Ever wondered what your favourite comedian’s favoured cheese is? Or, where your local MP goes to find peace of mind? Each week Reaction Weekend will bring you Favourite Things; interviews with interesting people about the skills, hobbies, pleasures and past times that make up who they are. 

Tom Holland is an award-winning historian, biographer and broadcaster. He has written five books, adapted countless classics for the BBC, and is the presenter of BBC Radio 4’s Making History.

These are a few of Tom Holland’s favourite things…

1. Palaeontology

As a child, I had glandular fever very badly. In the hospital, my parents gave me a book about dinosaurs. I remember it with the kind of vivid, feverish intensity of being both very sick in hospital and a very young child. The impression of this book was like a great stamp in the dough of my identity, and I’ve never really outgrown it.

I lack the scientific brain to be a palaeontologist myself. But the fact that they were real, that they actually existed and yet have this kind of mythic creature quality is amazing to me. They’re fierce, beautiful, glamorous, and gone forever. I remember the single greatest experience in the cinema was going to see Jurassic Park for the first time. Sitting in the cinema I felt an almost analogous sense of wonder that I was actually seeing dinosaurs convincingly brought to life.

My favourite dinosaur is the stegosaurus. There was an illustration in my favourite book which showed a stegosaurus smacking its tail right in the face of a predator, I very much identified with that approach to people being unpleasant to you.

2. My summer solstice cricket fixture

Cricket is my great sporting love. I play for a team called ‘The Authors’ which has very primordial roots in the Edwardian period, it was set up by PG Wodehouse, Arthur Conan Doyle and JM Barrie. It went into abeyance after the First World War, then two people; Charlie Campbell, an agent, and Nicholas Hogg, a novelist, had the genius idea of revitalising it in 2012. I’ve been playing for them since. They have incredible fixtures, among is my favourite; a Summer Solstice Fixture we play at Avebury on the longest day of the year. It’s quite something to play in the shadow of the earthworks that surround the stone circle at Avebury. Lockdown really hit me when the season didn’t start, I had really been holding out for the Midsummer fixture.

3. Fiction-themed walks

Over the course of the lockdown, London suddenly seemed an incredibly strange and alien landscape. And yet, there was all sorts of routes across it that seemed more vivid than ever before. My wife and I did a walk following in the footsteps of Cillian Murphy in ‘28 Days Later’ which was great. But the one I really loved doing was following ‘The War of the Worlds’.

The narrator comes back to a deserted London invaded by Martians. He walks from Putney into Fulham and South Kensington. In South Kensington, he hears a terrible sound and follows it through Hyde Park, past Marble Arch and into Baker Street. He gets to Primrose Hill and finds all the Martians have been wiped out, not by a virus but a bacteria. Wells’ description of where he goes is so precise you can almost follow it street by street. We printed off the chapter, got up at 4 am and walked to Putney, reaching Primrose Hill by about Midday. It was pretty incredible to have this parallel commentary as we were walking across empty London, it was haunting but one of the most memorable walks I’ve done.

4. The Horseshoe pub in Ebbesbourne Wake, Salisbury

The pub is a couple of miles from Broad Chalke which is the village I grew up in, further up the chalk valley. It is just the perfect pub; it has been run by the same guy for as long as I have been going there. It is also my brother’s favourite pub. He still lives in Broad Chalke, as do my parents, so I associate it with them. I miss them and I always thought I’d know normality was back when I could go there, it would be open, and I could be with them. It’s a reminder of where I grew up, my family, and how beautiful the valley I grew up in is.

5. The London Library

The London Library is Britain’s largest lending library, it’s a private library founded by Carlisle and Thackery in St James’ Square. It’s like a kind of Borgesian vision of a library; strange stairways, peculiar racks, very easy to get lost. You never quite know where you’re going, even if you have been going there for years. It’s got everything you could ever need to write a book and it’s been the background of every book I have ever written. One of the great things about it is the incredibly bizarre category system, it has a whole section called ‘Science and miscellaneous’, it’s the miscellaneous that has all the treats. It’s the most beautiful place to read and it will be opening in the next couple of weeks. It will be one of the first places I visit, I miss it a lot.