Foolings, nothing more than foolings

RADIO
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The Independent Culture
Urgent: here is a message for readers who listen to Talk Radio's Breakfast Show (pay attention, both of you). Look, it's not true. They are not going to re-introduce the Windows Tax. No, I know you spent two full hours fretting; that someone sounding like Mrs Thatcher thought it was a jolly good idea and that a pundit said it has already been dubbed Windows 97 in the Commons, but honestly, Madam, you will not find yourself paying twice for double glazing. Don't knock down your conservatory and immure yourself in the bathroom. Just remember what date it was on Tuesday.

And while we're at it, don't believe all you heard on Classic FM, either. Mike Read is not about to give workshops in mispronouncing composers, nor was Henry Kelly right to say that the mighty Grundy organisation, onlie begetter of Neighbours, is going to take over The Archers and save its namesakes from ruin. Oh, and even James Naughtie is unreliable. Despite the fact that you heard it on Today (R4), which, of course, never economises with the truth, there is no new technique to interpret doggy language: we already knew that dogs think of nothing but sex and food.

Now we've got that clear, here is some real news. There is a bright star rising on R4, called Kate Foster. She is kind, thorough, honest, decent, intelligent, sensitive and humorous. You might have thought her job gruesome and/or dull, for she is assistant to The Coroner (R4) for West Yorkshire. You'd have been wrong: it is as demanding as it is rewarding.

The first episode concerned the death of a little boy who fell through a warehouse roof in the course of a burglary. Kate took his father, whom she had met a couple of years ago when an older son had been murdered, to identify the body. She was clearly a comfort to him, sharing his grief and helping him through. But this week she was a real detective. A local man had died in Spain and the Spanish authorities failed to co-operate in investigating the circumstances. So Kate flew to Alicante, met his friends and pieced together his last hours, creating for him a touching obituary. The series makes compulsive - compulsory - listening.

Last Saturday Loose Ends (R4) churned out its 500th edition. I only caught the second half, which developed a bizarre squirrel theme. There was a guest who had been the Green Cross Code squirrel for 14 years and another who had got into trouble for cooking squirrels on television. Then came Rainer Hersch's very funny excursion into theme music, including the kind of thing you might hear in a new-wave shop which sold squirrel-sperm shampoo.

It's an odd old mish-mash, Loose Ends: like a supplement falling out of a Saturday broadsheet, it depends on a few reliable regulars, like Hersch and Emma Freud, with contributions from often try-hard newcomers. Ned Sherrin hosts it with amiable testiness, happiest when showing off his knowledge of arcane Somerset farming practices, or gossiping with old showbiz types. It has become a weekend fixture - mildly entertaining, often irritating, sometimes hilarious.

Also settling comfortably into a regular weekend slot is Books and Company (R4), now into its third series and improving steadily. At last, real book reviews have crept in, offering a useful guide to what's new. John Walsh was on comfortable ground in the first edition, revelling in the variety of W B Yeats with Roy Foster, his latest biographer. This week, he chortled away with our own Jan Dalley about what literary editors look for in reviewers, then he produced a couple of jolly amateurs - an Oxford professor, and a gorgeous Suffolk farmer who listens to recorded books in his tractor, while glorying in his ploughing.

In tractor, bath or boiler-room, where would we be without our radios? Virginia Ironside, in an unusually confessional Desert Island Discs (R4) admitted to dancing along to her car radio (huh?) - and armchair aborigines received lessons in throwing boomerangs from an expert on Midweek (R4). There is nothing you can't do on air - kerwheesh, we heard, and the assembled guests gasped to witness the trajectory of the little winged toy, returning straight to its master's fist.

The World Service knows best of all the value of radio. Ably chaired by Jane Garvey, its magazine series Everywoman began this week, and it looks good. A London GP answered international medical questions (a nervous rash from Gibraltar, episiotomy complications from Poland, tight jeans from Malaysia); a New York businesswoman power-walked through an audio diary; the desirability of matriarchy was wistfully aired - and Albertina Sisulu inspired every listener with her exuberant story of joyous survival into the new South Africa. After decades of separation, incarceration and humiliation, she is thoroughly enjoying what we too often take for granted: "I go out with my husband to parties!" she exclaimed. "It's so nice to see our children flourishing."

Finally, there was a nostalgic moment when Ip Dip Doo (R2) looked at playground rhymes. They are a great phenomenon, combining ancient folklore about, say, needle-threading with quaintly dated sex symbols like Betty Grable, and they have an inexplicable, vigorous ubiquity. My own children sang nearly all the songs Georgina Boyes found. When the first produced the "my bum's itchy" line from the Chinese restaurant songs, I scolded her. By the time the fifth started, I didn't turn a hair - even when "Ooh, ah, lost me bra" emerged from her innocent infant lips.

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