Radio Archive

Border-crossing bard

Every day, hundreds of people take the train between Belfast and Dublin, or vice versa, and never notice they have crossed a border. Where are they heading, and why, and how will their journeys and lives be affected if that border becomes  a land frontier between the United Kingdom and Europe? Those are questions addressed by the poet Leontia Flynn in Crossing the Border, a programme for Radio 4.

Truss on travel

In a series of three programmes for the “One to One” slot on Radio 4, Lynne Truss is looking at travel and what we get out of it. Well, what other people get out of it, because although she’s done a lot of it in 25 years as a writer, she hates it. In the first programme, aired on Tuesday, she talked to Geoff Dyer, a writer who does like to travel, but whom I associate more with genre-hopping than border-crossing. Dyer’s had his disappointments, particularly with literary and artistic pilgrimages, but the natural world rarely lets him down, and he firmly shares the view of Annie Dillard that “We are here on the planet only once, and we might as well get a feel for the place.” Coincidentally, in a week when we have been remembering the end of the First World War, he says that one of the places that has most moved and inspired him is the battlefield of the Somme. 

In forthcoming episodes, Truss meets Jillian Moody, who crossed the world in a campervan with her husband and three young daughters, and takes a walk on the Old Way in East Sussex with Will Parsons, co-founder of the British Pilgrimage Trust.

The song of the ol’ gray dawg

In “Cash on the Barrelhead”, a Louvin Brothers song  he recorded for his album Grievous Angel, Gram Parsons (the man who invented country rock) sings of a bus driver reminding him that “this ol’ gray dawg gets paid to run”. Greyhound, though, is still one of the cheapest forms of long-distance transport in the US, which is why it’s the choice of what Doug Levitt calls “people on the margins”. Levitt, who describes himself as a former foreign correspondent and “downwardly-mobile” singer songwriter, has clocked up 120,000 miles riding Greyhounds across the United States over the past 12 years, on an odyssey inspired by Woody Guthrie. In The Greyhound Diaries, for the BBC World Service, he trades stories with passengers he meets along the way, and turns some of theirs into songs. 

Westward Ho!

My elder grandson’s on half-term break. I’ve been spending the days with him and my wife going to and from harbours and beaches along the high-hedged roads of Devon, and the evenings on slightly wider highways on the other side of the Atlantic. No teleportation involved; I just tune in at night to Laura Barton’s American Road Trip on Radio 4 Extra. In a grand audio outing, she heads from New York to LA, combining reflections and reminiscences on her own Stateside journeys with well-chosen excerpts from the radio archives and readings from the works of writers including Jonathan Raban, Joan Didion and Sam Shepard.  It’s a three-hour trip, but an endlessly diverting one, and there are plenty of places where you can pull in for a break along the way…

On the Waveney, with Gaw and Deakin

In his debut The Pull of the River (Elliott and Thompson), which I’m just dipping into, Matt Gaw acknowledges that his own journey on Britain’s waterways was partly prompted by one made by Roger Deakin in 2005 on the River Waveney, which became an audio diary for Radio 4, Cigarette on the Waveney (Cigarette being Deakin’s canoe, which was named after one used on the canals of Belgium and northern France in 1876 by Robert Louis Stevenson and his friend Sir Walter Grindlay).
  Deakin’s programme, as Gaw points out, has recently become available again via the BBC iPlayer. And Gaw’s canoe, built by his friend and fellow traveller James? It’s called the Pipe.

Palin and the Victorian ship that went to the Poles

Michael Palin’s Erebus (Hutchinson), the stirring story of a Victorian ship that went to the Poles, is currently Book of the Week on Radio 4. You can read my review of it — which appeared at the weekend in The Daily Telegraphhere on Deskbound Traveller.

Back to the deserts

William Atkins’ The Immeasurable World: Travels in Desert Places was reviewed in The Observer last weekend by Sara Wheeler. The author has also been interviewed by Radio National in Australia — which seemed keener to draw him out on recent happenings in the Sonoran Desert, on the US-Mexico border, than on British nuclear tests in Maralinga in South Australia, which also feature in his book.

Stagg, Goodwin and the long walk

Guy Stagg’s The Crossway (Picador), about his walk from Canterbury to Jerusalem in the hope of mending himself after mental illness, is currently Book of the Week on Radio 4. The author will be in conversation with Jason Goodwin — traveller, historian and creator of the Ottoman sleuth Yashim — at the Marylebone branch of Daunt Books, in London, next Thursday (June 28). They’ll have more than a little in common: Goodwin walked from Poland’s Baltic coast to Istanbul for his portrait of Central Europe, On Foot to the Golden Horn.

Atkins swaps the damp for the dry

For his first book, The Moor, which was short-listed for the 2015 Thwaites Wainwright Prize, William Atkins travelled along the wet backbone of England. For his latest, The Immeasurable World  (Faber), he heads into deserts — including the Sonoran, between Mexico and the United States, where the Trump administration has been following its “zero-tolerance” policy against undocumented migrants. There he spent time both with a group that is helping migrants and with a border patrol officer.

  Atkins was on Start the Week  with Andrew Marr on Radio 4 on Monday, and he will be speaking at the Wealden Literary Festival, in Biddenden, Kent, on June 30.  You can read a brief (600 words or so) extract from his new book on the website of one of my favourite London bookshops, Foyles, and a longer piece he wrote, while working on the book, on the website of Granta magazine.

Lawrence Wright talks Texas

Contributors to the Book Review podcast of The New York Times include Julian Barnes, on his latest novel, and Lawrence Wright, talking about his portrait of the Lone Star State, God Save Texas.