Podcast: Genius loci

"Wait a minute: that's bus doesn't go there." Image: BBC.

You know, there are some people – mean, cruel, wrong people – who might think our podcast gets a little bit, well, nerdy sometimes. Those people should stop whining and take more of an interest in public transport.

Anyway. This week, to mix things up a bit, we're taking a different approach to things: we're looking at how cities and places are portrayed in literature film and TV.


First up, Barbara talks about her discovery of the surprisingly not made-up phenomenon of Paris syndrome, and we discuss how our perceptions of places are so often shaped by culture.

Then we're joined by Stephanie Boland, a colleague from our New Statesman mothership, who in her other life is in the middle of a PhD in 20th century literature. Together we discuss cities in the works of Shakespeare, Dickens and Joyce and anyone else who comes to mind.

Next, Helen Lewis and Stephen Bush – hosts of our sister show, the New Statesman podcast – pop in to talk about how angry people (read: I) get about on-screen geographical cock ups. And listener Steven Bell tells us about his city, Glasgow.

Finally, for our map of the week we talk about the True Size Map, which enables you to drag countries around the world to see how big they really are. India is massive, look:

The episode itself is at the bottom of this page. Also, you can (and, obviously, should) subscribe on AcastiTunes, or RSS. While we’re at it, we’re still in the market for nice iTunes reviews, so, y’know, you should definitely feel free.

 This week's links...

 
 
 
 

Where exactly are the Wombles named after? We made a map

The Wombles playing Glastonbury in 2011. This isn't one of our joke captions, it's a genuine description of what the picture shows. Image: Getty.

 The Wombles may famously be ‘of’ Wimbledon Common, but each Womble is also connected to somewhere else in the world, by their names.

Creator Elizabeth Beresford named almost all of the Wombles after places: hence Great Uncle Bulgaria, Orinoco (as in the river), Tobermory (as in the town in the Hebrides) and so forth.

And so, we’ve put all the ones we could find on an interactive map:

The blue pins are the main characters, the yellow ones appear only in the books, and the green ones appear only in TV or film adaptations. 

The particular derivation of Womble names is not always obvious - Hoboken, an American womble is, confusingly, named not for the New Jersey city of Hoboken, but for the Antwerp district from which it borrowed its name. Wellington is named not for New Zealand’s capital, but for Wellington School in Somerset, which Beresford’s nephew attended. And some Womble names that don’t sound like places names actually are: Bungo derives from Japan’s historical Bungo Province, now called Ōita Prefecture.

The reasoning behind all this, according to Wombles canon, is that a Womble does not get a name until they have come of age, at which point they pick one they like the sound of from an old atlas belonging to Great Uncle Bulgaria. (Of the variety of things I’ve seen “left behind” on Wimbledon Common I’ve never come across an atlas, but artistic licence and all that.)

There are apparently some exceptions to this Womble naming rule: Stepney, an East London womble added in the ‘90s, picked his name from a London A-Z. Livingstone, a hot air ballooning womble, is so old he forgot his original name and borrowed that of the explorer Dr Livingstone. And there’s also a Cousin Botany. Who is named after botany. Because he does botany. Obviously.

Chief musical Wombleteer Mike Batt has apparently been working on a computer-animated Womble revival for the last few years, but he hasn’t yet revealed whether we can expect to see any new Wombles with hip modern names like “Silicon Valley”, “Midtown” or “Garden Bridge”.


To find your Womble name, tweet the name of a place you’ve found in an old atlas, followed by your credit card details.

Ed Jefferson works for the internet and tweets as @edjeff.

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