Phone In Freak Shows on the BBC.

Tanvir Naomi Bush Disability, Visual Impairment 5 Comments

Dear All – Dad has taken a bad turn and I will be flying over to be with him at the weekend.  I don’t want to write about it this time. Instead I have distracted myself by doing a piece on the BBC Late night radio show I ended up doing a cameo on. T x

Disclaimer: This is my recollection of the show last Friday.  It is written without recourse to transcripts or copies and has been flamboyantly reworked.  I may have got it entirely wrong. Just saying…
Last week the policeman who had been shot and blinded by the killer Raoul Moat hanged himself. For two years he had been struggling with the trauma and pain of the attack which had conspired with his sudden blindness to form a dark riptide of anxiety, fear and self hatred that eventually dragged him under.

PC David Rathband

24 hours later it’s Friday night and I am waiting on the end of a phone line; a guest on Radio 5 Live’s late night Steve Nolan show.  I and a couple of others have been invited to discuss the impact of visual impairment and coping strategies..or at least that is what I had thought but then I had never listened to the show before…….
Previous to the ‘blind’ bit is a discussion about the singer Englebert Humperdink and his chances for the Eurovision Song Contest.
‘Ooohhh I love this I love this!’ coos Mr. Nolan, the erudite host, as the song ‘Please Release Me!’ circa 1970 something blares over the airways.  ‘This is the best stuff I have ever heard!’
He means it as well which for some reason makes me a teensy bit anxious about his grip on contemporary culture. But there was no time to dwell on it…news comes next, then there is a short introduction to the tragedy of PC David Rathband and boom our slot is underway.
In preparation for the show I have been reading some of Rathband’s previous interviews, thinking about what might have helped him, what interventions could have been taken if any, looking at independent living and the recent government changes to the welfare bill  I have a couple of pages of notes to hand although I still don’t feel prepared.  There is so much to say…
The very first caller is a silken voiced, middle aged man, Dr. K, who had been working as a cardiologist when he was attacked and blinded with acid fourteen years ago.  Blimey! I think. This is exactly the right man to talk this through. Go Dr. K!
Dr. K however is still, fourteen year after his attack, brooding and depressed.  He begins to list all the professional bodies that have let him down, turned their backs on him over the years.  They wouldn’t let him practise medicine.  They had no respect for him as a doctor. Next he moves onto how his friends have left him one by one.  No colleague stood by him.  Now people only come and sit with him for a minute and then move off..he knows in his heart that they don’t want to waste time with a blind man.
Dr K is exhibiting much of the depression and paranoia that David Rathband hinted at in his various interviews. Only it seems to me that there is something more – a hardened, flatter, peevishness; an ‘it’s not fair’ on a constant loop that fourteen years have done nothing to diminish or transform.  I wonder how his wife is coping.
Mr. Nolan is rapt.  ‘David Rathband committed you ever think of taking your own life K?’ he asks gently.  I can hear his pale cheeks flushing from excitement from where I sit clutching the phone in horror. Dr K pauses but then tentatively agrees….anyone faced with this would feel the same he is saying.
There is a brief pause before the host passes judgement. ‘You are the most inspirational man I have ever talked to on this show!’ he declares. ‘So many people will want to talk to you K! Please stay on the line.’
We all stay on the line.  My palm is now damp with sweat where I grip the handset.
After more news they read several messages from people saying how inspirational Dr K is. Mr. Nolan obviously knows his audience. ‘You are amazing!’  ‘That is the most incredible story I have ever heard’. Texts and emails come thick and fast.
Eventually they introduce D who, not only lost her sight suddenly due to meningitis in her 20s, but moved from South Africa to UK on her own and began life all over again as a blind woman. However Mr. Nolan doesn’t ask her about this.  Mr Nolan gets this remarkable woman on the line and asks her what she thinks ….about Dr K.  ‘Isn’t he AMAZING?’ he enthuses.
‘Eerrr.,’ .D improvises and tries talking about her key decision to never to let things get her down no matter what .. but she is cut off by Dr K. ‘That’s all very well for you he says peevishly… you were younger when it happened.’
Actually Dr K is only 54 and, if we take the 14 years into consideration, was only 40 years old at the time he lost his sight.  But D is not asked to respond because more people are calling in to tell Dr K what an inspiration he is. She does not come back on the line.
At some point as I am grinding my teeth a young man, blind from birth, gets a chance to try and pep Dr K up. ‘Nothing has ever stopped me,’ he says but then makes the mistake of quipping that he can’t get a girlfriend. And he is off air.
Another woman, an innovator and campaigner who has  also assimilated, taken on, transformed her blindness gets a few seconds to tell everyone what she thinks ……of Dr K
‘Well you mention you can’t work but you still have all the skills?  How about lecturing?’ She asks very politely and that brings another weary finger pointing tirade from Dr K about how he tried years ago but more people turned their backs on him, let him down. Mr. Nolan cuts in to read a few more ‘you are a hero, an inspiration’ messages. The woman gives up.
A producer comes on my phone line at last
‘Ahh miss Bush.. are you still there?’

‘Yes but I don’t think there is anything I can add to this…’
Two minutes..’
‘Really I can’t..’
I check the clock. It’s nearly midnight. I bite my tongue looking down at all my scribbled notes. Is anyone going to offer Dr K counselling? Is anyone going to actually discuss coping methods –ways to prevent people like Dr K and David Rathband falling into paranoia and topping themselves? That stuff is out of my league but it needs to be covered surely…?
‘You are definitely the most incredible guest we have ever EVER had on this show in all my years as a journalist,’ Mr. Nolan is saying with a slight break of emotion in his voice.  ‘..and we want to bring on now a  Mrs. L Go on Mrs L what do you want to say to Dr  K?’.
A woman’s voice, very posh accent, slightly hysterical, gasping with tears ‘Dr K you are the most incredible man I have ever…ever……well i just …I can’t’…’  She dissolves into what seem slightly chardonnay induced tears.
Gently Mr Nolan cajoles her ‘Go on Mrs L.  You said you were a widow?  Is that right? ‘
‘Yes,’ gasps Mrs L.  ‘My husband died but now I know I haven’t really faced anything compared to this extraordinary man…’..’
‘And?  Go on, go on..’ Mr Nolan interjects with ghastly sympathy. ‘Do you remember what you wrote in your email?  You are quite far gone with cancer..?’
Once again the woman weeps ‘yes; praising Dr. K for showing her the way.
Sweet Jesus, I think trying to unlock my spasmed fingers from around the phone receiver.  The producer is suddenly speaking in my ear..
‘You’re next. ‘
No no (under my breath I am now singing ‘Please Release Me!’)
‘So now we have a Tanvir on the line,’ comes Mr. Nolan’s nasal tenor. ‘Tanvir what do YOU think about Dr K? ..’
Later on face book I message my brother.  ‘It was the weeping widow.  I say.  With cancer.  You just can’t top that.’
Some things shouldn’t be topped,’ says my brother wisely.
What did I say?  Well I remembered that right at the beginning Dr, K had mentioned that it wasn’t fair that he hadn’t been allowed to practice cardiology because ‘I have lost my sight but I still have vision’. So I riffed on this for a mere matter of seconds, about how important that was, how powerful before I was cut off mid sentence my Mr. Nolan saying ‘Sorry about that callers but we have come to the end of a truly remarkable show.’
P.C. Rathband RIP

Comments 5

  1. This is brilliant – I wish I could listen again but am a day too late. Sending you my very best wishes, Tanvir. x

  2. this is so disturbing – when you think about what the media really does, the message it tries to get across to the audience is never really as important as ensuring that they're popular and get to keep the audience. Bah. Thanks for sharing this.
    My prayers with your dad.

  3. So sorry about your dad – I'm glad you're able to be with him.

    I'm fairly well disgusted by the radio show – and it's on that host's head if Dr. K goes on & commits suicide! Yikes!

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