Love learning? Here are five free podcasts you need in your life

Photo credit: Giulia due Puntozero
Photo credit: Giulia due Puntozero

Do you ever feel like there is so much to learn and not enough hours in the day? Most people I talk to wish they could read more books, watch more movies and better understand current affairs, but struggle to find the time to fit it all in.

I feel your pain. Reading is one of my favourite pastimes, but I often go days without picking up a book, let alone following the news. It’s amazing how fast the working weeks fly by.

Fortunately, I recently discovered the humble podcast. Now I can listen to concise and interesting radio shows on the way to work, when I’m out exercising, or even as I cook or do household chores.

There are podcasts available on just about every subject under the sun – whether you are into fashion, gaming, music, cooking or movies, I’m sure you will be able to find a podcast you love. And the best part? Most podcasts are FREE.

I love podcasts that help me learn new things about the world, especially global current affairs (which unfortunately lack decent coverage in mainstream NZ media).

So without further ado, here are my five favourite free podcasts for people who love learning – enjoy!

BBC Radio 4 Documentary of the Week

Every Friday the team at BBC Radio 4 select their favourite documentary from the week been and publish it as a podcast. Ranging from 30 minutes to an hour in length, these podcasts explore a particular topic from all angles through interviews and analysis. My favourite episode to-date explores the rising slow journalism movement against a backdrop of constantly breaking news and instantaneous media.

Website: http://www.bbc.co.uk/podcasts/series/r4choice
Top pick: Good News is No News 

BBC History Extra

By far my favourite podcast, BBC History Extra is a must-listen if you are a history geek. Recorded by the team at BBC History Magazine, each episode is about an hour long and covers two topics. The podcasts are recorded as interviews with leading historians and authors. The topics tend to be quite UK-centric, but as a Tudor enthusiast this doesn’t bother me in the slightest. Besides, the entire archive is published online, so you can select from over one hundred different episodes.

Website: http://www.historyextra.com/podcasts
Top pick: Kamikaze pilots and Captain John Smith

The Good Fight

An American podcast produced by Ben Wikler, The Good Fight focuses on positive political movements happening throughout the United States. From Black Civil Rights to progressive economic policy, The Good Fight gives a voice to groups of people who are out there trying to make good things happen. I find it an incredible window into US politics – Ben Wikler provides context to every topic he covers and explains complex scenarios in an approachable, easy-to-understand manner. Plus, he also uses awesome music for dramatic effect.

Website: http://thegoodfight.fm/
Top pick: Fed up with the economy?

TED Talks (audio)

You really can’t go wrong with a TED Talk. If you haven’t discovered TED yet, you are seriously missing out. Described as a “platform for ideas worth spreading,” TED provides people from all walks of life with an opportunity to share their innovations with the world. The videos are hugely popular but the audio podcasts are just as good.

Website: www.ted.com
Top pick: Matthieu Ricard: How to let altruism be your guide

BBC World Service Global News

News websites often overwhelm me; there are so many articles, where to start? The BBC World Service Global News podcast pulls together “the best stories, interviews and on the spot reporting from around the world.” It always includes an update on the major global stories, but also throws in a special interest story. The podcast is published twice a day and runs for about 30 minutes.

Website: http://www.bbc.co.uk/podcasts/series/globalnews

Do you listen to podcasts? What are your favourites? I’d love to hear your recommendations – please comment below. In the meantime, happy listening!

One moment at a time

wasting time

“I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better.” – Maya Angelou

A few days ago I realised one word sums up my biggest fear. That word is waste. The very concept makes my chest tight with anxiety. The idea of a wasted life, a wasted environment, a wasted career makes me feel as though I am stumbling through quicksand.

But it’s amazing how, when you articulate a fear, it becomes smaller. More manageable. Something you can begin to understand, as opposed to an abstract feeling that plunges you into darkness.

Waste. I am afraid of waste, in particular of wasting my life. Of wasting my precious time and energy. As I wrote recently, you only get one life: now is the time. I feel acutely aware of the fragility of the present moment. And I ask myself on a regular basis: am I living the life I want to lead?

The truth is, the answer is complicated. In some ways I believe I am living the life I want, because if I didn’t want this life, wouldn’t I be doing more to change it? But at the same time I am plagued by uncertainty and doubt, always wondering if the grass might be greener on the other side.

A common theme in my writing is that of choices. I often struggle with making decisions, out of concern that I will take a wrong turn, or worst-case-scenario, waste some of my time.

I don’t think this is a fear that will go away overnight, and I acknowledge that it can also be one of my strengths, as it constantly forces me to explore new options and challenge my surroundings.

But it is a fear that can spiral out of control if I let it, and cause me to be incredibly hard on myself. My fear of ensuring I get the most out of the present moment is self-defeating – I cannot get the most out of anything when I am afraid of it.

Fortunately, a colleague recently helped to put my mind at ease. I was telling him how I majored in French at university, and I found myself shrugging off this personal achievement because ‘I don’t use the language on a day-to-day basis’.

My colleague swiftly countered my self-depreciation. “Learning is never wasted,” he said. “You never know when you might need to draw on that knowledge.”

A simple truth, yet one I had failed to see beneath my own anxieties. His words completely shifted my perspective. I realised I have been impatient with the present moment. Sometimes what we are doing right now cannot be fully understood until the future. And that’s okay.

I can be prone to literal, black-and-white thinking. I can quickly jump to extreme conclusions when I am feeling unsettled or disillusioned. But I need to remember that, even if my present moment is uncomfortable or imperfect or less than ideal, that doesn’t mean I am wasting my life. That doesn’t mean I am doing something wrong. It just means I am on a journey, one moment at a time.

My little realisation might seem like an obvious truth to some. But I think it illustrates how fear can cloud our perceptions. I am passionate about learning – that is why I started this blog – yet my fear of wasting my time can sometimes stop me from covering new terrain.

What I need to remember is that I don’t always need an immediate reason for learning something. I don’t need to justify it at the time, rather I need to trust in the process. Every piece of knowledge I acquire adds to how I see and understand the world. Whether I draw on that knowledge now or 50 years in the future is irrelevant.

Waste is all around us, it is a modern burden. We throw things out as fast as we consume them. It is a very real fear, both philosophically and physically. But when it comes to learning, I believe we can all find some peace in the fact that no knowledge is a waste of time.

Make time to learn, invest in education, celebrate the mind’s infinite imagination. Trust in the process. It may not all make sense now, but hindsight can be a beautiful thing.

Five lessons I learned in London this week

Tower Bridge London

“There’s always a tell-tale sign: a surly waitress…”

You know what they say… every day is a school day! And lately my classroom of life has been full of interesting ‘lessons’, for want of a better word.  I seem to have an uncanny ability to find myself in bizarre situations, but hey – I always emerge with a story to tell.

My godmother Nicola calls it “randomness”. I’d be inclined to agree.

Here are five random yet entertaining lessons that I’ve learned in London this week.

1. Sheriffs are not REAL sheriffs – even if they have flashy badges

Just after noon on Wednesday two burly men pulled up in front of my house in an unmarked van and proceeded to advance towards my door. After two loud knocks I thought I’d better answer it, albeit cautiously.

Slowly, I poked my head around the door and eyed them suspiciously. No girl likes to be visited by two burly men in an unmarked van on a Wednesday afternoon!

“Hello…?”

“Hi ma’am, we are from the Sheriff’s Office,” said – let’s call him – B1. And with that he flipped open a shiny gold badge. It was about at this moment that my heart started racing even faster, images of sheriffs and Robin Hood and bright yellow crime scene cordon rope flicking through my mind. Upon reflection, the thoughts I associated with the word ‘sheriff’ were entirely random and not at all accurate. Isn’t it interesting how the very word induced fear and anxiety?

Anyway, turns out I’m not good in the face of burly men with badges and I pretty much turned into a dithering idiot. The two ‘sheriffs’ were after one of my house mates, who will remain unnamed.

“Is he in ma’am?”

“No, I haven’t seen him in three days,” I reply, my imagination going into overdrive. OH MY GOD, HE’S A MURDERER, I LIVE WITH A CRIMINAL, WHAT IF HE’S HIDING IN HIS ROOM WAITING TO GET ME!?!

“Can you check for us, ma’am?”

So I sprinted up the stairs and knocked frantically on his door, half scared that he would emerge with a bloody knife and half wanting him to come and deal with the burly men on the doorstep.

No answer.

“He’s not in,” I shrug, “We haven’t seen him in days.”

The two men look disappointed and go to leave, but then my fears kick into overdrive.

“Wait, I mean, I live with this guy?! Is he dangerous? What should I do?” I squeak. I was literally shaking.

Turns out big burly men don’t look so scary – or burly – when they crack a smile. Finally they seemed to click on to the fact I was visibly distressed and laughed gently.

“No love, he’s not dangerous – he’s not a murderer or anything.” EXCELLENT. GLAD TO HEAR IT.

But instead of leaving, B2 looked to both sides and then said conspiratorially, “Look, close the door and we’ll pass you a letter through the mail slot. Can you make sure he gets it?”

Still slightly too shocked to think properly, I nod in agreement and close the door. At this point another flat mate – NOT the dodgy one – decides now would be a good time to come down and investigate the noise.

And of course he finds me standing at the door shaking.

“WE’VE JUST HAD A VISIT FROM THE SHERIFF!! THEY WANT [insert name here]!!! THEY ARE GOING TO PASS ME A SECRET ENVELOPE!”

My flat mate looks visibly confused.

“We don’t have sheriffs in England. What on earth are you on about?”

In comes the letter through the mail box, a large sum clearly visible in the envelope window. Debt collectors. Turns out they were from The Sheriffs Office, a debt collection company. Maybe if I’d paid closer attention instead of worrying about crime scenes I’d have saved myself a lot of stress….

The letter is tacked to the mirror in the hallway, waiting for said flat mate to collect it. He still hasn’t come home… but there is a lively flat debate underway about who gets his room if he never returns.

2. I should probably start calling myself Jessica

In New Zealand, answering the phone with “hello Jess speaking” never used to generate any kind of surprise. It was a safe, polite, natural way to engage in conversation with whoever was calling you. Simple.

You’d think so, right?

Here, people just get confused that they are taking to a girl named Geoff. It happens EVERY TIME. No, people, JESS – J-E-S-S like JESSICA.

I should really start calling myself Jessica. It’s just NO ONE calls me Jessica, except my grandparents and occasionally my dad. Nothing but my passport and driver’s licence has my full name on it – not even my CV.

Guess its Geoff for now, then. 

Oh, and this happened…

One Chai Latte for Jess please...
One Chai Latte for Jess please…

3. Never trust a surly waitress

I wish it wasn’t rude to walk out of a restaurant once you’ve sat down. But don’t you just hate that awful sinking feeling you get when you realise you’ve picked an over-priced, low quality joint that is going to take all your money and leave you feeling robbed?

There’s always a tell-tale sign: a surly waitress. If the person taking your order couldn’t care less about the food, the wine, or your wellbeing, chances are the food and wine aren’t the best.

Becca and I learned this the hard way after spending the equivalent of a three course dinner on three tapas – three cold, dreary, tasteless tapas.

Might have to put my writing skills to the test in a negative TripAdvisor review…

4. It’s a myth that librarians are all book-loving, sweet-natured creatures

It’s no secret I love books. I love books so much I’m not afraid to shout it from the rooftops. I’m one of those people who lists reading as my favourite hobby and ACTUALLY means it.

So naturally, I was very excited about joining my local library. This week I did some research online, armed myself with the appropriate documents and wandered into the library inhaling the scent of books like some lovestruck hippy.

Until a grumpy librarian ruined my moment.

You see, I thought the librarian would be SO excited that someone new wanted to join the library (with e-readers and the price of books these days, I thought libraries would be strugglin’ with their numbers). I hoped she might engage in a little conversation and give me a tour of the stacks. How naive.

Turns out, if you don’t have a British ID card – or a British accent – people can be very cautious. As I sat down to join, the librarian passed a snooty eye over my NZ driver’s licence and my UK proof of address (which yes in hindsight was a subscription to Time Out magazine…) and said NO.

NO, you cannot join our library.

I was crushed. It might have helped if she was nicer, you know, a little friendly or at least slightly warm, not cold and life-hating.

But then she made it all worse.

“Are you just here to use the internet?” she asked, obviously going to slip me the Wi-Fi password.

NO, I wanted to cry. I ACTUALLY WANT TO READ YOUR BOOKS! I’m a REAL library lover, not just one of those Wi-Fi frauds!

My face was literally so disappointed that she did say I could ‘come back and try next week’, with ‘better’ documentation. I’m still holding a small grudge, though.

5. None of my winter clothes are actually winter clothes

It’s getting cold. And none of my ‘winter’ jackets and jumpers from Auckland cut the mustard.

WINTER IS COMING.