radio review

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In the preface to a collection of his essays, Gore Vidal wrote that he has never been his own subject. The remark sticks in the mind mostly because it seems so contrary to common sense: Vidal's every fourth word is me, myself or I, and his writings are filled with stories about himself and all his famous and beautiful friends. But there is a point to be made: that what looks like shameless egotism may easily be a cover for wider concerns; and conversely, what seems to be the purest self-effacement can actually be a subtler form of self-obsession.

This has a special application for reviewers, who voice personal opinions but do it in the guise of objectivity; and when you try to make the subjectivity of your opinions more apparent - qualifying judgements with phrases like, "I think..." or, "It seems to me" - it comes across as more, not less, egotistical. The reason I bring this up is to put into context my own reaction to Foot Off the Pedal, a feature about non-drivers on Radio 4 yesterday morning. I could make a lot of comments on the elegance and wit of Kevin Jackson's script and the acuity of his analysis of the motivations of the refuseniks who disdain the motorised life, and these would all be perfectly sincere. But really, what it comes down to is that I'm a non-driver myself, and the programme gave me a warm, smug glow.

This may seem slightly perverse, given that the programme was largely devoted to non-drivers putting themselves down. David Attenborough spoke of his secret fear that behind the wheel he would be more aggressive than anybody else; Jackson himself made it clear that he is an unattractively ruthless cadger of lifts ("It requires diplomacy, cunning and a careful application of pathos. Tears help"); and in a bitterly self-deprecating poem, Paul Durcan weighed all his supposed virtues against the one leaden truth, that a man without a car is not a proper man.

The fact is, though, all this self-deprecation is just part of the non- driver's armour of moral superiority: we don't pollute the environment, we don't join in the bizarre social competition of car-owning, and we even agree that we're selfish and inadequate. More than that, we genuinely are selfish and inadequate. But that's the clincher: no one has made a more complete sacrifice than the man who has given up his moral advantage; so, paradoxically, no one can have a deeper sense of moral satisfaction. So, thank you Kevin Jackson. I feel good.