From under the linoleum
Old newspapers show Mussolini's imperialism looked a lot like today's

I sat on the floor and picked through the tragedy of the country we now call Ethiopia laid out on the yellowing pages. It was eerily reminiscent of the current Iraq adventure.

A tale for our times
The December 1934 assassination of Sergei Kirov

Seventy years on, the killing of Sergei Kirov casts an eerie light on the events of 11 September 2001, the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, the “war on Terror” and the state-sponsored hysteria surrounding the shadowy figures of Osama bin Ladin and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

Ninety-three years of bombing the Arabs
It was the Italians, hell-bent on acquiring an African empire, who got the ball rolling. In 1911 the Libyan Arab tribes opposed an Italian invasion. Their civilians were the first people in the world to be bombed from the air.

Dispossessed all over again
After spending nearly two months in the West Bank the pull towards my village was growing stronger, especially after being detained twice and threatened with deportation … an Australian Palestinian returns to her ancestral home.

The tragic inevitability of a forlorn hope
Australia slides further into the Iraq quagmire
Cabinet documents recently released under the 50-year rule show that, in 1954, Liberal (conservative) Prime Minister, Robert Menzies, and key figures in his Cabinet were extremely gloomy about the prospects for success in an American war against nationalists in Indochina. But eventually they went to the Vietnam War anyway.

Bombing King David
One man’s freedom fighter is another’s terrorist

Some historians date the beginning of modern terrorism from the 1946 bombing by Zionist terrorists of the British military HQ in Jerusalem.

Don’t loiter near the exit
Military debacle and economic decline haunt the Bush regime

When I was just a young possum in the school cadet corps there was a hoary old war story that we all knew. It was almost certainly apocryphal, but it ruefully expressed a nasty historic truth about the US role in the demise of the British Empire.


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Englishmen who know all about stuff

26 April 2010

It was Thursday night and Joadja and I were flopped in front of telly watching the latest Englishman who knows all about something.

This one was a keffiyah-wearing Anglican Arabist who lives in the Yemen and he was taking us all along in search of Muhammad Ibn Battuta, the 14th Century Arab traveller who made Marco Polo look like a Sunday excursionist.

“Tim Mackintosh-Smith. Isn’t he just lovely”, said Joadja.

I had to agree. I’d leaned something already. I’d thought a tangerine was a piece of fruit and already I’d discovered it was somebody who hails from Tangiers. Where does the BBC find this never-ending cavalcade of wonderful Englishman who know all about something, who impart knowledge so effortlessly, so pleasurably.

“And speaking of Arabs”, I remarked, unscrewing a bottle of Old Tranglefoot Best Dry Cider, “just recently there was the lovely English Muslim who went in search of Islamic science in the historical bit between  the ancient Greeks and the Renaissance”.

“Yeah, wasn’t that fascinating. That was Jim Al-Khalili, a physicist, and a Baghdadi, apparently”.

“And what about that madly enthusiastic Englishman who knew all about the history of India. You remember, with a limp and a blue scarf”.

“And a satchel . That was Michael Wood, he was also the Englishman who knew all about Alexander the Great, and back in 1980, he knew all about railways. They used to call him ‘the thinking woman’s crumpet’”.

“And last year there was the Englishman who knew about gardens. He had a satchel too. What’s with the satchel thing?”

“Ah, that was Monty Don. He was a scream!”

“How the hell do you remember all these names?” I muttered.

“How could you forget talent like this? As for the satchel, well, a traveller has to have a bag of some sort and a satchel is more casually insouciant than a daypack”.

“Hey, but my all-time favourite was the crazy buck-toothed English nun who knew all about art”.

“Now we’re going back a way. You’re talking about Sister Wendy Beckett. Wasn’t she lovely. She was a Carmelite who lived all alone in a caravan”.

“But I loved how she was always posed in her spotless wimple in front of dirty paintings by Rubens or Carravagio  – waxing lyrical about flesh tones or breasts … even, if I recall rightly ‘fluffy’ pubic hair”.

“She was a natural! At the BBC they used to call her ‘One Take Wendy’”.

“Almost stranger was that recent, dreadlocked, body-building, black English theologian who looked like Dave Lister from Red Dwarf, and who went in search of Jesus”.

“Robert Beckford. I loved the episode when we was interviewing an Israeli couple who were Christian converts and a bunch of mad Zionist settlers rioted outside”.

“And I remember this bloke’s name – Tony Robinson, the Englishman who knew all about the worst jobs in history. That was fascinating. And we’ve  not mentioned the ultimate effortlessly nice, knowledgable, Englishman – David Attenborough, the bloke who knows all about wildlife”.

“So what is it, how do the Poms do it?”

“Well, firstly you gotta have people who know all about things”.

“That can’t be it. There must be lots of Americans and Australians who know all about stuff”.

“Must be, but mostly they’re just lousy at telling you about it, or at least the Americans are … we wouldn’t know about Aussies because we’ve hardly done that sort of doco. The English are affable, infectiously enthusiastic, modest, even, dare I say it, self-deprecating”.

“Americans can’t do self-deprecation. They think it’s weakness or something. And they talk far too much”.

“Why doesn’t Our ABC do stuff like this?”

“Well mostly Australia just does Australian wildlife docos fronted by pseudo-rugged philosopher bushman types in khaki and silly hats. Surely there’s some personable Australian academic types who can hit the road in search of Asian art, or Asian wildlife, or the Vietnam War, or Middle Eastern archaeology or Melanesian art or excellence in public transport. Why can’t we do that?

“Just no commitment to TV as a knowledge tool. And ’cos we specialise in creepy stuff like Australian Story and even creepier metrosexual stuff like Elders with that, what’s-his-name …”


“Yeah, him. Speaking of David Attenborough, remember Denton’s creepy interview with him? Here’s a bloke who’s lived an absolutely fascinating life as a zoologist and a BBC producer and programmer and who made the blockbuster doco what it is today, and Denton just kept bringing the interview back to ‘feelings’ and other Gen-X American shit”.