Radio Four is the background to large chunks of my day. Described as the 'intelligent speech' station, it can both bore and stimulate but there are few of those wretched phone-ins, the presenters mostly speak to you rather than to each other, there are no jingles and it's never raucous. Yes, that all adds up to a thinly-veiled attack on Radio 5 which I often endure on Sunday mornings when Radio Four is pumping out religion.
But this week, as you may have read, the calm of Radio Four was shattered by a spectacular row between Joan Rivers and Darcus Howe on the usually anodyne 'Midweek' programme.
Ms Rivers thought Howe was calling her a racist and had a full-blown tantrum in that she didn't just shout and rant but also banged the table repeatedly. She endlessly repeated "How dare you!" This would have been less tedious if she'd varied it with Catherine Tate's catchphrase "How very dare you!" I felt that someone with her facility with words and long experience of ad-libbing on stage could have been a bit more inventive with the invective.
Towards the end of her onslaught she called Howe a 'son of a bitch', or maybe that should be written 'sonofabitch'. I may be wrong, but my impression is that this is a much stronger insult in Britain than in America. I'm not sure that Americans take it quite so literally. The same is true of the 'mother******' word which, in Britain, is considered by censors and the public alike as equal in strength to the 'c' word. It's generally the case that insulting someone's mother is only a good idea if you like hospital food.
At school there was a boy who was very easy to send into a blind rage so we used to bait him by saying his mother was a bitch or a whore. It was like lighting the touch paper on a Catherine Wheel. You applied the match, stood well back and watched the fun, having first secured your exit route. If you were sitting a few desks in front of him in double Latin you could toss these remarks over your shoulder, watch him change colour, splutter, writhe and spit, and still be out of the classroom ahead of him and halfway across the games field.
'Amo, amas, your mother's a prostitute, amat.'
My God, why do I always tell people I hated school?
The Midweek row began when Howe said that Rivers didn't like the term 'black'. I don't know what he meant by this. Although I rather like Howe, I often find his arguments difficult to follow. Fortunately, he seems to have a calm temperament and at one point could be heard chuckling when Rivers was in full spate.
The most amusing thing was that, having finally silenced Joan Rivers, the presenter Libby Purves moved seamlessly on to a bland discusssion about plant photography with another guest.
The following morning in the same 9 am timeslot, on Melvyn Bragg's In Our Time heavyweight seminar on Greek philosophy, an academic casually used the term 'dog fuck'. Moreover, he was not using the term as an insult either to Melvyn or to some other academic who had beaten him to a professorship, but was talking literally about fucking dogs.
This makes perfect sense in the context of the Cynic school of philosophy. But I think Radio Four has an absolute ban on the 'F' word, certainly at 9 o'clock in the morning.
I thought I heard a slight gasp from Melvyn when the word was uttered although he sensibly made no comment. Meanwhile, meterological satellites detected a large cloud of steam over Budleigh Salterton and paramedics were at full stretch throughout the Home Counties.
I switched off this morning's Desert Island Discs while writing this, just to be on the safe side. Admittedly, you'd expect children's author Jacqueline Wilson to be as safe as a discussion on Greek philosophy. But the way the Radio Four morning schedule is going she might well have asked for 'Never Mind The Bollocks' and chosen a vibrator as her luxury item.