Let’s start with podcasts, because those are what I have got most of to recommend.
This American Life episodes 582 When the Beasts Come Marching In and 743 Don’t You Be My Neighbour. TAL episodes are long and it’s occasionally unappealing to commit unless you know it’s going to be a humdinger.
You’re Dead To Me on BBC Sounds. I don’t tend to get on with You’re Dead to Me very well. I find the 1 Historian/1 Comedian format a little forced, but the episode about Haiti is really good.
Also on BBC Sounds, Pieces of Britney narrated by Pandora Sykes, who has got such a good voice but maybe I only think that because she sounds exactly like my editor at T2. I’m not the dramatised bits of Pieces of Britney work, but it’s certainly very thoroughly researched.
The Daily 2July The Debate Over Critical Race Theory. I am fascinated by the culture wars and Critical Race Theory is pretty central to it. It’s an academic idea that is bandied about a lot but I don’t think many people know exactly what it is – neither did I, (not really), until I listened to this.
Honestly, with Bari Weiss. Weiss is a very interesting character, who left the New York Times, basically due to fall-out from the culture war. Honestly is a kind of WTF response to her experience and the experience of others who have been, for want of a better word “cancelled”. The episode about Testosterone is good.
You’re Wrong About re-visits issues the hosts feel that people are, well, wrong about. The 7 June episode Cancel Culture and the 13 September episode The McDonald’s Hot Coffee Case are both worth a listen.
The Rest is History can sometimes be a little rambling but some episodes work really well. The recent episode with William Dalrymple about the East India Company was fun, if only because Dalrymple talks nonstop for 1 hour and the hosts Dominic Sandbrook and Tom Holland make lots of jokes about it. Their 3-episode mini-series on statues in London is also informative and vaguely shaming as I just don’t know who any of those people are. Except Nelson. Wait, is it Nelson?! Yes, it’s Nelson. Sorry… I never have the courage of my convictions about these things.
I absolutely loved every second of A Thorough Examination with Dr Chris and Xand/Addicted to Food and it’s not just because Xand is my friend. Xand is a bit overweight, (handy for friends who find it tricky to tell him apart from Chris), and in particular eats quite a lot of what we might term “junk food”. This looks into the exact reasons why and further thinks about what can be done in practical terms about changing diet, which as we all know is the MF hardest thing to do, after giving up alcohol. There are some major surprises along the way that not even I knew about, and I’ve known these two for 20 years.
I had a spell of acute anxiety over the summer, (unrelated to this blog), and it was really terrible at times. Having a podcast in my ear was one way of keeping the catastrophising-anxiety-nightmare voices out of my head and when I was too paralysed with it all to do anything else, I lay on the sofa and listened to The Anxiety Coaches Podcast. I found the hosts’ voice incredibly soothing and she starts each episode with “Aloha,” which for some reason made me feel like all was not completely lost.
Unrelated to this, regular readers will know that an unlikely area of more-than-usual interest I have is Osama bin Laden. Cofer Black, (this really is his name), former Director of the CIA’s Counter Terrorism Centre just before 9/11 and was very worried that bin Laden was going to do something extreme. A very gruff and no-nonsense kind of guy, and also very funny when he warms up, this rare interview with Spycast is terrific and, for a former spy, Black is quite indiscreet.
The Unexpected Joy of being Sober by Catherine Gray is a book I didn’t read for a long time because I thought it would be a bit wussy. It totally isn’t! It really ought to be titled “If I Can Get Sober, Anyone Can” because the author hit it hard and talks about it all in a completely brutal and unvarnished way, which as I’m sure you get by now, is the only way I think it’s worth talking about anything.
The book makes my drinking habits, even at their worst, look like playtime, which brought me great comfort. The book is generally incredibly empathetic, informative and instructive. My personal goal is not to be tee-total but neither is it for alcohol to be a default, which it had become, particularly over lockdown. The first week I cut right back on drinking, (about six weeks ago), required a lot of willpower but since then I no longer reach 6pm and get the WINE awooga scream in my head. I’m also now able to drink a glass of wine with dinner occasionally and put the cork back in the bottle and put the bottle away. I’ve got to say, it’s a relief. I never thought I would be rid of the WINE awooga. It may yet come back of course, because the problem with alcohol is that it is really fucking addictive.
And that’s actually it for books. I have attempted half a dozen others but none of them stuck and damning things with faint praise is so rude. I really wish I liked genre fiction – particularly psychological thrillers or crime procedurals – because then I could always have a book on the go. But I don’t like genre fiction. I was appalled by the one Lee Child that I read.
I once said to my Dad, who reads a lot of Lee Child for such an educated man, “Dad this is awful crap,” and he said, “Ha ha ha! Of course it is. But you’re not really the demographic.” Anything where someone’s got a secret or who killed Daisy? or the thing we did when we were 18 is coming back to haunt us or what’s in that creepy house or she’s got an evil plan or he’s got an evil plan, or this woman wants to steal your husband/life/baby… no thanks. It’s such a shame, though, because there is so much of it.
TV AND FILMS
White Lotus, this is Sky Atlantic only, which is a massive bore for anyone who doesn’t have the channel but I’m sure it will be on Netflix soon enough, look out for it, it’s a treat.
Back to Life. You may have missed this one, it stars Daisy Haggard who comes back to a small seaside town after spending 18 years in prison. It’s got a few holes in it, but otherwise it is very good, if a little triggering as obviously public shame is everyone’s no.1 horror. I did wonder, as I was watching it, if the main character’s shame was intended to be a metaphor for the deep shame that most women feel, even if they haven’t actually done anything wrong.
Shang-Chi and The Legend of the Ten Rings starts off as a sort of caper movie with Simu Liu and Awkwafina buddying around, then it turns into this completely crazy adventure thing featuring dragons and also Sir Ben Kingsley as a lost Brummie jester. It was fabulous and I’m really not into the Marvel Universe thing.
Now for the most important bit: HOW ABOUT YOU?! Please let us know what you have been reading, watching and listening to, so that we may all be inspired. The more off the beaten track or niche the better.