THE CRITICS : So that's what you did after the war, Mummy

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Indy Lifestyle Online
LADIES, here's what you do. Take three ounces of kitten-soft wool and knit a pair of knickers. Then apply some petal-finish lipstick in Gay Red, refurbish your old felt hat with some leftover carpet and go and poach a char from one of the stores - but you may have to offer 12 shillings an hour. Since the war gave them all a taste of freedom, domestic servants are rarer than bananas these days.

In case you missed it, that is the flavour of the first week of On This Day (R4), a daily chronicle of the main news stories of 50 years ago. It has made an excellent start, lively, informative and entertaining. It will probably go on for ever, until the stories become eerily familiar to us all. Besides the domestic chatter, it revives old scandals and fears, starting with the nuclear tests on Bikini atoll, which terrified a war- weary, coupon-bedevilled nation. "Why doesn't somebody put the scientists into a bag, tie them up and leave 'em there?" asked the guru of the times, Professor Joad. "They'll kill us all before they've done."

But in Paris, they held end-of-the-world parties to dispel such fears, and an inspired designer named his racy new outfit after the site of the explosions. Itsy-Bitsy Teenie Weenie (R2) celebrated the jubilee of the bikini in a quaint and jolly history of swimwear narrated by Jill Dando. Nude bathing was perfectly normal at one time, but ever since clothing was deemed necessary - roughly when spas became popular - the cozzie has made the lunatic fringe of fashion its own, moving from the all-enveloping woollen cocoon, via the solar-powered two-piece with twin propellers (do we believe this?), to the etymologically dubious monokini. It was good fun: I particularly liked the story of poor old George III being dunked by two sturdy ladies at Margate, while the crowd cheered and the band played "God Save the King".

While we're on music, just a mention of Cornemusiques (R3), an enchanting history of the French bagpipe. "In ze beginning, per'aps," said the seductive Jean-Pierre Rasle, "was ze word, but not long after came ze pipes." Though a jealous gamba player compared the sound to croaking frogs and grinding knives, I thought they were gorgeous - simultaneously rhythmical, delicate and savage, lament entwined with desire.

Two R4 features tackled big issues inconclusively on Wednesday. Even Liz Lochhead's beguiling voice brought little sense to Without Issue, which considered the decision of increasing numbers of people not to have children - and let them maunder on about it aimlessly. People who consider that children might prevent them from doing lots of exciting things should be too busy to bang on about it. Maureen Freely (for reproduction) and Joan Smith (against) put up some striking arguments, but the best suggestion came from Lochhead. When nosey people start asking her if she has any offspring, she borrows the old roue's line "None that I know of," and hopes they'll shut up.

Then, with awful appropriateness, Kati Whitaker described the mass of seething toddler she called her daughter, for a study of tantrums. Temper, Temper mixed up irritation, rage and righteous indignation - most of which I felt when a psychiatrist insisted that adult bad temper is, invariably, caused by a poisoned childhood. Has he not heard of the choleric temperament?

Now, I'm afraid the rest of this column is pretty disgusting. You had better stop reading if you feel fragile. First, there's David Bellamy. Should you wish to discover all about life in, on and around the river Severn, it's probably better to have a week in a kayak than go Upstream With Bellamy (R2). At least that way you'd miss him investigating "otter poo" and relishing the little black splodgy bits, spangled with silver and smelling of violets. You'd avoid him slurpily supping a pint with Dorothy Goodbody - or was that the name of the ale? And you wouldn't hear him enthusing over a wood "bursting wi' flahs and fwoot", which contains dozens of nightingales - and then not letting us hear them. Radio was invented for the song of the nightingale, not for the self-indulgence of a good naturalist gone native and spluttering. It made me want to dry my ears.

Onwards and downwards, to Grubs Up! (R4) and, regrettably, it's back to poo. One of the things that happens when you eat grasshoppers is that their legs come out, as it were, intact. (Well, I did warn you.) There was another, even nastier suggestion about peanut-butter and "doggy-do", but this is all getting too much. Suffice it to say that several very earnest people were trying to persuade us that creepy-crawlies offer a nutritious alternative to real food. There was an American who, so far, has tried 300 varieties of raw insect, of which his favourite was the African sacred beetle. I wish someone had told us what he looks like on this diet. It was all too easy to imagine his hairy proboscis and many, spindly little legs.

The landlady of the White Hart provides locusts for her regulars. She's discovered the nicest way to serve them is with honey (John the Baptist could have told her that: come to think of it, he looks pretty hairy in Italian paintings and Orthodox icons). Then, in the interests of research, Joanna Pinnock allowed a nice Scotsman called George to stir-fry some woodlice, a couple of greenfly and a slug for her. Despite lashings of curry powder, a fortifying glass of wine and a brave attempt to say the word delicious, she collapsed and admitted that it was disgusting. There's clearly a long way to go before we all start harvesting ladybirds.

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