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Cutting costs

20 July 2012

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NEURO-SCIENTISTS tell us that our visual sense is pre-eminent in all our engagements with the physical world, and that hearing is relatively subservient by comparison. But there are some things that a radio devotee hears which are powerful and traumatic. On Men's Hour (Radio 5 Live, Sunday), those of us not able to turn off our radios fast enough were exposed to the sound of a live circumcision operation, infant screams and all.

That we could not see what was going on meant that the soundtrack of pre-verbal discomfort and anxiety was that much more visceral. No doubt there were soothing presences gathered around the boy; but all we could hear was isolated agony.

After the ruling by a court in Cologne that declared circumcision "a violation of physical integrity", and the subsequent appeal by Angela Merkel for freedom of religious practice, Radio 5 Live's "men's magazine" programme decided to give the subject the benefit of its bloke-ish wisdom. The recording - from a clinic in Luton - provided the required shock factor, while the dark humour came courtesy of a snippet from the '60s hit "The first cut is the deepest".

Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner, from the Movement for Reformed Judaism, called for a non-inflammatory approach to the subject, but that was not going to stop Glen Poole, from the organisation Men's Network, from quoting a host of leg-crossing horrors associated with botched circumcision operations.

Agreement was reached straightaway over the need for proper supervision and anaesthetic; although if we take the evidence of Mr Poole, and of callers to the programme, this much easier said than done.

The more interesting issue of religious freedom versus "physical integrity" was outside this programme's remit, and will no doubt be batted over to the philosophers of The Moral Maze.

In this Olympic season, certain types of programming are to be expected. But an "Olympic special" from a sitcom set in hell? Old Harry's Game (Radio 4, Thursday of last week), in which Andy Hamilton plays the Prince of Darkness, had to work hard to justify the gags; and the biggest laughs came from digs at the Greeks (taxes and bail-outs). The standard joke for the writers is to consign a topically dislikeable character to the eternal flame; and it seemed harsh to have a go at David Starkey rather than some of the disreputable sportspeople whose behaviour feeds our papers.

On a higher plain of existence resides the shaman Chocigar Kes-Kam, the star of Siberian Stories (Radio 4, Wednesday of last week). In a Russia where shamanism has been legitimated, Kes-Kam maintains an authenticity that is beguiling. Cicely Fell's travels through Siberia resulted in encounters with reindeer herdsmen, Khakassian horsemen, and nomads, and have been documented in five evocative programmes and a host of online photographs.

But it was Kes-Kam's entranced and entrancing journey through the forests and across the plains of the spirit world, accompanied and driven on by the beat of a drum, which was the highlight. Forget the Olympians: if it's swift traversal of time and space you are wanting, Kes-Kam is your man.

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