Chris Evans: a menace to A-level students everywhere

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Indy Lifestyle Online
You may not think much of this column, but it's a miracle it's here at all. Anyone with any experience of waiting for A-level results can imagine the atmosphere in our house this week. To ask people nicely to shut up while you listen to the radio is like asking the washing machine to do a silent fast spin. On Thursday morning, however, I realised that I could have neatly combined the mother/critic roles and asked Chris Evans (R1) to get Cher to read out the results on air. I'm glad I didn't.

Jenny from Liverpool did. She needed an A in English and two Bs. Chris told Cher to read the English last, just to prolong the agony. Jenny didn't quite make it: she was going to cry. Chris said she musn't: Cher, being all heart, said she must if that was what she felt she needed to do. They played someone singing "You can cry if you want to". Oh Jenny, why did you let yourself be put through it?

Perhaps because some people just yearn to make life harder than it need be, otherwise Chris Evans would never have anyone to talk to. One such masochist is Derek Lovelock who lives with his mother in a Manchester semi, and last Sunday he told William Shaw about his experiences as a member of David Koresh's Branch Davidians, for a series called Cult Fiction (R5). In a rapid, obsessive monotone, spiked with Biblical references, he recalled surviving the fire at Waco, in which 73 of his companions died. He himself is badly scarred, and not just physically.

Shaw was trying to be fair. The word cult means "a movement of which I disapprove" and is not, he warned, a particularly helpful term. Yet it is hard to approve of a movement that damages people like the sad Lovelock. Cults often adopt a fundamentalist attitude to scripture. The family, or Children of God, interpreted Christ's command that his followers should be fishers of men to mean that women should have sex with strangers. This "flirty fishing" got them into a good deal of trouble before it was stopped. It reminded me of Joseph Smith who decided that the command to go forth and multiply entitled him to have several more wives. Yet, these days, the Mormons he founded seem almost mainstream. Cult Fiction promises to be an excellent, well-researched and level-headed series. In tonight's programme, Shaw will tell us what makes a guru.

On Tuesday, Simon Parkes looked at what Being American (R4) means: optimism, in a word. Produced by the excellent Sheila Dillon, familiar from her work on The Food Programme, this series considers American politics at the local level, and it was encouraging. It featured Elida Boccanegra, an immigrant worker who has challenged the authorities to provide the multi-racial, multi-ethnic, multi-cultural society envisaged by the Constitution. You have to take the long view, the programme concluded, and fight like crazy, following Emerson's principle that nothing great was ever accomplished without enthusiasm. And hard work, we might add, remembering A-levels.

Occasionally escaping from the mayhem, I heard a few more programmes on my car radio. In one, the magnificent Judi Dench was transmogrified into a languorous, ladylike limpet for Tidal Talk From the Rockpool (R4). She gave the little mollusc as much pathos and hopeless ambition as once she gave Cleopatra. Her melancholy monologue owed much to Tennyson and Chekhov for, as her mother used to say, she had a morbid tendency to dwell on things: silly, really, as she dwelt on this rock. Her mother also said that promiscuous American slipper-limpets were over-sexed, over here and all over each other. Alas, that didn't stop Dame Judi from fancying one, but then, as she explained, tragically, "Ah, Moscow, Moscow! We're all clinging to the rock, Mother, but some of us are looking at the stars."

In Tales From the Wildside (R4) a slightly bewildered Fergus Keeling talked to a marine biologist, a deer-keeper and a wild-fowler, all of whom cheerfully killed the things they loved. The first used unconsciously symbiotic language to describe an early experience of fishing: he said he was hooked and gob-smacked. Not half as much as the stickleback. Now he is thrilled to have outwitted a grey mullet with a polystyrene maggot. The bird-man was called Swann and goes wild over whistling widgeons, but the creepy one was the deer-hunter. He waxed lyrical over the sight of hinds and prickets browsing peacefully in the dappled dawn and then briskly defended the need to shoot them "cleanly" - and the pleasure he took in it. It's all very well to argue that culling is necessary, but he didn't explain why it was so despicable to shoot them from a car, beyond saying that it was too easy. Sport, ethics and conservation became uneasily confused. So did Keeling.

Thursday's Short Story (R4) came from the Edinburgh Fringe. Patricia Hannah's monologue eavesdropped on the thoughts of a woman attending the funeral of an avant-garde composer. The Trouble with Wagner was that he was too thin and wore a beret. Thus when the chap went to reach for his Grove's Dictionary, his Wagner bust toppled and felled him, cracking his skull with its great Aryan nose. If Patricia Hannah's name is on a programme, you know it will make you laugh and, goodness, a laugh was needed this week.

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