We’re back with our first review of 2021!
Love Stories is a podcast hosted by author and journalist Dolly Alderton, who speaks to guests about ‘their most defining relationships: the passion, heartbreak, longing, familiarity and fondness that have formed who they are’. The first season of Love Stories tied in with the release of Alderton’s debut book Everything I Know About Love in 2018, and has since returned with a second season in 2019.
Disclaimer: we’re aware that this review is written by three white women, who are chatting about two other white women chatting. Fascinating? Qwhite…
It seems fitting to be reviewing a podcast as we enter a third lockdown, because, like telling people they’re on mute and finding new ways of saying ‘unprecedented times’ in emails, podcasts have become a daily staple for me – probably in part due to the fact they act as heavy distraction from the chaos going on around us (see Reductress article: ‘5 Podcasts To Eliminate Any Time Spent Alone With Your Thoughts’).
But when it comes to Dolly Alderton, I have to say I can’t call myself a fan exactly. I don’t actively dislike her, but for some reason I’ve never really ‘got’ all of the hype she has amassed over the last few years. I was fervently recommended Love Stories by some of my closest friends, as I have been another of her podcasts, The High Low, and her book, Everything I Know About Love, but neither of those ever had me hooked. Maybe it’s unfair of me, but I can’t help wondering if Alderton wasn’t white, pretty and well-spoken, would she have amassed the same level of adoration for her ‘woke’ (but not exactly earth shattering) observations? It’s also worth noting that in terms of diversity, Love Stories isn’t exactly the gold standard. At a glance, out of 16 guests over the 2 series, I counted 13 white, 15 heterosexual, and a full house cis. (I’m aware this is most definitely wayyy larger a conversation than I have room for here, but would love to hear other people’s thoughts… meet me in the metaphorical bar afterwards?)
These thoughts aside however – when I started listening to Love Stories, I immediately liked it more than my other dealings with Dolly. I think it’s a great format for starters: who doesn’t like hearing all the messy details of other people’s love lives? To give credit to her, I also really love Alderton’s interview style – she seems to know exactly when to ask a probing question and when to step back and let the interviewee speak. Plus, the prompts guests are asked to talk about (‘first love’, ‘unrequited love’ etc), are vague enough to be interpreted in a number of ways, meaning the stories told always feel very personal and meaningful.
That’s what I love about this particular episode with Sara Pascoe. While it has its fair share of juicy ‘romantic’ love moments (if you can call a story about a boy named Kevin punching a girl for pouring soup over a young Pascoe ‘romantic’) it’s also about far more than romantic and even sexual love. The episode touches on (among many other things) masturbating, motherhood, the experience of being a female comedian, compulsive lying as a teenager (true or false: Mariah Carey was Pascoe’s singing teacher, and she once made out with Mark Owen), pop fandom, and, most powerfully to me, the beauty of unconditional friendship. While I first heard this episode when it came out in 2018, on second, pandemic-time listening, when I haven’t seen some of my closest friends for months, hearing these two women discuss their love for friendships brought me close to tears. Pascoe’s description of her best friend Cariad, who was there for her during a dark time despite her best efforts to push her away, is particularly moving. Pascoe gets teary herself telling how Cariad told her “I know you don’t like being told off, and I know you’re not really talking to me at the moment, and I’m actually very angry with you… but I’m not going.” This episode should probably come with a warning alongside swearing and sex references, it is also likely to make you want to call all of your friends one by one and monologue about how much you love them.
Okay, I have to confess I am a complete Dolly Alderton newbie. I didn’t know she was an award-winning journalist. I had no clue she had written a Sunday Times Bestselling book. I also don’t know how to parallel park or beat my dad at monopoly or understand why my orchid is dying a slow, painful death. C’est la vie.
So, my only context for our dear Dolly Alderton is the single episode of her Love Stories podcast I just listened to. It features Sara Pascoe, and together the pair break down lessons learned from Sara’s first loves, friendships and comedy career. (Just to say, I did know of Sara Pascoe retrospectively and do not, in fact, live under a rock). Naturally, the conversation turned to paedophilia with a side of pornography and even included everyone’s favourite topic: the patriarchal policing of young women’s clothes. I have my own opinions on these topics, and often the media I consume goes no further than reinforcing these beliefs. We’ve all been guilty of falling into the echo chamber at one time or another.
What I enjoyed most about the podcast was Dolly’s encouragement of Sara to delve into the unusual. Their discussion of primal human nature and how this related to paedophilia was not something I’d ever considered, and it was fascinating. The style of the podcast dictates that its listeners acknowledge people are incredibly imperfect right from the get-go. There’s no time wasted on pretences and plenty of time spent spilling the tea (hunty). But ultimately, this is just a chat between two women. The specificity with which Dolly and Sara address certain topics leaves plenty of opportunities for listeners to disagree with their observations. Who’s to say if their experiences will speak to your own – in general, diversity was sorely lacking amongst the podcast guests, so you’d be forgiven for feeling that they leave a great deal out.
Sara talked about intimacy with a catch in her voice, holding back a fat sob as she shared the story of how her best friend came to hold such a special place in her heart. I loved how detached her version of intimacy was from anything physical. For her, being intimate meant “showing yourself for all you are,” and knowing the person will stay by your side when you reveal those most vulnerable parts. My favourite part of the podcast was the pair’s discussion of the three forms of stimulation you need to be content: spiritual, intellectual and physical. According to Dolly, you don’t need all three from one person. Upon reflection, I thought that should be obvious. That’s a huge burden to put on one person. But we’re taught from a young age to seek out our ‘other half’ as though they will single handedly complete us. So maybe it was nice to have a reminder that there’s no limit to how many wonderful people we can have in our lives, if we’re only willing to let them in.
On the theme of podcast-mania, this is the perfect opportunity for me to recommend a podcast that will see you through the pandemic. My Dad Wrote A Porno (available on Spotify, Apple Podcasts and Acast) is a ridiculous audiobook with comedy commentary. Put quite simply, Jamie’s dad wrote an erotic novel, so Jamie decided to read it aloud to his friends and record their disgust and laughter at the insane adventure that ensues throughout FIVE NOVELS. I can’t promise the writing will be good, or the spelling accurate, but for a brief moment you will forget we’re in a pandemic. That’s good enough for me.
I can’t say I’ve ever been much of a Podcast fan. They rose to popularity during my time at university – and honestly, the idea that after a day of listening to other people talk about their opinions (often on other people’s opinions) I would choose to subject myself to it all again in my free time was baffling to me. I really admired those that did – but for me, all I could stomach after those long university days was curling up in bed with my old laptop, watching the same comedy box sets exhaustively (special thanks to Parks & Rec, Peep Show & Chewing Gum for the support). Though, after listening to a few episodes of Love Stories (and prior to that, multiple series of My Dad Wrote A Porno), I think my opinion of podcasts has been redeemed.
Love Stories is perfect listening for reflection – and if you share experiences with Dolly or her guests, it likely feels quite validating. Thanks to Alderton’s conversational talent and empathy, she – very unassumingly – manages to cut straight to the heart of her guest’s experiences by way of guidance; of asking the right questions and finding the right anecdotes, and pushing just the right amount. Actually, I found listening to Dolly interacting with her guests to be a great model for conversation and listening; of how you strike the balance between relating with your own personal experience and letting another person speak fully (a balance I often struggle to reach, due to an embarrassingly desperate need to connect).
This particular episode, featuring comedian Sara Pascoe, is quite unique for the series in that often the tables turn and Pascoe charmingly catches Alderton off-guard by fulfilling the role of ‘interviewer’. I’ve been a fan of Pascoe for a long time – as a woman with a working class upbringing, I’ve seen a lot of my experiences reflected in her comedy. When Pascoe published Animal, I admired that she was so honest about her relationship with sex and her body – the read was both validating, and abruptly challenging. This tone bleeds into Pascoe’s appearance on Love Stories: one minute you’re laughing along about the hilarious fantasies young women create out of desire, and the next you feel your world-view slowly shifting as Pascoe & Alderton discuss taboo sexual urges/responses, and how they are perceived within society to our detriment. This was one of the highlights of the podcast for me, along with Sara discussing her best friend Cariad: “I will never meet anyone as clever as her. I will never find someone as interesting as her. And if there’s a choice between talking to her and anyone else in the world…it’s her.” Most notably: Pascoe’s reflection on her younger self, particularly her unashamed claim of not-so-desirable qualities and actions, is delightfully candid, and refreshing. In a world where women are conditioned to carry shame for nearly everything they do (or don’t do), Pascoe acknowledges her flaws unapologetically, with forgiveness and understanding. As someone who still finds herself clinging to that shame, and guilt, Pascoe’s level of self-acceptance was quite inspiring to me.
Are Alderton & Pascoe’s opinions and experiences revolutionary? Probably not. Will they resonate with everyone on the same level as they resonated with me? I’m sure they won’t. Do I think you’ll gain something meaningful from listening to it, regardless? Absolutely. This episode of Love Stories made me excited to continue to grow, to make mistakes, and satisfied with being complex, messy, flawed, and human – and I hope you’d feel the same. At the bare minimum: you will finish the episode knowing things about various celebrities that you may not even know about your dearest friends, and will now be inspired to ask – with all the right tools to do so.
You can stream Love Stories on Spotify, Apple Music & SoundCloud.