Mark Steel's in Town, Radio 4, Tuesday Unravelling Eve, Radio 4, Monday

Berwick has comic gold, and Steel's the man to find it

Click to follow
The Independent Culture

Legend has it that when the Crimean War came to an end, Berwick-upon-Tweed – which, caught between England and Scotland, always had to be mentioned separately in legal documents – was left off the end of the Treaty of Paris, and so remained at war with Russia.

In 1966 the UK correspondent of Pravda travelled north to declare peace, but Mark Steel wrote to the Foreign Office to clarify matters anyway.

It responded: "If Berwick-upon-Tweed is at war with Russia they certainly haven't informed us."

It sounds as if they were entering into the spirit of Mark Steel's in Town, a jolly romp around places that are off the beaten comedy-gig track, in which he mugs up on the location and delivers a bespoke show. The third series kicked off in Berwick, whose split identity makes it an assured winner in the comedy department. It has switched allegiance 13 times, Steel reported. "The last time, the mayor said, 'Thank Christ for that – I couldn't stand another bloody Scottish winter.'"

It's not just an Anglo-Scots thing, he observed: it's Border Scots versus North-east England: "When you see salmon swimming up the Tweed, you must be unsure whether to sit on the riverbank, gently fishing for them, or wade through the river shouting, 'Who are you looking at, yer pink bastard?'"

I hope Steel wouldn't mind my saying, though, that for all his good work – and it is consistently the funniest programme on the radio – the best remark was from a local woman: "If Berwick was an animal I think it would be an octopus. Because it looks quite simple just lying here, but when it moves it moves in all directions."

There weren't many laughs in Unravelling Eve, Clare Dolman's investigation into post-partum psychosis, which I confess I'd never heard of. In my defence, it does tend to be overshadowed by post-natal depression, which everyone's heard of, but about 1,000 women a year succumb to PPP, which sounds terrifying.

Tracy was initially diagnosed with post-natal depression, but shortly after the delivery, she said: "I thought I'd given birth to the antichrist. My child, I believed, had little devils living inside his stomach which would come out at night and dance around my kitchen floor." When she was changing his nappy, she said: "He would morph into my father, an old gentleman's face, or into a dog." Thankfully, the condition tends not to last, and interestingly, babies are hardly ever at risk. Most of the mothers said that even in the lowest depths of their psychosis they were intent on protecting their baby.

Along with the artist Joan Molloy, Dolman is working on a project to explore the condition. Molloy showed a piece to former sufferers based on the case of Sarah, a violinist, who recalled how, unable to play due to her medication, she put her instrument in an empty crib in the hospital. The piece consisted of broken violins marked "for repair". One of the mothers pointed out that there should be an intact one, too. "We're not broken any more; we were reparable."

Dolman's aim in making the programme was to raise awareness of post-partum psychosis. Mission accomplished, I'd say.