Sunday, January 31, 2021

The End of the Beginning

We've all crawled towards the finish line of the end of January. It feels like the 51st, never mind the 31st. It's always a bit of a grind, even in normal times, but the routine of my life has always been the happy promise of a family get together and a party for my Dad's birthday at the end of this month. This year it's been a card and a phone call, not steak and chips in the Toll House.  Like so many things, making do and staying safe is no substitute. Last week I tried to make an effort and caught up with a few good friends over the phone and Zoom and whatever else. It's not the same as breaking bread with them, or the free flowing conversation that comes from a walk on the hills, or on an awayday to the match, or just time well spent doing nothing much at all. My stock response to friendly enquiries is that I'm OK. But I worry, constantly, about how everyone is. And I find my self saying it's OK not to be OK, like I know what I'm talking about. Instead I stop and talk to this object in a field, above, that I pass on my morning walk. I don't know what it is, what it does, or why it's there. And then it speaks back to me saying pretty much the same thing of me. We seem to have been in close proximity to heartbreak and real grief recently, the net result being we hold our own ever closer, literally and metaphorically, depending on distance. I'm relieved our parents have had the vaccine, it gives us the hope that this is edging towards something better, that there will be birthday get togethers again, that we will enjoy life as it is meant to be lived. Until then we can only say what I say at the end of our radio show each week - look after each other out there. 


Friday, January 29, 2021

Upping my podcast game, an update

I said I wanted to 'up my podcast game' a couple of weeks ago. Anyway, on that theme two recordings I did this month have landed today, rather proving the point that the production, marketing, social and framing of podcasts generally has been through quite the evolution.

First up, two of my hiking friends Mitch and Richard asked me to carry on a conversation that probably started at Kinder Downfall earlier in the year, just as we came out of lockdown one. They have an amazing podcast series about the world of work and it was so good to speak with them.  

Then the Higher Education policy platform and news hub WonkHE invited me on to the WonkHE Show pick through the week's news. Hope you enjoy it.

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Upping the podcast game

One of my New Year resolutions is to up my podcast game. I want to do more of it, I want to get better at it, and I want to have a bit more production control over an end product. 

I'm getting some better gear to complement a top quality microphone (currently without a cable), and have got the youngest son on the case for a mixer and the best software. 

But that's enough about me. The reason is down to the absolute game changing quality of podcast output over the last year. The ones I'm involved in have got really good, so a big shout to Ian from the BRFCS podcast for nailing the tech and the production. Obviously doing a show with a proper radio station with broadcasting professionals means we have raised our game too.

Even in a global pandemic with travel restrictions, the dramatic quality of podcasts keeps getting better. My mate Macca casually asked me this week if I could recommend a few and that's focused my mind. 

Here they are:

Nonce hunting with John Sweeney (above).

Lions Led by Donkeys, history podcast from the US. The ones on the Khmer Rouge are amongst the most harrowing I've ever come across, but because of their presentation style, it's more digestable and at times it's darkly entertaining.


I recommended this about a major financial scam, but I've also blogged about it before, here. It was the story of 2019 and it's far from resolved.

A couple of deep dive investigations. One into an absolute balloon who managed to con her way around New York, and a far more sinister account of spooks, skullduggery and dark state actions in war zones and online.

So many of these music and culture nostalgia trips are absolute crap. This is actually really good. Creditable sources, captures the scene really well.


For curiosity and stimulation, no-one gets near the RSA. You'd expect the son of Laurie Taylor to be a good broadcaster, but Matthew Taylor is a peerless public intellectual.

Finally, there's Matt Forde. You know I'm a fan so I'm not going to miss him off a list of great podcasts.


Monday, January 11, 2021

Immersed in the Wild


We were only only six years late to this, but the best film we saw in 2020 was Wild, based on the true story by Cheryl Strayed, brilliantly adapted by Nick Hornby, and with an awesome performance by Reese Witherspoon as Cheryl.

At times it was a tough watch, seeing Cheryl's heartbreak and descent, but if you'd seen the trailer (above) and knew the back story, you'd already priced that in. What made it all the more remarkable was the atmosphere it generated, helped along by the scenery of the Pacific Crest Trail that she walked, but also the music. It's taken me down a Grateful Dead, Simon & Garfunkel and Leonard Cohen rabbit hole which we've played a bit of on our Music Therapy programme. 

The book is also on order, but I might wait before getting some Danner boots.

Thursday, January 07, 2021

Across an Angry Sea - the SAS in the Falklands War

I used to do short book reviews based on doing a pithy description in the time it took to ride eight floors in a lift. It was based on a journey I did every day for 11 years, often with a book in my hand, and often accompanied by a colleague who'd ask, what's that about? 

The modern equivalent is a passing Teams or Zoom call. Enough time that they can still concentrate, and not too much of a monologue that I'll lose my train of thought.

I thought this today when discussing recent cultural consumptions. I mentioned that I'd read a book about the SAS in the Falklands War of 1982 and though I didn't get an eyeroll, I definitely picked up enough of a scent to say in reply - it's not what you think. It really isn't like something from that macho confessional that did so well a couple of decades ago. Cedric Delves is incredibly thoughtful, deeply respectful and a very, very good writer. It does cover the historical narrative of the Falklands War, but it isn't a history of that conflict. 

I found three things about it particularly enthralling.

One, the terrain of the Falklands and absolutely dreadful weather conditions they constantly battled and the conversations they had about this new invention called Gore-tex.

Two, the morality of war. There was a clear sense that this was a right and just endeavour. But in executing it there is total respect for the lives of other soldiers, especially of the enemy. This was probably the last war our forces have fought under something like civilised rules of engagement. Geneva convention, terms of surrender, prisoners, etc. All the close encounters with actual Argentines are fascinating.

Three, the humility of the SAS. I know that sounds totally counter intuitive, but they are not as portrayed in shoot em up action films and by Lewis Collins and Ant Middleton. We hear a lot about command management and military discipline, but Delves' descriptions of tactical consensus building was genuinely eye opening. I also learnt the difference between material and materiel. 

OK, we've been stuck on the landing for a couple of minutes while I did my three things, but this was a great book.

Friday, January 01, 2021

Happy New Year

I'm sorry I didn't blog in December, after doing a daily entry throughout November. I had a busy enough time getting out on the hills and trying to focus. I genuinely couldn't summon up the enthusiasm for an end of year reflection on 2020; everyone's said what needs to be said. I do owe a few music, book and film reviews but to be honest I've enjoyed the time to read and listen and immerse over Christmas without the pressure of doing a review. The radio show has been a good outlet for some of that, but none of it is massively contemporary anyway. I've also done a bit of journaling, which means it's ideas and thoughts that aren't fully formed yet. Anyway, take care and see you soon.