Sunday 26 October 2014

Turbans, casettes, and George Bush the First's strongest cuss word

And while I'm being a positive polly rather than a negative nelly, I'd also like to say that this morning's Broadcasting House wasn't half bad either. 

The programme marked the end of Britain's military involvement in Afghanistan. It also looked more generally at Afghanistan by inviting two BBC reporters - Lyse Doucet and her youngish Afghan protégé Tahir Qadiry - to try to capture the spirit of Afghanistan in six objects.

The warmth of their feelings towards each other was endearing. I felt the humanity of Lyse Doucet there, proud of having found this young man for the BBC and of his having helped him make the most of his life during that small window of optimism which arose after the overthrew the Taliban (by us) in 2001. 

One of the objects Tahir brought was an ID card showing him as a very young man wearing a turban. He was too young to have a beard but had to wear the turban. The Taliban insisted on it, and you didn't say no to the Taliban. To get the ID card (and, thus, travel abroad), he had to recite lines from the Koran to them. He now wears Western clothes again, and sounded very happy about that. 

He also brought in a cassette tape of traditional Afghan instrumental music. He and his friends would play it in secret, behind locked doors, under the Taliban. The Taliban only allowed sung music. 

He also has a brightly coloured map of Afghanistan's 34 provinces (in the form of a rug) which he looks at every day. Not too many of those provinces are at peace now, though he says his own home province is one of them. 

One of the other features that stood out was a clip from a long-thought-lost 1980s Letter from America. Someone had recorded them all - which is more than can be said for the BBC, who were incredibly careless back then. That someone, it turned out, had more recordings of Alistair Cooke than the BBC. Now the BBC has digitally do-dahed them all (I believe that's the correct technical term) and is releasing them all. 

The clip in question concerned the news that Nancy Reagan had brought an astrologer into the White House to help shape her husband's diary. When President Reagan's Chief of Staff Donald Regan found out he told Vice President George Bush who, in Alistair Cooke's wording, "delivered himself of the strong expletive he had ever been known to use - utter" - "Good God!"

That gave me a Proustian madeleine moment. I remember that very Letter from America. From nigh on thirty years ago. So that's what I did as a teenager!

Yes, I was an assiduous Letter from America listener in my late teens. I'd forgotten that. And I definitely heard that one about the revelation of Nancy Reagan's use of an astrologer in the White House. I don't remember any of its details, just the fact that I'd heard it at the time.

And that's how the BBC exerts such a pull on so many people. We're tied to it by memories and sentiment. That's long made it so difficult to shake.

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