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17 September 2015

Purely platonic: why a Greek philosopher may have liked this week’s Woman’s Hour

Kim Cattrall's plain-speaking Woman's Hour edit left the drama aside to look at everyday experience as unfolding layers of reality.

By Antonia Quirke

The annual week of guest-edited Woman’s Hours began (14 September, 10am, BBC Radio 4) in the hands of the actress Kim Cattrall, aka the salacious Samantha Jones of Sex and the City – a character that the presenter Jane Garvey claimed “every woman wanted to be” – only for her to find herself immediately admonished on Twitter by a listener. A lone wrangle in an otherwise magnificently relaxed programme. “How much is coming right from you and your state of mind?” Garvey asked her at the top of the show, of the subjects up for discussion – living child-free, ageing and dating in your fifties (the actress is 59). “One hundred per cent,” Kim nodded. Plain speaking, then. Even her guest Kathy Lette (Joan Smith contributed, too) was infected by the matter-of-fact tone, and she has long suffered from a completely bemusing form of Tourette’s that forces her to overstuff pre-shaped puns and slogans into her every utterance (“Facial prejudice!” “Female friends are the real Wonderbras!”). Was it me, or was she doing it far less here?

There were no separate features in the programme, merely conversations. A wise editorial choice. Cattrall had confidence in the meat of her material and didn’t bellow, or ever sound like someone doodling on their blotter. And although she talked about divorce and relationship disappointments there was no aghast undertow, no spluttering protest, more just a way of looking at experience as unfolding layers of reality (Plato might have liked this programme).

Her “decision” not to have children, she remarked, was a series of smaller decisions she hadn’t realised were what could be called significant until afterwards. It was a chain of both happy and unhappy incident and occasional obfuscations, as powerful as any “moment of clarity”, any ineffable instinct to remain unfettered; she wore nothing particularly as a badge of pride. And what does it mean to be “child-free” anyway, Cattrall laughed. What woman with nieces and nephews and godchildren and progeny of friends milling around can claim to be free from children?

We all know other people’s thought processes are essentially impenetrable, which is why we persist in asking about them. Ultimately Cattrall gave away just enough, and withheld precisely the right amount.

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This article appears in the 16 Sep 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Corbyn's Civil War