Waking up at 5.30 each morning, I’m treated to some of the most idiosyncratic programming on radio – Farming Today, Tweet of the day (a mercifully short feature of one bird singing) and On Your Farm. There’s also an odd walking programme with Clare Balding, which I can’t remember the name of. You spend 20 minutes in the company of Clare and (usually) some weirdo, as they traipse around a bit of the British countryside in the rain. At some point she is guaranteed to cheerfully point out that “if it wasn’t rainy/snowing/foggy/a hurricane, we’d see a lovely view from here”: the added irony being that they could be puddling around on gravel in a studio for all the listener knows.
I was brought up on Radio 4. My clearest childhood memories have it burbling in the background: Dad doing the ironing to the the Archers omnibus, all of us listening to Gardeners’ Question Time over Sunday pudding or huddled round a crackly radio on a tiny boat, noting down the shipping forecast. I can still recite it like a poem – starting with the “general synopsis”, then the gale warnings and the rhythm of the shipping areas with winds backing or pressures rising.
Perhaps it’s just that bit of human nature which needs repetition and certainty to feel safe, but I can well believe that British subs were put on nuclear alert when the Today Programme went off air. This may be an urban myth, but what stronger sign do you need of the coming apocalypse than John Humphries being silenced?
And, at a time of my life when interaction and intellectual activity has been curtailed, Radio 4 has provided conversation, stimulation and insight – never mind if I’m scrubbing Weetabix-concrete from the floor, I can still join in with Jennie Murray dissecting systems of oppression on Woman’s Hour. (Have to admit I was disappointed that Woman’s Hour did a feature on Spring fashions. Please stop such madness ladies).
When it comes to intellectual stimulation, my absolute favourite has to be Melvyn Bragg’s In Our Time. It is the most ridiculous and pompous bit of programming but for me it’s a win-win. For those who aren’t familiar with the format, Melvyn Bragg chooses the most obscure and frankly useless bit of history he can (ie the Battle of Tours of 732) and then wheels out high-brow academics to debate it. It’s brilliant. It either gives me a genuine laugh when he announces the topic they’re going to cover (and then to hear the poshest voices ever to escape the 1950s whiffling on about it), or it opens surprising new avenues of thought. And all this before the second washing load of the day has finished.
From morning birdsong to The book at bedtime Radio 4 is the parentheses around my day, and much of the punctuation in the middle. When everything else is in flux and there are few steady points to anchor you, Radio 4 is the calmest port in the storm.
(This post has to be dedicated to Jim Naughtie and the C-word. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=krgCKz5UN6I Ah, the joy of stifled laughter!)