Seriously is home to the world’s best audio documentaries and podcast recommendations, and host Vanessa Kisuule brings you two fascinating new episodes every week.
The River Man
100 years ago the Anglo-Irish Treaty was signed, bringing to a formal end the Irish War of Independence and ending centuries of British colonial control. During the war members of the IRA were pitted against the Royal Irish Constabulary, the British Army and the notorious Black and Tans and Auxiliaries. It's a story of divided loyalties and the unresolved traumas of war, with resonance today as Britain and Ireland struggle to address the legacy of the more recent violence of the Troubles in Northern Ireland. In an investigation into the fate of one man, James Kane, the River Man, executed by the IRA a century ago, by men he knew and who liked him, Fergal Keane explores some of these issues. Why did they kill him and what were the consequences for his family and his executioners? Producer: John Murphy
Will Self tells the story of his black bin bag... from his back door... to its final destination. It's the story of a modern-day dump - an extraordinary, alien, nauseating world - where, instead of being buried, the rubbish will go up in smoke. Voices of waste workers intermingle with the rubbish in a go-round of garbage, scored by Jon Nicholls. There are the bin men who believe 'you just gotta get in the groove' as they walk ten miles a day, to 'pick up a bit of crap, sling it in the back of the lorry and take it down the dump'. There's the weighbridge clerk at the sorting facility taking pride in separating the 'sheepy recycling from the goatish garbage' to load it onto enormous steel containers. Boatmen on the Thames steer these huge barges, bright orange in colour, past the great landmarks of London in 'a cockney pas-de-deux danced with detritus'. Downriver, the bag arrives at its destination - a giant industrial incinerator where ten thousand tonnes of waste are going up in flames, at temperatures of 850 degrees. 'Some people are mesmerized by it', we hear. Will's black bag meets its 'fiery and apocalyptic end'. It's a raw, unnerving look at our relationship with our waste. Sound designer: Jon Nicholls Producer: Adele Armstrong
Shaking up the Shanty
The musical duo The Rheingans Sisters compose a contemporary sea shanty for an unusual cargo boat that has ditched diesel in favour of sails.
Take a look around your home, and it’s likely that 90% of what you’ll see has spent some time on a cargo boat. The shipping industry is massive, and so is its impact on the environment and the climate.
But onboard De Gallant, things are different. This boat transports fair trade cargo around the world on wind power alone.
In some ways, this boat is old fashioned – its glossy wooden hull and seven sails are reminiscent of a pirate ship – but on the other hand, the boat offers a progressive, climate-conscious alternative to commercial shipping.
De Gallant borrows technology from the past to sail toward a more sustainable future and so it seems fitting that the musical duo The Rheingans Sisters should write a song that borrows from traditional shanties to create a contemporary song that sings of the boat’s progressive journey. They set off to understand the shanty genre by speaking to Gerry Smyth, a shanty expert based at Liverpool John Moores University, but then decide to break all the rules!
As the boat makes its way from the Caribbean and then around Europe, Rowan and Anna Rheingans must find creative ways to collaborate and exchange ideas with the boat and each other, using what they have to navigate obstacles thrown up by Brexit and the Covid-19 pandemic.
In true shanty tradition, the sisters create musical bricolage that borrows lines of dialogue from De Gallant’s crew, and melodies, rhythms, instruments and lyrics from a whole range of sources.
Produced by Claire Crofton
Additional recording by Louise Cognard
A Boom Shakalaka production for BBC Radio 4
Could I Regenerate My Farm To Save The Planet?
Regenerative Farming is gaining traction around the world as a means of increasing biodiversity, improving soil quality, sequestering carbon, restoring watersheds and enhancing the ecosystems of farms. The shepherd James Rebanks, author of English Pastoral, is on a quest to find out if it is possible to adopt these methods on his farm in the Lake District. He meets leading proponents of these methods in the UK, US and Europe and discovers how mimicking natural herd movements, stopping ploughing and adding costly chemicals could make his farm economically sustainable.
This is becoming an urgent question as not only is the global population projected to rise to nearly 10 billion by 2050 but according to the UN's Food and Agriculture organisation within 60 years we may literally no longer have enough arable topsoil to feed ourselves. Meanwhile our reliance on meat products is being blamed for increasing CO2 and climate change.
But can James,and indeed other farmers, make the switch to these techniques when industrial farming has been the paradigm for so long? When so many people believe turning vegan and shifting to plant-based ecological farming is the way forward, should he continue breeding sheep and cows? And as companies like Nestle, Walmart, Unilever, McCain and Pepsi all pledge to invest in regenerative farming to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, do the claims about carbon sequestration stand up? How can he use his farm to save the planet?
In November 2020, former army Sergeant Deacon Cutterham sold his medal collection to a private collector for £140,000. Having served for 19 years, completing tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, he said the sale of his medal collection, including a valuable Conspicuous Gallantry Cross, would help support his family.
But there's a problem. Members of Cutterham's Afghanistan unit say the act of bravery that won him his biggest prize didn't happen.
Cutterham's medal was awarded in 2011 after he picked up and hurled away a Taliban grenade while on patrol in Helmand, saving the lives of eight men. His comrades say there was a grenade - but it came from Cutterham's own equipment belt.
If their accusations are true, why would a soldier be so desperate for a medal?
In this programme, defence correspondent Jonathan Beale explores the culture of medals within the military. He assesses their significance and questions whether they encourage violence and recklessness as soldiers fight for recognition in the field of combat. There are some who argue that gallantry medals actually endanger lives and undermine the process of peacekeeping.
We'll hear from critics of the medals system who argue that it's entirely outdated, far better suited to the wars of the 20th century than the subtle counter-insurgency campaigns of today. They say medals are awarded for "kinetic activity", by which the forces mean violent exchanges. Quite simply, you don't win medals for keeping things calm.
Producer: Sasha Edye-Linder
Executive Producer: Max O'Brien
A Novel production for BBC Radio 4
Jan Morris: Writing a Life
Horatio Clare examines how the pioneering writer Jan Morris authored her own life, from her nationality to her sexual identity, trying to get behind the myths and masks she created.
Jan Morris wrote more than fifty books but also constructed her life to a degree rarely seen in one individual. She created a glittering career, invented a writing style, chose her nationality and most famously, transitioned. Horatio talks to Michael Palin, travel writer Sara Wheeler, and Jan's biographer Paul Clements, and visits Jan's home in North Wales to meet her son Twm Morys. Hearing interviews she recorded throughout her long life, he attempts to find out who Jan Morris really was.
James - as she was then - Morris knew from a very young age both that he was in the wrong body and that he wanted to be a writer. Through a combination of self-confidence, determination and what Jan herself describes as her ‘insufferable ambition’, she achieved what she set out to, becoming one of the most successful journalists of her generation and then a world-famous author of books about places like Venice, Oxford, Trieste and Manhattan, which re-invented travel writing.
At the same time as these professional and literary achievements, however, Jan was also undergoing a deep crisis of personal identity. In one of her books, Conundrum, she described how the conviction she’d had as a child that she was in the wrong body had never left her, but by her thirties she was in despair and had even considered killing herself. Conundrum describes how she succeeded in making the transition from man to woman in 1972. She said the sex change brought her the happiness she’d always sought. She also claimed that her decision had made little impact on the happiness of her four children, but that claim is put to the test in the programme.
Michael Palin talks about the Jan Morris he met - witty, generous and inspirational, but also a challenging interviewee who used a variety of techniques to deflect difficult questions about her private life. Paul Clements suggests she 'played hide and seek with the facts'. Archive on Four considers how much she constructed and presented her whole life, with determination, guile and skill.
Produced by Gareth Jones for BBC Wales
Excellent programme! Always interesting, sometimes quirky, usually informative. Highly recommended.