Pelicans, postures and small Fry

Robert Hanks the week on radio

Share
Related Topics
Revelations rarely live up to their billing: a decent concealment is usually just as informative and quite a lot more interesting. Take Stephen Fry's appearance on In the Psychiatrist's Chair (Radio 4, Sun): in advance, all the publicity was about the intimate revelations that Fry would be vouchsafing the world, care of Dr Anthony Clare - of a near suicide attempt, of the entry of romance into his life. In the event, hearing these turned out not to be especially exciting, drained of drama by foreknowledge and by Fry's own lack of urgency: these weren't confessions dragged out of him by the tortures of his conscience or Clare's expert interrogation, but stories he'd already incorporated into his repertoire.

As it turned out, this was one of the better In the Psychiatrist's Chairs, not because of its dramatic content, but simply because it became a recognisable conversation. At some point, the pretence that this had any psychiatric content shrank (though "shrink" seems precisely the wrong verb) away, leaving you instead with a sense that this was the way clever, successful and reasonably egotistical men talk to each other: competitive, a touch impatient, but both still wanting to be liked. You didn't find out what Fry is like stripped of all his posturing (which, if he was giving anything like a true picture of the state of his psyche, was a good thing: the naked Fry thing would be far too distressing and ugly); you did get an idea that this is how he postures in private, and that's probably more of an achievement for an interviewer.

More posturing, I think, in Better than Sex (Radio 4, Wed), the series in which literary types rhapsodise over some particular pleasure: this week, Howard Jacobson on his lifelong infatuation with pelicans. He claimed to detect in the pelican's slow, sad smile a fellow-feeling, an acknowledgement that we were in it together - "it" being "existential loneliness". His passion was finally consummated when he was allowed to feed one, deep- throating it with his arm, an experience he compared with seeing the face of God.

All this seemed monstrously improbable. That Jacobson likes pelicans, and even seeks out their company, I can swallow; but the idea that he might sincerely ascribe any mystical significance to them chokes me like a large fish. But this didn't detract from the programme's appeal: such straight-faced eloquence in a sincere avowal of love would have been embarrassing, in service of a thudding lie, it was pure pleasure.

The awfulness of revelation was the theme of this week's edition of Your Place or Mine (Radio 4, Thurs), "Vicarage Allsorts", a silly and condescending title quite out of keeping with the programme's wide-eyed gaze of dismay. Sara Parker reported from a Norfolk parish riven by a schism between the traditional wishy-washy Anglicans and charismatics - I suppose that's the word, though they struck me as singularly charmless. There were several chilling moments, among them a woman showing off her "gift of tongues", which turned out, naturally, to be a meaningless jabber: "God's language" she called it.

What is so repellent about this brand of religion, based entirely on personal revelation and expressions of ecstasy, is its creation of a God who has nothing to do with the real world: it makes other people's feelings, the mysteries of creation, all the things that have inspired Christians in the past, less important than the miracle of one's own feelings. Stephen Fry at one point told Anthony Clare how, as a teenager, he believed that nobody's sensibilities were as refined, nobody's pain as acute as his own. That was exactly the case with the arrested adolescents: their God was introverted, irrational, self-obsessed; a pelican would be better than this.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive or Senior Sales Executive - B2B Exhibitions

£18000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Executive or Senior Sal...

Recruitment Genius: Head of Support Services

£40000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Team Leader

£22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This industry leading company produces h...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Manager / Sales - OTE £40,000

£20000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT provider for the educat...

Day In a Page

Read Next
A press image from the company  

If men are so obsessed by their genitals, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities of sex?

Chloë Hamilton
Workers clean the area in front of the new Turkish Presidential Palace prior to an official reception for Republic day in Ankara  

Up Ankara, for a tour of great crapital cities

Dom Joly
A nap a day could save your life - and here's why

A nap a day could save your life

A midday nap is 'associated with reduced blood pressure'
If men are so obsessed by sex, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?

If men are so obsessed by sex...

...why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?
The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3

Jon Thoday and Richard Allen-Turner

The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3
The bathing machine is back... but with a difference

Rolling in the deep

The bathing machine is back but with a difference
Part-privatised tests, new age limits, driverless cars: Tories plot motoring revolution

Conservatives plot a motoring revolution

Draft report reveals biggest reform to regulations since driving test introduced in 1935
The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory