Podclub: comfort listening

Off Menu with Ed Gamble and James Acaster

Don’t say cheese board! Just don’t, for all our sakes, but mainly James Acaster’s. The pudding obsessive hates it when guests on his and Ed Gamble’s ‘dream restaurant’ podcast forego a dessert for cheese. Full-on tantrums have been had, threats of being chucked out of the imaginary eatery have been made.

All in jest, of course (right? Right?!), because this is one of the funniest listens around, and at the moment we all need a laugh.

Gamble and Acaster ask their guest to pick their dream starter, main course and dessert, with the latter playing the role of the ‘genie waiter’ who can magic up any food from anywhere. It’s a diverse mixture of guests from fellow comedians like Joel Dommett (the genie is not happy with all of his menu, not just the dessert) to global stars like Teri Hatcher (she puts a huge amount of thought into her selections).

It’s also nice to get to know people like popstar Anne Marie, who, at the time of recording, is just becoming interested in food and cooking, and brings a genuine joyous energy to proceedings (see her episode of the Great Celebrity Bake Off for more).

You’re Dead to Me

Pirates! The Olympics! Chocolate! Forgive the exclamation marks, but this history podcast from Greg Jenner – which invites an academic and a comedian on to every episode to talk about the bits of history you might not have been taught in school – necessitates them.

Jenner’s enthusiasm and welcoming chatty style bring you straight into whatever world they’re discussing. As clear as his passion is, he’s also quite happy to sit back and let his guests lead the way, particularly the episode about Irish pirate Grainne O’Malley, which can only be described as an absolute riot thanks to Dr Gillian Kelly and comedian Catherine Bohart, who bounce off each other brilliantly.

Great Lives

A BBC Radio 4 staple that can de dipped in and out of as the mood takes you. From painters to writers to politicians to actors, no one is off limits, and a ‘great’ life doesn’t necessarily mean a ‘good’ one (Mussolini is the topic of one recent episode).

As well as finding out a bit more about people I was already aware of such as Jessica Mitford, it’s also introduced me to people such as Air Chief Marshal Hugh Dowding, who is nominated by actor and comedian Diane Morgan.

Noble Blood

A shout-out to my historian friend Katrina who recommended this one. I pretty much devoured it whilst doing a Jane Austen-themed jigsaw (this is how I roll in 2020/21) over a couple of days in the third UK lockdown.

Author Dana Schwartz takes listeners through the bigger names like Henry VIII’s various wives but also the lesser known stories of royalty and aristocracy through the ages. From assassination attempts at the Portuguese royal court in the 18th century to James VI of Scotland’s obsession with witches, Schwartz weaves a little magic around these sometimes bizarre, sometimes remote characters, in what I find to be a calming, soothing form of storytelling.

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