“Stephen, I use my milk until I see all the wee white bits floating around on the top of the cup,” announces Norman from Bangor. “I remember getting a packet of crisps and they were a year out of date and I ate them and they tasted as good as the crisps you’d buy tomorrow in a shop.”
It’s Tuesday morning, the morning after the revelations about the No 10 bring-your-own-booze lockdown party. On Radio 4’s Today programme, on 5 live and LBC, the talk is of little else. Even Mike Graham on TalkRadio is spluttering at Johnson’s hubris: “All of you who say it doesn’t matter, move on: I’m afraid that’s not going to happen.” On LBC, James O’Brien is waxing loopily about Johnson’s psychology: “The only question is, why do people land on his hand like a little sparrow and start pecking these grains of dishonesty, what do they get in return?”
But on Stephen Nolan’s mid-morning BBC Radio Ulster show, Nolan and his listeners are chatting about whether “the sniff test” can determine whether your food is edible. What about ice-cream, for instance? Does it go off? “I bought a tub of Caramel Chew Chew ice-cream,” says Nolan. “I got it on offer and I actually drove about three miles up the road to get the offer. But then I forgot about it for three days! I was raging! I didn’t touch it! The Caramel Chew Chew!” The show also discussed whether unionist politicians will refuse to go into government if Sinn Féin wins in the forthcoming assembly elections. But the sniff test chat was much more enjoyable.
Speaking of No 10, which we definitely aren’t, the fourth series of the Jimmy’s Jobs of the Future podcast began last week, in which former Downing Street adviser Jimmy McLoughlin interviews “top entrepreneurs” about modern jobs. (It’s usually something disruptive in childcare, or finance, or gas and electricity.) The interviewee? Rishi Sunak. Sunak was perfectly nice, though it did seem as if he and McLoughlin were speaking from another country to, say, Nolan. “From your phone, it’s easy to look at your portfolio, make selections,” said Sunak. “If you have an interest in ESG [environmental, social and governance] investing, or net zero, or emerging markets, whatever you want to do. Make it easy, make it personalised.” As though everyone has spare money to invest, or spare time to monitor what they’re investing in. We’re too busy sniffing our food to see if it’s edible.
If you’re after more cheer, and Nolan is not for you, then there’s plenty of warm-hearted joy to be found in Now You’re Asking, a new Radio 4 show in which the actor Tara Flynn and writer Marian Keyes tackle listeners’ problems, such as how to deal with a neighbour putting pink flamingos in the communal garden. Nobody thus far has a Caramel Chew Chew query, but you feel such a dilemma would be ideal for Flynn and Keyes, especially if given a personal twist, eg the ice-cream is your poorly mum’s favourite; should you refreeze and serve it to her? Their advice is funny and surprisingly touching, and the show flies by.
Also on Radio 4, producer/presenter Helena Merriman has a new series, Room 5. As she made the excellent cold war investigative podcast Tunnel 29, you might expect this show to be a look at, say, an interrogation room during a war. Actually, Room 5 refers to something more personal. In 2019, in Room 5 at her doctor’s surgery, Merriman was diagnosed with a relatively rare medical problem – otosclerosis – that required a tricky operation and a long, bumpy recovery. Her life was changed forever by her diagnosis, and in this series she interviews people who’ve been through something similar. A sensitive and intelligent interviewer, Merriman is interested in what happens after the Room 5 moment. The medication, the rehabilitation, the strain. The real-life consequences of a couple of sentences said in a room.
Her first interviewee was Bex, who, aged 20, suffered a rapidly worsening series of symptoms that culminated in her being in a state of almost continual psychosis. She heard voices, had seizures and believed everyone was conspiring against her. She couldn’t tell what was real. A neurologist noticed that Bex had become very attached to a toy penguin, and it reminded him of similar case he’d seen many years ago. The programme recalled Oliver Sacks’s The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat – weird illnesses and how they can affect our brains – and it’s thoroughly absorbing. Something to think about while you’re contemplating your melted Chew Chew.