“First of all Alex Wolf, um, a great response as you can imagine, all sorts of suggestions, a lot of people wanting a better explanation of the classical world, many people talking about, broadly speaking, the development of democracy in this country, all kinds of themes, what would your three be?”
I’ve just had a shower and I’m getting ready for school. I am looking sadly at my adidas t-shirt and trying to find any stains that might mean I’d have to wear something else, checking over my jogging bottoms for greasy patches (Elly’s skin is bad at the moment and we have to put on a cream called fifty fifty which is so greasy that once she’s got it on she slips out of your hands if you try to pick her up) and listening to the Today programme with James Naughtie.
It’s lucky though, because whenever I wear my jogging bottoms my teaching is definitely more shit than when I wear my trousers. I think it’s the lack of testicular constriction.
Yesterday on Today, Alex Wolf, a history lecturer at Ambridge university sent in an email suggesting that the readers should nominate 3 periods or themes that should be taught.
Obviously, the Today programme readership have had a total brainspunk over this idea as he’s been invited on this morning to talk about it, together with Tristram Hunt, Lecturer of modern British History at Queen Mary University of London.
James Naughtie has given Alex Wolf a really great 41 second intro which culminates with the above question. I shall reproduce it here along with the reply.
James Naughtie: First of all Alex Wolf, um, a great response as you can imagine, all sorts of suggestions, a lot of people wanting a better explanation of the classical world, many people talking about, broadly speaking, the development of democracy in this country, all kinds of themes, what would your three be?
Alex Wolf: Well, I mean, I set the question so I’m not going to give you an answer.
I piss myself laughing. James Naughtie is audibly breathtaken and laughs in frustrated bewilderment and Tristram Hunt chuckles like a good ‘un and James Naughtie turns the interview to Tristram Hunt in a bit of a huff, allowing him to speak for 3 minutes solid and ignoring Alex Wolf for being such a pompous twit.
After 3 minutes and 18 seconds James Naughtie returns to Alex Wolf with the words “If you don’t want to name the three things, because you’re not allowed to answer your own question, a pretty pedantic position to adopt I think, but anyway…”
Tristram Hunt is cracking up as soon as James Naughtie says “question,”
It’s one of those great moments on Today. Spontaneous barely controlled vindictiveness and hilarity. I instantly feel refreshed and dash down the stairs to relay the events to Polly.
I open the door to the kitchen and shout “Hello!”
“Hello Daddy,” says Elly.
“Maw Maw Maw” says Mick, brandishing a wheetabix at me.
“Hello,” says Polly.
I look at the kitchen table. It has a box of branflakes, a box of rice crispies, a box of wheetabix, a cup of tea, an empty 2 pint milk carton, an 8 pint milk carton, a butter dish, a pink bowl, an Observer magazine, two stuffed toy dogs and a pink and purple flip lid bowl which Mick is obsessively opening and closing, yelping in release each time he opens it.
I’m a bit of an autist and I quite like everything to be ordered – I spend most of the day lining things up on my desk at work and I can’t start a lesson until my desk is tidy, so this scene slightly makes me want to take a knife and plunge it into my belly and shout “is this what you wanted?” over and over again, but the urge to tell Polly about the funny thing that happened on the radio is greater so I ignore the mess and start to tell Polly about the interview…
“Hello Polly, I was just listening to the Radio and there was this bloke on it and he was saying yesterday how he thought history should be taught in a more specialised way, deeper instead of wider, or more breadth and less depth, anyway, and only three subjects, so loads of people liked it so today called them back and he said “You wanted to choose only three subjects…”
“I’ve got a star,” says Elly.
“So which do you think the three subjects should be?”
“Daddy, I’ve got a star…” says Elly.
She is holding a blue star in her hand that she’s had for ages. It’s not a new star. She didn’t get it for being good or anything, she’s just found it on the floor, that’s all.
“Right, good Elly,” I am starting to get a bit hectic now.
“Was it the interviewer or the guy?” says Polly
“What?” I ask.
“Was it the interviewer or the guy who said “You wanted to choose only three subjects...”
I am exasperated.
“It was the interviewer,”
“Oh, I thought it was the guy,” says Polly.
“No, right, I’ll start again, there was this bloke on the radio, on the Today programme and this lecturer was saying that yesterday how he thought history should be taught in a more specialised way, deeper instead of wider, or more breadth and less depth, anyway, and only three subjects, so loads of people liked it so today called them back and he said “You wanted to choose only three subjects…”
“John Humphries called him back?” says Polly.
“Yes, OK, John Humphries, yes,” I say.
It’s not John Humphries but I think that it will become too depressing to divert into a conversation about why James Naughtie is doing the interview and not John Humphries and where John Humphries might be. “Anyway, John Humphries rings this guy and he says to him “You wanted to choose three subjects for history…”
“What do you want Mick?” asks Polly.
“He wants a new wheetabix Polly, leave him, he can’t have a new wheetabix every time he gets halfway through one, he’ll just have to wait, anyway, John Humphries rings up this bloke and says to him “You wanted to choose three subjects to study for history in greater…”
“Daddy, Daddy, Daddy, Daddy, Daddy,” shouts Elly.
“What?” I say
“Rice Krispies!” she says. Like an angel.
“Very good Elly,” I say. Mick is now standing up in his high chair, raising his fists above his head.
“No Mick, sit down.” I say.
“Mick, sit down,” Polly says.
“Miiick, sit down,” Elly says.
“Anyway, right, he phones this bloke up and he says to him,”
“I can see smoke and you can’t, you can’t see smoke, I can” Elly is giggling.
I do mental eyes and shake my head and say
“RIGHT, EVERYONE, LISTEN TO ME NOW, I’M GOING TO TRY AND FINISH THIS STORY,”
I clench my fists and breathe really deeply.
Suddenly I feel exhausted. Totally beaten. I screw my face up, hold it in my hands, bend over and say
“I can’t do it. It’s just too much of a physical effort. It’s impossible to focus.”
I look up.
Polly is laughing.
Elly is laughing.
I start to laugh too.