I am an oil tanker 

15 August 2001 tbs.pm/3186

Mike Brown reviews Fi Glover’s book, ‘I am an Oil Tanker – Travels with My Radio’

Fi Glover is an acclaimed BBC Radio Five Live broadcaster who began her career at the BBC’s smallest local station Somerset Sound, later worked for GLR, flirted with television in The Travel Show and now hosts Five Live’s late show.

Glover is a self-confessed radio anorak whose first priority, when checking into any hotel room anywhere is to tune in the bedside radio to whatever local station takes her fancy. The Travel Show having given her a dose of wanderlust, she decides to travel to various far-flung parts of the world and discover them through their local radio stations. For some reason she has not made a radio programme about this, she has instead written a book, presumably because there was more money in a book. There’s certainly very little in radio (and even less in web sites!).

I am an Oil Tanker is a travel book, in much the same way that Bill Bryson’s books are and we are immediately as interested in the person doing the travelling as we are in the journey itself.

The first thing I do when I pick up a book to read it is look for a list of chapter titles to give me some idea of what might lie in store. This doesn’t work with Terry Pratchett books but in this case we get:

  1. Are you the girl on the radio this morning?
  2. I’m feeling a bit frantic today
  3. I am Frank Warren
  4. And then he puked up over the minister
  5. Why isn’t there any radio porn?
  6. We have the technology to take you to hell
  7. Where do retired air stewardesses go?
  8. I just love your value system
  9. Gene Hackman has a jackal of a day
  10. Maybe I’ll stay a while
  11. I haven’t forgotten the chutney

… so we’re clearly going to have a varied and interesting time in the company of a girl with a fully working sense of humour as our guide!

At the start of the book we find ourselves unceremoniously plonked in North California at a radio station whose breakfast show appears to be being presented by a couple of ‘good old boys’ who are absolutely full of it, and yet their programme connected with its audience and the phone-in element seemed to be the show’s saving grace. I guess you had to be there.

In complete contrast chapter 2 takes us to Austria, and specifically to Blue Danube Radio, a wonderful station with an educational remit aimed at the international traveller. Sadly, at the time of her visit BDR is about to be closed, to be replaced by new and trendy Fear FM. Fear FM will not be, as it happens, a completely different station but one staffed by exactly the same people working in the very same building. But fortunately for us the change has not yet happened at the time of Glover’s visit, and the book is well worth reading just for this chapter alone.

The Frank Warren bit comes in because Glover gets given Frank Warren’s ticket for Euro 2000, so we’re on our way to a small opt-out outpost of Five Live at Charleroi in Belgium. This gives us a fascinating insight into the way BBC radio manages to function on a budget worth slightly less than half a pair of shoelaces. (I presume this is what people mean when they say shoestring?)

Succeeding chapters then fling us to Beiruit and Southern Lebanon, New York, Las Vegas, Palm Springs, New York again, Chicago, Montserrat and Taunton, spending just enough time in each place to regain enough composure to steal a few hotel towels.

I particularly enjoyed her visits to Palm Springs, where she sampled KJJZ’s brand of Cool Jazz and Montserrat, where Radio Montserrat proved to be the cement which held the island together both during and after the eruption of the islands once ‘dormant’ volcano.

To say that this book is readable is an understatement. Fi Glover has a wonderful writing style in which she holds little of herself back. In Beiruit she tells us of the “roasty toasty heat” of the Lebanon:

“we are all dripping with sweat – obviously I could at this point pretend that I was simply perspiring slightly but I wasn’t, I was drenched – I suggest we stay under the shade of the trees in the garden to chat amicably about how he got to be a DJ in the middle of a war zone. This is the army after all – no time for idle chit-chat.”

Fi Glover is the perfect companion on this trip around bits of the globe and

the book is well worth a tenner. There is also an abridged audiobook

available at nine pounds.

And the title…? Well, if you don’t know the story, you’ll have to buy the book for the explanation!

“I am an Oil Tanker – Travels with My Radio” is by Fi Glover and published by Ebury Press, 2001. Later editions are published under the title “Travels with my Radio”. ISBN: 0091877865. Available from all good book sellers, now.

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