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Radio review: Heart and Soul, The Dam, and Farming Today

01 May 2020

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SO INURED are we now to the pairing of religion and ethics as a broadcasting category that we forget how these two entities might require individually sympathetic treatments. Last week’s Heart and Soul (World Service, Friday) provided a traumatic example of this, as we were introduced to the case of Marieme and Ndeye: conjoined twins who had been brought by their father, Ibrahima Ndiaye, to the UK for treatment and possible surgery.

The two girls share much of their bodies, but crucially not a brain, heart, or lungs. Early diagnosis suggested that Marieme was the weaker of the two, and would probably not survive without her sister; furthermore, it was assumed that Ndeye would eventually decline if not separated from Marieme.

Expressed as an ethical dilemma, it was simple — cruelly so, even if the solution was well-nigh impossible to contemplate. The complicating factor here was Mr Ndiaye’s Muslim faith. “There is nothing impossible to God,” he declared; and it was not for him to judge between the rights of the weaker and stronger in body. Was this not the root of so many atrocities over the ages?

If there was a failing in Mike Wooldridge’s otherwise expert presentation, it was that he and the medical practitioners were addressing the case in terms of secular ethics — weighing up the rights of one child over another — while Mr Ndaiye operated in another register altogether: one in which rights were, through obedience to a higher power, rendered meaningless.

As it emerged after further investigation, the girls are more intimately conjoined than was originally diagnosed, so that the balance of dependence between them is more even. Religious and ethical priorities have happily converged to vindicate Mr Ndiaye’s decision not to operate.

There are parts of Northumberland where achieving isolation is never a problem. As we heard in The Dam (Radio 4, Sunday), you can stand on certain peaks and, even on a clear night, not see an artificial light in any direction. This was the backdrop for David Almond’s (presenter) and Beaty Rubens’s (producer) beautiful and eerie story of the flooding of the Kielder Valley 40 years ago, to create the largest man-made lake in the UK; and, in particular, of a journey made by a pair of musicians — father and daughter — into the deserted villages just before the waters rose. If yours is an imagination attracted by the other-worldly, then it will be fired up by this outstanding piece of radio.

For my part, when all this madness is over, I am definitely going to take up dry-stone walling. As described in an audio diary by Kate Thick for Farming Today (Radio 4, Saturday), it sounds like the perfect occupation for anyone who loves to play Tetris, but with blocks of granite in the great outdoors. As she described the satisfying clunk of a well-set stone, one could briefly indulge the invigorating fantasy of parallel existence.

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