A Londoner's Diary ; BBC Security Correspondent Frank Gardner Talks Bugs with Germaine Greer and Revisits the Highway of Horror
Greer, Germaine, The Evening Standard (London, England)
So there we are, two couples, two children, one feted baby, all sitting around the table at an Italian restaurant in South London on Saturday when my phone starts vibrating in my pocket.
I lean forward and put it to my ear as discreetly as I can, hoping my wife won't notice. The legacy of my years as a foreign correspondent lives on in our family: a weekend call from work would rarely be good news on the domestic front. Would it be a simple request for a contact number or orders to deploy to Damascus? Not too many of the latter calls since my nemesis in Riyadh (when I was shot four times), and the soothing voice in my ear is that of the producer on Andrew Marr's Sunday AM show.
How would I like to appear on it tomorrow at 9am; well, onset a bit earlier if I wouldn't mind; we can send a car? On paper, the prospect of voluntarily giving up your Sunday morning lie-in to tool to your workplace and be quizzed about Palestinian politics may not sound that appealing. But Marr has a sort of infectious energy about him that pulls you in and, sure enough, the following morning I was sitting all attentive on the sofa to watch him bound into the studio and introduce his other guests, Boris Johnson and Germaine Greer.
Frankly, you could put Boris and Germaine anywhere and they would be entertaining. Greer, it seems, is still haunted by her Big Brother experience, insisting that the way to beat the system is for all the housemates to simultaneously remove their microphones. At school we were told to study her seminal book, The Female Eunuch, which bore a rather disturbing picture of a woman's empty latex skin on the front. I never thought that a quarter of a century later I would be sitting opposite the author in a BBC canteen discussing the ecological importance of bugs.
Germaine heads a charity, Buglife, and is involved with saving rare insects on Canvey Island. You see?
I would never have known that if I had opted for the lie-in instead of the Andy Marr show.
Happily, there is life beyond the studio for me, and last month it was off to Cairo for the weekend and an unusual assignment. Radio 3 is putting out Verdi's Aida on 18 February so someone decided the audience should be sentenced to listen to 20 minutes of Gardner's Cairo in the interval.
This was a labour of love, revisiting places I had grown up in as a student, returning to backstreet cafes where the air was thick with apple-flavoured tobacco smoke and the singsong dialect of Cairene slang.
In the space of a day we zigzagged around the city, from the teeming streets of the medieval Islamic quarter to the banks of the River Nile, from the perpetual slow-motion car crash of downtown Cairo to the sun-baked plateau of Giza. Of course, it was not all sun and roses. …