Open line to the little things in life

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 17 June, 1995, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 17 June, 1995, 12:00am

LAST Sunday I did the second most pleasurable thing you can do in bed after sleeping. I listened to Ralph Pixton. This is a recent addiction and one I can see there is no point in trying to kick.

Like all good things in life, alcohol, cigarettes and Inspector Morse, the Ralph Pixton show, Open Line Plus as it has been renamed by the thrusting young things at Radio 3, is a profligate waste of time. But like all good things in life it has an appeal that is insidious. Three weeks and I am already planning weekends around Ralph.

There is something about his considered syntax that transports me back to Radio 4 in Britain. Wet Sunday mornings, Earl Grey tea, The Observer and the kind of terminal lethargy that comes only with practice.

BFBS gets close with The Archers, but BFBS does not penetrate the darkness around Kornhill, where radio waves get lost for weeks in concrete and are dissipated by the effort of trying to find their way out.

Ralph Pixton is Lorna Workman without the ambition, hired by RTHK to deal authoritatively yet decently with people who have matters of state on their mind. If our continuing decline in moral standards has been keeping you awake at night, Ralph is your man. If you are confused over where you stand on the Court of Final Appeal bill - and the Government is, so there is no reason why you shouldn't be - call Ralph.

If you are irritated by the standard of English-language television and newspapers, or by the changeable nature of the weather, Ralph will lend you his shell-like ear. He is the only man in Hong Kong capable of finding out why the sun shone yesterday, but not the day before.

There are an infinite number of topics that might be preying on your mind. Strange then, that everyone chooses to discuss only two; buses and taxis.

Or perhaps it is not so strange. There is little we can do to bring peace to Bosnia or to make Boris Yeltsin give up drinking, but we can make ourselves feel better about these things by shouting at a taxi driver and then telling Ralph about it. The man has the patience of a saint with time on his hands.

There were a number of occasions during a recent programme, notably an agonising story from an English gentleman about his experiences with a cab on the way to the Peak, when St Peter himself would have said 'for goodness sake man, get to the point'.

Stories punctuated by the word 'anyway' are hard to get excited about. Stories about taxis and buses punctuated by the word 'anyway', are brain death.

'Anyway Ralph, he took the wrong turning and was driving like a maniac . . . er anyway . . . did I mention I have been in Hong Kong for 15 years and speak fluent Cantonese? . . . Anyway, he took the wrong turning and was driving like a maniac . . . sorry, did I already say that? Anyway . . .' Ralph's job in all this is to help. Open Line Plus is public access radio in a cardigan, with Ralph part social worker, part nanny, part English village vicar and part mother, dispensing mugs of warm Ovaltine and wiping away the tears of men and women who have grazed their knees or been banged on the nose by the school bully. To his credit, he mostly manages to be interested, or at least to seem interested. But he has, I have come to suspect, a tape he inserts during particularly long soliloquies.

The tape is a recording of Ralph saying 'really' and 'that's interesting' at intervals of approximately 10 seconds. While it plays, he is able to nip out for a pee or to pick up his Mark Six ticket. During last week's taxi story he could have done his shopping, hiked the MacLehose Trail and taken a short break in Sarawak.

'Anyway Ralph, this taxi driver was a maniac . . . (really?) . . . he was from Kowloon but was picking up fares on Hong Kong Island . . . the Government really should do something' (how interesting) . . . and as for the shark attacks (really?) . . .' The joy of Open Line is twofold. It is a programme of the kind that is becoming unfashionable in liberal radio circles because it is not in-your-face enough. If you want a comparison, tune in to RTHK on Saturday afternoon, when you will hear a phraseological young woman with a streetwise accent banging her audience over the head with hysterical adjectives. Incredible! That's absolutely amazing! Really amazing! Secondly, Open Line does, in its toasted muffin way, serve a purpose. It serves to remind us that Hong Kong, inimical and unremitting as it is, is still home to a handful of people who are able when the time is right to overlook the big picture and look critically at the little one.

You won't find Ralph Pixton alongside David Tang and Joyce Ma in Tatler. His Clarke's Attackers would disintegrate in the kind of perfume cloud these people give off. Anyway, his job is the thing, not the fame and certainly not the fortune. Proof, if you need it, of a fundamental difference in purpose.