RADIO / Act your age, for God's sake

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The Independent Culture
MY SON sprang to his feet as we were finishing the washing- up on Wednesday, crying: 'No, let me do that]' This unusual, if lateish response was triggered by the phone-in we'd just heard and frankly, I was grateful. Radio 4 had assembled a panel of four charming, intelligent teenagers and invited frazzled parents to Call the Enemy . . . If You Can Get to the Phone], for advice. The trouble is that you can bet your next phone bill that the families of those panellists will not have recognised them, as they voiced such calm, reasonable views. It's as easy to be nice to other people's mothers as to other people's adolescent children.

There is a conspiracy among parents of teenagers. In public, you discuss their GCSEs and whether they should give up the bassoon. In private, with close friends, you agonise about their idle surliness and criminal tendencies. The attempt to bring these private griefs to the radio was doomed. 'You shouldn't let them get away with it,' said one of the clever panel, sternly, to an exhausted mother. Oh yes, we all thought, and what do you get away with when you're not on the radio, sweetheart? 'Bring out the big

stick,' advised the cheery chairman, helpfully.

The producer was clearly scared that nobody would phone, so the programme was padded with extracts from TV sitcoms, but the truest moment came with a magnificent scene from The Archers (R4) when Pat, hanging out her laundry, discovers Sharon's knickers in her own duvet-cover and confronts her lusty 18-year-old with his misdemeanours. That was real radio verite: every mother in the land identified with her rage, especially when Sharon drawled her lazy thanks for publicly washing her dirty linen.

My son's other response was to agree enthusiastically with the panel's advice to let children swan off to the Reading Festival, for which I was less grateful. Are these festivals really so great? In MacWoodstockintosh (R4), a rock musician who had been in a coma since Woodstock came back to life, an antique hippie. This was the first live play the BBC has put out for 20 years and you could understand why they prefer recordings. Technical difficulties made it tough listening, but you could just discern the Liverpudlian hero's opinion of that old rock mudbath: 'He wen all thut way to ate durt 'n' crap in a field. Couda gone to Rhyl.' Or Reading, probably.

To higher things. The BBC is going Gallic and launched its French Challenge season with the Prix Italia winner Pelerinage chez Beethoven (R3), an extravagant, delightful piece of whimsy. It tells of Wagner's imaginary trip to Vienna to visit his hero Beethoven. Despite being dogged by a maddening amateur English composer constantly shouting 'Attenday]', he is admitted at last into The Presence, and listens devoutly to plans for the Choral Symphony. He swears to defend Ludwig to the death, as the Ride of the Valkyries merges with the Leonora overture, but the Englishman's poor German excludes him from this rapt tete a tete. He is dismissed by Beethoven as if he were Noddy: 'Tell him I admire his big ears.'

On Sunday mornings Derek Cooper has been revelling in Necessary Pleasures (R4). This week he chomped garlic with gusto. The slaves who built the pyramids ate it by the ton, the Romans brought it here, the Victorians disdained it and package tourists rediscovered it. A Swedish chef, straight from the Muppets, uses it in everything from beer to chocolate cake, and I drooled, remembering my first serious assault by garlic, on a Neapolitan bus long ago. Cooper is king of foodies, a delicious blend of enthusiasm, knowledge, curiosity and modesty, with a rich dash of urbanity - just the thing to enliven the prospect of Sunday lunch.

One of the odd facts he discovered about harvesting garlic is that 'it goes weak at the knees when ready to pick'. Did the same thing happen to Susan Roberts when preparing her anthology of erotic poems for Making Love to Marilyn (R4)? Last night's selection was enough for anyone's knees. When all you expected was the soporific litany of the shipping forecast, to hear Sam West's deadpan reading of Craig Raine's Sexual Couplets could have made you spill your cocoa: 'Here we are without our clothes, one excited watering- can, one peculiar rose.' Luckily, our impressionable teenagers didn't hear it. They were out somewhere.

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