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Kate Adie's diary

I wondered if the breakfast show phone-in had a list of those Not to be Put on Air in Any Circumstan

Start the week in Vadstena, an enchanting lakeside town in Sweden, at a conference organised by the European Science Foundation, about which I know nothing. I hope I'm not asked about the Large Hadron Collider, about which I know less, except that it's tricky to convey on radio - the Today audience believes the "God particle" is usually known as Thought for the Day. Luckily, I've been asked to talk about the media and the military, where I'm on rather firmer ground, though the idyllic surroundings of birch forest and candlelit medieval buildings don't lend themselves to the realities of Iraq and Afghanistan. However, the taxi driver to the airport at Linköping is a gently mournful Kurd from Iran. His English is sparkling, his Swedish - an awkwardly tonal language - hesitant: "Such a . . . gymnastic tongue," he sighs. "Up and down and through hoops. But politics sends us to these far-off lands and you have to survive . . ."

Pseudo-Tudor horrors

Back to London for a book launch that couldn't be more English: Icons of England, a collection of essays by various contributors on much-loved aspects of the countryside: holloways, stiles, Norfolk windmills, cattle grids and crop circles - it's an eclectic gathering of enthusiasms. I'd opted to write about deer parks, recalling the tantalising moment in childhood when the deer of Raby Castle in Durham played hide and seek at sunset. The party was held in the swish offices of Arup, the building designers and engineers. More than one voice asked why, if we have a passion for the countryside and have some world-class architects, the design of ordinary dwellings has to resemble brick pigsties tricked out with gables and pseudo-Tudor cladding. Not that a steel-and-glass needle will necessarily be welcomed in Winchcombe or Blanchland. Surely there's something that doesn't inspire an instant grumble?

Save our screens

Preservation came to mind the next day, having headed for Leyburn, in North Yorkshire, to give a talk on my new book. A goodly number gathered in the delightful Picture House, which shows current films to enthusiastic audiences, thus curbing their carbon footprints to the distant multiplexes of the big cities. Alas, the rent is rising, the developers are circling and the volunteers are shaping up for the defence of their arts centre. All appeals to national sources of funding are met with questions about diversity, youth and innovation. The good people of Leyburn are not giving up the fight yet.

The myth of public access

Two days later, I am in the studio of a daytime TV programme. It's like my early local radio days, but with make-up and astrologers. (Rising at 4am and facing just one bleary-eyed co-presenter at dawn reduced the need for make-up on radio and the BBC had strict rules then about putting star-gazing speculators on air.) The conversation was a kind of verbal badminton: steady shots back and forth from the panel punctuated by grand slams from phone-in contributors. I wondered if they had a list of those Not to be Put on Air in Any Circumstances. Just like every other public access programme I've worked on, they did. The claim that broadcasters open the lines to everyone who may call is tenuous indeed. You have no idea what's on the minds of the Great British Public until you've sat in on the Jimmy Young Show (of blessed memory) and read the ranting, raving, libellous, and plain nuts comments of those who want their opinion broadcast. Clearly obscenity and libel are out, but I've always been curious about the ethics of trumpeting the claim to broadcast "your views", when to be precise it's "your views - as long as we more or less approve of them being voiced".

Dangerous work

On the road again and to Bournemouth to sign books. A polite young man says shyly: "We met in Saddam Hussein's place in Basra." He's a medic with a Scots regiment and he's off to Afghanistan. Kindly, he's bought my book, Into Danger. I wish him well and he laughs and says: "It's my job."

"Into Danger: Risking Your Life for Work" is published by Hodder & Stoughton (£20)

This article first appeared in the 29 September 2008 issue of the New Statesman, The crash of 2008