5 Live Energy Day: Dynamo Salford

Where pleas rang out for us to watch the show that day online instead of merely listening.

“We are in a piazza outside the BBC’s prestigious Salford facilities and this afternoon my programme is being powered entirely by bikes!” To be honest, Richard Bacon didn’t sound like he was giving his whole mind to the BBC Energy Day (5 September), even if out of his mouth rolled eager phrases: “It’s happening and it’s REAL,” and “There will be points in the show when we’ll fall off air!”

Over the next couple of hours, Bacon rather longingly played the dead-air onetone bleep that might suddenly come upon us if the bike-power should fail, so that we were fully prepared and knew not to panic. But both test runs were the only time we heard it; the Salford cyclists doggedly succeeded in powering the show.

“OK, so it’s not the most exciting concept in the world,” Richard conceded, going to look more closely at the volunteers. “See how knackered they look. Hard to get a sense across on the radio . . . today might actually be a brilliant time to watch.”

It was the first of many pleas for us to watch the show that day online instead of merely listening: Bacon is TV-savvy and manifestly aware that, despite the cyclists’ dedication, all this wasn’t coming over exactly like a chariot race and that there were limits to how many times a person could hear “it’s chafing a lot” and (more curiously) “Alex from CBeebies isn’t even trying” before things became rather too detached and drowsy, and you started feeling towards the radio a little puzzled distrust, as though it were an old friend who’d refused you a simple favour.

So you logged on and sneaked a peek, just for a moment, taking in a quick green-andgrey webcam flicker, before returning to listening, soothed and vague once more, if a bit bloody irritated that you got talked into letting the side down.

BBC facilities at Media City, Salford. Image: Getty

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 16 September 2013 issue of the New Statesman, Syria: The deadly stalemate

Picture: STAVROS DAMOS
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Jonathan Safran Foer Q&A: “I feel like every good piece of advice boils down to patience”

The author on delivering babies, Chance The Rapper, and sailing down the Erie Canal.

Jonathan Safran Foer is the author of the novels “Everything Is Illuminated” and “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close”, and the nonfiction book “Eating Animals”. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.

What’s your earliest memory?

Falling asleep on my dad’s chest on a swing at my grandparents’ house. But the memory is a bit suspicious because there is a photograph and I remember my mum taking it, so I guess I wasn’t really asleep.

Who are your heroes?

The only person I have ever been nervous to meet, or whose presence felt larger than life, is Barack Obama. I don’t think that makes him a hero but there are many ways in which I aspire to be more like him.

What was the last book that made you envy the writer?

Man Is Not Alone by Abraham Joshua Heschel. It’s a meditation on religion – not really organised religion but the feeling of religiosity and spirituality. I can’t believe how clear he is about the most complicated subjects that feel like language shouldn’t be able to capture. It really changed me.

What would be your Mastermind specialist subject?

There was a period of about two years when my kids and I would go to an inn every other weekend so maybe the inns of Mid-Atlantic states? I’m not sure Mastermind would ever ask about that, though, so my other specialism is 20th century architecture and design.

In which time and place, other than your own, would you like to live?

I would be very happy to return to my childhood in Washington, DC. In a way, what I would really like is to be somewhere else at another time as somebody else. 

What TV show could you not live without?

I really like Veep, it’s unbelievably funny – but I could definitely live without it. Podcasts, on the other hand, are something that I could live without but might not be able to sleep without.

What’s your theme tune?

I don’t have a theme tune but I do have a ringtone, which is this Chance The Rapper song called “Juice”. Every time it rings, it goes: “I got the juice, I got the juice, I got the juice, juice, juice.” I absolutely love it and I find myself singing it constantly.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

It isn’t really delivered as advice but King Solomon says in the Bible: “This, too, shall pass.” I feel like every good piece of advice I’ve ever heard – about parenting, writing, relationships, inner turmoil – boils down to patience.

When were you happiest?

I took a vacation with my two sons recently where we rented a narrowboat and sailed down Erie Canal. We were so drunk on the thrill of hiring our own boat, the weather, the solitude, just the excitement of it. I can’t remember being happier than that.

If you weren’t a writer, what would you be?

An obstetrician. No obstetrician comes home on a Friday and thinks: “I delivered 20 babies this week, what’s the point?” The point is so self-evident. Writing is the opposite of that. I managed not to fill any pages this week with my bad jokes and trite ideas, flat images and unbelievable characters. Being a part of the drama of life in such a direct way really appeals to me.

Are we all doomed?

We’re all going to die. Isn’t that what it is to be doomed? There is a wonderful line at the end of Man Is Not Alone, which is something along the lines of: for the person who is capable of appreciating the cyclicality of life, to die is privilege. It’s not doom but one’s ultimate participation in life. Everything needs to change.

Jonathan Safran Foer’s latest novel “Here I Am” is published in paperback by Penguin

This article first appeared in the 14 September 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The German problem