He is like a human shed

Unable to sleep, I am soothed by the worn-out voice of Richard Allinson

I have a sewage situation, people. I will skirt the details, but must confess to a crisis on my boat with a septic tank that turns out to be made of wood, and which my neighbour Toby tells me must have been fitted by somebody in the 1940s with ideas of reviving the supposed jollity of a Japanese POW camp. Generally, if you live on a boat, sewage is the first thing you think about. It is far and away one's favourite topic of conversation - who is doing what with theirs, and so forth. After a while, you find a nervousness about the whole issue starting to take over, until you can't unwrap a tampon in a café loo without thinking mournfully about the mess and the fuss, and that there's no room for any of this stuff in
the rivers, in the canals, seeping, rat-ridden and neglected, and why didn't I do something about that tank years ago? Why? Why did I spend all my money on Class As and Reeboks?

I dreamed that one had died in a strange place/Near no accustomed hand/And they had nailed the boards above her face/The peasants of that land.

Am I being depressing? I am shallow, basically. A go-getter would actually do something about the situation, but I just lie there all night, mentally redecorating and listening to Richard Allinson (weekends, 2am-5am, Radio 2). Allinson is shallow, too. "If it's late and you're supposed to be at work," he said the other night, "but the job's gone quiet and it's very, very dull and you're not even halfway through whatever it is you're up to tonight, and you're no way near your destination, if you're travelling . . . well, that easy job that you thought you were going to fix tonight is going to take longer . . . much longer . . . If that's what the night shift is looking like for you, do let me know. Who are you? Where are you? And have you ever been up close and personal with Robbie Williams? Possibly you gave him a parking ticket or something. I want to hear from you . . ."

He just goes on like this until the show stops, with the occasional song by Stevie Wonder. ("In the 1970s, he was on fire, that guy. We could play you the whole album but . . . you know. Just one an hour is probably about right.") I find the general air of low expectations supremely comforting. A parking ticket? Could morale get any lower? And I love the way that Allinson's voice has the thin sound of someone worn out years ago from bickering.

He is like a human shed that is still the property of somebody as yet unspecified, or a pile of crates with lettering faded to a blur a long time ago. Yes, he is my favourite presenter on these long nights of the sewage. More shit next week.

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 14 September 2009 issue of the New Statesman, Where next?