My Week

Country Life Every Week - - Contents -

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

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