« Dentists Today And Yesterday | Main | Boozer, Lush, Drinker, Drunk, Toper - Pick Your Pejorative »

Here In Africa: On Finding Alistair Cook

...Unless one has access to the commercially produced, and more expensive “Audio Books” from the Listener’s Library, or is a registered blind person and able to make use of the wonderful free service from ‘Tape Aids for the Blind” there is simply no access to any form of entertainment for the blind in South Africa..

Brabara Durlacher highlights a social need.

Recently I found a box of old cassette tapes from years ago, most of them from BBC Radio 4 in the 1970s. To my delight, amongst them I found one of Alistair Cooke’s recordings and another commemorating this wonderful man’s achievements and his remarkable unbroken 58 years of weekly ‘Letters from America’. The commemorative program was broadcast by the BBC shortly after his death aged 95 in March 2004.

Listening to that familiar voice once more I was made aware of the old saying, ‘they don’t make them like that anymore’, and yearned for the scholarship, erudition and sheer entertainment this self-made broadcaster brought to his millions of listeners around the world in the many different types of media in which he excelled.

I won’t go into details as many people are familiar with his career, but will mention that not only was he a wonderful journalist and broadcaster, but he was also a good jazz pianist, an enthusiastic if not overly talented golfer, and most importantly, a shrewd observer of the American political and social scene. His career lasted from the 1930s right up to the terrorist attack on the Twin Towers on 11 September 2001; a remarkable span of world events and one which made history throughout the world.

As a father and stepfather, his family numbered his first wife Ruth Emerson, by whom he had a son John, and after his divorce and later marriage to Jane (White) Hawkes, his stepchildren Holly and Stephen, and his second child, a daughter Susan.

These reminiscences were brought about by my search for a tape recording I was sure I’d made of the famous early South African writer Pauline Smith, whose beautiful and touching story “The Pain” recorded for the BBC by Margaret Inglis, has remained in my memory as one of the finest short stories I know. Unfortunately, when I eventually unearthed the tape, I realised that it was incomplete, as my recording, made many years ago on a battery-operated transistor radio, left much to be desired. The entire first half of this beautifully written story is missing.

My search was brought about as I’ve recently been visiting a nearly blind friend who, after years of living alone and trying to keep house with its many dangers and difficulties for someone with severe heart problems and a chronic lung disease, is now comfortably installed in her own room in the excellent frail care in my retirement village. Here she can be properly looked after by kind and willing people.

Unable to read, watch television or knit, her days drag endlessly, and she depends almost entirely on her radio and the excellent ‘talking books’ from “Tape Aids for the Blind” for company. The tapes are her lifeline, and if they’re delayed in the post, she has no other way of making the hours pass. Recently, for some reason, and despite the international postal delivery agreement, these bulky packages have been failing to arrive and she was desperate.

With the steady ‘Africanisation’ of the arts and entertainment in South Africa, the daily reading and weekly play on the English radio have almost disappeared. Therefore, unless one has access to the commercially produced, and more expensive “Audio Books” from the Listener’s Library, or is a registered blind person and able to make use of the wonderful free service from ‘Tape Aids for the Blind” there is simply no access to any form of entertainment for the blind in South Africa.

Consequently, I’ve been reading to my friend until I discovered a local branch of “Tape Aids” not far from here, and now it’s very easy for me to select two or three new tapes to fill in the gaps in the much delayed mail deliveries.

I’ve auditioned for Tape Aids (so far without success) but I’ll persevere and hope to have better luck soon. But if I still don’t succeed, I’ll learn to edit other’s readings, as I’m keen to do what I can to help those who need support so badly.

The editing looks quite a challenge, as computers have replaced the old system, when ‘fluffs’ and mistakes had to be re-recorded, seamlessly, over the mistake. Speed, cadence and tone had to match the first recording and as any businessman will know, this is a difficult skill to master; the lack of which caused me to fail my first audition.

I’ve been told that computerised editing is easy, but it looks like science fiction to me. I watch the sound bars jump up and down and the extreme concentration with which the editors stare at their screens and hope that it will all come right in the end as there is nothing I would like more than to be able to give back some of the pleasure that comes with reading a good book, than helping in the creation of further editions of ‘Tape Aids for the Blind.’

Categories

Creative Commons License
This website is licensed under a Creative Commons License.