I just heard something extraordinary.
I was in the kitchen making a lovely little brunch. The Food Programme was on Radio Four, and Sheila Dillon was talking about the Food and Farming Awards. This is a wonderful scheme where she and various judges go round the country and visit small producers and find hidden wonders. They discover everything from cider to chutney to cheese. In this programme, they were talking to British charcutiers.
This was glorious enough. There was so much knowledge and enthusiasm that I started to feel happy. But then a gentleman came on and was utterly, wholeheartedly nice for three minutes.
I fell into a sort of trance of pleasure. At first, I could not quite work out what was going on. Why was this three minutes of radio making me feel like singing? Was it that the speaker had a delightful voice? (I discovered afterwards that it was Yotam Ottolenghi. I don’t think I’d ever heard him interviewed before, and he does indeed have a shining radio voice.) Then I realised what it was. It was the pure niceness.
He had been to meet many people who were passionate about what they do, but he was not passionate as he talked. It was not that. He was not transfigured with enthusiasm or doing the vocal equivalent of cartwheels. He was quite calm. He was not flinging himself about the studio, or gushing, or, as the Americans so vividly say, blowing smoke up anybody’s arse. He had found food and people he admired, which gave him pleasure, and he was communicating that pleasure. There were no buts or maybes; no comparisons or doubts. It was all good. He expressed this with humming, fluent niceness.
I stopped. I thought. (I spend a lot of time stopping and thinking.) I realised that this is rare, in radio. I listen to Radio Four all the time, and a vast amount of what I hear is not very nice at all. People are always accusing people of something: iniquity, stupidity, acting in bad faith, hiding the truth. There are often those sly digs that the British love so much, the ones that are picked up by the advanced irony radar that every citizen of these rocky islands are given at birth. It’s funnier and more diverting to be a little naughty, a tiny bit bitchy, to get out the rapier and insert it cleverly under the third rib. Niceness is considered a little sad and bland.