I have always been a sucker for advice podcasts. One of the few escapes my over-anxious brain has from catastrophising about minor problems is to lose itself in other people’s: professional, familial, romantic. It doesn’t matter if these problems are “solved” – it’s enough to hear them voiced. So it’s no surprise that I am greatly enjoying Now You’re Asking, a BBC Sounds podcast in which bestselling author Marian Keyes and comedy writer Tara Flynn sit at “a virtual kitchen table, with virtual cups of tea” to tackle everyday dilemmas emailed in by listeners.
That’s it, that’s the whole premise: audio agony aunts with mellifluous Irish accents and no qualifications except decades of life experience and an unlimited supply of sympathy. The questions aren’t particularly exciting: episode one considers how to confront a neighbour whose garish lawn ornaments are ruining a communal garden, a mother-daughter dispute over tidiness, and a gay man cut out of his father’s will. And the advice itself is haphazard – suggestions such as “wear a non-threatening jumper” juxtaposed with insights like “I find it astonishing that people are allowed to be parents without any training”. Yet there are moments of pure wisdom. “Once we make our happiness contingent on the actions of another person, we’re doomed,” Marian (the intimacy of the podcast makes me feel we are on first-name terms) sagely tells the mother appalled by her daughter’s messy house, reminding her “unless your daughter is seven and a half, her house is her own business”.
Marian and Tara aren’t setting out to save the world. There’s no agenda, no urgency. But nor is there any judgement – and that’s what makes it so charming. They conclude that many if not most of the challenges we face are “pretty universal”, yet when we’re in pain we tend to cut ourselves off, assuming we’re somehow “uniquely damaged”. I’m not sure their advice is particularly helpful, but I found their compassion endlessly soothing. Sometimes it’s enough simply to know that you’re not alone.
Now You’re Asking
[see also: BBC Radio 4’s Night Watch offers insight into female fear – but is it useful?]
This article appears in the 02 Feb 2022 issue of the New Statesman, Going Under