When spring is on the airwaves

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The Independent Culture
WELL YOU could have fooled me. The clocks went forward, announcing spring, but Monday arrived sooner, darker and colder than ever. As the hail hammered the shivering daffodils flat, Farming Today (R4) transported us to the blazing heat of Israel for an interview with Dr Ruth Wasserstein, whose revolutionary drip-irrigation methods are greening the desert. Norman Eckersley, a Yorkshire farmer sick of drought, was learning from Dr Ruth about her marvellous net. Every two centimetres, in each little junction, she places a rye seed; then she spreads the net across the barren soil, attaches one corner to a tap end and lo, from a drip springs a pasture. Back home in Dribblesdale, Eckersley is just about to turn on the tap, while he still has one.

I went back to sleep, only to be reawakened by an animated Jim Naughtie interviewing an MP on Today (R4). Nothing unusual in that, except that the MP in question was Ron Davies, the shadow Welsh secretary, who was already in hot water over his disparaging remarks about the Prince of Wales. Now, he had just been told that, should the Hanoverian House of Windsor collapse, his Stuart ancestry would entitle him to the ownership of Caerphilly Castle and place him 17th in line to the throne, a few places above Albrecht of Bavaria. He was less dismayed by the news than was the owner of the Caerphilly cafe who gloomily predicted a catastrophic drop in tourism. John Redwood, of course, thought that the embarrassed Davies should instantly resign. He was probably right: it gives a whole new meaning to the phrase Burke's peerage.

There was just too much excitement on R4, so I turned to Talk Radio's Breakfast Show, where, oh heavens, Moz Dee had another couple of MPs fighting. These two were fretting about the latest European initiative, which has decreed that from next September at least one-third of all speech-based radio programmes should be conducted in a foreign language, so as to encourage us to embrace our European brothers and sisters.

Desperate now, I tried Classic FM. That was much better. On Mike Read's new show, the big news was the discovery of a previously unknown piece of music by none other than Mozart himself. This was unearthed from the archives during the recent millennium celebrations in Vienna, and proves to be a quartet in E minor. They played a movement from it, and very lovely it was, too - an early piece I'd say, but with suggestions of themes that were later to recur in The Magic Flute. What a great scoop.

Later in the morning, loading the washing machine, I returned to R4 for Woman's Hour, but things hadn't improved. A grisly item on sex therapy, during which a man who could perform quite well alone with his wife, but whose equipment failed to function when he was with someone else's, was being offered the help of a vacuum pump. It almost made me lose my touch with the hot white wash, but then, immediately afterwards, we were back to the perishing politicians.

This time, appropriately enough, it was the European Women's Group, who wanted to punish philandering MEPs by insisting that if they were caught, they should be sent to Coventry for six months and "allow" their wives to take over their jobs. Now this is all very well, but why should a wife want to? And anyway, as the previous item had already made embarrassingly clear, philandering is becoming increasingly hard to define these days, and seems to demand the aid of a plumber, rather than punishment. My machine, sympathetically, went into fast spin.

By the evening, it seemed safe to try again. Surely there was some sanity in Ambridge. But no, the doughty Guy Pemberton and his very posh wife were busy conning a singularly unpleasant William Grundy that their middle names were Hieronymous and Tracy. To reach this point in the plot, The Archers' writers tried to make us accept that grubby William would suddenly be transformed into Little Lord Fauntleroy and turn up at the Dower House with a hand-made get-well card. That really did put too much strain on the credulousness even of a fundamentalist addict.

The whole day was reminiscent of the story about the Welsh parson offering a parishioner the genial greeting "Spring in the air, Mrs Jones?" only to be grimly repulsed: "I'll do as I like, vicar."