What are your top comfort books, films and music? Our stress-busting lockdown choices
PUBLISHED: 12:00 22 November 2020
Comfort viewing, listening and reading have never been more important. With so much stress around during the second Covid-19 lockdown, here are reader’s feelgood suggestions.
Is your favourite escape a hugely long book, a feelgood movie or the soothing sounds of a classic album?
Or do you have a more unusual favourite like gritty crime books or dance music? Our readers and staff have been sharing their personal lockdown pick-me-ups.
What books are you devouring in lockdown?
Emma Lee writes: “During the first lockdown, for the first time in a long time, I completely went off reading books. I couldn’t stop myself from doomscrolling on the internet - real life had suddenly become stranger than fiction and I was powerless to look away.
“But now I’m greedily devouring books at a rate of about two a week. When it comes to new novels, I really recommend Small Pleasures by Clare Chambers. Wrapped up in a mystery about a woman who claims to have had a virgin birth, is a gorgeous and timely reminder about the importance of grabbing happiness wherever and whenever you can.
“And I adored Pointless host Richard Osman’s debut novel, The Thursday Murder Club about a group of amateur sleuths living in a retirement home. Smart, funny, poignant with a plot which keeps you guessing, I couldn’t put it down.
“But when I need a guaranteed laugh, I always return to Sue Townsend’s Adrian Mole diaries. From his lovelorn teenage poetry to Pandora (“Pandora!/ I adore ya!/ I implore ye/ Don’t ignore me”) to an unlikely career as a celebrity chef and into middle age, Adrian’s misadventures and Townsend’s satire are a comic tonic.
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Judy Rimmer writes: “In terms of comfort reading, I love to lose myself inside massively long Victorian novels - especially Charles Dickens, my all-time favourite. Of course, as Christmas approaches, many of us will be finding comfort in reading A Christmas Carol yet again.
“Some of his fiction is very dark, though - it’s not all about jolly Christmas scenes. But his humour and characters are always deeply absorbing and provide the perfect escapism from what is going on in the here and now.
“I also find detective stories brilliant for escapism, including books by the classic queens of crime Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers and my personal favourite, Margery Allingham, plus many more.
“A current series I enjoy is Joanne Fluke’s Hannah Swensen mysteries, although the mouth-watering descriptions of cookies baked by the heroine are terrible for dieting! I haven’t actually tried any of the recipes included in these as yet, though.”
Sean Bennett, a work placement officer at Suffolk Rural (formerly Otley College), said: “It has to be the Lord of the Rings for me. I must have read it about 100 times - it’s so immersive and takes you away from it all, and into this other world.”
Kate Rosten of Stowupland’s choice was country classic Cider with Rosie by Laurie Lee.
She said: “He writes about his childhood and village life. Beautifully written and a reminder of a different way of life.”
And Cat Jones, of Great Finborough near Stowmarket, chose The Salt Path, by long-distance walker Raynor Winn, which traces her journey along the 630-mile South West Coast path. Cat said: “It’s inspirational and takes you away to the sea. A beautiful true story of hope.”
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Audiobooks can also be very comforting, with a friendly voice helping to bring the book to life.
Leo Godsall said: “Been listening to David Gemmell Drenai books, narrated by the excellent Sean Barrett. I’ve read them many times, now a chance to listen.”
And Alice Dargan, the group marketing and communications manager at West Suffolk College, said: “I recently loved Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman. Eleanor - who is a bit of a social misfit - goes on a bit of a journey towards self-discovery and you find yourself really rooting for her all the way.
“It also deals with themes of loneliness and isolation which struck a chord with me this year in particular, knowing so many people will be feeling the same.”
Musicals, romances and more comfort viewing
Are musicals your favourite feelgood choice: That’s the case for Paul Geater, who said: “My favourite comfort film has to be the best musical of the 21st century, Sunshine on Leith, featuring the music of The Proclaimers and hugely talented cast headed by George Mackay, Peter Mullan, and Jane Horrocks.
“It’s incredibly cheesy and formulaic. It’s dripping with sentimentality. But it’s absolute genius and the final number, I’m Gonna Be (500 miles) is so good they made it twice! Buy the blu-ray and you can see both of them - utterly magnificent. It should be available on prescription!”
Romance also provides plenty of welcome escapism. Caroline Joyce from One Sixth Form College said, although not traditionally a fan of romantic comedies, one film always takes her to a comfort cul-de-sac. She said: “I love The Proposal starring Ryan Reynolds and Sandra Bullock, There is something about that film. It always takes me to my happy place.”
Alice Dargan added: “My ideal comfort film would be Dirty Dancing. Even though it’s dated, the soundtrack coupled with the storyline gets me every time. It’s such a feelgood film that almost every time I see it, it makes me want to attempt the iconic lift at the end.”
Jessica Holland, an apprenticeship advisor based at Suffolk Rural, said: “I like Guardians of The Galaxy. It’s one of those films that if it comes on the telly, you just have to watch it from beginning to end.”
“I love watching WALL-E with my children,“ said Sarah Perry, an apprenticeship advisor for Suffolk New College. “It has such a good moral message. It’s funny, relaxing, clever and beautifully animated. I also love Shawshank Redemption. The narration and storytelling are exceptional and the fact that it’s about the power of the human spirit gives you a massive lift.”
Judy Rimmer said: “When it comes to feelgood films, I’m a fan of musicals, from classics like Guys and Dolls and Oklahoma! through to more recent hits like The Greatest Showman.
“Sadly, the Greatest Showman singalong events which were so popular last year couldn’t happen this year, but one advantage of singing along at home is that other people don’t need to hear me!
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“I also love watching mysteries on TV and competing with my family to see who can guess whodunit - Midsomer Murders, Poirot and Agatha Raisin are all perfect relaxing TV.”
Some people have perhaps more surprising choices of comfort viewing, though - from disaster movies to gritty thrillers.
Shirley Aspen, a curriculum administrator at One Sixth Form College, said: “If I were to curl up on the sofa and watch a film it would be The Day After Tomorrow. I love a disaster movie and I’m also a big fan of Dennis Quaid.”
And John Nice, owner of Nice PR Ltd, said, “It’s not actually a traditional comfort film as such, however, I always enjoy watching The Departed. Pretty much anything by Martin Scorsese is fine by me and this is him at his best.”
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But it’s not all about dramas. Emma Samkin, said her relaxing favourites are ”Countryfile, Susan Calman in Scotland, Mortimer and Whitehouse fishing, Saturday Live with Rev Richard Cole - anything really that reminds us that the beautiful outside world is always there, and everyday people tend to be rather lovely.“
And Twitter user Val Seaman’s choice is The Repair Shop - a gentle show which has reportedly become one of lockdown’s biggest hits. It seems people can’t get enough of seeing the experts restoring family heirlooms.
Comfort listening, from Brahms to Bill Withers
Music teacher Hayley Robertson, of Abbeygate Sixth Form College in Bury St Edmunds, said: “It’s very difficult to narrow it down in terms of comfort music. Perhaps a playlist ranging from singer songwriters like Joni Mitchell to orchestral works by Brahms and Shostakovich - the list would be endless.
“As it’s almost Christmas, my playlist would definitely include ‘Some Day at Christmas’ as performed acoustically by Stevie Wonder and Andra Day. It’s such a soulful and hopeful song and this is a beautiful arrangement.
“I also love to listen to music written by the students I work with. At times like this, music is more important than ever, and the creativity of students is still thriving - despite the difficult times.”
Stevie Wonder also got a mention from Shirley Aspen, together with Bill Withers. She said: “In terms of music, Lovely Day by Bill Withers always makes me feel so bright, cheery and happy. And Superstition by Stevie Wonder is a favourite of mine. Growing up, I’d always dance to that song at discos.”
John Nice said: “If I want a bit of comfort music, I always get my old vinyl copy of the first Stone Roses album out. It instantly takes you back to a time when all that mattered was going out, music, clothes and haircuts.”
Meanwhile, Terry Revell from Leiston says radio is his ideal pick-me-up. He said: “After listening to Mark Murphy on BBC Radio Suffolk first thing in the morning with my girlfriend Alexa, I then tell her to listen to Radio Caroline for the rest of the morning.”
Four feelgood film and TV suggestions
Arts editor Andrew Clarke suggests three films and one TV show to help lighten the lockdown mood.
Julie and Julia; dir: Nora Ephron; starring: Meryl Streep, Amy Adams, Stanley Tucci, Chris Messina (2009)
A glorious real-life tale for anyone who loves food and cooking. A dual story, told with wit and charm, by When Harry Met Sally writer Nora Ephron, but set across two different time spans.
In 1949, eccentric Julia Child (Streep) is a diplomat’s wife, bored out of her skull, living in post-war Paris. Determined to fill her time with something useful, she bullies her way into a usually all male Cordon Bleu cookery course and becomes a media sensation when she writes a French cookery book for Americans.
Intercut with this is the story of Julie Powell (Adams) living in New York, bored out of her skull, dealing with 9/11 insurance claims. Living in a small apartment with her new husband, she wants to set herself a challenge, so decides to set up a blog recording her attempts to cook every one of Child’s recipes. It’s a beautifully judged, uplifting tale played by two fantastic actors with lots of gentle humour.
Stardust; dir: Matthew Vaughn; starring: Claire Danes, Charlie Cox, Michelle Pfeiffer, Robert De Niro, Sienna Miller (2007)
Ambitious and entertaining, this gloriously dark and twisted cinematic romp is best described as a fairy tale for adults. It’s sumptuous production design, all-star casting and bravura storytelling style remind us those imaginative, early 1980s movies like Time Bandits and The Princess Bride, but this wins out because it has a darker edge to it and a more ‘grown up’ or complex narrative.
In what appears to be mid-1800s England, Tristan (Charlie Cox) wants to impress the popular but snooty girl of the village of Wall (Sienna Miller). He vows to find a fallen star for her, but this involves tangling with a devious witch (Michelle Pfeiffer) who wants the star for herself. This film is a feast for the senses, jam-packed with inventive visual flourishes, a deliciously funny script and enough jeopardy to keep the most jaded blockbuster-fan on the edge of their seats. It also tells you that if you want to buy a decent ring you need to go to Ipswich.
The Dish; dir: Rob Sitch; starring: Sam Neill, Patrick Warburton, Kevin Harrington, Tom Long (2000)
There’s an old adage that says: “Truth is stranger than fiction” and nowhere is this better explored than in the Australian film The Dish. The world marvelled as Apollo 11 beamed back pictures of Neil Armstrong setting foot on the moon, uttering those words: “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” But if it wasn’t for a satellite monitoring station in a sheep paddock in the small provincial town of Parkes, in the Australian outback, then the world would have seen and heard nothing.
The Dish is a beautifully observed, character comedy, based on a true story, which pitches the technically brilliant, but very laid-back Australians against the very uptight, do everything by the book NASA officials. The Dish is a total treat and at 90 minutes doesn’t outstay its welcome.
Schitt’s Creek; TV series, starring: Eugene Levy, Catherine O’Hara, Dan Levy, Annie Murphy, Emily Hampshire, Sarah Levy
If 2020 and lockdown has been good for anything, it has introduced the glorious heartfelt comedy Schitt’s Creek to the wider world. It started off as a small, beautifully written and acted cable show in Canada six years ago and has ended up as one of the best shows to be found on Netflix.
Written and devised by Daniel Levy and pretty much starring his whole family, Schitt’s Creek is both hilarious and emotional as rarely for a TV series, the characters grow and evolve over the course of the six series. It’s not uncommon to shed a tear and laugh out loud within the same scene.
The idea is simple, but it allows the writers and actors to go anywhere they want while still giving the story structure. The idea is that a rich family (not unlike the Kardashians) suddenly loses all their money and is forced to live in a run-down roadside motel in a sleepy, backwater town. How would they survive?
The acting and the writing is top notch and cleverly they quit while they were ahead, and actually brought the series to a close rather than let it run out of steam. Brilliant.
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