Now we’re living in a half in, half out sort of normality, when sunbathing in the park all day is fine, and clapping for carers seems a lifetime ago, it’s interesting to think about what lockdown was like early on. Remember Everybody In? The initiative that took rough sleepers off the streets and into hotels? You could be forgiven for thinking that was all a dream. But it happened.
In Radio 4’s The Homeless Hotel, we followed the fortunes of Simon, who’d been homeless for years. Allowed to stay for a few months in a Holiday Inn Express in Manchester, Simon took some time to really sort himself out. The hotel staff helped him, and Simon found he had £4,000 in benefits sitting in a bank account! Wa-hey! But the money slipped through his hands like water, spent on presents for people, drugs for himself. Simon was, to use the formal parlance, “financially abused” by other homeless people in the hotel. The staff stepped in. They told him off. Louise, a police officer, gave him “the biggest telling-off he’d ever had in his life”.
And gradually, Simon started to turn himself around. He planted flowers in all the pots at the front of the hotel. He started caring how he dressed: “Them shorts won’t go with that jumper,” he observed. Victoria, who runs the hotel, said she couldn’t believe the difference that stability had given Simon and other homeless people in Manchester. Louise said it was the most revolutionary thing she’d been involved in since she started in the force: “Seeing the change in people… it’s so uplifting.” The government has extended the hotel provision for homeless people until next March. “It no longer feels so temporary,” said one housing professional, working to find homes for everyone who needs them. “But it’s not permanent either.”
Another change during lockdown has been the rise in status (and price) of the humble family dog. I met some friends the other day who were hoping to buy a cockapoo. They were quoted £3,500! For those who already share their lives with a canine, however expensive, Graeme Hall has a new podcast, Talking Dogs. Graeme is also known (apparently) as the Dogfather, though you may recognise him as that nice dog trainer guy from Dogs Behaving (Very) Badly on the telly. He’s a lovely bloke who knows his stuff, and Talking Dogs is a nice enough show. In the first episode, Hall chatted engagingly about how to pacify challenging dogs using a technique he learned in Australia that works with dingos (keep looking at them, but don’t stare them out); also whether a harness or a collar is best (depends); and what to do if your dog keeps barking during your professional Zoom calls. Treats, apparently, when the dog is calm; though I’ve found that headphones and the mute button work well too. Graeme is a natural chatterbox, but this show needs something more than just him and a microphone to work well. It needs… a dog. And not a quiet one either. Basically, it needs someone else’s naughty dog.
A longer-established dog podcast is Jo Good’s Dogs and the City. Good, who has her own weekday programme on BBC Radio London, has been hosting this show since 2018, so there are quite a few episodes to choose from. Though it’s usually an interview show, where Good and her dog go for walkies with a famous person and their dog, in recent weeks she’s been tackling doggy lockdown. The episodes are shorter, but interesting: she’s talked to dog charities about how they’re managing; to groomers about how to safely cut your dog’s mane at home; discussed how to deal with separation anxiety in dogs when owners go back to work outside the home.
Last week, she tackled domestic abuse. The number of domestic violence cases in the UK has greatly increased during lockdown, and violent people are often violent to animals too In this episode, Good talked to Gemma, whose partner was eventually jailed for his violence towards her. Gemma has a small son, and a dog, Dusty. Her partner would keep Dusty in the garden, and when her partner was beating her up, the dog would hurl itself at the window to try and get in and save Gemma. Good is a sensitive and caring listener, the type of person who thinks dogs are better than people. At certain points during this episode, you’d have to agree.
Three real VIPs on shows this week
Michelle and Barack Obama: The Michelle Obama Podcast
This week’s must-listen show. The ex-first lady has her husband, Barack, as her first guest, but not quite for the reasons you might think. Though her new podcast discusses the “relationships that make us who we are”, Barack is there not to discuss their husband-wife bond but to explore the idea of “our relationships to our communities and our country”. Our place in the world. The Obamas start with how they were raised (Michelle: “classic nuclear family”; Barack, less so), how changing economies change families, how communities can care for children, how helping people made them happier. The discussion is intelligent and warm, and the music is sparingly but beautifully used (Stevie Wonder’s Higher Ground riff, Mereba’s Black Truck). Classy, stimulating, inspiring.
Prince William: That Peter Crouch Podcast
“A cheeky pint at a quarter past eleven” is the three hosts’ preparation for this pre-lockdown interview with the Duke of Cambridge, at Kensington Palace. This is supplemented by a Zoom chat, where William confesses his home-schooling technique isn’t great: “My patience is a lot shorter than I thought it was.” Peter Crouch, Chris Stark and Tom Fordyce are great with people, and William, who’s there to promote Heads Up, the mental health campaign that is supporting the FA Cup final, proves to be a very sweet posh person. Surprisingly listenable.
Bruce Springsteen: From My Home to Yours
The Boss has the radio show he and we deserve. On Radio 2 late Saturday nights, broadcast from his home in New Jersey, he plays records from his own collection and gets chatty in between. (Two of his own tracks in the first episode!)