Composer of the Week

When it comes to Erik Satie, Radio 3 is stumped

The inestimable Donald Macleod wavered while deciding on the status of Erik Satie (9 November, 12pm). Was he a "tragic, damaged figure who wanted to write naked music", "a rollicking musical prankster" or a "technically imperfect middle-rank weirdo"? Hard to know what to say about Satie beyond the facts: he was kicked out of home at 21 for balling the family maid; he swept about self-consciously in a customised Withnailian coat, trailing Debussy in his wake; he preferred to compose things in threes, and once claimed: "I am sizzlingly keen to give you my personal details" - but proceeded to give away very few.

Just as intriguingly, the previous morning, Lionel Kelleway had gone with the naturalist John Walters on a grasshopper drive (8 November, 6.35am, Radio 4). After tailing off to admire the assorted prelapsarian features on this edge of Dartmoor, he admitted: "We really need to continue on our hands and knees." Lulled by the comforting roar of the nearby A38 during rush hour, both men proceeded to pass each other droplets of perspicuity as they balanced in the undergrowth. "I can hear him singing," murmured Lionel. "He's a long-winged conehead." "It's green!" confirmed Walters. "Emerald green, with a purpley patch on the back of its thorax." Lionel steadied his breathing. "Something just landed on my neck!" he cried after a moment. "And isn't that splendid?" "Yes," whispered John. "The legs are fantastic. Like a chicken drumstick."

Time passed, and they trudged to Walters's allotment nearby, a safe haven for green-hoppers, a virtual greenhopper Yellowstone, where Walters sits of an evening, marking his ovipositored star residents with personalised numbers on their backs, in non-toxic biro. "I can hear a male calling," he sighed. "It's like two notes being poured into one . . . like a crystal rattling in the undergrowth." Couldn't you just listen to this kind of shit for ever?

The other highlight of the week was the Today programme's brief interview with heavyweight champion David Haye (9 November, 6am, Radio 4). In the studio, the boys were agog. Hmph made some small-voiced challenge re: an arm-wrestle, but Haye politely cried off - he said he was actually on his way to the hospital for an X-ray because he'd likely broken his hand on Nikolai Valuev's head in one of the few punches of that weird non-fight. Did you catch it? The Russian lumbering about the ring like a cave troll through the mines of Moria, only sweet, in a village-strong-man-who-accidentally-crushed-his-lover-and-still-weeps way. (Did you see his parents? No bigger than your thumb! Def some crazy pituitary gland situation obtains in that village.)

By far the most frightening sight in the stadium that night was Don King wearing his static, happy-to-be-here grin and waving the Union Jack. "That wretched, slimy reptyylian motherfucker", as Tyson once put it. "He doesn't have any love!" Not that I saw any of this, of course (this being the radio). I press my eyes to my speakers and see only the dark - or a labyrinth of dust-littered streets in the south of some city, where people are standing in queues at the post office, forced to watch POTV, praying for release from the moving image. And reader, I love it.

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 16 November 2009 issue of the New Statesman, Dead End