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Podcasts and voxpods

Did you know, I once did a work placement at the BBC’s World Service? It was a while ago, admittedly – one of the stories I reported on was the 1995 discovery of prehistoric DNA inside bees trapped in ancient amber.

William Smith's geological map of England

William Smith’s geological map of England

But however aged that makes me feel, I am delighted to be putting my radio skills back into action with various new podcasting projects.

I’m about to go to Edinburgh as part of this year’s writing team for The Sick of the Fringe, a project commissioned by the Wellcome Trust. For five days, I’ll pack in as many Festival shows as possible, making diagnoses about the conversations performers are having in relation to physical and mental health. Some of these will be in the form of podcasts – so check in at to find those.

Future World at the ArtScience Museum, Singapore

Future World at the ArtScience Museum, Singapore

I have also been working with Richard O Smith (writer on The Now Show and The News Quiz) to write and produce a 20-minute scripted podcast about the story of William Smith, the world’s unluckiest geologist. Find out about the ups, but mostly downs, of this pioneering map-maker’s life.

Shorter podcasts include a review of CLD: The Real Lewis Carroll, a musical full of songs and scandal that I saw in Oxford. Hear from director David Kettle, actor Stewart Briggs (Dodgson) and writer Jane Bramwell about the production.

And on a trip to see family in Singapore, I visited an ambitious new digital gallery at the ArtScience Museum, where my children effortlessly outwitted me at every turn. So listen in to that and hear me unwisely tackling a slide, among other things.

Paris tour – with Madeline

In Paris... in a straight line

In Paris… in a straight line

In an old house in Paris that was covered with vines, lived twelve little girls in two straight lines… I love the story of Madeline, the little girl who knew how to frighten Miss Clavel, and who lived in a city full of sights I’ve always wanted to see.

So when we had the chance to visit Paris as a family, I took Madeline along as our guide.

Complete with chestnut trees

Complete with chestnut trees

Ludwig Bemelmans, the story’s American author and illustrator, lived some of his life in Paris, and his whimsical paintings give you a tour around some of the city’s greatest places.

Indeed our edition of the book even helpfully lists the locations at the back in case, like me, you haven’t visited them all before.

Never mind that Jonathan (11) had broken his arm at school during his SATs (whoops), we were off for an adventure.

Our first Madeline Moment was at the Eiffel Tower, which appears on the book’s cover. We took the lift up high enough to see Paris spread before us, the Seine, the Arc du Triomphe, and the Hotel des Invalides, before taking a photo at ground level.

Sunnier in Bemelmans' picture

Sunnier in Bemelmans’ picture

We enjoyed whizzing about on the Metro, which helped us fit in a trip to the Sacre Coeur and a wander through Montmartre en route to our next stop.

Then, our second Madeline Moment saw us braving the busy roads around Place de la Concorde.

During the revolution, the guillotine was kept grimly busy here.

Historical colour such as this came from our parallel guidebook, the Dorling Kindersley Family Guide to Paris – one of the Eyewitness series that give you so many extra details.

Restful Tuileries garden

Restful Tuileries garden

Still, apart from a jewel thief running by, the Place looked peaceful in Madeline’s day – and we caught a glimpse of the Arc du Triomphe at the other end of the Champs Elysees.

Third on our tour of Madeline Moments was the Jardin des Tuileries near the Louvre, where we could also pop in to see Monet’s Waterlilies in the Orangery Museum.

During lunch in the garden, I have to admit, my creaky French caused me to order ‘a wine of red glass’ which did not even cause a flicker on the waiter’s face. Perhaps I am not the first overexcited visitor to Paris he has met.

On a rainy day in between our Madelining, we took the Metro to La Villette to spend a very interactive time at the Cite des sciences et de l’industrie. Hands-on exhibits fill every gallery, on topics from Leonardo da Vinci to sound engineering. For an 11 and 8 year old – and their parents – this was a great place to visit, and their cafe had crepes.

In rain or shine, there was Madeline

In rain or shine, there was Madeline

Finally on our tour of Madeline Moments, we walked to Ile de la Cite to see Notre Dame, which was even more beautiful than in Bemelmans’ painting. He shows it in the rain, but we caught it in spring sunshine.

Other possibilities the book offers are The Opera, the Place Vendome, and the Gardens at the Luxemboug, but those will have to wait for another visit.

With Madeline’s help, this time we saw sights, we drank Orangina, we walked miles and got a feel for the history, science and art. We recommend her as a tour guide.