The week in audio: 28ish Days Later; The Followers; In Dark Corners

Periods, stalkers and sexual abuse in private schools are all the subject of essential, fascinating listens

28ish Days Later BBC Radio 4 and BBC Sounds | BBC Sounds
The Followers Global
In Dark Corners BBC Radio 4 | BBC Sounds

Well, 28ish Days Later is a pleasant surprise. Nestling in the 15-minute slot at 1.45pm on weekdays for the next month on Radio 4, and on Saturdays and Sundays at 2.45pm, this documentary series concerns itself with the menstrual cycle. So I tuned in expecting to hear a familiar story. Blah blah stomach cramps, blah blah PMT, blah blah “there will be blood” jokes. Most of us who have, or have had, periods don’t spend too much time wondering about them. We manage them, we get on with our lives. When they stop, many of us rejoice.

But right from the first episode, this series turned the familiar upside down. Or at least inside out. After a slightly hello-clouds-hello-skies intro, presenter India Rakusen interviewed Dr Dornu Lebari. Lebari, a surgeon, described doing keyhole surgery on a womb and explained that the fallopian tubes – fragile, thin, finger-like – are “very rarely attached” to the ovaries. To which the only sane reaction is: !!! Apparently, the tubes know when an egg is released and extend themselves to the ovaries to coax the egg inside. And what about the womb? Lebari waxed lyrical. “This big muscle,” she said. “It looks like the heart, in the wrong place. But it’s a heart that bleeds.” A big muscle; a heart that bleeds. Clever Rakusen knew not to emphasise the metaphor.

‘Turned the familiar upside down’: India Rakusen, presenter of 28ish Days Later.
‘Turned the familiar upside down’: India Rakusen, presenter of 28ish Days Later. Photograph: Liam Bailey

Rakusen is an experienced audio producer, veteran of the Guardian’s Today in Focus podcast, and 28ish Days Later is carefully scripted and soundscaped, with some lovely use of music. But it’s the revelatory information that keeps you gripped. Each show represents a day in the cycle, and in the second episode – the second day of the period – she described how the womb repairs itself as its lining comes away, creating swiftly disappearing wounds that leave no scars. From there the programme moved on to the percentage of women who have fibroids (non-cancerous tumours in the uterus). Shall I tell you? It’s 70% of white women and 80% of women of African heritage. Again: !!! In that episode, Rakusen spoke to a former police officer whose professional life was dominated by her heavy periods. In her 40s, she decided to have a hysterectomy. Her womb weighed four and a half pounds.

And somehow none of this makes for squeamish listening. Instead, there’s a wonder in the telling and an absolute delight in the discovery of all these astonishing facts. As Rakusen says: “This is a series about power. About putting life-enhancing, maybe even life-saving information in your hands.” It’s gripping stuff. If you listen on Sounds, where the whole series is available, you could find yourself bingeing obsessively.

More obsession. In The Followers, Shelagh Fogarty, the excellent, long-serving host of LBC’s afternoon show, describes her experience of being stalked. It lasted for almost two years, and her telling of it is riveting, especially at the start, when she’s confused as to whether the stalking is actually happening. Is it a coincidence that she keeps seeing the same man outside her work, on the tube, in a station?

Fogarty’s story, which mercifully ends pretty well, is interspersed with her interviews with experts, who describe the different categories that stalkers fall into, the stages of stalking, the randomness of some obsessions, the deadliness of others. You find yourself wondering: “What would I do?” One expert gives advice on assertive behaviour, and Fogarty is as assertive as she can be. I must admit I gave a little whoop when she stood up to her stalker and told him to stop. Except… he didn’t.

Shelagh Fogarty.
Shelagh Fogarty. host of the ‘riveting’ The Followers. Photograph: LBC

In this five-part series, Fogarty makes a connection, rightly, to misogyny and the deep-rooted idea that women exist as potential possessions for men. She also describes where the real problems lie: with policing and prosecution. Though she was well supported, the laws of England and Wales require a lot for a successful prosecution. I often wonder about our legal system, which regularly turns complainants – victims – into witnesses; reduces them to evidence-givers within their own cases, their own lives.

For a more immersive listen on the same subject, try Lily Baldwin’s Stories of the Stalked, which came out earlier this year. And there’s another podcast, Strictly Stalking, which has a different victim on every week. You’ll note that it’s now on its 130th episode.

Finally – sorry – more upsetting, but essential, listening. Journalist Alex Renton, who has been covering sexual abuse in private schools for almost a decade, has a new three-part Radio 4 series, In Dark Corners. And by private schools we’re talking the poshest of the posh: Eton, Fettes, Gordonstoun. Educators of royals and prime ministers. Fenton talks to several men and one woman who were variously raped, sexually abused and beaten up by teachers while at these schools. He tracks the abusers, many of whom have not been brought to justice. Time after time, when complaints were made, nothing happened or the abuser simply moved to another school.

These were career paedophiles. And everyone knew. Supposedly privileged children were bullied into covering up illegal adult activity. As an interviewee says: “When we’re at these schools, we see abuse happening all around us… And we learn to ignore it and to cover it up and to say nothing. We’re taught to do it as a key sign of loyalty. And that loyalty will give us rewards… as prefects or, in adult life, in the political sphere.” I’d write !!! again, but are we surprised?


Miranda Sawyer

The GuardianTramp

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