Something For Nothing…

For Alan W., in friendship…

One of the annoying things about the length of my working week is that, on the rare occasions when I don’t have to be up early on a Sunday, I’ve usually forgotten to switch off the radio alarm the night before. As a result, I am woken at 6.05am by a programme that is as maddeningly worthless as anything BBC Radio 4 puts out — and that is saying something.

The programme is Something Understood (its title is drawn from a highly sophisticated seventeenth-century word-salad by George Herbert; see here) — and if you’ve never heard it, I really do recommend that you give it an ear sometime. According to the BBC, it consists of

Ethical and religious discussion that examines some of the larger questions of life, taking a spiritual theme and exploring it through music, prose and poetry.

What it actually is — especially when presented by its regular perpetrator, Sir Mark Tully KBE OBE BBC — is the clearest possible demonstration that most people’s sense of the ‘deep’ and ‘spiritual’ is really just the experience of being gently drugged: providing they come away feeling all warm and floaty, any hypnotically idiotic succession of sotto voce non-sequiturs paraded in an obtrusively ‘reflective’ setting will do just fine

Musically, too, the show is an absurd rag-bag — the non-organising principle being, I suppose, that since everyone who tunes in wants to be drugged, no-one should be denied their drug of choice. I particularly remember one hideous instalment I sat through, ages ago (the programme goes back 23 imbecilic years), where we were hurled from Gustav Holst to Neil Young by way of Carlos Santana and some of the spiritual wisdom of Dorothy L. Sayers. I had to hear the whole damn thing because I was stuck in someone else’s car at the time; I have what may not be a wholly accurate recollection of stuffing a pair of driving gloves in my mouth to silence my own screams. (Ah, yes! Here it is! This one: “Mark Tully explores what we mean by ‘spirituality’ and with the help of Professor Ursula King, author of The Search for Spirituality, he considers whether a spiritual life can transcend the purely individualistic and become a force for social good.”) Continue reading