x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

The air bag: Learning while you commute

The drive to work doesn't have to be boring, podcasts gives you the opportunity to expand you mind while you clock up the miles

The past weeks have been a dizzying whirl of travel with trips to China, Mexico, Egypt, the Holy Roman Empire and Byzantine Constantinople, to name but a few.

Hang on a minute, you're probably saying. The Byzantine empire collapsed over 600 years ago, and isn't the Holy Roman Empire now called Germany? Ah, but this is a journey with several dimensions. In one direction of travel, something like 8,000 kilometres have been accumulated. In the other, we are talking about possibly two million years of human history.

All right. Enough of the mystery. Those thousands of kilometres were accumulated during the daily commute from Dubai to the offices of The National in Abu Dhabi, a trip that usually combines mind-emptying tedium and bowel-churning fear in almost equal measure.

The other journey, conducted at the same time, is a series of podcasts that have made the trip not just tolerable, but something to be anticipated.

Probably many of you are familiar with the BBC's History of the World in 100 Objects. First broadcast last year, the entire series is now available on podcast.

If you've haven't already done so, rush out and grab the lot right now (it's free by the way). Written and narrated by Neil MacGregor, the director of the British Museum, the series is nothing less than a history of humanity, carved up into easily digestible chunks about 13 minutes each.

Starting with a crude flint discovered in Tanzania's Olduvai Gorge that is among the earliest tools in human history, we are near the end of the journey, with a feathered cap from Hawaii (episode 87) presented to Captain James Cook only a few days before the islanders ran him through with their spears.

Each object represents a transitional point in the history of mankind. So a glass beaker discovered in central Europe and thought to belong to a 12th century Christian saint, turns out to be Syrian and probably collected during the Crusades. And the Sutton Hoo warrior's helmet, discovered in eastern England in the Thirties, is decorated with garnet stones imported from India 1,400 years ago.

What does any this have to do with the Motoring pages? Well, podcasts are obviously an enjoyable accompaniment to any road trip. Just listening to The History of the World gives you over 20 hours of drive time.

The History of the World series is about how we are connected and therefore why we are here, driving up and down the E11 motorway every day.

Begin with the fall of the Eastern Empire to the Ottoman Turks in 1453 that effectively denied western Europe her trade routes to the east. As a result Portuguese ships were forced to sail south around Africa, eventually reaching the Indian Ocean and the Gulf, and building forts in Ras al Khaimah and Oman.

Later the British supplanted the Portuguese in the Gulf, establishing a relationship with the Trucial States that continued after the birth of the UAE 40 years ago this December.

The warmth of that connection was celebrated last November with a state visit from Queen Elizabeth to Abu Dhabi that also saw the unveiling of plans for the new national museum on Saadiyat Island.

Accompanying the queen was the very same Neil MacGregor, who not only brilliantly gives the History of the World series its authority and accessibility, but is also one of the key advisers for the Zayed National Museum. And there's a final connection for you.