There was, alongside Words On Water, more angling on Radio 4 this week.

On Wednesday, self-appointed expert in absolutely everything, Count Arthur Strong went fishing, taking his split cane rod and Intrepid Black Prince up to Spiggy Lakes.




What he said.

Listening to the radio is something I do a lot of. Rarely is it music though these days, but rather it’s comedy, drama or documentary. Mostly I listen while travelling, or whilst in the kitchen, or chopping wood, or some other noodling job. As such it’s nice to synchronise the task with something interesting on the radio.

Although this only needs me to simply look at the schedules, I rarely seem to manage it. Of course you can always catch up via the iPlayer, but that assumes that you know that you’ve missed it in the first place. As I mentioned in a blog a short while ago, sometimes you still miss a programme that you’d really like to have heard.

With that in mind, I’ve done a little bit of a trawl through the listings to create an aide memoire of my scufflings over this week’s radio. If I had more time on my hands I’d put the links in – sorry.

On all week – Radio 3 is something people tend to only associate with classical music, but I have found their occasional spoken word stuff is generally well worth a listen. This week has #6-#10 of their Anglo-Saxon Portraits Essay series. It sounds bit dull, bit I suspect isn’t. Runs to 30 episodes though.

Count Arthur Strong has repeats of two of his series on R4 and R4extra this week. I was giggling like a ninny on the train last week listening to an episode – a rare case of laughter and public transport being linked in a positive way.

R4Extra 4pm (every weekday) – The Four O’Clock show. Primarily aimed at kids (which allows presenter Mel Giedroyc to get away with being annoying. Sorry, more annoying), this magazine programme usually includes a range of subject matters – food, science, history, and always something to do with the natural world, often in Britain. The latter often features the work of Chris Watson and is well worth putting up with the drekkier bits.

Saturday – Slim pickings from my point of view as Saturdays tend to be a lot of twaddle. Though Ramblings on R4 has Clare Baldwin with Simon Evans discussing his work with the Wye & Usk Foundation. Mind you it’s at 6 a.m. And is hosted by Clare Balding. One for the iPlayer. Maybe.

Sunday – Generally a bit better than Saturdays if only because R4’s Pick of the Week (6.15pm) allows you to latch onto any good stuff you’ve missed, or smugly congratulate yourself if the programme features much of your own listening.

At 1.15pm on R4extra is the penultimate episode in Attention All Shipping: A Journey Round The Shipping Forecast. I’ve managed to miss earlier episodes, but enjoyed the book – so I’ll add it to the list.

Immediately after, on R4 is The ‘Arse That Jack Built – a programme about quirks of language and dialect. Normally I love this subject, but it’s hosted by Ian McMillan. File under Arse.

Monday – R4 9.45pm – Book of the Week – Into The Abyss – “The true story of a plane crash in the frozen north of Canada and the four survivors who survived the tragedy in which six passengers died”. First impressions – this sounds interesting. What I’m really thinking – how many did they eat?

R4 11am – Earworms – programme about songs that get stuck in your head. I’m really bad for this – singing “The Grand Old Duke Of York” is normally an antidote, but not always. Maybe I will learn others.

R4 4pm – Monty Python Fliegender Zirkus. The story of how a German producer brought Monty Python to his homeland. To me they are The Beatles of comedy – as in “We really don’t need to hear anymore about them”. Ever. But the German angle intrigues me. I remember being in fits as my brother tried to explain a Vic Reeves sketch to a nonplussed Dutchman – this could be similar. Give it five minutes. OK, ten.

Tuesday – R4 11am – Saving Species. Exploring the issues surrounding a rise in the bird of prey population. I see Red Kites daily and have wondered about this myself.

R4 6.30pm – Rudy’s Rare Records – not a great comedy series this – think My Family rather than Outnumbered – but for some reason I don’t dislike it and this week’s episode is based on the allotment – expect double entendres about carrots, marrows and pumpkins.

R4 11pm – Arthur Smith’s Balham Bash. I’ve listened to some of these in the past and seem to recall they were quite good. tho’ patchy. At least it’s not Just A Minute.

Wednesday – R4 11am – Lives In A Landscape. Second allotment programme in 24 hours. Factual this time, visiting an allotment in Hastings and hearing how people with plots on the site use them in different ways.

R4 11pm – My Teenage Diary – I’ve only ever caught this programme once when Caitlin Moran was the subject, and it was hilarious. I suspect that this week’s guest Arabella Wier will make this episode much less so. I predict that the phrase “does my bum look big in this” will put in an appearance.

Thursday –R4 3pm – Ramblings – more Clare Balding (groan), but it’s redeemed by the presence of Steve Backshall, who is best known for his Deadly 60 wildlife show and the spin-off, which we love here in Boot Hall, Deadly Art.

Friday – R4 3pm – Gardeners’ Question Time. I used to listen to this religiously, now I never do. Witless, joyless and tedious. Like Just A Minute only on the radio because it always has been. Emphasis on has-been.

R4extra 6pm – Of Withered Apples. A Philip K Dick story wherein a beautiful woman picks the last apple from a dying ancient tree determined to survive. Sounds like the sort of brain candy only radio delivers and a fitting end to the week’s listening.

Spotted this piece of street art today.

It was on the side of a recycling container.

Whilst the side had been repainted at some point it wasn’t wet – and in any case the “wet paint warning tape” was on top of the painted surface. I actually think that the artist appropriated the tape to highlight his/her work.

On a very loosely associated note, last night’s One Show (a programme that I normally avoid like the plague/Olly Murs/insert blight of your own choice here) had a snippet of a feature on urban art which included vintage footage of Walter Kershaw painting the giant pansies included here and also the Morecambe Mystery Graffiti Fish – which may or may not be associated withe The Spindly Killer Fish.

Quite often the BBC will run a small feature on its website, or in a news, or magazine programme that is actually a plug for a TV or radio programme. If that was the intention here then the timing was somewhat out as the radio programme was 12 days before and isn’t even on the iPlayer anymore.

As someone who listens to a lot of speech radio I’m surprised I missed it. I’m also bloody annoyed as it sounds great.

Does the rule of three that is supposed to apply to bad luck etc . and features in much else in human history apply to coincidences? I‘m not sure, but if it does then I’m waiting for a third one that’s a week overdue.

Last Friday I was reading ‘Hellfire and Herring – A childhood remembered’ by Christopher Rush. It’s a warm and melancholic memoir of growing up in a Fife fishing village after the Second World War, and one section tells of all the retired men, too old to fish, who used to gather to earn a few coins repairing hooks and lines. One of them spoke to the young boy

” ‘You see this gartlin* hook?’

One of the old ones laid in my hand the four inches of iron he was about to whip on. It was bigger than my palm.

‘How big a fish do you think it can hold?’

I shook my head.

‘I once caught a halibut of sixteen stones on a hook like that….I’ve never seen anything fight like that halibut. Sixteen stone if it was an ounce. It was the last hook on the line. We were so close in to Peterhead we trailed it behind the boat, and it was sold alive on the scales, still twitching.’ “

This made me marvel. A 16 stone halibut? That’s over 200 pounds! Now giant flatfish have never figured large in my consciousness, so you’ll understand why it seemed something of a coincidence to read about an even larger halibut the very next day (not in this paper I hasten to add).

But a bigger, and to me, freakier coincidence was to come later that same day.

It was mid-evening and avoiding the X Factor, I was sitting at the PC listening to BBC4 Extra on the iPlayer through headphones. I was catching up on a five programme series that I’d started listening to earlier in the week. Called “The Wild Places” it was about a series of perambulations by nature writer Robert MacFarlane. The particular episode was one featuring a walk in the Lake District and I zoned out pretty quickly as the writing was absolutely mogadonned by whoever it was reading the stuff.

My thoughts meandered off to a series of school walking trips to the Lakes. On the first day of the first of these we set out to walk along a ridge of peaks and stopped for an early breather by a small mountain lake. As the radio blathered away in the background, I googled the small stillwater, and clicked on its Wikipedia entry. At exactly the moment that the page opened for Bleabury Tarn, the voice on the radio said “Bleabury Tarn“.

It was as if someone was reading it over my shoulder and gave me something of a start.

Not just a coincidence, but an amazing piece of synchronicity too.

So since then I have been expecting a third coincidence, but a watched pot never boils, and I should turn my attention to something worthwhile instead.

(*What’s a gartlin hook? See here)

A few weeks ago I was in the car listening to Gardeners’ Question Time. It was inadvertently amusing because Anne Swithinbank was talking to a Geordie gardener, about a council bedding scheme he was planning. Despite the fact that he didn’t have a particularly thick accent, when he mentioned wallflowers, she thought he’d said wildflowers and commented they were an interesting choice for a regimented bedding scheme. I tweeted about this later that evening. And then in another tweet said that the programme needs a bomb up it’s arse.

After that I was a bit surprised to get a reply tweet from Robert Abel, of the GQT production company, who tweets at JunctionForty5, saying “Exploding arses-probably out of the question but give us some more specific constructive criticism for GQT and we’ll listen.”

It too often seems to me that we in the UK excel at producing people who delight in moaning about stuff, without ever offering anything positive. I hate that. To my mind you are only allowed to moan about something if you think you can improve it, or have ideas to offer about how to do so.

With that in mind, here is my response to Robert’s Tweet.

Of course, I must begin by saying that I’m sure that the experts know more than I ever will, and I utterly respect that. But this isn’t about expertise.

It should also be said that GQT is a programme that I used to never miss, and now is one I rarely bother with. After asking myself a few times why that is, the main reason I came up with wasn’t that it’s boring, or uninspiring, or uninformative, but rather that it’s dull to listen to.

Last year, after Geoffrey Smith passed away, they aired some “best of” clips, including him crossing verbal swords with Nigel Colborn. I remember listening and wishing that the programme was more like that these days.

It seemed vibrant and alive in a way that just doesn’t seem to be the case anymore.

From my perspective this has been thrown into even sharper relief by the loss of John Cushnie, the only one of the recent regular incumbents with any sort of spark about them.

Of the remaining panellists, I find Bunny Guinness a bit tedious and mildly annoying (and not in a stimulated by being annoyed kind of way), and Bob Flowerdew’s manner is just plain odd. This has nothing to do with his gardening ethos, which I do quite like, just his manner. As for the other regulars, Anne Swithinbank, Pippa Greenwood and Matthew Biggs, they’re just…..well they’re just…. well frankly, they’re just beige.

I realise that the gardening radio audience are uber-conservative, by and large. And I’m not advocating a wholesale “Night of the Long Trowels” like they had in 1994 when they got rid of the whole panel.

But it just seems to me that they could have the odd expert with a bit more snap and fizz.

Thinking about it, a new presenter might be another way of injecting a bit of colour, but that said, Eric Robson is one of the most three-dimensional things about the programme. That may be seen as either praise or damnation, but whichever you choose it does not reflect well on his understudy – that big drip whose day job is reading the weather. They’d do well to give him the old ‘Spanish Archer’.

In summary, I think what I am saying is that:

Gardening as a process is about life and death. Plants reproduce and they die, they thrive and they wane, they grow berserk and are eaten to the ground.

Gardening as a practice is about empiricism along with intuition, it’s reactive and proactive, it is both passionate and passive and sometimes all at the same time.

And that surely GQT should reflect some of this vibrancy and contradiction.

This weekend I’ve torn around like an idiot and yet still achieved next to nothing. Consequently after three “days off” I do not feel rested. In fact, I feel wrecked. My back popped early on Sunday, and yes, this should have made me just sit down relax and do nothing. But it didn’t; not a bit of it. Instead I rushed round busying myself with a series of small, ineffectual chores, several of which I left unfinished and most of which were largely unnecessary.

It has had one effect – to leave me mentally frazzled and knackered.

I listened to a trail for this radio programme this morning and should have taken a lesson from it.

This week I am going to try to “stand and stare”.

W. H. Davies


What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare?—

No time to stand beneath the boughs,
And stare as long as sheep and cows:

No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass:

No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night:

No time to turn at Beauty’s glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance:

No time to wait till her mouth can
Enrich that smile her eyes began?

A poor life this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare