Town and Gown, Cambridge – 2021 Season Interview: Shell Suit Cher AND Believe In Bingo & Bingo at Tiffany’s with Audrey Heartburn!

“Years of dramatic disco dancing and rolling around dance floors has not been kind to my lumbar region.”

WHO: Tracey Collins: Writer and performer

WHAT (Cher): “Imagine if Cher left showbiz behind, swapped leather for leisure wear and became a shell suit wearing, chain smoking, bingo host…

Well, imagine no longer as award-winning performer Tracey Collins brings her brand new weird and wonderful character to the stage for SHELL SUIT CHER: I Believe in Bingo! 

She’s flammable and her balls are on fire! 

* Laugh, dance and play to win life-changing prizes!

* Singalong to all Cher’s hit songs hilariously reworked!

* Be amazed as Shell Suit Cher unzips the story of her wild journey from Vegas to Mecca and beyond! 

She’s got balls babe!

WHAT (Audrey): “Daaarlings!

Calling all dream makers, heart breakers and bingo lovers!

Join award winning character comedian Tracey Collins (Tina T’urner Tea Lady) as she hosts Bingo at Tiffany’s with Audrey Heartburn! An evening of hilarious bingo games, raucous singalongs and glamorous dancing!

Laugh, dance and play to win luxury prizes as Audrey spins her deluxe cage of bingo balls and shakes her maracas to a marvellous party soundtrack.

Fresh from performing all over the UK, including a sell-out Edinburgh Festival Fringe run in 2019, Audrey Heartburn leaves Hollywood once again in search of love and laughter in the real world.”

WHERE: Town and Gown Pub & Theatre, Cambridge

WHEN (Cher): 11th June 2021 and 3 other dates

WHEN (Audrey): 2nd July and 27th August 2021

MORE: Click Here!


What does Cambridge mean to you?

I adore Cambridge! It’s such a beautiful place. I have wonderful memories of going on a guided punt river tour in the winter – which was very romantic. Taking in the architecture and then sitting in a cosy pub for hours.

Tell us about your show.

I perform two regular events at The Town & Gown Theatre. ‘Bingo at Tiffanys with Audrey Heartburn’ and ‘Shell Suit Cher – Believe In Bingo’. The shows merge musical character comedy performance with bingo games.

I’ve been writing and performing character comedy for almost a decade now, and in recent years I have really enjoyed merging my heightened, ridiculous character comedy with songs, games and plenty of audience interaction. Its a chance for the audience to let go, have fun, play together and win some fabulous prizes!

The two shows differ in the concept, story and style. ‘Bingo at Tiffanys’ is a melodramatic, classy, night of entertainment delight! Whereas ‘Believe In Bingo’ is a wild, trashy evening hosted by Cher in a shell suit with pop-rock anthem parody songs and a lot of costume changes!

What kind of art makes you ‘Get Your Coat On’ and go see it?

Oooh I am a huge fan of mixed bill variety shows. I especially love Pull The Other One in London, where you’ll always find incredible creativity and freedom. I love venues such as Bethnal Green Working Mens Club and the eclectic shows they curate. I also adore Lenny Beige and his band of freaks – he always puts on an amazing show.

I love The Edinburgh Festival Fringe and really hoping to return again. Nothing beats having no plan and wandering into a show in a sweaty cave and being mesmerised by an artist/ company you’ve never heard of.

You’re the age you are now. What’s the one thing you wish you could tell your younger self? What’s the one thing you’d like your older self to remember about you now?

I would tell my younger self to look after your back! Years of dramatic disco dancing and rolling around dance floors has not been kind to my lumbar region.

I would like my older self to remember this time of creativity and freedom. To cherish the random and ridiculous memories.


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Town and Gown, Cambridge – 2021 Season Interview: Naughty Boy

“I wanted to tackle this belief that everyone seems to have an excuse for their behaviour these days, rather than accepting that sometimes their are no excuses.”

WHO: Eddy Brimson: Actor/writer/producer

WHAT: “Acclaimed writer and comedian Eddy Brimson presents his debut play Naughty Boy to the theatre in this brand new stage adaptation. This one-man play brings Brimson’s natural wit into the darkly hedonistic world of Joe, a mysteriously complicated character whose life is full of twists and turns, violence and compassion, lies, and reality. All of which exposes some uncomfortable questions about both responsibility, and truth.”

WHERE: Town and Gown Pub & Theatre, Cambridge

WHEN: 23rd – 24th June

MORE: Click Here!


What does Cambridge mean to you?

For me Cambridge means football away days and having the laces taken out of my boots by the police. Strawberry Fair (What I can remember of it), and dying on my arse here at the start of my comedy career…. And the Cambridge Folk Festival as my old man played it year after year. I loved it.

Tell us about your show.

Well don’t bring the kids as it is a bit full on. I first performed the play at the Edinburgh Festival in 2019 and the reviews exceeded all expectations. My main focus was on the writing. In the play I take you from mental institution to a hedonistic weekend away full of sex drugs and violence. The piece looks at nature nurture, them and us and mental health. I wanted to tackle this belief that everyone seems to have an excuse for their behaviour these days, rather than accepting that sometimes their are no excuses. The play also looks into love, loyalty, identity and the role of class in society. I’m very proud of how it has turned out, and the fact that people are left with as many questions as the piece provides answers.

What kind of art makes you ‘Get Your Coat On’ and go see it?

I love all forms of art. I am a comedian by trade, and although I am pretty scripted I love the absurd. But I also love to see art that pushes a message, be it in print or on stage. Music seems to have lost it’s way since the days of punk and ska, but bands such as The Newtown Aces are starting to use music to get people thinking again.

You’re the age you are now. What’s the one thing you wish you could tell your younger self? What’s the one thing you’d like your older self to remember about you now?

Ha … Loyalty is all well and good, but if you are going to devote your life to one thing then pick Barcelona rather than Watford Football Club. I would tell my younger self to always carry a spare pair of jeans and wet wipes in the car … Which is the same thing I’d tell my older self to remember, but maybe double up on it once you pass 45.

I would also tell anyone of any age that creativity never stops. And we are here to create.


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Town and Gown, Cambridge – 2021 Season Interview: Quentin Crisp: Naked Hope

“The student drama scene hugely influenced my choice of career. I made lifelong friends. And sank enough ale to flood Parker’s Piece.”

WHO: Mark Farrelly, Writer / Performer / Producer

WHAT: “Fresh from its Off-Broadway debut and milestone 100th performance, Mark Farrelly’s hugely acclaimed solo comes to the Town and Gown Theatre.

From a conventional upbringing to global notoriety via The Naked Civil Servant, Quentin Crisp was one of the most memorable figures of the twentieth century. Openly gay as early as the 1930s, Quentin spent decades being beaten up on London’s streets for his refusal to be anything less than himself. His courage, and the philosophy that evolved from those experiences, inspire to the present day.

Naked Hope depicts Quentin at two phases of his extraordinary life: alone in his Chelsea flat in the 1960s, certain that life has passed him by, and thirty years later, giving a performance of his one man show An Evening with Quentin Crisp in New York. Packed with witty gems on everything from cleaning (“Don’t bother – after the first four years the dirt won’t get any worse”) to marriage (“Is there life after marriage? The answer is no”), Naked Hope is a glorious, uplifting celebration of the urgent necessity to be your true self.

Mark Farrelly’s West End credits include Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? opposite Matthew Kelly. He is directed by EastEnders star Linda Marlowe (Berkoff’s Women).”

WHERE: Town and Gown Pub & Theatre, Cambridge

WHEN: Thursday 27th May 2021 and 2 other dates

MORE: Click Here!


What does Cambridge mean to you?

I studied English Literature at Jesus College in the late nineties. I’ve always found Cambridge magical. It took me three attempts to get accepted. So once I arrived, I was on a mission to make the most of it. The student drama scene hugely influenced my choice of career. I made lifelong friends. And sank enough ale to flood Parker’s Piece. I was so happy there that when I returned to Civvy Street in 2001, I found it very hard to cope, and spiralled into depression. Ordinary life seemed so aggressively mundane. But I have no regrets about overdosing at the Fountain of Pleasure. It was a heady, life-affirming privilege.

Tell us about your show.

The show, which I wrote, is a salute to the courage of the individual to be themselves. Quentin Crisp wittily and bravely emphasised his flamboyant gayness at a time when it was illegal. That’s an extraordinary thing to look back on from the vantage of 2021. But the show is also a timely nudge in the ribs for anybody who may be slipping into conformity and not letting their sparkly, dangerous genius shine before it’s too late.

The first night at The Town and Gown will be the 125th performance. It delights me how much hunger there is for Quentin’s message of hope, his determination to meet adversity with what he calls “laughter in the dark”.

What kind of art makes you ‘Get Your Coat On’ and go see it?

I have a passion for solo work, because of its immediacy and intensity. Sarah-Louise Young, and her amazing “An Evening Without Kate Bush”, are quite something. She is directing my next solo, about Derek Jarman, which debuts at The Town and Gown in August.

But I can’t lie…I go to the theatre infrequently. I much prefer sitting on my sofa, drinking Puligny-Montrachet and dreaming up ideas for new pieces. Going to the theatre can feel a bit like a busman’s holiday for me…I’m performing so often that I like a break from it whenever possible.

You’re the age you are now. What’s the one thing you wish you could tell your younger self? What’s the one thing you’d like your older self to remember about you now?

To younger self: you will survive. You will weather the storms of rejection, depression and suicidal impulse, and one day your hot, furious little ego will find its quietus and the true you will arise. Nothing will be wasted, nothing forgotten, and everything will come when the timing is deliciously, inexplicably right.

To older self: you were living, breathing, feeling your dream day after day.


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Town and Gown, Cambridge – 2021 Season Interview: The Nobodies

“The play explores the ‘us vs them’ mentality of the class divide, and the politicisation of vigilante activists. We look at the feeling of restlessness in the working classes in a time where class divisions are widening, the poor are getting poorer, and Brexit threatens to tear the country apart.”

WHO: Sam Edmunds, Co-Director & Co-Producer

WHAT: A town is in turmoil. A hospital is closing. And an MP is dead on the train tracks… Accident? Or opportunity?

When a local hospital announces its closure, panic ensues. Healthcare Assistant Rhea is forced to look for work elsewhere. Local lad Aaron worries about his mum’s treatment in the cancer unit. And Curtis just isn’t sure where he’s going to sleep. But when the three witness a horrific accident, a rare opportunity presents itself. As a dangerous decision triggers a wild chain of events, Rhea, Aaron and Curtis soon find themselves gathering power, influence and infamy – and inspiring a cohort of vigilante activists. What does it take to enact real change? And what would you sacrifice to keep it?”

WHERE: Town and Gown Pub & Theatre, Cambridge

WHEN: Tuesday 8th and Wednesday 9th June 2021

MORE: Click Here!


What does Cambridge mean to you?

Bringing The Nobodies to Cambridge will actually be my first time visiting! I have heard lots of wonderful things however and I am really excited to explore the city and take in its amazing architecture and culture. I’m also really excited by the theatre scene in Cambridge, which is renown for producing incredible artists. I hope during my time there I can meet some likeminded creatives and learn more about the arts scene in the city. Having spoken about Cambridge to Karl from The Town & Gown, I was thrilled to hear that the city is actively engaging in local politics and that there is a buzz in younger people especially to implement change within their local community. That is really what The Nobodies is about and I’m sure it will resonate with those who come to see it.

Tell us about your show.

The Nobodies is written by award-winning playwright and screenwriter Amy Guyler. Amy is a regular writer for East Enders and recently was voted top of the Brit List for ‘The Jude Problem’. It stars David Angland (I Like The Way You Move– Frantic Assembly), Joseph Reed (The Wipers Times – Arts Theatre & UK Tour) and Lucy Simpson (The Happy Warrior – Harrogate Theatre). The creative team consists of many different professionals including Sound Designer Mekel Edwards who was the previous production manager on the New York & UK Tour of The Babershop Chronicles by The National Theatre. It is produced by Chalk Line Theatre company who are a multi-award-winning company based in Luton who tour work both nationally and internationally. Chalk Line are an Associate Company of The Lion and Unicorn Theatre, as well as a Graduate Emerging Company of The New Diorama. The company is run by Co-Artistic Directors Sam Edmunds and Vikesh Godhwani.

The Nobodies first premiered at The Vault Festival where it received the COMMON Award 2020 presented by COMMON and The Pleasance Theatre. It performed to great critical acclaim receiving multiple 5* and 4* star reviews as well as being one of Lyn Gardner’s Top Picks for the festival, a British Theatre Recommended Show and one of A Younger Theatre’s Top Shows of 2020. It is now embarking on a UK summer tour and is published with Salamander Street Publishing.

The play explores the ‘us vs them’ mentality of the class divide, and the politicisation of vigilante activists. We look at the feeling of restlessness in the working classes in a time where class divisions are widening, the poor are getting poorer, and Brexit threatens to tear the country apart. Fuelled by the ‘taking back the power’ mantra, the play capitalises on the need for action for those feeling impotent in the current political climate.

Writer Guyler said, ‘The Nobodies follows three characters who – initially, at least – just want to make the world a better place. They want to help their own community. I think we all know what that feels like in today’s climate. I was tired of working-class stories being doom and gloom. This is a new version of our story – a version where we win. …Almost. ‘

In a time where political and social unrest is in abundance, The Nobodies aims to inspire communities to speak up against systems which do not represent them and to take action to provoke change, (no matter how small or large that action or change may be).

What kind of art makes you ‘Get Your Coat On’ and go see it?

I am a huge fan of contemporary work which tackles socio-political issues. Some of my favourite plays include: Good Dog by Arinze Kene and The Angry Brigade by James Graham. I like theatre which amplifies narratives of underrepresented communities, telling stories which do not often get given the platform they deserve. I like bold, visually striking work, often combining physical expression and intricate designs to compliment the text. Rhum & Clay’s recent production of Mistero Buffo was an exemplary piece of theatre which uses all the styles of theatre I love. I’m more a festival, off-west goer than West End theatre.

I love going to The Vault Festival in London or up to The Edinburgh Fringe Festival, where people really create new, challenging work, pushing the expectations of what theatre can be. I also love venues such as the The New Diorama, The Pleasance and Soho and companies like Gecko and Complicite. My taste in theatre isn’t too specific or fussy however, I like experiencing a multitude of work, engaging with lots of different genres.

You’re the age you are now. What’s the one thing you wish you could tell your younger self? What’s the one thing you’d like your older self to remember about you now?

I would tell myself that believe it or not, you are going to grow up and make theatre haha! No my advice would be, to take risks, have fun, don’t be afraid of being silly and try not to compare yourself to others, your journey will be hugely different to everyone else’s.

I’d like my older self to remember how hard I worked to keep making theatre and all the amazing memories I made with all of the incredible artists I worked with.


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“If I had Oswald’s skull sitting on my desk, looking at me, Yorick-like, with its three-finger sword-slash cut, it would be a potent reminder that for all our romanticising of ancient times, these people could be pretty thuggish.” – Author Max Adams talks about ‘The King in the North’

The King in the North ( The life and times of Oswald of Northumbria) – A Book by Max Adams from Lonely Tower Film & Media on Vimeo.

“Bede saw Oswald as the torchbearer of God’s will and England’s destiny; and while I attempt a more modern analysis of Oswald’s role in English history, there is little doubt that his conversion on Iona and triumphant return to reclaim his kingdom from exile was a profoundly significant moment in both British and European history.”

WHAT: “The magisterial biography of Oswald Whiteblade, exiled prince of Northumbria, who returned in blood and glory to reclaim his birthright.

A charismatic leader, a warrior whose prowess in battle earned him the epithet Whiteblade, an exiled prince who returned to claim his birthright, the inspiration for Tolkein’s Aragorn.

Oswald of Northumbria was the first great English monarch, yet today this legendary figure is all but forgotten. In this panoramic portrait of Dark Age Britain, archaeologist and biographer Max Adams returns the king in the North to his rightful place in history.”

WHO: “Max Adams is an archaeologist, historian and traveller, the author of twelve books and numerous articles and journal papers. Born in 1961 in London, he was educated at the University of York, where he read archaeology. After a professional career which included the notorious excavations at Christchurch Spitalfields, and several years as Director of Archaeological Services at Durham University, Max went to live in a 40-acre woodland in County Durham for three years. He wrote and presented two feature documentaries for Tyne-Tees Television and made thirty short films as the ‘Landscape Detective’.”

MORE? Here!


Why ‘The Life and Times of Oswald of Northumbria’?

Oswald was a king of Northumbria during one of the most obscure periods in British history. Most readers won’t, I think, be able to give him much context out of their general knowledge. So I thought what he needed was the most detailed and evocative historical setting possible. That setting is rooted in the geography of the North – open country; the sea; the legacy of Hadrian’s Wall and Roman forts.

And then, one has to understand how a kingdom of Northumbria emerged in the late 6 th century; how it became so dominant among the competing warrior kingdoms of Britain. Our principal historical guide is Oswald’s fellow Northumbrian Bede, whose purpose was to explain how God’s hand came to convert the Northumbrian kings from paganism; how they united (in Bede’s view) the peoples of England under a universal church. Bede saw Oswald as the torchbearer of God’s will and England’s destiny; and while I attempt a more modern analysis of Oswald’s role in English history, there is little doubt that his conversion on Iona and triumphant return to reclaim his kingdom from exile was a profoundly significant moment in both British and European history. In his life and times we see the birth of nations and of a European Christian state – but also, I think, the plainest possible model of how state politics and religion work together to forge royal power in medieval Europe.

If you could ask Oswald one question, and tell him one thing, what would they be?

As an archaeologist and historian of the landscape of power, I would want to know how he knew what was his – an odd question, perhaps. But in a period of no written deeds, this prince in exile, who leaves his homeland at the age of 12 and returns as a grown man and proven warrior in his late 20s, and yet seems to have a very good immediate grasp of how to deploy his control over the Northumbrian kingdom. He is able to hand vast estates over to his Ionan Christian protégés – landed estates with an income and known boundaries. How that knowledge was transmitted is an enduring question that I would love to understand better. And what would I tell him? Do not underestimate your enemies! After eight years of rule he was cut down on the battlefield of Maserfield by a pagan Mercian warlord; dismembered and his body parts mounted on stakes.

Oswald was killed at the Battle of Maserfield. What would have happened if he had
survived?

Who can say? Historians are hopeless at prediction. In the manner of such dynasties, there would very likely have been a civil war between his son and his brother (as there ultimately was, it seems, when his brother Oswiu succeeded him). But I doubt if he would have instituted the crucial reforms through which his brother cemented the place of a literate, European church at the heart of British royal politics. Had Oswald killed Penda at Maserfield, on the Welsh border in 642, in all probability Northumbria would have crushed the emerging Mercian state and imposed Christianity on its kings; and Wessex might not have emerged as a later English powerhouse.

The women around Oswald were forces to be reckoned with. Which one should everybody have heard of?

The 7th century is conspicuous for the number of outstanding, politically active women who played key roles in the emergence of the British kingdoms. In the ‘fictive family’ of the warband, they played the part of peace-weavers; but also of inciters to action. They brought substantial wealth and power into a royal marriage and maintained political interests as well as being powerful patrons of religious establishments and of their own collateral kin. We know little of Oswald’s mother, Acha, but we know she managed to get her young family safely away from Northumbria after her brother Edwin killed Oswald’s father. She established key relations (and sponsors) for her children with both Pictish and Dalriadan kings. Another northern force, St Hild, was a heavyweight ecclesiastical entrepreneur – the founder of Whitby Abbey, who oversaw the most important political event of her day, at Whitby in 664.

But It’s Oswald’s brother Oswiu’s wife, Eanflæd, who is the outstanding figure, I think. She was the daughter of King Edwin, Oswald’s uncle and rival. Exiled after her father’s death in 633, she was taken to Paris where she was introduced to the sophisticated, bloody politics of the Frankish court. She returned to Northumbria to marry Oswald’s brother, Oswiu – a purely political alliance – and with him set about deploying their huge estates to found monasteries under the rule of their various relations: cementing Oswald’s legacy and investing working, rational capital into the landscape for the first time since the end of Rome. Reading between Bede’s lines, she was a shrewd, wise, thoughtful operator. The fact that England has, ever since, been a Christian state with a literate ‘civil service’ is at least as much their legacy as it is Oswald’s. Eanflæd shows how women (and she stands for many) of noble birth exercised ‘agency’ in a warrior’s world.

Your travel agent offers you: A day and a night living and studying with the Venerable Bede*; A passage on one of Benedict Biscop’s trips to Rome**; OR A season living the holy life on Iona with Columba.*** Which do you choose?
*You may ask the scholars anything, but you may not take any notes away with you.
**Sorry, but the ticket doesn’t allow you beyond the pomerium (you can’t go into the city).
***Columba insists you take a vow of silence so that you don’t distract the brothers from their
work. You can listen and observe only.

That’s easy: I would go to Iona to see how Columba ran his island empire and spiritual domain. The glimpses that we get from his hagiographer Adomnán of how the monastery functioned, backed up by various, not entirely satisfactory, excavation campaigns make me want to know much, much more: how Iona was connected so far afield (to Gaul and the Mediterranean world beyond) by trade, by ecclesiastical links and the shared language and culture of the church; how their economy functioned; how they dealt with great secular lords and maintained diplomatic links across the North of Britain and Ireland.

And I’d want to know if Columba was really the huge personality that comes across in his Vita. Naturally, I’d have to learn Irish and vastly improve my Latin to be able to eavesdrop on their conversations. But what a place to learn – both on the edge of the known world and at the same time the beating heart of Early Medieval life and politics – it would be like being a Westminster AND Vatican AND UN insider – and at the same time living on a jewel in the ocean.

Scottish and Welsh identity have both gone on to inform contemporary political outlooks.
Why hasn’t Northumbrian Nationalism ever gone beyond the occasional display of a gold and red bumper sticker?

There’s a huge contrast in attitudes both North and South of here. Scotland presents a self- consciously nationalist in outlook – flag waving and caricaturing of its own history. Wales offers a vision of cultural and linguistic vibrancy that has outgrown its nationalist movement. Then there’s Yorkshire – also very proud of its geography and historic identity – not wanting independence from England because it thinks it IS England. When you ask Northumbrians about their identity they put a finger to their lips and ….Ssshhh…. I think that is a function of the last thousand years of being ‘other’ – a border territory fought over by competing interests and, quite frankly, happy to be left alone to enjoy its quite pleasures of landscape, sea and space. I doubt if all that many drivers of cars with Oswald’s banner on their bumper sticker could quite say what it means – or where the image comes from.

Can you read Bernard Cornwall’s ‘The Last Kingdom’ series without tutting or rolling your
eyes?

No, not really. I should say that I admire any attempt to evoke the period through fiction – it’s thoroughly merited both artistically and intellectually as a thought experiment in animating a world otherwise known only in stilted snapshots. If I were brave enough I’d try it myself. But I have not yet been very convinced by many ‘Dark Age’ stories – although I thought Nicola Griffith’s Hild was a fascinating and worthy novel. It’s much, much worse when those complex works are translated onto the screen. The fact that Monty Python’s Holy Grail movie is the most realistic screen portrayal of the period says it all…

If you could possess one item described in your narrative, which would it be?

Like most archaeologists, I don’t possess any ancient artifacts of my own – they all end up on museum shelves. But I fancy if I had Oswald’s skull sitting on my desk, looking at me, Yorick-like, with its three-finger sword-slash cut, it would be a potent reminder that for all our romanticising of ancient times, these people could be pretty thuggish. I might just have it tested for its DNA, though – curiosity would be hard to resist…

The people who inhabit both ‘The King in the North’ and ‘Britain in the age of Arthur’ had a strong belief in magic and the supernatural. Are you ever inclined to think there might be more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in our modern philosophy?

Absolutely. Just look at a Bruegel painting of people in 16th century Flanders going about their eccentric lives. In The First Kingdom, which was published in February of this year, I’ve tried to explore more of the sense of alternative consciousness that archaeologists sense, but find it hard to describe. It was a world both pragmatic and wonderful, in which the rules that governed behaviour both in this world and the next are at one and the same time comprehensible in their own context and a little alien to us, with their capricious gods and dread omens. But reckon that if you went to live with them for a while, the bigger culture shock would be in coming back to the present – equally weird, wonderful and eccentric, when seen from another perspective.

What are you currently working on?

Having, as it were, now completed an early medieval trilogy, from the end of the Roman Empire (The First Kingdom) to the Viking Age (Ælfred’s Britain), I’m stepping back a little and taking a look at our oldest and most persistent technology, with a book about the history of humanity and its relations with wood. The Hand that Wields the Axe will tell the story of technology and creativity through the tools, wheels, boats, art, machines and buildings that have accompanied the great human adventure from the African Rift Valley to the end of the Wood Age in the 18 th century. I’m enjoying the trip…

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“I wanted to show children that they should be open to those differences and celebrate them. It’s what makes us unique and special.” – Author Peter A. Johnson talks about ‘Bog: The Ogre In The Cellar’

“Key Stage 1 classes certainly understood Bog!”

WHAT: “Bog is an ogre who has been alone for years. Jacob is a schoolboy who has heard stories about a mysterious creature that lives down in the school cellar. The rumours have been told for years. But are they true? No one has ever been brave enough to find out, that is until now.

Take a walk deep into the school cellar with Jacob, a brave little schoolboy, as he comes face to face with what all other children have feared the most.

Peter A. Johnson and illustrator Faizal Razalli have teamed up to create a rich, vibrant and heart-warming story. This rhyming storybook is a must for every child in love with picture stories and for those who have a curious mind, just like Jacob.

The story opens up conversations parents can have with young, tiny minds about inclusion. Every page in this book has been lovingly created to draw the attention of young readers. Each detail is something to be admired. If you love books created by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler, you will enjoy this read.”

WHO: “Peter A. Johnson is a children’s author born and bred in Greater Manchester. He has been a primary school teacher for 10 years and has taught various age groups during his career. At Salford University, Peter studied Performing Arts and Media Production and has always had a creative flair. This creativity feeds into the stories that he writes.”

MORE? Here!


Why ‘Bog’?

Bog is a character anyone can relate to. At some point in our lives, we have all felt different from others or felt like an outsider, even if only for a short time. Bog was forgotten and lonely through no fault of his own. I wanted to write about a character that was an outsider but throughout the story, gradually reveal to the reader, and the lead character Jacob, that although we may all have our differences, deep down we all have something loveable inside us. I wanted to show children that they should be open to those differences and celebrate them. It’s what makes us unique and special. This book shows children that it’s ok to be different like Bog and opens up conversations about inclusion.

When and how did you first ‘meet’ Bog?

Whilst I was teaching at school, I read out a short story to the class that I had written, just to support the lesson. I had no intention of writing a ‘story’, however, after I had finished the teaching, I mentioned to the class that I’d written the story. The children were surprised as they thought it was something I had read from another author. I knew in that moment I needed to start to share my stories to a wider audience. I went home and pieced together all the good parts of a story that I loved as a kid. A damp cellar, a scary monster hidden away in the darkness, and a curious boy in search of the truth. Before I knew it, Bog was created.

What kind of young readers will also want to meet Bog?

The book really works well for ages 4-7. Being a teacher, I was fortunate enough to be able to read it to lots of children of different ages and ask them for their opinions. It appeared that the same year groups kept coming back time and time again with such positive feedback and wanting to know more. Key Stage 1 classes certainly understood Bog!

What’s the one thing you know now that you wish you’d known at the start of the
process?

As a debut author, the process was a steep learning curve. I am proud with how I handled it all. All the preparation I did paid off. I sold over 450 books in the first week, and out of 33 million books currently available on Amazon, mine reached 700 in the world, which is something I never expected. When I think about it now though, I wish I would have given myself a little more time from starting the book to its release. I put unnecessary pressure on myself. The closing stages, prior to release, were stressful to say the least. Waiting in hope that the book would arrive from the printers in time for release day was a nerve-wracking time, but when they arrived I wasn’t disappointed. I am so proud with how the book has turned out.

What’s next for Bog and you?

Bog the ogre is set to become a series and the sequel, “Bog the Ogre Goes to School”, is currently being illustrated. The next book focuses on Bog struggling to find what he’s good at and his journey to finding his special talent.

In the meantime, I have another book due for release soon called “The Manchester Bee”. There are no fictional stories out there about the iconic Manchester Bee symbol and this is a story that celebrates everything we love about this region. The culture, the music, the people, and places. There are lots of references in there for parents and beautiful artwork for young eyes. There has been quite a buzz in anticipation of the story being released as it is an original idea about a much-loved icon.

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“I am currently working on a follow up. But I can say no more than that at the moment.” – Author Paul Lay discusses ‘Providence Lost’

“I would ask him why he refused the offer of the Crown. Then I would ask him to think again.”

WHAT: “England, 1651. Oliver Cromwell has defeated his royalist opponents in two civil wars, executed the Stuart king Charles I, laid waste to Ireland, and crushed the late king’s son and his Scottish allies. He is master of Britain and Ireland.

But Parliament, divided between moderates, republicans and Puritans of uncompromisingly millenarian hue, is faction-ridden and disputatious. By the end of 1653, Cromwell has become ‘Lord Protector’. Seeking dragons for an elect Protestant nation to slay, he launches an ambitious ‘Western Design’ against Spain’s empire in the New World.

When an amphibious assault on the Caribbean island of Hispaniola in 1655 proves a disaster, a shaken Cromwell is convinced that God is punishing England for its sinfulness. But the imposition of the rule of the Major-Generals – bureaucrats with a penchant for closing alehouses – backfires spectacularly. Sectarianism and fundamentalism run riot. Radicals and royalists join together in conspiracy. The only way out seems to be a return to a Parliament presided over by a king. But will Cromwell accept the crown?

Paul Lay narrates in entertaining but always rigorous fashion the story of England’s first and only experiment with republican government: he brings the febrile world of Oliver Cromwell’s Protectorate to life, providing vivid portraits of the extraordinary individuals who inhabited it and capturing its dissonant cacophony of political and religious voices.”

WHO: “Editor of History Today. Author of Providence Lost: the Rise and Fall of Cromwell’s Protectorate.”

MORE? Here!


Why ‘Providence Lost’?

‘Providence Lost’ plays on the loss of the English Puritan settlement of Providence Island to the Spanish in 1640, but also alludes to the fact that a later venture into the New World – Cromwell’s Western Design – was perceived. by the Protector in particular as a withdrawal of Good’s support and guidance – His providence. And Milton, as always, is in the background.

Was Cromwell as good a statesman as he was a soldier?

Cromwell was a fine cavalry commander, aggressive and brave, though he only fought on home territory (Britain and Ireland). As a statesman, he became the first commoner to become Britain’s Head of State, through an alliance of soldiers, parliamentarians and religious figures. He was held in high repute abroad. The Protectorate depended entirely on this one man.

The framers of the US Constitution relied heavily on the ancient classical learning and tradition, Addison’s “Cato” was a particular favourite. To whom were those concerned with ideas about English constitutional structures during the interregnum looking for their inspiration?

Venice was an important model for Classical Republicans. ‘They wish to make me a Duke of Venice,’ Charles I warned, with some prescience. The Republicanism identified with Milton was rooted in Classical texts. The most famous work of political philosophy of the times, along with Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan, is James Harrington’s Oceana, explicitly modelled on the Venetian constitution and addressed personally to Cromwell.

Why did the Protectorate gamble so much of its credibility on the Western Design? Why did they need to reduce Spanish power in the West Indies? Wasn’t Cromwell fishing with a golden hook?

I am not sure the Western Design was that great a gamble. The Protectorate had a powerful and battle-tested army and navy. And the potential riches – of the flota, the mines of Potosi etc – were enormous. But they had become used to winning and were ill-prepared for tropical conditions. A classic case of hubris followed by nemesis.

What’s the most important thing to know about the Protectorate?

The most important thing about the Protectorate, as a consequence of its existence, is that Britain remains a constitutional monarchy.

There are many players entering, exiting, and waiting in the wings during the drama you chronicle. Were any of them both great AND good?

I think John Lambert, who should have succeeded Oliver Cromwell, was a brilliant soldier, arguably even better than his boss, and a serious political thinker. He was also a fine gardener. His firm, unyielding principles meant that he lived out most of his life in captivity.

(God forbid) Huntingdon’s Cromwell Museum is on fire and you only have time to save one item. What is it? If there was one item you could add to the collection, what would it be?

The Dunbar Medal.

Could the Protectorate have survived without Cromwell, or was some form or Restoration inevitable?

Had the succession gone to Lambert, or indeed Henry Cromwell, it might have succeeded. Had Cromwell taken the crown as Oliver I and accepted hereditary succession, the House of Cromwell may well have survived.

If you could ask Oliver Cromwell one question, other than whether or not he liked pineapple, what would it be? If you could tell him one thing, just to see his reaction, what would it be?

I would ask him why he refused the offer of the Crown. Then I would ask him to think again.

What are you currently working on? (Is it that much-overdue biography of Richard Cromwell?)

I am currently working on a follow up. But I can say no more than that at the moment.

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“The biggest lesson has been to trust in the strength, power and resilience of young carers.” – Playwright Matt Woodhead discusses ‘Who Cares’

“We want to find those unidentified young carers, get them the support they need and tell them – You are not on your own.”

WHAT: “There are an estimated 700,000 young people caring for a loved one in the UK. One third of these young carers come from low income families. Many do not have access to essential technology such as wifi/laptops/smartphones to help them do school work or manage their caring responsibilities.

On 9th February 2021 at 14.15, award-winning ‘​Who Cares’ ​will be broadcast on BBC Radio 4. This gripping verbatim production is based on 2 years of interviews with young carers and offers a rare insight into their lives of young carers in Salford. The show was performed at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, the House of Lords and it embarked on two national tours.”

WHO: “Matt Woodhead is the co-artistic director of LUNG. Who Cares was produced by The Lowry and LUNG in partnership with Gaddum.”

LISTEN TO THE SHOW: Here!


Why ‘Who Cares‘?

Oh my days, there are SO MANY reasons why! There are an estimated 450,000 young carers in the UK who are hidden. This means they are caring for a loved one behind closed doors, unknown to services. They literally aren’t
receiving any support. Who Cares is for them. The show has been on two national tours, performed at the Edinburgh Fringe and it’s just been broadcast on BBC Radio 4. We want to find those unidentified young carers, get them the support they need and tell them – You are not on your own.

What’s the one thing (is there a one thing?) that individuals can do to support a young person caring for a loved one in the UK?

You’re spot on – there are so many things people can do to support a young carer. One third of young carers are from low income families. We want to get vital technology to these teenagers who need things like laptops and phones to fulfil their caring responsibilities. RIGHT NOW, we are trying to raise £5,000 to support young carers who are facing digital poverty.

The show has played at the Fringe and the UK House of Lords, which crowd is tougher?

I completely filled my pants at the thought of both audiences! Fringe theatre goers were scary coz I got the fear it was going to turn into Mean Girls. Decision makers at the House of Lords was terrifying coz it was like we had one shot to make some political change. It was totally fine though. On both occasions the young people and the power of their stories swooped in and saved the day.

What’s the one thing you know now that you wish you’d known at the start of this creative journey?

So many things!!! I think the biggest lesson has been to trust in the strength, power and resilience of young carers. Who Cares is based form 200 hours of interviews with Antonia-Rae, Ciaron, Kerry and Paige. Their voices are at the
heart of this play. These young people spoke their truth and it’s such a powerful thing.

LUNG specialises in verbatim scripts. What are the particular challenges of that method of writing?

If I had a pound for every time I went into an existential tail spin about making verbatim theatre, I’d be loaded. For me, the thing that keeps me up at night is whether the people whose story is being told are happy. With Who Cares it’s been so important that Antonia-Rae, Ciaron, Kerry and Paige have been involved in every step of the process. Casting, reading drafts of the script, choosing the songs in the show – you name it, they did it. A lot of challenges that verbatim theatre sometimes throws up have been resolved by giving autonomy over to these young carers. This has been the key to making the play so artistically exciting.

Verbatim scripts often focus on important stories, stories that involve a lot of heartache. Are there any lighter moments to be had along the way?

Even in some of the darkest moments in life, I think it’s human to find joy. There are so many light moments in ‘Who Cares‘. As well as focusing on the reality of caring for a loved one, the play gives an insight into the day to day drama of being a teenager. There is everything in this play from the crush of the morning school bus to failed dates at Nando’s.

How have the original contributors responded to seeing their lives on stage?

Ah it’s been amazing. Antonia-Rae, Ciaron, Kerry and Paige all did speeches when the show was performed at the House of Lords. For me it was so humbling and incredible to see these young carers not only standing up for their rights, but for the rights of young carers across the UK. I don’t want to steal their thunder though… If anyone wants to hear what they made of the play, check out the BBC Broadcast, they do a fantastic segment at the end…

What should be the one thing that people know about ‘Who Cares‘ before taking their seats?

This is real life. These are real stories. This is happening right now.

You’ve been a script reader for Leeds Playhouse, Chichester Festival Theatre; The Papatango Playwriting Prize. What are you looking for? What’s the thing most likely to set off an alarm bell or make you shout ‘NEXT!’ in you head?

For me it’s all about the story and the voice. Andrea Dunbar wrote her first play in the back of an exercise book. It’s not about having a polished script that is beautifully formatted. I think for writers, the main thing is having a story you are burning to tell. A story that can’t wait another second longer to be told. That is usually the most powerful thing.

What’s next for LUNG and ‘Who Cares‘?

LOADS. We are not slowing down. We have a sexy, high quality recording of the show and education resources to accompany it. This will be rolled out nationally in the autumn for schools to access for free. If any teachers or services that support young carers would like more information, click here!

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“How do you Quantitatively ease bitcoin?” – Author Dominic Frisby discusses Daylight Robbery: How Tax Shaped Our Past and Will Change Our Future

 

“I’m not sure that there were bananas in Ancient Babylon but there was a cryptocurrency based on bananas a few years back. Not sure if it still exists. It might have gone pear-shaped.”

WHAT: “Death and taxes are our inevitable fate. We’ve been told this since the beginning of civilisation. But what if we stopped to question our antiquated system? Is it fair? And is it capable of serving the needs of our rapidly-changing, modern society?

In Daylight Robbery, Dominic Frisby traces the origins of taxation, from its roots in the ancient world, through to today. He explores the role of tax in the formation of our global religions, the part tax played in wars and revolutions throughout the ages, why, at one stage, we paid tax for daylight or for growing a beard. Ranging from the despotic to the absurd, the tax laws of the past reveal so much about how we got to where we are today and what we can do to build a system fit for the future.”

WHO: “Dominic Frisby is perhaps the world’s only financial writer and comedian. He writes a weekly investment column for Moneyweek about gold and finance and has also written for publications including the Guardian and the Independent. He speaks at conferences around the world on the future of finance. Frisby hosts various podcasts, performs stand-up comedy and is a recognized voiceover artist.”

MORE? Here!


Why “Daylight Robbery”?

Like many everyday expressions – Nosy Parker being another – the expression is thought to have its roots in a tax, in this case the Window Tax. Window Tax was introduced in 1695 to help fund William of Orange’s conflicts abroad. It lasted over 150 years. Like all taxes, it had many unintended consequences, the worst of which was that it made people ill. The urban poor of the Industrial Revolution suffered most. They lived in large tenement buildings, which, having many windows, proved heavily susceptible to the tax. Landlords – on whom the tax fell – simply boarded up the tenement windows to reduce costs. The numerous epidemics of disease in cities during the Industrial Revolution – typhus, smallpox and cholera, in particular – were made worse by the cramped, damp, windowless dwellings.

By the nineteenth century, opposition to it was everywhere. Charles Dickens fumed that, ‘Neither air nor light have been free since the imposition of the window-tax.’ Campaigning against it went on for decades. Pamphlets were handed out, songs were sung, speeches were made. Only in 1850 was a motion finally put before Parliament to repeal it, and legend has it that, as the matter was debated, MPs cried ‘Daylight robbery!’ The idiom has lived on as an expression for outrageous charging

You catalog the ways in which armed conflict drives innovation, consolidation, and overreach in the realm of tax as the competing governments scramble to spend on their militaries. Is it intellectually consistent to be anti-war and pro-tax?

The short answer is yes. Every single war in history has been funded by a tax of some kind – either during or after the event. Rulers, whether emperor, king, or government, start wars and taxes pay for them. The most effective means to limit war is to limit taxation.

There are plenty of idealistic, pro-large state, high taxation progressives who are anti-war in principle. But in practice, if a government decides it wants to go to war, in a democracy, there’s not a lot the people can do about it. Iraq is a recent example. The country did not want that war. Tony Blair did. Taxation made it possible. Limit taxation, you limit the size of government – and you limit its ability to do harm.

The Emperor Vespasian famously stifled and suppressed the labour-saving devices presented to him by an inventor, perhaps delaying the Industrial Revolution for centuries. You’re standing behind Caesar when the inventor has finished his pitch. The Flavian eyes turn questioningly to you, his visitor from the distant future. Knowing what you know, what do you advise the supreme ruler of the known world about the costs and benefits that big technological disruption and innovation bring? What do you advise Vespasian to do?

I would have advised him to stand aside and let the innovators do their thing. I’m not sure he would have listened, however. Rulers don’t always want their people getting rich, however – it makes them less easy to rule.

Vespasian, by the way, gave Rome a urine tax. Urine was used for tanning, laundering, and brushing your teeth (!). Collecting it proved so lucrative that Vespasian enacted a tax. Portuguese urine for some reason was the most prized. When criticized Vespasian held up a gold coin and said “the gold is clean.” That’s where we get this idea of clean and dirty money from, so the story goes)

Are there any good taxes, or at least is there such a thing as a least bad tax?

Much as we anarchists may dream of a society with no taxes, the reality is that there has never been a civilisation without taxation. The lower and simpler they are, the better, in my view. The evidence of history is that the civilisations with the lowest taxes (and thus the greatest levels of freedom) are the most innovative, inventive and prosperous.

Milton Friedman described Land Value Tax as “the least bad tax” and I would agree. It’s transparent, simple, clear, easy to administer, hard to avoid or evade, but also hard for a government to overtax. It’s the most natural way to keep the relationship between government and citizen in balance.

Why do crypto-currencies matter to the taxman?

Money beyond the control of government means an economy that is hard to tax and regulate.

Furthermore, government can’t levy the inflation tax. That is it can’t debase the currency. How do you Quantitatively ease bitcoin?

Blockchain currencies are best adapted for transactions involving non-physical, non-tangible products and services. Are there any examples of the kind of real-world tangible commodities – goods that would have been familiar to the Babylonian inventors of currency – that are being successfully traded in cryptocurrency?

I’m not sure that there were bananas in Ancient Babylon but there was a cryptocurrency based on bananas a few years back. Not sure if it still exists. It might have gone pear-shaped.

If you had to put a Dollar, Euro, or Pound Sterling on the first big currency* to switch to blockchain technology, which would it be (and which SHOULD it be)? *one that you don’t have to scroll too far to find on XE.com

Probably one of the Scandinavian currencies. I wouldn’t rule sterling out. We will all soon have wallets with the central bank.

There are examples of small states being big successes (the book spends a lot of time examining post war Hong Kong). Could Scotland, with its fondness for big government, be one of them?

I’ll say! Scotland has the potential to be the richest nation on earth on a per capita basis. If you look at the richest nations on earth per capita (Norway, Switzerland, Singapore, Qatar etc), they all have populations of about 6-7m or under, and are either financial centres or have oil. Scotland has the triple.

Which of your projections and predictions are accelerating or decelerating as a result of the COVID crisis?

Remote working has become totally normal. I’m amazed at the speed this has happened.

Covid has obviously killed travel.

What are you currently working on?

I am working a musical based on my Dad’s book ‘Kisses On A Postcard‘ about his time as an evacuee in WWII.

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“No way could I resist a day in the Library of Alexandria. I would go straight to the book, On the Ocean, written by Pytheas.” – Author Barry Cunliffe discusses The Scythians: Nomad Warriors of the Steppe

“Alexander the Great … did not attack the Pontic steppe Scythians, but preferred to campaign against the Scythian peoples in Central Asia, may be due to his respect for the old treaty.”

WHAT: “Barry Cunliffe here marshals this vast array of evidence – both archaeological and textual – in a masterful reconstruction of the lost world of the Scythians, allowing them to emerge in all their considerable vigour and splendour for the first time in over two millennia.”

WHO: “Sir Barrington Windsor Cunliffe CBE FBA FSA (born 10 December 1939), known as Barry Cunliffe, is a British archaeologist and academic. He was Professor of European Archaeology at the University of Oxford from 1972 to 2007. Since 2007, he has been an Emeritus Professor.”

MORE? Here!


Why the Scythians?

The Greeks considered the Scythians to be one of the four great peoples of the world (equal to the Celts). They were right and yet, in the West we hardly hear about them and they rarely feature in general books. They led a very distinctive lifestyle focussed on mobility, which contrasts to the sedentary existence of most European societies, reminding us that pastoralism is a valid economic strategy and worth of consideration alongside agriculture. More to the point they had a significant impact on China, India, the Near East and Europe – they were world players.

Did the Scythians leave a lasting legacy?

There greatest contribution was their skill as horsemen. The Scythians developed the idea and practice of cavalry which became so important in European warfare. Their animal art was another major contribution. In Europe, it influenced Celtic art and from there ideas penetrated Scandinavia and reappear in medieval Irish art.

How have Scythian studies fared since the end of the Cold War?

Archaeologists have always found it easy to work together across political boundaries but the end of the Cold War meant that collaborative fieldwork and excavations have become much easier with Germans, Italians and British working with Russian collaborators. A good example of working together was the brilliant exhibition, Scythians warriors of ancient Siberia, held in the British Museum in 2017 and all the seminars and informal meetings around it.

The Scythians left no written record, but do examples of their oral culture remain? Are there words or even phrases we could learn in the hope of engaging a time-travelling Scythian in conversation?

Scythians have left practically no trace of their oral culture except in one instance. Out of the melee of nomadic horsemen existing on the steppe, deriving from the Scythians, were the Alans, some of whom settled in the central Caucasus. They were still recognised as Alans as late as the 13th century. Their descendants are the Ossetians who have a wonderful oral tradition reflecting their past glories and whose language still has echoes of Scytho-Sarmatian.

What advice do you have for modern travellers wishing to trace the physical reminders of the Scythians – where should they go, how should they travel, who should they try and meet?

As a largely nomadic people, the Scythians have left no monuments other than their burial mounds (kurgan) which can be seen in Ukraine, southern Russia and the Altai Mountains. By far the best museum collections are housed in the Hermitage in St. Petersburg, Russia and the Museum of Historical Treasures in Kiev, Ukraine. In the UK we have very little but a small collection from burials in the Crimea is housed in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford.

If you could own one item described in the book which would it be and why?

I am a firm believer that rare artefacts should be in public collections where they can be enjoyed by everyone. My favourite piece is the gold beaker from Kul’-Oba, in the Crimea (now in the Hermitage Museum). It was probably made in a Greek workshop somewhere on the Black Sea coast for a Scythian client, and shows a number of Scythian warriors, possibly blood brothers, relating to each other. Its a reminder of comradeship.

What do we know about the Scythian princess buried alongside Philip of Macedon? Does her presence help explain why Alexander the Great didn’t go to war with Scythians?

The Scythian princess buried alongside Philip II of Macedon in Vergina, is a reminder of diplomacy in the Ancient world. She died at about 30 and was cremated. Her bones show that she had seriously fractured her left leg, possibly in a riding accident. Her greaves (leg armour) were modified to fit her crippled leg. It is quite possible that she was the daughter of the Scythian king who ruled the western part of the Pontic steppe and was given to Philip to ensure friendship between the two leaders. That said, Alexander the Great, Philip’s successor, did not attack the Pontic steppe Scythians, but preferred to campaign against the Scythian peoples in Central Asia, may be due to his respect for the old treaty.

What’s the most important thing we don’t know about the Scythians?

What don’t we know? Lots! One fascinating area is the meaning of Scythian animal art involving jumping stags and predators. The images are so prevalent that they must have been of great importance to Scythian belief systems. We can speculate but it is no substitute to hearing a Scythian explaining his world view.

You’ve got a solo return ticket for either a year on campaign with Julius Caesar; a fortnight with Hadrian and his entourage at Tivoli; or a day in the library of Alexandria. Which do you pick?

Oh – that’s so difficult. I’m no fan of house parties so Hadrian is at the bottom of the list. Caesar, I find fascinating particularly his brilliant grasp of the geography of Gaul- the landscape across which he was fighting. I would love to hear him explain his proposed lines of advice to his officers. But that said, no way could I resist a day in the Library of Alexandria. I would go straight to the book, ‘On the Ocean‘, written by Pytheas, the Greek who explored the Atlantic and circumnavigated Britain. The book no longer survives and all we have of it are a few quotes in later works. It gave a first-hand account of western Gaul and the British Isles in about 320 BC and he may even have got to Iceland.

A month in the saddle with a Scythian band or a long weekend at Fishbourne Roman Palace?

No competition – a month in the saddle with the Scythians is a must. I spent a memorable afternoon riding across the Mongolian steppe a few years ago -nothing but the grey-green grass and the blue sky. Complete peace and calm and time to put life in perspective. All I would ask is for a more comfortable saddle!

What are you currently working on?

My new book ‘Bretons and Britons: The Search for Identity‘ is now in proof and will be out next year. I’m currently writing about the Sahara and how the communities around it periphery communicated across the sea of sand.

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