Magazine article The Spectator

Vacuous Lives

Magazine article The Spectator

Vacuous Lives

Article excerpt

Fn Saturday morning, unable to get to the radio in time to switch it off, I heard John Peel telling listeners to stop 'coveting their neighbour's arse'. I thought of my neighbours and with respect to them felt not at all covetous. And then I realised that I had misheard, as is often the way with radio listening. What he actually said in his speed-drill Liverpool whine was house not arse.

It reminded me of the Yorkshireman I once heard on Today calling for more psychopaths, as if we don't have enough already. What he really said, though, was cycle paths. Normally, when Peel's Radio Four programme Home Truths is on, I tend to read the newspaper with a cup of coffee in silence, though he likes to think his listeners are, as he put it, cleaning their hamster cages, checking the temperature of the home brew, resetting the video to watch some footballer scoring a goal against Arsenal or ferrying their children to karate lessons. Although I don't know anyone who does any of these things at 9 o'clock on Saturday mornings, or, come to that, at any other time, he obviously does. Home Truths does seem to attract some sad home-brewing cases such as the woman still mourning the loss of a silver thimble stolen in a burglary nine years ago, the father whose daughter is obsessed by Scunthorpe United and a man who told Peel, 'If you are over 40 then riding a unicycle is the only sure way of getting street cred from teenagers.' What lives of utter vacuity some of Peel's listeners seem to lead. Even worse, it's obvious they don't realise it.

There was also the woman in Felixstowe whose family communicated with each other in Esperanto. 'It has made us stronger as a family unit,' she said mysteriously. What a remarkably silly language it sounded, too, when she started speaking it. Poor thing, I thought, making a mental note to give Felixstowe a miss. I have tried to avoid Home Truths since it was put there by the outgoing controller of Radio Four, James Boyle, to widen the Radio Four audience, and it sits oddly in the schedule before the more sophisticated Loose Ends at 10 o'clock. I suppose the hamster-cleaning Scunthorpe United unicyclists are retuning after Home Truths which might explain why in April Loose Ends is shifting to the evening to be replaced by a travel show of some sort. …

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