Monday, 13 February 2012

Broadcast goodies

I don't spend the whole weekend glued to the tv or radio, I really don't. But this weekend I did pick up some good moments at various points. For example, my bedtime listening on Saturday was The Moral Maze when the discussion was the morality of monarchy - which seemed to be an attempt to examine the moral justification for the institution, things like service and representing nation. The form of the 50 minute discussion is four of the six regular interrogators subject four expert witnesses on either side of a debate to cross-examination. That evening I was surprised to find myself unpersuaded by the royalists and most impressed with avowed republican, Professor Stephen Haseler. He was pugnacious and entertaining, especially in his exchange with the Blairite Matthew Taylor: "Let me ask you a question, as a democrat and as a person who's been in the democratic process: do you you want a say in who your next head of state is, or do you not?" "I'm quite happy with the situation as it now is -" "You don't want a say?" "No, no - Let me answer your question and then move on very quickly. I'm quite happy with the situation in which the person who effectively is the leader of our country politically is the Prime Minister and is elected, and we have a constitutional monarch." Interestingly I heard one of the arguments used by Taylor in defence of the monarchy, that most people were happy with it, used the next night to justify the introduction of Islamic rule into the post-spring Tunisia. It's hardly a moral argument, more a political one. Anyway, it was quite fun to hear one of the inquisitors having their bubble punctured!

Then on Ski Sunday there was a really inspiring item on paralympic hopeful Peter Dunning. He'd been a paratrooper in Afghanistan who, days before coming home, was in a armoured vehicle which ran over an IED. The driver was killed; he lost both his legs. "I was literally knocking on the door (of death); but, thank God, no one was in!" His first reaction in coming to after a week in intensive care, with his family round him, was "I don't want to be here - if this is going to be my life. I don't want this to be my life." In rehabilitation he got the opportunity to try out skiing, monoskiing. He described the glorious feeling of freedom, gliding down the mountain.
"In hindsight, looking back over it all, what are your overriding feelings about it all?" asked skier, Graham Bell.
"People may think it's the most strangest thing that I'm saying, but I think that getting blown up is one of the best things that's happened to me. I'm such a different person than I was. Before I was a bit of a lads' lad; now I'm more focused, more determined, and everything, to achieve what I want to achieve, like getting to the Paralympics, and progressing on from there."

It is an extraordinary statement to make, and yet it's one that resonates with many people who have endured disasters. First reactions may well of despair, and yet I have no doubt that now Peter Dunning is blessing the doctors who saved his life rather than giving up on him, and the physios whose persistence got him walking and then skiing on his prosthetic limbs. The moral must be: don't assist people to give up, assist them to live.

There was an item last night on BBC's Countryfile programme on rural road safety, or rather lack of item, presented by John Craven (about 10 minutes in). It was filmed in Lincolnshire which has had significant success in reducing fatalities on its roads. In the course of his report, there was on remarkable interview with the mother of an 18-year-old, John Van Spyk, who'd been on his motor-bike and killed when a young driver did a rash overtake of a slower moving vehicle meeting the bike head on.

In due course the young driver was taken to court charged with causing his death, "but Emma, John's mother, felt he had suffered enough. 'When the driver appeared in court, you did what many people would think was a remarkable thing. You wrote a letter to the judge asking him not to send this young man to prison.'
'Yes. I couldn't see that on top of everything he had been through being in jail away from his family and support network was going to help him. He was obviously very, very contrite, and he kept on saying, "I just didn't see him, I didn't see him."'
'And he didn't go to jail, did he?'
'No. No, he didn't. I believe he had a driving ban and community service.'"

I couldn't help admiring Emma and thinking how wise she was (and incidentally the judge for listening to her), and contrasting her spirit with the thirst for retribution so often broadcast, the "I'll never forgive him" which simply leaves the bereaved embittered. And I wished that parliamentarians and magistrates had an ounce of her wisdom and common-sense in the response to last summer's "rioters". I gather just for being present, not actively involved, you can expect a two-year jail sentence - which is plain daft, doing exactly what Emma sought to avoid for her son's killer, being away from his family and support network.

There was another moment of broadcasting gold in the same programme (about 30 minutes in) when "very lapsed Catholic" presenter, James Wong, visited the Benedictine Quarr Abbey in the Isle of Wight for a day. It was a short piece, but had a hugely resonant minute when he walks down to the shore looking over the Solent with Father Luke. As the sea washes the shingle at their feet, the monk talks quietly about the significance of the spot to him. He preferred it when mist shrouded the mainland and there was more of a feeling of being on an island. The sea for him was a picture of eternity, and pieces of land had over time been washed away from where they were standing just as parts of our lives are absorbed into eternity. Then he turns to James Wong. "Do you know the poem Crossing the Bar by Tennyson?" Wong confesses he didn't. But I did. In fact I'd sung it in a setting by Hubert Parry when I was at school. A bar is a sand or shingle bank, for example outside Cowes, protecting the harbour. Tennyson had a house in the Isle of Wight. In Tennyson's poem, he uses it as a metaphor for life and dying (coming into the harbour). Father Luke quoted the last two lines, but here's the whole poem:
Sunset and evening star,
  And one clear call for me!
And may there be no moaning of the bar,
  When I put out to sea,

But such a tide as moving seems asleep,
    Too full for sound and foam,
When that which drew from out the boundless deep
    Turns again home.

Twilight and evening bell,
And after that the dark!
And may there be no sadness of farewell,
    When I embark;

For tho' from out our bourne of Time and Place
    The flood may bear me far,
I hope to see my Pilot face to face
    When I have crost the bar.


  1. You mentioned. John van spyk here and I agree with you. John was a very close friend of mine and I knew the family well. Emma is a remarkable lady who did as her son would have wanted. He will live on in everyones hearts and be remembered asthe kind and forgiving boy he always was x

    1. They must be a remarkable family, whose spirit touches and changes those who come into contact with them. Thank you for commenting.