Wednesday, 22 June 2011

How Dave Lee Travis helped make the world complete

I was at the 60th birthday party of a dear family friend recently. A terrific party, with lots of lovely people and a wonderfully warm atmosphere. Our friend made a moving speech, in which she mentioned that she was an only child, and that this meant that her friends had always been extremely important to her.

I'm an only child too, and it's a strange, somewhat unnatural state in which to grow up. It inevitably puts you at a bit of a disadvantage when it comes to developing socially. I am fiercely loyal to my friends, but also fiercely independent and self-sufficient. This has meant being largely resistant to the joy other people, outside my close circle of friends, can bring to life.

It has only been in recent years that I've begun to recognise, and embrace, the warmth, pleasure and sunshine which other people have to offer. It may sound odd, but this has been a revelation to me. I think the following traditional African Xhosa proverb expresses it very well:

'Ubuntu ungamntu ngabanye abantu' 

'People are people through other people'

This is something which really struck home this morning when I read an online article about this year's Reith Lectures on BBC Radio 4. The Reith Lectures were founded in 1948 by Sir John Reith, the BBC's first Director-General, with the aim of 'advancing public understanding and debate about significant issues of contemporary interest'.

Two of this year's five lectures will be given by the Burmese pro-democracy leader and Nobel Peace Prize recipient Aung San Suu Kyi. The recording of her two lectures had to be undertaken in great secrecy, with the BBC even referring to her by the code name 'Maggie Philbin', a radio and television presenter, to ensure secrecy was maintained.

In an interview with Eddie Mair ahead of the broadcast of her lectures, Ms Suu Kyi spoke about her years under house arrest. She made special mention of Dave Lee Travis's requests programme - 'A Jolly Good Show' - on the BBC World Service, and spoke of how it had provided a particular lifeline for her. She said it had made her world 'much more complete'.

One thing she said touched me particularly:
'I would listen to that quite happily because the listeners would write in and I had a chance to hear other people's words.'
'... other people's words'. I was stunned when I read that. It made me realise that the one thing we really need in order to exist is other people.

To Ms Suu Kyi, cut off from humanity, this radio programme, with its listeners' requests, created an important sense of contact with the outside world. People's musical tastes, their hopes and dreams, their concerns and priorities, were reflected in the requests they sent in, and this helped satisfy Ms Suu Kyi's yearning for human contact and interaction.

I hope I'm beginning to appreciate how precious other people can be, how crucial they are to living a happy and fulfilled life, and losing my original default position of, well, vague suspicion! There are few things I love more than the smile on the face of a friend - and I'm learning that the smile on the face of a stranger may yet become the smile on the face of a friend.


  1. This is a truly inspirational blog Sophie and what struck me was how different our lives can be. Not so long ago a school mother told me that she and others thought I was very reserved (she wasn't offensive) and elusive. She is right to a point. I come from a family that is very sociable, love to party, love to drink. I have had a lot of people coming in & out of my life, my mum has been married 4 times, dad twice, partners in between, foster brothers, lodgers .. no real permanence. I am quite guarded about who I am friends with .. I am a bit of a loner to be honest. That doesn't mean I don't like people of course. I have my husband who is my soul mate, I have my children who are my best friends also and of course I have a few dear friends that I think the world of. I'm not sure what I am trying to say ... I value friendship of course but I suppose I also accept that some are more permanent than others.

  2. Thank you so much for your thoughtful comment, Deborah. It is always lovely to hear from you!

    You seem to be like me. You like people but are perhaps a bit wary at the same time. It seems very late in life, but I think I'm only just beginning to appreciate quite what a joy other people can be. That sounds terribly unsociable, which I don't think I am (once I get into my stride!). I think 'guarded' is the perfect word. But when I read that piece on Aung San Suu Kyi it really brought home to me how important other people are to our basic existence.

    Thank you again for visiting, and for your lovely comments. I always appreciate it!


  3. I'm an only child too and from an unemotional family.
    I was a loner at school and university but when working I found a lot of pleasure in the company of some of my colleagues and I've been 'opening out' ever since.
    Blogging has brought a new sort of contact...and has given me friends I will probably never meet but with whom I have a close relationship.
    I found your blog through Hadriana's Treasures...a very aptly named blog!

  4. Hello! Thank you for your visit, and for taking the trouble to leave a comment.

    I can identify entirely with your 'opening out' - I'm really just beginning to appreciate the pleasure it can bring to be in the company of others. It's a lovely feeling.

    And like you, blogging (and Twitter) have brought me a great deal of pleasure and lots of new friends. It's true that I might never get to meet many of them, but that does not diminish the importance of the relationship!

    Thank you again for popping by. I always love it when people visit, so do feel free to visit any time!