Radio Archive

‘Sightlines’ on Radio 4 Extra

Book of the Week on Radio 4 Extra at the moment is Kathleen Jamie’s Sightlines, which was joint winner in 2013 of the Dolman (now the Stanford Dolman) Travel Book Award. You can still read an extract on Deskbound Traveller.

On the Irish border with Garrett Carr

Book of the Week on Radio 4 from 9.45am today is Garrett Carr’s The Rule of the Land, which I have mentioned a few times on Deskbound Traveller.

Poetry: ‘A lotta hard-workin’ people tryin’ to make an honest dime’

What is Poetry? “It’s just a lotta hard-workin’ people tryin’ to make an honest dime.” So I discovered yesterday, when I searched for “poetry” and “journeys” on the Soundcloud site.

Having enjoyed the latest edition of Poetry Please on Radio 4, on the theme of “Dusk ’til Dawn” (perfect listening for a post-run bath), I searched for “Poetry Please journeys”, and discovered that Roger McGough did hit the road, in March 2015, in the company of Tennyson, Arnold and Cavafy, among others. Unfortunately, that episode is not available on the BBC iPlayer. (Note to BBC: please add it asap.)

So I tried the same search on Soundcloud, couldn’t find the journeys episode, but did turn up Poetry, Texas, in which a Danish poet, Pejk Malinovski, went all the way to the Lone Star State because he’d seen a picture online; a picture of a water tower with the word “Poetry” on it: Poetry, Texas. His programme is gently revealing of rural life, and the voices are wonderful. It was made by the innovative team at Falling Tree Productions and went out on Radio 4 in May 2013 —  but again isn’t available on iPlayer. I’ve put the Soundcloud link in below.

A revealing question: ‘Where are you going?’

In her “Pick of the Week” column on radio for The Daily Telegraph at the weekend, Charlotte Runcie recommended The Documentary: Where Are You Going? (tomorrow on the World Service at 7.30pm), for which Catherine Carr travels to the Mexican city of Tijuana, just south of where Donald Trump is promising to build a wall. Runcie says it “reveals compelling stories of transition, identity and politics by, simply, stopping people and asking them where they are going.”

The programme, recorded in November following Trump’s election victory, turns out to be part of a series — all available on the BBC iPlayer — in which Carr has asked the same question of people in Amsterdam, Kolkata (Calcutta), New York and “The Jungle” refugee camp in Calais.

Winton on the water

I mentioned a while ago Island Home, Tim Winton’s love song to the Australian wilderness, which came out in Britain last year. There’s another chance on Radio 4 Extra to hear an adaptation of an earlier memoir, Land’s Edge (2012), in which Winton reflects on how childhood days at the coast have shaped him as a writer. The reading is by Stephen Dillane.

Winton writes:

In my memory of childhood there’s always the smell of bubbling tar, of Pink Zinc, the briny smell of the sea. It’s always summer and I’m on Scarborough beach, blinded by light and with my shirt off and my back a map of dried salt and peeling sunburn. There are waves crackin’ on the sandbar and the rip flags are up…
Out there is west, true west. The sea is where the sun goes at the end of the day; where it lives while you sleep. I have a fix on things when I know where west is.

Back on the borders

Start the Week, on Radio 4 from 9am,  on the theme of “Barriers and Crossings”, includes a contribution by Garrett Carr, author of The Rule of the the Land (Faber & Faber), his account of Ireland’s border country. And Book of the Week, also on Radio 4, from 9.45am, is Border: A Journey to the Edge of Europe by Kapka Kassabova (Granta).

Ireland’s unmapped border crossings

I’ve already recommended Garrett Carr’s new book about Ireland’s border country, The Rule of the Land (Faber). From his website, I’ve discovered that Carr made a programme for Radio 4, Charting the Border, broadcast in 2014, in which he detailed some of the unofficial, unmapped crossings that he came across as he made his way from east to west. You can still listen to it on the BBC’s iPlayer.

On the borders

Borders have been much on my mind lately — and not just because of an American president’s desire to wall himself off from Mexico. In July 1997 — nine months before the signing of the Good Friday Agreement — I set out to travel by train from County Derry, where I grew up, to Cork. I had to go from Belfast to Dundalk by bus: rail services had been suspended because a signal box had been blown up on the line. In October last year, on a new luxury train, the Belmond Grand Hibernian, I crossed the border twice and didn’t even register I’d done it. Ireland, post-Good Friday, is a healthier place. But what about post-Brexit? Will there be a “hard” border again? Will things get trickier for travellers? Those were questions raised by many strangers meeting on our train last October.

Kapka Kassabova, who was born in Bulgaria and now lives in the Scottish Highlands, has recently been travelling along the border zone “where Bulgaria, Greece and Turkey converge and diverge”,  a region she reports on in Border: A Journey to the Edge of Europe, which was published last week by Granta. In The Guardian at the weekend she wrote:

“It is understandable that borders are creeping into fashion again, lubricated by the passions of various new nationalisms that aren’t at all new – in the same way that, once in the system, viruses aren’t new, just dormant or rampant depending on the general health of the patient. It is understandable because there is an overwhelming sense of fear in many – and a border appears to be ‘a kind of solution’ (the Greek poet CP Cavafy’s ‘Waiting for the Barbarians’, from which this quote comes, is perennially fresh). But it may be useful to recall that, until 1990, for half of Europe’s people, borders were a trauma. The iron curtain was more than a figure of speech. It cut into flesh, into families, into the lives of the unborn.”

I’ve been sent a copy of Kassabova’s book (reviewed yesterday by Sara Wheeler in The Observer), but haven’t yet had a chance to read it. I have, though, read and reviewed a timely account of Ireland’s dividing zone, The Rule of the Land by Garrett Carr (Faber & Faber), which was also published last week. That review is due to appear in the travel section of The Daily Telegraph next weekend.

Carr’s is a marvellous book, in which he contends that Ireland is more divided than any of us suspected — not in two but in three: north, south and borderland. The third state has its own frontier-slipping people, who have their own language. They talk of dolmens — the prehistoric tombs that dot their territory — as “domees”; they say “fornenst” for next to, or up against. Or they will if you can get them to talk at all. For the borderlanders, Carr says, are a people whose conversational tone is always closing; “who say hello in a way that makes you aware it is also goodbye.”

Both Kassabova and Carr were among contributors to a discussion on Radio 3 of borders, led by Anne McElvoy, that was first broadcast last Thursday.


9°C and deep in ‘Snow’

The temperature at the moment is 9°C where I am, in Epsom, Surrey, but I’m deep in Snow (Little Toller), a lovely little book by Marcus Sedgwick — who grew up in Kent but now lives in the French Alps — about the science, art and literature of snow, and about the way in which crystals of ice can transform the mundane into the magical. Snow was Book of the Week on Radio 4 last week, read by Jonathan Firth, and can still be heard on the BBC iPlayer.

Snow is one of the latest offerings from Little Toller, an independent publisher based in Dorset and dedicated to the best in nature writing. Another of its recent titles — which I’ve only had time to dip into but I’m sure I’m going to enjoy — is Arboreal, an anthology of new writing from woodlands across the British Isles, published in memory of the ecologist Oliver Rackham and with royalties going to the charity Common Ground. Dipping into it at random, I read a tremendous contribution by Paul Evans about winter trees as seen from the 7.46 from Shrewsbury to Crewe. It’s the kind of piece that makes you feel, on the one hand, that your own powers of observation are extremely limited and, on the other, that you should spend less time in 2017 jabbing at the keys of a mobile and more time looking out train windows.

McCurry on reading

onreadingThe photographer Steve McCurry, whose “Afghan Girl” is one of the best-known images of the past century, talked to Mariella Frostrup yesterday for Radio 4’s Open Book. (Frostrup, in her introduction, refers to the Afghan girl’s having “piercing blue eyes”; they are indeed piercing, but they are green.)

In 40 years as a photographer, McCurry has travelled the world. In his latest collection of pictures, On Reading (Phaidon), he photographs people —  in more than 30 countries — being transported by turning pages. As Paul Theroux puts it in his introduction, “there is always something luminous in the face of a person in the act of reading.”

The Open Book episode is now available on the BBC iPlayer. McCurry’s contribution starts 19 minutes, 55 seconds in, after Frostrup’s interview with the Israeli novelist David Grossman.