One of the great things in my life is Radio Four randomness. This is when I turn on the wireless at a time I don’t usually listen to it and find some extraordinary gem that I want to remember to my dying breath. Sometimes I come in half-way through and have to listen and listen until I understand what the programme is about. Sometimes it is so magical and unexpected that it makes me laugh and clap my hands like a child. There was a heartbreaking one about Violet Szabo’s daughter, Tania. There was one about a man who played the piano to elephants.
This morning, out of a clear blue sky, there was one about two men, some whistles, the Pitt-Rivers Museum and a pigeon called Irish. The very fact that there is in the world a pigeon called Irish makes me feel better about almost everything. But in a way, the two men were more enchanting. One was a very gentle, rather soulful musician. He had a smile in his voice, not one of those forced someone-told-me-to-do-it voice smiles that some presenters use, but a slow wondering smile as if he could not quite believe all the beauty in the world. The other was a gruff, wry Yorkshireman, with a self-deprecating sense of humour. You would have thought those two men would have been oceans apart, but Irish the Pigeon brought them together and they set up a glorious, comical, fond relationship which was most unexpected.
I think a lot about culture. Everyone talks about Britain and class but I’m not sure it is class so much that keeps people behind their barricades, but culture. The things that bind me to other humans are shared interests, references, jokes, even favourite songs. I have tribes – racing tribes, and horse tribes, and growing up in the seventies tribes, and Leonard Cohen tribes. Accent and background mean nothing in those groups, but culture means everything. Those two men came from diametrically different cultural poles, but they made a little tribe of two and there was something almost heartbreaking about it.
Sometimes, I think, all it takes is one pigeon. And especially a pigeon called Irish.