Thursday, 5 February 2009

This will make your bus journeys disappear.

Jonathan Ross, commenting on Stephen Fry's Twitter activity, asked him why he was doing such an incredible amount of walking. Stephen Fry replied that he did so to keep fit. He didn't say 'to keep fit', he's Stephen Fry. What he said is this:

'I have a hopelessly overweight figure and walking is the only thing I can do with pleasure and there's one reason I can walk with pleasure [...] and that's audiobooks.'

I immediately went ahead and bought Wuthering Heights on iTunes and set off on a 2-hour expedition (on foot) to the not-so-local supermarket and the even-less-local butcher's. I realised after half an hour that I hadn't been listening to the story at all, that I couldn't name one character, couldn't even tell who was telling the story. What I was doing instead was singing 'Wuthering Heights' (if you and I have ever been to a karaoke joint together, you will know how good I am at this), thinking about the lady's accent, wondering if she was an actress, trying to picture what she looked like, making a mental list of groceries and thinking about Stephen Fry. Audiobooks don't do it for me.

What works for me is this. Radiolab is the name of a show on New York public radio. Podcasts are available and they're the best thing on radio since Theme Time Radio Hour with Bob Dylan. Here's how they describe it:

'Radiolab is a show about curiosity. Each episode is an investigation – a patchwork of people. sounds, stories all centered around one big idea. Radiolab believes your ears are a portal to another world. Where sounds illuminates ideas, and the boundaries blur between science, philosophy, and human experience. Big questions are investigated, tinkered with, and encouraged to grow. Bring your curiosity, and we'll feed it with possibilities.'

They are all so well-made, so quick-paced, so fascinating that you will find yourself listening to the same episode over and over again instead of switching back to music. They are great for walking, even better for bus journeys. Start with the episode on deception and laughter, they are excellent.