The Oldie



Our tennis club asks members to refrain from foul language on court – ‘even if, as is almost always the case, it is directed at yourself’.

I appreciate that amused, schoolmast­erly rebuke. No such humorous attitude was ever detected in the foul-mouthed Whatsapp messages that flew about Number 10 in Covid days, as revealed in the inquiry. The dislikeabl­e Dominic Cummings had to be told, ‘We are going to have to coarsen our language somewhat, Mr Cummings, in order to hear the evidence.’

This insight into how we are governed by lazy, humourless Whatsapper­s came in Helen Lewis Has Left the Chat (Radio 4). The New Statesman journalist has been online since her schooldays; she can now look back and make fun of its hellishnes­s.

Oh, how glad I am to belong to the generation who still communicat­e in considered speech, instead of constantly tapping away. How ghastly to be a parent today using the school-gates Whatsapp – a Pandora’s box from which a venomous fellow mother might spring out and chide you for being ‘rude’ or swank about a World Book Day costume made at midnight.

Whatsapp is now available to foolish and susceptibl­e 13-year-olds – and why should adults care, when they too behave like 13-year-olds? My only quibble with Helen’s programme is the background muzak plinking and plonking away with banal ominousnes­s – is it a xylophone? Could it be a steel band? We don’t need it. The words say it all.

For those who still listen to drama on Radio 4, do not miss the novels of Richard Ford, the great American novelist, starting with The Sportswrit­er. All four have been brilliantl­y adapted for Radio 4 by Robin Brooks.

And please listen to the Book of the Week, with Salman Rushdie reading Knife: Meditation­s after an Attempted Murder. In Knife (reviewed on page 54), he talks candidly about life since the day death – a masked man in black – scuttled towards him on stage at the Chautauqua Symposium (on free speech) in New York.

Salman had sometimes imagined his assassin rising up in some public forum. ‘So it’s you. Here you are,’ he thought.

Woman’s Hour’s Emma Barnett, who daringly gave us men talking about porn, and challenged trans men in women’s sports, promises to carry on trumpeting the feminist cause in her new berth on Today. The day before she left Woman’s Hour, O J Simpson died. Anita Rani’s recall of his acquittal on the show was the best argument for a programme taking the female viewpoint.

On the next day, the equally pugnacious Esther Rantzen featured in The Reunion with ‘Esther’s boys’ from That’s Life (including Peter Bazalgette, begetter of Big Brother). They paid tribute to her famous triumphs – from getting Nicholas Winton together with the children he saved from the Nazis to the dog that growled ‘Sausages’.

Rachel Johnson’s Difficult Women podcast with Daisy Goodwin was one of her best, aided by Daisy’s willingnes­s to rail about her Madame Bovary mother, Jocasta Innes, a bolter who ran off with a Geordie, Joe, leaving little Daisy aged five and her brother, three. Among much else, Daisy told of the liberation that came of her house’s burning down. Shrieks of laughter erupted. You can’t beat two women on a podcast on a good day.

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