Revolution 250 Podcast

The British Consul-General in Boston, Dr. Peter Abbott, OBE

November 21, 2023 Peter Abbott Season 4 Episode 45
Revolution 250 Podcast
The British Consul-General in Boston, Dr. Peter Abbott, OBE
Show Notes Transcript

During his audience with King George III after becoming the first Minister from the United States to the Court of St. James, John Adams said "I have the Honor to assure your Majesty of their unanimous Disposition and Desire to cultivate the most friendly and liberal Intercourse between your Majesty’s Subjects and their Citizens."  Adams' assurance has stood the test of time, in no small part due to the many able Ambassadors, Consuls and Diplomats who have represented the United Kingdom in the United States, particularly in Boston Consul-General's office, which opened in 1817.  We talk with  the current  British Consul-General, Dr. Peter Abbott, OBE, who has come to Boston after representing his government in Lisbon, Islamabad, and Washington. 

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 Hello, everyone.
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 Welcome to the Revolution 250 podcast.
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 I'm Bob Allison.
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 I chair the Rev 250 Advisory Group, and we are a consortium of some 70 groups in Massachusetts looking at ways to commemorate the beginnings of American independence.
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 And we have a very special guest today, Peter Abbott, who is the Consul General for His Majesty's Government here in Baltimore.
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 So, Peter, thank you for joining us.
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 Of course, it's a pleasure to be here.
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 Thanks, Bob.
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 Now, it might be somewhat awkward to be the representative of the British government here in Boston, where the revolution began.
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 Can you tell us a bit about your role as a consul?
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 What is the Consul General's main job?
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 Well, Bob, I like to joke that to be the British Consul General in Boston, you have to have pretty broad shoulders because I do get regularly invited to things like events commemorating the Boston Massacre, evacuation day, 4th of July.
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 So you have to be able to take all of
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 all of this with a good deal of good humor and make something interesting and light out of it.
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 But most of the time, actually, I'll be honest, my work is not related to history.
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 My work is very much focused on the present day.
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 The modern British relationship with Boston and the whole of New England, which I cover, is very much focused on the sciences, on emerging technologies like artificial intelligence and quantum,
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 biotechnology and the life sciences and on financial and professional business services, as well as things like climate tech, green tech, renewable energy.
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 So I spend a lot of my time helping to support British companies in those areas who want to set up in in Boston or New England or indeed American companies.
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 in this part of the world who are interested in exporting to the UK or investing there.
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 So it's a very modern relationship.
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 And the history is just a lovely sort of sideline that I get to do from time to time.
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 That's good.
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 And of course, the consulate's been here since 1817.
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 It is one of the earliest consulates in the United States.
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 Yeah, absolutely.
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 And it would be very difficult for me to do all of those wonderful modern things if we didn't have, if our shared history didn't, I think, open doors for us.
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 I mean, I think that my Irish colleague and my Italian colleague probably have a sort of a similar long relationship with Boston.
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 Not quite as long as ours, of course, but they have a similarly strong relationship.
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 And you have a wonderful house, your residence on Beacon Hill, and it's one of the Bullfinch House designed back in the early 19th century.
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 And in your reception room, you had, at least the last time I was there, you had George Washington facing Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth.
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 And that was really a good statement of this interesting relationship that we have had, the close friendship and this idea of,
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 people together in the Declaration of Independence, one of the lines that was taken out was a lament to the British public that we could have been a great people together, this idea that we shared something.
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 We've both learned to get along, really, since that unpleasantness in 1814, 1815.
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 Yeah, I know that we have a number of pieces of artwork in the residence that all have a particular connection to Boston.
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 two of which I thought I might highlight today.
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 First, we have a set of four prints showing the USS Constitution sinking HMS Java.
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 And I think only the British would put up paintings of military defeat in their principal representational residence.
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 But we have four very fine prints of the USS Constitution.
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 And in fact, Commander BJ Farrell, the current commander of the U.S.
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 Constitution, has been to the residence on a number of occasions, and she always quite likes to see old Ironsides up there.
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 The other print that I like very much is, in fact, behind you.
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 And it's on the cover of your book, The American Revolution.
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 It depicts the Battle of Bunker Hill.
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 And what's very interesting about that particular painting and that print is that it depicts a British general about to stopping one of his men running through the gentleman on the ground with a bayonet.
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 And what's interesting, as I understand the history of that painting, is that the two men recognized each other as having fought together in the French and Indian wars a few years previously.
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 And what, for me, that represents very, very clearly is the fact that the American Revolution was not a sort of a conventional war, as it were, between two foreign adversaries.
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 It was much closer to being a civil war between people who shared very, very deep
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 family connections, trade connections, and connections of friendship as well.
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 Yes, and the painting also shows Major Pitcairn being shot, and he's falling into the arms of his son, who is a Marine officer.
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 These ideas of family ties are very strong in the painting.
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 Trumbull was doing this within about 30 years.
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 He had been in Boston,
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 doing this piece really representing this moment when these people who did share a lot of history were coming apart, having really a civil war.
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 I'm surprised you don't have a picture, say, of the Chesapeake and the Shannon showing a British victory over an American ship, but it's a very good taste for you to show the Constitution defeating the Java.
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 Well, we like to be local.
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 Yes, yes.
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 Now, back in 1976, which was much long before your time, for part of the Bicentennial, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth visited Boston, and it really was one of the highlights for us of the Bicentennial.
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 The Queen arrived on her yacht, the Britannia, and spent the day in Boston.
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 She spoke from the balcony of the old State House, had lunch at City Hall with Mayor White and other dignitaries,
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 and utterly charmed everyone, as she could do.
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 It was one of the real high points.
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 And then had a parade through the North End.
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 She went to the Old North Church, she and Prince Philip, and then visited the USS Constitution.
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 And it is said that when she was looking at the cannon on the ship that all had the mark of George III, she said that when we get home, we'll have to talk to the defense minister about these foreign arms sales.
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 She had a wonderful way about her.
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 And as you and your listeners know, that last year we celebrated her platinum jubilee in really in the first half of the year.
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 And then, of course, very sadly, she passed away in September of last year.
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 But before she passed away, we just had several lovely moments of commemoration of that Jubilee and commemoration of her visit to Boston in 1976.
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 We held a service of praise and thanksgiving at the Old North Church, where, as you said, she worshipped with her husband.
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 And in fact, on that occasion, I read the prayer
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 that the Duke of Edinburgh, the then Duke of Edinburgh, read out during that service.
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 So there's some really, really nice points of connection.
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 And then, of course, at the end of last year, we had her grandson here in Boston, the Prince of Wales and the then Duke of Cambridge,
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 for the Earthshot Prize, which was a terrific celebration of a modern focus of ours, climate technology and climate innovation solutions, with a very senior member of the Royal Family, and that was another chance to think about those connections.
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 In fact, when the Prince and Princess of Wales were here, they met Mayor Wu in City Hall,
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 And as they were coming out of, I don't know how many of the listeners know the inside detail of City Hall, but as they were coming out of the mayor's office and walking down the passageway, there was a very conscious attempt to recreate a famous photo of Mayor White walking down that same corridor with Queen Elizabeth several decades previously.
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 So some really nice points of connection to that visit.
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 it was pouring rain and um i have yeah yeah i have a good friend robert severi who takes has been taking pictures in boston since 1960 and he was there taking pictures of um prince william and princess uh catherine and he had taken pictures of queen elizabeth ii back in 1976.
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 much better weather for the Queen's visit than for at least that day.
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 It did clear up the next day.
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 It did clear up, but the next day was bitterly cold.
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 And we went with the mayor to Piers Park in East Boston, just across the river, and did a series of events there looking at climate resilience on the shoreline there.
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 and the Prince and Princess of Wales were extraordinarily tough and exhibited that classic sort of British stiff upper lip.
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 I mean, it was absolutely freezing cold.
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 I was worried that they were going to turn to icicles, but generally the weather was okay, not quite as warm as the welcome that they got from Boston.
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 Yeah, they did.
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 So what are the chances that they will come back or that King Charles will come back for the 250th?
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 Well, I think what I could probably say is I've got no inside scoop.
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 I'll say that up front.
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 I think, though, there is probably a decent chance that a senior member of the British royal family will come to America.
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 I can't promise you it will necessarily be to Boston, but will come to America.
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 in 2026 for the 250th anniversary.
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 If you'll have us, of course.
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 It's your anniversary, not ours.
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 So, you know, there has to be an invitation.
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 Well, we'll see about getting one.
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 I know they won't show up uninvited.
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 It would be a bit strange.
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 No, we were talking about the fact that currently the Prime Minister of the UK is Rishi Sunak, who is descended from India.
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 And so we have separation of these countries, but reconciliation, or at least
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 Just to back up, my mother spent some years in the Middle East.
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 Her closest friend was a woman from England, and the two of them traveled together, and they traveled through India.
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 And whenever they stopped, people would look very surprised at a hotel receiving the passports of these two women, one English, one American, and ask, English and American traveling together?
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 And my mother said, well, maybe when you've been independent of them for as long as we have, you'll travel with them too.
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 I'm just thinking about the prospect, had we not had the revolution,
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 Think about if the United States, if the Americans were part of the British Empire, we could imagine any of our 19th or 20th century political figures also rising to positions of prominence in the empire.
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 Had Lord North and the ministry not so badly miscalculated in 1776, I'm not asking you to atone or to justify, but simply to think about this possibility.
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 Yeah, I mean, you can play some amazing sort of mental games and wonder what if, but I do think
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 it's important that we try and imagine these things because there is a tendency in history, and you know this as a professor and a writer of history, a tendency to assume that history was supposed to be the way that it was.
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 And there's also, it feels, this sort of great kind of logic to, particularly in American history, this sort of great progress towards freedom, this sort of inevitable progress towards greater freedom, greater expansion,
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 um and then the sort of inevitability of america's role in the world as as the sort of preeminent superpower but um you know an awful lot hinged on some some very sort of in some ways some very insignificant policies in the in the in the context of the british empire at the time um
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 the idea of taxing the colonies, well, it was a no-brainer.
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 And why would you not do that?
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 Because it was expensive to run an empire, and the colonialists needed to pay something for the upkeep.
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 So it wasn't a ridiculous thing to do.
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 Just imagine if it hadn't, if it had been dealt slightly differently, maybe Lord North hadn't closed the port of Boston when he did.
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 You know, could this have gone a different way?
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 And it would be amazing to think of America being much more like Canada, for example, or Australia in its connections to Britain.
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 That's true.
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 And of course, Churchill's mother was an American and we have developed these connections later.
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 But you're right.
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 There's no reason that history would have happened the way it did.
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 And it is these small things.
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 And of course, this year we're commemorating the 250th anniversary of the destruction of the tea.
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 And when Parliament passed the Tea Act,
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 Massachusetts's reaction was the last thing on their mind.
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 They're really thinking about India, thinking about the real future of the empire seemed to be in India as opposed to in North America.
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 Yeah, no, you're absolutely right.
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 And I would love America to be more closely bound to Britain, to maybe be part of the Commonwealth, for example.
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 it is still hard to imagine, and you don't have to imagine, there are no two countries in the world that have a closer relationship now than Britain and America, whether it's in trade terms, whether it's in terms of scientific collaboration, or whether it's in terms of the kind of the people-to-people links and the creative connections between us, or whether it's the military level, which is really
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 military level has been the heart of the special relationship since the end of world war ii so really really very deep connections all the way from the very top of your leadership structures all the way down to the people to people links in everyday life we're talking with peter abbott who is the consul general for the united kingdom here in boston and uh you've spent uh 20 some odd years in foreign service i mean you have an interesting trajectory before that but you've been posted
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 to Pakistan and to Lisbon.
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 And I'm just wondering if you could, well, what brought you into the Foreign Service as a career?
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 Well, I'm afraid it's a rather disappointing answer.
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 People tend to like or tend to hope that I will say that I dreamt of being a diplomat since I was sort of knee-high to a grasshopper and that this was the vocation that I always saw myself doing.
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 But the truth of the matter is I never really knew what I wanted to do.
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 And so rather dilettante-like, I sort of skipped through several things and
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 I decided that none of them were quite for me.
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 And I went back to Cambridge and I did a PhD.
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 And as I was coming to the end of the PhD, I realized, well, academia really wasn't for me at all.
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 And with apologies to you, Bob, and apologies to any of your listeners who might be academics, I found certainly the English faculty arguing about things that didn't seem to me to really be of particularly great importance.
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 in the world.
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 Well, that hasn't changed.
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 I'm sure.
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 I'm sure it's very different at American universities.
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 Oh, yeah, yeah.
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 And so I knew I didn't want to be an academic, but I didn't know what I wanted to do.
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 And the girl that I was dating at the time, she was far more practical than I was and said, well, Peter, look, you have to have a plan.
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 The deadline for the Foreign Office, the British Foreign Service is coming up.
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 I think you should give it a shot.
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 So I thought, well, you know, I've always liked to travel.
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 My parents, my grandparents were all in public service.
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 Maybe this maybe this makes sense.
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 So I applied and I started to it takes about a year to get into the British Foreign Service, rather like the State Department.
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 You have to go through a whole series of different exams and tests and things.
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 And I was convinced that I would fail at the first one and that would be it.
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 And it would be fun, but that would be over.
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 But I didn't.
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 I passed the first one.
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 And then, lo and behold, I passed the second and the third.
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 And I thought, well,
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 Maybe I actually have a shot at this.
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 And by that point, this girl and I had broken up rather acrimoniously.
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 So we're not in touch.
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 And so I don't know whether she knows that that suggestion that she made all those years ago actually ended up being a British diplomat and having done it for nearly 20 years.
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 So it's been quite a ride, as you said.
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 I've had some fantastic places, some fantastic postings.
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 It's been a real privilege.
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 It's amazing.
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 And so now you and your wife and three children are living in Boston.
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 And so they are growing up not in the UK, but here.
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 I wonder how that is for a British family living in Boston.
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 Well, they are a British-American family.
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 So my wife is American, and I met her in Washington DC on my first posting.
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 So our children are dual US-UK citizens, so the living embodiment of the special relationship.
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 And in fact, one of the reasons we came to Boston was because there was a sort of slightly, there was an unspoken agreement really with my wife that at some point we would come and do a posting in the US so she could be a bit closer to her family.
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 but uh no it's been it's been a terrific run uh our eldest son was born in London uh our two uh the two younger children were both born in Lisbon in Portugal um and they moved to to Pakistan uh for a few years and then here to Boston so um I don't know how British they feel how American they feel but I hope they feel that they've got a sense of being uh being internationalist I suppose
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 And you spent some of your childhood visiting in places like Williamsburg, Yorktown here on this side of the ocean and actually in Virginia as its own revolutionary history.
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 Yeah, no, that's right.
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 My, my father was a, was a, was a teacher and he was in education and, um, he made all sorts of fantastic connections with teachers in, in the US.
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 And, um, so we spent a lot of our, uh, our childhood summers, uh, swapping houses, uh, with teachers in, in America would come to the UK and stay in our house.
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 And we would, we would stay in their house.
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 Um, and we had some very good friends who lived in Reston in Northern Virginia.
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 And we, we often came and stayed with, with them.
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 Um, and we, uh,
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 My parents took us to Colonial Williamsburg in 1988, and we must have gone back to Colonial Williamsburg every year for the better part of a decade.
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 And we would also go to, you mentioned Yorktown, we also went to Jamestown a lot.
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 We found Jamestown really quite moving.
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 I mean, for those of your listeners who've been to Jamestown, it's actually not...
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 very developed in the way that Colonial Williamsburg has a whole sort of infrastructure around it.
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 Jamestown still feels, when you drive out there, it still feels or you can imagine
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 that it still feels the way that it would have felt when those first settlers arrived.
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 You go out into the marshes, you're just sort of surrounded by nature.
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 And when you go in the summer and you're on summer holiday, it feels lovely, but you could imagine with no infrastructure whatsoever, the mosquitoes, and then in the wintertime, the bitter, bitter cold, not really knowing how to live in this environment.
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 It's very moving.
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 And in fact, one of the most moving things at Jamestown is quite a small plaque
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 that was put into the ground actually quite a long time ago now by the Law Society in England.
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 And it commemorates the links between the Magna Carta, common law, and the foundation of the legal structure here in the United States.
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 So just one of those planks, I guess, one of those things that really binds our two countries.
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 Yeah, one of the prints of Boston in the 1760s has
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 against what they see as a parliament changing the rules.
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 We're talking with Peter Abbott, who is the Consul General for the United Kingdom here in Boston, and we're talking about the special relationship which he and his family embody, but also the two countries have enjoyed really since 1815.
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 21:44.480 --> 22:03.011
 How do you, I mean, so this is the connection that the two countries have, or one that we share, and it is very moving to see this representation at the time of the revolution and since, that we're preserving these same liberties that people in England were thought to enjoy.
 22:03.492 --> 22:07.314
 And that's really, I think, one of the critical things about the revolution.
 22:09.130 --> 22:17.876
 Yeah, yeah, and it goes back to something I said earlier, that there is a tendency now for Americans to think that, you know, to see Britain as the tyrant.
 22:18.257 --> 22:37.351
 And, you know, I often have to go to events where people stand up before me and talk about how your brave men threw off the yoke of the tyrant and, you know, the sort of the jackboot of the dictator on the throat of the sort of colonial American.
 22:37.911 --> 22:39.812
 It wasn't like that at all.
 22:39.872 --> 22:41.232
 That's not really how it felt.
 22:41.272 --> 22:49.754
 As you say, they were trying to protect a right that English men and English women had in Britain at the time.
 22:50.234 --> 22:53.655
 They weren't asking for anything different.
 22:53.915 --> 23:01.517
 And I think it's really important to see that history through that lens, that the connections and the love of Britain were very, very strong.
 23:02.717 --> 23:06.558
 But the actions of the Parliament and the King were just intolerable.
 23:06.718 --> 23:07.278
 In fact, they were
 23:07.851 --> 23:33.187
 intolerable act that's what we call them intolerable act the last straw right right yeah yeah yeah that's right and George III saw himself as a patriot king that is he is the sovereign over this empire and you know so he's not posing he's not expanding his power it's uh Parliament doing these things actually in the best interest they thought of the empire not realizing how badly they were
 23:33.584 --> 23:47.270
 miscalculating the fact that the, you know, anticipating that the Americans, well, I think Sir Henry Clinton said, we'll just pull out to Canada and Florida and let the Americans fight among themselves and they'll get tired of killing each other and will ask us to come back.
 23:47.370 --> 23:51.012
 The idea that they could actually unite seemed very far-fetched.
 23:51.448 --> 23:52.709
 Yeah, exactly.
 23:52.769 --> 24:08.517
 And, you know, as you said, I live on Beacon Hill and every time I cross Charles Street or look at the river, I think, well, you know, you've changed a lot of your names and a lot of roads, I think, have roads or street names were changed after independence.
 24:08.577 --> 24:12.979
 But the Charles River is still the Charles River for a reason.
 24:14.144 --> 24:14.584
 That's right.
 24:15.785 --> 24:18.147
 And Hanover Street is still Hanover Street.
 24:18.327 --> 24:18.547
 24:19.007 --> 24:19.247
 24:19.287 --> 24:20.808
 But yeah.
 24:20.908 --> 24:23.450
 So so Charles the first and then Charles.
 24:23.470 --> 24:26.532
 And now, of course, we have Charles the third and
 24:27.312 --> 24:30.534
 It's been a long time since there was a Charles as king.
 24:30.594 --> 24:33.096
 I mean, there have been many Georges since George III.
 24:33.716 --> 24:39.000
 I don't know, we don't really need to discuss the naming of English monarchs.
 24:39.020 --> 24:41.181
 It's just interesting.
 24:41.261 --> 24:49.427
 Jonathan points out that up until 1775 or so, every statement about the rights of New England began with a statement of their loyalty to the crown.
 24:49.987 --> 24:56.754
 that it wasn't the Crown, it was the Ministry that was upsetting the balance.
 24:57.935 --> 24:59.136
 Yeah, exactly.
 25:00.317 --> 25:04.461
 I know it was thrown down from the roof of the old State House,
 25:05.482 --> 25:19.056
 I do love walking past the Old State House now and seeing those great symbols of royal power, the lion and the unicorn representing England and Scotland up there on the roof of the Old State House.
 25:19.076 --> 25:20.717
 It's a lovely thing to see.
 25:20.737 --> 25:25.062
 In fact, we have the same crest is on the outside of the residence on Beacon Hill.
 25:25.102 --> 25:28.265
 So there's a little bit of royal imagery still around in Boston.
 25:29.568 --> 25:29.868
 There is.
 25:30.168 --> 25:37.893
 And Bostonians did become somewhat more anglophiliac after in the early 19th century than they had been.
 25:38.013 --> 25:51.420
 And Beacon Hill really, the streets of Beacon Hill really were designed to look kind of like a fashionable London district with Lewisburg Square, which commemorates another American British expedition against the French.
 25:51.520 --> 25:59.004
 And, you know, we were talking earlier, you know, the French really are engaged in the war on the American side.
 25:59.993 --> 26:02.916
 and it doesn't turn out that well for them.
 26:03.076 --> 26:12.085
 The Americans and the British have had a special relationship and things go badly between the Americans and the French in the 1790s and later.
 26:12.766 --> 26:22.976
 There's a wonderful story at Yorktown about one of the French officers taunting one of the British officers about how they've lost these three million subjects.
 26:24.202 --> 26:25.784
 they who will now be independent.
 26:25.825 --> 26:30.190
 And the British officer says, yes, they'll be independent and they will all speak English.
 26:31.872 --> 26:33.374
 It was incredibly prophetic.
 26:33.775 --> 26:36.859
 And I, you know, we were discussing earlier, I do think,
 26:37.754 --> 26:48.081
 sometimes think that if I was French, I would feel a tremendous sense of injustice that the French supported the Americans crucially in some of those battles.
 26:49.042 --> 26:51.704
 And yet, you know, I have to be careful what I say.
 26:52.204 --> 26:54.766
 The French have a tremendous relationship with America.
 26:55.046 --> 26:56.487
 Yes, they do.
 26:56.887 --> 27:00.730
 And you're not speaking officially now for His Majesty's government.
 27:00.750 --> 27:01.850
 You're just speaking as a guy.
 27:03.532 --> 27:10.359
 But, you know, I would still feel that it just wasn't really very fair that they gave all this military assistance and we all ended up speaking English.
 27:18.564 --> 27:27.870
 You've lived really all over the world, and I guess each assignment must have both its own challenges as well as its own difficulty.
 27:27.990 --> 27:38.477
 So in Islamabad, in Mali, in Lisbon, and in America, are there easier assignments than others?
 27:40.709 --> 27:43.651
 There are, but it's all in sort of different ways, really.
 27:44.492 --> 27:51.179
 So Portugal was our first posting overseas, which was a really wonderful place to raise a family.
 27:51.239 --> 27:54.282
 As I mentioned earlier, two of our three children were born there.
 27:54.342 --> 27:56.564
 And it's a wonderfully...
 27:58.370 --> 28:06.757
 It's a wonderfully sort of peaceful and low-key society, very close connections to Britain, very close historic connections.
 28:06.857 --> 28:15.024
 In fact, the relationship between Portugal and England is the oldest extant diplomatic relationship anywhere in the world.
 28:16.725 --> 28:22.590
 And when we had the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta was in 2018, I think, or 2017,
 28:26.513 --> 28:44.059
 And we actually got one of the copies, the Hereford Cathedral copy of the Magna Carta, did a global tour and we brought it to Portugal and we placed it in the Portuguese National Archives alongside the Treaty of Windsor, which was almost contemporaneous with the Magna Carta.
 28:44.079 --> 28:52.502
 So very, very long connections between Portugal and England and a lovely country, a lovely culture, lovely society, a very nice place to be.
 28:54.318 --> 28:58.019
 And then we went to Pakistan, which was quite different.
 28:58.480 --> 29:07.884
 And again, very, very long associations with Britain, not always happy associations, of course, very, very
 29:09.626 --> 29:20.636
 difficult period immediately leading up to Pakistani independence with partition of India and the war with, as it was, East Pakistan there with Bangladesh.
 29:22.198 --> 29:26.101
 So very, very difficult genesis, but now very, very deep ties.
 29:26.201 --> 29:32.728
 In fact, our High Commission in Islamabad, which is the name that we give our embassies in Commonwealth countries.
 29:32.788 --> 29:33.909
 So our High Commission in
 29:34.349 --> 29:47.419
 in Islamabad, certainly when I was there, was our largest mission overseas anywhere in the world and reflects, I think, the real depth of those people to people links between Britain and Pakistan.
 29:47.459 --> 29:51.202
 So we had a lovely time there and we were we were fortunate, in fact, to be there
 29:52.844 --> 30:03.650
 at a point at which, for about a decade before we arrived, all of the indices of violence that were associated, I think, in the post 9-11 period have been declining.
 30:03.670 --> 30:06.692
 And in fact, it was a relatively safe place to be.
 30:06.792 --> 30:12.115
 So my family and I, we just enjoyed really wonderful freedom around the country.
 30:12.155 --> 30:16.938
 The people, the music, the food, the landscape, everything was extraordinary.
 30:17.999 --> 30:25.925
 And we were there when the pandemic struck and we all suddenly had to, you know, like everyone around the world went into lockdown.
 30:25.945 --> 30:26.686
 30:27.206 --> 30:29.208
 But we just weren't sure at that stage.
 30:29.288 --> 30:31.790
 Nobody really knew what the pandemic would bring.
 30:31.830 --> 30:37.114
 We didn't know whether the Pakistani healthcare system would be able to cope with it in the end.
 30:37.714 --> 30:43.219
 Actually, in those first few months of the pandemic, Pakistani society wasn't hugely affected.
 30:43.259 --> 30:45.861
 It was affected much worse in, I think, the second pandemic.
 30:46.181 --> 31:14.590
 wave of the pandemic as India was as well and then we left Pakistan and we came to Boston and you know it's just been a terrific posting it's been the most intellectually stimulating of any job that I've done I mean I can I'm sitting here in Kendall Square where the consulate is actually in Cambridge and I could throw a stone and you know I'd probably hit a Nobel Prize winner or somebody you know doing something really extraordinary really sort of world-changing
 31:15.576 --> 31:19.818
 And so being a part of that atmosphere has been really terrific.
 31:20.799 --> 31:38.287
 I would say, though, I mean, one of the things I've loved about this job but has also been difficult is this is my first representational role where I have to entertain, I live in a representational property, so I have overnight visitors, we have receptions, we have dinners, et cetera.
 31:39.427 --> 31:40.428
 And whilst that is...
 31:41.189 --> 31:42.892
 literally the bread and butter of a diplomat.
 31:42.952 --> 31:43.973
 It's quite a lot.
 31:44.014 --> 31:45.055
 It's quite a heavy load.
 31:45.115 --> 31:50.144
 And you have to get used to being something of a public figure.
 31:50.845 --> 31:52.889
 I'm not going to claim that I'm famous, but, you know,
 31:53.922 --> 32:05.436
 You know, there's just always in the back of your mind when you're out and about, well, you know, you should probably behave in a certain way just in case somebody says, well, isn't that the British Consul General losing his rag with his children or whatever it is?
 32:05.997 --> 32:07.639
 Yeah, yeah, yeah.
 32:07.679 --> 32:10.723
 That's, yeah, that definitely is a challenge.
 32:12.885 --> 32:30.871
 Now, you started off, actually, you have a doctorate studying Greek tragedy, and I suppose that's, I can see why you would have given up academia, and I wonder how much the Greeks come up in your dealings with, in your diplomatic duties.
 32:32.028 --> 32:35.390
 Well, Greek tragedy wasn't the reason I gave up academia.
 32:35.430 --> 32:36.210
 It was academics.
 32:37.051 --> 32:37.991
 Yeah, I can see that.
 32:39.632 --> 32:40.552
 Not the subject.
 32:43.274 --> 32:58.422
 So in my final year as an undergraduate, Cambridge University, the English faculty has a relatively famous thing called the tragedy paper, where you're introduced to the tragedy, Shakespearean tragedy, Greek tragedy, Elizabethan tragedy, modern tragedy, et cetera.
 32:59.554 --> 33:18.811
 and the way that the paper is taught is it really encourages you to think about tragedy in its broadest possible sense, from psychological, political, all sorts of angles, as well as from literary angles, and it really fired up my interest, and I wrote a paper in that final year on Timothy McVeigh.
 33:19.311 --> 33:21.713
 Now, if you don't remember, Timothy McVeigh was one of the opening...
 33:24.200 --> 33:28.223
 And I wrote this piece about tragedy and terrorism that was really interesting to me.
 33:28.243 --> 33:35.269
 And this was May or June of 2000 when I graduated.
 33:36.670 --> 33:38.091
 No, sorry, May, June 2001.
 33:38.131 --> 33:39.893
 May, June 2001.
 33:40.553 --> 33:44.437
 So three months later, I've graduated from university.
 33:44.577 --> 33:45.838
 Three or four months later, we have 9-11.
 33:47.759 --> 33:52.162
 the biggest terrorist attack that anybody can remember.
 33:52.682 --> 34:00.047
 And I had just moved to the United States to work for a lady named Arianna Huffington, who I worked for for a year.
 34:00.087 --> 34:02.549
 She was a writer and a columnist, and I helped her out with some of
 34:03.389 --> 34:06.170
 some of her writing and research and fact checking and things.
 34:06.230 --> 34:07.851
 She ran for governor of California.
 34:08.091 --> 34:08.391
 She did.
 34:08.411 --> 34:09.811
 She ran for governor of California.
 34:09.871 --> 34:10.312
 34:11.372 --> 34:27.498
 But after that, those terrorist attacks of 9-11, I just couldn't get out of my head how important it was to think about how the ancient Greeks dealt with terror and dealt with fear in their societies and sort of sublimated it through drama and through public
 34:28.803 --> 34:29.604
 public theater.
 34:30.405 --> 34:36.413
 And so I really wanted to go back to Cambridge and study, do a PhD on tragedy and terrorism.
 34:36.453 --> 34:37.835
 That's really what I wanted to do.
 34:38.976 --> 34:43.142
 The problem was, is that that was just deemed to be too wide a field.
 34:46.145 --> 34:48.866
 So everyone I spoke to said, oh, well, you can't do that.
 34:48.926 --> 34:55.387
 That's sort of literature, that's sort of classics, that's sort of politics, that's sort of international affairs.
 34:55.427 --> 34:56.627
 You're shaking your head, Bob, I can see.
 34:56.647 --> 34:58.987
 You're like, that's just not going to fly at a university.
 34:59.007 --> 35:04.588
 No, no, no, I'm shaking my head because that's exactly what people will tell you to stop you from doing something really interesting.
 35:06.228 --> 35:14.790
 So in the end, I narrowed it right down and I did something more classically literary while still having a nod to...
 35:16.431 --> 35:17.111
 to terrorism.
 35:17.191 --> 35:21.795
 But that was really, that was what drove me to my interest in Greek tragedy.
 35:22.916 --> 35:23.617
 I can see that.
 35:23.777 --> 35:26.939
 I mean, that's a fascinating story, a fascinating subject.
 35:27.320 --> 35:34.446
 And again, it is the way academics work to try to narrow you down and prevent you from doing something.
 35:35.406 --> 35:37.488
 Maybe in your retirement, you can get back to...
 35:39.557 --> 35:41.698
 The Greeks and Terrorism and Tragedy.
 35:43.279 --> 35:48.482
 Always, sadly, will be a timely subject, and the Greeks always will be timely.
 35:48.983 --> 35:57.248
 One of my good friends who was a politician but also a Greek scholar, he had a mentor who said, if you have the Greeks, you don't need anyone else.
 35:59.252 --> 36:00.273
 No, exactly.
 36:00.553 --> 36:12.864
 But I think we are going through a period in sort of academic circles where humanities, English literature, drama are being questioned like never before.
 36:14.326 --> 36:23.334
 And I think those of us who believe that the humanities are worth studying need to be pretty vocal in our defence of them.
 36:24.234 --> 36:45.266
 uh because it's hard to argue why somebody shouldn't go and do an engineering degree or instead they should study poetry right we have to be quite sophisticated in our arguments very true and do you have any good arguments to help us make help us in the academy make i think um i think studying literature in all its forms
 36:46.336 --> 36:53.900
 is a wonderful way to build empathy with other people and helps us put ourselves in other people's shoes.
 36:54.000 --> 37:03.845
 And I think more and more now we are being, this is sort of identity politics, tells you that you can never understand the trials and tribulations of another person.
 37:05.826 --> 37:07.146
 And I don't think that's true.
 37:07.827 --> 37:14.430
 I think with a sufficiently well-developed sense of empathy and understanding, we can meet all sorts of people.
 37:14.910 --> 37:16.411
 and try and understand where they've come from.
 37:16.511 --> 37:19.793
 And literature helps us get better at doing that.
 37:19.873 --> 37:29.019
 It helps us to test out ideas and to sort of train ourselves to be better at being empathetic and better at understanding other people's perspectives.
 37:31.040 --> 37:32.301
 37:32.721 --> 37:33.101
 Thank you.
 37:33.482 --> 37:40.246
 We've been talking with Peter Abbott, who is the Consul General for the United Kingdom here in Boston.
 37:40.406 --> 37:43.448
 So far, career of Foreign Service, since other stints in...
 37:44.394 --> 37:55.286
 academia and in American politics, and now, fortunately, as a representative of the British government, and fortunately, here in Boston, as well as in Cambridge.
 37:55.326 --> 37:56.988
 So Peter, thank you so much for joining us.
 37:58.129 --> 37:59.131
 Of course, it's a pleasure, Bob.
 37:59.151 --> 37:59.431
 Thank you.
 38:01.388 --> 38:18.155
 and i want to thank jonathan lane our producer and our listeners you know peter we thought we'd have a handful of folks around boston tuning in but actually we have a pretty wide listenership people all over the world and so every week i like to acknowledge some of them in different places and if you are in one of these
 38:19.090 --> 38:30.224
 Places listening in, send Jonathan Lane an email, jlane at, and he'll send you some of our Revolution 250 swag as we prepare for the 250th events and things.
 38:30.985 --> 38:36.953
 And this week, there are all places you may know, Southampton and Bristol and London.
 38:37.600 --> 38:46.713
 Edinburgh and Livingston in West Lothian, Sydney, Melbourne and Auckland, Burgess Hill in West Sussex and Huddersfield in Kirklees.
 38:47.173 --> 38:48.655
 Thank you so much for joining us.
 38:48.896 --> 38:50.298
 And thank you all folks in between.
 38:50.358 --> 38:51.319
 Thank you, Peter Abbott.
 38:52.040 --> 38:54.724
 And now we will be piped out on the road to Boston.