The Essay, Radio 3, Monday-Friday
Word of Mouth, Radio 4, Tuesday
In the interests of linguistic precision: don't get off until it stops
Andrew Martin has written very amusingly for this paper, often on matters Yorkshire-related. He's even funnier on the radio, it turns out, with his Bennettesque vowels and his tiny but crucial pauses and emphases.
He bestrode The Essay from Monday to Friday with his wry ruminations on noise – to which, as a phonophobe, his ears are finely tuned, the poor bloke. Barking dogs, piped pop music, planes, railway announcements, they are all, to Martin, forms of torture. Fortunately for us, he can see the funny side.
His novels are set on the Edwardian railway network, and Wednesday's instalment was clearly a double-edged sword – he loves trains but hates the tannoyed updates. Not just the aural quality; he bridles at linguistic redundancy: "personal belongings", "platform surfaces", and my particular bugbear, "station stop ... presumably to prevent people attempting to alight at a stop which is not a station or a station which is not a stop."
He compares it with Swiss railways, on which "a voice says 'Bern', quite tersely ... You're left to your own devices as to what you should do with your personal belongings – perhaps you'll take them with you, perhaps you'll scatter them about the train before alighting."
Tuesday's was about music, which he especially hates in banks and building societies: "If I were a musician I'd be annoyed to learn that my art was being used to drown out the sound of someone applying for an extension to their overdraft." I could go on quoting; instead I advise you to get an earful of Martin via the iPlayer.
Like The Essay, Word of Mouth is a dependable delight, and on Wednesday Michael Rosen investigated the portrayal of teenagers on TV. He spoke to writers on the EastEnders yoof spin-off E20, who go round on buses listening for conversational nuggets, and one of the writers on Skins, who bring in teenagers for a chat to see what they say and how they say it.
But fascinating though all this was, the most entertaining part of the show was the second item, Rosen's chat about the ubiquitous misuse of the word "literally" with the self-styled Literally Tsar, Paul Parry, who has a touring show based on his obsession. My personal all-time favourite example was in the Olympic cycling one year, when the TV commentator Hugh Porter remarked of the man closing in on the leader, "He's literally eating up the ground between them!"
A comedic sideline is making "literallys" literally come true: Parry started out by literally going from A to B (a village in Norway and a village in Nebraska); since then he's literally taught an old dog new tricks, and he's literally been to Hell and back (it's another village in Norway), and it was literally frozen over. "I met the mother-in-law from Hell and the neighbours from Hell," he said. "It was quite an amusing afternoon."
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