RADIO / If it looks like you, eat it

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The Independent Culture
IT JUST hasn't rained enough recently. In a ladies' loo at London Zoo, they are using artificial rain, honestly, every day. You can tell how happy are the moistened Polynesian tree- frogs who live there, when their nice long eye-stalks appear. David Clark, who has helped to bring their population up from 4 to more than 800, is also happy. He has devised a diet of porridge, cuttle-bone, grass meal, dog food and trout pellets - I think he said trout pellets - which delights them. Animals, he said, enjoy eating food which closely resembles themselves. It seems an odd idea, but he should know. He is one of the Whackademics, a group of bizarre boffins whose researches are being celebrated on Radio 4.

Another of these glorious nutters has been busy in Oxford, looking for the secret of human happiness. Now he's cracked it. Eat your heart out, Pope, you were wrong. True bliss lies not in virtue but in Scottish dancing. Just talking about it to the bemused David Stafford made him nervous about being late for his Highland fling, so he said goodbye and disappeared into the night. Only to be replaced by a serious Egyptologist who has recreated Egyptian beer from ancient recipes. It is, she confidently assured us, from bitter

experience, disgusting.

It's been an eccentric week. Another clever chap has discovered that robins have regional accents. He took some Sussex robins to Wales, where they were as welcome as Midlands weekenders. Yesterday's programme, Liar Birds and Talking Ducks (R4), collected recordings of ornithological freaks, such as Sparky Williams, a budgie who sounds just like Ken Dodd with a dreadful scriptwriter. Sparky could easily bore you featherless with his avian patter. There were starlings imitating sirens, who posed the grisly threat of a dawn chorus of car-alarms, and a uniquely appalling Australian swearing musk-duck called Ripper, who ended the programme insulting his owner by repeatedly jeering 'You bloody fool'.

Over on Radio 3, they were having none of it. Their concern, in Music to Measure, was with whether recording anything was actually a good idea. It seems like rather an austere attitude, but it had a curious appeal. Simon Rattle said that it is impossible for a studio recording to achieve perfection, however sophisticated the editing: too much tidiness is lifeless. Obviously, live recording becomes an attractive compromise, although it's a shame when a delicate pianissimo is obscured by fortissimo coughing. We'll just have to go out to more concerts, armed with throat lozenges.

There were two good plays this week. Gary Mitchell's Independent Voice (R4) was a masterpiece. It was about two young men running a local newspaper in Belfast who try to uncover a drugs racket being run by the UDA. Their brave attempts are horribly doomed and result in the glorification of a murderous thug. It gave a strong flavour of life in a country where men with guns decide who lives and who dies, but at the same time, it trumpeted the courage of those who try to resist.

Simon Beaufoy won the Woolwich Young Playwrights competition with Saddam's Arms (LBC), a play set in a Northern town at the start of the Gulf war. A small boy called Max attempts to climb up the local gasometer as a preparation for fulfilling his dream of scaling the monumental statue of Saddam Hussein in Baghdad. Max's father is distracted from what the child is up to by his own extra-marital affairs. It was a comfort that it all ended happily: the father's aberrations were ultimately dismissed by the child as what happens to anybody who goes through a 'midwife crisis'.