Tim Dowling: my son’s got a new job. Where does that leave my podcast?

·4 min read

On Sunday, having risen early to pack a few things for a trip to York, I come downstairs to find the rear portion of a mouse on the living room floor: a tail and two feathery feet, sticking up like little brooms.

The cat is sitting on the sofa in a sphinx-like pose, its eyes drawn into narrow slits so it can observe me while pretending to be asleep.

“Where is the front half of this?” I say, pointing. The cat does not answer, except by shutting its eyes all the way.

“Seriously,” I say, “it’s too early in the morning for me to find the business end of a mouse.” This is because, in my experience, the business end is sometimes still alive. I walk into the kitchen to make coffee, treading warily.

I am going to the York Festival of Ideas to give a talk called My Podcasting Year, which is based largely on conversations I have had with people about my experiences of doing a podcast. Those conversations usually go like this:

“It’s been a lot of work,” I say, “and a steep learning curve, but all in all, a rewarding experience.”

“Wait,” the other person says. “You have a podcast?”

'I wouldn't really call him a journalist,' he says. 'He mostly does puzzles all day. Sudoku, word wheel...'

I have persuaded the middle one to come with me, because he is the producer of my podcast, and also its editor, head researcher and general fixer. When I tell people this, they sometimes ask what exactly my role is.

“I did the theme tune,” I say.

When we started, neither of us knew anything about the technical side of podcast making, and one of us still doesn’t. For that reason I have also persuaded the middle one to come onstage for the second half of my presentation, the Q&A. I’m worried there will be questions I cannot understand, much less answer.

While I’m thinking about this and drinking coffee, I hear my wife’s raised voice from the sitting room.

“What is this?” she says. “Where is the other half?”

There is one other challenge. When I accepted the invitation to give this talk, I fully expected that series two of the podcast would be under way by the time the date rolled round. But something happened in the intervening weeks – something unforeseen. The middle one got a real job.

“Congratulations, well done,” I said at the time, because that sounded more parental than “Oh shit – what happens to me?”

The middle one is familiar with York – he went to university there – and leads me from the station on a circuitous route full of unexpected rights and lefts, the kind you might plot if you were planning to leave a child in the woods and didn’t want it to find its way back. He leaves me at the hotel and goes for a wander while I stay behind to work on my talk, iron my shirt and watch an entire Columbo.

At half past six we meet up and walk to the venue. Once there we have microphones attached to us. At 7:15 the audience files in. The middle one takes his place in the front row, and I walk to the lectern.

I explain how the podcast project came about, in the teeth of the pandemic. I talk about some of the technical obstacles we faced starting out, and the wide variety of topics we tackled. Across the steeply raked rows of seats, every face I can see is wearing the same expression, one that says: wait – you have a podcast?

Related: Tim Dowling: a couple of glasses of red down, and it’s alarming how charming I feel

“Mostly,” I say, “I worked on the theme tune.” I play them a recording of the theme tune, and when it’s over they applaud. It is the greatest moment of my life.

At the halfway mark, I sit down and the middle one joins me on the stage. Joan, our moderator, takes questions. There is the usual, uneasy hesitation: no one wants to be first. The questions, when they do come, are mostly for the middle one. A sample: “What’s it like having a journalist for a father, and have you ever thought of following in his footsteps?”

“Well, first of all, I wouldn’t really call him a journalist,” the middle one says. “I mean, he does write things.”

I think: wow, he’s really got the hang of this. Then I think: wait, what did he just say?

“But yeah, he does make it look like a nice job,” he says. “Very relaxing.”

“The stress is on the inside,” I say.

“He mostly does puzzles all day,” he says. “Crossword, sudoku, word wheel.”

I look into the audience with the wide, pleading eyes I have sometimes seen looking up at me from the front half of a mouse, wondering if it’s possible to play the theme tune again.

Join Tim Dowling, Coco Khan and more on 29 June as they share the joys – and pressures – of writing for Saturday magazine. Book your event ticket here

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