Battles of life and death and the war on lame comedy

The Now Show Radio 4, Friday

Hamish and Dougal: You’ll Have Had Your Tea Radio 4, Wednesday

In God’s Name World Service, Sunday

A Pebble In The Pond Radio 3, Saturday

There’s something reli-gious in the air. It’s not just Mel Gibson’s blood-soaked film. It’s all those fat-saturated chocolate eggs in the shops.

Certainly, your reviewer had reason to curse God this week. Attempts to hear a range of radio programmes were stymied by BBC tapes with the wrong date on them, unavailable internet programmes, and misreading pm for am on the live schedules.

I was damned if I was reviewing anything on Radio 4 (for a week at least - call it Lent) because, after last week’s reasoned rant against all the anti-Scottish stuff on its comedy output, it just seemed worse than ever, as I found when I switched on the car-radio and heard The Now Show, juvenile satire by comedians who just happened to be in the metropolitan area when a new programme was wanted.

Out came the usual piss-take of Scottish accents, followed immediately by a trailer for Hamish and Dougal: You’ll Have Had Your Tea, a whole show in which Barry Cryer and Graeme Garden, two clapped-out has-beens (except they never-weres) put on ridiculous Scottish voices and enact quasi-racist routines, knowing they’ll get away with it because the main difference between music hall and radio is you can’t leap on stage and punch the protagonists very hard in the face, or even throw tomatoes (they just drip from the set and onto the floor; believe me, I’ve tried it).

So we turn to religion for solace, but all we find is its hand-maiden, war. The third part of In God’s Name examined how religion promulgates conflict, starting - inevitably - in the Middle East. Here, the three main branches of lunacy - Christianity, Judaism and Islam - love each other to death.

Still, presenter Mike Duff found some signs of hope. Peter, a former Christian militiaman, had seen the light, or at least the light-bulb above his head. It came on after he was caught in a hail of bullets. He survived and concluded: "I was stupid when I was fighting because I don’t like to fight my brother or Muslims. My best friend now is Muslims. I like many people to make a peace on the war. I don’t like the war. The war is stupid. I don’t like. It’s a shits."

Couldn’t have put it better myself, as again when he added: "Look, all over the world has stupids. But, here, the Lebanon has a little bit more."

Not that the West is far behind, as Northern Ireland proves. Its recent (and arguably ongoing) inter-Christian conflict threw up a challenge for mediators: how much weight to give religion?

George Mitchell, the former American senator who brokered the peace, deliberately left it out. This was sensible since, ultimately, that war was nationalistic. Not that this stopped some Unionists complaining about Mitchell being a Catholic.

Canon Andrew White, the Archbishop of Canterbury’s hyper-sounding special envoy in the Middle East, pointed out that religious issues still had huge power in the conflict there. Secular strategies had failed in one of the most religious places in the world, he said.

Nevertheless, it was clear that secular approaches held the key to peace. Religion-inspired Hizbollah remains wedded to violence, but has also become a movement with a social programme and, as with Sinn Fein, this could lead to a subtle change in approach, since civic commitment inspires understanding of negotiation and more normalised forms of conflict.

But as one Hamas leader put it: "As you know, the peace way is more difficult than the war way."

God knows what A Pebble in the Pond was about. Certainly, it wasn’t easy. According to the programme notes, this specially extended edition of the Between The Ears series was a radiophonic meditation on memory. Meditation, of course, is defined as a mental activity upon which one is unable to concentrate because the mind keeps wandering elsewhere.

This programme was, as it were, weird for sound: all jagged snatches of wonky music, voices from nowhere, news excerpts. Think of the Beatles’ Revolution No 9 , the track on the White Album that everybody except Charles Manson skips.

In the midst of all this, there was a continuous narrative of sorts, coming from what might have a hospitalised man in a coma looking back on his life.

"Click-clack," he noted at one point. "A clack of heels. A woman passing. Castanets. Sexy. Sort of." I see.

In the confusion of voices, there seemed to be Central European references and a possible allusion to the Second World War, though it could have been something about a baguette.

Academic-sounding intercessions explained that music imprinted on the brain is memory and whatever is in the brain is alive so the music remains alive. Yeah, well even I knew that.

A musical exploration of memory? Forget it. This was beyond belief.