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Professor Heaney charms in person as well as poetry


Seamus Heaney

Seamus Heaney

Seamus Heaney

Seamus Heaney was as deserving of the title "national treasure" as anyone. After his Nobel, there was a "he's overrated" reaction from a minority; after he died, an understandable overflow of applause.

The truth lies in between, and for me, Heaney was a fine poet. I did a module on his work in university and always liked it: there was an uncommon musicality, a sense of form or style as a worthy end in itself, not just a method to convey a message. The sort of poetry that reads better aloud.

Anyway: Professor Heaney (Radio 1 Sat 6pm) is a charming, warm, enlightening two-parter (the second airs this weekend). Presented by another writer (and broadcaster), John Kelly, produced by Sinead Egan, it concentrates on the Derry man's time as a lecturer in Harvard and Oxford.

The show was charming and warm for the same reason: as well as being a mighty man of letters, Heaney was by all accounts, well, a mighty man.

People spoke with such fondness of him; no sense of hagiography or stiff-backed determination to speak well of the dead, but sincere affection and admiration for a very decent person.

And it was enlightening, mainly because I never realised Oxford could be a dirty, dodgy, dangerous city. You think of it as virtually a real-life Hogwarts or something - muddle-headed dons cycling about, scarves and cricket, mulled wine in the "Maudlin" dorms. That sort of thing.

But according to this, the pubs and streets could be rough; the locals didn't like outsiders and weren't shy about proving it via the judicious movement of their fists. A funny attitude to take in a town which, to all intents and purposes, would hardly exist without the colleges, but there you go.

By the time you read this, Scotland will have decided whether or not to leave the UK, barring some "hanging chad"-style debacle. There's been a lot of coverage here on Thursday's referendum, but I decided to go straight to the source to educate myself on the matter. (Shamefully, I knew almost nothing about this seismic event.)

Crossfire (BBC Radio Scotland, Sun 9am) gave a useful overview of the main themes, and a straightforward "yes or no" debate. The strange thing was how well-mannered they all were. This is the future of their country - it could be heaven or disaster - but they were polite, cheerful and non-aggressive.

Quite a contrast to the screeching monkeys of our referendums. And, like Oxford, another stereotype smashed.

Indo Review