With the UK now in lockdown due to the increasing spread of coronavirus, non-essential shops, pubs, restaurants, theatres, gyms and more have been closed, and we’ve all been told we must stay indoors unless for food or medicine, essential work, or one socially-distant exercise per day. With NHS staff toiling on the frontlines along with other essential workers in shops, schools and more, the least the rest of us can do is stay at home and sit down with a cuppa to suppress its spread.
To help you do just that, we asked the Slant team which albums, series, films, books, and podcasts are accompanying us through isolation. From a book about video games through to Netflix recommendations; from a sports podcast through to fifteenth century music, we really do have it all. So, get comfy while you find out how we’ve been keeping ourselves entertained, complete with our wonderful seclusion selfies.
Oil on Water – Helon Habila
Helon Habila’s novel Oil on Water, set in the middle of the Oil wars in Nigeria follows Rufus, a young journalist on an expedition to track down a British woman who has been kidnapped by militia. Taking the reader into the depths of the Niger Delta, Habila reveals the physical and psychological devastation oil has had on his country, as well as drawing attention to the tensions present within Rufus’ profession.
The Good Place – available on Netflix
Netflix original The Good Place follows Eleanor (Kristen Bell) as she arrives in the afterlife after being killed by a runaway trolley. She is informed that she has made it to ‘the good place’ (heaven). However, Eleanor soon realises there has been a mistake — she really belongs in the bad place and has taken the place of another Eleanor. Enlisting the help of the real Eleanor’s soulmate Chidi, she begins to take classes in philosophy, determined to change her ways. However, things are not as straightforward as they might seem. This light-hearted comedy is only 20 minutes per episode and is sure to keep you entertained during the lockdown.
Midsommar – available on Amazon Prime
The prospect of civilisational collapse and a global recession might scare you senseless, but why not replace that very real terror with a completely fictional one? I’d recommend Midsommar, Ari Aster’s excellent second feature film, now streaming on Amazon Prime (or certain other kinds of platform). All you need to know is that the film features a brilliant performance from Florence Pugh, as college student Dani, who ends up having the Swedish minibreak from hell with two anthropology students and an extremely annoying Will Poulter. There’s enough gore and surrealism in this film to leave the viewer confused and slightly anxious for at least the rest of the day. But at least you’ll be confused and anxious about something other than what’s happening outside.
Ginger – Brockhampton
If feeling confused and anxious doesn’t sound appealing, you could always listen to Brockhampton’s fifth album, Ginger. Not only does the band embody the community spirit and camaraderie that is necessary at a time like this (the band members all live together in a big house), the album is laden with catchy, intricately constructed pop songs. The opening three tracks alone, ‘No Halo’, ‘Sugar’, and ‘Boy Bye’, will, without doubt, have you dancing around your quarantine zone. And if that doesn’t tide you over until the end of the day, listen to Akon’s 2004 classic ‘Locked Up’.
Wit – Margaret Edson
Sometimes the best things I have read are things I’ve been set as reading for my course. Right now, I’m reading a play called Wit by Margaret Edson. The play is rather atypical, in that it travels and jumps through time, allowing protagonist Vivian Bearing, a Professor of Literature turned cancer patient, to exist in multiple realities facing differing levels of struggle. With a very meta approach to playwriting, Edson has immersed me in her love of sixteenth century poetry and her journey in coping with her cancer. Perhaps quite obviously, the play masters wit, with her light-hearted comedy mixed with the gruesome reality of cancer treatment (proving worse than the cancer itself).
This is perhaps a perfect isolation reading, since it highlights how quickly life can change, and how we should not take our feeble lives for granted. It’s fast-paced, but heavy at the same time, introducing a complicated yet mesmeric paradox. So far this sweeping play has taught me bravery, acceptance and strength, as well as a magnificent style of writing that keeps you on your toes.
The Slow Rush – Tame Impala
Like us all, these strange times have disrupted my life in ways I couldn’t have predicted only a month ago, so what better way to find solace than by using the opportunity to stay at home with some great music. I was tempted to choose Bombay Bicycle Club’s rather fitting album Everything Else Has Gone Wrong, but the soundtrack to my isolation would definitely have to be Tame Impala’s The Slow Rush. His best album to date, lush synths give a breadth to the sound, invoking liberating images of vast open spaces (or, in the case of ‘Glimmer’, 90s club nights). Meanwhile, the funky grooves of ‘Breathe Deeper’ and ‘Is It True’ are uplifting and freeing. The perfect summery soundtrack for sitting in the garden sun, working from home, or going on your government-approved exercise.
Hunted – available on All 4
Channel 4 series Hunted makes for some gripping family or flatmate entertainment, watching fugitives on the run from a team of skilled hunters, replicating powers of the state to track them down. Reminisce a time when people could freely travel the country, roam busy streets and hide in strangers’ houses. Or don’t think about that, and just allow yourself to be gripped by the tension of it — your choice. Whilst Series 1 is particularly good, you can also catch the latest series now on All 4, as well as all the other series.
Double Indemnity – Billy Wilder
Two obvious routes are available to us during times of uncertainty: escapism or scepticism. Billy Wilder’s Double Indemnity magnificently intertwines both with break-neck pacing, witty dialogue and notoriously slippery characters. Hop in your cinematic time machine and uncover, or perhaps re-discover, the pillar of the film noir genre (literally meaning “dark film” in French) made famous during the widespread angst of the 1940s. Rife with shadowy ambiguities, and driven by a complex and multi-layered plot, Double Indemnity encapsulates the seeping anxiety of a world suffering through moral and existential bedlam — sound familiar?
The Screwtape Letters – C.S. Lewis
Do devils really exist? Granted, that’s probably not a question you want to be answering at this point in time. Just bear with me. In The Screwtape Letters, a rut-busting, mind-expanding sift through faith, suffering and journeying, C.S. Lewis introduces us to Wormwood and his Uncle Screwtape, two devils tasked with ensuring the eternal damnation of “the patient”. What ensues is a ‘theological come psycho-analytic’ plunge into the human spiritual and temporal experience during interspersing times of upheaval and barren wilderness. Hellish persistence and moral attrition combat with the power of manifested benevolence, patience and community, as external forces scramble to guide the ever-flowing streams of human free will.
The Wind Up Bird Chronicle – Haruki Murakami
Haruki Murakami’s novel The Wind Up Bird Chronicle has constituted the bulk of my lockdown reading. Its themes of social and urban isolation, in addition to the surreal elements Murakami weaves into the narrative prove it to be particularly poignant in the contemporary climate. The plot focuses on Toru Okada, a stay-at-home husband living in the urban sprawl of Tokyo and recently unemployed. His hum-drum lifestyle is turned on its head by increasingly peculiar interactions with a series of characters and events, leading him to question his place in the world. These existential themes are particularly relevant in a time of uncertainty and global panic.
The Two Popes – available on Netflix
Fernando Meirelles’ The Two Popes (2019) provides a hopeful and endearing perspective on the relationship between Pope Benedict XVI and the current Pope Francis. Its documentary style gives the film a fresh and unorthodox feel, with focus on Francis’ path to the Vatican from humble and turbulent Argentinian upbringings. In the wake of recent controversy surrounding the Vatican, the film depicts the unlikely friendship that formed from their differences, providing a deeply humanist take on the two Popes, stripping the aura that surrounds the office to the individuals that occupy it. Available on Netflix.
Alex does not take selfies.
‘Parce Mini Domine’ – Cristóbal de Morales, performed by Jan Garbarek
“Spare, Lord, spare your people: be not angry with us forever.”
In moments of uncertainty, of disquiet and anguish all around us, a barricade against the harsh reality of the world is required, something that provides a propensity for self-reflectance. This song, with its fusion of classical choral music and the nouveau saxophone, provides exactly that. Recorded in a heavily reverberant Austrian monastery, the voices develop in overwhelming intensity when a soprano saxophone soars in to underscore and encompass all around you despite its sparse use. As one sits in their room this song takes away all loneliness and anguish, with every moment being wrapped in ethereal quality perpetrating a sound and sensation of upmost introspection. As Adorno once said, true music is that which provides a dislocation between expectation and reality, with the gap it creates allowing us to see everything, the unfettered reality of our lives. As I sit in my room avoiding the ills of the world around, this song reminds us that whatever the material and outward circumstances of our existence, that inward capacity to think and reflect is something that can never be taken away, and something that ought to always be cherished about the human condition.
Ducktales – available on Disney+
If like me, you’re spending the quarantine doing ridiculously long hours stacking shelves or another job deemed essential, chances are you won’t have time for long epics in TV or book format, so my recommendations are short, snappy, and easy to pick up and put down for a few minutes at a time. As a result, my picks are potentially less high-brow or impactful than those of my friends here, but nevertheless do not fail to bring me joy in these depressing times. For a TV show I’ve chosen the Ducktales reboot. Yes, yes, it’s a kids show, and yes, it’s hidden away on Disney+ and impossible to find anywhere else, but the charm that oozes from every second of this show, from the funky reimagining of the theme tune to the dulcet tones of David Tennant as Scrooge Mcduck, is sure to leave a smile on anybodies face. Particularly recommended if you grew up with the 90s show.
F*ck Yeah Video Games – Daniel Hardcastle
As for books, I have to recommend F*ck Yeah Video Games by Daniel Hardcastle. Better known as NerdCubed, you may know him as that guy off YouTube who’s less problematic than most of them and plays really bad games, and his first outing as an author leans heavily into this. A brief history of video games, interspersed with hilarious factoids and anecdotes from his life and brilliant artwork from his wife Rebecca, makes for an admittedly light read, but one that is very easy to keep coming back to, especially when every chapter is three pages long at most.
Replay – BBC Sounds
The coronavirus has uncovered a major problem in my life. As trivial as it may seem, I’m overly reliant on live sport. I write about it to earn a living and I watch it to maintain my own sanity. My Saturday afternoons have fast become a depressing hole where I ponder when exactly I replaced secondary hobbies and a personality, with the constant desire to solely follow Manchester United. But rejoice, there is a solution for those with my predicament. BBC Sounds have re-uploaded Replay, a rerun of all their classic sporting commentaries which broadcaster Colin Murray hosted this time last year to celebrate 90 years of the corporation covering sport.
I’m getting my daily big match fix listening to Ali v. Foreman, the 2008 Brazilian Grand Prix and Team GB’s Super Saturday. Yes, it’s not live, but when Jonathan Overend’s voice breaks as he screams, “Into the net, Murray’s the Wimbledon Champion!” I still get that tingly feeling. The effect may lessen with every listen, yet it keeps me functioning in this torrid time. And anyway, admittance followed by gradually lowering the dosage, isn’t that how you defeat an addiction?