With the world in chaos wrought by Covid-19, Radiolab looks back at the broader impacts of the last global pandemic. There are convincing links that are made between the Spanish Flu and the negotiating of the Treaty of Versailles (and as a result, the rise of the Nazis), the fight for India’s independence, and every single flu death in the 100 years since. At one point the producer gives this haunting description of the flu: “In those rooms where Wilson and Clémenceau are sitting, that there’s this other chair there, this empty chair. You know, it’s over by itself, no one’s paying attention to it. And I just keep thinking how it was almost as if the virus itself kind of had a seat at the table”.
You don’t have to look hard to see how the Covid virus is stealthily occupying many seats at many tables right now (albeit virtual tables).
Confusingly, the opening story is told by the voices of Jad, Tad and Pat. Bear with them it’s worth it.
Radiolab publishes transcripts of every episode. Kudos.
July is Audiocraft month in Australia. This year the festival went online and it was the next best thing. My first recommendation for this month came by way of of an Audiocraft session, which were extremely well programmed this year by the inimitable Jess O’Callaghan.
I also presented at the Audiocraft festival. See more about my session Mic on Nature here.
Widows of Shuhada – RNZ
“Four women whose husbands were made martyrs (shuhada) – in the Christchurch mosque attacks of March 15, 2019, have allowed us into their lives as they come to terms with their new reality – Widows of Shuhada.” This is an intense series on many levels. The stories of these woman who lost their husbands in a brutal attack are gut-wrenchingly sad. One woman was four months pregnant when her husband died, and is now caring for an infant alone. Another was present at the mosque that day and witnessed the terror and violence. All the women speak eloquently and share their stories with generosity and honesty.
As a non-religious person, I find the careful explanations of Muslim ideas and practises interesting and, at times, confronting. I find it hard to get my head around the idea that the men who were killed were chosen by Allah, and being chosen in this way is an honour….
The production team behind this series presented at Audiocraft and it was one of my favourite sessions, along with a fellow RNZ presentation – that of the team behind White Silence (which if you haven’t listened to, you should). It was so refreshing to hear non-American perspectives on storytelling and audio.
The Skewer – BBC Radio 4
The series description: “a dizzying, dazzling satirical river of sound”, is entirely accurate. Listening to The Skewer feels like floating downstream, bouncing between dreamlike memories of events and ideas of 2019 and 2020.
This is the first of six episodes (each is in two parts for no apparent reason).
Intrigue: Tunnel 29 – BBC Radio 4
Two BBC Radio 4 recommendations in one month – they do what they do very well.
This series – part of the Intrigue feed that includes The Ratline, another acclaimed series to which I am yet to listen – tells the story of a tunnel from east to west Berlin, and the 29 people who escaped through it in 1962. It’s a remarkable story, expertly told by Helena Merriman. Each episode ends on a cliff-hanger which is slightly irritating but extremely successful in encouraging you to listen to them in quick succession.
Deep Breaths: How Breathing Affects Sleep, Anxiety & Resilience – Fresh Air
A typically excellent Terry Gross interview with journalist James Nestor, author of ‘Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art.’ Chances are you’ve been paying a lot more attention to your respiratory system of late, but this will make you think about it in a new and exciting way. Humans take about 25,000 breaths per day, giving it little thought, but how and where you breathe can have a big impact on your health.
There’s also a great review of a new album of Transylvanian folk songs.
Let’s be honest, it feels like we’re living in some sort of dystopia right now. A setting for a sci-fi or spooky video game. As it turns out, a very similar situation was played out World of Warcraft (a multiplayer online game). In 2005, the game was taken over by a virus called Corrupted Blood, and people behaved a lot like we’re seeing in the real life version right now. . I talk with epidemiologist and gamer Eric Lofgren, NYU game design instructor Alexander King and longtime player Virginia Wilkerson about the parallels between the pandemic in World of Warcraft the one we’re facing in the real world, and what lessons we can learn by studying how players reacted to a virtual virus.
The Question of Black Identity – Historically Black
This episode is from 2016 but I found it on a list of recommendations being shared around all the Black Lives Matter protests that were taking place in June. It’s hosted by Roxane Gay who is excellent at it. It’s about just how complex racial identity in the U.S. because, in Gay’s wise words: “race is an invented category rooted in slavery”. In this episode we hear the voices of four people who, at one time or another, have had to answer the question: “What are you?”
This is the first episode of the Paris Review podcast and to be honest I would recommend listening to all of them. The podcast brings together readings of poetry and prose and tape (sometimes reenactments) of interviews from the Review’s enviable archive.
This episode features a delightful interview with Maya Angelou interviewed by George Plimpton, who opens with: You once told me that you write lying on a made-up bed with a bottle of sherry, a dictionary, Roget’s Thesaurus, yellow pads, an ashtray, and a Bible. What’s the function of the Bible?
This podcast is from Studio Ochenta, a Paris-based outfit that specialises in multi-lingual storytelling. Ochenta Stories is a series of short fiction stories/mini-docs/audio art from quarantine. (Yes more multilingual podcasts please!)
This episode, presented first in Italian and then in English, is about one mans’s troubled relationship with his bonsai plant. I speak a bit of Italian but not enough to understand the story in Italian. Nevertheless, as with all episodes from this show, I find it really enjoyable to listen to languages other than my native tongue.
Punk in a Pandemic – Mike Williams and Friends
Mike Williams, ace storyteller and all round great guy, has embarked on an ambitious indie endeavour to publish three episodes a week of this new show. Each episode features a phonecall with a random Facebook friend. I have my suspicions about just how randomly they are selected.
Punk in a Pandemic tells the hilarious story of ‘Fucking Carnage’, a punk band started in a Toronto sharehouse in the height of Covid lockdown.