Don’t hang the DJ

THE BIRD AND THE BEEB BY LIZ KERSHAW

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The Bird and The Beeb is the story of Liz Kershaw’s thrilling career as a Radio DJ. I expected it to be full of name drops and celebrity anecdotes but happily it is much more than that. Kershaw is someone who has fought for her slice of the airwaves from her Rochdale youth dancing round her Dansette to saving the UK’s greatest music station, she has stood up and been counted. She’s been called “controversial,” “outspoken” and a feminist but none of these are bad things in my book – or this one!

As a reward for passing her O-levels early, her Dad allowed her to start buying pop records with her pocket money. As Liz says his timing couldn’t have been better as 1972 was “a belting year for music.” Only a matter of years later she was forming her own girl group Dawn Chorus & The BlueTits with Countdown smart-ass Carol Vorderman. Whilst they didn’t reach the dizzy heights of Bananarama, she did get to record a Peel session.

Her career at the BBC took off at Radio Leeds – a case of literally in the right place at the right time. From there she went on to huge success on Radio One’s Weekend Breakfast show with Bruno Brookes rubbing shoulders with pop megastars on the Radio One Roadshows and introducing the latest hits on Top Of The Pops. Kershaw describes the mass hysteria surrounding acts like Bros and Spandau Ballet when they visited the BBC all of which evoked huge memories for me. Growing up in the 80s I was obsessed with pop music, radio DJs and Top of The Pops and more than anything I can remember I wanted to be onstage as a presenter at a Roadshow. Liz Kershaw was doing all of that – lucky thing!

But of course where there are highs, there are often lows. Kershaw has been vilified for her northern accent, labelled as thick, rough and common in the snobby world of broadcasting. She has battled cervical cancer, lost friends to drink, drugs and depression and seen her own brother broadcaster Andy (“our Andrew”) jailed for violating a restraining order. Continue reading

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The age old questions

TRAVELS WITH EPICURUS: MEDITATIONS FROM A GREEK ISLAND ON THE PLEASURES OF OLD AGE BY DANIEL KLEIN

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This is a charming, escapist travelogue memoir by best-selling author Daniel Klein. We follow him as he packs a suitcase full of books by his favoured philosophers (Epicurus, Sartre) and travels to the Greek Island of Hydra to contemplate life’s big questions. Hanging out with the local old folk and immersing himself in ancient philosophies, and even the lyrics of Frank Sinatra, Klein tries to figure out whether it is better to try to remain forever young or to grow old authentically.

This is a guide to living well in old age for the modern age. At a time when the world is youth-obsessed and where many try to delay the arrival of old age by remaining active and setting goals, this books offers a welcome alternative. Epicurus believed that old age was the pinnacle of life, the best it gets, once we free ourselves from the prison of everyday affairs. In going from forever young to old old age, Klein, like Epicurus, believes that we miss out on the chance to be a fulfilled old person “docked in the harbour, having safeguarded his true happiness.”

As Klein adds: “Old people do not have to fret about their next move because the Chess game is over. They are free to think about any damned thing they choose.” Sitting, thinking, meditating and just being idle is advocated throughout this lovely book. Continue reading

Comedy in a crisis

Man at the helm by Nina Stibbe

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I just love this author. A more naturally funny writer you would have to go a long way to find. Her first book Love, Nina, a memoir about her time as a nanny, was an absolute riot and I found that Man At The Helm happily follows suit.

It’s 1970 and 9-year-old Lizzie Vogel is packed off to a small, hostile Leicestershire village with her sister, little brother and their drunken mother following their parents’ divorce.

Their budding-playwright mother is now all alone with her three young children and Debbie Reynolds the Labrador. Increasingly concerned about her bad play-writing and desperate to avoid becoming wards of court, Lizzie and her sister set about finding a man to take the helm. They compile a hilarious list of men they consider to be suitable spouses and contact them by letter to invite them to tea. This sparks a series of romantic mishaps and misunderstandings featuring rascally plumber Charlie Bates, the vicar, Mr Lomax (the Liberal candidate) and the local farmer. This is seriously funny stuff. Stibbe has a wonderful ear for comic dialogue that left me crumpled in fits of laughter and an eye for detail that soundly evokes the mood of a 1970s childhood. Continue reading