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  • Writer's pictureH.R. Owen

Episode Sixty Three

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Monstrous Agonies E63S02 Transcript

H.R. Owen

Hello friends, Hero here. Monstrous Agonies is going to be taking a bit of time off in the next few weeks. There'll be no episode next week on March 31st, then we'll be back on April 7th and off again on April 14th. Don't worry – I'll keep you posted. In the meantime, enjoy the episode, and look after yourselves.

[Title music: slow, bluesy jazz.]

H.R. Owen

Monstrous Agonies: Episode Sixty Three.

[The music fades out, replaced by the sound of a radio being tuned. It scrolls through a voice saying “-down by the head-”, a voice saying “-it's... impossible-”, laughter, and a voice stammering before cutting off abruptly as it reaches the correct station.]

The Presenter

-and that, you must confess, means something. Damned if I know what though.

Next on the Nightfolk Network, we take another look at our inbox as I answer your letters about liminal living. Our first letter this evening comes from a listener trying to resist impossible standards.

The Presenter (as First Letter Writer)

I'll get straight to the point, I think. My friend keeps telling me about the progress she’s making on how oily her feathers are. She’s always been pretty dry, despite a solid preening routine, and she can get pretty insecure about it sometimes.

I’ve always been decently oily, but I never really believed in all that focus on oil anyway. I mean, wanting proper waterproofing is one thing, I'm not talking about that.

I'm talking about the photo filters to “turn up your natural gleam” and the constant supplement ads and the way some people won't even go to the shops, won't even leave the house without making sure their feathers look well-oiled. All these special diets and ointments, they're just another way for the market to make money off our insecurities.

So, whenever my friend brings me “good news” on her progress, like, “I can see a reflection off my feathers from half a metre away now”, it always makes me feel awkward because I don’t really want to support this exhaustive conformation to beauty standards. But I still want her to feel supported in general.

Right now I’m always giving one of those half smiles and a cool, “Wow!” How can I congratulate my friend on something that she’s been working on when I think it stems from an unhealthy mindset?

The Presenter (as themselves)

You're absolutely correct in your assessment, listener. The current emphasis on well-oiled feathers is nothing more than a trend. And, as with all trends, it is largely perpetuated by the people who are most likely to make profit from it.

It's one thing to be sold a particular style of jacket or a particular colour according to the fashion season. But these so-called “health” trends are far more dangerous. They take something that yes, is part of caring for one's body – the importance of regular preening, the need to keep one's feathers waterproofed – and they create a new, impossible standard. It's not enough to be healthy, your feathers must be in a constant state of gleaming, just-preened perfection.

If you'd like an illustration of just how recent these standards are, you need look no further than the Hollywood stars of yesteryear. Aubrey Coleman, for example, was considered one of the most beautiful men ever to grace the screen. His trademark azure and emerald plumage was the envy of feathered folk the world over.

And certainly on the red carpet and other high-status affairs, he was as coiffed and glossy as any Instagram star of today. But there was no expectation for him to maintain those standards beyond those special events.

Today, people like your friend are being sold – and you are absolutely correct, it is about money – she is being sold an unreachable level of perfection as if it is the norm. Little wonder you're reticent to congratulate her in her efforts towards an impossible goal.

I don't think you can tackle this head-on. She's very proud of herself, and it seems unnecessarily cruel to undermine that pride. Try instead to refocus your praise. Compliment her on her dedication. You've noticed she's working hard at meeting her goals, and that can be something you celebrate even if you don't wish to celebrate the goals themselves.

Meanwhile, do what you can to counter these ideas. Don't play along when she praises oily feathers. Share images and content from others who are resisting this – and other – body image trends. Make it clear that your friendship is somewhere where she has to perform to those expectations.

You can't make her think differently about her body, or force her to stop engaging with this false narrative she's being aggressively sold. But you can offer her an alternative narrative – one of being comfortable in one's own skin, and refusing to let people profit by the discomfort they've caused.

I also do recommend looking up some Aubrey Coleman films. He's really very dashing.

[Background music begins: An acoustic guitar playing a blues riff]

The Presenter

Do you want more friends that aren’t sapio? Try our new app to find your platonic creature soulmate today. No Homo: for best friends.

[End background music]

The Presenter

Tonight's second letter is from a listener under pressure to move with the times.

The Presenter (as Second Letter Writer)

Do you know where I think we went wrong? We let the glamour go out of our lives. I’m not talking fashion. Fashion changes, style changes. But glamour is forever.

That's what people come to me for. They want some of that old world glamour. And I deliver. Boy, do I deliver.

Eleven carriages, each original and pristine as the day they were built. Wherever we’re going together – Venice, Berlin, Vienna, Budapest, Prague, Istanbul – we’ll travel in the lap of luxury, with sumptuous cabins fit for a king, a dining car that glitters with silver and crystal, waited on by effortlessly elegant staff and really it is worth it just to see those uniforms.

I’m beautiful. I’ve been beautiful since I rolled onto the tracks at Piccadilly all the way back in 1891. Booking a journey on me isn’t about reaching your destination. It’s about getting there in style.

If you get there, that is. Things happen. Close quarters. Long journeys. Tensions running high. An argument breaks out and oh, if only the letter opener hadn't just been to hand! Or the candlestick. Or the revolver. [giggles]

It’s a perk! A charming quirk of character that adds a frisson of danger to the whole endeavour. Last year I reached something of a milestone – more journeys with a blood-curdling murder aboard than without.

Which apparently is a problem? There have been rumblings. Management have concerns. They’re starting to wonder if having a reputation as a bit of a possible murder train [laughs] might not be the best business model for the modern era.

I don’t want to change things. Call me old fashioned but there it is. Besides, I’m not sure I can, actually. It’s not like I’m the one doing the murders. I just seem to bring it out in people. But I certainly don’t want to be decommissioned. What should I do?

The Presenter (as themselves)

I wonder, listener, if it might be time for you to play to your advantages. I'm afraid your management is probably correct in thinking that the spectre of sudden, violent death might be off-putting for some customers. Nobody likes the idea of shuffling off the coil unexpectedly. But what if you didn't so much threaten violent death as you did promise it?

Why not pivot your advertising to the revenant community? I'm picturing a sort of murder mystery event, perhaps for birthdays and so on. Book yourself in for a luxurious train ride to the Continent's most glamorous destinations, and pay extra for the chance to be chosen as this tour's tragic murder victim.

After the participant has recovered from their death, they can join in the investigation – solve their own murder. I know you say you can't control these things but I'm sure with a little will you might just be able to influence people every time you travel.

You have a unique selling point here. You just need it to be pointed at the right people. And if management aren't convinced, you can always point out that the immortal revenant community not only tends to include individuals who have amassed large fortunes over the centuries, but it is and always has been a growing market. There's literally only ever going to be more of them, after all.

[Background music begins: An acoustic guitar playing a blues riff]

The Presenter

You're listening to the Nightfolk Network – don't touch that dial.

[End background music]

The Presenter

Time now for another edition of Cookery Corner. Cooked or raw, in a pie or a crumble, with custard or without – there's nothing quite as controversial as how you eat your golden apples...

[Speech fades into static as the radio is retuned. It scrolls through a voice saying “-fast-”, piano music, a voice saying “-Gigue en Rondeau-” a voice saying “-doesn't have any martyrs-” and static before fading out.

Title music: slow, bluesy jazz. It plays throughout the closing credits.]

H.R. Owen

Episode Sixty Three of Monstrous Agonies was written and performed by H.R. Owen.

Tonight's first letter was a submission by Orbworb and today's advert was submitted by Art. Thanks, friends. Submissions are now closed for letters and adverts this season, but will reopen in Season Three.

If you're enjoying the programme, you can support us with a monthly pledge at or make a one-off donation a You can also help us out by sharing with your friends and familiars, and by following us on Tumblr, @MonstrousAgonies, and on Twitter, @Monstrous_Pod.

This podcast is distributed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. The theme tune is Dakota by Unheard Music Concepts.

Thanks for listening, and remember – the real monsters are the friends we made on the way.

[Fade to silence]


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