Oh, to be left alone in one’s own bed . . .

Elderly widows discover the joys of not always having to look good

In Merry Widows (31 August, 11am, Radio 4), a programme consisting entirely of vox pops of women embracing the single life after the death of their husbands, an elderly lady said: "I'm me again. The girl who went to school in a white gymslip and navy knickers, and a pocket with a hankie in it." Other stand-out phrases were: "It's a feeling of release", "I'm enjoying my life now" and "I suppose Tony might have objected to some of the things I've done since . . . like breaking my legs in Zanzibar".

Most of the interviews had been conducted quietly, super-relaxed (whoever compiled them has a talent for putting people at ease), but there were occasional forays into rural jumble sales to record various exchanges, too. "Ooooh, hello! Have a cup of tea," said a widow to a friend. "Er, thing is,
I can't stop," lamented the friend, slightly harried. "Alan is at his Bach choir rehearsal this afternoon . . . ['Ah,' says the widow, intensely sympathetic] . . . and his concert is tonight." "Ahh," murmured the merry widow, a little vacantly, as though recalling a previous lifetime of cycling holidays and enforced avoidance of Continental food. "If all the people who lived together were in love," says Baptiste in Les enfants du paradis, "the earth would shine like the sun."

Not that these women were entirely averse to the idea of male company. "What would be right in my life now would be a nice homosexual," conceded one. "Someone to wine and dine me and cherish me, but not wanting it to go any further. Not always having to look good, you know . . ." Oh, to be left alone in one's own bed, with one's highball and massive, hieroglyphic sweater! My dears, it's the alpha and omega of all happiness.

Previously, on Radio 2's drivetime show (Monday to Friday, 5pm-7pm), Chris Evans had kicked off the great Beatles bank holiday weekend with a tremendous, infantile surge. One-year-old Tom called in to request "Octopus's Garden". Bertie, who's two, would love to hear "Blackbird". Milly wants "Twist and Shout". After careering off momentarily to hear brave reports of a caravan jack-knifed but still intact across Junction 6 of the M62, we patched back into the studio to find Evans mid-flow - ". . . 400 songs . . . I mean how did they do it?" - and his studio partner Susie soothing: "It was just a meeting of minds . . . and they just created all this wonderful stuff."

Really, this was the jolliest of programmes, eternally conjuring the image of Evans wearing a paper hat and insisting on having the right number of candles. “This is the best car journey ever!" confirmed Wendy via text on the M11. "When my dad was 16, he was chased down the road by
a group of people who actually thought he was a Beatle!" "My dad sat between John and Ringo at the Majestic Ballroom in Birkenhead in January 1963!" The whole thing could have been made by Elstree Studios. This jolly, kids' club mood seemed to permeate the whole weekend, reaching its zenith in Sunday Worship (30 August, 8.10am, Radio 4), which came from "the seaside town of Penarth". The celebrant was the Rev Teddy Kalongo, the preacher was Stephen Wigley and the director of music Richard Puglesey. On 6 September we're live from the Little Flower of Jesus in Birmingham.


Radio 2 Live
5 September, 8pm, Radio 2
Annual switch-on of the "world-famous" Blackpool Illuminations, with Will Young, Mika, Pixie Lott and Daniel Merriweather.

BBC Proms
6 September, 6.30pm, Radio 3
It's almost Christmas. It's part one of Handel's Messiah - live!

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 07 September 2009 issue of the New Statesman, Meet the new progressives