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.
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.
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.
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,
If like me you’ve been taking your offspring to university, sending them to school for the first time or saying goodbye to people you love in other ways, for good or just for now, I wish you all the love and strength you need and offer this Pause For Thought, which was originally written for the Zoe Ball Breakfast Show on BBC Radio 2 and can be heard here.
I’m not good at transitions. The changing of the seasons, the end of summer, saying goodbye to people, getting out of the bath, getting out of bed. There’s something in me that finds it hard to settle in a new situation, or leave it once I’ve settled, even when I know it’s right and I have somewhere to go.
And one of the hardest transitions I have faced in my adult life was as a parent saying goodbye to my first born when he went to university.
I tried to think of something to say to express what I felt, but it was too hard, so I made a ham-fisted attempt at marking the moment, by asking if I could read from one of our shared books, Winnie The Pooh.
The two of us lying on the bed like we used to, my son Jake feeling all mixed up, a bit sad but mostly excited. A big 18-year-old, probably thinking: “This is a bit weird.” And me with my heart breaking, trying not to show it.
Here’s what I read: “Wherever they go, and whatever happens to them on the way, in the enchanted place on the top of the forest a little boy and his bear will always be playing.”
Oh, I was a hot mess after that, while he went off and played Fifa or something.
And here we are again: as sons and daughters go off to school or college, and the summer fades. The change of any season is unsettling even when there are new joys to be found.
The autumn has great beauty, I’m told. And my relationship with my son has changed into something adult, new and lovely, although long distance.
The Bible says nothing can separate us from the love of God, and that’s comforting, but I find it hard to understand in the abstract, until I look for examples in my own life, because it also says we are made in God’s image.
And I think AA Milne was on to something, whether it comes to leaving a place or a season or letting a child or a loved one go. I think if you’ve got the memory, and the story to tell, and the love that was shared between you, then nobody can ever take that away.
I’m feeling on edge today. Right on the edge of things, but in a good way. It’s partly the football: the sense that something exciting is about to happen. It’s not just England: Scotland and Wales fans have also known this feeling lately, when their teams have given them a surge of belief. And it’s not just the football. The end of term is coming for all those tired teachers. And there’s a lot of talk about Freedom Day too, when we’ll finally be shot of all the restrictions, isolations and frustrations of Covid. As if everything will go back to normal, and may even be better. Maybe. I hope so. I need hope. One of the hardest things for me, as for a lot of people, was not being able to see my Mum, Marion. When she got ill I was afraid I would never see her again. And I felt the pain of friends who lost their Mums, without the chance to hold them and be held. So hard. I needed hope then. But the day did come when I walked into her house, put my arms around her, and breathed in her scent and felt her holding me, as she first did when I was born, and it was beautiful. A sense of home. A little win after a long time of hurt. The Christian holy stories, and those of other faiths, are full of the hope of heaven or a paradise to come, when all will be made well. So many songs of faith have been sung by people in pain, in prison or in slavery, who somehow managed to have hope. Singing that life is hard now, but it’s not meant to be this way, it’s not always going to be this way, because, as the civil rights campaigner Jesse Jackson once said, it’s dark, but the morning comes. And there has been a bit of darkness about lately hasn’t there? But the light hasn’t totally gone out. And suddenly, I feel a surge of optimism, in this national moment of anticipation when good things do feel possible again. An England win? A long hot summer of unrestricted fun? We’ll see. But even if not, I’m starting to believe there will be other wins. Maybe there really is hope.
Extraordinary to hear June Spencer leading a storyline on The Archers so beautifully at the age of 102. She started playing Peggy Archer back in 1950. I visited her at home a few years back for The Telegraph. What a life.
She made me cry long before we ever met. I was listening to June Spencer move around the living room, with only the cat for company, on the day her husband died.
She put a record on the player, the song they used to share: Love is the Sweetest Thing, sung on crackling vinyl by Al Bowlly. The tune the sweethearts danced to at the Tower Ballroom in Blackpool, such a long time ago, before the beginning of the dementia that stole him away. As the music played, she spoke softly. “Goodbye, Jack. Goodbye, my darling.”
Tears came to my eyes. They were shared by many others who overheard this intimate moment on the radio, while cooking the dinner, driving the car or walking the dogs with headphones on. We felt as if we shared the loss and sorrow of a friend.
It wasn’t strictly true, of course. June Spenceris an actor who plays a part. She is the longest-serving actor in the world’s longest-running drama serial, having played Peggy Woolley in The Archers since the pilot episode in 1950.
You may not like the show – it is a bit like Marmite – but you have to admire the longevity of a 94-year-old (as written in 2014) who has been working for the BBC since 1943 and is still playing a leading character in a flagship drama.