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Radio review: Crowd Science, Free Thinking, and AntiSocial

01 July 2022


Crowd Science (World Service, Friday) described card games intended to provoke conversations about mortality

Crowd Science (World Service, Friday) described card games intended to provoke conversations about mortality

OTHER than bridge, I can imagine no game less enticing than Death Cards. This is not a skewed version of Tarot, but, as described in Crowd Science (World Service, Friday), a game intended to provoke conversations about mortality. The cards carry instructions or questions such as “Describe your ideal final day,” and “Cremation or burial?”, and might be played in one of the Death Cafés that are apparently springing up around the country. Best experienced with tea, cake, and a generous supply of tissues.

Crowd Science is normally more science-y than this, and the message of the programme seems, on the face of it, rather obvious: that we all suffer, to a greater and lesser extent, from “death anxiety”. After all, where would civilisation be if we didn’t? But the question asked of the programme by a listener, Sam — how to deal with friends who were afraid to talk about her terminal condition — is no less pressing for that; nor are the politics and economics of palliative care.

In the latter part of the programme, we heard from Dr Suresh Kumar about his Compassionate Community initiative in Kerala, where end-of-life treatment is managed by means of an impressive network of centres. With proper investment, we need not rely on card games.

Could there be anything more palliative than the music of Beethoven, played live by a top string quartet? The story goes that this was how a distinguished musicologist recently passed on: with the strains of Beethoven’s last major composition, his quartet Op.132, sounding from his bedside ensemble. In Free Thinking (Radio 3, Thursday of last week), Matthew Sweet and guests discussed the iconic power of late works; and the violist Rachel Stott explained how Beethoven managed to evoke, through his harmonic language, the transcendent infinite.

The star of the show, however, was Geoff Dyer, whose critical waspishness was unflagging, particularly when it came to Bob Dylan, who has cultivated a “late style” like no other. “Assisted living boogie” is how Dyer describes it, which Dylan delivers in a voice that is “shot to bits”, and through a persona that seems so miserable that you wonder why he ever bothers. There is, in short, little romance in the late or even last works. Most artists either decline or have the misfortune to die early.

There have been many attempts, through radio shows, to diagnose and offer curatives to the cultural conflicts of the past decade. Since it is media people who are most actively engaged on the platforms where these wars take place, it is not surprising. And there is nothing particularly surprising about the first of Adam Fleming’s AntiSocial (Radio 4 FM, Friday) series, in which two people from either side of the trans debate talk about why they are a guileless victim while the other person is a ghastly troll. The most useful bit of this programme starts at about 21 minutes in, when a QC explains what exactly the law says about equality and trans rights. The rest is dispensable.

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