Reviewed: It’s My Story: My Lover, My Carer on Radio 4

Sex in the afternoon.

A Cuban elderly man pushes awheelchair in a street in Holguin, Cuba
What happens when a lover becomes a carer? Photograph: Getty Images

It’s My Story: My Lover, My Carer
Radio 4

A one-off programme talked about sex in a way never heard on Radio 4 – the channel usually being sweetly prudish, with the very occasional exception of Woman’s Hour when one can sometimes hear Jenni Murray rather fruitily adjusting her bifocals if the subject descends, like a brass bed quietly creaking in a distant room. Which happens far less than you’d think. I’ve heard whole come-into-my- brown-study Woman’s Hour shows devoted to the menopause or cystitis without sex really being mentioned at all, as though to allow more would be seriously unwise or overwhelming, like trying to drain the Serpentine through a straw. It can come over very weird, especially when moments later someone is always banging on about delphiniums, or Lady Jacintha’s curious devotion to Dick Francis, with intense and detailed passion. Priorities ladies, please!

Maybe some omertà has recently been lifted at Portland Place. A panellist used the phrase “hard-on” midway through the News Quiz the other night and there wasn’t the usual ripple of panic. Still, this particular programme about caring for your disabled husband or wife not only spoke frankly about sex in such partnerships but had more wit and tenderness than was usual at four o’clock in the afternoon, an hour usually given over to the dreaded Radio 4 Original Drama, the very suggestion of which is enough to drop a cloud-piercing stack of dynamite through any good mood. “It worries me,” confessed the presenter Julie Fernandez, who suffers from brittle bone disease and lives much of her days in a wheelchair, “when my husband has to, for example, get the bedpan which he has to do at least three or four times a week and bring it to the bed and help me go to the toilet. And, you know, the next thing we’re having sex. And that kind of freaks me out.”

Fernandez is a natural talker, whose tumbling manner broke through not just the station’s coyness but its entire rhythm. People around her spoke with tenderness and energy, throwing the listener hot glances and sending them crashing against doors. This was that most unusual of things: a programme where anything might be said, anything might happen. And several times it did. “Let’s face it,” said an interviewee with a cancer-smashed spine, to his wife, with full adoration in every syllable, “I came home from hospital and I was there with a plaster brace and I hadn’t washed properly and I was looking like crap and felt like death on a biscuit and you walked through the door – and you jumped me!”