DH Lawrence left his famous lovers defiant, if stranded: Elaine Feinstein finds them bickering about darning socks. She transports them to a startlingly modern Tuscany and an expat community apparently straight from Islington. Connie can handle it; Mellors tries to adapt. He stows his daughter safely into the back of the car to go and sip white wine at the Siena Palio while galloping steeds thunder around the Campo, but, alas, effete he cannot be. He abandons the flowery old John Thomas routine in favour of some pretty rough horseplay, and I don't just mean the race.
Feinstein is a good writer but, try as she might, she makes a frightful mess of copying lush Lawrentian prose. "Inchoate" is a word Lawrence enjoyed using; it is all too apt for her story, which lurches uneasily between risible parody and attempts at serious social history. Poor old Mellors. He'd have been happier hunting polecats at daybreak in the Welsh marches with Lionel Kellaway and John Messenger in The Living World (R4).
Not that they had much success. Studying mammals, they told us, means spending most of your time looking for the small brown smelly things they leave behind. And, apparently, visiting dozens of empty traps. After about 10 minutes, yippee, they found a dropping. Then Messenger stepped in a badger latrine: "That's very interesting," he enthused, desperately. At the end they said that, while the tape was switched off, they had actually spotted a galloping polecat. I'm sure they had. Probably.
A chilly Welsh dawn calls for serious underwear, and that means Damart. In Celebration (R4) told of the discovery of thermolactyl fibre, by three French brothers in a cafe in - wait for it - the Rue de la Damartine. Hmm, all right, but its rightful home for 30 years has been a factory in Bingley. There, a motherly-sounding guide takes tourists around the lurid turquoise vests, shrimp-pink long-johns and ambitious panty-corselettes that secretly insulate golfers, bowls-players, escapologists and Arctic explorers. Given the recent weather, this was so timely a piece of scheduling as to be blatantly commercial.
Let us abandon our thermals for the desert, where Martin Buckley has been examining Grains of Sand (R3). Happily, they didn't get into his lunch the day he visited The Castle of the Assassins - or Hashishins - accompanied by a veritable caravanserai of food. The castle was at Alamut, the remote valley fortress of the Old Man of the Mountains. He was a mediaeval Ishmaili war-lord, thought to have motivated his murderous followers by drugging them with hashish in his beautiful Paradise garden, deep in the Iranian desert. Freya Stark found it, ruined but carpeted with tulips, 50 years ago. Buckley picnicked and hubble-bubbled up there, appropriately enjoying a great trip. Stark's incomparable descriptions revived the mysterious brooding secrecy of the place.
While he was away, Buckley also managed to keep Robert Fisk in one place long enough to produce Sunday's contribution to R3's Arabic Season. Fisk travels Between Two Worlds, one signified by the comforting Kentish bells of his childhood, calling the few to church, the other dominated by the muezzin summoning millions to the mosque. He has lived among Muslims for 20 years and counts many as his friends, yet he still cannot accept their treatment of women, the cruelty of their punishments, or the notion that a suicide bomber would go straight to Paradise.
As always with this magnificent reporter, there was no simple conclusion. Fisk worries away at a story, dragging strands of truth from an elaborate fabric of invention, trying always to understand. He accepted that, since the time of the Crusades, the West has tended to disregard its own savagery; then he tested, on several prominent Muslims, his theory that Islam had enjoyed no purifying renaissance. They denied it. Were they bound for Paradise themselves? They certainly were. And why was the Koran interpreted with such differing degrees of strictness? The best answer to that one came from the Professor of Islamic History at Cambridge: Muslims are ignorant of their own historical, ethical heritage, he said, and nervous governments tend to accommodate conservative religious figures in order to pre-empt fanatics. Sadly, that had the ring of truth.
Later on Remembrance Sunday, Janis Knox produced an extraordinarily moving meditation on the Beatitudes. Blessed Are They (R2) was a montage of news stories and music illustrating the contemporary plight of the meek, the merciful, the persecuted, the peacemakers and those who hunger and thirst for justice. From Dunblane to Tienanmen Square, from Veronica Guerin to the parents of Leah Betts, unidentified but often recognisable voices recalled suffering and heroism in a subtle, profound and haunting account of the troubles we've seen. It was superb.
Into the Dark (R4) is a children's serial about Matt, a blind boy, who goes to the Isle of Man for his first seaside holiday. Nicholas Wilde's sensitive writing and Alex Carter's fine acting produce a sympathetic but utterly sentimental picture of his problems. I think it's going to be a ghost story, but we'll have to wait until this afternoon to find out.
Now three small cheers - small only because I'm running out of space. The first is for Geoffrey Smith, permitted, during R3's Jazz Week, to choose his own favourite Voices - particularly when he chose Sarah Vaughan's operatic, acrobatic, aerobatic version of "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes". The second is for the sublime Perry Pontac, and his hilarious play about Queen Victoria (a purposeful Miriam Margolyes) proposing, After Albert (R4), to an astonished, married, Jewish Disraeli. And the third is for jolly Martin Kelner's Speak to Me Pretty (R2) which trawled the murky shallows of "talkie records". He actually found one worse than "Deck of Cards", though nothing could beat its last line. Don't argue. I know. I was that soldier.
Read Robert Fisk on Lebanese waxworks, Review, page 17.Reuse content