“Right Ho, Jeeves” by P. G. Wodehouse (1934)

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“‘Jeeves,’ I said, ‘may I speak frankly?'”

In 2015, I read my first Jeeves and Wooster novel, and said at the time that I’d be back soon to bathe in this ridiculous, silly and charming world. It’s only taken four years, but we’re here at last. Heading back much earlier into the canon, I alighted in 1934 at the doorstep of Right Ho, Jeeves, hoping to find it as endearing as last time. Naturally, it was a success.

Bertie Wooster is convinced that Jeeves’ mind is starting to go. This has come about firstly because his valet has taken against Wooster’s white mess jacket and declares that it needs to be got rid of, and also because he’s given questionable dating advice to Gussie Fink-Nottle, who is now stood in Bertie’s sitting room dressed as Mephistopheles. Things don’t get any simpler when Bertie gets a sudden telegram from his Aunt Dahlia summoning him to Brinkley Court immediately to chair a prize-giving at a local school. Sensing he can reunite Gussie with his girl and foist the task off onto him as well, Bertie sends Gussie in his place.

Aunt Dahlia, however, is not amused and Bertie and Jeeves find they have to head to Brinkley Court anyway when Dahlia’s daughter Angela calls off her engagement to Tuppy Glossop. Certain that Jeeves is not up to solving the problems of the heart that now face the duo, Bertie instead comes up with some plans of his own that will restore peace and order to his friends and relatives. Unfortunately, of course, Bertie is an ass, and he really should just leave things to the ever-capable Jeeves…

As last time, I’m staggered that these books are not more prominent on my radar, which is entirely my own fault. Jeeves as a name has entered the global vocabulary as the last word in butlerdom (which is unfortunate given he’s a valet, not a butler), and while the vast majority of his dialogue is simply repeats of “Indeed, sir?”, “Yes, sir” or “Most agreeable, sir”, somehow every single one appears to have its own nuance and the beauty is in the subtext. Jeeves is far too professional to ever openly admonish or disagree with his master, but you know exactly what he’s thinking at any time. Perhaps he is vastly intelligent, but I actually would wager that he’s of just a slightly above average intelligence, heightened by the fact that everyone around him is an idiot.

Wooster is naturally one of the biggest idiots in literature. He’s a well-meaning idiot, kind and thoughtful and always concerned with doing the right thing and making everyone around him happy, there’s no question on that. It’s just that he’s not terribly good at it, prone to speaking without thinking, jumping to the wrong conclusions, and saying things without any real acknowledgement that he might not be speaking as plainly as he thinks. His style is unique, funny and his unstoppable use of abbreviations is hilarious, and I particularly loved: “Old Pop Kipling never said a truer word than when he made that crack about the f. of the s. being more d. than the m.” Is this simply an English embarrassment at mentioning sex and gender, or is Bertie’s head so full of idle thoughts all rolling over one another, he simply doesn’t have time to complete each one?

The secondary characters shine, too. Gussie Fink-Nottle is basically Boris Johnson, just with an obsession with newts, and Aunt Dahlia is fiesty and full of energy, despite her advancing years and not afraid to threaten Bertie with physical violence, while at the same time letting him know that she does love him. The book as a whole is just a pure joy from start to finish, with a daft plot that gets wrapped up perfectly once Bertie is out of the way, and I loved it. I’ll try not to leave it another four years before I come back to Wodehouse.

My second novel, The Third Wheel, is now available on Amazon and Waterstones! It tells the story of Dexter, a twenty-something teacher who is struggling with the fact that he alone among his friends is single and isn’t ready to grow up. But when aliens invade, it puts a lot of his problems into perspective. Mixing comedy, science fiction and horror, the novel promises to have something for everyone. I hope you’ll check it out!

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“Less” by Andrew Sean Greer (2017)

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“From where I sit, the story of Arthur Less is not so bad.”

The advice for dealing with your problems is often to suck it up and deal with them as best you can, rather than hiding away under the duvet, never mind which you’d rather do. I, however, am of the belief that aside from things like earthquakes, forest fires, or the person you were about to break up with kneeling in front of you with a wedding ring in hand, there aren’t many problems you can run away from, just for a little bit, or just until you’re stronger and have been able to regroup your thoughts. Arthur Less, the hero of this Pulitzer Prize winning novel, appears to be of a similar opinion.

Less is about to turn fifty and not handling it very well. His publisher has just turned down his latest novel, and the man he loved for nine years is about to marry someone else. When Less receives an invitation to the wedding, he is faced with a conundrum. If he accepts, it would be too awkward. If he turns it down, it looks like defeat. Instead, he turns to a stack of other invitations he’s been ignoring; an interview panel in New York, an article in Japan, a series of lectures in Germany, an award ceremony in Italy. Apologising that he’ll be out of the country, Less heads off on a world tour.

You can, however, only run so far, and Less discovers that maybe he’s not so happy away from the action. As he catapults himself across continents, he finds himself continually struggling against misunderstandings, language barriers, lost suitcases and the barbed comments of old acquaintances. And rumours follow him too, of a scandal at the wedding he’s missing, but no one will tell him what happened. Less is left with a lot of time to think about his past and what really matters in life.

Simultaneously tragic and comical, it’s rare that a comic novel wins such a prestigious award. It’s not a fast book, and reads rather like much other literary fiction, but in a delightful twist of fate, it actually has some jokes in it. Less is immensely likeable – an innocent, sweet and nice man, who is beset by misfortune as wherever he arrives he gets the wrong end of the stick, loses something important, mistakes a situation, and is never on time to see or experience the best of the place he’s at. For example, he’s in Mexico on the day their grandest museum is closed. He’s too early in Japan for the cherry blossom, and too late in Germany for the autumn festivals.

As Less puts more and more distance between himself and the problems he’s trying to ignore, they do their best to make sure he can’t forget about them entirely. Indeed, the further away he goes, the more intense his emotions become. He tries to have affairs, and works on his rejected novel, but mostly he worries about his age. Fifty isn’t particularly old, especially not today, but at one point he laments that being fifty is like you’ve only just understood youth, and then it’s snatched away from you, like how on the last day of a holiday you finally work out where to get the best lunch or see the best views, but it’s too late and you’ll never be going back. Greer paints beautiful landscapes too, making the cities that Less visits a big part of the story in themselves, almost characters too.

While it is funny, above all I found the book very poignant. I came close to tears a few times with the sheer sadness and feeling of loss and loneliness that saturates the pages. Those around Less aren’t nearly as sympathetic as he is, adding to how alone he feels surrounded by people he views as being more attractive, more successful and more wanted than he is. He’s one of the most endearing characters I’ve come across all year, and I feel a huge amount of affection for him. The novel ends with several unanswered questions, and I really do hope that he is happy once the book is over. But it’s not for us to see.

Charming, funny and very moving.

“Nothing But Blue Skies” by Tom Holt (2001)

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“Four men in dark grey suits and black sunglasses climbed out of a black, fat-wheeled Transit and slammed the doors.”

Last week the weather did something strange on my home island. It got hot. Really hot. Tarmac-meltingly, skin-peelingly, eating-a-Twister-every-hour hot. The British are not equipped for this sort of weather, so it was almost a welcome relief when, four days later, we had a loud thunderstorm and the rain, drizzle and grey clouds returned en masse. Naturally, we’ve done nothing but complain since. (The British are a fickle bunch, especially when it comes to the weather.) I’m therefore a little late with a book of this title, but somehow that makes it even more fitting, as this book is here to explain why British summers are non-existent (or, alternatively, held on a Thursday).

The truth behind the perpetual rain of the British Isles is pissed-off Chinese water dragons, and why would it be anything else? One of these dragons, Karen, is currently working as an estate agent in London after falling in love with a human called Paul and taking a human form herself to be closer to him. Her efforts to make him notice her, however, are ruined when it turns out her father, the Adjutant General to the Dragon King of the North-West is missing, leading to an unprecedented spell of dry weather (seventy-four hours and counting).

But there’s much more going on than that. The Adjutant General has been kidnapped by a furious weatherman who knows its the dragons causing all the rain and is convinced that they’re doing it to spite him and make his predictions go wrong. He tries to convince another weatherman, the alcoholic Gordon Smelt, and the two are soon up to their necks in it. Elsewhere, a secret section of the British government is planning to use the dragons to increase British rainfall, under the impression that the only reason Britain had such a great empire was that they simply needed to colonise somewhere hot and dry. With even more rain bucketing down in the homeland, it would inspire the people to raise up and invade Australia. And that’s all before we get onto the suspicious-looking men in dark suits who are collecting up two of every creature, just in preparation for a worst case scenario…

I’ve only read Tom Holt once before, and at the time I remember thinking that he must be a bit mad to come up with some of the ideas he did. Frustratingly, while he probably is mad, the ideas are so solidly good that you can’t help grumbling that you didn’t think of them first as they all seem so obvious and easy. The gag-to-page ratio is matched only by Douglas Adams and surpasses even Jasper Fforde, meaning you are bombarded with really, truly hilarious lines, wacky similes, utterly preposterous metaphors and passages that are downright rude in the amount of comic timing they have. And yet still beneath it all is an incredibly smart story that plays with several old tropes, but also introduces a whole bunch of new twists and really seems to be enjoying itself.

I have a habit of sticking an impromptu bookmark in a page where I find a quote I like, but if I’d stopped to do it here, the book would be more train ticket than novel. A few of the lines that did stick with me however, include…

“This is a funny old country. You need to have all kinds of licences and stuff before they let you own dynamite, and yet there’s women walking around with long red hair, green eyes and freckles, and nobody seems to give a damn. But when you think of all the damage one green-eyed freckled redhead can do in just one afternoon–”

“Imagine Manchester. Sorry, had you just eaten? Let’s try a gentler approach.”

“Paul’s face suddenly solidified […] leaving him with that death-by-embarrassment stuffed stare that’s unique to the English during romantic interludes.”

“If you hadn’t noticed, I’m the pub loony around here. This is my turf, and if there’s any gibbering to be done, I’m the one who does it. You want to gibber, find another bar.”

They probably don’t rank high in good quality jokes out of context, but they work so wonderfully well within the story. Holt is economical with certain details – we get good descriptions of what several of the dragons look like, but humans are rarely if ever given a physical description, presumably to acknowledge how we are seen to immortal beings – but he enjoys realistic dialogue that doesn’t go anywhere, and conversations that no one understands.

It’s a world that feels real enough, because all the humans are incompetent, even (or especially) the ones running the world behind the curtain. There are so many ideas in here that the book almost spills over with joy. I think it’s quite safe to say that it won’t be five years before I make my return to Tom Holt’s jottings. The man is a certified lunatic, and I can’t think of many lunatics I’d rather spend time swimming around in the brain of.

“One Of Our Thursdays Is Missing” by Jasper Fforde (2011)

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thursdays-missing“Everyone remembers where they were when the BookWorld was remade.”

Where does one even begin on this week? Fearing, and later seeing, the worst news of 2016 so far – and it was up against some pretty stiff competition – meant that I had to take refuge inside fiction, and where better than back inside Jasper Fforde. Continuing on the Thursday Next series, this is the sixth installment, possibly my favourite one, so be prepared for spoilers out the wazoo and to not understand anything if you’ve not read the others in the series. Though, in fairness, even if you have read them this still might not make much sense.

First up, the BookWorld doesn’t look like it used to. In the previous novels it’s been just the Great Library and characters jump from book to book. Now it’s been remade, and Fiction Island is just one of hundreds. The island is divided up into genres with the Metaphoric River running through them all, from Dogma in the north to Adventure in the south. This alone makes the book far more enjoyable and funny, as the books are now neighbours and people get around by public transport. There are a lot more jokes and concepts to mine from this, and mine them Fforde does. Anyway, the plot.

This book isn’t narrated by the Thursday Next we’ve grown to love over the last five books, but instead by the written version. Although she failed her Jurisfiction entrance exam, when not being read in her own series and dealing with the troublesome cast there, she works for JAID, the Jurisfiction Accident Investigation Division under Commander James “Red” Herring. When a self-published book, The Murders on the Hareng Rouge, comes down over Thriller, Thursday discovers that all the ISBN numbers have been scrubbed from the remains. Realising though that she’s just there to declare the case closed, she does so. However, she discovers soon after that the real Thursday Next is missing, and suddenly the downed book seems a bit more suspicious.

Accompanied by her clockwork butler Sprockett, whom she has recently saved from inside Conspiracy, and somehow equipped with the real Thursday’s Jurisfiction badge, written Thursday sets about finding out what has happened to her real self. But this is a Fforde book so we also have to contend with a brewing war between the genres of Women’s Fiction and Racy Novel, a lack of raw metaphor, a brief jaunt into the real world to find out more about Thursday’s absence from her husband Landen and the never-ending party on Fanfiction Island.

The idea of a geographical BookWorld is perhaps my favourite idea in here, as it entirely alters the way things work and, as I said, allows for all new jokes. The book also now contains a map of the new island, which is itself crammed with jokes. The genres of Racy Novel and Comedy border one another with the sub-genre of Bawdy Romp as a buffer zone; the Streams of Consciousness are literal; and there’s even a tiny island dedicated to MPs Expenses, a fiction if ever there was one. Another excellent joke scene is a minor one but features a support group for literary siblings who can’t live up to the popularity of their more famous brothers and sisters. They include the Mediocre Gatsby, who makes a living driving taxis, Rupert Bond who remains a virgin, Sharon Eyre, Tracey Capulet and Nancy Potter. You can work them out for yourselves.

Fforde also seems oddly prescient here, as if he knew something we didn’t. A major plot point is that the Racy Novel genre, on the banks of the Innuendo River, is trying to make itself more respected and gain a bigger readership. The following year, Fifty Shades of Grey was published, followed by hundreds of copycats trying to ride the coattails of its success. Seems that he knew something was going on. Because the book, like First Among Sequels, is set considerably later than the earlier books, we also get many more Harry Potter jokes, as well as a dig at the popularity of sexy vampires.

It’s also great to see a fictional character drop into the RealWorld for the first time and have to deal with such troublesome things as breathing, gravity, and conversations that serve no purpose to the plot. It’s also a chance to meet Square from Flatland, and learn a bit of what’s going on out there, which continues some gags from the last books and sets up some more ideas that will return in the next. This book is mostly set in the BookWorld, as indeed the next will focus primarily on the RealWorld.

As ever, Fforde weaves magic and I can’t believe I’m nearly done with Thursday again. But it’s a wonderful reminder that even in times of utter turmoil and trouble, books will be there to see us through the worst of it. Have faith.

“Animal” by Sara Pascoe (2016)

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animal“Writing a book is an arrogant thing to do.”

I really like Sara Pascoe. She’s a newer face on the panel shows and comedy programmes of our televisions, and I fell a little bit in love with her when she first appeared on QI and knew lots of stuff about London and pandas. She’s the kind of woman I’d love to tell, “Hey, I really like you. You’re so beautiful…” but before I could finish, she’d throw her drink in my face and yell, “What about my brain??” I’d splutter through the G&T or whatever she drinks before saying, “I haven’t finished! You’re beautiful, intelligent, funny and generally awesome.” And then I’d still feel guilty as I do right now about the fact I started with “beautiful”, and feel that maybe I worded the compliment badly. But it was a compliment – I’ve always been very attracted to women’s brains. A smart woman is a sexy woman, although I’m obviously aware that a woman is not an object to be looked at, and I don’t expect anything to come from the compliment, I’m just trying to be nice, I … I’m digging myself into a hole here, aren’t I? Look, I just like paying people compliments, I’m just a bit cack-handed at it.

(Sara, should you read this and I did it wrong, I sincerely apologise. Can we forget this ever happened and move on?)

A couple of my female friends have been reading Animal and they went on to me about how amazing it was. Finding myself with that free trial of Audible that everyone who listens to podcasts gets bombarded with a few times a week, and going on the suggestion of a friend that it’s even better when read aloud, I downloaded the book and it has become the first audiobook I’ve ever listened to. Sara has a wonderful voice, full of real warmth, like she’s talking to you down the pub. You and her, the writer and the reader, are mates, and she’s going to tell you what she’s learnt about the female mind and body.

Split into three sections – Love, Body and Consent – the book is part-memoir, interspersed with stories from her own life (some hilarious, some tragic) and part science book, talking about what it is to be a woman both now and throughout history. She covers every possible aspect of this, including but certainly not limited to whether humans are naturally monogamous or not, how menstruation is viewed and treated around the world, what the “right” age is for consent, how we define rape, why men feel sleepy after sex and women don’t, female genital mutilation, the politics of abortion, why women evolved breasts, the female orgasm, and why humans are one of only three species on the planet (aside from killer whales and pilot whales) to undergo a menopause.

I wondered, as a man, how relevant the book would be to me, but it turns out your gender doesn’t matter in the slightest. It is eye-opening, incredibly interesting, sharply funny, and while perhaps in another person’s hands the ideas could come across as lecturing or dull, Sara weaves genius throughout it. She’s naturally funny, and very frank and open about her own problems, concerns and issues.

It’s also given me a really interesting new discussion topic for others around me. Not strangers on the bus; I’m not confident enough to strike up loud “Did you know?” conversations about tampons with them (yet) but with friends and colleagues. Most of my friends are female, as indeed are most of the people I work with, and this book has granted me access to things I, shamefacedly, even as a sexually active man in his late twenties, still didn’t really understand. One of the most curious facts I found out was about how long a menstrual cycle could last. I’d always been under the assumption it was 28 days – about a month – and had never really considered that it varied that much between women. I don’t know why. I don’t think about it much, I guess. After finding out the truth, I asked the girls at work if they knew. They all said 28 days. I revealed that, actually, it could be anywhere between 20 and 60 days. None of them knew this, and one of these girls is at university studying to be a surgeon. Even if this fact had somehow slipped through the net of secondary school sex ed, then that’s one thing, but is medical school not even drawing attention to this?

And, yeah, while we’re at it, why are the boys sent out of the room when girls learn about menstruation at school? If you take the argument that it might be uncomfortable or embarrassing for pre-teen girls to ask questions in a room full of boys, then that’s fine and I totally understand it, but the boys should be taught this stuff too, separately. We might not have the equipment, but we should know how it works. It might remove some of society’s stigma about the whole thing. Boys should probably also get a brush up on consent, as barely a week goes by without some boy somewhere dodging a jail sentence because he’s convinced a jury that consent was granted. We need to update both our sex education and our rape laws. But Sara will explain all this much more eloquently than I ever could.

I believe firmly that everyone, regardless of whether you’re male, female or somewhere in between, should read this book. It’s fascinating, funny and might even save your life.

Podcasts: Part Three

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OK, so according to the views of this blog, people like reading about podcasts. Here are four more of my favourite podcasts and why I think you should get hold of them if you haven’t already. For more, see parts one and two.

podcast 9Podcast: The Message
Number of Episodes: 8

This is a really short one, but it’s completely worth it. It’s a story that follows Nicky Tomalin, a podcaster who is following a team of cryptographers as they try to decode The Message, a noise that arrived on Earth from somewhere far out in space in the 1940s. But as she and the team look into the history of the sound, which definitely seems to have extraterrestrial origins, it becomes clear that something is very wrong with it. Bad luck and worse follows those who’ve listened to the noise, and it isn’t long before disaster strikes closer to home…

I’m not going to say anything else about the plot because you need to listen to it to get the full impact, but it’s a punchy, well-performed piece of work and intensely creepy. Although there are only a handful of episodes, and each of those is only around fifteen minutes long, it’s enough to get across a story that grips you from the start and has you terrified by the end. It’s hard to say much else – this is just one of those one’s where you’re going to just do it, as my words can’t do it justice.

podcast 10Podcast: Desert Island Discs
Number of Episodes: 1000s
Release: Every Sunday

If you’ve never heard of Desert Island Discs then I worry for your sanity. It’s a radio show where every week (for the last sixty years) a celebrity guest is interviewed by a charming, affable host, currently the sultry-voiced Kirsty Young. The interview is built around a simple question; “If you had to be sent to a desert island, what 8 records would you take with you?” Then, a longform interview takes place about the interviewee’s life and career, interspersed with the eight songs that mean the most to them. At the end, each castaway can also choose one book to take (they all get the Bible and the works of Shakespeare automatically) and one single other luxury to make things more bearable for them, as long as it isn’t too useful (i.e. no speedboats).

Most episodes have now been converted to podcast form. All the ones of the last few years are there, and then there’s a selection of others dating right back to the forties. Guests range from musicians and actors, politicians and ambassadors, scientists and explorers, astronauts and soldiers. There’s nowhere easy to suggest you start from, so your best bet is to find some names you’ve heard of and download those. I’ve found that even with people I’ve only vaguely heard of, I find the episode hugely fascinating. Kirsty Young is a wonderful host and can get some really interesting stories out of her castaways, providing an interview that is often funny, tragic and fascinating all at the same time.

It’s also always quite interesting to see what luxury people pick at the end. Recently, Tom Hanks has gone for a typewriter and paper, Berry Gordy took a cellar of wine, Chris Hadfield opted for his guitar, and Kylie Minogue went for a family photo album. One of my favourite luxuries ever belonged to John Cleese who wanted to take Michael Palin. Since other people are forbidden, he was given the option, “You can have him as long as he’s been stuffed.” Cleese accepted.

podcast 11Podcast: Harry Potter and the Sacred Text
Number of Episodes: 7
Release: Every Saturday

OK, so I admit that suggesting a podcast when it’s not even got ten episodes up is perhaps jumping the gun, but I’ve never fallen for a podcast so quickly. Part of me wishes I hadn’t discovered it so early so that I could have a good binge, but at the same time I’m pleased to be able to one of the people who can count themselves as a fan from the beginning.

The concept of this podcast is simple. Hosts Vanessa and Casper, a Harvard chaplain and minister respectively, are reading the Harry Potter books chapter by chapter as if they were a sacred religious text on par with the Bible and its ilk. I’ll stress that they’re not declaring Dumbledore’s dialogue the word of God or anything, they’re just examining the text through themes and seeing what it can tell us about our own lives. Each half-hour episode features one chapter and explores a theme. For example, “The Boy Who Lived” is looked at through commitment; “Diagon Alley” explores the idea of being a stranger. Each episode delves into examples from the text, followed by more intensive readings of certain passages, and then ends with a blessing for two of the characters in the chapter.

It’s really beautifully done. I’m not religious in the least, but these books do hold a real magic for me, and for millions of others, so it’s interesting to see them studied in a slightly different way. Perhaps one day, hundreds of years from now, future humans will find this podcast after the apocalypse and a new religion will begin. We can only imagine.

podcast 12Podcast: Talking Simpsons
Number of Episodes: 50
Release: Every Wednesday

By now surely everyone in the Western world has seen at least one episode of The Simpsons. Since December 1989 the show has had people hooked and it’s still enjoyed across the planet. But perhaps the biggest fans of all are the guys on this podcast. They’re responsible for several other podcasts in which they found they made a lot of Simpsons jokes and references, so started a new podcast where they could talk about nothing else.

Each episode of the podcast zones in on one episode of the series, and at time of writing they’re midway through season three, so there’s hundreds more to go. Each episode contains a rundown on what was happening in the world the day the episode was released (just to hammer home to point that this show has been running for a looooong time), anecdotes regarding both the series and the presenters, information from the writers and creators, explanations of jokes that went over our heads the first time round, audio clips from the episodes themselves, and a lot of really nerdy issues with continuity and character appearances.

Episodes run between thirty and fifty minutes, generally getting longer it seems as the show improves. If you’re looking for their analysis of season one, you won’t find it on iTunes, as it’s hidden behind a paywall, so while really die-hard fans might want to get their hands on it, there’s plenty enough for everyone else here. It’s really funny and brings back memories of some of the classic episodes and their greatest moments, all lovingly bundled up with new information and gags.

Podcasts: Part Two

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Last month I reviewed four of my favourite podcasts, and now I’m back with another four. Let’s get going!

podcast 5Podcast: Flash Forward
Number of Episodes: 15+
Release: Every other Tuesday

As humans, we seem to spend an awful lot of time worrying about the future. Will we be successful? Will we be happy? Will we survive? In Flash Forward, every episode sees host Rose Eveleth conjure up a possible future for humanity. The show combines snippets of drama as we hear the future played out as if it’s happening, and masses of interesting information, as she speaks to experts about whether the future she’s envisioned could ever become a possibility.

Episode topics covered recently include a future where everyone wore lie detectors all the time, a future where we’d eradicated mosquitoes, a future where everyone knew their date of death, and a future where paper is no longer used and everything’s digital. Some of the ideas are realistic and could happen; others are from the deepest realms of impossible science fiction, but are no less interesting to discuss. It’s actually on it’s second season, but the first isn’t available on iTunes and I haven’t got round to listening to it yet. It also has another name; Meanwhile in the Future. The first season includes such futures as what would happen if Earth gained a second moon, or if a robotic overlord banned all human weaponry.

Rose is a very chipper host, keenly interested in her subject, and the interviewees she gets are no small bones, all being important in their fields. There is such a mix of tones and emotions at play here too, but she navigates them with serious skill. Any episode is worth listening to, but to start off I’d go for “My Everything Pal” or “Love at First Bot”.

podcast 6Podcast: Richard Herring’s Leicester Square Theatre Podcast
Number of Episodes: 100
Release: Wednesdays, but currently on hiatus

There are so many people in this world that I’d love to sit down and have a chat with. While I still can’t really do it, someone who can is Richard Herring. His podcast (RHLSTP) is smart, irreverent, hilarious and pure bliss. His guest list is one that other interviewers can only dream of, and it doesn’t matter who’s sitting opposite him, they’re going to get the same treatment. Herring is capable of asking really important questions, getting to the heart of who someone is and what drives them, and where they think their careers are going, but mostly he just wants to make cock jokes and talk about seventies television. That’s not a complaint.

It’s currently on hold, and will be back this month, but over the last 100 episodes, guests have ranked from up-and-coming comedians like Joe Lycett, Sara Pascoe and Roisin Conaty, to really high-profile guests like Stephen Fry, Eddie Izzard and Harry Shearer. While the guests are generally pulled from the world of comedy, there have also been academics (Mary Beard), TV presenters (Louis Theroux) and fellow podcasters (Helen Zaltzman and Olly Mann). While a lot of it seems to be Herring asking people if they’d rather have a hand made of ham or an armpit that produced sun cream, he nonetheless always gets a great interview.

Particularly wonderful episodes include Stephen Fry (for which the podcast got noticed by the mainstream press when Fry admitted to recently attempting suicide), Armando Iannucci & Graham Linehan (if only for Linehan’s Bob Dole anecdote), Louis Theroux (which contains a lot about Jimmy Saville), and Miles Jupp (who is distraught at Herring’s obsession with Balamory). Frankly, if you’ve ever liked anyone in comedy, chances are they’re in here somewhere.

While I’m a bit too young to have been able to appreciate Richard Herring the first time round – indeed, I didn’t know he had a lot of success in the nineties until I started listening to this – it’s clear that the rest of the comedy industry worships him and he seems to be on good terms with all his guests. They’re really good fun, but if you’re listening in public, be prepared to get some odd looks.

podcast 7Podcast: Serial
Number of Episodes: 20+

If there’s ever been a podcast that changed the nature of the genre and showed people what it was really capable of, it’s Serial. Everyone else has already talked about how wonderful this is, but in case you’ve been living under a rock with limited Internet access, here’s what you need to know.

Serial is the brainchild of Sarah Koenig, a journalist and producer who was asked to look into the case of Adnan Syed. He was arrested in 1999 for the murder of his ex-girlfriend, Hae Min Lee, a student in Baltimore, Maryland. Syed pleaded his innocence, but was given a life sentence in 2000. He is, as expected from this verdict, still in prison. Koenig looks into the case and begins to see that things aren’t as simple as they seem, so week by week goes back and visits the locations, speaks to the people who were involved at the time (although she wonders how much anyone can remember after 15 years) and talks directly to Syed himself. Koenig fishes up evidence, theories, information that was missed or ignored during the trial, and tries to piece together what really happened.

It’s hugely compelling, and I’ve already forced so many of my friends to listen to it. Not one of them was disappointed. It isn’t a spoiler at this point to say that when the series finishes, Koenig doesn’t give us an answer. She has presented to us all the evidence, and we can make up our own minds. The thing that makes this particularly compelling? In my social circle, we can’t agree on whether Syed was innocent or guilty. With our own backgrounds and ideas, we’ve chosen our own answers, for better or worse.

There is a second series, but it’s about a completely unrelated story, and while I haven’t listened to it, everyone I know who has says that it doesn’t compare at all to the first. So, please do listen to the first series of this, but then don’t feel an obligation to continue. It’s simply incredible listening.

podcast 8Podcast: No Such Thing As A Fish
Number of Episodes: 100+
Release: Every Friday

One of the greatest shows on TV is QI, simple as that. John Lloyd, the brains behind it (and, frankly, every excellent British comedy show of the last forty years) has declared it more a way of life than a show, and so it has expanded in many directions, including books, websites and clubs. A podcast was a logical step. Hosted by four of the QI researchers (the “elves”) – Dan, Anna, Andy and James – every week they take a bizarre fact that they’ve discovered and for about thirty to forty-five minutes discuss them and any other facts they’ve found related to each core fact. Prone to tangents and base humour when the opportunity arises, this is nonetheless one of the smartest and funniest podcasts ever.

The hosts have great chemistry, and while Anna and James are primarily researchers, Andy is an improv comic, and host Dan is a stand-up. They’re all blisteringly intelligent though, and can dredge up facts off hand about any topic, no matter how far from the original point they go. They also occasionally record the shows in front of a live audience (and I can tell you first hand, they are hugely entertaining evenings, having been to one myself) and now have their own TV show, No Such Thing As The News, which is in the same format, but with a more topical edge.

With over 100 episodes now, and that’s without including the special short episodes they did with information about each country taking part in the 2014 World Cup, there’s plenty to be getting on with here. They also occasionally turn up with a special guest, including Victoria Coren Mitchell, Simon Rich or John Lloyd himself. It’s the best way to learn without realising you’re learning.

More podcasts next month!

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