Article published on January 26, 2015.
Popular historian Greg Jenner is the author of A Million Years in a Day: A Curious History of Everyday Life From the Stone Age to the Phone Age, published by Weidenfeld and Nicolson in hardback on 29th January, 2015, price £14.99 / eBook £7.99
Greg takes an ordinary day as his template to reveal the astonishing origins and evolution of the daily practices we take for granted. From the moment we wake up until we go to sleep we participate in numerous daily rituals that we barely stop to consider: from getting dressed, having breakfast and checking emails, to drinks, dinner and setting the alarm clock. But how did these essential parts of our daily life come to be? When did we start cleaning our teeth? Who came up with the idea of beds? Which came first: wine or beer?
Drawn from across the world and spanning a million years of humanity, this smorgasbord of historical delights reveals how we got from huddling around an open fire in animal skins to becoming the smartphone-wielding metropolitans we are today.
To get to know Greg a little better we challenged him to our Quirky Q&A, a popular feature in newbooks magazine…
TV or radio?
Ah, a genuine conundrum. I am obsessed with television and have spent a decade making telly, but radio and podcasts kept me sane when my insomnia became chronic. I suppose, if pushed, I’d have to go with TV – it was always my first love, and it’s an incredibly versatile medium. Where else can you see Simon Schama exploring Rembrandt’s masterpieces, and then flip over to see Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer smash each other in the face with oversized frying pans?
Radio 4, 3, 2, or 1?
Radio 4! As an insomniac, I go to bed at 11.30pm but listen to at least three hours of documentaries, news, debates and comedy every single night. Music makes me too excitable, so the dulcet tones of Radio 4 announcers are my only hope of snoozing.
Pop or rock?
I’m a sucker for a catchy melody. Though I’d describe myself as a heavy metal/rock fan, there’s nothing better than a great pop song. Taylor Swift is my current obsession – I must have heard Shake It Off at least 300 times, and I still grin like an idiot when it comes on the radio. That said, my iTunes playlist comprises almost nothing except bearded men screaming over deafening guitars. I have the musical tastes of a 16 year old boy… mostly because I still look like one.
Starter or dessert?
No contest! I quite often order more than one dessert in a restaurant, sometimes three! Describing me as sweet-toothed would be an understatement on a par with describing Michelangelo as a mere painter-decorator. After much begging on my part, my wife once made me a giant Creme Egg for Easter, and I’m pondering whether to invest in a freezer purely for ice cream. I’m not even kidding.
America or Australia?
I’d love to go to Australia, as all my Aussie friends are such relaxed, approachable people, but I must be honest and say I’ve always been fascinated by America. It’s a nation of extraordinary contradictions, and its political system is simultaneously a constitutional marvel and a dystopian nightmare. I’m utterly enthralled by its history, and how those radical origins shaped its evolution, and I really hope to spend more time there in the future.
Cinema or theatre?
Movies! Movies! Movies! I’ve loved films all my life, and there is no greater thing in the universe than watching Singin’ In The Rain on a rainy Sunday afternoon. While live theatre and comedy boasts the uniqueness of each performance being different, I can’t help but be entranced by cinema. So much effort, time and money goes into making that 2-hour-long piece of escapism, and I will happily watch any genre of movie, no matter how silly or pretentious.
Inside looking out or outside looking in?
I’m a historian, so I suppose I spend my days on the outside, looking at other people’s lives – It just so happens the objects of my curiosity are already dead!
Greg Jenner is Historical Consultant to CBBC’s multi-award-winning Horrible Histories and its various spin-offs including Horrible Histories with Stephen Fry. As well as contributing sketches and song lyrics, and co-writing Stephen Fry’s links, Greg has been solely responsible for the factual accuracy of nearly 1,200 comedy sketches that span the entirety of human history. He studied at the University of York and, after dropping plans for a PhD, has spent the past decade making historical documentaries and dramas for television. He can be found tweeting historical nuggets to his 17k+ followers via @greg_jenner
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