Surviving the 'Rona

Surviving Coronavirus: Podcast edition

Welcome to the latest in my occasional series of things that have been helping me through the Quarantimes. I listen to a lot of podcasts, even in normal times, because I do a lot of walking as part of my commute and I like to have something to listen to. But they’re mostly topical news and politics podcasts, and you don’t need my recommendations for that. I’ve always had some podcasts that I *only* listen to while I’m running – because it gives me an incentive to run to hear the next part – but during the various lockdowns, this has expanded so I have some podcasts that I’m only allowed to listen to while I’m out walking and getting some exercise. And now, even though lockdowns are easing, I’ve moved jobs so I’m working from home rather than in the office, so having a reason to go out and exercise is really useful! So that’s the list I’ve drawn these recommendations from – stuff that’s so good that it’s worth leaving the house to listen to! All of these are available to listen to for free – and although there are premium options available for some, the series are all complete so there’s no waiting to binge.

Unfinished: Short Creek

The second series of Witness Doc’s Unfinished podcast focused on the town of Short Creek, on the Arizona/Utah border, which is also divided by religion. It was the epicentre of the branch of the fundamentalist Mormon sect led by Warren Jeffs and the residents are a mix of FLS members – and ex-members. It’s the story of how the current situation came about – the history of the group and the circumstances surrounding Jeffs’ conviction and imprisonment for sex crimes but it’s also an examination of Freedom of Religion and freedom from religion. There are 10 parts available (and a bonus AMA) available without a premium subscription, and I found it fascinating. And not just because I read a lot of early Mommy bloggers who were Mormon and have watched a fair few episodes of Sister Wives. You may have seen Under The Banner of Heaven on my reading list the other week  – and Short Creek features in that too, but that book has a different focus – and is also more than a decade old now. But if you’ve read that – you’ll probably like this. More info about Unfinished here. And if you like this and enjoy it, then my next stop was Heaven’s Gate – another series about a cult, this time one that ended in a mass suicide. And just this week, Wondery have dropped a trailer for a new series about Jerry Falwell Jr called In God We Lust which is going to be next on my list to listen to.

Wind of Change

From Crooked Media (a group of ex-Obama staffers who started a media company, you may know them from Pod Save America) and Pineapple Street Studios (the company who produced Ronan Farrow’s Catch and Kill podcast), this is an investigation into whether the CIA had a hand in writing the Scorpions’ song ‘Wind of Change’ which became an anthem across Eastern Europe just after the fall of the Berlin Wall. It’s got music history and spying but it also says a lot about how America used its culture to spread power, and how Western culture got behind the Iron Curtain. If you like spy thrillers and John Le Carre, this should be on your playlist. I listened to most of this podcast while plodding around my local park in 30+ degree heat back in summer 2020, which feels like so long ago now, but it says a lot about how engrossed I was in it that I was prepared to turn out for a run in a heatwave so that I could keep listening to it! And it’s just been nominated for a Webby Award as well. More info here.

Boom/Bust  

Logo of Boom/Bust

This one is firmly in the spectacular business failures section of my wheelhouse – see also Bad Blood and Billion Dollar Loser – Boom/Bust, as the logo suggests covers what on earth happened to HQ Trivia which was briefly the hottest thing in mobile gaming and allegedly the future of TV. If you didn’t come across it at the time, it was a live trivia game with big money prizes. For a few weeks (maybe months) here in the UK I’d see some of my coworkers on the late shift logging on to their phones to try and win some money. But as quickly as it started, it was over and this podcast from the Ringer looks at what happened and why. The story is actually somewhat longer than I expected – because it was around for longer in the US – but it’s another story of The Next Great Idea – where it got massively popular without a sense of how to sustain it long term. Find out more here.

Bunga Bunga

Logo of Bunga Bunga

So if you’re my sort of age, Silvio Berlusconi was a fixture of European and world political life for a long time. In fact, my first foreign trip was to Italy to see relatives right at the time his first successful election campaign was in its closing stages – I remember seeing the Forza Italia song on the evening news while we were there. And I knew it had been a hell of a story since that 1994 election win through to the Bunga Bunga party scandal that saw him eventually banned from holding public office. But as Wondery’s Bunga Bunga  demonstrates, it’s actually even wilder than you could imagine. Even if you’re not that into politics, the story of how the child of a middle class bank employee and a housewife became first a media mogul and then one of the most important figures in modern Italian politics is a fascinating one even before the many controversies and scandals that came along the way. You can find more info (and a trailer) here.

What am I listening to next? Well I’ve already mentioned In God We Lust, but that only has the trailer out so far, so I’ll have to wait for that. I’m also looking at Spy Affair (about Maria Butina) and The Lazarus Heist (about North Korean hacking) but again neither of those series are complete yet so I’m still looking for my next series binge. If you have any recommendations please put them in the comments – nothing too violent though please. In the mean time there are a few new episodes of Real Dictators that have been dropping over the last few weeks- but I’m not sure I’m in the right headspace to listen to five (so far) episodes about Hitler. I’ve listened to previous episodes while running and find that the awfulness makes me run faster – I think I’m trying to get away from it (this also happened when I tried listening to Simon Sebag Montefiore’s biography of the Romanovs. So much death, so much torture, so very gruesome). I’m also a few episodes behind in Greg Jenner‘s latest series of You’re Dead to Me but laughing while running is not the best idea for me.

And as a final note, my original “only listen to it while you’re running” podcast was Hit Parade from Slate – which is a examination of Billboard chart music trends. It looks at why some songs become mega hits and how some artists (or music types) came to dominate the airwaves. Early in the pandemic they moved the whole podcast behind the Slate plus paywall and I love it so much that I joined up just so I could keep listening to it. As the situation with coronavirus has changed, it’s rememerged slightly – so there is one full episode every month which everyone can get (although non-subscribers get it as two parts with a couple of week gap in between) and a bonus episode for Slate plus subscribers. The latest episode is about Taylor Swift – although with the news in the last 24 hours about the death of Jim Steinman their October episode is all about his career in music and would make a great listen instead of reading an obit, but it’s one of those podcasts where you can go back to the beginning (an episode about the Beatles) and just work the whole way through. I did. It might change your views on some groups (I’m a lot more pro BeeGees than I used to be) or it might not (I still hate hair metal, but so does the host so it’s fine) but you’ll learn a tonne of stuff.  

Happy Listening!

Surviving the 'Rona

Surviving Coronavirus: The TV Edition

It’s been a few months since I posted one of these, but given that the days are all blurring into one again with the sameness and we’re back in lockdown here, I thought I’d drop in another set of recommendations for things to do to survive the Coronavirus. Today: it’s TV. There’s not necessarily a bookish link to all of these – they’re just things that I’ve liked – and so if you enjoy the sort of books that I write about, you might want to check out.

Call My Agent (Dix Pour Cent) – Netflix

And this first recommendation is the reason that I’m posting this this week – because the fourth and final series drops on Netflix today (Thursday). Call My Agent is a French TV series about a talent agency and their stars. The French title – dix pour cent – refers to the ten percent commission that agents take from their clients. Each episode has a different French actor or personality playing themself with a fresh drama to solve, but the heart of the series are the agents – Andrea, Gabriel, Mattias and Arlette (and her dog Jean Gabin) who almost cause themselves as many problems as they solve (see Andrea’s affair with the woman from the tax authorities) and their assistants Noemie, Hervé and Camille. It’s funny, but it’s not a sitcom. It’s a drama, but the stakes aren’t life or death or traumatic. It’s just a rollicking good journey through the world of celebrity. I can’t wait to see what the final series has in store for the gang – and how it all ends.

Staged (BBC iPlayer)

The first series of this (which the clip above is from) was out in Lockdown one – and now they’re back with a second. David Tennant and Michael Sheen basically bicker over zoom for 20 minutes as they try to rehearse a play. Oh and it has great cameos. Series two is on the iPlayer now, I’ve only watched the first episode so far (because of getting all caught up on Call My Agent before the new series) but it seems to be picking up where it left off, but even more meta! I know some people find this just too theatre-luvvie and in jokey, but I’m a theatre nerd who is missing going to see shows so much so I guess I’m smack bang in the target audience. The episodes are short so it’s a nice bite sized watch. The only problem is that it may be over too soon.

Bones (Amazon Prime)

 

From one extreme to another – if Staged might be over too quickly, there are 12 whole series of Bones, adding up to nearly 250 episodes. I started watching this in September, after catching a couple of episodes on a tv channel and getting a little bit sucked in – probably due to my teen crush on Boreanz’s Angel on Buffy. Initially i was watching it while Him Indoors was doing other things. Then he got hooked and insisted that I didn’t watch without him. We’re now midway through the final season – as it’s one of those shows where it’s really easy just to have it on running episodes back to back for a whole evening. It’s a comedy drama crime procedural – Bones is Temperance Brennan (Emily Deschanel) a forensic anthropologist and she gets paired up with FBI agent Seeley Booth to help him solve murders. As with all these things you need to not think too hard about whether any of this could actually happen – especially when it comes to investigating cases that they have a personal interest in, but it makes me laugh and although there are a lot of gross looking bodies around, it manages not to be too gory or too far down the psychological thriller end of things. It does go overboard sometimes – the episodes where Booth and Brennan go undercover as Buck and Wanda Moosejaw make my teeth itch – but the unresolved sexual tension in the first half of the show’s run is *really* good.

Pride and Prejudice (BBC, but available on Netflix)

And an old favourite to finish: I’m not sure that there’s anyone out there who hasn’t heard of the Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle Pride and Prejudice adaptation. I’ve watched it umpteen times over the years – when it first came out, then we owned it on video, I think at one point both my sister and I had it on DVD and if I happened across it on TV (UKTV Drama used to reshow it fairly regularly) then I would stop to watch. For me, it’s one of the ultimate comfort watches. I’ve already watched it twice through since Coronavirus started and Lizzy is about to read her letter from Jane about Lydia on my third watch through. The BBC showed it again earlier in lockdown (I think as part of the educational offer) which I recorded on the TiVo and means I can keep it handy. It’s also on Netflix – but it’s a *really* grotty print – it’s grainy 4:3 and the one I’ve got recorded looks much better, even if they’ve zoomed in on it to make it 16:9.

I’ve been back to a few of my other old favourites too – Miss Marple, Inspector Alleyn but you already know all about my love of those and one of my guilty favourites – Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders: Making the Team which is currently being repeated on ITVBe and should be everything that I hate, but I somehow love. I have a whole series sitting on the box waiting for Little Sis to return from China so we can have a sleepover and watch it together. It’s that sort of TV.

Anyway, if you’ve got any recommendations for me, pop them in the comments, otherwise – stay safe!

book adjacent, Recommendsday

#Recommendsday: Book-adjacent stuff to watch

I’ve mentioned before that I’ve been having some problems concentrating on books at various points during the Current Situation, so I’ve been watching a lot of TV in those concentration lapses. As I watch news all day every day at work, I don’t watch news on my off days, and tend to favour non-news TV. I thought today I’d mention some of the bookish things that I have watched, along with all the Drag Race, Tiger King, My Lottery Dream Home and Great British Menu.

Peggy Guggenheim: Art Addict

A couple of years back I read Judith Mackerell’s The Unfinished Palazzo, about a house in Venice that was owned by Luisa Casati, Doris Castelrosse and Peggy Guggenheim. When I wrote about the book in my Rich People Problems nonfiction post last year, I said I would happily read more about any of them, which is true, but Peggy is the one I ws really curious about. So imagine my delight when I found a feature length documentary about her on BBC Four the other week.  And it turns out, she’s just as interesting as I thought she would be – and possibly as much of a nightmare to be around as I suspected too.  I am still definitely in the market for a good book about her – but this was a very good watch.  Peggy Guggenheim: Art Addict is available to watch for people in the UK (with a TV licence) on the BBC iPlayer for another nine days.

Becoming Michelle Obama

Michelle Obama’s memoir was huuuuuge when it came out – huge to the point were a year on it’s still not out in paperback and there’s still a hold queue for it at my library. Now Netflix has a new documentary that follows her on the tour she did to promote the book, which saw her talking to huge arenas and small groups. If you haven’t read the book (and I haven’t yet) it is a really good insight into her life and her story. I assume if you have read the book, it does the same but even more so! It’s got bonus appearances from Barack Obama, and for the news junkies like me you get to see behind the scenes of some of the TV interviews you may have seen her (and her mum) do at the time of the booklaunch. This one’s on Netflix now.

Wise Children

There’s a lot of theatre that has been on YouTube or TV during the lockdown, but this has been one of the most interesting to me. This is an adaptation of Angela Carters book about two ageing music hall stars, the unacknowledged daughters of the most famous Shakespearian actor of the day. I read the book two years ago, and while it is very good it didn’t really strike me as a show that would be easily adapted for the stage – despite the fact that it is about the theatre. But Emma Rice has done it and now we can all watch. I haven’t got to the end of this yet, but I’m really enjoying as much of it as I have watched. Wise Children is available to watch for people in the UK (with a TV licence) on BBC iPlayer until at least the start of June.

Howl’s Moving Castle

I read the book the other year, but I saw the film first and it has a special place in my heart because of that. All of the Studio Ghibli stuff is available on Netflix now, so if you haven’t seen them already, now is your chance. I’m planning on watching it again – but this time with subtitles instead of the English language dub.

Voila – a few ideas from me. Please put any suggestions you have for me in the comments – I will run out of Drag race soon…

Happy Watching!

 

tribute

VE Day 75

So today marks 75 years since VE Day and the end of the Second World War in Europe. The world is upside down at the moment, and although we have a bank holiday here in the UK today plans for big events to celebrate this have been shelved, for obvious reasons. This morning I was hanging out of the attic window trying to spot the Red Arrows flying over on their way home after their central London flyover and then I watched (and observed) the two minute silence at 11 am.

I was going to write a post full of World War Two reading recommendations for today, but it didn’t really feel right. Instead, I want to ask you to be kind to yourself, to your family and to your friends; and to take a bit of time if you can to remember all the people who served or contributed to the war effort. I have been thinking mostly about my grandfathers today, and I wanted to share a bit about them with you.

Black and white photo of Douglas Ward in army uniformThis first photo is my Grandpa on my mum’s side, Douglas Ward. He was in the Royal Engineers, worked on the railways (including on the Hush Hush train and on the Mallard) and helped build components for the Mullberry harbour that towed across the Channel to Arromanches, then he landed on the beaches on D Day and went on across Europe to Hamburg where he worked on boats at the docks. Mum still has his army book because he was never properly demobbed. It shows if he hadn’t been released for essential work – to go back and take over as chief engineer at the factory he worked in pre-war – he would have been posted to the Far East. He went on to be the chief engineer at a number of shoe factories in Northampton. We lived next door to him and my grandma for most of my childhood (my parents live in my grandparents house now) and he hardly ever talked about the war. But he was very proud of being a Royal Engineer and the skills that he learned.

Photo of RAF service ment

Crouching down in the middle of this photo is my other grandad, Ivor Wilde. I know even less about what he was up to during the war because he died when I was a baby. But I do know that he was in the RAF and served in India. The photo below is of him and my granny. They got married during the war, and my dad’s older sister was born in 1946. My grandad went on to be a farmer, stand as a candidate to be an Member of Parliament and eventually set up a fencing company which is still in the family today. I wish he’d been around a bit longer for me to get to know him the way that I knew my other grandpa.

Photo of my grandad with my granny during the war

Thank you for taking the time to read this. I hope everyone is enjoying the bank holiday. Stay safe and happy reading.

 

 

The pile

Moving House

So what I haven’t been talking about on the blog is that alongside all the work and the reading, we’ve also been in the process of buying a new house and selling our current one. It’s all been a bit stressful and not just because I’ve been trying to rationalise the books that are going with me. I can see the most stressful weeks in my reading – lots of romances and mysteries where a resolution is guaranteed and I don’t have to concentrate too hard.

By the time this publishes, we will have the keys to the new place and will be in the midst of trying to unpack the multitude of boxes and reassemble everything.  In the run up to the move I’ve done another rationalisation of the to-read bookshelf – that’s what the 50 pages and out rounds were about – and so my local charity shops have been the beneficiaries of a good stack of books.

And what have I learned through this?  Well firstly I need to think hard about saving books by my favourite authors.  Because my tastes change – and saving books doesn’t always work out for me.  A few of the books that got the boot were books by authors who I have previously loved and that now just didn’t grab me.  Some of them had been sitting on the shelves for a while, waiting for me to decide that I needed to treat myself to a good book.  If I’d read them at the time, I might have enjoyed them and now… not so much.

And I need to be better at knowing what I’m going to read.  There was a lot of literary fiction on that shelf that I’d picked up from the magic shelf at work because it sounded appealing – but that I’d never read because there was always something more amusing – or at the least lighter – to read. and so they just sit their on the shelves waiting for me to get around to it.  And it seems that that day probably isn’t going to happen – I’m going to continue to acquire more books – and books that I’d rather read ahead of the worthy literary fiction.  Why kid myself.

The good thing is that the new house has more space for bookshelves – but it’s also a chance for new resolutions – to be realistic about what I’m going to read and try not to hoard accordingly.  Wish me luck!

tribute

Not a Book: Doris Day

You may not know this about me, but my all time favourite five films are probably Pillow Talk, Some Like It Hot, The Philadelphia Story, Mary Poppins and The Parent Trap (the Haley Mills one).  And once you get over the fact that all my favourite films are more than 50 years old, you’ve probably figured out that the death of Doris Day left me feeling quite sad this week.  Actually, my favourite films also shadow my reading tastes in many ways, so maybe you’re not so surprised after all.

In case you’ve never seen it, Pillow Talk is the story of an interior decorator who’s feuding with the playboy she shares a party line with.  He finds out what she looks like, decides he likes the look of her and adopts a fake persona to try and get in her pants.  Of course he falls in love but she’s less pleased when she finds out who he really is.  Yes, by modern standards, there are a few issues – how well does she actually know him when they get their happily ever after considering he’s been playing her – but if we were to turn it into romance tropes, it’s an enemies to lovers, reformed rake, love triangle, sassy confident heroine thing.  And whoo boy is that a whole lot of some of my favourite tropes.  Here’s the trailer – which is very, very retro…

Pillow Talk got Doris her only Oscar nomination, but she was the top female box office start of the late fifties and early sixties and she deserved more.   I’ve seen pretty much the whole of the Doris Day film canon – I had a Lovefilm rental subscription in my final year of uni and used it wisely – and as the best of the obituaries have been trying to point out, she was more than “just” Hollywood’s favourite girl next door.  Everyone has heard of Calamity Jane – and she is brilliant in it – but she’s also fabulous in Hitchcock’s The Man Who Knew Too Much.

 

Yes she got stuck in a type – the second Rock Hudson sex comedy, Lover Come Back, isn’t as good as Pillow Talk – and is even more dubious by modern standards as he gets her knocked up while in a false persona – but it’s still got a few laughs and hey, it was daring for the time and got an Oscar Best Screenplay nod (Pillow Talk won that Oscar).  And it’s the law of diminishing returns because Send Me No Flowers – the third and final Rock n Doris – isn’t as good as Lover Come Back, although are some nice farcical moments there.

Move Over Darling has it’s moments – with Doris playing a wife back from the dead after a plane crash and trying to win her husband James Garner back from his new fiancee.  I prefer it to her first film with Garner, The Thrill of It All, but that has its moments too, as well as highlighting the repetitive formula of Hollywood at the time – got a success?  Repeat it with the same actors and a slightly different premise.  On the musicals from, as well as Calamity Jane, Doris gets to be fabulous in the Pajama Game, but all the prints I’ve seen of it have been terrible, so I’m giving you the Calamity Jane trailer instead.

 

 

Calamity Jane was my first introduction to Doris back when I was really young, but as a teen in the late 1990s, early 2000s, I loved romantic comedies.  And when I first saw Pillow Talk, back in those teenage years, it was my introduction to the films of the past that had got us to the modern films that I loved.  It started me down the rabbit hole that lead me to Katherine Hepburn’s screwball comedies and all the rest.  There’s been a bit of a dearth of romantic comedies of that type in the last few years, so imagine how much I was cheered up at the end of the week when this trailer for Netflix’s Always Be My Maybe dropped.  And I’ll leave you on that optimistic note.