Wednesday, April 15, 2009


It’s been six years now since we last lived the UK – a fact that I keep wanting to hold out at arm’s length like Yorick’s skull and gaze at quizzically. Just doesn’t seem possible, that one.

Prolonged absence is supposed to soften the needles of homesickness, but the trouble with needles is that they’re small and pointy and can interfere just when you’re least expecting it.

Every day I drop the kids off at nursery and drive the 20 minutes to work. I’ve got used to the huh??? qualities of Irish radio and have settled into its rhythms, knowing as I look at the clock after the daycare drop whether I’m going to be settling in to the hurling coverage (hurling involving men with sticks rather than booze and toilets) or whether we’ll have moved on to the National Ploughing Championships* .

About a month ago a new needle poked through. As I crest the brow of a particular hill, it turns out that the radio picks up a satellite in Prestatyn or something and British radio comes crackling into force. I’d never considered myself particularly nationalistic - madly in love with my birthplace, sure, but not brayingly English by any stretch. Nevertheless, there was something so heady about hearing traffic reports on roads that sounded familiar rather than trying to decipher where in the hell Sallynoggin might be and whether I should care.

At first, it was just Radio 1, which made me feel old relatively often, since the last time I regularly listened to Radio 1 was back in the 1980s. Then, oh blissful day, I hit upon Radio 4, which sometimes feels to me like the original NPR, but with distinctly more attitude. Very hard to be pissed off about being caught in traffic and late for work when what it gets you is Sebastian Faulks talking on Desert Island Discs about the inherent conflict between the interior mind of women (constantly “in a state of audit”, as he put it) and men (“intermittent”).

I can only get British radio for about 5 minutes, as I coast down the hill towards the sea (reasons to not hate my drive to work #2: I see the sea, for God’s sake! For a split second every day it’s like going to Devon when I was little and being on hyper-alert for that first glimpse of the water).

Five minutes of British radio does two things: it’s just short enough for me to get the slightly-sick feeling that comes with being far away and still feeling 12 years old, and it’s just long enough for me to want to start shouting at the radio. Good times.

*My favourite ever quote from the National Ploughing Championships came from an interview with a young farmer who’d made it through to the final of Freestyle Farrowing (I think I’ve made that up but it’s entirely possible that it’s a real category). The interviewer, fresh from the Lisbon Treaty, asked the farmer what it took to make it through to the final. “A tractor and a plough” came the reply. The interviewer, clearly realizing he’d have to use his piercing journalstic skills to get to the bottom of this, dug deeper (as it were): “No, what sort of qualities does it take?” The young farmer thought for a moment. “A really good tractor” came back the response. Game over.

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