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It’s Valentine’s Day phone-in time, or rather, text-in

Increasingly, listeners tend to text instead, something that has changed the dynamic of the phone-in to no end.

As Valentine’s Day approached, Aled and Dr Radha of BBC Radio 1’s Sunday-evening call-in show The Surgery (9pm) were asking if “single” is a dirty word. “I’m feeling excited,” claimed the 37-year-old Aled. “I don’t actually feel like we’re on the radio. I just feel like we’ve got a few hundred people who are coming round for a big chat.” The GP Radha Modgil agreed. “That’s good,” she said. “That means that we’re just on air and we’re being sincere and can just chat …”

Over to the phones. Increasingly, listeners tend to text instead, something that has changed the dynamic of the phone-in to no end. A few weeks ago, during an hour-long “relationships” special, nobody called at all but the texts kept coming – tortured post-break-up texts surely sent from a roadside café while a chip was being dunked into a sad puddle of mayonnaise and one lone, bitchy tweet directed at the hosts: “You’ve just topped all of Radio 1 in the passive- aggressive department.”

“I’m thinking – what does that even mean?” said Aled, hurt. “What have I done? I was just saying that relationships are tricky. Dynamics and different times and that kind of …” He can be a little thin-skinned sometimes but at least he and Dr Radha are the only people on the station who fully comprehend that they are not broadcasting to any “massive” or “crew” but to the third year of Camden School for Girls and their cousin Josh. For a few minutes, the presenters talked among themselves. Valentine’s Day. Huge expectations, lots of pressure. Aled had a nice time once, a few months into his relationship with Emile, who presented him with a three-metre-long tube of Jaffa Cakes.

These sorts of confession from Aled are usually followed by a qualifier, something pivotal that suggests a hinterland of tough experience combined with lines and scenes gleaned directly from daytime drama (“That was then, Emile!”). Even the name Emile suggests a subject whose impact, trajectory and wind velocity might take up the whole show. Dr Radha stepped in and gently moved things along, admitting she was single once and saying it’s absolutely nothing to get in a pickle about now, is it? At which point, as though in direct contravention, the phones started ringing.
 

Antonia Quirke is an author and journalist. She is a presenter on The Film Programme and Pick of the Week (Radio 4) and Film 2015 and The One Show (BBC 1). She writes a column on radio for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 13 February 2014 issue of the New Statesman, Can we talk about climate change now?

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“The Hole-Up”: a poem by Matthew Sweeney

“You could taste the raw / seagull you’d killed and plucked, / the mussels you’d dug from sand, / the jellyfish that wobbled in your / hands as you slobbered it.”

Lying on your mouth and nose
on the hot sand, you recall
a trip in a boat to the island –
the fat rats that skittered about
after god-knows-what dinner,
the chubby seals staring up,
the sudden realisation that a man
on the run had wintered there
while the soldiers scoured
the entire shoreline to no avail –
you knew now you had been him
out there. You could taste the raw
seagull you’d killed and plucked,
the mussels you’d dug from sand,
the jellyfish that wobbled in your
hands as you slobbered it.
You saw again that first flame
those rubbed stones woke in
the driftwood pile, and that rat
you grilled on a spar and found
delicious. Yes, you’d been that man,
and you had to admit now you
missed that time, that life,
though you were very glad you
had no memory of how it ended.


Matthew Sweeney’s Black Moon was shortlisted for the 2007 T S Eliot Prize. His latest collection is Inquisition Lane (Bloodaxe).

This article first appeared in the 21 July 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The English Revolt