Radio: Passive smoking? Being active's more fun

EVER SINCE Hillary Clinton declared the White House a smoke-free zone, no vice can touch smoking - particularly, come to think of it, in the White House. Tobacco is the last great occasion of sin. But fear not you beleaguered addicts, nipping outside for a quick gasp before the boss comes back, it won't go away. One Lawrence Spooner gave up: "I have no shame (as I had had before)" he boasted, "because my neighbours saw me out of door, defiling of the wholesome precious air with foreign fumes ..." And that was in 1703. It's not easy to stub it out.

In Fag End (R2), the excellent Miles Kington presented an entertaining history of the weed. The first victim of the anti-smoking police was Roderigo de Jerez (who was probably a sherry drinker too). He was imprisoned by the Inquisition when he demonstrated the art of lighting a cigar, learnt in Cuba in 1492: they thought he was a fire-breathing devil. Then along came the fragrant Frenchman, Jean Nico, and the languorous revelry began.

The listener's faith in this narrative flickered on, hearing that in North America long ago a vast communal cigar was smoked, three to four feet long and six inches in diameter. It rested on wooden supports and everyone joined in. But how? The most determined tycoon would have trouble sucking a bazooka, even if he didn't inhale. Worse was to come. Tobacco, we heard, was considered beneficial: it was used in pipes, for chewing, in cigars, as snuff and - oh lord - as an enema. Did they set fire to it? We never discovered.

One thing's certain: banning makes it more attractive. Although Queen Victoria was spotted personally attempting to smoke the midges out of Scotland, she forbade her children to indulge. When his mother eventually passed to her reward, the Prince of Wales, after decades of exhaling up palace chimneys, became history's most enthusiastic smoker. His rival for the honour was Oscar Wilde, whose cigarette was "my 11th finger".

Blokeish R2 is probably the least politically-correct station broadcasting (always of course excepting Talk Radio) yet even they couldn't go on like this forever. The worm turned and health warnings began - but they were half-hearted. Even the zealous Alexander Walker had to laugh: for years, his answerphone message ended (infuriatingly) with the words "Remember, smoking is the slow way to suicide" - until a Hollywood producer left the terse message "Yeah, and film-making is the quick way."

More serious was R2's current Social Action Project called Cancer and You, which concentrated on stomach and bowel cancer. For a couple of days, Gaby Roslin interrupted programmes with snippets of advice and personal histories, designed to prompt listeners to seek help early. It was cleverly done, stressing the value of an optimistic approach and breezily discussing symptoms. Most of these featured had been successfully treated: only Bobby Moore's widow struck a sad note. Poor woman, she and her husband had been unable to persuade their doctor that there was anything wrong until it was too late.

On Wednesday night, it was time for another scary disease, Hepatitis C (R4). This programme took an entirely different approach, beginning with an absolutely terrifying description of a liver biopsy, which felt "like being stabbed by Jack the Ripper". A specialist lingered over the gruesome progress of the widespread killer virus and we were told we could contract it via acupuncture, electrolysis, body-piercing, shooting up, you name it. Apparently it might live outside the body, in dried blood, for months.

There were several disquieting things about all this. If it is indeed so rampant and easily transmitted, was it fair to castigate a dental hygienist reluctant to treat one infected patient? Or his girlfriend, worried about having sex with him? Or the blood-transfusion service for asking this girl not to give blood for a bit? Is it useful to be so portentous and doomy and then, only at the very end, to interview someone who seems to have conquered it simply by diet, reflexology and shiatsu? There was a useful, informative programme in there, but it was hidden, shuddering among the outrage and the horror.

While we're on physical nastiness, have you been listening to The Vale (R4)? It's caught me unawares once or twice this week. You're retrieving your dropped jaw after the cosy smugness of the world's most Oedipal series, Mothers and Sons (R4), and this seriously caring voice says "I'm just stimulating her to go toilet," or "If it's green poo we have a real problem." They do it on purpose to make you spill your coffee.

The objects of this woman's attention were grey squirrels and hedgehogs respectively. She runs a wildlife sanctuary where any little creatures are welcome - even the mouse that someone's cat brought in. Well, OK, but grey squirrels? The scavenging rodents are shot on sight around here. As for the giant, fanged, venomous, hairy crab-spider who emigrated from Vietnam in a terracotta pot - well, I wasn't convinced that he was passive: repatriation's too good for this sort. And precisely how do they feed those of their furry friends who prefer their food alive? Are their birds of prey vegetarian?

There was no comfort to be had from Rick Stein, reading Cod - a Biography of the Fish That Changed the World (R4) like a very good chef, if the word "deadpan" belongs in such a context. His exhortation to eat cod- bones stewed in sour milk made me (very nearly) reach for a fag.

Suggested Topics
Netherlands' goalkeeper Tim Krul fails to make a save from Costa Rica's midfielder Celso Borges during a penalty shoot-out in the quarter-final between Netherlands and Costa Rica during the 2014 FIFA World Cup
newsGoalkeepers suffer from 'gambler’s fallacy' during shoot-outs
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'
filmReview: A week late, Secret Cinema arrives as interactive screening goes Back to the Future
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
Arts and Entertainment
Sydney and Melbourne are locked in a row over giant milk crates
artCultural relations between Sydney and Melbourne soured by row over milk crate art instillation
Arts and Entertainment
Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux play teeneage lovers in the French erotic drama 'Blue Is The Warmest Colour' - The survey found four times as many women admitting to same-sex experiences than 20 years ago
filmBlue Is The Warmest Colour, Bojack Horseman and Hobbit on the way
Two giraffes pictured on Garsfontein Road, Centurion, South Africa.
View from the Llanberis Track to the mountain lake Llyn
Du’r Arddu
environmentA large chunk of Mount Snowdon, in north Wales, is up for sale
Kenny Ireland, pictured in 2010.
peopleBenidorm, actor was just 68
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Morrissey pictured in 2013
A scene from the video shows students mock rioting
newsEnd-of-year leaver's YouTube film features playground gun massacre
Life and Style
The director of Wall-E Andrew Stanton with Angus MacLane's Lego model
gadgetsDesign made in Pixar animator’s spare time could get retail release
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Manchester - Huxley Associates

    £18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: One of SThree's most successfu...

    Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Birmingham - Progressive Rec.

    £18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Progressive Recruitment are cu...

    Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Birmingham - Real Staffing

    £18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Real Staffing are currently lo...

    Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Birmingham - Computer Futures

    £18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Computer Futures are currently...

    Day In a Page

    Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

    Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

    Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
    Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

    Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

    When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
    5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

    In grandfather's footsteps

    5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
    Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

    Martha Stewart has flying robot

    The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
    Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

    Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

    Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
    A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

    A tale of two presidents

    George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

    The dining car makes a comeback

    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
    Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

    Gallery rage

    How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
    Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

    Eye on the prize

    Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
    Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

    Women's rugby

    Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup
    Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
    Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

    How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

    As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
    We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

    We will remember them

    Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
    Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
    Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

    Acting in video games gets a makeover

    David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices