Twenty years of 160-second thoughts to the nation - and somehow a passing history of the 21st century - are collected here in all their wise, empathetic, amusing and relateable glory.
Thought for the Day is a tough ask: you have three minutes in the middle of Britain’s main breakfast-time current events radio show to add something thoughtful and positively provocative to inspire several million of the nation’s listeners. And with this show, they are generally more educated and informed ones – not pushovers.
Brian Redhead, one of the regular presenters, once said, “If you want to drop a word in the ear of the nation, then this is the programme in which to do it.”
Rhidian Brook is one of Thought for the Day’s 23 regular presenters, and has now been offering those thoughts for twenty years, a hefty selection of which have been collected in this book.
One of Brook’s advantages, as he sits among a panel of bishops, professors and a Chief Rabbi, is that he is not one of them, but he is ‘one of us’. As an ordinary person – albeit an award-winning one who has had his books translated into 23 languages and Keira Knightley star in one of its film adaptations – I suspect that he has to earn respect that little bit harder.
Early (2006) entries in the book show one way in which he has earned that respect. He was the first person to broadcast his Thoughts live from abroad, when he had taken his young family around the world’s major AIDS hotspots for nine months. For me, that gives him the right to comment on life.
The rest of the book coincidentally takes you through the history of the last two decades – Live 8, World Cup, recession, a new Pope, national elections, a football disaster, a national media scandal and more significant events, such as the Brangelina separation and, perhaps inevitably, Game of Thrones.
Like Jesus, and any other good spiritual communicator, Brook leaves you with questions, rather than answers; but along the way, he has given you plenty of contemplative meat to chew over as you think about your response.
Topics he covers range from ‘political corruption’ and ‘forgiving genocide’ to the more personal ‘Midlife crisis’ and ‘email addiction,’ stopping off at ‘sexual freedom’ and ‘political correctness’, leaving you with such questions as, 'What is real wealth?' In all of this, the storyteller in him carries you with him and often gives you a plot twist near the end.
One Thought noted how a sudden burst of snow can achieve things that most religions struggle to do. It “is a great leveller. It settles on teachers and pupils without discrimination. It mocks the self-important and trips up the well-sorted. It forces people to notice thing around them - like other people.”
The final line of that Thought describes well his approach to the whole book: “Just because something’s heavy and deep, it doesn’t mean it can’t be fun.”