The Week In Radio

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The Independent Culture
THE WORLD floats along on a cushion of bubbles: money is a bubble, an airy pretence that the notes and bits of plastic we flash around are related to some real, hard asset tucked away in a vault somewhere. The financial markets that keep the economy supplied with oxygen are bubbles upon bubbles. Politics is a bubble - the fiction of democracy buoying up the fantasy that governments can actually control anything.

Radio, for that matter, is a bubble: on Shorelines (Radio 4, Thursday), 10 days ago, a beach patrol at Studland Bay in Dorset encountered a naturist who had broken out of the designated section of the beach, and a strained discussion followed. Halfway through, I realised that the tension of the scene relied entirely on the listener's assumption that one of the parties was naked; and for all the listener knew, he could have been togged up like an Eskimo. After that, the programme lost all interest, swamped in mild metaphysical anxiety.

Since then, I have suffered a couple of similar episodes, one of them while listening to Pop! (Radio 4, Thursday), a series devoted to bubbles and the fate that overtakes them all. Bridget Rosewell began the first programme driving her car through Bank Holiday traffic, using the crowded roads as an illustration of the way we all tend to want the same thing at the same time. Except, of course, she could easily have been breaking the speed limit round the M25 at three in the morning. Radio, far more than television, demands the audience's trust; the strange part is that it gets it.

This seems to be a fair generalisation about bubbles, though the more outrageous the scheme, the more eagerly the stock-buying public responds. Two of the greatest bubbles in history, our own South Sea Bubble and the French Mississippi Bubble, relied on promises of vast wealth that was going to be made on the other side of the Atlantic; nobody ever checked on how this was going to work.

The problem with the first part of Pop! was that it failed to define its terms: a bubble is not, to my mind, the same thing as a fad. So the Teletubbies craze, one of Rosewell's examples, shouldn't really have been there: Teletubbies never really became the object of barter and the hysteria was based on demand - children who really desired the toys because they adored the evil little aliens. Bubbles, on the other hand, are about what you think other people will want and hope to make money out of.

So far, then, this is an overcrowded and under-schematised series; but full of tall tales and cynical epigrams: "There is nothing so disturbing to one's wellbeing and one's judgement as to see a friend get rich". How very true.

Punk Jazz (Radio 3, Saturday) is a fascinating biography of Jaco Pastorius, the bass guitarist who revolutionised the instrument with a never-before- heard twisting, swooping way with notes. We won't be getting the full story for a couple of weeks yet, but he suffered from manic depression, was on the streets and at 35 was beaten to death by a bouncer. You see, we are bubbles too.