Today (Radio 4) | BBC Sounds
The P Word (Radio 4) | BBC Sounds
Chameleon: Wild Boys (Campside Media) | apple.com
Having moved away from the Today programme over the past few years, I find myself a regular listener once more. This is due to the brilliant Lyse Doucet, the BBC’s chief international correspondent, who’s been based in Kyiv since the start of the Russian invasion. At 8.10am, instead of a heavyweight political interview, the programme has been turning to Doucet. Her descriptive, directly worded reports are devastating. On 18 March, she said, of Mariupol, that Russian forces were “choking the city of its life… Russia realised it couldn’t take a city of nearly half a million people with ground forces, so it took the people first, starving them into submission, it hopes… 90% of Mariupol is flattened… Look at the photos of Aleppo in northern Syria. This is Mariupol today.” Doucet’s distinctive voice (she’s Canadian, of Acadian and Irish ancestry) adds to her authority.
On Wednesday last week, Today made her a co-host with Mishal Hussein in the London studio. Apart from the occasional crash over each other’s words (co-presenting is tricky when you can’t see each other), this worked well. Somehow, though she didn’t move from Kyiv, Doucet covered almost the whole of Ukraine. She spoke to Jonah Fisher, a BBC journalist in the western city of Lviv (things were OK, though tenser since the Russians bombed local fuel depots); also to a Ukrainian MP, a man who used to be just a politician, but, since the end of February, has become an armed one. He had a gun and a knife on him. Doucet peeked into his car: “Oh my goodness, that is an AK47.”
She talked to cafe-goers, a singer and a couple of cyclists, all Kyiv citizens. A passerby told her that she should be in a bunker. The cyclists, who used to ride for recreation, were on their bikes delivering medical supplies and uniforms to soldiers. Doucet spoke to a former Nato deputy supreme allied commander in Europe, she met the mayor of Chernihiv, a town she described as “cursed by geography” (it’s on the way from Russia to Kyiv). “All days are working days,” he said. His job involves trying to find things: fridges for corpses because the mortuaries are full, carpenters to make more coffins, places to bury the dead because the cemetery is inaccessible owing to bombing.
If you were to read some newspapers, you might think that the war is going fairly well for Ukraine; there’s an upbeat emphasis that says that the Russian invasion is not going to plan, that its soldiers are deserting, their tanks mired, their weapons out of date. Doucet, veteran of Afghanistan and Syria, makes us understand that in places like Mariupol and Chernihiv, this war is continuing without mercy. Thank goodness for her, for Anna Chornous, the Ukrainian producer working with her, and for all the other journalists giving us the real stories.
Also on Radio 4 on Wednesday, an interesting programme about “the P-word”. When I was young, some people called corner shops “P-shops” – P meaning the racial slur used to describe anyone of south Asian descent. Many people still use the word in the same way, unbelievably, as Rajan Datar explained in his documentary of the same name. Datar is Indian, but was called that horrible name throughout his youth. He spoke to several people, including his mother, about it, and hosted a discussion between Aki Nawaz from Fun-Da-Mental, who believes that the word should be eradicated, and a Pakistani teenager who thinks it can be reclaimed, in the way that LGBTQ+ people have taken back “queer” and black people have reclaimed the N- word. As Yorkshire cricket has shown, this discussion is still, sadly, relevant.
People are always asking me which podcast they should try. What they mean is: are there any new bingeable true-crime series? Chameleon: Wild Boys is my current fave. It’s not quite true crime, but it is a true story – of two strange teenage boys who appeared in a small Canadian town in 2003, insisting that they had been brought up in a forest. It’s beautifully paced, with excellent cliffhangers and much care in the sound production. Presenter Sam Mullins is great and he, eventually, even talks to the boys themselves, now adults. (A quick warning: this show isn’t for anyone triggered by discussion of eating disorders.) I was gripped and surprised throughout Wild Boys, right up to the final episode. It really doesn’t go where you think it will. Recommended.