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Curry and crumble

28 November 2014

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IF THERE was any doubt about the power and influence which can be exerted by apple crumble and custard, then it will have been dispelled by last week's edition of Hardeep's Sunday Lunch (Radio 4, Sunday). Hosted by Hardeep Singh Kohli, this show introduces us to families and their stories over a few plates of food rustled up by Kohli himself. And it was in remembrance of the meals that Pastor Mimi Asher prepared for her son and his mates that the apple crumble was served.

But this was no ordinary breaking of bread which Pastor Mimi was offering. For "mates" read "gang members"; the impetus behind these meals was an attempt by a terrified mother to win back her 13-year-old son from a peer group whose violence blighted the Brixton estate on which they lived.

Michael would not sit down to eat alone with his mother; and the gang would not countenance visiting Mimi's church. But they could be lured into her house for a goat curry and a crumble; and thus began Michael's redemption.

There was nothing overly sanctimonious about the telling of this story; nor did the powerful message of traditional family values and meal-time etiquette ever become cloying.

The most moralistic language came not from the older generation, but from the reformed youth - in particular, Michael's friend Karl, a former gang leader, who, with the zeal of the convert, now preaches a heady message of Love Conquers All. Nevertheless, whatever Pastor Mimi puts in that custard sounds like it ought to be more widely available.

Somehow I do not imagine that crumble is going to cut it with President Putin. Since the annexation of Crimea, how to solve a problem like Putin has become another debate about the efficacy of sanctions, and how far we can push them. We might have heard it all before, but, as a clear-cut, sensible exposition of the issues, The Inquiry (World Service, Tuesday) did a better job than many documentary strands.

The Inquiry is a newcomer to the crowded radio market. Its format is straightforward: four "witnesses" comment on different aspects of a political issue. The combination of the personal perspective and the diversity of approaches works well, so long as we trust that our editor/reporter is giving us representative samples.

Thus, last week, an economist, a diplomat, a reporter, and a businessman all gave their three-roubles-worth and came up with something like a consensus: that sanctions may work, but only in the long term. Diversity of opinion can be tiresome and confusing; here, it was well marshalled.

Radio 1 has recently been commended in the Mind Media Awards for The Surgery (Wednesday), a phone-in show dealing with the agony industry. Last week it was alcoholism, and the sensible advice of the team could not be faulted. Radio 1's aim, however, is a core demographic of 16-29-year-olds; but figures tell us that it remains stubbornly on 32, and their callers all sounded that age.

Of course, it doesn't help the station's age average to have a middle-aged radio critic tuning in; so I'll desist, and take my problems elsewhere.

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