Culture

Culture

The good, the bad and the ugly in books, exhibitions, cinema, TV, dance, music, podcasts and theatre.

Jenny McCartney

A gripping podcast about America’s obsession with guns

Radio

The love affair between so many Americans and their guns – long a source of international fascination – appears to be getting more painfully intense. The greater the publicity over gun crime, the more Americans think they’d better acquire a firearm to keep themselves safe. There are now roughly 400 million guns in the US

How to live off the land for a year

Radio

Could you live off the land for a year without buying a single thing to eat? This was the challenge a retired journalist set himself on Radio 4 this week. Max Cotton lives on a five-acre smallholding near Glastonbury in Somerset with his wife Maxine, two pigs, two dozen hens and a Jersey-Friesian cross named

Jenny McCartney

I’m ashamed that I used to think ABBA wasn’t cool 

Radio

One of the joys of listening to archive BBC interviews with pop stars is the chance to hear long-discarded hipster jargon served up in its original setting. Near the beginning of Radio 2’s ABBA at the BBC, marking 50 years since the group won Eurovision with ‘Waterloo’, a prime example was unearthed from the immediate

How depressing when people over-identify with their ethnicity

Radio

I am a Jew. I live in a council estate in London where considerably more than half of my neighbours are Muslims. These people aren’t my friends, but we get along fine: I pick up their parcels; we coordinate complaints to the council about the strange, blue-tinged fluid that sometimes drips from everyone’s ceilings, as

Why are there so few decent poetry podcasts?

Radio

The late John Berryman described A.E. Housman as ‘a detestable and miserable man. Arrogant, unspeakably lonely, cruel, and so on, but an absolutely marvellous minor poet… and a great scholar’. The Times obituarist went further, declaring Housman to have been, on occasion, ‘so unapproachable as to diffuse a frost’. That such a man could be

Jenny McCartney

How did the internet become so horrific?

Radio

I can dimly remember the internet getting going, gradually staking its claims on our attention with hardly anyone except tech nerds – and famously David Bowie – realising what was going on. In our defence it was the 1990s and we had a lot else to think about: Britpop, The End of History, lads’ mags,

Ought we not have some shrine to the pips?

Radio

Next week marks the centenary of the pips. On Monday at 9 p.m. a documentary will be broadcast on Radio 4 debating whether the six little tones which ring in each hour ought to be axed as obsolete or preserved for tradition’s sake. Some contributors will speak of them as annoyances – ‘the cockroaches of

Jenny McCartney

The Queen’s Reading Room needs more Queen

Radio

In the dog days of winter, when venturing out under darkened, sleety skies is to be avoided if at all possible, an online book club often seems the most appealing kind there is. Here in the UK, on territory in which the daytime TV hosts Richard and Judy once held undisputed reign, a bookish royal

Jenny McCartney

Fascinating: Radio 4’s Empire of Tea reviewed

Radio

I can scarcely remember a time before tea: I started drinking it at around four, at home in Belfast, as a reward after school. Before long I was as fiercely protective of my right to a brew as the workers of British Leyland’s Birmingham car plant, who were famously spurred to strike action in 1981

Can Italy reverse its falling birth rate? 

Radio

Anne McElvoy is on the road again, exploring the state of modern Europe. Following her Radio 4 programme, The Reinvention of Germany in April, the Politico journalist has travelled to Padua, in northern Italy, where reactions to the rise of the right-wing populist Giorgia Meloni appear to vary. Is the 46-year-old PM a breath of

Jenny McCartney

Joni Mitchell, in her own words

Radio

There’s always been something at once girlish and steely about Joni Mitchell, the stellar Canadian whom Rolling Stone called ‘one of the greatest songwriters ever’. As Radio 4’s Verbatim programme in honour of her 80th birthday reminds us, a stubborn hopefulness has carried her through turbulent times. Perhaps growing up in Saskatchewan, where winter temperatures

A Radio 3 doc that contains some of the best insults I’ve ever heard

Radio

A recent Sunday Feature on Radio 3 contained some of the best insults I have ever heard. Contributors to the programme on the early music revolution were discussing the backlash they experienced in the 1970s while reviving period-style instruments and techniques. Soprano Dame Emma Kirkby remembered one critic complaining that listening to her performance was

Jenny McCartney

What happened to the supermodels of the 1990s?

Radio

‘What advice would you give to your younger self?’ has become a popular question in interviews in recent years. It’s meant to generate something profound but, musing privately, I always find it a puzzler. Sometimes I think that maybe I shouldn’t have wasted so much of my twenties talking nonsense in pubs, but on the

The rise of vampirism in Silicon Valley

Radio

The Immortals, which begins on Radio 4 this week, is not for the faint-hearted. While it professes to be about the human quest for longevity and the elusive ‘cure’ for getting older, it focuses largely upon the transferral of blood plasma from healthy young people to reluctantly ageing people, or, as anyone with good sense

Jenny McCartney

The stuff of nightmares: Retrievals podcast reviewed

Radio

It is the stuff of nightmares, or a queasily dystopian film plot. A woman is undergoing a surgical procedure in a top-rated US clinic. The aim is ‘egg retrieval’, a process which collects eggs from the ovaries for use in IVF. It involves nerves and hope, long needles and pain – except the patient has

Jenny McCartney

Looking for a male role model? Check out the silverback gorilla

Radio

One so often hears about famous people who are horrible when they think no one important is looking – barking at assistants, or snapping at waiters – that it’s heartening to learn of the opposite: kindness in circumstances that promise little obvious reward. The author and filmmaker Jon Ronson had just such a story last

Prayer for the Day is the best thing to wake up to

Radio

As the owner of a radio alarm clock, I could theoretically start listening to the Today programme before I’m even awake, but I rarely do. I tell myself it’s too much for first thing; that it’s bound to put me in a bad mood with some interview or other; that Today can wait until tomorrow

Jenny McCartney

How productive is it to listen to productivity gurus?

Radio

I was making my way slowly through one of my dismally prosaic little to-do lists – ‘pay the water bill’ ‘wash hair’, etc. – when the voice of the journalist Helen Lewis came on Radio 4 talking about productivity. It’s the Holy Grail of modern life, apparently, and we are now constantly looking for ‘charismatic

Crossing Continents is the best of the BBC

Radio

Ask a member of Generation Z where in the world they would most like to live, and chances are they will say South Korea. K-pop and kimchi have made it indisputably fashionable, and if the Instagram account of one of my Korean friends is anything to go by, life there is really quite idyllic, provided

Jenny McCartney

In praise of From Our Own Correspondent 

Radio

Most of us are familiar with the notion of writer’s block, that paralysis of invention induced by the appalling sight of a blank page. Composer’s block is less widely discussed, although musicians seem equally afflicted by creative drought. Perhaps the best known case is that of the Russian composer Sergei Rachmaninov, the subject of Radio