When I was about 7, Radio Rentals took my mother’s television back.
Apparently, they were upset that she hadn’t fulfilled the ‘rentals’ part of the bargain. At this tender age, I was introduced to the longest, most fulfilling, sustained relationship, I will ever have. Now, it wasn’t love at first listen. Radio 4, when you are that age, really isn’t that exciting.
I did however learn to love the perky theme tune of The Archers, and was very surprised that you could listen to ‘telly’ – plays, game shows, and people being funny (even if I didn’t quite get the joke). The separation from television was a shortlived one. While I was intrigued by Radio 4, my mother was definitely an ITV girl. And to be fair, what was she supposed to point the furniture at if there wasn’t a telly? The gas fire?
I was given my first radio cassette player when I was about 12, and while I dutifully listened to Radio 1, pressed play and record for the entire duration of the Sunday chart (when the tapes were played back, they were quite good until the top ten, when you would hear nothing but me screaming for absolute quiet, in case I missed something), I would sneak the dial back to Radio 4 when no friends, sister, or mother, were there to mock me for preferring the occasionally very dark plays and the joy that was Woman’s Hour. In my late teens, Radio 4 became a ticket to cool, as 6th formers competed to show how grown-up they were, how cerebral, in preparation for university. But still the television took pride of place, with its paralysing, apathy-inducing blend of adverts and terrible drama; with the furniture pointing at it, and its dominance in conversations at work, about what we had done in lieu of having a life.
The televisions got bigger, they were on longer, there appeared more and more channels, and the cost of keeping this habit going became more expensive. Families happily parted with cash, directing it to that icon of virtue and free media: Rupert Murdoch, in return for 24/7 football news, MTV for the kids, and endless repeats of American comedies. Any request that the TV be turned off was met with incredulity – it had to be something serious if we were to expect the box in the corner to turn black. As a social worker, getting people to turn off their plasma screens and speak to me about the welfare of their children was seen as the ultimate intervention of the Interfering Nanny State.
As I got partway through my marriage, I began to resent the constant intrusion of noise and pictures. The effect on me was notable (if the television was on, I could happily sit and watch absolute shit for hours, because the effort to change the channel or turn it off was too much); the effect on my family (asking someone to do something to assist in the running of the household when competing with Malcolm in the Middle is just unreasonable); and the fact that I would effectively spend evenings alone in the same room as my husband while he watched the same match that he had seen every other day of our marriage (the one with a green pitch, 23 blokes in various colours of shorts and t-shirts, where it ends in a win/lose/draw). I longed for peace and quiet- and when everyone was out, it would be turned off, and I would wallow in silence.
Or switch on Radio 4 and welcome back the calm, authoritative voice which soothes and informs, but doesn’t intrude or prevent you getting on with your day.When I moved out of our marital h0me the fact that I hadn’t bought a television was of some concern to people. My stepson worried so much that I couldn’t afford one, that he obtained a television for me. I accepted, because when you have a 20 year old being so thoughtful, you do not crush them by telling them you don’t want it. The television sat there in the corner gathering dust, apart from the Hollyoaks omnibus on a Sunday morning (cant stand The Archers… need something to stare at). By the time I realised I was paying my license fee to watch Merseyside girls wear very few clothes, in in increasingly bizarre storylines, on a Sunday morning… I had had enough.
My relationship with Radio 4 has blossomed into a full blown marriage. From the righteous indignation that starts the day with the Today programme, to the company offered by my beloved Woman’s Hour, to the incomprehensible jargon of the shipping forecast, we take each other for granted, my spouse and I. I tune in and out, and get on with my life – occasionally paying attention, but mostly just treating it as soothing authoritative background noise. Occasionally, this partner surprises me, outrages me, or makes me laugh hysterically. It is still identifiable as the same Radio 4 I was introduced to at seven, and if you looked at the schedule, you would see that aging has not changed it.
Here and now, as I have my radio off for the only time in the week (The Archers again), this is me saying thank you to my oldest sustained adult relationship. Radio 4, I love you.
(Apart from The Archers, and really, there should be enough digital channels now that you can stick that somewhere else. We could have Any Questions and Any Answers repeated on a Sunday morning. I might start a Facebook pressure group.)
Image by Dan Booth. Not to be reproduced without express prior permission.