What's On: Podcasts perfect for now
We've all been adapting to a new normal during the Covid-19 pandemic. Lisa Millard asks some Velvet folk about life in lockdown and to share their isolation soundtracks
Tim Blake, owner of The Stillery, Bury St Edmunds, and Velvet columnist
"The Stillery is closed during lockdown, though we've just launched a cocktail delivery service in BSE, and my other positions have been furloughed so I am chief schoolteacher to my 8 and 9-year-old boys, Ben and Jake. Their mother is a key worker with the council so is busy phoning small businesses at the moment. To keep myself sane I am working on a few projects which have been a bit on the back burner, designing some new drinks/spirits, making cocktail videos and catching up on some self-learning. This is interspersed with more exercise than I have done in a long time!
"I haven’t got a specific go-to, but I enjoy history – not in a textbook sort of way but in a whimsical fashion. A lot of bartender and drinks research is based around delving into the past. There is quite a funny podcast by some American comedians called The Dollop which looks at some of the weirder episodes in history – it started in 2014 so plenty to go back on. Obviously Desert Island Discs is always an interesting listen, plus I am partial to a bit of comedy – who doesn’t like ‘My Dad Wrote A Porno'?"
Susie Biller, Head of Communications, Kettle’s Yard, Cambridge
"All four of us, including the 12 and 15-year-old girls, are working or studying from home. I’m actually busier than ever, and for once feel privileged to be so busy. I think it’s really hard for those who are usually busy suddenly having too much time. It’s been amazing to receive so much positive feedback to the films and digital resources such as the virtual tour and Kettle’s Yard webcam that we’ve shared.
"Every evening, to help me to switch off from work and to stop me switching straight onto checking the news, my treat is to listen to two singers. Maz O’Connor, who I heard in February at the Junction, has the most beautiful, pure voice and every day on Instagram she posts a 30-second clip of her singing in harmony with herself (there are three of her) – see @mazoconnormusic. Then I move to Grace Petrie, who is going through the alphabet one cover at a time with fellow musician Ben Morris – their songs are more likely to make me laugh (see their cover of Britney Spears' ‘Oops I Did It Again’) but also cry (see their cover of the Beach Boys' ‘God Only Knows’). Their lovely dog is usually there trying to sleep through the whole thing. I very much hope they will go through the alphabet again and again – see @gracepetriemusic.
" Music is the purest escape for me right now, it frees my mind and allows my brain to wander in a way I really need at the moment."
Ian Cumming, Great British Bake Off baker and Velvet columnist
"I don’t tend to listen to a lot of audiobooks or podcasts, but the last one I listened to was weirdly prophetic. Back in the carefree days of February half-term we decided to go on a family trip to see family in Dorset and to visit Cheddar Gorge. Since we were going to be in the car for a reasonable while we left the choice of audiobook to my children, Zoe and George. Zoe had read a few of Ross Welford’s books and so she managed to persuade her brother to agree to ’The Dog That Saved The World’.
"My wife and I had never heard of it but as soon as we started to cruise down the M3 the similarities to the real world were more than a little bizarre. The basic background to the story is that a highly infectious disease, originally from China, has crossed species and is causing death and unimaginable chaos. Sound familiar?
"As we flicked between the news on the radio and the audiobook, the boundaries between the real world and the story were getting very blurred. But the book has a healthy dose of fantasy in it and, as the title suggests, a dog that saves the world. As I write this, I am in the middle of isolating having had a, mercifully mild, dose of coronavirus and looking at my cats to see if they can do anything as useful as save the world. Sadly, I fear they’ll do nothing more heroic than bring in yet another mouse to set free in the house. I suggest steering clear of reality and submersing yourself in this wonderful tale."
Kate Rhodes, Cambridge-based author of Burnt Island (Simon & Schuster) and other titles
"I am lucky to have an established routine to stick to during the lockdown, and I’ve spent years working at home. I have a book to write by July, so I climb the stairs to my attic every day, to dream up stories. I’m fortunate also that Dave, my retired art teacher husband, is pottering about happily in his studio on the ground floor.
"Our allotment has been a refuge too; we’ve been making regular trips there as our form of exercise. I find that audio books are an excellent way to banish stress during this strange time, so I have been listening to The Shining Mountain by Peter Boardman. He wrote his account of an incredibly daring Himalayan climb in the Seventies, but the story is still fresh and exhilarating. I love hearing stories about things I could never achieve myself, and it’s like stepping into a far more adventurous world.
"I listen to it sometimes while sitting in a deckchair on solitary trips to our scruffy allotment, but please don’t tell my husband, will you? He thinks I’m tackling brambles…"
Tine Roche, founder of Cambridge Cookery and Velvet columnist
"When the Government declared that whilst the hospitality industry was free to stay open, but that people should stay away, we realised immediately that business as we knew it had ended. For the past weeks I have run a blog from my own kitchen, sharing some of my favourite recipes from classes and the café, as well as the kind of delicious, healthy 10-minute meals I cook at home.
"After careful consideration I then reopened the café for take-outs only. I have been in from 6am to make sure we have a full counter by 9am when we open and then we operate as if we were a bakery or deli, over our very large counter. As we have a lawn and terrace outside, safe-distance queuing works really well. I didn’t know what to expect when I first opened the doors, and it turned out to be very emotional. Most of our customers turned up, visibly affected by the lockdown and so very happy to see us open again. People have missed going out for a coffee so much.
"I am new to podcasts. I have been a voracious reader all my life and getting into podcasts took a little getting used to. But now I love it. I am a HUGE Hilary Mantel fan and have been since I read her first tour de force ‘A Place of Greater Safety’ in 1982. I ration my listening session of the third and final part of her chronicle of Thomas Cromwell. Of course, the reader knows full well what is coming, and it’s heartbreaking even though we have become accustomed to the brutality of the era and of our protagonist. The pull on me of this breathtakingly clever and emotional novel is probably similar to that of TV soap operas on those who are hooked. Riveting."
Jane Horwood, founder of Catfish Web Design and Trash Chic
"I work from a home office and, as a web designer, most of my work is done remotely. I am happy in my own company and not the kind of person who gets bored. However, check back here in a month if we’re still in lockdown. It may be a very different story.
"BBC Sounds is a life-saver. I’ve been trawling through the back catalogue of Desert Island Discs and In our Time with Melvyn Bragg stretches my mind (sometimes a bit too much), although his recent podcast The Gin Craze was easier to digest. Another BBC delight is The Poet Laureate Has Gone To His Shed with Simon Armitage and Guy Garvey of Elbow discussing bird watching, writing and going off on a bit of a tangent.
"My subscription to Audible is getting full use, although I am not in the mood for anything too deep as my mind does feel distracted. Favourite listens at the moment are pretty much anything by Alan Bennet, Bill Bryson and Alexander McCall Smith. For anyone struggling to get to sleep at night, they may find Sleeping with David Baddiel helpful. I'm also enjoying Mudlarking by Lara Maiklem as I love a bit of foraging."
Neil Bharadwa, Cambridge Fruit Company
"Life is just insane for me right now. I’m working 16-hour days to get fruit and veg boxes delivered to isolating households, NHS Staff and vulnerable families via The Red Hen Project.
"I drive around *a lot*. I used to listen to BBC news stations like 5 Live but I found after 15 years I got bored. News stories on loop all day are just monotonous and, dare I say, depressing.
"Now I’ve switched solely to listening to house music podcasts. I’m in my own zone while I’m driving. They instantly take me away to long weekends in Ibiza, either lazing around a pool to chilled house, or the huge Superclub nights, with massive tension build ups and bass drops that shake your soul to the core.
"My favourite podcasts come from Defected Radio and every Friday they also host a disco show called Glitterbox. Suffice to say, Friday is my favourite day of the week."
Cathy Moore, founder and director of the Cambridge Literary Festival
"Life since the lockdown has been busy. With the cancellation of our spring literary festival, we took the decision to create some online content and launched The Listening Festival from start to finish in three weeks. The Listening Festival has podcasts, recorded events and archived classic events all now freely accessible. Hard work alongside the glorious spring happening on my doorstep and a slower pace of living has been delightful, albeit with the regular reality check of how bad life is for many. I feel fortunate.
"Two books have taken me away from the here and now. First is The Offing by Benjamin Myers: set during one summer following World War Two, a 16-year-old boy sets off on foot to see something of his country. Evoking the spirit of simpler lives this is a kind, warm and beautiful read. Also The Living Mountain by Nan Shepherd, a lyrical testament to the Cairngorms which transports and inspires in equal measure.
"Whilst there is more time and life is slower, I am also reading The Uninhabitable Earth by David Wallis-Wells, a brilliant and brutal portrait of the climate emergency and our future lives on earth which will shock even the most hardened of those in climate change denial out of complacency. I am reading it slowly as there is only so much you can take in at once.
"For sheer pleasure and when out walking I occasionally listen to the wonderful Backlisted Podcast which breathes new life into classic books."
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More by this authorLisa Millard