As always, Hilary Mantel is on the money. Of course, I am a bit of a fan – when I’m in East Devon where my family lives, it’s not unknown for me to suggest a short wander down the coast to Budleigh Salterton in the hope that I might strike up a conversation with her in a local café.
Mantel has been chosen to deliver this year’s series of Reith Lectures and over five sessions she will look at the writing of history and how truth and fiction meld and how facts get bent into or out of shape. Much of this is about the past, but just like her novels Wolf Hall and Bring up the Bodies it feels like a very modern mirror of our world today.
Now nearly 70 years old, The Reith Lectures were created to advance public understanding and reflect on contemporary life. They’re designed to stir our consciousness and challenge our assumptions through intelligent thought. And for that reason, they’re great. As we get punch drunk with the unending political platitudes and prevarication of our politicians, tune into Reith for something different and better.
Earlier this year, another great woman, the historian and classicist Mary Beard, said in an excellent interview with the Evening Standard (pre George Osborne’s editorship) that this was the first period in her life where ignorance felt like something to be proud of. A couple of weeks ago, the writer and broadcaster Howard Jacobson observed how it was ok to have elite sportspeople and elite soldiers but that we were increasingly uncomfortable with the word applied to more cerebral things: ‘It makes no sense to love the best when they are footballers or the SAS but not when they are thinkers’, he said.
In these very strange times, it is good thinkers and great thinking that’ll get us through.
Jo Lloyd is the managing director at Camargue