CVHF 2023: Day 1

The sun shone as is traditional on Day One of the world’s greatest festival, Chalke Valley in the glorious vales of SE Wiltshire. 
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CVHF 2023: Day 1

Ashes Heroes – Mike Brearley, Gideon Haigh, Simon Hughes

The Ship beneath the Ice, The Discovery of Shackleton’s Endurance – Mensun Bound

How to Be: Life Lessons from the Early GreeksAdam Nicolson


This year’s opener was a crowd-pleaser, the legendary England Cricket captain Mike Brearley discussing the Ashes (currently underway) with cricket pundits Gideon Haigh and Simon Hughes.

Cricket can attract urbane, thoughtful types and the panel discussed the nature of cricket (it marries body and mind), the art of captaincy (subject of a book by Brearley), and ‘Bazball’ the England team’s new entertaining approach to whacking a small red ball about.

As is customary the festival bends over backwards to make things relevant and interesting for a younger crowd and it was brilliant to see the first five rows full of Sherborne schoolboys, clearly cricket mad, and there thanks to an anonymous donor.

The schoolchildren were clearly delighted by the cricketers’ nicknames – Bloodclot, Bushfire, Ayatollah.  (The last given to Brearley on account of his beard.)  And the gags – what’s the difference between Aussies and yoghurt?  Yoghurt has live culture.  And Ask an Aussie, do you play violin?  They’ll say don’t know, never tried.

If you’re even vaguely interested in cricket Brearley, who practises as a psychoanalyst these days, has just published his memoir Turning over the Pebbles.  Or as his granddaughter reckoned, Turning over the Pedals, by the Cycle Analyst (geddit?).


Mensun Bound is the famous maritime archaeologist who last year led the team which discovered Ernest Shackleton’s lost ship, The Endurance.

Bound spoke without notes, described the ups and downs of his lifetime ambition to locate this most famous and resonant of ships.  He spoke emotively of the cold, vicious weather and extreme challenges of locating Endurance 3008m below the Weddell Sea, unseen since it was crushed by the ice and sank in 1915.

Endurance was found during a brief weather window last March, after storms that had made “two [of his] fillings pop”.

The first attempt in 2019 had been unsuccessful and involved the loss of the expedition’s AUV – Autonomous Unmanned Submersible – in the pack ice.  For the second attempt the ice pack opened up, “good for us, terrible for the planet”, enabling the Saab-designed tethered submersible to locate Endurance thanks to 6km of Kevlar and fibre optic cable.

In an extraordinary coincidence the Endurance was discovered at 1605hrs on 5 March 2022.  Bound worked out that Shackleton, who died of a heart attack in South Georgia in early 1922, was buried in Grytviken cemetery at 1605hrs exactly one hundred years later.

Who Am I?

Adam Nicolson isn’t just a wonderful story teller, he’s also great fun.

His jaunty gallop though the Presocratic philosophers, the subject of How to Be Life Lessons from the Early Greeks, his new book, tackled some of life’s biggest questions.  How do we think for ourselves?  Where do we fit in the universe?  What matters?

These were the questions a small group of thinkers, all based in and around harbours on the  Eastern Mediterranean, asked themselves, and bequeathed to humans down the ages.

What’s great about the Presocratics is that there’s quite a few of them, and they tended to come up with mad ideas, brilliant insights, or simply good lively stories.

Thales, who was busy contemplating the universe, and thus indifferent to the facts of the world, fell down a hole, landed with his bum in the air, to be rebuked by a slave girl – ‘You can’t see what’s in front of you, how can you expect to see what’s in the heavens’.

Sappho was the first to write about ‘the self’, a huge shift of perspective, foreshadowing romanticism, modernism and much that today we take for granted.

Pythagoras, the mystic, musician and mathematician was one of the maddest, living in a cellar and believing that baked beans have souls.

For Nicolson most relevant for today is Heraclitus, whose enthusiasm for change, fire, flux and fluidity would have made him a thoroughly modern man, voting Remain and ‘embracing diversity’.  Nicolson’s spirited talk ended with a flip chart exercise, plotting how we might all attempt to attain the Good Self and establish the Good City.

Justin Doherty is the Aspects of History Festivals Correspondent. Head to the CVHF site here.