From Our Own Correspondent, 8th February 2014

Denmark: the robots are coming! And they’re being used to clean old age homes 

Listen to the audio (5 mins 19 secs)

“Thursday found me in an old age home in central Copenhagen, in the company of a woman and a robot.

It was raining outside, and I was soaked up to the knee. The thermostat was cranked right up, and I feared that I was about to steam. The robot – one of five currently in use at the old age home – seemed to be peering at me inscrutably. I began to feel self-conscious…”

From Our Own Correspondent, 25th January 2014

Sierra Leone: an otherworldly encounter with Michael Jackson, 

Colonel Gaddafi, the former president of the Republic of Gambia, and Whitney Houston

Listen to the audio (5 mins 23 secs)

“When I first entered the Assemblies of God Car Park Church, it was completely dark save for a dim lantern on the table. The generator wasn’t working, and there was no mains electricity in this remote part of west Africa. Yet the sound of riotous singing, and the clatter and crash of a drum kit played by a small boy, filled the hot room, and all around me adults and children were bopping away as if it was the best disco ever…”

From Our Own Correspondent, 10th December 2013

Jerusalem: the most controversial place in the world?

Listen to the audio (3 mins 56 secs)

“Morning in the Old City of Jerusalem. I make my way down the ancient stone steps that lead to the Western Wall. To the right, a rickety wooden ramp leads to the other side; here I meet an activist by the name of Rabbi Chaim Richman and follow him up it, preceded by an armed police escort…”

From Our Own Correspondent, 3rd August 2013

West Bank: An illegal settlement

Listen to the audio (5mins 8 secs)

“It occurs to me, as I sip a cold beer, that this moment could easily be mistaken for idyllic. Neve Erez, which sits on a sunbleached hilltop in the Judean desert between Ramallah and Jericho, is home to 30 young, Jewish families who live off the land, growing everything from lemons and apples to pomelos, pomegranates, carobs and figs (they used to rear livestock, but, one resident tells me, it ‘kept getting stolen by the Bedouin’)…”

From Our Own Correspondent, 21st April 2013

Britain: the annual military cooking competition

Listen to the audio (4 mins 18 secs)

“Fifteen years ago, the British armed forces were very different indeed. Those were the days before Iraq and before Afghanistan; no major military campaign had been fought since the Falklands War. Men and women would sign up without expecting to fire a weapon in anger, and this was reflected in the quality of the food…”

From Our Own Correspondent, 11th February 2013

Britain: a new wave of female beer brewers

Listen to the audio (4 mins 52 secs)

“So embedded is beer in the cultural life of Britain that visitors to the country, from the humble tourist to the President of the United States, make it a priority to have a real pint in a real pub. If you have been here, you will recall the experience: the distinctive glasses, the gentle, husky and alluring drink, the atmosphere of coziness and geniality. But all this is changing fast…”

From Our Own Correspondent, 18th July 2012 2012

London: the hidden world of gentlemen’s clubs

Listen the the audio (8 mins 37 secs)

This edition of From Our Own Correspondent is entirely devoted to a special essay by Jake Wallis Simons on the private and gentlemen’s clubs of London. They are an elitist and very exclusive world, still places for the social elite to huddle together, where – over a fine malt whisky – you might bend the ear of government.

Jake Wallis Simons recently visited several of the capital’s finest clubs, and learned a good deal about pleasure and privilege.

But is modern Britain really still as riddled with class distinction as its reputation and history might suggest? And what role are do clubs play in the endless ebb and flow of power and influence?

From Our Own Correspondent, 31st May 2012

Sweden: Playing football with the former foreign minister

Listen to the audio (5 mins 5 secs)

“A single error can have far-reaching consequences, both in political life and on the football pitch. In Sweden, the prime minister, Fredrik Reinfeldt, of the centre-right Moderate party, recently got himself into the sort of hot water that will be only too familiar to many politicians in Britain. In a classic gaff, he carelessly used the term “ethnic Swedes”; this provoked widespread accusations of racial intolerance. Meanwhile, in Malmö, Sweden’s third largest city, Mayor Ilmar Reepalu is having problems of his own after making comments that were perceived to be anti-Semitic. This, commentators have suggested, has exacerbated racial unrest in the town…”

From Our Own Correspondent, 1st February 2012

Hampshire: The oldest bell in the world

Listen to the audio (5 mins 13 secs)

“Church bells have been ringing in England for more than thirteen hundred years. The English ringing technique – in which a bell is swung through a full 180 degrees to allow it to sound mouth-up, projecting its voice upwards out of the tower – is quite unique; it can only be found in the British Isles, a few former colonies, and the area around Verona in Italy.

Traditionally, English bells are rung to summon the faithful to worship, to celebrate weddings and festivals, and to mark national thanksgivings. At funerals, and at times of disaster, the bells are sometimes muffled; during wartime, it’s agreed that church bells will not be rung except as a warning of invasion…”

From Our Own correspondent, 13th August 2011

Portugal: A festival of bounty and the economic crisis

Listen to the audio (5 mins 12 secs)

“A festival of bounty might not be what you would expect from Portugal at the moment. But the Festa dos Tabuleiros, or Festival of Trays – one of Portugal’s oldest and most colourful traditions – is exactly that. It has been held every four years since pre-Christian times, and the authorities decided it would not be cancelled for something as temporal as a national economic crisis (which, let’s face it, tends to happen once or twice each century). Indeed, this year, in the face of financial ruin, the festival was celebrated with extra vigour…” The full story

From Our Own Correspondent, 23rd July 2011

London: the call of a post-coital baboon

Listen to the audio (6 mins 3 secs)

“More than 200 years ago, the distinguished man of letters Samuel Johnson famously said: ‘When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.’ Today, with mass transport and communication changing the face of the globe, that sentiment rings truer than ever. Despite the greyness, stress and pollution of the capital, a flash of international colour can always be found just around the corner…” The full story

From Our Own Correspondent, 23rd June 2011

Malta: goodbye to the vintage buses

Listen to the audio (5 min 55 secs)

“The island of Malta does not exactly have a central bus station. Instead, it has the Funtana tat-Tritoni, an open-air fountain in the middle of the capital city Valletta, which is home to a frenzy of bus-related activity. From early morning until late at night, fume-belching buses sweep around the fountain, picking up passengers, negotiating log-jams and stopping for the odd half-hour rest…” The full story

From Our Own Correspondent, 26th May 2011

Malta: legalising divorce

Listen to the audio (5 min 17 secs)

“People came in ones and twos until the place was packed. Somebody closed the door to stifle the breeze. Then Father Angelo Seychell — a short, rotund priest in a spotless white robe — glided in, positioned himself beneath the crucifix, and began Mass. The congregation followed the proceedings automatically. But when it came to the sermon, there was an unexpected change…” The full story

BBC Radio 4: Four Thought, 18th May 2011

Introduced by David Baddiel

Listen to the audio (13 mins 52 secs)

Buddha vs Buddha: Jake Wallis Simons describes how an ancient row within Tibetan Buddhism is causing a modern schism, and why it led him to give up Buddhism for good

Four Thought combines big ideas and evocative storytelling in a series of personal viewpoints – speakers take to the stage ready to air their latest thinking on the trends, ideas, interests and passions that affect our culture and society. Recorded live at the RSA in London, these talks are unscripted, thought-provoking and entertaining, with a personal dimension. Read more

From Our Own Correspondent, 27th May 2010

Jerusalem: the Jews who support Palestinians and oppose the Israeli state

Listen to the audio (5 min 54 secs)

“Just ten minutes’ walk from bustling downtown Jerusalem is the district of Meah She’arim, home to the most inaccessible ultra Orthodox Jewish community in the world. It is a labyrinth of narrow, winding alleyways, and the apartment blocks are rickety, cramped and overcrowded. This is a poor community where life is dominated by religious conservatism and a dislike for outsiders. Enter this neighbourhood improperly dressed, and you risk being pelted with rubbish or stones, or even attacked with mace gas…” The full story