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Saturday, August 02, 2008

In praise of Radio Four

Driving down from Yorkshire today through the driving rain of an August morning we listened to three excellent Radio Four programmes back to back. Actually, the second programme was put together through the efforts of Norwegian Radio which had managed to get Leonard Cohen to talk, and talk beautifully, about his early days as a musician and his affair with Marianne Ehlen, the woman famously featured in a towel on the back cover of "Song From A Room". This was then intercut with an interview with Ehlen to make "Leonard and Marianne", an affecting portrait of how life felt to the pair of them when the going was good and, as Leonard recalls, sleeping with your friends was simply good manners.

Before that was Excess Baggage, which featured interviews with Richard Guise, who has cycled up the West Coast of Scotland, and Andrew Mueller, who has travelled to the world's most prominent trouble spots to see what they were like. I was very impressed that whenever Mueller feels tempted to complain about London's squalor and institutional fatigue he reminds himself that it's that underrated civic virtue, indifference, which makes it a more tolerant and liveable place than most.

After that came Andrew Rawnsley and "Beyond Westminster", taking advantage of the fact that the House isn't sitting to look at the growth of single-issue pressure groups and confront the inescapable fact that they're often the enemy of good government.