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Woman: You’ve read this new book on competitiveness. Is it all about striving for success, or a defence of the Olympic ideal? You know – taking part is more important than winning.
Man: Well, yes, that’s a view often ridiculed certainly, as some sort of excuse for underachievement. I mean if you run a race, surely it’s because you want to win, and we’ve all got used to the belief that competition is a necessary force for good in the modern world. It’s a deeply ingrained idea. It was a bit of a shock to read that competition impoverishes people rather than enriching them . There’s the mind-boggling range of convincing examples you’d expect in support of this theory, and the whole thing is so engagingly written that the most hostile opponents would have trouble refuting it.
Woman: Well my experience of competition in the business world is nothing but negative. I’d say that if you put competition at the heart of your strategy, far from achieving the desired outcome of boosting efficiency by pitting staff against each other, the effect is rather to encourage people to focus exclusively on immediate success… not on sustained growth . Let’s face it, the best businesses are the ones that look ahead instead of limiting their perspective in this way.
Woman: You know how colours affect us, like red and yellow are often used in fast food restaurants… in the decor I mean.
Man: Yeah, yeah – they say they excite the brain, which tells you you’re hungry – that was in the papers years back.
Woman: Well, OK, but now there’s a suggestion colours may help us memorise better.
Man: Oh, come on. Influence appetites and emotions, maybe, but…
Woman: No, really – this teenager did some research.
Woman: Yeah I know- but it does seem sound . She took a page of words and printed them in so-called ‘warm colours’…
Man: How do you mean?
Woman: Well, reds, oranges, yellows, etc. – and gave people two minutes to memorise the words. She followed that with pretty complicated maths equations to stop them reciting the words in their head.
Man: Hmm… OK, sounds good so far…
Woman: And they were given a minute to record how many words they could remember. And then the same procedure with words printed in cool colours like green and blue.
Woman: Overall warm colours were memorised better and cool colours worse.
Man: She’s followed a thorough process, then . But is there any existing published data that backs up or contradicts these claims?
Woman: Well, not as such, I grant you. Though it sounds like she’s onto something to me. But only time will tell. 
Woman: I watched ‘How Musical are you?’ on TV last night – they were saying how listening to music is a really complicated process. The scientists were really going to town on it!
Man: I thought so-called musicality meant being able to play a musical instrument, but that seemed to be just one aspect of the whole programme. It’s odd, people who’ve never set foot inside a music classroom might still have a musical ‘ear’ without realising it!
Woman: You mean, everyone has an innate ability to make sense of music? I’m not sure but it brings an enormous amount of pleasure.  I really don’t know how, but it changes my mood when I’m down – which never ceases to amaze me! But they missed a trick in not clarifying why some people are avid listeners to music and others not .
Man: They seemed more interested in the possible effect of music on musicians’ brains. I didn’t know that people who’ve had music training in childhood find long-term positive effects on their verbal memory- who’d have thought it. 
Woman: I don’t remember words whatever I do! You know that online quiz they mentioned – that might be worth a go. It’s about how engaged you are with music, you know, whether it’s part of your identity or not.
Man: So you might be more musical than you think!
Susie: This week’s edition of World Farming comes from the island of Reunion, off the south-east coast of Africa, where there are vanilla plantations as far as the eye can see. Vanilla is an exotic spice which is very nearly the most expensive in the world – second only to saffron – and certainly the most popular.  We’re used to tasting it in sweet dishes, but people are now beginning to use it in savoury ones as well. In fact, there’s a restaurant near where I live in London, called Fresh Tastes, where chef Antonio Meltini adds vanilla to almost all the dishes, and quite delicious they are too!
These days vanilla is grown in the Caribbean, East Asia and Africa, but it originated in Mexico, where there is a particular insect which can pollinate the plant.  This morning, I visited a vanilla plantation here on Reunion. I heard local people referring to the plants as ‘green gold’  – which isn’t surprising when you think of all the money they represent. Good vanilla is always in great demand and the price at the moment is between £150 and £180 a kilo for top quality. In fact there’s been a problem with supplying customers recently, as storms have had a detrimental effect on the harvest  – all the more unfortunate, now the various diseases which used to decimate the crop have been eradicated.
I’m told that some of the earlier producers had their vanilla growing in the shelter of trees, but on modern plantations the plants are grown under nets , which can easily be removed when it’s time to harvest the vanilla seed pods, which are the valuable part of the plant. After three or four years of growth the first flowers appear, but they only bloom for a day – they need to be pollinated then, either naturally or artificially. Later on, the pods – they’re a kind of shell or case which holds the seeds – are harvested. The pickers often make small holes at one end of the pods, as a means of identifying their farm or plantation.  Any pods with black marks on them will probably be rejected at this stage. Healthy-looking pods are dried outside in the sun, then they are boiled for about three minutes  – which surprised me rather – but if this isn’t done, the pods wil l open and all the seeds will be lost. So it’s a very important part of the process. Then the pods are put in boxes which have blankets wrapped round them to retain the heat . Materials like polystyrene have been experimented with, and found unsatisfactory apparently. Finally, when the pods have dried out enough, they’re put into new boxes, to allow their characteristic aroma to develop. I was allowed to open up one of these boxes – they’re really just like treasure chests.