Radio is a vital break from coronavirus’s computer screens but Woman’s Hour is a turn off

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LOCKDOWN has brought with it a new search for calm. It’s difficult to explain. It’s not as though life is high octane, moving from working in front of my laptop; to my volunteer work in front of my laptop; to freelance work on the laptop; to socialising, my ballet classes, cinema club and even a family funeral… well, you know where.

It comes to a point of not wanting to look at a screen, or really anything, any longer. Of really not being able to take in anything else visually. And so, blessed relief, to the radio.

I have probably clung on to listening to BBC Radio 1 for far longer than is appropriate for my age demographic. At least, the thought flickers across my mind when that wretched song about driving licences plays. But then Scott Mills appears and it seems unfair to feel pressured by advancing years to uncouple from my long time companion when Scott is still trotting out the Bamboleo at his age.

When I was little, every day began with breakfast and Terry Wogan. My gran would be up first and, without fail, have Radio 2 playing. Living alone now, as my gran had lived alone then, I appreciate finally what a vital companion the radio is. More than information and entertainment: a friend.

We would eat breakfast with Terry chatting in the background, never a morning missed. When I hear the pips announce the hour now the sound brings with it such a visceral feeling of being in my gran’s living room drinking tea and eating hot buttered toast. The sound is such a comfort I can almost taste it.

From Radio 2 to Clyde 1, my preference as a teenager, where we taped the hits. Very little of my cassette collection was without the abrupt ending of a DJ ruining the fade out.

And on to Radio 1, where my dial’s sat happily until the pandemic when a bizarre aversion to unexpected songs began. It was all too loud, too unpredictable and I felt about 100 years old. Can’t explain it.

It was time. On to Radio 4. I toggle between the two stations: Radio 1 predominantly but Radio 4 for the news and for Woman’s Hour, comforting, relatable Woman’s Hour with Jane Garvey, a trusted companion.

It must have been something I said, because off she went and has been replaced by Emma Barnett. Now, I admire Emma Barnett. I respect, am in awe of, and am a little afraid of Emma Barnett.

During her interview of Glasgow’s own Zara Mohammed, the newly elected leader of the Muslim Council of Britain, I listened to her give Ms Mohammed a robust going over with some discomfort but without any surprise.

I had listened to Ms Barnett interview a politician a while back about plans for employers to take a role in supporting employees experiencing domestic abuse. It was a well meaning policy but well meaning holds no water for Emma Barnett: she wants details. The politician squirmed.

Recently I was listening to a Jewish woman talking about saying kaddish for a lost relative. It was an emotional interview and fainter hearts (my heart) might not have sought clarity on the definition of kaddish. Not Emma Barnett, who butted in to ask the interviewee to confirm that yes, kaddish is the Jewish funeral prayer.

Ms Barnett is fierce but there is an equality of ferocity.

I seek gentle comfort in Radio 4 but no longer in Woman’s Hour because of this tone change. There is less light and shade when interview subjects are being held to account, no matter whether they have anything to be held to account for.

Of course it’s a disservice to suggest content curated for women should be easy listening, but that’s not what I’m saying. It’s possible to be inquisitive without always being combative, to secure answers without causing discomfort.

Maybe the problem isn’t the new tone of Woman’s Hour but the fact that, if radio is a chum, then friendships adapt and change. We need different things at different points in life.

Now, it’s calm and companionship. Hopefully, as time shifts, and life is not lived in front of this laptop, I’ll be back for loud music and lambasting.

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