Oh! what a boring war

Dan and Peter Snow take their creepy double act in search of Wellington

A friend rang to complain about the proofs of his new book. He has written a boring book, he says. How can he have written such a book? It even looks wrong. He particularly hates the font - it's too big, it's clumsy, it's not a font he'd like to read, anything in that font would read badly, what is it with this crappy font, it's driving him mad, it's the font of all evil.

I suggest that he'd been hoping for the Updike font, and to forget about it. Somewhere between Courier and whatever they use to set the London share services in the New York Times, the font immediately renders anything a thousand times more intellectual. Last seen in Updike's 1990 Rabbit Omnibus, its whereabouts are now a mystery.

I insist that Dan Snow be put on to it - alone. With him useful for the first time, liberated from his father and possibly even his Trevor Eve bomber jacket, Dan's aperture would open wide and see the abyss, inspiring him to head an all-consuming campaign calling for a fundamental change in human behaviour. Never again would we be forced to wonder if Dan and Peter actually like each other or if either of them ever gets any sex.

In At War With Wellington (4 August, 11am, Radio 4) the pair travelled to the coast of Portugal to retrace the duke's moves during the early days of the Peninsular War. As usual, Peter's main concern was with who was precisely right or left, north or west of certain hills.

"At the back and to the westward and the north of this village is a mountain, the western point of which touches the sea, and in the east is separated by a deep ravine from the heights over which passes the road which heads from the north." Got it. "Major General Hill's brigade is on the right. Ferguson's is on the left. They're going right! Round there over to the right! A direct assault up this hill! That's almost suicidal, isn't it?"

"Hmmm. Mmmm," assented Dan in the background, keen to get to the bit when everyone got shot up. The Portuguese grasshoppers and sparkling waves had put him in a buoyant mood, though one still couldn't help but picture his massive head with its peevish eyes, vaguely evoking a Stockholm Open-era John McEnroe with a trim.

On the subject of shrapnel, Dan's rapture was without peer. "Shrapnel had a lethal effect! Raining down on the guys on the ground struggling uphill with all their kit on! They haven't slept the night before and it's boiling hot and then - a shattering volley on them from very close range!"

Exercised even more than usual by Dan's appetite for carnage, Peter took the baton and dove headlong into a Milky Way of superlatives. "It was really a stunning defeat for the French. Really quite extraordinary for Wellington to destroy the French. Sir Harry had said no - an incredible decision! Wellington was hopping mad. Something like 30,000 Frenchmen, Dan! Charging in the centre of this field to the right of where we are standing on this hill! And suddenly the most extraordinary thing happens . . ."

Then I went shopping.

Pick of the week

Olympics 2008
Throughout the week on Radio 5 Live and 5 Live Sports Extra
Beijing Games coverageagog.

Thinking Allowed
13 August, 4pm, Radio 4
Joanna Trollope joins Laurie Taylor and a pair of academics to discuss the “rural idyll”.

Matthew Bannister: Student Essentials
14 August, 12 noon, Radio 2
A-level results day panic phone-in. Unmissable.

Antonia Quirke is an author and journalist. She is a presenter on The Film Programme and Pick of the Week (Radio 4) and Film 2015 and The One Show (BBC 1). She writes a column on radio for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 11 August 2008 issue of the New Statesman, Spies for hire