Magazine article The Spectator

Marriage Lines

Magazine article The Spectator

Marriage Lines

Article excerpt

It's all over. After a month's deluded bliss I have suddenly realised that my wife and I are incompatible. It happened while we were watching Seinfeld and The Larry Sanders Show (both BBC 2, Tuesday). But before I give you a sneak preview of the arguments soon to be presented by my divorce counsel, I thought I'd just recap on some of the programmes I meant to review earlier.

First of these is Byzantium: The Lost Empire (Channel 4, Sunday), whose early episodes I didn't watch because I resented not knowing what Byzantium was. Then belatedly it struck me: why not watch the programme and find out . . .

Initially, the presenter John Romer can be slightly off-putting. He wears dodgy clothes, speaks in a funny accent and has a chummy manner more redolent of roundLondon double-decker tourism than stately meditations on the glory that was Constantinople.

But all this, you soon come to realise, is what makes him so good. He has the authority of a reverend professor, but the style of a batty amateur bent on bludgeoning you with his passion and inspirational storytelling until you end up being just as enthusiastic as he is. Romer can make a crumbly ruin feel as if it's still inhabited, a Turkish sultan or an ancient emperor seem like old acquaintances. The best tribute I can pay his series is that next time I'm anywhere near Turkey, I'm going to skip all the boring old Graeco-Roman ruins and head straight for anything by those Byzantium upstarts.

Television hero number two (despite the fact my wife finds him hugely attractive: more material for the divorce lawyer) is Ian Hislop, who, having already achieved the remarkable feat of turning the modern history of the Church of England into gripping television, went on to work similar wonders with the history of our schools.

The final episode included the Islington primary school whose left-wing staff in the Seventies decided that it was a waste of time teaching the three Rs: far better to let the kids learn useful life skills, like how to shoot tin cans with home-made guns. Both the school's sacked former head and deputy still maintained that their experiment - which led to illiterate, knife-wielding nine-year-olds running riot - had worked. One of them looked as if he was now on the dole. The other, disappointingly, didn't.

Since I live in Hackney and only narrowly escaped having to send my stepson to one of its notorious schools, I tend to start foaming at the mouth whenever the subject of education crops up. …

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