Radio review: A virtual hug along with a virtual cup of tea

Nuala McCann

Start The Week Radio 4

Now You're Asking Radio 4

I started the week on a cultural high with this reflection on finding consolation and community in reading.

That's proved rather more of a personal challenge as when pandemic entered stage right, my attention span exited stage left pursued by a bear.

Books that have shored me up in difficult times, proved useless in the face of all this and, like many of my friends, I found myself looking for a Blyton-esque escape. Anyone for the twins at St Clare's… how about the naughtiest girl in the school… count me in!

It's goodbye Ulysses, hello The Very Hungry Caterpillar

Start the Week introduced writer Michael Ignatieff talking about how consolation offers a way to survive the anguish and uncertainties of the 21st century.

He distinguished between comfort – a hug, the touch of a hand – and consolation – the power of words in the form of great literature from the psalms to Albert Camus. These can help increase hope and resilience.

Consolation is Radio 4's Book of the Week in February.

On the other hand, if what you really want is a bit of a chat and a giggle, then au revoir Albert Camus, bonjour Marian Keyes.

The bestselling writer – she's sold 30 million books in 33 languages – chats to her friend actress and comedian Tara Flynn about life, love, the universe and what to do if your neighbour sticks a 4 ft Barbie Pink flamingo in your communal garden.

What if they introduce a large bust of Elvis surrounded by strings of coloured lights and a Buddha that lets out a Santa-esque ho, ho, ho at the approach of a person or even an urban fox?

Now You're Asking features Marian and Tara sitting at a kitchen table in Dublin offering listeners across the world a virtual cup of tea and a listening ear.

Their message is that most things are survivable … the flamingo in the garden began with an email.

“Dear Marian and Tara, I have a problem which requires straightforward adult communication – a skill I've never acquired.”

Marian replies that we should all live in Switzerland … they have rules to govern everything.

She also confesses that she loves a pink flamingo, it is glamorous. But clearly not for everyone.

Advice includes chat about being brave, wearing a friendly jumper, leaning against the door frame and trying a little light and warmth by calling your flamingo-loving neighbour ‘mate'.

These new-fangled agony aunts receive an email from a woman whose daughter lives in untidiness. She even visits said daughter armed with a bin bag – as a hint.

Marian says unless your daughter is seven and a half, it's up to her how she lives.

“Your daughter is the main character in her own life,” she advises.

“If it means starting every morning saying: ‘I detach with love from my daughter's messy house' so be it,” she says.

This is funny and touching radio – you feel that you're getting the warm virtual hug along with the virtual cup of tea… true consolation for tough times.

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