BBC Radio 4

    How many times have you been in love? A kind of census

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    Did you know why Jesus was born in Bethlehem and not Galilee? A kind of census required Joseph and Mary to be in Bethlehem around Christmas a couple of millennia ago. Fascinating. One wonders the Fate of Christianity had there not been a census.

    I'm not pretending my alternative census will have any sort of impact similar to that of the coming of Jesus Christ; but nonetheless, it has had a profound impact on me and hopefully this will be shared by listeners.

    I love interviewing people. I enjoy the mandate a microphone gives me to delve and duck around people's lives and experiences, stories shared, insight elicited. I never cease to be surprised at how the most tightly structured interview soon unravels into a glorified chat as my producer rolls her eyes knowing she has to wade through the material and attempt to make me sound like I might know what I'm talking about.

    And radio affords a greater intimacy than any other medium: the power of the voice, the power of the pause seem somehow amplified on the wireless.

    Yet taking the census questions as my starting point I soon became aware of their directness, their lack of tact. Epithets were superfluous in the attempt to quantify the state of the nation. A seemingly innocuous question like "who lives here normally" followed by "who will be staying here tonight" felt like the most personal of intrusions. And one thing I was taught as a young lad in Glasgow is to never discuss Religion and Politics. This caveat would have made the radio 4 census gathering project anodyne in the extreme. People's lives are politics and religion. They're crucial to creating some sort of portrait of the nations we call a United Kingdom.

    Luckily my license was poetic enough to throw in a few cheekier, non official Census questions. "How many times have you been in love? Do you remember your first kiss? When were you at your happiest?" I'll never tire of the moment these questions were posed and were invariably followed by a smile, a pause, an intake of breath or some combination of all three!

    My over-riding sense of my experiences making this series is how normal and simultaneously surprising we are as a country. And also, how friendly and trusting and giving we are. I felt genuinely buoyed by the people I met, both the set-up interviews and those whose doors we stepped.

    There is much generosity of spirit, much kindness and a great sense of community out there, regardless of who lives in what sort of house and who they first kissed.

    Hardeep Singh Kohli presents his Alternative Census on BBC Radio 4

    • The picture shows Hardeep with Barbara and Derek Brown. There are more pictures here.
    • Listen to the first of the new series at 1100 today and on the Radio 4 web site for seven days after that.

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