My lockdown essentials: podcasts

A post about why I love podcasts and which shows are seeing me through.

Over the last year or so I have been consuming podcasts as regularly as I watch TV or read books. I like that I can listen almost anywhere or doing anything. It was a revelation that I prefer listening to podcasts when running to listening to music. They hold my attention for longer. I also listen when driving alone, cooking, walking, in the bath, ironing. They are a reliable and comforting presence when my mind needs to be channelled into being occupied, but not overwhelmed.

I work alone, run alone and spend most of my days off alone right now and I like the effortless company – having chatter alongside me that I don’t need to find the energy to engage in. Arranging to meet a friend for a walk or to catch up on the phone needs coordination and frankly it’s been a long year of walking and video calls. I like letting new perspectives and ideas wash over me and I can choose the level of attention I want to give it without worrying about appearing rude.

I have noticed that I like to listen to podcasts led by females most often. I live with two boys and I definitely miss the female company of my friends and colleagues. My friendship Whatsapp groups are a place of comfort. Where a few words can say so much and I am just, known. I have realised that it is the familiar format and reassuring shorthand that I also seek through my listening.

‘How to fail with Elizabeth Day’ sees a guest list three failures and be interviewed by the writer who gives her name to the show. The premise is that we learn most about ourselves through our failures and we also find our way to success. The interview style is not at all grilling, but it is warm and gets good insights.

I have noticed that I like podcasts that feature writers. It’s a good way of engaging in recent book releases without ordering them all. I already have a big stack of unread books to get through and listening to interviews will sometimes inform my book buying. I also think writers tend to be thoughtful and conversations become more interesting. They are used to conversing about big themes and topics and communicating their ideas.

I also like ‘Desert Island Discs’ with Lauren Laverne. I am a fan of Lauren’s BBC 6 Music show and think she is both a relatable and insightful broadcaster. I realise that Desert Island Discs is a radio programme, but I rarely listen live and usually consume it via an app on my phone and listen via a Bluetooth speaker or headphones like I would a podcast. The age-old format for this show never changes. Each guest is to imagine themselves as a castaway on a desert island, and they are asked to choose which songs they would want to take with them to listen to. The choices then tell a story of their life and experiences. They are also asked to choose a book and a luxury item. The choices can be revealing. I like to try and spot the input of a PR team, or maybe I am just cynical?!

Another broadcaster who has turned her hand to interviewing guests on her podcast is Annie MacManus. Annie is a Radio 1 DJ known for her evening dance shows and was the soundtrack to many hours of me getting ready to go out. Like me, Annie is married and a mother these days, but unlike me, she’s still a big fan of raving. I just can’t imagine being awake after midnight… Maybe for a post-lockdown blow out? Annie’s podcast is called ‘Changes’ and she invites guests to talk about changes that have shaped their lives. It’s interesting to hear what they come up with. One of my favourite episodes was with Bez of Happy Mondays fame. He really has experienced a lot in life, and I loved hearing about his surprising passion for beekeeping.

The fact that the format of these podcasts is always the same is probably part of the appeal for me. Some comforting structure in an unpredictable locked down year. Having the same hosts turn up (almost) every week and find different answers to the same questions reminds me how unique we all are, yet how much we have in common. I have heard wisdom from guests I have previously never heard of that has changed the trajectory of my day. I have heard insights about our current situation that reminds me how humbling isolation is for everyone, even best-selling authors. I have heard stories that are funny, sad, inspiring, depressing and even enlightening that are all hung on the same framework – failures, changes and music.

For me, podcasts are how I stay entertained, but also, how I make sense of big things. They are my accompaniment to lockdown and COVID-19, they have captured this strange time and they have become part of my tools for life that I will take with me. They may even spur me to come up with my own answers to the big questions posed by Elizabeth, Lauren and Annie.  

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