Podcast of the Month: Criminal


Criminal is part of the Radiotopia network, a selection of well-produced shows from hosts that all have wonderfully smooth and captivating voices. I have listened to a few of them over the weeks and months, and Criminal is one of the few that has stuck. They describe themselves as a podcast with a different take on crime. This, from the about page:

Criminal is a podcast about crime. Not so much the “if it bleeds, it leads,” kind of crime, but something a little more complex. Stories of people who’ve done wrong, been wronged, or gotten caught somewhere in the middle.

That’s exactly what is great about it. Sometimes the stories are from people affected by crime, sometimes it’s by the criminals themselves, occasionally it is of crimes that are ongoing, more often they have taken place and are worthy of investigation.


This is no Serial, we’re not trying to overturn convictions or highlight failings in the system, it’s more about just shining a light on the many different facets that make up crime. Truth and lies, good and evil, justice and redemption, there’s a fine line between all these things and that’s the line the podcast explores. And it’s all hosted by someone called Phoebe Judge, it couldn’t be more perfect.

Recent episodes include the legality of keeping a tiger at your truck stop for entertainment, how to deal with a relentless stalker when you’re just trying to talk about Harry Potter, and one of my favourites, the legal and not-so-legal ways to get hold of some incredibly limited edition alcohol.

Criminal is full of oddities and fascinations, told without judgement or prejudice, and it’s well worth a listen.

Harry Potter and the Uncertain Future

I think Harry Potter & the Cursed Child was the first book that I pre-ordered, waited for midnight for the download to begin, and started reading that very same night. I didn’t finish it in one go, but was done by lunchtime the next day, and my feelings on it veer from one direction to the next depending what mood I’m in. I did love the story, because seeing how the next generation interact with each other is fascinating, and throw in elements of time travel, and I’m on board.

But of course, I agree with the reviewers who have concerns about the depth of the characters, some of the changes in how they behave that don’t make sense, and that it feels more like fan fiction than a solid addition to the HP canon. We can’t forget that it’s a play first and foremost, however, so I will reserve full judgement until I’ve seen it on the stage.


What this post is actually about, after getting that out the way, is JK Rowling’s ambiguous declaration that Harry Potter’s journey has come to a close. At the premiere of the play in London, she said: “He goes on a very big journey during these two plays. I think we’re done. This is the next generation, you know, so I’m thrilled to see it realised so beautifully. But no, Harry is done now.”

Of course, the internet went crazy after this. Does she mean nothing else from the wizarding world ever? Is it just that Harry Potter is too old now and it’s time for Albus and Scorpius to take centre stage on their own?

Either way, it raises some interesting thoughts. I imagine JK said similar things after finishing the final book, but here we are, so many years later, and the mania around Harry Potter hasn’t died down a single iota. A play, more films, even more ebooks sharing stories from Hogwarts previously published on Pottermore, there’s an endless world that Rowling has created which means it must be incredibly hard just to close the door.

It’s similar to Star Wars, in that the universe that it takes place in is so large in scope, there’s room to continue the main story, have branched off films and books, and still leave the fans wanting more. George Lucas has taken a step back from the recent adventures, handing the reigns (or selling them, I suppose) to Disney. Until humans figure out the secret behind immortality, it makes sense to do what you want to do with a franchise and then hand it on to the next generation. It means losing control, but it means the genius ideas that you have created not only live on but are expanded to continue to bring joy to consumers.

I wonder whether, eventually, Harry Potter will take a similar path. Rowling was initially intensely protective of her works, they were only released for Kindle on the strict understanding they were sold through the Pottermore website. Now the books are available on most platforms , the new ebooks were out for preorder on iBooks the moment it was announced. She’s drafted in playwrights and directors to help her expand the universe to the stage and screen, and other writers are getting to put their name to official Harry Potter works.

I suppose the difficulty is, you have created something just so very indescribably special and you want to keep control of it to ensure it remains in tact. But equally, at some point it grows larger than just one person. How that plays out for Harry, and indeed for the continuing Star Wars saga, will be interesting to behold.

Rio 2016 had its moments, and here are some of them

I wasn’t expecting much from this Olympics, I’ll be honest. It felt like there was no way Team GB could live up to their amazing performance at the home games in London, there was so much talk of drug cheats and athletes being banned, several athletes opting not go due to potential Zika/health problems, and on top of all that the concerns that Rio would be able to pull it all off without a hitch anyway.


However, almost all of that was unfounded concern and although there have been a few downsides to hosting the Games in Rio, it has still been a lot of fun. Granted, the timezone has slightly been my downfall, as the best stuff has been happening between midnight and 4am, but I’ve done my best, and here are five things I’ve really enjoyed.

  1. Learning the Omnium points race. This was indicative of so many other things in the Olympics – at first baffling but give it some time and it really pays off. I was enjoying the track cycling already, and then they introduced the Omnium. Aside from a fabulous name, it also has the points race which is a lengthy and complicated event but one that really makes a difference to the standings. It reminds me of F1 in a way, you could sit in front of it and throw your hands up in the air, saying none of this makes sense, but actually if you watch and listen and just work it through in your head, it really starts to be brilliant! Cycling is one event that I was really sad to see finish, but it provided some wonderful and dramatic moments.
  2. The true Olympian spirit. You’ve seen the images, the North and South Korean gymnasts taking a selfie and the two 5000m athletes who helped each other across the finish line after a fall. There are also the less obvious but still important moments, like divers who have completely messed up still coming back to complete their routines, and gymnasts supporting each other even though they are individual event rivals. It’s all so inspirational, it really lifts the spirit.
  3. Some fantastic commentators. The BBC has some hit and miss presenters on their lineup but I have really enjoyed some of the commentary teams. Swimming, diving and cycling particularly stand out for their entertaining and knowledgeable commentary teams, whilst I found the rowing duo talked over each other constantly. It’s lovely to see ex-athletes brimming with passion about their sport, and even getting current stars on board, like Jo Rowsell-Shand who talked with great eloquence about her cycling teammates.
  4. Learning new geography. The Opening Ceremony is a key part of this. Dig out the iPad and peruse Google Maps constantly. I love seeing the tiny islands that are taking part, and it’s great to locate places you’ve sort of heard of but have never really looked up before. It happens during the event too but less often, because it’s normally the bigger nations that get to the top.
  5. Seeing what a dash of inspiration can do. The stories I enjoyed the most were those were athletes taking part in this Olympics were inspired by previous stars of the show. Current gymnasts who watched Beth Tweddle and thought “I can do that”. The current crop of cyclists who were all helped out by Chris Hoy in one way or another. People who only turned to their sport after seeing what happened in London and racing straight to the top. How proud the athletes must be, to know they have inspired others to glory, and how brilliant our next generation will be having seen the determination and talent on display this year!

It’s been a brilliant couple of weeks and I’m sad it’s over, but just like London, so glad it happened. I can’t believe it will be another four years before we get to do this again, but I have a feeling it will just fly by. To end, here are a bonus five things that didn’t quite make the list.

  • Anyone on the podium, wondering what the little plastic sculptures they were given were for.
  • Everyone saying “I don’t want to cry on camera,” before promptly bursting into tears.
  • Predicting the newspapers and their hideous headlines, particularly those cutting athletes out pictures to suit themselves.
  • Debating our own Sports Personality of the Year.
  • Enjoying a new event every day to add to the shambles – raining INSIDE the Olympic village, pool water turning green, putting the velodrome in the wrong way round, the outdoor cycling track being so hard only half the field competed, a bus taking Fran Hansall to the wrong place so she almost missed her event. Every day a new nugget.

On the record – That’s an impressive gauntlet to throw down (Weeks 29 to 32)

After the last roundup, I was looking forward to some slightly better and more fun albums, and this set really delivered. I also found myself listening to albums that I wouldn’t necessarily have picked but liking them anyway. Rihanna really wouldn’t have been my first choice, whilst I’d never heard of Blossoms but got sucked into the promotions on iTunes.

There are no top ten entries this time, but it was a lot better anyway.

Title Artist Year Notes
Week 29
Perspective Lawson 2016 Love this album! Guitar pop loveliness, really listenable, jolly for the most part and a few songs you can really tap your foot to. I just dislike the one song that is exactly like Teardrops from Eurovision.
Brothers in Arms Dire Straits 1985 A different, self-indulgent kind of experience. The songs are super long, so you have to settle in and go with it. Money for Nothing remains a favourite but I love how the songs are all so different with great layering and instrument work to make it a real gem.
Week 30
Love & Hate Michael Kiwanuka 2016 Wonderful album, soul with real heart, sultry movements and genuinely relaxing vibes. One of the tracks had just a bit too much repetition for me, but it’s a small complaint in a really good body of work.
No Angel Dido 1999 I knew far more of this album than I’d anticipated, so plenty to sing along with. Great songwriting skills and lots of interesting instrumentation and sounds to keep each song alive and fascinating.
Week 31
Anti Rihanna 2016 I have mixed feelings about Rihanna and this album does nothing to change that. Some of it is really good, intriguing pop with great vocals and some solid lyrics and songwriting. Others are way overproduced so that they only serve to distract from Rihanna’s talent rather than enhance it.
Hunting High and & Low a-ha 1985 Liked this album, it’s quite fun pop although it threw me off guard how very similar they sound to Duran Duran. Just ten songs, and none quite live up to the album opener of Take On Me, but that’s an impressive gauntlet to throw down. All good, though.
Week 32
Blossoms Blossoms 2016 More pop than indie rock, I really enjoyed this album. Although there’s a similarity to other bands, it stands out because of its nostalgic feel – the first half of the album is very 80s, and the second half sounds like it has been plucked straight from the 90s, and both are a lot of fun to listen to!
Nevermind Nirvana 1991 Was worried about listening to this one, it’s so highly regarded. Luckily, I quite liked it although some of the tracks verged into too much screaming, which I can’t stand. The more sedate tracks are brilliant, though, and there’s a clear and moving talent there.

A fuel depot in space

I recently stumbled across an old note I made, after listening to an episode of Inside Science from the BBC. It’s a fantastic space quote about setting up lunar fuel depots, discussing the prospect of solving the problem whereby you need to take off from Earth with all the fuel to get where you’re going. If you can break that barrier, more remote areas of space become possible.

Credit: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualization Studio

But how do you do that? The episode had an interview with Olivier de Weck, astronautical engineer at MIT who has an idea:

“Reaching low earth orbit is halfway to almost anywhere in the solar system. The way we’ve done exploration is one mission at a time, none of the missions left anything behind for any future mission to use and so, what we’re advocating is a network based approach. Essentially, an interplanetary supply chain.

“The Solar Granger Point Number Two is actually on the far side of the moon. It’s a gravitationally neutral place which is a great place to put a fuel depot, or a refuelling station. The fuel depot itself needs to get refuelled obviously, and this happens through tankers and shuttles that go back and forth between the lunar surface and the fuel depot. And then spacecraft can pick up their fuel and then you go off to wherever you want to go. If you go to Mars, that means you do a trans-Mars injection. You can also go to near-Earth objects, asteroids and so forth. So it’s a very attractive architecture.”

There aren’t really enough words to describe how I love this idea. I hope those off-earth fuel depots also sell maps and have free water/air!

The power of The Rock

I am confident that someday in the future The Rock, who was once a professional wrestler, will run for president of the United States, and I think that he will win. I have seen with my own eyes the power of The Rock. The Rock is a uniter, not a divider. When the BOP showed Walking Tall, the turnout for every screening all weekend long was unprecedented. The Rock has an effect on women that transcends divisions of race, age, cultural background – even social class, the most impenetrable barrier in America. Black, white, Spanish, old, young, all women are hot for The Rock. Even the lesbians agreed that he was mighty easy on the eyes.

Piper Kerman – Orange is the New Black

On the record – I could almost have been watching Dawson’s Creek (Weeks 25 to 28)

This, for me, was not a classic set of albums but there was one key moment that proved what a great thing this album education is.

Firstly, I think the only standout album here was Adele, and that was mostly because I’d just seen her on Glastonbury and was slightly in love with her all over again.

Now, what I found interesting was that I listened to the Carole King album and then a couple of days later, watched the first episode of Gilmore Girls – newly released on Netflix. The theme tune, I suddenly recognised as a King song, albeit a cover version. These are the kind of connections and trivia items that come up constantly in my Film Watch explorations, but I hadn’t really had it on the music side.

Until now!

So here are the next eight, but if I’m honest, it’s all onwards and upwards from here!

Title Artist Year Notes
Week 25
The Getaway Red Hot Chilli Peppers 2016 I was quite ambivalent about this album on the first run through, it all sounded much the same. Very Red Hot Chilli Peppers, you know what you’re getting and not bad but not special. Second time through I was starting to pick out more interesting melodies and bass lines, so I think this one is definitely a grower.
Whiplash James 1997 I knew nothing about James except for two random songs, so this was a refreshing experience. Great album, the songs are all quite gentle pop and with that iconic voice, there’s a familiarity throughout the album (although it goes a bit wonky in the middle), making it fab for a comfort listen or as background music.
Week 26
25 Adele 2015 Thought it was going to be all ballads but it was more interesting than that. A little warbly in places, but if you’ve got a voice like that, why not use it? Some really good songs, all packed with emotion and written from the heart which makes them special.
Eliminator ZZ Top 1983 Good, foot tapping rock, very listenable but an album stacked full of songs that all sound exactly the same. You’ve got to really like what they’re selling here, but if you do, you’re onto a winner.
Week 27
California blink-182 2016 You almost can’t tell they have changed the lineup, good album, exactly as you would expect – fast paced rock, some of it sounds familiar from days gone by, but there are some interesting ideas too. Mix of track lengths make it quite an unpredictable listen.
Tapestry Carole King 1971 I wanted to like this more than I did. There are a couple of classics, obviously. You’ve Got a Friend is a wonderful song. But the rest of it I could take or leave, and it annoyed me that I wasn’t as on board as I hoped.
Week 28
Coolaid Snoop Dogg 2016 Nice, relaxed and flowing sound, great layering and some interesting samples. So many guest stars, it’s almost a collaborative album than a Snoop one. Only real complaint is that it’s so long – twenty tracks!
Dizzy Up the Girl The Goo Goo Dolls 1998 Thought I only knew Iris from this one, it’s a stand out track for sure. It turns out I knew one or two others as well. Really engaging but gentle rock sound, and so reminiscent of Nineties TV, I could almost have been watching Dawson’s Creek as I listened.