Friday, 02 December 2016

Radio Review: 2 December

Will Self drives a Trabant to the former GDR

Written by Louis Barfe
With some programmes, it’s clear that the title – usually a dreadful pun – came first, and a concept was then cobbled together to fit. I have a feeling that Self Drives, in which writer Will Self goes places in a car, could be one of these programmes, but as the result is so enjoyable, I’ll let it pass. Louis-Barfe-colour-176

For the second run of Self Drives, transmitted daily on Radio 4 last week, Self aimed to take a Trabant from London to Zwickau in the former German Democratic Republic, where the smoke-belching little symbols of communism were built.

His companion on the road trip was childhood friend Michael Shamash, who was there for two reasons: first, he’d always wanted to make the pilgrimage; and second, as a past chairman of the Restricted Growth Association, he felt self owed him for a crass comment about short people on a chat show some years ago.

As well as being a warm and funny account of two men taking a long, dangerous journey in a car made of plastic and cotton fibres, the programmes explored the idea of ‘ostalgie’, a hankering for the certainties of the GDR, a tendency displayed by Shamash.

Even Self didn’t seem entirely immune from such feelings, arguing, when he saw a vintage East German radio that he thought well-designed, that consumerist choice is pointless. However, as he was told, it’s easy to say you don’t need choice when you have a panoply.

The ‘Trabi’ almost never made it out of London, and finally gave up in Weimar. Self was amazed that they’d made it that far and stayed alive, but sad that they’d have to complete the journey to Zwickau, now dominated by Volkswagen, by train.

Along the way, Self and Shamash had proved that, while a terrible bit of engineering, the ‘Trabi’ still inspires immense affection.

Listen to Self Drives here:

Louis on Twitter: @LFBarfe or email: 

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