THE CRITICS : From Tunbridge Wells to Two Tits, CA

RADIO; FEDBACK, GARDENERS' QUESTION TIME, DIVIDED BY ... , SOMETHING TO WRITE HOME ABOUT, THE WORLD TONIGHT

LIKE Tunbridge Wells, Radio 4 attracts plenty of vociferous, disgusted people whose complaints are channelled through the breezy Chris Dunkley in Feedback. In the Twenties and Thirties Radio Times handled them. For the last few weeks, selections of these old letters have been presented in Fedback, providing period comedy of gentle charm. In those days radio sports commentators took on darts and fox-hunting, furious debate raged about the virtues of solo harp music and a plaintive woman begged to know how long she would have to endure an appalling gardening programme at Sunday lunchtime.

About 60 years, madam, but it's getting better. When that pompous Dr Buczacki whisked his team off to Classic FM, it was thought that Gardeners' Question Time might perish. But the transplanting is running to seed. Having worn out their Percy Grainger record, they rapidly ran out of horticultural tunes on Classic Gardening Forum and the panel withered and split. Meanwhile, back on the old site, the savage pruning produced vigorous young growth, rambling off in every direction. This week they sank their roots into the London Underground, taking enquiries from the booking hall in Sudbury Town station. The main problem was how to achieve prize-winning blooms in a subterranean environment, without earth, sunlight or rain: the most useful answer was to pop along to Sloane Square station the Friday after the Chelsea Flower Show.

Even for those of us whose prayer is Lord make me a gardener, but not yet, listening to this team is encouraging: an idle pleasure like reading expensive cookery books in the bath. Still, you can't help wondering if they were really chosen for their names: Swithinbank, Greenwood and - best of all - Flowerdew. The fact that they are knowledgeable and enthusiastic is a happy bonus. Bill Bryson was talking about names this week in Divided by a Common Language (R4), his series about American English. By way ofFifties cars called Comet, Thunderbird, Fury and Tempest - names suggesting huge, raw, barely controllable power - he travelled west, to places christened by quirky pioneers. Some names stuck, like Ding Dong, Texas, Bow Legs, Oklahoma, and Truth or Consequences, New Mexico; others were quietly dropped, like Two Tits, California. When he arrived at the OK Corral, Bryson discovered that the truth about the gunfight hinged on Doc Holliday's colourful southern language. His words were "Blaze away, you're a daisy". What red-blooded gunslinger could fail to be provoked by such a floral insult?

Bryson is like a half-trained puppy: he enjoys following a path, but he can't resist scampering off it if something interesting crops up. But then R4 always travels well. Dodwell Rides Out, in which the intrepid Christina Dodwell explored Madagascar, has just finished a welcome early repeat and now we have Something to Write Home About, following the same pattern of lone reporter abroad with tape recorder. This week it was Dea Birkett visiting Lourdes, looking for "A Miracle in Plastic". To her surprise, she found it. At first, predictably, she was sceptical about the tourist shops and the cures. But then she was quite won over. She found that the real miracle in Lourdes is the way in which the terminally ill take centre stage. No longer shut away out of sight, they are at the heart of things, on their stretchers, tenderly cared for by young volunteers, having the last real holiday - holy day - of their lives. At the end, Birkett was in a cafe with a couple of nuns, drinking red wine and thoroughly enjoying herself: having come to mock, she stayed to pray.

Goodness knows whether there is anything supernatural about the wretched Beast of Bodmin, but its apparent demise provoked a really tacky item on The World Tonight (R4). Because the skull found in a Cornish river proved to be a hoax, "one of the nation's great hoaxers" was asked to comment. Rocky Ryan isn't a great anything: he is a malevolent liar. It was disgraceful to allow him, as Isabel Hilton did, to boast about the stories he has foisted on the gutter press. Perhaps it doesn't matter so much that he convinced the tabloids that Michael Jackson was hiding in his flat, or even that the Princess of Wales was an alcoholic, but to spread a story about the SAS being sent to "bump off leaders in Bosnia, or Yugoslavia or wherever" seemed literally criminal. And then the next day John Schofield, one of the programme's brave young reporters, became the 76th journalist to die in the conflict, shot dead near Bihac. A very nasty juxtaposition indeed.

Finally, to the programme that sets R4 listeners on the right path every morning of the week. Farming Today is a fund of arcane advice and incomprehensible instruction, but it exerts a strange fascination. Long years of devotion were rewarded this week by the news that a company in Ipswich is offering free beer to every entrant in their design-a-scarecrow competition. When pressed, they agreed that they'd even give you a pint if you produced a sign saying "Go Away". See you in Ipswich.

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