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Today’s blogpost was going to be a belter of a schoolroom centre story that’s been a few days in the writing, but I’ve got sidetracked down a wee cul-de-sac off Memory Lane, so you’ll have to wait until next week for the big reveal.  Sorry.

Grenouille had a hospital appointment today, and as it was scheduled for mid-morning, for once I didn’t have to haul my sorry carcass out of bed at O’Jeeze o’clock in order to get through the morning routines before departure time.  That meant that at 07.50, instead of being in the pressurised pre-taxi whirlwind of pack-ups/teeth/will-you-PLEASE-put-your-feet-in-your-shoes, pretty-please-with-big-brass-knobs-and-twinkly-sprinkles-on (Grenouille thinks hyperbole is hilarious, and moves much faster when in a good mood, so in our house we cultivate comedy, even if it’s usually delivered through gritted teeth)  instead, as I say, shortly before eight I was still in the kitchen, peacefully finishing a cup of tea and listening to the radio.  Which was when the blast from the past blew me sideways into Timekeeping Close, because I had long forgotten that ten to eight on Radio 4 is the ‘Thought for the Day’ slot.

When I worked at the schoolroom centre, and indeed for years before and afterwards, Radio 4 was the measure and marker of my days.  Monday evening blast of ‘Barwick Green’?  End of ‘The Archers’; time to grab my score and run downstairs to wait for my friend Alastair to pick me up for 19.30 orchestra rehearsal.  Pink Floyd cash registers?  ‘Moneybox’, time to get Saturday’s lunch.  Every weekday morning, ‘Thought for the Day’ was my cue to turn the radio off, head to the bathroom and brush my teeth, so that I could set out for work at 8 a.m. sharp.

But today we didn’t have to leave until 9.30, so I had time to think about the radio.  About how Radio bloody 1 was always on in the centre workshop, and how sick you can get of even the best tunes when they crop up on a two-to-three hour rotation, day in, day out, for weeks.  About the many things that haven’t changed on Radio 4 in over two decades, and the ones that have.  Besides ‘Thought for the Day’, ‘Moneybox’ and ‘The Archers’, there are still many programmes that a fast-forwarding time-traveller from 20-something years ago would recognise: ‘Today’.  ‘P.M.’  ‘Woman’s Hour’.  ‘The World At One’.  ‘The News Quiz’, ‘Just a Minute’, ‘I’m Sorry, I Haven’t a Clue’, ‘Book at Bedtime’.

And the big one that’s gone missing?  ‘Does He Take Sugar?’, the specialist disability-issues programme.

According to Wikipedia, it ran from 1977-1998, which probably explains why I didn’t notice its passing, since by 1998 regular routines and radio listening had been swept clean out of my life by the unpredictable demands of looking after an infant Eldest.  But BC (Before Children), I listened to ‘Does He Take Sugar?’ and its sister programme ‘In Touch’ (‘for people with a visual impairment’) most weeks.  To my ears, they were both cracking programmes that let people with disabilities tell the rest of us like it is, brought new perspectives and ideas to listeners disabled and not, kept a weather eye on developments and the political climate around disability, and generally provided nexuses for disparate groups with disability interests.

Apparently, ‘Does He Take Sugar’ disappeared at the same time as the Radio 4 schedules were rearranged, with – amongst other things – ‘The World At One’ expanding to an hour and ‘Woman’s Hour’ moving from 2 p.m. to 10 a.m.  ‘Does He Take Sugar’ was subsumed into an expanded ‘You And Yours’ (‘Radio 4’s consumer affairs programme’).

I can see how disability issues like access could fit well with mainstream consumer issues, and that experience in championing consumer rights might well help with championing disability rights.  And I can understand the arguments for including disability issues as part of the mainstream instead of ghettoising them.  Certainly, Winifred Robinson did a sterling job of presenting LB’s story on ‘You and Yours’, but I can’t help wondering, a little uneasily, if the story might have been more closely followed up on a specialist disability programme, simply because there would have been fewer competing issues running through the programme office.

I think I just miss the in-depth exploration of disability that ‘Does He Take Sugar?’ provided.  And I entirely fail to understand the logic of axing ‘Does He Take Sugar?’ whilst ‘In Touch’ – a programme catering for a subset of people with disabilities – is still a standalone entity.  Of course, people with a visual impairment rely particularly heavily on aural information, and so it’s arguably helpful for them to have a known, discrete slot to tune in to.  But a preference, or need, for aural information is presumably true of people with many other disabilities.  If you have a disability like, say, fibromyalgia, how onerous are you going to find it to have your disability-specific news diluted across five hours of ‘You and Yours’ per week, compared with a concentrated thirty minutes of ‘Does He Take Sugar?’

Could Peter White maybe provide some answers, please?  I don’t mind whether that’s on ‘In Touch’ or ‘You and Yours’.

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P.S.
While I was checking up a fact or two after writing this, I came across this PhD thesis on ‘Mainstreaming Disability on Radio 4’.  It looks at the treatment of disability issues on ‘Does He Take Sugar’ and ‘You and Yours’, was submitted in 2003, looks at the theoretical constructs and actual practicalities around mainstreaming, and appears – on a skim-read – basically to conclude, ‘This could potentially be a good move or a bad one; the jury’s still out’.

As such, I’d say it’s pretty much as relevant now as it was ten-plus years ago.  Read it for yourself and let me know what you think?

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