Radio Moment 1

31 August 1997

The radio woke me as usual on Sunday 31st August 1997. It would have been about 7.15am. I was confused. What was Jim Naughtie talking about in a sombre voice on a day he would normally be at home? Something had happened. Something big and something awful.

It took a few minutes before the confusion shifted into shock. Princess Diana was dead. She had died in the early hours of the morning from injuries sustained in a car crash in Paris.

Not only was this being broadcast on Radio 4, but also on Radios 2, 3, and 5 Live. Unprecedented, perhaps.

I worked for the Church of England then. Sunday? A service in a three hours. What to say, what to pray, what to do given this particular church had the most prominent presence in the city centre?

The rector thought there wouldn’t be much public reaction. On that point we disagreed. The church was much visited during the following week. People needed a meeting place for comfort and community, to ask questions and express their grief.

Tony Blair’s term ‘The People’s Princess’ seemed sentimental and a piece of political theatre to begin with, but on reflection he had it right. The deep sympathy and affection for Diana welled up. She had, it seemed be thought of as ‘one of us’ rather than ‘one of them’. Perhaps that was because of her lack of aloofness and protocol when it came to visiting the sick, the poor and the aftermath of war. And perhaps because her ex husband’s affections lay elsewhere. Radio coverage captured the public’s view of her. The BBC team’s work was commended with a Sony Award for Best News Coverage of an Event.

There is an intimacy with radio that television lacks. Spoken word radio requires greater attentiveness. Listening certainly make me feel more involved than watching does. It’s sets me thinking, it’s as though I’m waiting for my turn to respond. Using headphones, radio becomes an even more personal experience: they’re talking to me, they could be talking about me.


Radio Lovers

Hello Readers

It’s a pleasure to invite you to contribute a guest blog of 300 words or so on any aspect of radio that tickles your aerial. This is an exciting addition to my third year undergraduate radio project.

Maybe you have a favourite moment or memory, or you’ve been on the radio, or radio is a source of comfort, a friend, entertainment. Did you ever learn something amazing from the radio? Did radio move you to tears, make you laugh out loud? Have you/do you work for radio? What’s that like, and why radio? Do you know someone who work/writes for radio, and could you forward this request to them? Which station do you love, and why?

Email me, or put a comment below.

Thanks everyone – let the blogging commence!


(Contributions will be tidied up if necessary, and not included if deemed offensive by the editor.)

The Whispering Archbishop

_48457030_51417990In 1988 Desmond Tutu visited Durham. The cathedral was packed. As the photograph shows, the Archbishop is not the tallest of men. We could hardly see him, his head only just showing above the book rest that tops the cathedral’s pulpit. At various points he turned his volume down to a whisper. Not because he had lost his voice but because he knew people would lean in and listen more carefully.

‘Every night a man walks in the woods of Virginia at 2am to pray for South Africa,’ he said. ‘What hope has the South African government got against that?’

His eyes twinkled, he grinned and then he laughed loudly. The congregation, rather hesitantly, fearing the situation in South Africa was not a laughing matter, eventually broke into laughter too. The Students’ Union had recently screened Cry Freedom and many of us there had seen it. I will never forget either occasion.

Tutu whispered freedom and laughed at oppression. And not long after, those prayers, those hopes, and justice were fulfilled as Nelson Mandela walked, at last, to freedom and then became president of South Africa.

Both men are, of course, on my mind. Go well, Madiba.

Finding a voice

Not many people come to writing through necessity. I needed a poem about disability for a church service. Not being able to find one, I wrote one. It was an awful poem, full of cheesy alliteration, and will never be seen or heard again.

Something in the doing of that poem ignited a new (for me) form of self-expression. Poems came spasmodically at first and then in a flood. Between 1992 and 2000ish, I must have written 500. They were autobiographical and shared only with  those closest to me. They spoke when I could not. Literally could not.

For some months, some years ago, my voice box could only sustain a whisper. I developed a stammer, in part I think from the awkwardness of not being able to be heard. A lovely NHS speech therapist helped me through all that, though my vocal power never fully recovered.

Since starting the BA course, I’ve enjoyed writing in all forms, and poetry has seeped into the style of my prose. Perhaps, for me, that will be the best reason to scratch away at a poem now and again.

But I find poetry hard work in terms of art, craft and emotional cost.

I meet three friends – proper poets – once a month and we critique each other’s work. I enjoy reading poetry, and I enjoy listening to it. I’m delighted to be involved with Beeston Poets – if you live in or near Nottinghamshire, come to an event, Martin Figura will be performing ‘Whistle’, 5th July, 7.30pm. Award winning, not to be missed.

Now I’m pretty excited about that because he’s very good, and the more poetry I hear, the more I’m inspired to write it. Contemporary poets shake my box and tip me out for a while. Let loose, my words make little forays into freedom and away from conventionality. Sadly, I appear to be attached to the inside of the box by bungee elastic, so on the rebound I fall back in and the lid slams shut.

Oh, that’s provoked an earworm…

Hmm, Poetry Group meeting at mine this Friday….

Productive Inefficiency

Well I’ve been up to my neck in research data, the third year project temporarily out of mind. Fascinating stuff about what writers/poets and publishers think is the purpose and meaning of a book’s title. (Paper to follow once complete and marked.)

Last night, a visit to the East Midlands Book Award. Some fabulous books were shortlisted. John Harvey, celebrity judge, said it came down to two. Alison Moore’s Man Booker shortlisted The Lighthouse (the title of which I don’t forget, while we’re on the subject of titles) and Jon McGregor’s short story collection This Isn’t The Sort of Thing That Happens To Someone Like You (the title of which I have to check, and which I guess may not meet one publisher’s criterion for a title: ‘Must fit on a spine’. It may, but eBooks – the format I use – don’t, of course, have spines. Both books are worthy of great praise (she says, having read them).

And the winner? Jon McGregor.