RADIO / Rising from the ashes

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'WHEN YOU looked into the mirror,' asked the doctor, gently, 'was it you that you were looking at?' There was a silence longer than is usually allowed on air, while the woman tried to answer. 'I . . . I don't . . . I was . . . (deep breath) . . . one thing that struck me was that I no longer looked female. The hair was gone and there happened to be a dressing on my chin that looked like a beard . . . I was surprised that I cared about that . . .'

Jill Taylor had fallen asleep in a car that crashed into a stationary van at 65mph. In the resultant fire, her face had been horribly damaged and she was remembering how it felt the first time she saw it. In About Face (R4), Michael O'Donnell discussed the heroic strength needed to come to terms with literally losing your looks. Jill Taylor is still angry: angry that nobody warned her that she was in for years of plastic surgery, angry that she had been given tranquillisers to keep her quiet, resentful of what she saw as the mawkish sentimentality of her parents' distress, scornful of other people's reactions to her appearance: 'Children don't run screaming in terror - wouldn't bother me if they did - nasty little brats.'

Yet, astonishingly, she feels that her face now suits her better than her old one did, that she had always thought herself terribly unconventional and now it shows. James Partridge, who had a similar accident, has taken it more gently. He is still dazzled by the kindness he received. He wept for the identity that he lost with his face, but now he helps other people come to terms with it, smiling and winking to stop them staring: 'I'm wearing my face with some style,' he said.

It was a fascinating programme, sensitive and deeply compassionate. A plastic surgeon regretted the fact that his skills can never re-create the nobility that is character in a face. He's not the man to meet casually at a party. He finds himself constantly tempted to blurt out, 'Look, I could do something with that nose,' but, usually, manages to control himself. Thank goodness.

If your father was divine, nobody's going to rearrange your features. The new classic serial on Radio 4 is Alexander, and it's great. Philip of Macedon, feeling understandably anxious about his turbulent wife's Dionysian hints, asks advice about his role in the creation of her child: 'What's your view about human impregnation by the gods? Am I to assume that the Olympian phallus was there before mine?' The courtier produces an answer worthy of the Bishop of Durham: gods do father men but they use human seed. So that's all right, then. The boy has so far endured a Spartan tutelage of cold baths and brisk exercise and still sounds, as you might expect, like the product of an unreconstructed prep school. But he's 10 and it's perfectly clear that he has a good deal to do before his death at 33, so the next episodes promise some serious action.

Such boys are often encouraged to keep diaries. Tony Benn took the advice, but it seems unlikely that he will be forever afterwards known as Benn the Great. Not on the basis of The Benn Tapes, currently being aired on Radio 4. The hero of the Left recorded his great thoughts on cassette and has been pressed to share them with the world. The first was about the resignation of Harold Wilson. It revealed little that was at all interesting, unless you count 'Marcia giggling and smirking' and the actual sounds of a Cabinet dinner-party, which rivalled Maastricht for its civility and decorum. It was nice to hear Richard Baker reading the news again, though.

Looking for another hero, Radio 3 went to Seville, In Search of Don Juan. There was, we learnt, a real man behind the legend, a terrific scoundrel called Miguel de Mandra, who had a nasty experience and saw the folly of his ways. It seems that he followed a woman home, enraptured by her mysteriously beautiful figure, but on arrival she lifted her veil and revealed - aargh - a skull.

Nick Rankin stood on a street corner in the elaborately beautiful city: a dog snoozed in the hot afternoon, candles glimmered behind a grille protecting a crucifix, and a scruffy busker sang an amorous lament to unconcerned German girls in shorts and backpacks who went on writing their postcards. He talked to a matador who spoke of the tremendous thrill of the bullfight, the sense of rebirth and immortal exhilaration when you survive an appointment with eternity in this city of paradox, where the sensual and the spiritual are in a state of

permanent tension.

Rankin also met three generations of Sevillian women who know all about how to handle their own Don Juans. It's all talk, one said with husky certainty: 'A man is a dog who barks a lot but does not bite.' Ruefully, an old dog remembered the strictures muzzling his early romances. In those days, he said, to take his girlfriend to the cinema, he had to include 18 members of her family, pay for them all and not even sit next to her. What a hero.

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