Magazine article The Spectator

That Bug

Magazine article The Spectator

That Bug

Article excerpt

Illness, as we all know from experience, takes away appetite and energy. What I didn't know, until last week, is that it can also stop you listening to the radio. I assumed that when you were feeling ill and lying in bed you might want to read books or watch television or listen to the radio. Perhaps some people can do that but I have discovered I can't.

When I was struck down by a particularly vicious strain of flu last week there followed two lost days of coughing until the rib-cage nearly cracked and the voice became as distinct as a bullfrog's. with much sleeping in between. It was only on New Year's Eve that I recovered enough to realise that on the threshold of the new millennium I had no excuse to avoid listening to the radio. Had I been where I had planned to be, at a party just down the lane, I wouldn't have been able to hear it anyway. But here I was, in bed on millennium eve, with a radio and television to hand, unable to celebrate the next 2000 years of Blairism.

Had I not been so enfeebled by my own millennium bug, I would have switched networks to see what they were all up to but somehow I could guess with Radio Five Live (hype and jollity from the ghastly Greenwich Dome) though I would have been wrong about Radio Two; their midnight coverage came jointly from a West Highland village and Bethlehem. I plumped for Radio Four and was astonished to hear the Archbishop of Canterbury Dr George Carey talking about Jesus Christ. Who let them in? I wondered. After all, Tony Blair and his apparatchiks had tried to keep them out of the Millennium Dome on the night, though I read somewhere they'd made a token appearance.

As I listened it seemed to me that Radio Four had hit the right note, especially as I had also flicked on BBC 1 with the sound down, so that Carey was speaking over what looked like the set of Top of the Pops inside the Dome. I soon got rid of the tacky images on the screen, having seen enough by then, and concentrated on Carey who introduced Richard Briers and Fiona Shaw reading extracts from the New Testament and a woman born in 1900 reciting the Lord's Prayer. It was all rather moving and appropriate making the activities in the Dome seem completely false, shallow and third-rate. …

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