The Week in Radio: Relief from the silly season with a startling slice of life on Woman's Hour


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The Independent Culture

We're now into week two of the mid-summer period known as "the radio doldrums." If you need to know more about this annual event, may I please refer you to last week's column in which I whined at length about holidaying presenters leaving their shows in the hands of imbeciles, and about all the dreadful-sounding programmes I had declined to listen to for fear that I might slip into a radio-induced coma.

For the most part, the purgatory has continued. Wagner has lost none of his charm for Radio 3 schedulers while Radio 1 has seemingly moved its entire operation to a beach bar in Ibiza. But then I discovered something unusual going on over at Radio 4.

In the midst of what is often called "the silly season", a time when apparitions of the Virgin Mary on grilled halloumi are all the rage, and when the British public are giddily throwing bathing suits into wheelie bags and cranking "Get Lucky" up on the stereo, on Woman's Hour Jenni Murray was gleefully introducing audio of a man having the snip.

As Geoff Bird made his way to the clinic in Macclesfield with his wife, Sarah, he sounded unexpectedly chipper. "It's your average Saturday morning," he beamed. "We've taken the dog for a walk, made waffles for the children and now we're off for a vasectomy." It was only when he passed a café near his house called Plum's Kitchen, bearing an enlarged picture of the titular fruit on the door, that he let out a little whimper.

As he arrived at the clinic, and it became clear that, yes, we really were going to hear a man getting his nadgers fixed, I briefly wondered whether this might be a good time to switch channels. I was reminded of the time I visited my local maternity ward while eight months pregnant in order to get a feel of the place. Everything was going swimmingly until I heard the bone-chilling howl of a woman in labour. For the first time, the reality of what lay ahead hit me and – moving as fast as a woman the shape of a Weeble can move – I fled the building in terror.

For Geoff – and, yes, I feel Geoff and me are now on first-name terms given what we've shared – the fear really kicked in when the doctor appeared with a needle destined for the underside of his testicles. "AAAARRRGH.... Hmmmm.... YEAAAAAAHHEEUUUARGHHH.. that's... not... a good... sensation," he puffed, at which point millions of men across the nation simultaneously crossed their legs. As Geoff lost all feeling in his nether regions, the real work began. There was pinching, and then burning, then a little more pinching and a little more burning. I would have paid closer attention to the medical details but the "burning" part overwhelmed everything for me. He was essentially having his balls seared from the inside, like scallops in a pan.

There are those who might suggest that Woman's Hour, a show listened to by myriad women who have endured the pain of childbirth, was delighting a little too much in the travails of a man having his privates charred. But what followed the footage was a sensible discussion on contraceptive responsibility and the pros and cons of vasectomy.

A week on from the procedure and Geoff was sitting in the studio without the aid of a cushion and outlining his reasons for having the procedure. Since neither he nor his wife wanted more children, he said, he was "taking one for the team". The fact that his wife hooted with laughter during the length of the op was, apparently, neither here nor there.