Radio Archive

‘The Fens’ on Radio 4

The Fens, a new portrait of the marshy, low-lying landscape of eastern England by the archaeologist Francis Pryor (Head of Zeus, £9.99), is to be Book of the Week on Radio 4, starting next Monday morning. The BBC site had few details when I checked, but the publisher’s blurb says: 

Inland from the Wash, on England’s eastern cost, crisscrossed by substantial rivers and punctuated by soaring church spires, are the low-lying, marshy and mysterious Fens. Formed by marine and freshwater flooding, and historically wealthy owing to the fertility of their soils, the Fens of Lincolnshire and Cambridgeshire are one of the most distinctive, neglected and extraordinary regions of England.

Francis Pryor has the most intimate of connections with this landscape. For some forty years he has dug its soils as a working archaeologist – making ground-breaking discoveries about the nature of prehistoric settlement in the area – and raising sheep in the flower-growing country between Spalding and Wisbech. In The Fens, he counterpoints the history of the Fenland landscape and its transformation – from Bronze age field systems to Iron Age hillforts; from the rise of prosperous towns such as King’s Lynn, Ely and Cambridge to the ambitious drainage projects that created the Old and New Bedford Rivers – with the story of his own discovery of it as an archaeologist.

Transport from tedium

How do you survive the tedium of painting stair rails and door architraves? In between listening to music, I’ve been catching up with recent episodes of The Verb, Radio 3’s excellent programme on language and literature –“poetry, prose, discussion and ideas that would otherwise fall between the cracks”, as Ian McMillan, the genial presenter,  puts it. In one, McMillan and his guests followed the example of Paul Simon and walked off to look for “America” —  taking a deep dive into the word and what it means. In another, they explored how rivers have inspired prose, poetry and song.

‘Underland’ Book of the Week on Radio 4 from today

Book of the Week on Radio 4 from 9.45 this morning is Robert Macfarlane’s latest, Underland (which Hamish Hamilton publishes on Thursday), in which he drops into deep, dark and narrow places, and in the process broadens our notions of what constitutes landscape.

Journey to the top of the world

Physical location on a map; faraway place in our imagination: both those aspects of the North Pole feature in The Top of the World, a BBC World Service programme first broadcast yesterday morning. Joining Bridget Kendall are Felicity Aston, the explorer, author and former climate scientist; Klaus Dodds, professor of geopolitics at Royal Holloway, University of London, and co-author of the forthcoming book The Arctic: What Everyone Needs to Know (Oxford University Press); and Michael Bravo (see earlier post).

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.