This is where I write about what I’m thinking and feeling as I’m listening, talking, writing and playing. I’d really like to know what you’re thinking too, so read on then get in touch.
This morning’s Pause For Thought for the Zoe Ball Breakfast Show on BBC Radio 2 was inspired by a much missed friend, Adrian Reith, who would always ask questions that opened you up. The short stories I mention can be found wherever you get your podcasts, just search my name and Can We Talk?
You can hear it here and the words are below https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/p0c3q4pm
I lost a friend recently. His name was Adrian and I’ve been thinking about him a lot over the past couple of weeks.
He was a warm man, a wise man, a wickedly funny man. a big brother figure, a mentor to me and others, who helped us to find our way by asking questions.
He’d listen to me fret about a thing I was hoping to do and he’d go: “Why not do it now?”
Asking incisive questions like that is a real skill in life, one I’ve tried to acquire myself over the years in my work as an interviewer, and I’m writing and recording short stories at the moment for my podcast Can We Talk? about encounters I’ve had with remarkable people, from the likes of Tiger Woods and Scarlett Johannsson to Zahra, a refugee who came across the Channel in a boat on Christmas Day.
In every case, as I listen back to the tapes, the questions we ask each other open us up, until we are just two humans, sharing a moment, learning.
Everybody wants answers from Jesus in the stories Christians tell, but he very rarely answers directly; and instead asks question after question:
“Who do you say I am?”
“Do you want to be well?”
“Do you love me?”
He asks Peter that one three times in the weeks after Easter, matching the three times Peter denied knowing him when everything was going wrong.
“Do you love me?”
“Yes, I do.”
“Do you love me?”
“You know I do.”
“Do you love me?”
And in those questions it becomes obvious that love flows both ways, because when they’re asked right, and the answers are heard, questions can allow us to be ourselves.
So I ask myself a lot of questions these days, some of which might resonate with you:
Why not say something?
Why not put your arms around her?
Why not tell him that you love him?
Why not call them after all these years?
Why not say sorry?
Why not be kind?
Why not forgive yourself?
Why not give yourself away?
Why not dare to do whatever it is you long to do?
And as Adrian would say: “If not now, then when?”
|I’d like to tell you a story about Zahra, who looks like any other teenager in her black jeans and hoodie but has been through extraordinary things.|
She crossed the Channel at dawn on Christmas Day on an overloaded rubber dinghy, risking her life one last time for a chance of safety at the end of a seven thousand mile journey. Listening to her, I was struck by the similarity with those ancient, epic folk tales in which a hero has to travel vast distances and overcome monsters and perils to find hope.
She asked me to tell her story and this is an attempt to do so in a way that explores how humans like Zahra, who have been demonised by certain politicians, are not alien or other. They are us.
You can listen to Zahra’s story here or on Spotify, Apple, Acast or wherever you get your podcasts. Each episode of Can We Talk? is me telling a story into your ears about an encounter with a remarkable person and thinking about what it teaches us.
I wrote and recorded this before the invasion of Ukraine created another huge wave of forced migration, but the truths are the same for those fleeing that desperate situation. I hope you’ll listen and let me know what you think.
The organisation that supports Zahra is Kent Refugee Action Network. Please support them. The DEC Ukraine Appeal is also a good way to help.
The image shows my son Josh on Calais beach next to the Banksy image of a child with a suitcase looking out to sea with a telescope, watched by a vulture.
Hello! I just want to let you know this week’s new short story is just up on all podcast platforms and it’s about love, ubuntu and why the great Desmond Tutu yelled in terror because he thought I was trying to kill him.
I made it so you could listen, so I’ll be thrilled if you do. Let me know.
There’s no charge. This is for love. If you like it and you don’t mind, could you rate the episode and maybe post a little review? It really helps. Thank you!
I keep thinking there should be a minor royal handy with a champagne bottle to break against my stern. Or is it bow? Anyway, it’s launch day for my short story podcast Can We Talk?
|You can hear it on Spotify, Apple, Acast and wherever you get your podcasts. I’d love to know what you make of it. The first two episodes are about meeting Scarlett Johansson and Tiger Woods.Click the links to listen. They’re also about our human longing for connection, like the rest of this series of short stories reflecting on encounters with remarkable people. |
Next week is Desmond Tutu and there will be one a week including Nelson Mandela, the Queen and a refugee called Zahra.
Please do listen. I would be hugely grateful if you could rate the podcast, post a review or share it with your friends, because it all helps to spread the word.
PS: The podcast is free. It’s produced by Emily Jeffery with sound design by Andy Dartington and is brought to you by Hodder Faith. Thanks.
|Can We Talk? is my new short story podcast about some of the remarkable people I have encountered in my working life and what I think we can learn from them about how to live. Phew, that was a long sentence. More details below. |
It’s also a genuine question, because this is the first in a series of very personal posts in which I’d like to set out some of the things that are going on with me, share thoughts and ideas and pictures and songs and clips and see if it any of it resonates with you. If it does, even if it winds you up, let me know, and next time I’ll share that too, if you like.
So, let’s start with the short story podcast which is being launched on February 8th and will be on Spotify, Apple, Acast and wherever you usually get these things. Subscribe now and you’ll get episodes one and two as soon as they drop.
The first is about Scarlett Johansson and how a quick chat with a publicist in tow turned into a long and pretty deep conversation in a hotel bar in Manhattan that went on for hours and had me wondering what on Earth was going on. The vain male chimp chattering in my brain had all sortsof ideas but he was wrong again, as usual, and the reality turned out to be much more interesting.
Others in series one include Tiger Woods, Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu, the Queen and a refugee called Zahra who crossed the Channel on an overloaded rubber dinghy early one Christmas morning.
I love the way David Sedaris tells stories, and while I would not dare claim to be that accomplished or funny, these pieces are inspired by what he does. They are are intimate reflections on what it was like to be with that person at that time and what the encounter says about our longing to connect, with each other and with ourselves, with the natural world and with the divine, if we believe in that.
|Listen to the trailer|
|You can hear a chat about interviewing, journalism, connection and the time Desmond Tutu thought I was trying to kill him in this interview with Ed Thornton of the Church Times. And me and Charlotte Sibtain are back on Radio 4 at the moment as The Wedding Detectives, so if you fancy a bit of social history sleuthing that uncovers tragedy, scandal and romance, give that a go.|
If you signed up for the music by the way, thank you for your patience! I’ll be singing and telling stories with The Light Keepers at Printers Playhouse in Eastbourne on February 4th and you would be most welcome. Here we are singing a song about Beachy Head in the lantern room of the Belle Tout lighthouse before Covid. That is the setting for The Light Keeper novel, copies of which remain in the wild.
What have you been watching, listening to or reading? I love Ted Lasso, the warmest, wisest, wittiest comedy on the telly for years. It’s a sitcom about blokes in football that isn’t really about the blokes or the football. The Mermaid of Black Conch is a wonderful book, mesmerising and profound. And thank you to my son Jacob for introducing me to The Weather Station, who make gorgeous, mysterious music. What do you recommend?
Also, while I’m asking questions, I wonder who is the most remarkable person you have ever met? They don’t have to be famous or infamous, just have made an impact on you personally. Maybe it’s your Mum. Maybe it’s the milkman, I don’t know, but I would be really interested to hear. Get in touch on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or by email and I’ll pass your wisdom and stories on as part of the short story podcast Can WeTalk?
It’s good to talk, as Bob Hoskins used to say in a telephone company ad when I was a nipper, but you’re far too young for that.
Love and strength and may your day have some joy in it,