Why doesn't chopping onions make Stephen Bayley cry?
Sunday 31 August 1997
So there I was on Wednesday, alone and palely fishing silky bits of corn- cob-husk out of the sink, when the radio began to emit the suave and arty tones of Paul Allen - but this was an Allen gone all hollow and echoey, as if entombed in the Valley of the Kings. All clever stuff: he was broadcasting into my kitchen as if hearing himself in his own, describing The View From the Fridge (R4). Actually, he spent some time on the view into several fridges, and it was all tomato puree, pesto and fresh pasta, not a single outdated apricot yoghurt or chunk of mouldy cheddar to be seen - nor yet an old bag of boiled beetroot accidentally frozen upon the back wall (I just looked). But then, that's what happens when you ask people like style guru Stephen Bayley for opinions - that, and remarks like "there are few things more pleasing than chopping an onion". What about lying on the sofa with a good book, Stephen? And why don't onions make you cry?
This faintly jaundiced reaction to what was, in fact, quite a jolly parody of a glossy-magazine feature was probably prompted by an item on that morning's Woman's Hour (R4). It seems that feminism has taken a new stride forward. Now, in order to prove ourselves truly liberated, not only should we escape the kitchen, but we should also be busily encouraging facial hair: I am not making this up. Burn your tweezers was the message, and let it grow: sport a luxuriant moustache - or, better, a full Edwardian beard - and you will be truly, naturally attractive. It's not always easy to be a Nineties woman.
It might help if you are actually in your nineties. On Thursday, Julia Darling presented a few Home Truths (R4), advice offered by the elderly residents of a couple of retirement homes in the North East. Martha, 94, was serenely happy: "There's not a place better in the world," she told the darling Julia, who drew the very best from her and her friends. Despite her memories of singing and dancing through all the Temperance Halls of Northumberland, Martha keeps a bottle of sherry in her cupboard for her guests, and her friend Hilda likes a smoke. They do pottery and bingo, music-and-movement and singalongs, genuinely liberated from decades of chores. Though some of them were, of course, sad when speaking of the things and the people they had lost, not a single person seemed to miss chopping onions.
Spooling back down the years, Countdown (R4), Piers Plowright's absorbing series of brief conversations with ordinary residents of our century, gave airtime to three little boys. Ten-year-olds from Scotland, they were wonderfully sensible and articulate, speaking scornfully of the aggression of the Celtic- Rangers rivalry, cheerfully of playing In The Tree House - as this episode was called - and warily of girls. They've just reached that moment when the opposite sex is no longer to be feared and loathed but, mysteriously, is to be desired: "I've got mates in Year One who always invite girls to their parties and sleepovers," said one, adding in a meditative little voice, "I'm looking forward to it ... I wouldn't mind."
They didn't really need violence in films, they said (they seemed to get enough of it in playground games) and their favourite was the latest Romeo and Juliet - a perfect mix, for them, of adolescent awakening and gang warfare. They pronounced it "an excellent movie". As film criticism goes, that was pretty good.
Kevin Jackson, himself a film critic, introduced a rather grumpy item on the subject in the course of Reading Around (R3). Everyone was still busy mourning the departure - several years ago now - of the New Yorker's critic Pauline Kael but, incomprehensibly, nobody mentioned the brilliance of her successor, Anthony Lane, whose contributions to this paper are still remembered by many of us with awe.
Instead, two erstwhile film critics have recently thrown in the towel - Gilbert Adair in favour of pure mathematics, an airy eyrie so remote that even Julie Burchill can't savage him (he hopes), and David Denby in order to return to college and read the classics. "I remade my soul at the age of 48," he announced portentously, which must have been nice for him.
Anyway, enough of a critic rabbiting on about critics complaining about critics. Despite the above, Reading Around is a thoughtful, well-produced and provocative series. A discussion of Homer's Iliad really made you want to reread - oh, let's be honest - read it, particularly given some useful advice to stay with Pope's gloriously august and Augustan translation, and to skip the second half of Book II which is, apparently, nothing but lists of combatants. And it was intriguing to learn that the experience of post-combat stress, as described by Vietnam veterans, is probably what drove Achilles into his delirious orgy of revenge after the death of his dearest friend Patroclus.
A Vietnam veteran wandered into Juliet Ace's dramatisation of Love Story (R3) yesterday afternoon, fixing the plot firmly in the distant early Seventies. Despite the seriously dubious line about love meaning never having to say you're sorry (I'd suggest the opposite is true), Erich Segal's tragic romance is, in its way, as much a classic as any of them, and this was a wonderful production by Ned Chaillet. The soupy music used in the film was replaced by real classics, gentle Mozart and tinkling Scarlatti, and the lovers, played by Ingri Damon and Mark Leake, were almost unbearably touching. I started cynically, listened entranced for two hours, and ended by leaning heavily against that cluttered sink, not an onion in sight, the view of my fridge hopelessly blurred by tears.
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