Unwinding after a hard day library assisting or daytripping is not always easy, especially when my brain is often whirring with thoughts, feelings or yearnings. For years, I’ve been a devotee of podcasts and for a while I fell asleep to a specially selected selection of them, usually Desert Island Discs, until I turned back to my radio and the tried and tested news and Shipping Forecast combination which does me most nights. Desert Island Discs has been one of my favourite programmes for many years. I like conversation and long-form interviewing, while it isn’t a true conversation as at least one side is prepared, often gives a real insight into one or both parties. Kirsty Young, who presents Desert Island Discs, has an excellent informal style and the guests chosen can vary from politicians, scientists, academics, celebrities and many others besides. Recently featured was the Makar, Jackie Kay, one of my favourite poets, and listening to the podcast was braw, like lying in a hot, soapy bath in how tingly and good it made me feel after. Bruce Springsteen was also on recently, which was excellent. When I was on holiday in Northern Ireland a few months ago, I downloaded loads of podcasts to listen to while I was away and more than a few of them were from the DID archive, including Nicola Sturgeon, Louise Richardson (the vice chancellor of Oxford University who is also a leading academic authority on terrorism), Val McDermid and possibly some others. I occasionally entertain notions of being a writer but there is more than a little bit of me that would love to be gainfully employed presenting Desert Island Discs or as an interviewer, probably on radio and probably not about politics since politicians aren’t always that interesting. I am incurably nosy and would like nothing more than to spend my days having conversations with people and sharing their stories with a wider audience.
Lately, though, I have discovered some other podcasts that I tend to binge-listen to. Two current favourites are The West Wing Weekly and Fitba Hacks. They couldn’t be more different but cater to different bits of my personality, the former for my love of American politics and witty writing, the latter for the less witty but more primal parts I am, as I probably mention here with some frequency, a Hibs fan and I have been interested for a long time in football, particularly the mechanics of it, football management, stadium architecture and the role of the press. The Fitba Hacks podcast is presented by Jonny McFarlane, who is a Rangers fan but we won’t hold that against him as he is even-handed in his interviews with various journalists and media figures from the world of Scottish football, even if his inaugural interview with Keith Jackson of the Daily Record nearly made me want to hurl something at my tablet to shut Mr Jackson up. Particular favourites in the series are the interviews with Simon Pia, a Hibs fan who has written a great deal about the Cabbage but was also, for his sins, an adviser to Johann Lamont when she led the Scottish Labour Party, as well as with Tam McManus, former Hibs striker who has since turned his hand to an insightful blog and radio commentating for Sportsound, Jim Spence who was for many years the Dundonian branch of BBC Scotland, and Jonathan Northcott, who writes for the Sunday Times, who was particularly interesting talking about his dealings with Sir Alex Ferguson.
What Fitba Hacks and The West Wing Weekly have in common is that they go into specifics, that they look into how things have been made. The West Wing Weekly is a weekly discussion of episodes of The West Wing, possibly the finest series of television yet devised, created by Aaron Sorkin and set in a fictional White House. The podcast features Josh Malina, who played Will Bailey in The West Wing, and music producer Hrishi Hirway, discussing each and every episode of the series from the beginning, occasionally with actors from the series or others who can shed some insight into whatever the episode was about. I am currently a few episodes behind the latest episode, in the early days of Season 2. So far, they have already covered one of my favourite episodes, ‘Let Bartlet Be Bartlet’ from Series 1, and I am particularly looking forward to them getting later into Season 2, including the episodes where it is revealed to the public that Bartlet has MS. The West Wing has been a constant favourite for years and years, since I used to tape episodes off Channel 4 and watch them again and again. I’m not the only one; indeed, to link back to Desert Island Discs, David Tennant elected to take as his luxury a DVD player with all seven seasons of The West Wing, another thing that endears me to the former Time Lord right after his choice of the wonderful ‘Over And Done With’ by the Proclaimers as his first track to take to his desert island.
I occasionally listen to other podcasts and I am always open to suggestions. For a while, I was into the archive of RTE Radio 1, from Ireland, with Seascapes, the weekly programme about maritime matters always a particular highlight, if only for its jaunty theme music. I also listened for years to Off The Ball, the Scottish football blether show, but had to swear off Radio Scotland for a while after the Scottish Cup Final as it raised my blood pressure. Fortunately less conducive to blood boiling is the excellent Scotland Outdoors podcast, also produced by Radio Scotland, which features stories and features about walking and nature in Scotland, including a cracking show a few years ago where the presenters Mark Stephen and Ewan McIllwraith cycled the full route of the John Muir Way from Helensburgh to Dunbar over three days. On dark nights like this one, sometimes we can only travel through our ears if not our eyes and the rest of us.