Wednesday, 21 February 2018

On the medicinal benefits of BBC Radio 4

For the past month, I’ve been on a course of medication that requires me to inject a syringe into my stomach each morning. Yes, it’s as horrible as it sounds. I’m not hugely needle-phobic but even so, I’ve developed a little ritual that helps me to manage it all. And it revolves around BBC Radio 4.

Rewind a little… I grew up in a house in which the radio provided a daily background. Breakfasts were soundtracked by the Today programme, Sunday lunches were cooked with a side order of Desert Island Discs and I suspect much of my sense of humour was formed from years of laughing at Just a Minute and I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue. Radio 4 was rarely silenced, the only time my dad would lunge at the off switch was when the opening bars to the Archers theme tune skipped out of the speakers.

It was an education of sorts (alongside University Challenge. And, possibly, actual university).

Fast forward to now. I still listen to the radio (I work from home – as if I don’t need it in lieu of actual company!) but my station of choice for years has been BBC 6 Music. I still can’t quite get over the fact there’s now a station dedicated to the kind of music I listened to as a teen, finger hovering over the record button of my tape deck as Jo Whiley and Steve Lamacq’s Evening Session played the latest from Suede, Manic Street Preachers and Blur. Music is still an excellent companion, and I’ve broadened my taste to include KISS and Radio 1 – the kids really do love pop music and I do, too.

But music doesn’t do enough to distract from the very hideous task at hand, my morning medication. When I was pregnant, I remember reading about the psychological effect of laughter on pain. So sure was I that those endorphins were the key that I bought a CD box set of I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue to listen to during labour. Naïve, perhaps, and now I know that funny distraction wasn’t the answer for me when giving birth. But I did try again while facing some major dental work and it turned out to be perfect, save for the involuntary laughter – somewhat alarming for the dentist but brilliant for me.

So I’m trying again to get through my daily jabs, this time with the shouty words of the Today programme. I crank up the volume, turn the shower on just a degree or two too hot, do the deed and hop under the jet. There’s something oddly pleasing about bombarding all my senses (well, sound and touch, at least) as the bee sting of the needle subsides. It also helps that the show frequently makes me so angry that I shout at the radio – WHAT are they playing at sometimes?

And the side effects of this morning ritual? I switch on the radio long before I need to and leave it on longer – all day sometimes – than necessary. It helps my brain to think through some of its unanswered questions (is one more kid on the cards for us? When will we move to France? Should we get a dog?!). But mainly, I’m just so glad that I've heard some real auditory gems.

Top 5 | My current BBC Radio 4 picks

Sweetness and Desire: A Short History of Sugar

This series of five short programmes (14 minutes) are presented by one of my favorite food writers, Bee Wilson. Each episode begins with Bee cooking a sugary recipe, before going into some of the less known history of sugar. Fascinating stuff.

Soul Music

This show looking at the emotional impact of music is now on its 25th series, which is kind of mind boggling. I discovered it when a friend recommended the episode pinned around Boys Don’t Cry, the song by the Cure, which is all about masculinity. You HAVE to listen!

State of the Nations

Four half-hour stand-up shows presented by Elis James from the four nations of the United Kingdom which explore what it means to be variously Welsh, English, Scottish and Northern Irish in today's United Kingdom. I caught the England episode recently, and was happy to hear one of my favourite comedians, Tom Allen.

Chain Reaction

A tag-team show in which celebs interview each other, there are some proper gems to be found here. My very favourite episode features Victoria Coren-Mitchell interviewing Sandi Toksvig – it’s interesting, funny and really touching. Also recommended: Sara Pascoe interviews Harry Hill, and Graham Linehan interviews Adam Buxton. A joy.

The Kitchen Cabinet

I can’t believe I didn’t know about this show before. Jay Rayner hosts a panel show from different towns and cities across the UK, delving into peculiar local culinary quirks. The episode that got me hooked was one from New Malden which boasts one of Europe’s largest Korean populations. I’m just beginning to experiment with cooking with sriracha and gochujang so this hit my ears at just the right time.

Listening to Radio 4 again has made me realise that my modern day love of a podcast stems from those formative years listening to Kirsty’s castaways and that, at the heart of it all, there’s nothing I love more than hearing the stories of people and how their lives unfold. It’s what connects us all, both as humans listening to each other and as a lifeline to the wider world.

What do you like to listen to? Can you recommend me a programme or podcast you love? Leave me a comment and let me know!

Image: Mohammad Metri on Unsplash

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