RADIO / You might as well re-live

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The Independent Culture
'IF PEOPLE were more like us dogs, life'd be a whole lot simpler. No romance, no heartbreak, no waiting by the telephone: you just circle each other and sniff.' The speaker is Dorothy Parker's dog, Robinson, hero and narrator of Ayshe Raif's play Excuse My Dust (R4). His owner was born 100 years ago today, but time has not dulled her scalpel wit. It still cuts incisively, and often draws blood.

The play begins with a hapless reporter asking her opinion of a show. 'Write your own copy, kid,' is all the help he gets. But, shamelessly, the playwright uses her subject's copy throughout. 'Some men break your heart in two,' she drawls. 'Some men fawn and flatter. Some men never look at you - and that clears up the matter.' It is the first type of man who triggers the plot - a male whore who secures her devotion before moving on to an older, richer widow, leaving her suicidal, again.

The wisecracking dog is a useful way of offering covert sympathy. In real life, Parker was unreliable about animals. She once said that you could tell the crash was coming when she started getting tender about Our Dumb Friends. 'Three highballs and I think I'm St Francis of Assisi.' Robinson has a dog's life. Just once, she suggests a walk. 'In daylight?' he responds incredulously, 'a real walk, with fire hydrants and trashcans? With trees and other mutts?'

Kate Harper is a fine Parker, trickling acid over her cronies in the Algonquin lobby, miserably downing bourbon when alone. Her horrid lover - first breathing 'You're purrfect, Dotty' into her ear, then bending everyone else's with her intimate secrets - deserves garrotting. The only problem with the play is Ayshe Raif's understandable desire to fit in every Parker one-liner in reach. It's fun, but towards the end credibility falters. It is hard to believe that, just up from an overdose, even she could proffer such ripostes. 'Is it true you once had an abortion, Miss Parker?' asks a stranger. 'That's what you get for putting all your eggs in one bastard,' she replies, jauntily.

Wednesday's Kaleidoscope (R4) offered a poignant rider to all this. 'Excuse my dust' is Parker's own chosen epitaph. Brendan Gill explained that people wrote those words on the backs of cars in the days before metalled roads, when a passing limousine could raise a sandstorm. Then he revealed that for decades the urn containing her ashes stayed unclaimed in her lawyer's office, until an organisation to help black people, which had benefited from her estate, at last agreed to accept it for burial. Even in death, her dust took some excusing.

Radio 2 has started a series that could be called Dorothy's Daughters. It features tough women singers and songwriters who confront the world with wry cynicism. There's Mae West growling, 'You men are all the same - give y'a finger and y'take the whole arm.' There's Ella Fitzgerald as Bluebeard, respectably married to a succession of men, having each time murdered his predecessor. In a blowsy, buxom bunch, the brazenest is the 85-year-old Alberta Hunter, singing about what a very handy man she has at home, and getting away with outrageous domestic double entendres. The series is called Ironic Maidens. Ironic they certainly are, but maidens . . ?

Early on Thursday morning, there was still a chance that the last missing miner at Bilsthorpe might be found alive. But in the course of Today (R4), a succession of weary voices lost hope. Mick Stevens sounded grey with despair as he said: 'I hope something can be done.' Goodness knows what, but I was glad Brian Redhead gently agreed with him. By coincidence, the second of Allan Beswick's Miners (R4) was broadcast just after the accident. To hear the resignation of those men, whose dangerous living had been Houghton Main colliery, and whose redundancy money seems more uneasy burden than bonus, made you marvel at the stern integrity of their communities. 'Close-knit' is how they are often described. This week, they were even closer.

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