Magazine article The Spectator

Radio Hooked by Chance

Magazine article The Spectator

Radio Hooked by Chance

Article excerpt

I know we're all supposed to be taking advantage of the new technologies and listening to whatever we fancy on the radio whenever we like. But I reckon you have to be under 25 to really get the hang of listening by download, podcast and stream rather than at the switch of a button. When, in any case, are we supposed to find the time to download it all and catch up with what we've missed? It's like the conveyor belt in The Generation Game. By the time you realise you've missed something vital and/ or desirable, the next week's goodies are on offer. That's why I'm still a switch-it-on-andsee-what's-on listener, for most of the time.

Chance, serendipity, happenstance are much more interesting than anything preplanned.

Last week in the car I happened upon Ruth Wall playing a specially adapted Scottish harp live in the studio for Sean Rafferty's In Tune on Radio 3. It sounded so odd, a bit oriental in its staccato, bell-like clarity and yet too rhythmical to be from the East.

What on earth was it? A John Cage piece for 'prepared piano', which Wall plays on the harp by blocking the strings with rubber bands, hairbands, Blu-tack, 'anything that works'. I was hooked - especially when Wall went on to play Peter Maxwell Davies's 'Farewell to Stromness'. He wrote it out of anger when the Orkneys were under threat from a mining company keen to make money out of its uranium deposits. But it doesn't sound angry; more like a spirited sea dashing against a rocky shoreline. For a while the humid heat inside the stationary car evaporated and I was walking along a windblown cliff, underneath a steely sky.

'This is not a very large room and I'm wearing 12 and a half shoes, ' said Roger Law at lunchtime on Monday. The puppet-master from Spitting Image was feeling uncomfortably big-footed as he clomped round a tiny private museum just out of Shanghai, close to the airport, filled with 1,000 pairs of antique embroidered shoes no bigger than three inches long. The owner, Mister Yang, has been collecting them obsessively since the 1980s, relics of the barbaric custom of binding girls' feet until they couldn't walk.

'As a foreigner, ' says Law, 'I find this very strange.'

He's been in China on a mission to find the oddest of museums and this week he's been telling us about them for Roger Law and the Chinese Curiosities (Radio 4, atmospherically produced by Mark Rickards so that we hear the rain falling, Law's shoes on marble floors). …

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