The signs were hopeful, black tea and a little of that super porridge to set me up for a very exciting day with plenty of loo roll just in case things didn't go my way.
It could not have a better start then listening to Nobel Laureate Richard Flanagan talking about his masterpiece " The narrow road to the Deep North" a story, for anyone of you who have not read it, about a provincial doctor in Australia who goes to war and comes back scarred.Richard read out two pieces - one on love and one on the a father's efforts to persuade his children to fold clothes with the fold out... you might be wondering why but it was because this is what they were forced to do in the internment camp where they were imprisoned by the Japanese. All I can tell you is that as Richard read a passage on a woman describing the love for her husband who was killed "Every room has a note, and suddenly the note bounces off the wall, to make the perfect sound.. everything comes back to you when you find love. But I was the room and he was the note and now he is gone there is only silence" members of the audience were moved to tears. It took him 12 years to write the book, based on the story of a Latvian refugee and his father who was actually a POW in Japan. Memory is an act of creation and often we chose what we remember. He travelled to Japan and sought out a 92 year old guard who was in his father's camp. He remembered aspects of the camp but not the terrible violence. Richard asked the guard to slap him. This small graceful man got up, he said and you could see his body remembered the violence as he tensed up to slap him. Richard then felt the room started moving and he thought something had shifted in his mind but in fact it was an earthquake. He said interestingly that the man was frightened by this, but he could see no evil in the room. He finished with "A novel is a journey into your own soul which allow us to live the 1000 lives we havent lived".
Lines in the Sand The Picot- Sykes Agreement and the shaping of the Middle East.
On this panel was James Barr who has written this book - but also Christopher Sykes the great Grandson of Mark Sykes. We heard how the young Sykes was born into a wealthy family in the UK but was sick at an early age and his father was told to take him to a hot climate. So he started travelling with him to the Ottoman Empire and the Middle East. Sykes spoke Arabic and did a number of interesting photographic journeys across the East even while at Cambridge which were published at an early age - he became an MP in 1911 and wanted to use his knowledge of the Middle East. With the war looming Kitchener set up a committee to decide who would take what areas after the war.
In 1915 Sykes was sent to Paris to meet Picot and draw a line in the sand. After many negotiations the north part was administered by the French and the southern part by Britain. Picot signed in ink and Sykes in pencil ! The British were not very pleased with the outcome. Subsequently it was largely viewed as an imperialist machination but was also often used as an excuse by the Arab nations for the fact that they did not progress. Its significnce was curtailed by the Balfour Agreement in 1916 but it is an interesting fact that the jihadis in their incursions put out a statement that they were destroying the colonial Picot Sykes border which had been drawn up all those years ago.
Susan Linscomb gave us an hour into the lives and loves of Henry VIII. She suggested that our mental picture of Henry is not very flattering but actually in this youth he was an athletic, handsome and accomplished young man whose first marriage to Catherine of Aragon, the wife of his dead brother, was doomed because no male heir was produced. He went to great lengths to dissolve that marriage to marry Anne Boleyn and waited six years before he could marry her. Sadly their baby boy died and she later went on to have Mary. She was however accused of adultery and conspiring the King's Death and Susan has done considerable research on this as to whether this was a conspiracy and the king was very unhappy about losing Anne or whether there was fuel to the allegations. She suggests that there is evidence to support the former theory.Whatever the outcome, Henry who by now looked like a Square with a prominent cod piece to show his virility felt he could behead the lovely Anne and marry Jane Seymour 11 days later. All in all she hasn't quite dispelled my image of Henry VIII but it was a good try.
The best session of today was Luke Harding talking about the death of Litvinenko, a compelling account of his time as a Guardian correspondent in Russia where he was followed and harassed by the KGB. He pursued this story even after he was deported from Russia. The UK inquiry about the death of this man who was poisoned by polonium indicated that it was probable on the evidence that that the assassination was ordered from above and that Putin effectively is a murderer. Of course Litvinenko died in the Uk where he fled to take refuge, but 23 other journalists have died in Russia for speaking the truth. Gripping and compelling it will undoubtedly be made into a film one day but more to the point is the current relevance of Putin's interference with the US election, the very strange and "cordial relations which Trump and members of his team have with Putin and what lurks beneath. "A Very Expensive Poison The Murder of Litvinenko". Watch this space.