Listening to Home
By pauldodgson, Nov 4 2014 12:30PM
I am sitting in the café at Bristol Central library. I have just come down from the reference section to discover there has been a run on sandwiches and soup, so lunch is a flapjack and a cup of tea. I am wearing headphones and listening to BBC Radio 4 via my iPhone. There is a big row on The Archers as David and Ruth explain to the family the possibility of selling Brookfield farm. That’s appropriate, explains the announcer afterwards, as the Afternoon Drama is about home and what it means when you might lose it. Then the play begins and I hear my own words and my own voice in my ears while watching people smearing butter on teacakes. Then I close my eyes. This drama is very personal, telling the story of my childhood home and my mother getting older. I am in it too, playing myself in scenes and narrating the whole thing. It is better with my eyes closed.
I have had a lot of plays on the radio, but hearing them going out on air still gives me a thrill. I am listening to words I know intimately, words I have lingered over late at night, changed and changed back again. Then there was the recording; two days at the BBC in Cardiff with actors pretending to be my mum and dad. Right now, in my head, I am absolutely the centre of attention, but no-one else here knows or cares, which is much like being an only child, one of the themes of the play. Audience research tells me there are more than 800,000 listeners to the Afternoon Drama. That’s everyone at Glastonbury Festival nearly seven times over. Imagine all those people in one place. Yet in a country of over 64 million inhabitants, listeners are spread thinly among the population.
When my last play was broadcast I sat in the car by the Chew Valley Lake in North Somerset. I had my daughter with me and we both sat looking over the reed beds to the water and the Mendip Hills beyond. It felt like an occasion, something important, but I have another two theatre plays to deliver on Friday, which is why I am here, alone. I am certain that I am the only person listening to this play in the building right now. Everyone else is having meetings, reading books, drinking tea or keeping out of the rain. But here, between my ears, it feels like a first night as the play gathers pace and I know that there will be listeners spaced between the Scottish Highlands and The Scilly Isles. There might even be someone listening on the Internet in a far-flung corner of the world.
Then, forty-five minutes later it is over. There is no round of applause at the end, no standing ovation, not even the sensation of knowing you haven’t got it quite right as you observe a muted audience leaving a theatre. Instead, Moneybox begins on Radio 4. So I open my laptop, look at my phone and wait. At first there is nothing. Then I get a couple of jokey texts. Then friends start posting messages on Facebook. Then the emails start to arrive. There is something wonderful about this. Strangers so moved by what they have heard they look me up on the web, find an email address and actually write to say thank you. I have told an intimate story about myself and I get some lovely stories in return from listeners reminded of their own childhoods and homes. And the emails keep arriving, all evening and though the night too. And I know now there is at least one listener overseas. A lady thanked me for the play but said she had to listen to the end and that had made her very late for work… In New York City.
Home is available on iPlayer until 25th November.