The chimes of Big Ben announced the six o’clock news on BBC Radio 4. The news is dully predictable, tales of international catastrophes and Brexit; always Brexit, as if uttering endless streams of words can somehow change reality. Politicians and bishops seem captured by delusions that if one redefines concepts and finesses statements often enough, there will be some material change. The chimes of Big Ben have become a signal to change channel, an inane commercial station for the duration of a single song, and then Radio 3, the delay being long enough to avoid the Radio 3 news bulletin at the top of the hour.
It is the soft and gentle voice of Sean Rafferty on Radio 3, for more than twenty years he has presented the evening programme In Tune. The classical music station must have been a significant change from his previous work as a news presenter on BBC Northern Ireland in the years of the Troubles, Radio 3 must have seemed a little piece of heaven. Perhaps that is one of the reasons people listen to the station, it is an escape from the ugliness elsewhere on the airwaves.
Sean Rafferty announced that the promenade concert later in the evening would be Leonard Bernstein’s Symphony No. 2 “The Age of Anxiety,” adding the comment, “unfortunately, as appropriate now as it was when it was written after the war.”
Perhaps a revisiting of the history of those post-war years, a re-reading of the accounts of the massive upheavals of the late 1940s would set the present times in a proper perspective, persuade us that we were really living in the best of times. How many people are now aware that, at the lowest estimate, more than half a million people were killed in the unrest that followed the partition of India to create India and Pakistan in 1947? How many people are aware of the reality of life under Soviet rule in Eastern Europe after 1945? The news stories from that age of anxiety would have been so significant as to make Brexit seem a silly, trifling detail of international jurisprudence, yet there is a palpable sense of anxiety in the present times.
Perhaps the twenty-four hour rolling news channels exaggerate the importance of the stories they carry, perhaps the Internet brings an immediacy that has become unhealthy, perhaps social media have become an easy conduit for half truths and outright lies, but there seems a mood of unease. Perhaps keeping your head down is the best response to situations which cannot be changed, what use is there in listening to endless rancorous arguments? And the music on Radio 3 is much nicer than the dreary tones of news correspondents.