I heard this wonderful piece of music courtesy of Jessie Buckley on the podcast “What I love” presented by theatre director Ian Rickson on a recommendation by a future Unknown Pleasures by Phil Adams. It’s a truly great podcast and this song is the sort of treasure you can find on it.
This is the state ensemble and the Choir of Sameba Trinity Church in Tbilisi, Georgia. “Basiani” – is the name of this beautiful group and this is Christmas Carol (Nativity of Christ) – “Alilo of The dawn” (“Tsiskris Alilo”) by Vakhtang Kakhidze. The word- Alilo ( probably derived from- alleluia ) is connected to Nativity of Christ, traditionally Georgians used this word to greet and rejoice in the Christmas of one another. The song starts with words- “On December 25th, Alilo, Christ has born in Bethlehem, Alilo. The Choir of Angels are chanting, Alilo – Jesus was born, Alilo. The martyred Lord’s Hand will ring the bells of the dawn, rejoice, rejoice, Angels are chanting – Alilo of the dawn!” And then at the end it repeats- Jesus was born!
You might have been beginning to think that my Unknown Pleasures series was simply an old boys club of dusty memories. But you’d be wrong. It’s just that the female contributors I’ve invited to this have been, shall we just say, tardy, in their responses.
But I’m delighted to bring you the first of these, that of Lisl MacDonald.
Lisl’s quite a new pal actually. We came together through the Marketing Society and she was my choice to replace me as Chair of The Nods when I had to step down due to a conflict of interest when I joined Whitespace.
Our friendship has grown through marketing and music, but I’ve also been very aware of her vast appetite for everything cultural and I feel we are in for the long haul as we both near our later years. That’s if she stays in Scotland, because she has many interests in Asia and is more often than not found there.
Lisl has impeccable musical taste but her many performances in my lockdown music quiz ranged from inept to innocuous. But her humour and acerbic wit made her a welcome competitor. (I use the word competitor in the loosest possible term, I mean Brora Rangers are “competitors” in the Scottish Cup but they’ll never actually win any matches.)
Anyway, here’s the views of the lass fae Rothesay. I have to say, it is exquisitely composed (although she couldn’t spell cornet).
My favourite author or book
If I can redefine this as “books I have read more than twice”, then Memoirs of Hadrian by Marguerite Yourcenar, To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee, and Lanark by Alasdair Gray. These three books impart really important lessons about life, love, sex, war, racism, inequality, creativity, courage, and many more things besides. As they are so well written, you enjoy them first as a great read then realise afterwards that they were instructive.
The book I’m reading
I’ve just started Kitchenly 434, the new Alan Warner. Only on page 10 but looking very good so far!
The book I wish I had written
Candide, by Voltaire. Smart, tragic, hilarious, genius.
The book I couldn’t finish
Never managed to get far with Ulysses, James Joyce. I’ve tried three or four times then stopped, put the book down and gone and done something interesting instead.
The book I’m ashamed I haven’t read
The Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith. Read bits of it.
My favourite film
It was Aronofsky’s debut in 1998 when he had no budget and loads of ideas. Firstly, it has one of the best soundtracks you’ve never heard and includes Aphex Twin, Autechre, Roni Size, and Clint Mansell. So it sounds great. Secondly, it is filmed on high-contrast black and white reversal film. So it looks great. Finally, it’s about a mad number theorist trying to find connection and order in the world through mathematics. So it’s a crazy but satisfying journey. It feels even more relevant today and I would love to see it on the stage.
My favourite play
Is it a cliché to say King Lear? We studied it at school and I’ve seen it staged in so many places, so many ways. It’s a credit to the creativity of all the artists involved in theatre around the world that you can take one old text and keep bring it to life in new ways which keep it relevant and feel fresh.
My favourite podcast
I have two. Trashy Divorces, which combines social history with trashy gossip of the highest order. And Backlisted, which has brilliant hosts, fabulous guests, and always costs me a fortune as I buy the books they discuss and refer to. It’s a real book lovers thrill.
The box set I’m hooked on
Currently the French spy series The Bureau. It’s making me suspicious of everyone’s motives…why are you asking me these questions Mark?
My favourite TV series
I’ve been all about RuPauls Drag Race for quite a long time now. The camp, bitchy, positive, supportive, colourful JOY of it.
My favourite piece of music
John Tavener’s, The Lamb. Unaccompanied voices. Written as a lullaby for his nephew and inspired by William Blake. Exquisite.
My favourite dance performance
The Rite of Spring, a Pina Bausch work. Can’t remember where we saw it but my husband and I still talk about it. Closely followed by whatever Benjamin Millepied is doing, we’ve seen his work a couple of times in Paris and its always engrossing.
The Last film/music/book that made me cry
It was a few nights ago. I have chronic insomnia and often listen to music while I should be sleeping. A relaxing mix was on random play, and Max Richter’s Maria The Poet (1913) came on. The tears flowed.
Music truly is a drug. Beware of the set and setting in which it is consumed! This composition usually makes me feel hopeful. At 3am, with the rain pattering the window, and after a day of hearing news of corrupt Westminster politicians, attacks on women being normalised , genocide, climate disaster…well, I crumbled.
It was cathartic though.
The lyric I wish I’d written
They were written by T Rapp but made famous by This Mortal Coil. They contain all the wisdom of the ages:
The jeweller has a shop on the corner of the boulevard.
In the night, in small spectacles, he polishes old coins.
He uses spit and cloths and ashes.
He makes them shine with ashes.
The coins are often very old by the time they reach the jeweller.
With his hand and ashes he will do the best he can.
He knows that he can only shine them, cannot repair the scratches.
He knows that even new coins have scars so he just smiles.
In the darkest of the night. Both his hands will blister badly.
They will often open painfully and the blood flows from his hands.
He works to take from black coin faces, the thumb prints from so many ages.
He wishes he could cure the scars.
When he forgets he sometimes cries.
He knows the use of ashes.
He worships God with ashes.
The song that saved me
Slippery People, Talking Heads. It whispered to a young lassie on the Isle of Bute that it was OK to be a bit crazy. Preferable, even. Its my hymn, my anthem, my rallying cry.
The instrument I play
I’ve always read music as my family are all musical. So it went: recorder, violin, oboe, cornet. I violated the violin with scratching bows, obliterated the oboe with shrill reeds, but really enjoyed playing cornet in a swing band. Haven’t picked one up for decades though.
The instrument I wish I’d learned
Piano. It’s on the list to learn.
If I could own one painting it would be
Woman With a Book, Picasso. It’s a reasonable likeness! I love that it is both vivid and still. It shows me that reading is an act of quiet solitude which can also be subversive, erotic and exciting. Mostly, I just like looking at it and it never bores me. And isn’t that the real criteria for putting something constantly in your line of sight?
The music that cheers me up
Honestly,? Music that takes me back to a happy time works. So Gil Scott Heron, Prince, The Pixies,and some old scool house, techno and hip hop gets me up off my chair, and feeling that same vibe from back in the day. If only my body felt the same…
The place I feel happiest
Anywhere I am by or on the sea. I grew up on the Isle of Bute, scuba dive and am a qualified yacht skipper. Sailing connects us as humans with all those communities of old who found ways to build boats, navigate, and handle the sea in all its moods. And its environmentally friendly.
My guiltiest cultural pleasure
The podcast Dear Joan and Jericha. Outrageous.
I’m having a fantasy dinner party, I’ll invite these artists and authors
David Byrne (my muse), Voltaire, Robert Burns, Maya Angelou, Kim Gordon, Ian Dury, Alan Cumming, Michele Obama.
And I’ll put on this music
Ron Carter, Stockholm Volume 1.
If you enjoyed that there are a bunch more to read. Try these:
Milbury, a fictitious town in England, is the home of a bunch of ancient stones that encircle the community and have strange intoxicating powers that render the townsfolk strangely happy and a bit out of it.
Moving there in the wake of the death of the family matriarch, father and daughter Adam and Mia are both involved in their study. Dad as a professional Archeometrist, daughter as a grumpy teenage podcaster.
Mia, in the central role is played by Worzel Gummidge actress India Brown and she rules the roost with a fine performance.
It’s a tight, short two and a half hour yarn that brings a mix of sci-fi and semi-religious mumbo jumbo into play.
It feels a bit young adult in nature but is well put together and an entertaining romp.
Reece Shearsmith plays a crazed scientist who wants to take over the world and adds his usual stamp of maniacal over the topness.
It was a 1977 TV series apparently, although I missed it at the time, and is brought deftly up to date by the accomplished dialogue of scriptwriting team of AK Benedict and Guy Adams.
Presented by BBC Radio 4 and BaffleGab it’s well worthy of your time.
For fans of Homecoming this might be the drama you’ve been waiting for.
It follows a similar dramatic technique involving many phone calls and scene shifts without plodding narrative to take you from place to place and is produced and edited with such dexterity that it cracks along at a multo rapido pace.
The story concerns the disappearance of Atlantic Flight 702 somewhere between London and New York and the introduction of this (and all eight) episodes uses a mix of real and recorded newsreader outputs, underscored by a quite superb music theme, to set up the episode that follows.
At first we think the reason for the flight’s failure is down to a bird strike. But our central character, Kaitlin Le a Vietnamese-American college student, who has lost her brother on the flight is suspicious of the official reports, so she gradually falls into a private investigation that sets out to discover the truth.
In this respect it gets a little far-fetched in that Kaitlin Le gains access to so many high powered Govt, educational and security contacts (including Homeland Security and the FBI) that it stretches credibility a tad. But if you can put that down to storytelling licence you’ll be in for a treat.
The initial tragedy becomes a conspiracy on many levels, many of which overlap – but maybe none, or all, of them are true.
It’s really great work by Radiotopia and Kelly Marie Tran who, in the lead role, is an accomplished actor that overcomes the preposterous premise of her sleuthing skills (and budget it has to be said) to drive the story forward with real energy.
I’ll not spoil it for you by revealing where the narrative takes us, but suffice to say it’s a gripping yarn, brilliantly written and researched that will keep you guessing right to the end.
Along with Matt Forde’s the Political Party, this is my favourite political podcast but I have tired of his recent direction so felt it was time to reach out to Steve and beg respite from his failings.
I share my correspondence. Perhaps he will reply.
I write to you with compliment and critique combined.
Of course it is the former that trumps the latter because we both know good always triumphs.
This week’s podcast about Prime Ministers and Chancellors was a very fine return to form in my view and, I confess, I was wavering in my subscription to your wonderful podcast, because what I most admire about your work is when you set sail from the off on a subject and unleash your acutely observed opinions.
What I have tired of in recent months is a) the democratisation of listeners’ questions over your own POV and b) the banal stories of what they do whilst listening to you that both eats up valuable time and is, frankly, boring.
So this week you got back to your core strength and nary an ironing or jogging story was given the oxygen of publicity.
Please, please, I beg of you, make this a Damascan moment and stride purposefully towards the truth.
(For the record I walk through the surroundings of beautiful South Queensferry, in the lee of the Forth Bridge, when listening weekly to your epic transmissions.)
Another cracker from the BBC (and Frontline PBS) narrated superbly by brave and intrepid journalist Josh Baker who surely puts himself at risk as he ventures in and out of Syria for both this Syria and his journalistic day job.
It tells the story of a perhaps radicalised hometown queen American Samantha Sally by her Islamic husband, Moussa Elhassani.
I say perhaps because it’s not clear from the off whether Samantha’s coercion by her husband into the depth of Daesh territory, indeed into the Caliphate is willing or otherwise.
Her two children, especially son Matthew, become poster kids for ISIS as they are forced to make anti-American propaganda films.
The story is complicated and the layers of truths, half truths and lies are difficult to disentangle but this is what makes for such compelling listening.
It’s brilliantly told by Baker and is terrifying in what it reveals, true or otherwise because whether Samantha Sally’s story is true or not, others’ like her surely are.
Gripping and superbly produced this one is well worth the long listen.
It’s not really a podcast. I listened to it on Spotify.
The recording is of the 1954 BBC Radio drama starring Richard Burton as the narrator.
You’d think Milk Wood would be the name of the location, I did, but it’s actually a Welsh village called Llareggub (Bugger All backwards) and my take is that Milk Wood is a Metaphor for some kind of heaven.
Is it a poem? Sort of.
Is it a play? Sort of.
What it most surely is, is a masterpiece of thrilling fiction, recorded a bit shakily it has to be said, but this only adds to its charm.
Burton’s opening, rollicking introduction is pure poetry as he sets the scene for a village that surely inspired The League of Gentlemen, populated as it is by a bunch of misfits, gossips, fornicators, hussies, murderous plotters and quite mad, offbeat characters like Morgan Organ the obsessive church organist and a would-be poisoner of his henpecking wife.
The character names are wonderful: Nogood Boyo, Polly Garter, Lily Smalls, Dai Bread (the baker), Sinbad Sailor, Willy Nilly Postman (the, errr, postman), Mae Rose Cottage, Lord Cut Glass and Bessie Bighead (amongst others).
It tells the story of a long, but ordinary, day in the life of the village where everyone knows everyone else’s business, or think they do, and dreams meld into reality.
It’s thrilling, beautifully rendered and at times hilarious.
Although nearly 70 years old it’s as fresh as a daisy and with Burton in his pomp this is surely the seminal rendition of a classic that I urge you to tune into.
I’m not even going to mention the obvious subject as it’s affected us all in different ways, other than to say my list of theatre and cinema highlights is extremely short and has been replaced by TV and podcasts.
One of the highlights was moving from self employed to employed status after 15 years.
Things were looking uncertain until an unlikely opportunity arose with Whitespace, a company I have been involved with, one way or another since its inception 25 or so years ago as a subsidiary of 1576. Finally I can wholly lay claim to the title of being a ‘Whitespacer’ as a Strategy Director. It’s been immense having worked on not one, but two, global cosmetics brands, a global pitch for a motor company and a series of successful pitches and client engagements including a huge Oil and Gas start up, a home builder, the new www.netzeronation.scot website, Business Gateway, the Port of Leith Housing Association rebrand, a University, an online learning business, a charity and a lovely tech start up in pharma. Stimulating, all of them.
Sadly my time with Front Page came to an end after a long and happy relationship, it still is. And I’ve worked throughout with another long term client in the wonderful Nexus 24.
The experiment with The Marketing Centre proved to be unsatisfying in the end but I gave it my best shot and they are good guys.
I’m grateful to them all for their support, friendship and income.
Two more relationships came to an end, after 10 years I stood down as Chair of FCT and simultaneously my nine years as Chair of Creative Edinburgh came to a happy conclusion. Both were my choice and I wish both of them well in the future.
But my role as Scottish Chair of NABS remained deeply satisfying and we ran a tremendous National Music Quiz and Art Auction plus the 15th Scottish music quiz, all going online for the first time, and resulting in a record year of income for NABS. A great result driven by an amazing voluntary team in Scotland. Special thanks has to go to Anna Kormos and to Marian in Manchester for their huge contributions.
My Mum’s dementia (Alzheimer’s) has worsened steadily and in August we took the inevitable decision to put her into a care home. It’s been a great decision because the staff at Northcare Suites (100 Telford Road) have been superb. It’s the lap of luxury and although she remains terribly confused, and visits have been strictly limited, she has settled in well and is in good overall health otherwise.
Amy continues to amaze us with her tenacity, creativity, drive and ambition and she started not one, but two, new businesses this year. One in Health and Nutrition (https://www.amygormanhealthnutrition.co.uk) which has seen her build a solid portfolio of clients and a part time role at The Foundry in London, the other as a freelance fundraiser where she has enjoyed great success with at least four clients this year. All the more incredible because she left CAFOD to go it alone in February just as the unmentionable struck. She is awesome.
Ria and Tom both worked at Amazon over the summer. The job from hell. But Tom, in particular, immersed himself in it so hard (60 hour night shift weeks) that he saved enough to escape the UK and move to Whistler in Canada for the next two years. It was brilliant having them and Keir with us all summer and we miss them terribly.
Of course Ria skooshed her first year in Dentistry at Dundee and is back there, living with Keir in Perth where he has an interesting job at a whisky auctioneers. She’s working like a trojan and filling us with pride. All three of them are.
This gave Jeana the opportunity to reignite her homemaking career which she revelled in (but I’ve/we’ve missed our steady procession of AirBnB guests, her second career, that we grew to love so much). Next year maybe.
She started a new career and excelled, as a baker! Brilliant lockdown sourdough and maybe even better fruit bread. Both to die for, and if we eat too much of either, or both, that’s exactly what we’ll do. Dangerous!
Of course, having finally succeeded (after five failed attempts) in the Glastonbury lottery it was cancelled, as was Primavera (who still haven’t refunded me by the way). That was a big blow and I missed the chance of escapades with the boys in Barca and Alan in Somerset. Next year? Hmmm, dunno.
No holidays at all, not even Perthshire in November. I desperately missed our annual pilgrimage to Italy in particular. Next Year? Hmmm, dunno, maybe.
The most exciting and preoccupying thing, for me, of the year was seeing the 45th President of The United States of American undone. He’s scum, and election night found me beside myself as it looked at one point as if he’d gone and done the impossible, but the good people of America proved they DO have a conscience and 80 million of them at least have a brain.
It puts the achievement and humanity of Obama onto an even greater pedestal and the man has become a beacon of brilliance for the world to see, if he wasn’t already.
Biden and Harris (the 46th and 47th Presidents) were not perhaps the most dynamic offering for the American electorate, but decency is back and soon I expect to see a woman in the White House Oval Office. She will be great once Biden passes the baton. He did what he had to do – carefully, graciously and in a dignified manner that befits the office. He’ll no doubt have to buy his own lightbulbs on movers day, but the fact that he knows his way around will not obligate the outgoing filth to show him round.
Sadly we, in the UK, are stuck with filth for now. The disgrace that has held office in Downing Street is there for all to see and no further comment is necessary.
Turning to the best bit.
My best of’s.
It wasn’t a vintage music year but I enjoyed, very much, the following:
Michael Kiwanuka rightly won the Mercury, although I backed Moses Boyd.
I also greatly enjoyed Songs for our Daughter by Laura Marling (even though she doesn’t have one) and she would also have been a deserved winner.
Taylor Swift’s two albums were excellent folksy releases.
I listened to a lot of Dub Reggae, mainly from the 70’s.
Sudan Archives’ Athena was excellent.
Big Thief and Dirty Projectors both brought smiles to my face.
Janelle Monae’s sole single release, Turntables, is awesome.
And I loved Weyes Blood’s Titanic Rising (although I think that was a 2019 release).
What I can’t understand is the adulation Fiona Apple’s Fetch The Bolt Cutters garnered. I tried, believe me.
Here’s a link to my Best of 2020 tunes on Spotify. (Too much old stuff on it for my liking.)
In cinema there was little to thrall about so Steve McQueen’s Small Axe series almost picks up the ‘best of’ gong by virtue of its feature length running times (particularly Lover’s Rock).
But the prize goes to another Adam Sandler masterpiece. The quite ridiculous Uncut Gems. Wow!
Parasite was a big disappointment to me, as was Fincher’s Mank.
True History of the Kelly Gang (pre you know what) was epic and wonderful.
I also saw and really liked Little Women before the shutdown and 1917 which is outstanding and a contender for my movie of the year.
I liked the Go Go’s documentary.
The Trial of the Chicago 7 was great Sorkin fare and gets there on merit, but hardly a classic.
The Borat sequel only makes it onto the list because of the lack of competition and the brilliant expose of Giulliani.
And so to TV. The year of TV.
It kicked off with something I thought wouldn’t be bettered, Normal People, but it just got better and better.
I Will Not Destroy You.
We Are Who We Are.
The aforementioned Small Axe.
Unorthodox (a little gem).
The Queen’s Gambit.
Song Exploder. (A Podcast conversion to Netflix)
Homecoming (another podcast convert – especially Season 2 with Janelle Monae)
The Plot Against America.
Educating Greater Manchester.
Dracula (on BBC).
Quiz (it was a good year for ITV drama).
The Third Day on C4.
Industry (a late contender for series of the year. Please bring it back. Filthy and brilliantly performed).
And another was the excellent Criminal. A franchise that extended across Europe using the same police interview room (with different casts for different countries) to create unusual very cleverly plotted procedurals that were anything but procedures.
But, at the end of it all I’m going to give it to The Comey Rule for the remarkable performance of Jeff Daniels.
In podcasts, my new found love, there was so much it was ridiculous:
Shout outs for Adam Buxton and Louis Theroux.
Steve Richard and Matt Forde made politics lovable.
5:38, Hacks on Tap, Left Right and Centre and Pod Save America enthralled me through the American election.
In drama podcasts, Tunnel 42 was magic, as were both seasons of The Horror of Dolores Roach.
Slow Burn is brilliant but Season Four (David Duke) wasn’t its best. For that you need to listen to the Clinton and Watergate series’.
Hunting Ghislaine was also brilliantly horrifying and it was great to hear yesterday that the bitch is not being bailed.
In music Soul Music (BBC Radio 4) and Song Exploder were both joys to behold. As was The Clash Story.
But my Podcast of the Year is a toss up between 13 Minutes to the Moon (Season Two about Apollo 13), Transmissions (the story of Joe Division and New Order) and Wind of Change, the conspiracy story about the CIA writing The Scorpions’ classic song of the same name.
And then there’s Desert Island Discs of course.
Turkey of the year was Phoebe Reads a Mystery. Appalling schmuck.
I had a terrific reading year too, finally joining a Book Club:
Feck Perfunction by James Victoire is a great business read.
The Salt Path by Raynor Winn
One Two Three Four about the Beatles by Craig Brown is superb. And Kraftwerk: Future Music from Germany was another great musical read. A musical trilogy was made up with The Eavis’ Glastonbury 50. An event I never made. Naeb’dy did.
Pine by Francis Toon is a good Scottish book. Not as good as Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart (but I still don’t think it should have won the Booker – far better were last year’s TWO winners Girl Woman Other by Bernardine Evagelisto and The Testaments by the incomparable Margaret Atwood – not her best but still fantastic).
I really enjoyed Ian McEwan’s rewriting of history in Machines Like Us, a real return to form.
I read two McEwan’s this year. Solar was the other, but it was shit.
The Testament of Gideon Mack is a great wee Scottish story by James Robertson and I’m also enjoying his 365 Stories as my bog book this year.
Conversations with Friends by Sally Rooney wasn’t as good as Normal People (the TV series).
Worth Dying For – The Power and politics of flags was good fun.
I finally read Small Island and loved it. As I did in reading Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer. Hilarious.
Tender is the Flesh: by Agustina Bazterrica is a tremendous, undiscovered, Brazilian novel about post apocalyptic times where humans are grown as food.
But my two books of the year were epic masterpieces, each of them. Rodham by Curtis Sittenfeld and The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead. Both dealt with American discrimination, the former of women, the latter of Black lives. Both are beyond excellent.
My walk of the year was Glen Etive, with Ria, all 26 miles of it.
The fact that Sweeney, best known for his work on the BBC’s Panorama and Newsnight, felt the need to include his name in the title of this tells you something.
He’s a man on a mission and, until the last episode, it felt that mission was being delivered with a cool disdain that nevertheless erred on the side of balance. He wraps the production with a rather more pointed conclusion that undoes a little of the, earlier, brilliant work.
But that’s a minor gripe, because this is a beast of a production in so many ways.
Firstly the music chills you to the core, right from the off.
Secondly, Sweeney himself is a class act. A formidable presenter with an intellect to match.
And thirdly, the content and its protagonist(s), are, indeed, beasts. And not the cuddly sort.
By the closing credits Sweeney has annihilated Maxwell and, jury aside (we’ll have to wait till July for that decision), he has good reason, if not proof.
She’s a piece of work is Ghislaine Maxwell.
Brought up by a monster and in a long term relationship with another (both dead, maybe both by suicide) she inherited an attitude of princessly, entitlement from her, probably sociopathic, criminal of a father, whom Sweeney further paints as a narcissistic sadist.
She’s a daddy’s girl extraordinaire, spoilt but not spared the lash (which Sweeney conjects she may have developed a taste for) she treats others around her as expendable trash on her rise to the top.
But the top of what? The top of nothing, frankly. OK, the top of a society invitation list, maybe. But this woman has not contributed an iota of ANYTHING to the furtherment of any aspect of the human race.
Her lover, Jeffery Epstein, needs no introduction, and although we nevertheless get plenty of that from Sweeney it’s really her role as his handmaiden and chief pimp that constitutes this story.
And the story is brilliantly, quite lasciviously told, in tones of barely concealed glee as Sweeney hacks her legacy to pieces and feeds it to the listener in bite sized pieces.
She is devoid of goodness.
She’s a coward (running away into hiding the second Epstein’s protective layer peeled away).
And she’s a rapist. So entwined with Epstein’s actions, sometimes joining in after hunting down and luring his prey that she can only be seen as conjoined with the filth that his (stolen) money facilitated him.
It’s gripping, frightening and disgusting.
It’s no wonder Sweeney seems so emotionally involved.
He’s a man on a mission and I , for one, sincerely hope his target rots in a jail cell for the rest of her entitled days.
He’s a great man (with a horrible voice, it has to be said).
A truly great man.
And an example for humanity of what you can do with wealth. Not only is he leading the fight for the developing world in medical research and disease control through his donations, but by his fundraising too.
The first episode is excellent and I was really interested in an optimistic view he took on post-Covid society. It may not be a unique view, or even his own, but it struck me as relevant.
His postulation is that post-Covid our life patters will have been so fundamentally disrupted and restructured that they may never return to the old way of working.
One, positive, consequence of not being “downtown” office-based will be that instead of gravitating to massively busy city centre drinking dens (post work), we will instead socialise in our communities far more. So that suburban bars and restaurants will massively benefit and the city centre hostelries will be permanently maimed.
I would speculate further.
As the “High Street” collapses, and the bars and restaurants that populate them, follow retail in its demise the city centre will entirely re-purpose into residential areas and those bars and restaurants will become community hostelries rather than after work boozers.
All of this will, in my view, contribute to a levelling out of geographic meaning and a better balance to all of our lives.
Not so much a podcast, as a sharing of BBC Radio 4’s Book of the Week by Barack Obama, narrated by the great man himself.
In interviews, Obama can be a bit ponderous but narrating his life story he rattles along without hesitation and takes your breath away with the quality of his written word and his beautiful almost soporific rendition.
It’s a thriller of monumental proportions picking off, in turn, his Primaries for President, the first election, The credit crunch, the ACA, Michelle’s visit with The Queen and, most grippingly of all, the killing of Bin Laden.
It’s two and a half hours of majesty that I devoured in one (long) walk and wanted more, much more.
And I’m wondering if the audio book, given this, would be a better bet than the written version; although I’d want the spine to grace my bookshelves to prove that I am an advocate for the man that will go down in history as one of greatest presidents (human beings) of all time.
Drama on the radio is not easy. On headphones, more so because every mis-step is amplified to the max, so the BBC is to be largely applauded for this mainly succesful four and a half hours of sci-fi/thriller output in a retelling/updating of the Pied Piper of Hamlyn story with a decent contribution from its young cast and a lead role from Tamsin Outhwaite as the Police DC and mother who is caught between family ties and police duty.
As the mother of a mysteriously missing girl in a South Coast town, where strange things are happening to the energy supply and daily countdown announcements from a dissociated voice (accompanied by eerie music provided by Natasha Khan of Bat For Lashes), we are drawn into an in-depth tale of how the missing girl’s sister and cousin react to her abduction by the mysterious Piper.
The tale itself is given enough room to breathe to allow for pretty detailed character development between Ali, the copper and mum, who goes rogue to protect her family, and her extended clan. Particular shout out has to go to the deaf child, Poppy, (Rosalina McDonagh) who commands the headset every time she is on, and Ivy (Charlee Lou Borthwick) who is excellent throughout.
It’s a bit far fetched at times and it’s very earnest, demanding a huge amount from its cast that largely pull it off. But it’s a struggle at times to forgive it its more overwrought emotional spider’s web of dramatic outpouring. Nevertheless, it’s superbly produced and directed (directed by Kate Rowland and produced by Russell Finch) throughout, and although I found it a chore at times to keep following it (and the thinly veiled premise of the old Pied Piper idea is never actually revealed fully) I stuck with it and give it a solid 4/5 for quality and largely believable dialogue by writers Vickie Donoghue and Natalie Mitchell.
Another in BBC Radio 4’s excellent Intrigue series, to sit alongside the superb Tunnel 42.
This time a nine-part series follows the search for the truth behind the death of WWII Nazi officer, Otto Wachter, who is alleged to have been responsible for mass murders of Jews in Poland between 1942 and 1945.
The Grandson of one of the deceased (murdered) Jewish victims (his entire family was wiped out in the Grand Action) Phillipe Sands is determined to expose the murderer for what he is and sets out on his trail by meeting Otto Wachter’s own son, now in his 70’s, who lives in a castle in Austria.
What follows is a complex tale of espionage, counter surveilance, cold war intrigue and the role of the Vatican in an unGodly cover up and escape from retribution of a whole succession of senior Nazis who seemed to be more palatable than communists to the Italian illuminati in the Cold War era.
For those familiar with the heart breaking tale of the Underground Railroad, so beautifully brought to life by Colson Whitehead in the book of the same name, The Ratline is effectively the rather less palatable Nazi version of it, in which mass murderers of the Third Reich were ‘Persil Cleaned’ and set on their way to anonymity and freedom (or a bit of Commy bashing) by the Italians.
Writer and narrator Phillipe Sands is to be congratulated for his composure in telling the sordid tale without completely losing it as his grandfather’s despicable killer is followed through a jigsaw of clues back through his footsteps in the lee of the war, showing not a morsel of humility or reconciliation.
Wachter’s poor, deluded grandson believes him to a good man at heart, and offers up a lot of evidence of his activities to Sands, his friend, (strange and unexplained but the key to the door) but it’s pretty compellingly set out that he was a murdering bastard and got all that was ultimately coming to him.
It’s a grand, if complex, reconstruction of history that rewards careful listening.
What do Cabbage Patch dolls, Metrosexuality, Unicorn poo, Jennifer Aniston’s depression, the Jane Fonda Workout, The Mullet and The Karen have in common?
They’re all the subject of episodes of Decoder Ring, the great monthly podcast by Willa Paskin from Slate.
As eclectic as they are REAL, each episode pretty thoroughly researches a cultural phenomenon tracing it back to its origins and explaining the impact it has had on society and culture as its influence grew.
Sure Unicorn Poo may be less life changing than having a mullet, but trust me: these are THINGS.
These are things that matter.
And, with her tongue firmly embedded in her cheek Haskin treats each with reverence and respect.
She could be exploring the rise of Marxism in Tsarist Russia (if that’s even a thing). But she’s not, she’s wondering why a doll with eyes too closely set created monsters out of suburban housewives.
It’s that good.
Honestly, it’s like a little dollop of nectar has been spat into your ear by a hummingbird each time a new episode drops.
David Dimbleby, let free of his BBC shackles finally has the chance to say what he really thinks. He doesn’t of course, but it’s what he implies, nods, winks that tells you he is deeply cynical of the liar Tony Blair and the fool George W Bush who fell in man-love over the opportunity to blow the fucking shite out of somewhere. That somewhere was Iraq.
The pretence was to rid the nation finally of the evil autocrat Sadaam Hussein, but the two lovers got all tangled up in revenge for 9/11 and the hunt for Osama Bin Laden, a sworn enemy of the Iraqi state.
We all know we were lied to, but this truly great podcast uncovers not just how and why but also quite how flimsy and pathetic the so called evidence was. Some of it was gleaned from cab drivers, but Blair’s chief proof point was the evidence from an exiled Iraqi biochemist, living in safety in Germany, and codenamed Curveball. (A man who had never been in a weapons factory in his puff and who got all of his ‘evidence’ from the internet).
I mean, it’s comedic.
Dimbers puts Tony Blair through his paces in one to two episodes, exposing him for the c*** we all know he is. It’s a cringe fest as we listen to him weasel his way around the story. But it’s great listening.
Dimbers is brilliant. Just amazing. He is effortlessly statesmanlike and so compelling to listen to.
The most horrifying part of the whole thing is the denouement. The rebuilding of Iraq post Hussain. The complete destruction of its moral order and the breeding ground for ISIS more like. Governed by more fools who didn’t give a flying fuck about the country, it has left Iraq in a worse state than it was under Hussain.
What would you prefer? A life of terror under an evil autocrat that is singleminded in his madness. Or a hotbed of turmoil, inter-tribal, religious civil war with some of the most heartless terrorists in history?
Truly great work from Something’ Else Productions.
Part of its ‘Intrigue’ series of 15 minute documentaries. Over ten episodes (2.5 hours) it tells the story of an almost unbelievable tunnel break from East Berlin to West, tunnelling under the wall from the West for over 400 metres to a domestic cellar in the East, a year or so after it was suddenly constructed.
Each episode concludes with the haunting and glorious tones of Tom Rosenthal’s “How This Came To Be “and “Keep Me Warm” played alternately (I was utterly convinced these were undiscovered Alt J songs but my research proved me wrong).
Helena Merriman is the light touch presenter and delivers the story with dignity and no shortage of empathy.
And what a story.
A bunch of engineering students in West Berlin set out to rescue loved ones from the East but then extend the invitation to others. They, “Great Escape” style fight all sorts of challenges, including floods and discovery thanks to Stazi informants, to head steadily towards their goal.
The stakes are raised even higher when an NBS (US) news station gets involved to film their efforts and to essentially fund the project. Their efforts can be viewed in the resultant full length documentary here. (although having watched the first 15 minutes it’s not as gaping as the Beeb’s audio version.
There are twists and turns aplenty as their fortunes wax and wane and I’ll not spoil the outcome here but, like in all good yarns, in many ways the journey is every bit as important as the destination.
It’s intoxicating stuff and deeply involving, so that you develop a real empathy for main tunnellers, each and every one a hero.
And the killer is quietly spoken ‘Criminal’ presenter Phoebe Judge.
Now, before you see this as a character assassination (like the fate that befalls Bram Stoker’s eponymous literary legend in this truly appalling exposition of a masterpiece) I have to state that I am a big fan of Judge’s long-running ‘Criminal’ podcast in which she brings us oddball stories of crime that do not fit the usual stereotypes of the True Crime genre.
‘Criminal’ is epic.
Her rendering of Dracula is anything but.
In fact, it’s possibly the worst storytelling experience in history.
She’s a great presenter, unquestionably, but a reader?
Every sentence. Of this classic. Book. Is delivered. In breathy snatches. Like this. It drives you. Actually. Fucking nuts.
Overwraught. Overdramatic. Appalingly badly. Rendered. As if she is. Teaching herself to. Read. As you cringe. Into your headphones. And wish a giant bat. Would swoop down. From. The Skies. And eat her. Up.