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A lunchtime in the life of Radio Norfolk

Antonia Quirke tunes into Treasure Quest Extra Time on the local radio station.

Treasure Quest Extra Time

BBC Radio Norfolk

Lunchtime on Radio Norfolk (20 November, 12 noon), and the presenter Paul Hayes has been asking: “Have you ever had anything named after you, or have you named anything else?” The usually equable Hayes seems a tad hard to please today, picking holes in any messages coming in. Cheryl mails to say that when her tortoise had offspring, she called the sixth one Huckerby (after Darren Huckerby), but Hayes only wants to know if she named the rest after ex-Norwich City players, too.

Someone else says they called a cactus ­after their mother, but doesn’t say what. And Millie emails to say that she gave her very first car, a B-reg Ford Escort, the name Boris, “after Boris Yeltsin”, but has “no idea why”. Hayes gives up and plays “Summer Sunshine” by the Corrs.

And yet the needling air is catching. Immediately, someone mails in to say that it’s November, and clearly not summer, or sunny, and can we please have music more appropriate to the time of year? But at a reasonable request for Simon and Garfunkel’s “Hazy Shade of Winter”, Hayes narrows his eyes. “Is November winter? Or still autumn?” Rejected! Even when Mark suggests “Forever Autumn” from the War of the Worlds soundtrack, he grimaces: “It just wouldn’t be the same without Richard Burton’s smooth narration coming in over it.”

(On this point at least, I’m with Hayes. By the time Burton made that world-historical recording, released in 1978, he was over 50, and his had long been the superannuated, super-individual voice – bigger than him, almost separate from him. This was a voice very deliberately shaped with his drama teacher in Port Talbot, when he was a teenager, to sound a touch Welsh here, a touch transatlantic there, with little hints of BBC RP. Nobody would think to construct a voice as idiosyncratic (or nuts) as Burton’s today. Those sorts of voices in cinema are like dodos: gone for ever.)

A regretful Hayes continues to turn down requests, including Guns and Roses’ “November Rain” – “about 13 years too long” – as the show unfurls hypnotically, part-smiling, part-peevish, towards the one o’clock news. The cactus, by the way, turned out to be called Sonia. 

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 24 November 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Blair: out of exile

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Beware of tea: the cuppa has started wars and ruined lives

. . . and it once led F Scott Fitzgerald to humiliate himself.

A drink sustains me – one that steams companionably as I write. It is hot, amber and fragranced differently from any wine; nor does it have wine’s capacity to soften and blur. I’ve never understood how the great drunks of literature, Ernest Hemingway, F Scott Fitzgerald and their like, ever put anything on the page more worthwhile than a self-involved howl, though even Hemingway apparently finished the day’s writing before beginning the day’s drinking.

Tea is more kindly, or so I’d always thought. Those aromatic leaves, black or green, rolled and dried and oxidised, have some of wine’s artistry but none of its danger. Even their exoticism has waned, from a Chinese rarity (“froth of the liquid jade”), for which 17th-century English traders were made to pay in solid silver, to a product that can be found dirt cheap on supermarket shelves.

There are even home-grown teas now. The Tregothnan estate in Cornwall has supplemented its ornamental rhododendrons and camellias with their relative camellia sinensis, the tea plant, while Dalreoch in the Scottish Highlands grows a white (that is, lightly oxidised) tea, which is smoked using wood from the surrounding birch plantations. Tellingly, this local version is priced as steeply as the imported rarity once was.

I enjoy a simple, solitary mug, but I also appreciate communal tea-drinking – the delicate tea warmed with water at 85°C (a little higher for sturdier black blends), the teapot and china, the pourer volunteering to be “mother”, as if this were a liquid that could nurture. But in reality, tea is not so gentle.

Those long-ago English traders disliked haemorrhaging silver, so they started exporting opium to China from India and paying with that. This was a fabulous success, unless you happened to be Chinese. In 1839, a commissioner attempted to clamp down on the illegal and harmful trade, and the result was the Opium Wars, which the Chinese lost. “Gunboat diplomacy” – a phrase that surely constitutes froth of a different kind – won England a great deal of silver, a 150-year lease on Hong Kong and an open tea market. China received a potful of humiliation that may eventually have helped spark the Communist Revolution. As many of us have recently realised, there is nothing like economic mortification to galvanise a nation to kick its leaders.

Later, the tea bush was planted in India, Ceylon and elsewhere, and the fragrant but bitter brew for the upper classes became a ubiquitous fuel. But not an entirely sweet one: just as the opium trade ensured our tea’s arrival in the pot, the slave trade sweetened it in the cup. Even today, conditions for tea workers in places such as Assam in north-east India are often appalling.

Scott Fitzgerald also had tea trouble. When invited round by Edith Wharton, he frothed the liquid jade so assiduously with booze beforehand and risqué conversation during (a story about an American tourist couple staying unawares in a Paris bordello) that he was nearly as badly humiliated as those 19th-century Chinese. Wharton, unshocked, merely wondered aloud what the couple had done in the bordello and afterwards pronounced the entire occasion “awful”.

Some would blame his alcoholic preliminaries, but I’m not so sure. Tea has started wars and ruined lives; we should be wary of its consolations. On that sober note, I reach for the corkscrew and allow the subject to drive me softly, beguilingly, to drink.

Nina Caplan is the 2014 Fortnum & Mason Drink Writer of the Year and 2014 Louis Roederer International Wine Columnist of the Year for her columns on drink in the New Statesman. She tweets as @NinaCaplan.

This article first appeared in the 27 April 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Cool Britannia 20 Years On

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