I was regrettably slow to get into podcasts, for reasons that some of you may recognise. Compared with reaching out a sleepy hand and switching the radio dial to ON, listening to a podcast requires some thought. Planning. Worst of all, technology.
But this is the future of broadcasting, folks. You and I need to get with it, just as we eventually – with much grumbling and creaking of the knees – managed to set ourselves up with Netflix, so as not to miss out on The Crown. Around 4.7 million Britons are already listening to podcasts; more than twice the weekly audience for Radio 3. Those millennials you see on the Tube, wearing huge headphones and staring blankly ahead; they are actually in the grip of a podcast addiction. And if you follow these simple steps, you can be too.
The first thing to understand is that you can’t listen to podcasts on a conventional radio. They live on the internet, and you need to download or stream them, via an app, onto a digital device: a phone, a computer, a tablet, or a home entertainment gadget. Your phone is probably the best option. Podcasts, like box sets, are highly binge-able, so you want to be able to carry them everywhere with you. Buy yourself the best pair of headphones you can afford – ideally cordless, to avoid getting in a tangled rage.
And finally, you need to decide what to listen to. This is the hardest part. There are more than 500,000 podcasts available on iTunes alone, with new ones added every day. Word of mouth is your best guide. A therapist friend recommended my favourite podcast to date, and I’ll pass the favour along to you. Where Should We Begin? (available on Audible and Apple podcasts) is recorded in the New York clinic of the celebrated couples therapist Esther Perel. Each week, she gives a one-off consultation to a different couple in crisis.
Some of the problems discussed are commonplace (infidelity, the pressures of parenthood); others less so (sex addiction, transgender body issues). Perel, a Belgian with a sexy Gallic growl, is both unshockable and bracingly frank. “Where the hell did you learn that B S?” she barked at one wife, who believes that sexual desire should come naturally, even in a long marriage. Listening to a serial adulterer try to justify his behaviour on the grounds that he was molested as a child, Perel goes off into a mocking parody of his self-help speak: “I’m in touch! I’m in touch with myself! I’m figuring it out, I’m putting the pieces together… I’m SO. FRIGGING. SELF-ABSORBED.”
I worked my way through the first two series within a week, impatiently batting away my own husband whenever he threatened to interrupt. It is like having a glass pressed to the wall of the most interesting consulting room on Earth. I guarantee, you will never want to take those earphones off.
I do still love conventional radio. It’s just unfortunate that this week’s main event was a fresh extrusion from the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy franchise. Radio 4’s new drama, Hexagonal Phase, is actually adapted from And Another Thing…, by Eoin Coffer, who wrote a sixth instalment of the cult sci-fi series after the death of its original author, Douglas Adams.
If your eyes haven’t glazed over yet, I salute you. We all have our cultural blind spots; things our brains simply cannot grasp the point of, such as free-form jazz or Serbian performance artist Marina Abramović. For me, it’s fantasy novels – especially the kind that seem to work like magic on the synapses of teenage boys. If it has goblins, aliens or any made-up creatures with silly names in it, I’m out.
Nevertheless, I did try to listen to this with an open mind. It begins with a long and characteristically arch piece of exposition. “To understand Arthur Dent’s life,” declares the narrator, in the carefully flat tone that signals a joke lumbering down the track, “one needs either a) to complete a course in the wave-harmonic theory of historical perception, b) undergo partial brain surgery, or c) get extremely drunk.” Oh God, I’m already writhing with irritation.
What followed was half an hour of bio-cranial, pan-galactic, dimensional axis, Vogon, reverse temporal engineering, Grebulon death-rays, accompanied by futuristic music and explosive sound effects. Some fine actors have been drafted in to spout this boilerplate fantasy gooblegook – among them Jim Broadbent and Jane Horrocks. I didn’t understand or enjoy a single second of it, but I am prepared – only just – to believe that someone out there might.
Written by: Jemima Lewis