Yesterday, I talked about the concept of diving headfirst into a new subject of your choosing and just going for the learning ride. This is something I’ve struggled with before, and particularly when it comes to history.
I didn’t enjoy history that much at school, but have since found a fondness for finding out how the world has come to be in the position it is in today. The trouble with history is it is a HUGE SUBJECT. Almost like it encompasses everything that has ever happened or something.
So, one way of getting a history fix without biting off more than you can chew is the brilliant Witness podcast from the BBC World Service. They are short ten minute shows that cover just one topic, and hear from the people involved themselves – either via actual interviews, voiced words, or historical documents. The structure of the show gives a great introduction to the topic, followed by the crux of the story itself, and then a small summary of how things panned out or if they are still ongoing.
Recent topics I’ve loved include:
The show is available as a podcast to subscribe to, or you can just peruse the archives for topics you might find interesting. It seems like all the shows are available indefinitely which is always a bonus with BBC content.
This podcast first came to my attention as one of the episodes featured the rather marvellous Simona de Silvestro – race car driver and generally all round good egg. Once I listened to that episode, I very quickly downloaded all the preceding shows and subscribed so I wouldn’t miss any future publications either.
In Her Court comes out of Australia and features sports journalist Sam Squiers interviewing a variety of sporting names regarding all things “women in sport”. Topics have included overcoming difficult events, changing sports mid-career, getting a leg up, fighting for equality with men, and sporting injuries. The focus of the most recent episode, which actually ended the first season of the show, was about whether women are more susceptible to injuries than their male counterparts, and delving deeper into that taboo topic of menstruation.
If you look at the research, much of it is very old, and some of it is quite amusing, clearly written by men. Wouldn’t be acceptable these days, let me put it that way.
I think clarification of all these things: whether exercise is of benefit to help mitigate pre-menstrual symptoms, and if that’s the case, what sort of exercise? How many girls are really significantly affected? I wondered whether in fact it’s sport and menstrual dysfunction self-selects, and girls who do get a lot of period pain, joint pain and aching and bad pre-menstrual symptoms end up not being able to reach that high level because they’re perhaps affected badly.
Dr Diana Robinson
As a Formula One fan, the topic of women making their way in sport is never far from my mind, so it was refreshing to get opinions from so many different sports people – some I had heard of and some I hadn’t, but all with interesting and insightful things to add to the conversation.
Like I mentioned above, the show has finished its first season while Ms Squiers goes on maternity leave, but it is set to return. In the meantime, you can catch up with all the episodes that have aired so far – these aren’t particularly timely conversations so you can listen at any time, but they are important discussions that can only serve to further the cause.
The format of visiting a subject through a certain number of tangential objects has been done a few times, but I’ve found this recent iteration from the BBC fascinating. Tim Harford, one of the Beeb’s resident economists, covers fifty things that have, in some way, shaped the economy that we know and live with today. If you had to list some things, you’d probably say credit cards, interest rates, banks, etc, etc, but there’s a lot more to it than that.
What I love about this show is that it’s relatively short, so gives you information to think about in bitesize chunks and then sends you off on your day to see if you agree or not. The “things” chosen are often quite surprising, but when Harford reveals the history and what a difference they have made to the world, you see why they’ve been selected. The explanations of how each thing evolved are clear and concise, well told, and make you think.
Recent surprises include intellectual property, air conditioning, and that ever so innocuous item, the TV dinner.
The episodes, via the BBC, are available to listen to indefinitely which means you can wait till all 50 have been revealed before embarking on the journey or snap them up one by one as they are released. There’s also a book on the same topic, although at the moment I’m definitely preferring to listen to the podcasts and see what interesting “thing” will come next.
A recent episode of Back to Work featured a brilliant quote from Merlin Mann. The conversation was actually about sending spam-like emails to people hoping they will promote your business in some way. But I actually think it’s an interesting idea to consider in all aspects of your life.
I want everybody out there who is a listener to think about this.
What if everybody was doing what I was doing? Or, put slightly differently, what if ten times more people did this than currently do this.
Would that improve the situation for people?
If you’re the person taking up two parking spaces in your car, what if everybody did that? If you’re the one blasting loud music from your house in the middle of the night, what if more people did that? If you’re the one posting hate to people on Twitter, what if… oh no wait, a lot of people do that already.
It’s just another interesting idea on how to keep on being nice to each other.
At first glance, The Pandolly Podcast doesn’t seem like it would be a good fit for me. Pandora Sykes and Dolly Alderton, fashion and dating experts from The Sunday Times Style, get together once a week to review some of the big and little stories of the week. They recommend fashion items from sponsor River Island and Instagram accounts to follow, chat about celebrities, odd stories and bigger worldwide news, plus often get into all manner of feminist issues.
When I first started listening, it felt like I was eavesdropping on the conversations of the cool kids at school, a group I didn’t have much in common with but probably would have enjoyed hearing them talk. And that’s exactly what this has developed into. I don’t really have anything in common with the two excellent hosts, but hearing them chat about their experiences and their opinions on the news of the week is really, truly, fascinating.
Firstly, they are great presenters, chatting easily with each other and getting their opinions and information across well. Secondly, even though some of the topics they pick to talk about may seem frivolous on the surface, they often delve into the deeper societal issues that lie beneath. The ongoing repercussions of Kim Kardashian’s terrifying robbery, whether there is or isn’t harm in wolf-whistling, and yes, a world in which Donald Trump is President.
I really enjoy when they take differing views on a subject because the subsequent debate is well-informed, opinionated but always respectful and friendly – proving that you don’t have to be a troll just because you don’t agree with someone.
I don’t pay too much attention to the fashion picks and the Instagram recommendations, but I do secretly hope that some of their poise and style will rub off on me organically, through my headphones. But even if it doesn’t, listening to two women discuss and debate the issues of the day is plenty enough.
I’m not an American citizen, so am interested in their election only so far as what happens over there seems to affect us anyway. I’m not usually one to talk about politics either, because it always seems to be to be a topic that causes arguments and resolves little. Even so, I think it’s worth highlighting a presidential candidate who has set up her own podcast, called With Her, to cover the last few months of the campaign.
The podcast is gloriously low-key, just a host with one of those soft radio voices chatting with Hillary wherever she happens to be that week. Having said that, I’ve listened to four episodes and Ms Clinton has only been available for two of them. Some interesting guests filled in, her daughter, her running mate, and both had stories to tell that were still worth listening to, but you have to wonder that she must have known she would be busy when agreeing to start up a podcast in the first place. How big a commitment to it did she make?
The show is interesting to me, though, because for the most part it has avoided actual political discussions – presumably because Hillary gets to do a lot of that on a daily basis – and instead focuses on the more human side of the campaign trail. Is there any down time, what do you do to relax, how do you stay in touch with friends and family, etc, etc. It opens up a more accessible side of a presidential candidate, who you otherwise would see mostly shouting policies at cheering or booing crowds.
It’s not a groundbreaking show but it’s refreshing to have such personal access to such a high profile political figure. I assume the podcast has a shelf life too, there would be no reason to continue if she doesn’t succeed, and I can’t see a president having time to chat every week. Even so, however you feel about the election and its participants, you have to applaud the boost this gives to the podcasting cause.
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.