Creative Sensemaker: What to read, watch and listen to this weekend

Alice and Wonderland art installation

A rundown of the books, films, music and more by Tortoise Media, the slow news agency

By Matt d’Ancona

Welcome to the latest Creative Sensemaker from Tortoise Media.

On 24 February 2020 I accompanied a group of Tortoise members on an early evening tour of the British Museum’s astonishing exhibition, Troy: Myth And Reality.

As we all listened to the curators describe the ancient artefacts on display, none of us, I suspect, was devoting too much thought to the government’s likely response to what was not yet officially categorised as a pandemic. Lockdown? What lockdown?

Yet, almost exactly a month later, Boris Johnson instructed the whole nation to ‘stay at home’. The British Museum, along with every other cultural and artistic venue in the country, was shuttered to visitors, with no clear sense of when and how they might reopen.

Now, as part of Step Three of the lockdown relaxation roadmap, the British Museum – along with most of the nation’s artistic institutions – is open once more, and plunging straight back in with a magnificent exhibition on Thomas Becket and his assassination in December 1170. 

You should also book now for Nero: The Man Behind The Myth, which opens on 27 May: an exhibition which calls into question the traditional verdict on the fifth Roman emperor (54-68 AD) as a deranged debauchee and presents him in a more nuanced light.

Booking is essential, by the way, and will be so until the government lifts all COVID-19 restrictions. You can return with relish to your favourite museum or gallery – but you have to reserve a slot to do so.

Over at the Victoria & Albert, the long-awaited exhibition on the world of Lewis Carroll – Alice: Curiouser And Curiouser – opens on 22 May: a celebration of the stories written pseudonymously by the Oxford maths lecturer, Charles Dodgson. Video games, cartoon movies, the particle physics experiments at the CERN labs in Switzerland, the music of Jefferson Airplane, the surrealist movement, Heston Blumenthal’s recipes… all have been influenced by Carroll’s unhinged ingenuity.

One of the least edifying sideshows of the pandemic has been the government’s increasing encroachments upon the independence of artistic venues as part of Number 10’s crude bid to launch a culture war (see last week’s Tortoise Take). So please do support these institutions as they reopen, and let us know of any gems that we should know about.

Meanwhile, don’t forget to book your place at our next Creative Sensemaker Live – 1pm to 2pm BST on Friday 28 May – on the furore over children’s fiction sparked by the books of (among others) Dr Seuss and David Walliams. The great Michael Morpurgo will be joining us to bring his inimitable thoughts to the conversation.

Here are this week’s recommendations:

Women of different heritages wearing stood in front of colourful wall all wearing bright  clothes and headscarves


Rare Beasts (cinemas, VOD 21 May)
Is there anything Billie Piper can’t do? Her directorial debut traces the tribulations of nihilist writer Mandy as she looks for love, raises her son, and deals with her parents (David Thewlis and Kerry Fox). She imagines the internal mantra of the women around her (‘Money. Cock. Promotion’), tapping her head as she repeats inwardly: ‘Even though I feel scared and angry, I still love and respect myself.’ A very watchable film that will leave you eager to know what Piper’s next directorial project might be.

We Are Lady Parts (Channel 4, Episode 1, 20 May)
Nida Manzoor’s six-part comedy series follows the quest of a Muslim all-female punk band for a guitarist and a proper gig. Punk was always more inclusive than many other rock genres, but We Are Lady Parts is less interested in musical history than contemporary social tensions, and the humour to be derived from those everyday emotional conflicts. Recommended.

Book Noise A Flaw In Human Judgment by Daniel Kahneman, Olivier Sibony, Cass R Sunstein
Book cover of The Breakup Monologues: The Unexpected Joy Of Heartbreak by Rosie Wilby


Noise: A Flaw In Human Judgment by Daniel Kahneman, Olivier Sibony, Cass R Sunstein
In this, the three authors define ‘noise’ as ‘unwanted variability in judgments’. In other words, the injustice built into decision-making by extraneous factors (an example: judges tend to pass down tougher sentences when the football teams they support have lost).
The goal is ‘decision hygiene’, requiring a ruthless, in-depth scrutiny of the hidden influences upon our judgments. A hard task, but this book will get you thinking about every decision you take and the forces that (truly) shape it.

The Breakup Monologues: The Unexpected Joy Of Heartbreak by Rosie Wilby 
In this, the self-styled ‘lesbian Louis Theroux’ is unsparing in her analysis of her own love life and the relationships of those she talks to, but her wit and compassion make this a joyful read.

Portrait of a young woman with dark hair sticking her tongue out, arms crossed and face covered with stickers
Quad of black and white portraits of men


Sour by Olivia Rodrigo (21 May)
Still only 18, Rodrigo made her name as a Disney star but – since the release of the multiple-platinum single ‘Drivers License’ and an extraordinary performance on last week’s Saturday Night Live – it has been clear that she is only in the foothills of a potentially remarkable musical career. Don’t be left out.

Brahms: Works For Two Pianos Complete Chamber Music Vol. 9 by Eric Le Sage, Théo Fouchenneret

In this album, Eric Le Sage and Théo Fouchenneret offer precious insight into Schumann’s comparatively few works for keyboards, performed with delicacy and immaculate style.

That’s all for now. Have a great week.

Best wishes,

Matt d’Ancona
Editor and Partner
Tortoise Media


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