The week in radio: The week according to St Jeremy

Last weekend, I was waiting for a train at a country station. A girl noticed a laden apple-tree just out of reach. She climbed over the fence, picked an apple and offered it to her righteous, disapproving boyfriend, just as the train came in. "The woman tempted me," I commented, getting on. They both looked at me as if I was barking.

I thought of this some 15 minutes into Start the Week (R4). AN Wilson had been talking about his introduction to the Gospel of St Matthew. Quoting Doris Lessing, he said that this generation had become detached from the past - from literature, culture, mythology and shared belief. Lessing may be right. It was certainly the first interesting remark that anyone had made, but it wasn't picked up.

It would have been foolish to expect Jeremy Paxman, the new presenter, to resemble Melvyn Bragg - and it is probably unfair to judge his performance on one edition. Yet he's had a long time to prepare for this and we might reasonably have hoped that he'd do better - and that his guests might have done a little more homework in advance. Martin Amis sounded astonished to be addressed at first, and could then contribute little beyond a silly remark about Jesus being a faith-healer in a pink nightie, a predictable rave about the poetry of the Authorised Version and some undigested, second- hand stuff about the Book of Job.

Marilyn Butler's turn came next. She was there to discuss her lecture on the intellectual revolutions of the late 18th century, when knowledge of major scientific discoveries was disseminated by means of learned journals. Paxman had read it but the others hadn't so we drifted into a pointless ramble about the internet. When it was time to talk about Amis's short stories, Butler remained completely silent and Wilson told a few anecdotes about Kingsley.

There used to be another, well-briefed interviewer to help things along but now everything depends on the host. The trick is to respond to unexpected stimuli while staying with the subject. Paxman hasn't mastered that yet. Maybe he's spent too long haranguing and finds it hard to adjust - after all, he won a prize for repeating the same question 14 times. Or maybe the guests were not of his choosing and he just doesn't care enough about the Bible, academic revolutions or contemporary fiction - quintessentially Braggish themes. He certainly sounded uneasy, even nervous. Under the old dispensation, debate was often so lively that Bragg had scarcely time to round up the show. This one petered out with Andrew Wilson's faint, fastidious voice intoning: "I think we'll all just drift into nothingness." Not a moment too soon.

Enough weedy weltschmerz. Buckle your chaps, slam on your stetson, sharpen your spurs, we're away to Idaho with the Cowgirls (R4). Jennifer Chevalier followed the amazing Jan Youren and her daughter Kristen into the ring at a real rodeo, the last rendezvous of the Old West. Jan has broken her nose (11 times), her cheekbones (eight times), both collar-bones, her arms, her back, lots of fingers, every rib but one, her toes, her hands, her feet and her ankles, and she's had a "c'lapsed lung and a bruised heart - jes' li'l things like that". She's had four husbands, eight children and 21 grandchildren. She's 54 and she's still the champion roughstock girl.

Such women get their kicks clinging to the bare backs of angry bulls and bucking horses. Sometimes a horse can buck 12 times in the six seconds it is ridden and often the riders are trampled. Jan rode even when six months pregnant and she's not ready to quit yet. You could smell the sweat in Nicola Barranger's magnificent production, but you couldn't listen without flinching and wincing at such extraordinary, mad courage. We heard Jan thud to the ground, dislocate her "good" shoulder and order them to push it back, and we went with Kristen to hospital with her crushed ankle. Incidentally, you may not be surprised to learn that real cowgirls don't waste time line-dancing.

Thursday was one of those Days. It was a big Day for independent radio, marked by a documentary - affectionate, nostalgic and defiant - on Talk Radio, Celebrating 25 Years of Commercial Radio and it was National Poetry Day. Classic FM observed this cheerfully, by broadcasting Mike Read's choice of a hundred best humorous poems read by celebrities between records. Radio 4 was more ambitious, commissioning Sean Street to write a sequence especially for the station.

When you get just one shot at the radio audience, you can't risk too much obscurity. These thoughtful poems, read without pretension, were accessible without being banal, striking immediate chords with regular listeners. As Auden once measured out a day in "Horae Canonicae", Street chose to mark a day's listening with the contemplative regularity of the monastic office: from "Tuning In" at primetime to the vesperal "Close- down", each poem reflected the network's different moods and functions.

Regular finger-posts were Thought for the Day "a rock in the rushing stream, to cling to for three minutes... a stasis before the next wave breaks"; the Greenwich time signal and the shipping forecast: other poems concerned the dramatic impact of the unscheduled, like the peremptory command of the news-flash "We interrupt our programmes..." and the desperate, urgent appeal of those SOS messages, broadcast when someone is mortally ill, in a last-ditch attempt to find errant children.

And there was one about the time Street spends sitting in a car outside his home while "the neighbours wonder why can't he face his wife" and he listens, spellbound, to the end of a play. In this, as in all the rest, he might have been spying on me. But then, as he said, "That's radio for you... seducer of the mind."

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
No half measures: ‘The Secret Life of the Pub’

Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air

Arts and Entertainment
Art on their sleeves: before downloads and streaming, enthusiasts used to flick through racks of albums in their local record shops
musicFor Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Arts and Entertainment
Serial suspect: the property heir charged with first-degree murder, Robert Durst
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Igarashi in her

Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression

Arts and Entertainment
Could Ed Sheeran conquer the Seven Kingdoms? He could easily pass for a Greyjoy like Alfie Allen's character (right)

tv Singer could become the most unlikely star of Westeros

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
It's all in the genes: John Simm working in tandem with David Threlfall in 'Code of a Killer'

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Far Right and Proud: Reggies Yates' Extreme Russia

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West was mobbed in Armenia after jumping into a lake

Arts and Entertainment
The show suffers from its own appeal, being so good as to create an appetite in its viewers that is difficult to sate in a ten episode series

Game of Thrones reviewFirst look at season five contains some spoilers
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench and Kevin Spacey on the Red Carpet for 2015's Olivier Awards

Ray Davies' Sunny Afternoon scoops the most awards

Arts and Entertainment
Proving his metal: Ross Poldark (played by Aidan Turner in the BBC series) epitomises the risk-taking spirit of 18th-century mine owners

Poldark review
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne is reportedly favourite to play Newt Scamander in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars in dystopian action thriller Mad Max: Fury Road

Arts and Entertainment
Josh, 22, made his first million from the game MinoMonsters

Grace Dent

Channel 4 show proves there's no app for happiness
Disgraced Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson
Arts and Entertainment
Game face: Zoë Kravitz, Bruce Greenwood and Ethan Hawke in ‘Good Kill’

film review

Arts and Entertainment
Living like there’s no tomorrow: Jon Hamm as Don Draper in the final season of ‘Mad Men’

TV review

Arts and Entertainment
Yaphett Kotto with Julius W Harris and Jane Seymour in 1973 Bond movie Live and Let Die

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Where the spooks get their coffee fix: The busiest Starbucks in the US is also the most secretive

    The secret CIA Starbucks

    The coffee shop is deep inside the agency's forested Virginia compound
    Revealed: How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Loch Ness Monster 'sighting'

    How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Nessie 'sighting'

    The Natural History Museum's chief scientist was dismissed for declaring he had found the monster
    One million Britons using food banks, according to Trussell Trust

    One million Britons using food banks

    Huge surge in number of families dependent on emergency food aid
    Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths 2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

    2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

    Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths trove
    The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey, 25 years on

    The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey 25 years on

    The space telescope was seen as a costly flop on its first release
    Did Conservative peer Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

    Did Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

    A document seen by The Independent shows that a week after he resigned from the Lords he sold 350,000 shares in an American company - netting him $11.2m
    Apple's ethnic emojis are being used to make racist comments on social media

    Ethnic emojis used in racist comments

    They were intended to promote harmony, but have achieved the opposite
    Sir Kenneth Branagh interview: 'My bones are in the theatre'

    Sir Kenneth Branagh: 'My bones are in the theatre'

    The actor-turned-director’s new company will stage five plays from October – including works by Shakespeare and John Osborne
    The sloth is now the face (and furry body) of three big advertising campaigns

    The sloth is the face of three ad campaigns

    Priya Elan discovers why slow and sleepy wins the race for brands in need of a new image
    How to run a restaurant: As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food

    How to run a restaurant

    As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food
    Record Store Day: Remembering an era when buying and selling discs were labours of love

    Record Store Day: The vinyl countdown

    For Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
    Usher, Mary J Blige and to give free concert as part of the Global Poverty Project

    Mary J Blige and to give free concert

    The concert in Washington is part of the Global Citizen project, which aims to encourage young people to donate to charity
    10 best tote bags

    Accessorise with a stylish shopper this spring: 10 best tote bags

    We find carriers with room for all your essentials (and a bit more)
    Paul Scholes column: I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England

    Paul Scholes column

    I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England
    Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

    Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

    The heptathlete has gone from the toast of the nation to being a sleep-deprived mum - but she’s ready to compete again. She just doesn't know how well she'll do...