Ysenda Maxtone-graham mourns the loss of Midweek
Trauma and mourning is looming for anyone who, like me, empties the dishwasher and pairs the family’s socks to the sound of the weekday 9am radio 4 programme. From the end of this month, we’re going to have to live all our Wednesday mornings without the vital midweek ‘lift’ of Libby Purves’s Midweek. It’s been brutally axed.
I’m not sure how I’m going to manage. Don’t ‘they’—the ruthless BBC programme abolishers—realise how each weekday is flavoured by that 9am programme?
It’s a bit like ‘monday’s child is fair of face, Tuesday’s child is full of grace’. monday is get-your-brain-into-gear Start the Week day. When andrew marr announces ‘Hello—we’re going to be talking about national identity and generational conflict through theatre, opera, paintings and poetry’ and then asks, with his delicious Scottish hint of an ‘h’ sound before the ‘w’, ‘What could be more exhilarating?’, all monday morning-itis is cast aside. I perk up and the week begins.
Tuesday is The Life Scientific day, a bit of a dud, I find: boring, sciency Tuesday, when Jim al-khalili asks the scientist he’s interviewing ‘What first drew you to the subject of robot ethics?’ and his guest explains that he liked taking vacuum cleaners apart when he was a child.
Wednesday, for the past 33 years, has been ‘and now, for some lively conversation, here’s Libby Purves and Midweek’. What a joy Wednesday is! Libby is such a brilliant interviewer, entering deeply into the world of each of her four interviewees and bringing them out so warmly and skilfully, that, by 9.45am, you feel as if you’ve made four new friends and learned incredible things about human experience. Libby’s ‘That’s all we’ve got time for, I’m afraid’ always comes too soon.
Thursday is back-to-academia In Our Time day, heralded at 8.30am when melvyn Bragg ends his trailer with a Today-related joke designed to make John Humphrys laugh. I love Thursdays. It’s the day of thinking in the historic present tense: the professors are so steeped in their subject that it’s as if it’s all happening now: ‘Seneca embarks on a senatorial career, but then ends up being sentenced to exile.’
Friday is seagulls and ‘if you had to rescue one record from the waves, which would it be?’; the day for being cast off with the Bible and The Complete Works of Shakespeare and one other book of your choice—except when Desert Island Discs is on holiday and we have the marvellous Sue macgregor presenting The Reunion. Friday is a rich day.
Now, I’m fearing a Tuesday-like dip on Wednesdays. No more lovely Libby to cheer us up and make life worth living. Midweek is being replaced by a ‘long-form arts programme’. You never know, it might be bearable, but I don’t think I want a long-form arts programme at 9am, thank you. I prefer my theatre and arts chat at the winesipping 7.15pm Front Row time of day.
The fact that I care so much— far more than I care about what’s on television—shows how much radio 4 matters to those of us who work from home and run a household at the same time: it’s the company that takes us through the day, the background to the small tasks that must be done to make life run smoothly.
There’s always radio 3, of course, a button press away. my nightmare sockpairing moment, however, is when I switch over from robot ethics only to find myself in the middle of a long symphony by arnold Bax.
Reader, I did it. Yesterday, I used a self-service checkout for the first time. I’ve always loathed the concept: the desolation of no human interaction while paying for groceries; the knowledge that someone has lost a job in the mean cost-cutting exercise; the disembodied, bossy voice telling you you’re doing something wrong; the bewilderment of what on earth to do if you’ve bought two loose lemons.
What I didn’t realise is that there’s a sensual pleasure to be had from rubbing the barcode over the scanner to make it bleep. It’s as satisfying as walking too close to the front of a shop with automatic glass doors, which slide open as you pass. and, yes, I did buy two loose lemons and I now realise that it’s quite easy to ‘search item’, press ‘fruit’ and find the picture of a lemon. Still rather a lonely experience, however.
‘Radio 4 matters to those of us who work from home and run a house
Ysenda Maxtone Graham is the
author of Terms & Conditions: Life in Girls’ Boarding-schools, 1939–1979 (Slightly Foxed). She lives in London Next week Kit Heskethharvey