A name to conjure with

The week on radio
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X traditionally stands for an unknown quantity, and presumably this was what the progenitors of Xfm (104.5FM in the London area) had in mind when they christened it: they wanted to suggest to listeners that this was a radio station that would deal with the unknown, alien face of rock - X as in The Beast from Planet X or The X-Files (perhaps, too, they were thinking of X-certificate - hardcore, explicit rock, music that children shouldn't be allowed to listen to). The other possibility, though, is that they called it X because it was an unknown quantity for them, too - they really hadn't worked out what ingredient X was.

If that's so, they get my sympathy, because I can't work it out either. At any rate, I don't know how to define Xfm's brief, except by multiplying examples of what it plays, which would likely be unhelpful, certainly tedious. The station's slogan is "London's only alternative", which seems to imply that "alternative music" is what it plays (though it's also the case that the slogan has come perilously close to being literally true over the first two weeks of the station's life, while the BBC has been indulging "the national mood"). But that label begs all sorts of questions, as do others such as "indie rock". Still, you probably get the idea: Xfm is a sort of all-day, room-temperature version of John Peel. Or, better, it's the station for people who liked bands before they went commercial. You know what area we're in - music that would get written about in NME rather than Smash Hits.

Xfm has been trying to get on air for some years now, having had a series of temporary licences from the Radio Authority to broadcast for a few days at a time, arguing that there is no outlet for the sort of music it plays. This isn't quite true - Radio 1 provides a fair amount of airtime for this strange, shapeless non-genre, as does GLR, the BBC's London station (one of Xfm's main attractions, Gary Crowley, was poached from GLR); it should also be said that the standard of DJing, Crowley apart, covers all shades from average to mediocre. Still, Xfm, somewhat to my surprise, does fill a hole - a station where one can be reasonably sure of finding melodic, reasonable noisy pop of a morning without running into Simon Mayo. It has, at least temporarily, replaced Radio 3 as the main soundtrack round our way. And, without wanting to go over the top about it, the thought occurs that X also marks buried treasure.

More buried treasure on Radio 4 on Thursday afternoon, in the shape of Learning the Language, a play about a monoglot Englishman stranded in Spain by his love for a local girl, and being driven to the edge by his complete inability to communicate. In this case, the treasure was buried under a corny production and some stodgy characterisation - Dave, our hero, is a stereotypically twittish public schoolboy, comparing his alienation to "the Outsider chappie in that book by that frog... I read bits of it trying to look clever in the park." And the climax, in which a blow on the head relieves Dave of his inhibitions about language, enabling him to propose to Elena in fluent Spanish, was an appallingly blatant piece of wish-fulfilment.

All the same, it was something of a victory for Harwant Bains, a writer who has struggled against being typecast as a British-Asian writer in the Hanif Kureishi mould, and whose stage-plays have been criticised for their bludgeoning moralism. Here, he tackled issues of culture and nationality with a deliberate, delicate silliness and a very attractive streak of romantic optimism: a souffle it was worth taking a spade to.

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