What to do during lockdown… Part 1 – Podcasts

I always associate podcasts with smart people. Smarter than me people, anyway. I’m lucky – somehow a lot of smarter than me people are generous enough to be my friends. I’m glad. They’re really helpful in expanding my gaze at the world.

They are fonts of wisdom when it comes to what’s big, what’s new, what’s topical, what’s going to hit the zeitgeist and what will challenge you.

That’s wonderful – but you may want a more middlebrow tone at the moment too. I will try to offer you a range of recommendations to cater to all your moods and emotional requirements.

(All links are to Spotify – but Google is your friend here too)

I’m going to start with my most frivolous suggestion – Why Won’t You Date Me? with Nicole Byer is an hilarious account of her adventures in dating. She has a different guest every week and the discussion is honest but kind.

You go with her on a journey of juicy wonders – provided by gossip and anecdotes. The theme tune is funny enough for my kids to want to listen to it – but it’s definitely not for kids.

You can enjoy the Good Night Stories For Rebel Girls podcast with all the family. These half hour biographies of wonderful heroes – from ancient to modern – are fascinating.

Despite her life story being absolutely tragic, Child 1 is now fascinated by Maria Callas – from her horrifying childhood to her miserable love life with all her talent woven through.

If you have a Bluetooth speaker you can leave the kids listening to an episode as they go to sleep.

My Year In Mensa by Jamie Loftus is a roller-coaster ride. Jamie took the Mensa admission test for a satirical article. Imagine her surprise when she actually got in. No, really, imagine it. Well, you don’t have to as she’ll describe it in her personable, sing song tones.

The story could be one dimensional but she dives into the problems with IQ testing, eugenics, death threats, the presence of the alt-right in Mensa and a whole lot more.

Let’s just say that you’ll see your favourite nerdy expert on anything with new eyes after listening.

My Dad Wrote A Porno is very popular with my running group. No, I don’t run very often – I just made good friends with people and I don’t want to lose touch. Hopefully none of them will read this.

Anyway, Jamie Morton’s dad wrote some ‘erotica’. Most of us, in this position, would just shudder and pray we forget. Jamie didn’t. Instead he made a podcast where he and his friends bring his father’s literary offerings to life.

I still don’t know why…or how. Anyway, he did it and still manages to eat Sunday lunch with his parents. That’s healthy in a very European kind of way, I guess.

It’s also very funny. Awkward – but funny.

The Daily from The New York Times is excellent. A half hour podcast every single day takes a good dive into that day’s most pressing story in the US news.

It can feel a little bit voyeuristic to watch our ‘cousins in foreign policy’ being picked apart – but who doesn’t enjoy bitching about awkward relatives?

You don’t? You’re a good person. I’ll stick by you for the good example you offer…

Anyway, it’s relatively accessible listening on hard topics.

The Missing Cryptoqueen was broadcast by the BBC originally. It’s the legend, if you will, of Dr Ruja Ignatova…

If you like tales of elaborate criminal enterprises, confidence tricksters and a little bit of glamour, it’s all here. But this podcast looks deeper. The dirty underbelly of any successful Ponzi scheme is greed – on every side. Here we see greed, deceit and a very unattractive herd momentum – yes, the type we all consider ourselves able to resist.

It turns out that we’re probably not and it’s an unsettling lesson to learn. Don’t let that put you off, though. It’s only a very little part of a much bigger, more entertaining tale.

You can’t do a post about podcasts without including a true crime option.

I’m going to declare an interest here – Our True Crime Podcast is produced, researched and hosted by one of my friends and her friend.

Jen and Cam are funny, gossipy and sound like you and your friend as they narrate the facts of each crime and then inspect the evidence, dissect police work and discuss the various narratives offered by the parties involved in the stories.

I said they sound like you and your friend. To be honest, if I were your friend, that wouldn’t be true. They’re far better at considering the impact of crime on the people concerned and they’re always careful not to go for the jugular – so to speak.

Jen is a wonderful friend. I’d ask her for advice on anything and everything in a heartbeat if I was stuck. She’s just as wise and sensible as she steers the listener through her podcast episodes.

My last suggestion for this post is not even slightly funny. Or lighthearted. In Caliphate Rukmini Callimachi tries to make sense of ISIS. It comes with trigger warnings – it’s peppered with disturbing language and images of graphic violence.

However, if you can get past that, it’s a valuable dissection of a world that is beyond the powers of comprehension for most of us. It’s meaty. Don’t listen in bed – your brain may surrender.

I hope you find something in this list that peaks your interest.

Editor’s note: all links to podcasts open in Spotify. However, they are all available through other podcast services as well.

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