Magazine article The Spectator

Radio Take Five

Magazine article The Spectator

Radio Take Five

Article excerpt

Five women, five very different stories of arriving in the UK, often unwillingly and always alone. How did they cope with the loneliness, the poverty, the loss of everything they once knew? What do they now think of the country that has become their adopted home? Jeremy Vine talks to them next week in a new lunchtime series on Radio 2. In My Country, My Music (produced by Chris Walsh-Heron) Vine and his five guests try to work out which country they now belong to, not through work, beliefs, hobbies or family but through the music they listen to.

By putting music centre-stage, as the focus, the heart of the conversation, some unusual perspectives and unexpected connections emerge. Prepare for some surprises. The theme tune from Chariots of Fire, for instance, almost sounds Chinese after listening to Sylvia's favourite music from her childhood - 'Ambush', from Chinese opera - which recalls for her the hardships of her family who had to escape to Hong Kong during the Revolution, losing everything.

It's also heartening to discover that of the five women only one (from Zimbabwe) is determined to return. On the contrary, most of Vine's guests, even if at first shocked, disorientated, unhappy, now relish the diversity of life in Britain today. Their experiences, and their spirited optimism, are a refreshing antidote to all the current stories of corruption in high places and fears that the UK's stature in the world is diminishing. Fortyfive years after Enoch Powell's threatening 'Rivers of Blood' speech (which Vine relives by visiting the hotel dining-room where Powell made it), we have here five stories of determination, extreme hardship and some kind of resolution to migration, emigration, immigration.

Take Yvonne Bailey who grew up on the island of St Vincent and the Grenadines. As a child she lived in a house with a paradisal view of the Caribbean. Now she looks out on the King George V reservoir in Chingford, Essex. The water might be grey, not blue, the sky covered with clouds. But she loves it. All the white sails on the water at the weekend remind her of 'home', or rather of her first home.

Radio was everywhere, she recalls, still bursting with enthusiasm for the music of her native tropical island - calypso, carnival, steelpan. But her parents soon left for the UK, part of the Windrush generation, leaving their children with the grandparents.

By the time they sent for her, Yvonne had forgotten them. 'What are we going to call them? …

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