Ra­dio Re­view

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Death has haunted ra­dio this week. Its first sig­nif­i­cant ap­pear­ance came last Sun­day in Go 4 It (Ra­dio 4, 7.15pm), when out of the mouths of the babes came some of the most ten­der and wise re­flec­tions on be­reave­ment. A group of chil­dren, aged be­tween seven and 10, gath­ered around the chil­dren’s lau­re­ate, Michael Rosen, to talk about The Sad Book, which he wrote fol­low­ing the death of his 19-year-old son Ed­die from menin­gi­tis.

Each of the chil­dren had re­cently ex­pe­ri­enced trau­matic loss: a brother in one in­stance, a fa­ther in three oth­ers. And Rosen’s book – its gen­tle, quirky can­dour il­lu­mi­nated by Quentin Blake’s mem­o­rable and evoca­tive il­lus­tra­tions – drew the chil­dren’s sor­row into his, al­low­ing them all to find shared com­fort in a sad­ness Rosen likened to “that deep, dark space be­neath the bed.”

Go 4 It is the only ded­i­cated chil­dren’s pro­gramme on a ma­jor ra­dio sta­tion, al­though BBC7 has a se­lec­tion ac­cessed via DAB dig­i­tal. But in Bar­ney Har­wood, it has found a pre­sen­ter who is chummy with­out be­ing in­gra­ti­at­ing, and, last Sun­day, he struck just the right note, qui­etly ad­mir­ing of the chil­dren’s hon­esty – “It’s all right to cry” said one – with­out over­do­ing the adult nosi­ness.

The chil­dren them­selves were curious to know how each other’s friends had re­acted to their loss, a con­cern which sug­gested each had wor­ried pri­vately that their own re­la­tion­ships with their peers might now be altered. But what was es­pe­cially mov­ing was their re­gard for Rosen’s well-be­ing. They wanted to know how he was feel­ing, and whether The Sad Book made him not so sad all the time be­cause there were happy things in it, too.

Clearly af­fected by the chil­dren’s re­sponse, and their ob­ser­va­tion that the story made them un­der­stand their par­ents’ grief, Rosen said that writ­ing things down was a sort of magic which helped you re­alise what you feel. Anna, the old­est in the group, re­minded ev­ery­body that it was all right to be happy be­cause you had “to have a break.” And Mil­lie, who, soon af­ter her fa­ther’s death, wrote her own sad book when she was seven – she is now nine – re­called ask­ing the an­gry ques­tion: “Why did he leave me?” But in al­most the same breath she found the an­swer: dy­ing was not her fa­ther’s fault.

Lis­ten­ing to th­ese chil­dren, touched pre­ma­turely by adult sor­row, you felt they had grown up quickly, as if gain­ing re­mark­able in­sight overnight. Yet in their voices there was still the won­drous sound of child­hood, and here cer­tainly was a pro­gramme worth re­peat­ing dur­ing school hours so that teach­ers might open it out for heal­ing class dis­cus­sion.

In the main, though, our cul­ture lives in de­nial of death, pre­fer­ring to trust in the shaky prom­ise of “an­ti­age­ing” nips and tucks. But in Andrew Marr’s Start the Week (Ra­dio 4, Mon­day, 9am), on­col­o­gist and ethics ex­pert Liza Macdon­ald sen­si­tively ex­panded the ques­tion which is the ti­tle of her new book writ­ten with Mary Warnock – Ease­ful Death: Is There a Case for As­sisted Dy­ing?

By Wed­nes­day, you felt James IV might have had a few things to say on the mat­ter for, as we learned in Billy Kay’s new se­ries, Cheat­ing Death: A His­tory of Scots Medicine (Ra­dio Scot­land, Wed­nes­day, 11.30am), the king was a sur­geon manque, trav­el­ling around the coun­try, pulling his sub­jects’ teeth and pay­ing them for the priv­i­lege. A nerve-wrench­ing twist on den­tal crowns.

MichaelRosendis­cussedth­elos­sofhisson

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