Monday, 27 March 2017
Radio at Walking Pace
One of the best things I've heard on Radio 4 in a while was on yesterday's Broadcasting House - the sound of a rescue greyhound called Billy chattering his teeth in anticipation of his favourite food, pilchards. Since then I've discovered that greyhounds often chatter their teeth when a treat is in the offing - there's plentiful footage on YouTube if you're interested - but this was a great piece of radio. Of 'slow radio', in fact, which is given a little showcase on Broadcasting House every Sunday. The time allotted is far too short to give a real sense of slowness, but at least it's always restful and unstructured, a little oasis of peace in the hubbub. And it's always a joy to listen to.
Now comes news that Radio 3 is going to give us a proper bit of Slow Radio - the soundtrack of a four-hour, twelve-mile walk in the Black Mountains, beginning in Cwmdu and ending in Hay-on-Wye. The walker will be writer and broadcaster Horatio Clare (not to be confused with Horatio Caine of CSI: Miami), so there will no doubt be an intermittent commentary, but the point of the exercise will be to bring us the sounds of buzzards, ravens and other more musical birds - including, with luck, skylarks - of sheep and ponies, the rustle of grass, the sighing breeze, the soft tramp of Horatio's walking boots. It promises to be rather wonderful - perhaps the best thing since the much lamented Radio Birdsong - and I hope it's the harbinger of more Slow Radio to come.
As I took a stroll on Epsom Downs this glorious sunny spring morning, I wondered what the soundtrack of my walk might have sounded like. There was birdsong, but not as much as I was hoping for, and dominated by robins and great tits - if any warblers had arrived, they were still tuning up - and distant sounds of cars and of golfers on the course that disfigures so much of these downs. I fear much of the soundtrack would have consisted of my involuntary sounds, tuneless humming, random phrases spoken out loud and occasional exclamations, mostly of pleasure. And there was plenty to take pleasure in - primroses, violets, coltsfoot and celandine, brimstones, commas, peacocks and tortoiseshells, cherry blossom, hawthorn in leaf, blackthorn coming into flower. It wouldn't have made great radio, but oh yes, it was a good walk.