July 24, 2010 1:52 am

The Diary: Martha Kearney

It was midnight at the Latitude Festival in Suffolk and I found myself sitting on a log in the middle of a dark pine wood watching “theatre for moths, by moths”. No, I hadn’t been picking magic mushrooms. This was an art installation featuring a bright ultraviolet screen with the kind of neon light beloved of butchers. Insects were drawn to the screen and a video feedback triggers monochrome patterns from the shadows of insects, creating an ever-shifting kaleidoscope.

Along with the artist Gavin Turk and Melvin Benn, who runs Latitude and many other festivals, I was judging the first Latitude contemporary art prize. Graeme Miller’s “Moth Theatre” emerged as the winner and his prize includes £10,000 to create a work for next year’s Latitude. Benn is already angling for a new giant screen in the woods to attract festival-goers by night like moths to a ... well, you get the gist.

The festival, nicknamed Latte-tude, lived up to its middle-class reputation. There were Loch Fyne oysters, a restaurant selling butternut squash risotto, and the champagne bar ran dry. The Royal Opera and the National Theatre were there in strength. As were the Mercury Prize-nominated Wild Beasts, the xx and Florence and the Machine, the latter channelling Miss Havisham with flowing ivory drapes and satin headdress.

Elsewhere, the dress code stuck to tribal festival conventions. I do wonder about people over the age of six who wear fairy outfits with wings and flowery garlands. I managed to resist the adult tutus on sale.

It’s the kind of festival where bands seem to enjoy mingling with the crowds. I know members of the Suffolk group These Ghosts, who brought a tear to the eye of friends and family by saying on stage that playing at Latitude was the best day of their lives.

Given that halcyon summer atmosphere, I was particularly sad to hear two young women had allegedly been raped during the festival. It is hard to reconcile that with what for the vast majority of people had been such a relaxing, safe mini-world.

We don’t often cover crime stories on The World at One but felt that the Raoul Moat story was one we couldn’t ignore. Our programmes drew complaints from some listeners and so my editor had to go on the Radio 4 show Feedback to respond. I haven’t ever experienced that ordeal but perhaps I should have done after setting the Radio 4 message boards alight with comment because I used the phrase “fess up” in a question. It even provoked a Daily Telegraph leader of denunciation. In fact, I was quoting my guest’s own words back at him but I guess quotation marks don’t work so well on the radio. I just wish everyone would chillax.

It can be all too easy to slip into slang when broadcasting. Recently, presenting a political show on television, I asked John Prescott whether he’d felt a bit of a prat when he’d been ennobled, having to wear the full ermine garb. I had an anxious moment when I began to wonder if “prat” was some kind of swear word. Remember the trouble David Cameron got into for using “twat”?

The former motorsports boss Max Mosley was on the same show and I asked him about the legal case he’d brought against the News of the World after its false allegations that he’d taken part in a Nazi orgy. Though he won the case, Mosley said that wherever he went in the world – even to a remote Bolivian village – someone would Google el ingles and discover the allegations. It does seem he will never be able to live it down: at the breakfast for guests after the show Lord Prescott started talking about unruly behaviour in children. “I believe in the slipper and cane myself,” he said, then paused for comic effect: “Sorry, Max.”

On one of the hottest days of the year I found myself in an air-conditioned hangar of a shopping centre. My other half had decided to take his 10-year-old goddaughter shopping for her birthday and brought me along for moral support. She was delightful and picked out a pretty summer dress. Then we headed off to watch Eclipse, the latest Twilight film. I’ve read a couple of the Twilight books and seen True Blood on TV, so I’m quite familiar with the notion of vegetarian vampires but my husband was totally lost. Afterwards I heard him earnestly asking his goddaughter: “So, do you think she should be going out with the vampire or the werewolf?”

For my own birthday treat last year, I was given a barn owl box. We had noticed owl pellets at our cottage and sent them off to the Wildlife Trust for analysis, which showed that a barn owl had been consuming mice there recently. I have had a bad history with bird boxes. In fact, our garden is littered with empty wooden boxes. There is also an empty bat box and an empty ladybird box, so I did realise that putting up a gigantic triangular barn owl box was an act of hubris. Last week the owl inspector came to call. He’d raised my hopes with talk of barn owls and tawny owls in the neighbourhood, but at our box, true to form, there were no owls. He did, however, report that he’d seen some stock dove chicks and eggs, which I am trying to get excited about. The stock dove is a pretty bird but it’s not the same as your own barn owl, is it?

Probably the lesson is that it can be futile to interfere with nature’s course. There is a part of my garden covered in long grass, docks and thistles. Yes, that’s the “wildlife garden”, which has absorbed a small fortune in seeds and plugs. We have planted snake’s head fritillaries, corncockle, dark mullein, yellow rattle and many other wild flowers. The first year saw splashes of glorious colour but after that mainly grasses.

It was all very different on a recent holiday to the Pelion peninsula in Greece. We had fantastic walks along the kalderimi or cobbled mule tracks that are now being conserved. They take you up and down dramatic gorges, over lovely stone bridges and past whitewashed little chapels high on the mountains. But best of all were the wild flowers: hollyhocks, vetch, meadows full of pink thyme flowers. No wonder Greece is the home of beekeepers and the most aromatic of honeys.

Martha Kearney presents ‘The World at One’ on Radio Four and ‘The Review Show’ on BBC Two

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