Saturday 10 December 2011


For the last year I have listened to Woman's Hour on BBC Radio Four every morning between 10 and 11 o'clock. I curl up in bed with the dog curled up next to me (on his own blanket I should add) and the radio next to me. And if it's gloomy outside, I have a light box facing me from the end of the bed.

And although they don't know it, the presenters, Jane Garvey and Jenni Murray have become two of my best friends. I just love their voices and their interviewing and presenting skills. They sound kind and interesting and informative and full of good humour and compassion, and wonderfully down to earth.

The show is unashamedly for and about women, although many features can just as easily apply to men, and there is a strong male following. And since a recent survey revealed that the majority of presenters on the radio are male, the occasional male quips that in this age of equality such a programme is unacceptable are, I believe, too futuristic.

An incredible variety of topics are covered ranging from interviews with singers, actors, authors, businesswomen and cooks to 'ordinary' women with a story to tell or a view to express.

As far as feminist issues are involved, there was a feature on the role played by women in the recent strikes and how women in particular are coping or not with the declining financial situation. But interviewees don't get an easy ride. Both Murray and Garvey ask searching questions. For example, Jane Garvey took to task a female police officer who was advocating special working hours for female police officers with small children, suggesting that they shouldn't work on Friday evenings or at the weekend. "I don't want to get mugged on a Friday evening or weekend because female police officers won't work then," she said or words to that effect. "You can't demand equal rights with men and then claim special working conditions."

It certainly is difficult for women with children who wish to work and to progress in their chosen field of employment. I was a working mother for many years so I understand the demands and problems of being overstretched but the recent trend for young mothers to job share or work part-time can impair the services that they provide, particularly in such fields as dentistry and medicine, where patients are relying on them to be available for more than just a few days a week. So, I appreciated Garvey's comments.

I have certainly learnt a lot by listening to the programme. For example, Woman's Hour is following three women who have set up businesses. They feature them from time to time with the mentors who are helping them. They discuss how the businesses are going and how they can move forward. I find it fascinating stuff.

And last week, there was an entire programmes devoted to a phone-in with the cook Mary Berry, who was answering questions about cooking for Christmas. So, I now know how to cook the perfect turkey and how to prepare chestnuts for roasting so that they are easy to peel.

There is also a slot called "How to cook the perfect…" with a cook preparing the dish in the studio with all the lovely cooking sounds and obvious delight in the tasting of the food. And by the way, the cook is sometimes male so no bias there.

And it was by listening to Woman's Hour that I first heard of the Danish TV thriller "The Killing." The feature was about the jumpers that the lead detective Sarah Lund wears. I was so intrigued but I bought the box set and watch the whole thing, often several episodes at a time because it was so enthralling. And just recently there was another feature about Lund's jumpers, one of the interviewees being a man who had me laughing out loud as he described the bobbly jumper that a girlfriend had knitted for him. Unfortunately it was too small for him. I used to be an avid knitter so I enjoyed this immensely.

Plus, there is often live music after musicians have been interviewed and that's an unexpected plus from a mainly talk programme.

And finally, the best part of the programme for me, as a writer and reader, is the fifteen minute book adaptation at the end of each show. It used to be that the book was just read aloud but for some time now, far longer than a year, the books have been serialised as mini-dramas. For the last two weeks I have been captivated by Anne Brontë's The Tenant of Wildfell Hall" and just recently there was an adaptation of Ernest Hemingway's "A Farewell to Arms" which not only had me weeping copiously at the end but also prompted me to buy the novel.

So, thank you Woman's Hour and thank you Jenny Merry and Jane Garvey. Jenni Murray has just been awarded an OBE and surely Jane Garvey should get one too for broadcasting services to women in general (and men) and for me personally.

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