside the point, LOL.

I very much doubt that the Pilgrim Fathers ever so much as mentioned a New Jerusalem, a City on a Hill and all the rest of it, but we tend to think that they did.  And there does seem to have been some sense amongst Puritans in England in the mid to late 1640s of a chance to build a new world Рwe had the Levellers and the Diggers, as already mentioned, and the Fifth Monarchists.  The book very much presents Bridget as an idealist, someone who genuinely believed in the idea of a godly Commonwealth, and who was devastated when her father eventually accepted a role not that far removed from that of king.

The character does come across very well, but there are some frustrating anachronisms.¬† “Liz” and “Olly” would not have been used as nicknames for Elizabeth and Oliver in the 17th century: “Bess” and “Noll” were the usual short forms of the names.¬† And people would not have been talking about women’s rights.¬† Even the title of the book’s odd, because Bridget doesn’t rebel.¬† ¬†Her interpretation of events is put across well, though – although people might take exception to it.¬† We see her justifying the execution of Charles I as supposedly being the only way to bring an end to the conflict (except that it didn’t).¬† And, whilst being horrified by what happened in Ireland, saying that it was in line with what happened to besieged towns during the Thirty Years’ War – which is true enough, but may not go down very well with Irish readers.

For the Civil War from a female viewpoint, my number one recommendation is Pamela Belle’s Wintercombe, but that’s about a woman living in a country house in Somerset, whereas this one’s about a woman at the centre of the big events at the time, so they’re not really comparable.¬† ¬†This one isn’t the best Civil War book I’ve ever come across, but it’s certainly well worth a read: the history’s accurate, and, in particular, it’s an interesting and unusual take on the period.¬† I’ll certainly be keeping an eye out for any more books in this series.

White Houses by Amy Bloom

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Marking Pride month #pridenotprejudice, this is a review of a novel about Eleanor Roosevelt’s relationship with the journalist Lorena Hickok.¬† No-one’s entirely sure whether they were lovers or just very good friends, but some of what’s written in Eleanor’s letters strongly suggest the former*.¬† They were both fascinating characters, Lorena as someone who rose from a very poor background to become a groundbreaking journalist, one of the first female sports reporters and also working on some of the major news stories of the day, and Eleanor as someone who was really ahead of her time in terms of her views on equality.¬† Also, given that history is full of dutiful political wives who turned a blind eye whilst their husbands played away, I rather like the idea of Eleanor doing her own thing just as FDR did his.

Unfortunately, I didn’t really love this book, told in the first person by Lorena.¬† It was too short for me to get into it properly, and it jumped about between 1945 and various other points in Lorena’s life, so it never really flowed.¬† Also, the author’s admitted that some bits of it were completely her own invention, notably a section in which Lorena ran off with a circus (seriously).¬† She’s also invented a gay cousin of Eleanor’s, called Parker Fiske, who goes around using rude words in Yiddish.¬† Why would an upper-class WASP use rude words in Yiddish, and why invent storylines and characters when writing a book which was supposed to be about real people?¬† And, whilst some of the sarcastic observations about the rich and famous are amusing, others just seem shoehorned in to reflect the author’s interests, rather than Lorena’s.

All in all, it was OK, but I didn’t really get why it attracted so many rave reviews.¬† Books that jump about in time so much never seem very coherent to me.¬† And making up storylines is fair enough if you’re writing about a medieval character for whom there are no sources for certain times of their life, but not for someone whose life story is known – and showing her going off to join the circus, like a Blyton or Streatfeild character, was just very odd indeed.

* ‚ÄúHick darling, Oh! how good it was to hear your voice, it was so inadequate to try & tell you what it meant, Jimmy was near & I couldn‚Äôt say ‚Äėje t‚Äôaime et je t‚Äôadore‚Äô as I longed to do but always remember I am saying it & that I go to sleep thinking of you & repeating our little saying.‚ÄĚ

‚ÄúDearest, I miss you & wish you were here I want to put my arms around you & feel yours around me. More love than I can express in a letter is flying on waves of thought to you.‚ÄĚ

This was a relationship between two very big personalities, and a book about them could have been brilliant.¬† This one just wasn’t, though.

 

 

 

Lucy Worsley Investigates: Princes in the Tower – BBC 2

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This subject’s been done to death (pun intended), but I’m so glad that Lucy concluded that it was Richard III whodunnit.¬† Unless some major new piece of evidence comes to light, no-one will be convincing me otherwise.¬† If they didn’t die during Richard’s reign, then how come they disappeared in the summer of 1483?¬† ¬†Richard knew that there were rumours he’d had them killed.¬† If they’d still been alive, he’d have let people see them.¬† And how could anyone else possibly have killed them, and got away with it, whilst they were being held in the Tower of London?¬† ¬†Sorry, Ricardians – obviously everyone’s entitled to their opinions, but I just do not get the arguments that Richard *didn’t* have the boys killed.

A more puzzling matter was what was in Lucy Worsley’s very large handbag.¬† ¬†Presumably it contained a tablet/small laptop, but I couldn’t help wondering if it was a marmalade sandwich.

Lucy did interview someone from the Richard III Society.¬† Thankfully, he didn’t try to blame Lady Margaret Beaufort – it really, really annoys me when people do that – but he did¬† suggest the Duke of Buckingham and Henry VII as possible culprits, before saying that he thought the princes hadn’t been killed at all, but had been smuggled up north, and that either Lambert Simnel or Perkin Warbeck genuinely were who they claimed to be.¬† But Lambert Simnel didn’t even claim to be one of the princes!¬† ¬†He claimed to be their cousin, the Earl of Warwick.¬† ¬†And even Philippa Gregory seems to have accepted that the idea of Perkin Warbeck really being Prince Richard is too far-fetched even for a novel, never mind for real history.¬† Again, each to their own, but I just don’t see it.

It’s such a bonkers period of history, though.¬† ¬†Richard claiming that Edward had been pre-contracted to Eleanor Butler – although the idea of Edward talking a woman into bed by promising to marry her actually seems quite likely.¬† And then the rumour that Edward himself was the illegitimate son of Cecily Neville by Blaybourne the Flemish archer!¬† ¬†There are cogent reasons for a grown man taking the throne rather than a young boy, but all those tales about who was and wasn’t illegitimate are very odd.¬† And then the appearance of the pretenders.¬† Perkin Warbeck was my history A-level group’s hero.¬† The teacher made him sound very handsome and dashing and romantic, which went down very well in an all-girls school.¬† ¬†But Richard of York he was not.

Lucy spoke a lot about the writings of Dominic Mancini, an Italian who was visiting England during 1483, and who said that Richard had killed the princes, but gave more weight to the work of Thomas More, based on the confession of James Tyrrell that he’d had the princes murdered on Richard’s orders.¬† ¬†She, and an expert to whom she spoke, both dismissed the idea that this was Tudor propaganda, on the grounds of More being an honest and honourable man.¬† And, interestingly, the expert had found evidence that More was in Brugge at the same time as the son of one of the alleged murderers, so could well have spoken to him about what went on.

But, as she said, we don’t know.¬† ¬†There’s an argument for exhuming the bones found in 1674 and thought to be those of the princes, but digging up a grave just to satisfy people’s curiosity seems a bit much – and it still wouldn’t prove who’d killed them.¬† But wouldn’t it be amazing if someone actually could, after all this time, find something which really did prove what happened?¬† ¬†There’s something about this story which really gets people going: there’s probably nothing else in English history which excites quite so much argument.

And I’m with Lucy.¬† As far as I’m concerned, it was Richard III whodunnit!

 

 

Who Do You Think You Are (Sue Perkins) – BBC 1

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I’ve vaguely known about the Baltic Germans ever since I was a little girl, because, for some reason, they get a brief mention at the end of The Chalet School in Exile, when we’re told that Austrian characters living in Italy feared that they would be ordered to relocate “as he [Hitler] has ordered the Baltic Germans”.¬† However, although I’ve read quite a bit about the experiences of the Volga Germans during the Second World War, I’ve never come across much in detail about those of the Baltic Germans.¬† So it was very interesting to hear about Sue’s Lithuanian-German ancestors, and their sad story.

The resettlement of the “Volkdeutsche” is something which affected ethnic Germans living in many areas, including the parts of Tyrol ceded to Italy after the First World War, and parts of Ukraine and Moldova which had also been part of Austria-Hungary before the First World War.¬† We all know about the Sudetenland, but the presence of large ethnic German populations in other areas, and what happened to them, is rarely mentioned.

The Second World War, and, more particularly, the Nazi atrocities, remain a very difficult and sensitive topic, but one of which most people are well aware.¬† However, the story of the Baltic Germans isn’t well-known.¬† Germans began settling in the eastern Baltic as early as the 12th century, and formed the ruling class in what’s now Latvia and Estonia, losing their privileged position only after the First World War.¬† In Lithuania, which of course was united with Poland from 1385 (or 1569, depending on how you look at it!) until the Polish partitions, the situation was different, but there were significant numbers of Germans living in the areas closest to East Prussia.¬† We learnt that Sue’s ancestors were prosperous farmers.¬† Why her great-grandmother chose to leave a well-to-do home and move to England was unfortunately never explained.

Then, come the Nazi-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact, the Baltic Germans were deported to Germany.¬† They weren’t just resettled.¬† Instead, people like Sue’s relatives were subjected to pseudo-scientific tests measuring their heads, their noses, the shapes of their heads and so on, and placed into one of four categories, ranging from Aryan/above average to “unacceptable”.¬† ¬†The misuse of science in terms of “classifying” human beings really was one of the most horrifying aspects of 20th century history.¬† Sue learnt that some members of the family had been executed, classed as “unacceptable” due to physical and mental disabilities.¬† We know that the Nazis murdered disabled people, but, as Sue said, hearing it through the prism of her family history made it particularly horrific.

It’s not something which is often spoken of, that those ethnic Germans living in other countries, who were “repatriated”, were treated like this, and that many of them met the same fate as non-Germans deemed subhuman in the countries occupied by the Nazis.

As Sue said, with wars and politics, there are always so many ordinary people whirled into a nightmare which is none of their making.  And on it goes, on and on.   It was a rather horrific start to the new series, but it was grimly fascinating, and a chilling reminder of just how badly some people can treat others, just for being deemed to be different.