Pods n sods

Another of my very clever friends recommended I publish this list as a blog and I thought it would be an excellent opportunity, for once, to write about something other than myself. My friend Lucy asked me to recommend some podcasts, so this* is what I told her. Find them wherever you find your podcasts.

Queer Stories – Australian series hosted by Maeve Marsden, only about 15/20 mins per ep, very funny but also often make me cry. Hannah Gadsby is one of my favourite comedians ever, her ep is delightful – you don’t have to listen in order but they’re all brill.

Alone: A Love Story – one woman’s story about coming to terms with a break up. It’s SO well written but not over-written. Sad but not too sad.

The Heart – this is one of my faves, but I can see how it’s not for everyone. Again you can dip in and out or start from the beginning. Some of her short series are a little confronting – there’s a series called ‘No’, about women and consent which is important but difficult.

The Moth – the world’s most famous storytelling night, there are billions of eps, so dip in as and when. They started in New York but now hold nights all over the place so you can hear stories from London and Australia too – a real mix but always amusing and uplifting.

The Adam Buxton Podcast – is one of my faves, but I wonder how much of this relies on the fact I’ve loved him since I was about 12 years old. He’s silly but he has some brilliant guests so it’s a great example of the interview format.

Put Your Hands Together – a lovely, diverse standup night held at UCB LA, hosted by Cameron Esposito and Rhea Butcher, one of my favourite couples in the world! Their amazing sitcom ep 1 is available on YouTube, but the full series is unavailable in UK and I’m gutted! Cameron also hosts Queery, a really brilliant and positive interview pod with an array of queer-identifying people. I love it.

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Love + Radio – this is always in my top 3, again tons of eps, but I have gone back and heard them ALL. Sometimes the subject is not as interesting to me, but the presentation is gorgeous, minimal FX and music, people telling their own stories. I love it. My favourite ever ep is called The Boys Will Work It Out – it’s about fan fiction.

Love Me – this is a lot like L+R, but Canadian and with a female host, somehow more personal. Just a gorgeous thing to have in your ears.

2 Dope Queens – an NY stand up show, but Jessica and Phoebe are just the best thing on the Internet. They are hilarious, but also probably the only podhosts of colour I regularly listen to. The podworld is a very white space, so I strongly recommend getting your diversity here. They always make me laugh out loud. They have amazing guest comics too. I’ve listened to all eps and it’s worth going back a bit to get to know them.

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Crybabies – I *love* that this podcast exists! Two women, talking to excellent guests, about the things that make them cry! TV and movies and music, etc. I don’t listen to every ep but I’ve gone through and listened to all eps with comedians and actors I love.

Heavyweight – I adore this podcast. The host really plays up being a bit of an idiot, but the pod brings together people who’ve had a falling out. Friendships and families, all meddled with by this guy who is SO annoying – but I think (hope) he’s doing it on purpose for a joke. This one I think is worth going back to the beginning and listening all the way through.

Like Minded Friends – two of my fave British comedians, Tom Allen and Suzi Ruffell chatting. Short eps that always leave me wanting more.

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Throwing Shade – this was one of the first pods I became obsessed with. No need to go back and listen, just subscribe, as it’s very topical. Brian Safi and Erin Gibson discuss issues that affect gay people and women, with far less respect than the issues deserve! They are brilliantly funny, the issues are real and well worth hearing about (but I generally turn off during the interview).

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Women of the Hour – Lena Dunham’s podcast. If you like her you’ll like this.

Zoe Nightingale – a proper journalist, I just love the way Zoe talks to people. She’s brilliant.

My top drama pods are: The Black Tapes / Tanis / Rabbits – all made by the same people so if you like them you’ll like all three but they’re pretty spooky.

Cipher – haven’t listened to S2 yet but S1 was compelling.

Rathband – based on a true story, really great and British, but not easy.

 

*DISCLAIMER: These pods were collated and listed by me specifically for Lucy – if you’re noticing I haven’t put all the big, famous, obvious ones that’s because that is what they are. If you’re feeling snubbed because I didn’t list your podcast, that’s because it’s a bit niche and I didn’t think Lucy would like it. If you’re wondering why none of them are about murder, again, this is a Lucy list, not a me list. The me list is very, very murdery. Disturbingly so.

Love is…

This week I’ve been in a horrible funk. Nothing is clicking, my confidence is at a low; I’ve been exhausted, clumsy, battling the same horrifically boring demons I’ve faced since I was a kid. I’m coming to realise why ‘self-care’ is so important – and that’s because no matter how much I love my people, my Mama and Naughty Daughter, my wonderful group of women, we are all battling most of the time. You have to be able to give yourself a bit of attention, you can’t rely on anyone else to be able to swoop in, because you never know what they’re going through at the same time.

The week started with this podcast – please listen if you can spare the time. Now, you can’t know me without knowing that I love podcasts. As a medium I think some of the best work happening on the planet is happening here and I have pods in my ears around four to six hours a day at the moment. Cameron Esposito is a firm favourite and while a lot of pod episodes rely on being interested specifically in the guest, I can listen to Cam talking about this stuff with anyone. I’d never heard of Rebecca Sugar and I probably won’t watch her series, but this episode struck a massive chord with me. I started the week examining myself and my past – and the reasons I’ve never taken bisexuality seriously, even my own.

So perhaps it was the perfect time to head to the Iris Prize Festival, where I knew absolutely no one, so was alone, consistently confronted by some of the best films I’ve ever seen – but all of which came at a fairly high emotional price. I have cried a lot this week.

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I had some fairly mixed feelings when someone posted on FB an urban exploring site showing photos of my old school. I marvelled at it and barely recognised most of the more opulent spaces – this place is like a palace – as I hadn’t been in half those rooms as a student. But the corridors and science labs brought back some very conflicted memories.

I loved my friends, I was in awe of so many of the girls and so desperate for them to love me back. But I was desperately unhappy too. I didn’t fit, I was bullied and in turn bullied those weaker than me. I was cruel and in pain and acting out. At fourteen, when I brought home a school report where the maths teacher described me as ‘morose’, my mother realised she no longer recognised the person I had become and she whipped me out of there pretty quickly. The school were furious at her seeming ingratitude for the financial bursaries I’d received. But I doubt they ever questioned themselves, or how I’d become so unhappy and ostracised in a place where they had constantly treated me as inferior; not Catholic, not rich, not conforming and from a broken home.

Looking back, it seemed the worst thing you could be at an all-girls convent school was a lesbian. Or ‘lemon’ as we used to say, because the word itself was distasteful. Even ‘finger-fucking’, i.e. masturbating, was ‘gay’. As we pored over every copy of Just 17 and gossiped about each other, it was clear that having sexual or romantic feelings for another girl was basically disgusting. Under Section 28, the school were under no obligation to teach us anything about same sex love or relationships, so all I heard was scorn if anyone was considered to be ‘a lezzer’. It wasn’t even a particularly religious view, among most of my friends, but it was unanimously held. Or so I thought.

Of course, once I left the school it was revealed that at least a few of the girls had been in relationships with each other, having sex and later coming out as lesbian, like it was no big deal. I’m pleased for them that they were able to be who they were. But a seed was sown at a particularly confusing time for me. I was in no doubt that I was in love with Kurt Cobain, that was certain. But I couldn’t tell when I looked at Courtney Love, whether I wanted her, or wanted to be her. I just knew that if I’d admitted to the feelings I had for women, decades before we had the term ‘girl crush’, I would be ostracised and rejected on yet more grounds. So I kept it to myself.

After school I fell in love, with a male human, and we were together throughout my college years. By that point I knew that some people might think they were bisexual, but most people think they’re kidding themselves. Bisexuality was never in my experience, unless it was a joke about being ‘slutty’ or basically gay or… well we all know the stereotypes. I just kept schtum. I had a boyfriend therefore I couldn’t be bisexual.

Then I went to university. Whys and wherefores aside, I ended up at Royal Holloway which was about 80% female and, in my experience, about 50% gay. It was brilliant and I had a lot of fun in the five months before I quit. I had fun with boys and I had fun with girls and I had fun with a boy who looked like a girl who was dressed as Frankenfurter the night we met. It was a pretty cliché university experience, although me being me, I packed a lot into those two semesters.

Right after I came home I got pregnant. And that was that, really. For years and years afterwards I denied my sexuality. I believed the rumours – that lesbians don’t trust bisexuals. I didn’t think any woman would want to be with me, because I had a kid and they would think I was heterosexual and lying to them for some reason. For what reason? Now I think about it, almost in tears, I’d built up a lot of shame and fear and it’s actually entirely inexplicable. Why couldn’t I just be honest, put myself out there? I was hobbled by what I thought was an obstacle, whether or not it existed. Instead I made bungling, horrid mistakes. I won’t go into them here – I’m not in any way shy about it, but there are other people to consider. However I lost a couple of female friends that I fell for hard, but with whom I couldn’t be honest. And I went out with a whole bunch of men.

Even until recently the pattern continued. On dating apps I went from ‘seeking men and women’ to ‘seeking women’. However, while I was intimidated by these cool, sexy, beautiful women, getting men was easy and I’d end up dating women, but going out with men. Some decent men, but still…

At some point, alongside the relationships and one night stands and then taking a big break from drinking, which made everything better but infinitely harder, I became a much more political feminist, an angry woman, an out bisexual and – at this point – a bit of a hairy man-hater. And I obviously don’t really hate men, there are two I really like. But I talk to women every day, I crave the company of women, I don’t have any interest in heterosexuality or heteronormativity. It’s just taken so long to get here.

Last year National Coming Out Day was such a proud time for me, but it stirred up a lot of hurt. I couldn’t help but think of all of those beautiful children around the world who can’t come out, or do and lose their families, their friends and even their lives.

The films at the Iris Festival this week, some of which were set in the past or in vastly different cultures across the globe, all hit me as a reminder – that to be gay was illegal in this country so recently and still is in several places across the world. That to be openly LGBTQI+ will give you a community, a proud and vocal one – and I urge you to go to an LGBTQI+ screening some time and hear just how vocal! It’s truly a delight to hear the responses and encouragements. But that in our other communities and families we are often prevented from being ourselves. Churches talk about love, but preach hate. Families fail to understand and blame cultural differences or the generation gap or a rural mindsets! Although this is not about my mother, who has always accepted me, and I know I am so lucky. I know in my case, this was something I did to myself. Yes, it was because of media and society and all that shit, but it was all in my head. I told myself my sexuality was irrelevant as long as I dated men – but finally, this week, a podcast made me realise a few things about that. I’m happier when I’m honest, with everyone else and with myself.

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Hardly any of the films at Iris tackled coming out stories, but many of them contained violence and castigation, people shunned from their families, their religion of all things, their locale. In some cases the worst a characters faced was heartbreak – but it all seems so unnecessary, so avoidable. Why should our hearts be broken?

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Many of the films tackled masculinity and the aggressive shame surrounding homosexuality, which is so ridiculous. Why wouldn’t you prefer someone of the same sex – you have so much in common! [NB Come on, lesbian filmmakers, more please!]

Whether it was Xhosa men in South Africa or the tensions for women in modern Palestine – or even sheep shearers in my home county of rural Herefordshire – it’s distressing and disturbing to see people being torn apart because of something so real, so human, so natural. It makes no sense to me that this is how anyone feels about love.

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One of the few good things I took away from my time at the Convent was, ironically, a bible passage. It’s the best one.  It describes love and although I don’t love any god, I love love and I’m so desperate to love humanity. Please listen to the podcast, watch some of the Iris films, think about the real humans who are still suffering because of love and think about how little sense that makes.

Only the worst things happen when we’re not allowed to love each other. Only the best things happen when we are.

 

For the love of love

Last night I had an emotional first-time experience with Tim Minchin. It was a one-off show, tiny, intimate venue absolutely stuffed with industry and me, siting at the back of the stalls. Tim specifically asked us not to review the show, that’s not what this is, but I was struck by the intensity of the feelings inspired.

My friend Charlie (nerdy about everything) is a big Tim fan. She bought a spare ticket, otherwise I wouldn’t have known it was on, and I happened to be in London.

I’ve encountered Tim over the years, mainly on YouTube. I know him to be funny, clever, talented. But live, in this small theatre, as he played a mix of really wonderful new songs and a few of his old comedy songs, with which I was no more familiar, it was pretty overwhelming.

He played a couple of crowd-pleasers from his musical, Matilda. I’d seen this when it first opened, when Charlie and I had tried to make a tradition of taking my Naughty Daughter to the RSC xmas production instead of a panto.

He also played a couple of songs from his latest musical Groundhog Day, which I’d seen last year in its West End preview. Charlie took me to that too, although she saw it seven times, most recently as the Broadway production closed.

I love a good musical, and GHD is a bloody brilliant musical. It’s so cleverly staged in its repititons, beautifully cast and performed, and the songs – including the anthemic Playing Nancy, a feminist ballad about being the pretty bit-part – are to die for. And when I think today of Tim playing Seeing You last night, my eyes well and I’m again overcome.

One of the most satisfying things about the gig was how well Tim Minchin knows his audience. And I don’t mean personally, although that probably accounted for a third of them. But he referenced his front row fans, made in-jokes about his own songs and the few people who didn’t already know his punchlines. He played with them and they loved him all the more for it.

So why am I so emotional about something Charlie’s the actual fan of? Well seemingly, that’s what I do.

I remember when Charlie told me about some rap musical she was excited to see on Broadway and that New Year’s Eve she sat on the floor of my new apartment rapping along to the original Broadway cast recording. Charlie! Rapping! I know! A mere 18 months later and Charlie, ND and I were rapping along to that same soundtrack on our US roadtrip, as we visited Monticello, the Lafayette tour sites of Savannah Georgia, the Richard Rogers theatre – all locations relating to Alexander Hamilton or, more importantly, Hamilton: an American Musical. As I write I’m wearing my cheap knock-off Hamilton t-shirt. Now, whenever I well-up listening to the Broadway cast recording I think of how much I’m going to cry when I see the show live in the West End in December. And I’m taking ND on her 18th birthday next year. That in itself can make me weep.

When someone asked why I was going multiple times I couldn’t answer. I don’t know why this is as important to me now, as I approach forty, as going to see Take That was when I was 12. Or the Levellers at 18. Or Maxïmo Park at 27.

Without Charles I never would’ve wept my way through the heartbreaking Fun Home on Broadway, or seen this weird comedy film Brakes at London Comedy festival, or pretended to be in a meeting and watched the last ever episode of Parks and Rec at work (then hiding for a further half an hour because I’d been crying so hard). Thanks to Charlie, I not only took ND to see her first production of Rent (which I bawled through) but I’ve read Anthony Rapp’s book about the making of the original show and had a much deeper experience of the piece, like the girls who come to it at the age of 16 and become obsessed.

And it’s not just Charlie. I can cry my eyes out when Fulham score in a rare televised match, even though I don’t see them live anymore. I’m banned from seeing Naughty Daughter’s shows because I get so tearful and embarrassing. I saw Zoë Coombs Marr’s show Trigger Warning twice this year in Edinburgh, because I was so off my tits on raw emotion I couldn’t take it all in during one viewing. Tears can pour out of my eyes during any TV show, movie, or even a particularly moving trailer for a movie (again, much to ND’s embarrassment).

Yet I can’t remember the last time I properly cried in real life. My Grandpa’s funeral maybe?

Why do I love Hamilton so much? No idea. Why do I get so overwhelmed when I’m chanting that Fulham are the greatest team, the world has ever seen? Haven’t a clue.

In 2004, when I wrote my BA dissertation, titled Being A Fan is Really Cool, I outlined different types of fans and fan behaviours. Compared to all those types, I’m not a good fan. I don’t put the hours in, do the research. I don’t know when people are touring or who wrote this or starred in that. I’m led by the nose by my friends and family, pointing me in the direction of things I then fall utterly in love with, but I don’t do the homework. I’m just in it for the feels, the glory, buy the tshirt, get to show off that I’m a fan of the thing that other people are talking about. Because I might love so hard I cry, but no matter how you come to a thing, love is cool. Being a fan is really cool.