Happy Almost New Year, Timberteers

by Maria on December 30, 2015

Nothing welcomes you back to London after a soggy spell in the west of Ireland like a gold-plated (surely not real?) Lambourghini, vanity plate; F1 IRAK, whizzing past you on the Chelsea Embankment. Ah, world’s super-wealthy, with your love of obscene and ill-gotten goods and your disdain for pettifogging traffic rules, I have missed you.

Fear not. Plenty of riches are to be had here on CT. Having failed to post a timely Christmas picture of the Crooked Timber dog, and having also failed to post any recommended reads from 2015, I still have it in mind to share some wealth in the form of our own middle class intellectual status indicators. Here are some non-book gems I enjoyed this year. Maybe you have some of your own?

Milo and Fury, Christmas Day 2015

Philosophy Bites, by David Edmonds and Nigel Warburton, comprises well over 300 20-minute interviews with philosophers on everything from Stoicisim to inequality to Foucault and power. CT’s own Chris Bertram does a particularly good session on Rousseau, ranging over the life and works and making me wish – not for the first time – that I’d paid more attention in college. Philosophy Bites makes philosophers sound surprisingly chatty, collegial and willing to tackle questions we all puzzle over and never get very far with.

BBC Radio 4’s ‘In Our Time’ with Melvyn Bragg is fantastic, if you are in the UK or have a VPN to vouch for you. The format is that the slightly irritable and impossibly well-read host asks questions of three experts on a topic from history, literature, philosophy or science. Bragg is a national treasure on a level with Alan Bennett but has a more pleasing sympathy for the under-dog. The podcasts that include a few bonus minutes ‘with the cameras off’ are terrific, and show how much more interesting radio is when it can be less didactic and improving.

Entitled Opinions from Stanford Radio’s Robert Harrison can be a bit of a mixed bag. Sometimes the cultural theory gets a bit circular and obtuse – but that’s mostly when there are guest presenters. Each programme lasts an hour and the pace is expansive rather than quick. It’s what I love most about a good podcast – instead of me going ‘yeah yeah, I get it’ and skipping ahead to the end of the paragraph or the chapter, I have to stick with it and take in the ideas at the pace the presenter is willing to give them out. The bliss of being entirely in someone else’s power. Harrison’s interview with Colm Tóibín about The Master is wonderful, (also, I never knew James’ house in Rye was later lived in by the man who wrote Mapp and Lucia and used it as their respective fictional homes) though Harrison joins the rest of the anglo-sphere in being unable to pronounce Tóibín’s name.

The Royal Literary Fund’s ‘Writers Aloud’ series can be uneven but is often utterly brilliant, especially when Carole Angier is doing the interviewing. (Yes, the same Carole Angier who wrote the magnificent Primo Levi biography.) The stand-out interviews from the last year or so are with the poet Julia Copus and CT’s own favourite, Francis Spufford, who gives an inside track on the writing of Red Plenty.

OK, fair cop, my 2015 Youtube consumption has been driven by watching repeats of Graham Norton’s chat show (the one where Matt Damon, Bill Murray and Hugh Bonneville corpse laughing and go to pelt pineapples at the audience is a classic, though it actually happened in 2014) and also interviews with My Boyfriend Tom Hiddleston. The ideal is an interview of Tom Hiddleston by Graham Norton, which actually happened a couple of months ago. Hiddleston did an above average impression of Robert de Niro who was sitting nearby (celebrities’ lives are weird). For several minutes afterwards you can see Hiddleston going pinker and pinker and clearly regretting it, and I had an urge to jump into the screen and tell him what was obvious to anyone watching; ‘Don’t worry about it. You were great and are lovely. De Niro is clearly an arse.’

So, obviously I’m not proud of my Hiddleston crush, but it really is completely chaste. A few weeks ago, Ed and I were walking to a cafe for a weekend treat and, apparently, I was going along just smiling vacantly to myself. Ed asked what I was thinking about – at this stage he didn’t know about my little pash – and I said ‘I was just explaining the Tuisil Ginideach to Tom and saying how funny it is that it is both universal and nearly always irregular.’ Not everyone knows, I said to Ed, that the Irish language has a genitive case for nouns. It’s the Latin influence. (I personally hadn’t a clue that’s what it was until fifth year when a teacher mentioned it in passing.) And so then Ed had to ask who Tom was etc. etc. and why would he be interested in the grammatical structure of the Irish language. To which the answer could only be ‘Oh, Tom? He’s interested in everything I’m interested in.’ And then we ran into a neighbour in the cafe so that was the end of the (external) conversation. Tom. He’s dreamy.


Crooked Timber people, and I’m especially looking at you, Kieran, you MUST watch Martin’s Life. (if you don’t know it already, which you probably do as it’s based in a small town near Cork city) Martin’s Life is a series of 2-3 minute animations about a young hipster and returned immigrant living with his parents in rural Ireland. It completely takes the piss out of the cultural cluelessness of the parents, but it’s really affectionate about them, too. One of my younger sisters played it for the extended family over the summer, and we were falling about in tears of laughter, parents included. If you do one thing today, watch Martin’s Life. Especially, for the season that’s in it, the one about Skype. Or the Christmas one. Or the old ESB ad one. This is literally every Irish expat’s life. Aithbhlian faoi mhaise duit, a Mháirtín.

OK, last orders. Have you no homes to go to?

The winner of Christmas was a Youtube video Henry put on on Stephen’s Day when we were all full of blueberry pancakes and sausages from Kilcullen (best in the world), and perhaps a little regret. The intro was unremarkable but when the singer began, the whole room changed. It was one of those moments when conversation fades away (rare in our house) and people drifted from the table towards the screen to listen and see. When this song finished, and amongst atheists, believers and fence-sitters alike, there was surreptitious nose-blowing, studied non-eye-catching and sudden impulses to be alone, outside, looking out over the bog and out to sea. Here, amongst all the seasonal oddities is the strangest wonder of all; Patti Smith singing Oh Holy Night to Pope Francis.



Emma 12.30.15 at 12:41 pm

Tom Hiddleston is a moron and a genuinely dreadful actor and that De Niro impression was gruesome, but not as bad as what he did to Henry V. 2016 IS RUINED


Ronan(rf) 12.30.15 at 2:41 pm

There are no gold played lambourghinis in the west of Ireland any more ? And they say there’s a recovery?
Book wise, fiction, I’d recommend Miriam toews “all my puny sorrows”.
Non fiction , this book about folk history and social memory


Is probably my favourite read in going on a decade , and also makes me wish id paid more attention in school (not just college , all levels)
YouTube and chat shows, I’d have to say the Craig ferguson show, which I know has long been popular amongst Americans, but I only became fully aware of it in the past two years.
Finally , In terms of tv shows, I’ve actually become quite enamoured by tv cop show blue bloods, which shows how one family exert institutional control of the New York judicial system, while engaging in occasional bouts of police brutality and carefully concealed nepotism, while remaining in everyone’s eyes (including their own) paragons of virtue. It’s actually surprisingly enjoyable , I have to admit


Maria 12.30.15 at 2:47 pm

Until I have a gold Lamborghini, the recovery is dead to me.


Bloix 12.30.15 at 3:15 pm

F1 1RAK here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/stefan-drobota/13556316565
It’s a Ferrari 458 Spyder, not a Lamborghini. Owned world kick-boxing champion Riyadh Al-Azzawi.

I am pleased to learn that I am not the only person in the world who takes pleasure in explaining grammar to imaginary friends. In my case, though, it’s more often etymologies and the like. Recently I had a wonderfully fascinating conversation on whether the Irish harper should be called Carolan or O’Carolan. When I talk to my imaginary friends I am fantastically clever.

I watched two episodes of Martin’s Life and it’s amusing. But I think everything in an Irish accent is amusing. “Joist now he wrote Ulysses, and girder, sure, he wrote Faust” is my favorite joke. Do actual Irish people think their accent is funny?

(To tell the truth Joist/Girder is my second favorite joke. This is my favorite of all time joke: Knock knock. Who’s there? Dwayne. Dwayne who? Dwayne da bathtub, I’m dwowning! I like it so much because I can remember it.)


oldster 12.30.15 at 3:32 pm

Thanks for all of these, Maria.

I watched a few of the “Martin’s Life” episodes and they are indeed droll. I especially liked “Game of T’rones”. I share Bloix’s curiosity: do Irish people think they sound hilarious? If not, why not?

Patti Smith is a treat; extremely understated rendition. Jezebel just sent me to Aretha Franklin singing Carol King’s tune “Natural Woman” at a tribute to CK. I teared up partly at hearing Aretha, whose tessitura is reduced but whose soul is still enormous, but more at seeing the Obamas, so beautiful, so American.

Ralph Ellington wrote an intro to “Invisible Man” in 1981 where he talks of Tom and Huck, and then writes,
“Which suggested to me that a novel could be fashioned as a raft of hope, perception and entertainment that might help to keep us afloat as we tried to negotiate the snags and whirlpools that mark our nation’s vacillating course toward and away from the democratic ideal. There are, of course, other goals for fiction. Yet I recalled that during the early, more optimistic days of this republic it was assumed that each individual citizen could become (and should prepare to become) President….As things turned out, it was an unlikely possibility–but not entirely, as is attested by the recent examples of the peanut farmer and the motion-picture actor.”

How I wish he had lived to see Obama.

Yes, happy new year to all.


Ronan(rf) 12.30.15 at 3:39 pm

Irish people think other irish people sound hilarious, but not them. Until they realise everyone else thinks they sound hilarious. Honestly, that’s the dynamic. 80% of irish comedy is just mocking other regional accents.


Ronan(rf) 12.30.15 at 4:03 pm

For example:

“Two words were enough to give it away as a Clare accent, flat and somehow accusatory, an accent he didn’t approve of, normally….His accent was from further north, and a shade east, pure Roscommon. It was designed for roaring over chainsaws and horsing out ballads to the fallen martyrs of Irish republicanism but he had honed it, somehow, to a hoarse-sounding, late-night cool”


nb 12.30.15 at 5:55 pm

Actually Melvyn Bragg’s great “In Our Time” is also available as podcast on Iphone and Android


Bloix 12.30.15 at 7:11 pm

“Harrison joins the rest of the anglo-sphere in being unable to pronounce Tóibín’s name.”

I swear on my father’s tombstone that what follows is an honest-to-God true story:

Years ago I was part of a working group that met every couple of months. One member, Frances, was a woman from Ireland who’d come to the U.S. as an adult. Another was Karen, who was pregnant with her first child. In due course, Karen stops attending, and few meetings later she re-appears. Everyone asks about the baby. A girl, how nice, what’s her name? Kaitlin, what a lovely name, says everyone, except for Frances. Kaitlin, she says, I’ve never heard thet name, what kind oov a name is Kaitlin? Why Frances, says Karen, it’s an Irish name. Noo, we don’t have thet name. But Frances, it’s Irish, really it is. Will you spell it then. K-a-i-t-l-i-n. Ahh, says Frances, brightening. Cat’-leen!


PJW 12.30.15 at 8:43 pm

Making of a Murderer, a 10-part true-crime documentary on Netflix. Terrific for binge watching.


Jason Weidner 12.30.15 at 11:03 pm

Thanks for the recommendations, the clips from the Graham Norton show are great! However, on watching the one with Hiddleston, I didn’t get the sense that DeNiro was in the least bit bothered–he seemd to enjoy it. I also have to add that while Hiddleston’s Pacino is passble, his DeNiro is god-awful. For those who enjoy impressions, you should check out Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon in The Trip.


Bruce B. 12.30.15 at 11:32 pm

Maria, Hiddleston does the narration for Audible’s new edition of J.G. Ballard’s High Rise, if you’d like some more of his voice traveling with you. He does it really well, too.


Ronan(rf) 12.31.15 at 12:06 am

What I see in De Niro’s reaction is a person who has been faced with an impression that is more like him than he,himself, is like himself, and so is in the throes of an existential crisis; who is the real me? Me or Tom Hiddleston?


F. Foundling 12.31.15 at 2:08 am

>Not everyone knows … that the Irish language has a genitive case for nouns. It’s the Latin influence.

Hmm. I’m pretty sure that the genitive case has always existed in Irish and is inherited from its earliest known ancestor Proto-Indo-European, so Latin influence has nothing to do with it.

>When this song finished, and amongst atheists, believers and fence-sitters alike, there was surreptitious nose-blowing, studied non-eye-catching and sudden impulses to be alone, outside, looking out over the bog and out to sea. Here, amongst all the seasonal oddities is the strangest wonder of all; Patti Smith singing Oh Holy Night to Pope Francis.

Well, I certainly can’t deny that the singer in the video does seem to be very emotional about something.

>I teared up … at seeing the Obamas, so beautiful, so American.

Tearing up at the Obamas is so beautiful, so American, too. So many people and things are ever more beautiful and American all over this so beautiful, so American planet of ours. It can almost make one tear up. Well, sort of.


Maria 12.31.15 at 3:24 pm

Ooh, that sounds very nice indeed, Bruce. Thanks.


ZM 01.01.16 at 1:33 am

Happy New Year! everyone

Maria, thanks for sharing the Patti Smith Oh Holy Night video — its truly beautiful. (And I love her wearing plaits; I remember watching a documentary when I was a teenager which during the section about her had a picture of her when she was a girl wearing plaits, so this sort of reminded me of a coming together of the Patti Smith of various eras.)


Sancho 01.01.16 at 1:50 am

My podcast library is pretty middlebrow, but the consistent performers have been:

– Tank Riot
– The Cracked Podcast
– Life of Caesar
– Reuters War College
– Stuff You Should Know

I make sure to catch the Australian Christian Lobby podcast to check out the local version of epistemic closure, and since kickboxing was mentioned upthread, Heavy Hands and The Muay Thai Guys are worthwhile fight sport programs.

Most of the telly I get is what I overhear from my wife’s side of the bed, and of that, Parks & Recreation was very funny.

Station 11was a great read. The Mount wasn’t.


MPAVictoria 01.01.16 at 6:56 am

Happy New Year all! Hopefully this year is a little bit easier than 2015.


nick s 01.03.16 at 5:57 pm

‘In Our Time’ doesn’t require a VPN: it’s accessible as a podcast. My main problem with it is that the more I know about a topic, the quicker I am to find Melvyn’s gallop across the territory excruciating and sympathise with the academics who must quickly learn that qualification and uncertainty and any kind of nuance will not be tolerated. There are some old hands who know the score — Simon Schaffer would be very good on ‘Just a Minute’ — but newer guests often find it rough going.


ragweed 01.05.16 at 7:46 pm

Maria – on a recent trip to Vancouver B.C., Canada, we found a bright lime-green Lamborghini parked outside of one of the swank hotels. When he noticed my wife and kids gawking at the garrishness, a door attendant at the hotel pointed out that it had “new driver” stickers.

Of course, we could not tell for certain whether this belonged to a recent wealthy immigrant who was going through the hoops of getting a Canadian license, or someone had actually bought it for their teenage kid…


The Temporary Name 01.06.16 at 12:06 am

Of course, we could not tell for certain whether this belonged to a recent wealthy immigrant who was going through the hoops of getting a Canadian license, or someone had actually bought it for their teenage kid…

New drivers can be of any age or origin.

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