IT IS difficult to think of a better test for a radio station than the Decorating Test. You are stuck there with your ladder and your sandpaper and your pots of paint, the day ahead seems endless, and the radio is effectively your only friend.
You would die of embarrassment if any fellow human being came to call on you and saw you in all the glory of your decorating outfit, and you can't answer the telephone without daubing the receiver with Hint of Peach or Regal Blue.
Part of the pact between you and the radio is the unspoken agreement that you will be faithful all day long to the station you tune into when you start work, Although it is inevitable that, wherever the radio is placed, it will end the day covered in a measles rash of paint spots, you somehow believe that this won't happen, and so, as with the telephone, you keep your paint-covered hands away from the controls.
For me, this traditionally means 12 hours of Radio 4, but the Bank Holiday weekend lent a fascinating opportunity for a controlled experiment Radio 4 all day on Sunday (front bay window, front gate and front masonry), with Monday (front door and preparation of kitchen and living room windows round the back) devoted to the BBC's new creation, Radio 5.
Sunday slipped by as predictably as you please with Radio 4's usual mixture of the excellent, the eccentric, the exasperating and the plain dull. Wonderful stuff. The Catholic Herald's editor Peter Stanford was on Sunday reviewing the religious papers. The Archers combined tedium with improbability as only The Archers can.
Desert Island Discs was a repeat. Pick of the Week is unashamedly composed entirely of repeats.
I got confused by the previews of the Radio Lives on AP Herbert: by the time the actual programme was broadcast, I thought it was a repeat because
I'd heard about 80 per cent of it already that day.
There was a dreadful play.
And we got our usual quota of strange little pieces which
always make me shake my head in fond wonderment, muttering "only in England". Into this category I put a half hour programme which seemed to be about the best way of killing a magpie, and Gardeners' Question Time, as quintessentially English in my book as the vicarage at Grantchester. Oh yes, it was a perfect Radio 4 day.
Monday dawned, and with it Radio 5. This new creation has been described by its managing director, David Hatch as "a treasure chest of immense richness". Well, he would say that, wouldn't he?
I heard Victoria Wood reading a story about vampires, which disorientated me somewhat as I'd heard her doing just that the previous evening on Radio 4's Cat's Tails. I think it was a different story.
I am ashamed to report that I didn't make it through the day. If you had thought Radio 4 a ragbag of unlikely programming, you had another thing coming. Radio 5 is like a sponge, soaking up bits and pieces from all over the place. Bits of the World Service. Pieces of the Open University.
There was a lunchtime concert unashamedly titled Radio 3 on Radio 5. Why, oh why? Isn't Radio 3 on Radio 3 good enough? The concert was followed by a load of children's songs and stories. Are the same people meant to want to listen to both?
And will they be the same people as those who want to hear the programme that followed a World Service analysis of contemporary social structures?
4.30 pm found me slamming down the paint pot and retuning to Radio 4 for Kaleidoscope.