Alongside the excess of Christmas boozing, I’ve kept drinking alcohol-free beer too – it’s better than nauseatingly sweet fizzy drinks and has more body than water. Also, it lives in the fridge, so it’s always nice and cold, and the good stuff can trick you into thinking you’re still drinking!
I was delighted to find a new one (for me) in Tesco: Brooklyn Special Effects.They describe it as an alcohol-free hoppy lager. Nice, slightly psychedelic repackaging of their more famous Brooklyn Lager – a perfectly nice lager with a bit of body to it which you should definitely drink if there’s nothing else vaguely craft beerish available. It’s utterly trashed by almost every other beer they produce (drink their Naranjito). I guess it’s their Fosters, in a world where Fosters is quite good rather than undrinkable foaming piss.
This is much nicer! It actually smells like beer, and it’s only a little bit hoppy, which I was pleased about as I was expecting a hop punch in the face. In fact this is pleasantly sweet. According to their website they’ve dry hopped it with some citrusy hops, and it seems to have paid off. It’s a nicely malty mix without the oddly dusty aftertaste the super-malted alcohol-free beers like St Peters ended up as, where you think you’re choking down the liquidized contents of your uncle’s loft. This is very drinkable and even has decent mouthfeel which I’ve found rarer in the alcohol-free stuff. I’m surprised to find myself drinking it slowly to savour further.
0.4%, £1.20 for a 355ml bottle (or 3 for £3 in a good supermarket), so definitely more on the fancy side, but I’m hoping to find it in cans somewhere cheaper.
Verdict: Billy Goat Gruff. Kicks the shit out of trolls.
Every year the horror of a new year looms over the horizon like a Death Star, and the Lego Star Wars Advent Calendar does the vital of work of dampening that future and smoothing the way towards a cheery Christmas. They’ve been releasing them since 2011, which is about five years more than I realised, but it does help account for why I’ve got so many of the internal trays to use for part sorting.
On the part of the Lego designers, it’s a mighty challenge to produce new, cool-looking micro versions of the spaceships and locations we’ve become intimately familiar with. I’ve often been impressed with a new way to construct a Millenium Falcon from seven bricks, or by the splendid Bespin microscale city we got last year. Along with the dinky models we also receive an assortment of minifigures from across the Star Wars universe, building up to a special Christmassy figure on day twenty-four.
I had grumpily decided after last year’s calendar that I wouldn’t get another Lego Star Wars Advent Calendar because the minifigs and especially the Christmas figures had declined so badly. In fairness, the series began with Santa Yoda, followed by an R2-D2 snowman and Darth Maul, Santa Fett, Darth Vader and so on. This year we got a Porg. Porgs are ace, and I really wanted one because you don’t get many of them in sets. However, it’s just one unique piece (its head) and the rest are generic parts. Kinda feels like they’ve given up. I’d forgotten entirely what the Christmas 2018 figure was – so much so that I missed it out of the pic below – but it was a snowman with a rebel helmet: cack, and barely up from the BB-8 with a Santa hat from 2017. Nonetheless, when I discovered I could get 2019’s calendar for just £12.50 due to some neat Top Cashback thing, I dove in again.
Lego Christmas Figures
The Full 2019 Line Up
Perhaps it was how this calendar began that made me feel I’d been cheated. Day one is a First Order Star Destroyer – an almost entirely flat grey thing (I’m not a huge fan of Star Wars Lego anyway, just because it does tend towards a vast expanse of grey, or perhaps black), followed by a rather flimsy Kylo Ren shuttle. Getting a First Order stormtrooper next was OK, but it just didn’t feel special! (I’m fully aware this is an adult man grumbling about this not being good enough… but I really look forward to this stuff, and when it’s great it can give me a tremendous feelgood boost). I still don’t know what day four was. The outstanding builds are the Cloud Car, Quadjumper and Mynock – the rest I either struggled to identify or felt rather repetitious. The Christmas Gonk droid is cool too, even if he is larger than a minifigure (he’s actually been packed away into our vast box of Christmas Lego for rebuilding next year along with the rest of the Christmassy Star Wars folk).
Looking back at them now I’m not certain why I enjoyed this so little. The minifigs are fine – getting an old man Luke was cool, and the Bespin Cloud Car pilot is superb. But we’ve had much of this before – I think this is the third Death Star technician, at least the second Rebel commando and I’ve lost count of the soldier droids (not sure they should count as a minifigure anyway). I did appreciate not wasting one or two doors on gun racks, which is a lovely change from usual. It felt bland and the designs particularly phoned in this year. My other half and I usually alternate opening the doors each day, but we were leaving it unopened for whole weeks, and that also made me rather sad. I slightly regret selling on the Harry Potter advent calendar I also bought for half price, as several friends have reported it being good, even though I’ve no love for the franchise and half of it seemed to be flags. What we did get was a bunch of spare parts as usual, a handy internal tray which gets used for general brick sorting, and the satisfaction of dismantling the stuff I didn’t care for.
Lego Star Wars Advent Calendar contents across the years
Every year has had the occasional spectacularly crap minibuild, but on balance the range of figures, including really cool figs like the Kanji Club guy from 2018, IG-88, ewoks, jawas, Sabine Wren, Unkar’s Thug… well, they’ve been ace, and this year feels so generic. Last year we even got a character from the little-known Lego Freemaker Adventures! It’s odd, considering that we’ve recently had Rogue One, Solo and the new trilogy that so little of the amazing stuff in them has made it into last year’s calendar. Maybe next year, having no movies out will offer some space to bring back the best and weirdest figures and sets in the franchise – The Mandalorian please!
Now I shall go and dismantle all the minibuilds and feast upon their parts.
We waited in the still night air, on a dusty knoll overlooking the devastated city. The stars mocked our patience, twinkling with untold mirth at the shadows of truth blackly knotted between them. I waited with my brothers in arms. We waited for our god. For the end of all things, and our just reward for a life of hard service; devout, we’d given our lives to furthering His kingdom. We were much reduced from the height of our pious glory – once a force ten thousand strong and now but three. And mortally wounded.
Jimri lay crooked in the withered old tree’s gnarled embrace, shuddering as he held together the gaping wounds in his gut. The gashes were half-webbed with the sticky tangle of our medicinal paste, which we had laughingly named our puncture repair kits. Alas, supplies were short. Though we’d slathered what we could from our drained tubes, we’d suffered too much, lost too many slivers of flesh in the fight and now had too little left to give. Slumped across Jimri’s knees lay Torschen, my oldest friend, the best man to bear a sword at your back. He too had taken blows mortal: two straight thrusts through his left lung which gave his breath a bubbling quality, that of one already loose in the deep sea of peace beyond. The puncture repair kit had closed the holes well enough and with a reed I’d reinflated his sagging lung, but we’d no further recourse to healing.
We were the last: our armies, healers, servitors, even cooks were gone. Massacred to a man, woman and child. And yet, we had won the day. The city of Ternforl was ours. Or at least it was no longer the ’forlers, for they now swam in the night ocean. Where too, we would join them. But as predators, not prey. Immortal sharks, safe from all else, with lesser souls to feed upon evermore. We’d dragged ourselves out of Ternforl, over the mountains of corpses, the scorched rubble, the breached earthworks and through the blood-muddled earth of the farmland that once lay green and fertile around the city. Blood meal would bring forth a lush harvest in time, but who might reap it was beyond our view. Shambling, we propped up one another, eyes shying away from the faces of comrades, friends and rivals we’d always sought to best – and now had, in a bleak sort of way. I jammed my iron helm tighter over my ears, snarling as it rubbed against the flap of scalp I’d pinned there. It had bled heavily despite its triviality, and in lieu of repair paste I’d simply screwed my helmet into the congealing blood glue. I couldn’t imagine I’d ever remove my helmet again, and I’d rather dive into that vast sea intact, a holy warrior to the last, than weak and naked.
Jimri faded away on an inhale, leaving the ghost breath to whisper out through lungs finally permitted to relax. Torschen died with a choking burble as his unpunctured lung frothed his leaking lifeblood till it foamed from his nose. Alone with the stars. I felt a tremendous lightness as the breeze made its way through the brain-deep gouges down the side of my head. It almost tickled, and I felt freer than I’d ever done before. My brothers were diving even now into that eternal sea, its salty embrace cleansing them of all injury and grief. I’d join them soon, but I just waited, just wanted to see our god. He comes to those who have dedicated their lives to him, they say. I have laid waste an empire, seen all I know fall in that quest. Now I wait for my reward, to take my Lord’s hand and be cast into the abyssal beyond. I’ve earned it.
I bleed. The sense that the night sky is more inside my head than out intensifies. I don’t think I see in colour any more. Like in the deeps, red no longer reaches me. My blood is just another aspect of the seas; we blend together, it and I. Dissolution. He’s not coming for me, is he. Maybe they never do. And into the ocean I slide.
We’re in my hometown of Nottingham this weekend for an hour of chat and banter about mental health. I think/hope we’re covering a topic which is on my mind a lot at present: new year. Turns out I’ve got a massive aversion to the event, and frankly I find it impenetrably depressing. It’s not that I have any interest in New Year’s Resolutions, but the whole looking forward and back activity seems to tear my soul apart. So Sunday should be fun, right?
Recording from 8pm til 9pm in the wonderful New Art Exchange Cafe
Our podcast is the beginning of an essential public conversation about mental health. We’ve all faced mental health problems; we’ve told friends we’re “fine”, and just kept it all to ourselves… now it’s payback time.
This event is FREE – just grab a drink from the cafe. We welcome questions throughout.
We’ll start at 8pm, and should be wrapped up in an hour, and we’ll then hang around to continue the conversation in the bar.
We aim to lead by example, sharing our own challenges with mental health and treating them with humour, compassion and conversation. Welcome to our therapy session: an hour of conversation, insight and comedy with a musician, an improviser and a psychotherapist, in front of a live audience (if you show up, otherwise we’ll just talk to each other!)
We Are What We Overcome started as a song, became a live Edinburgh Fringe show, and is now a podcast.
The month of January appears to be unfurling correctly, preparing to flip us into February. I’ll be glad to see its end. I fell back into a darkness at the end of December and it’s taken this long to haul myself out, or more likely, wait for the hole to lift me up to the surface again. This was pretty much the subject of our podcast recording on Sunday evening, so it will get a more complete airing when we get round to putting that episode out and add to the sound pollution with which we shall conquer the cosmos.
So, this week gone by then. Part of the reason I’m starting this up again is in the hope of actually remembering the things I do, especially the good things, instead of letting it all slide into a deep grey quagmire, in which only bad things are buoyant enough to bob to the surface. Progress! It’s almost (but definitely isn’t) a new year’s resolution…
Reading: Night of Knives by Ian C Esslemont
I finished a fine pair of novels this week; I’m glad to be hitting a decent reading speed again. First up Ian C Esslemont’s Night of Knives. I’ve already read the complete Malazan Book of the Fallen by Steven Erikson, which was a serious undertaking of ten titanic epic fantasy novels in quite possibly the deepest and most complex world I’ve had the pleasure of drowning in. I spent a few days flicking between books, unable to find a realm I wanted to dwell in for a few days, and the magic and battle-saturated landscape of the Malazan world is very familiar to me, and oddly welcoming, for all its horror and bloodshed. I’d been quite curious about Esslemont’s series exploring the world he and Erikson created together, but just hadn’t found the right moment. Imagine how delighted I was to discover that Night of Knives is roughly half the length of Erikson’s bricks. It’s a taut and exciting read, focusing on one specific night in one specific place (unlike the Book of the Fallen, which spans aeons and continents). It’s hard to explain any of the Malazan stuff without half a million words of context, but this one is about the previous Malazan emperor and his assassin sidekick returning from the dead to take the next step in immortal ascendancy to the throne of Shadow (kinda, there’s a lot more to that summary…) I had a lot of fun in the familiar places and peoples. Looks like all of Esslemont’s series fall substantially shorter than Erikson’s, which is great news as at 1200 pages from book six onwards, they became quite intimidating to fit in. I’ll definitely be back for Return of the Crimson Guard soon.
Reading: The Custodian of Marvels by Rod Duncan
Leicester author, Rod Duncan’s The Custodian of Marvelsis the last in his alternate history The Fall of the Gas-Lit Empire trilogy, which came out shortly before I came on board at Angry Robot. We subsequently oversaw the beginning of his sequel trilogy. There’s a huge amount to love here, from the intricately crafted alternate England overseen by the International Patent Office who have an iron grip on technological advancement, and as it turns out, history itself. I’m wholly in love with the protagonist Elizabeth Barnabus who’s sought to avenge the destruction of her family by a thoroughly wicked bastard of a man, the Duke of Northampton. This entry gets us a lot of the satisfaction we’ve been building up to. Unlike the previous two, The Bullet-Catcher’s Daughter and Unseemly Science, this is a neat heist movie of a novel, and I’m very reluctant to spoil it for anyone here. Simply put, Duncan’s prose is sublime, he paints places and characters in the alternate 2000s that seem more real than the ones we had. It also ends on a killer last line which had me laughing out loud. Cheers Rod. Looks like I’m gonna have to read The Map of Unknown Things… Also, stunning covers by Will Staehle.
Watching: His Dark Materials
We missed the huge BBC/HBO adaptation of Philip Pullman’s Northern Lights trilogy at Christmas, but we’ve finally caught up. I remember loving the first two books in particular, but it turns out I remember almost nothing from Northern Lights, other than daemons (want), a bad lady forcibly separating children from their daemons (an extension of their soul), and armoured polar bears. The series is a pretty good way to experience the world, and it’s filled with all the grim religious intolerance of the novels and magic of the daemons which the movie adaptation sliced away (to it’s doom), pretty good special effects and a very satisfying cast. Definitely worth a watch.
Watching: The Personal History of David Copperfield
I don’t have a lot to say about this film. It was quite fun to watch, but at no point did I know whether we were five or fifty minutes in. It’s a curiously disjointed show, despite amazing comic performances all round (Capaldi finally gives us the Doctor Who we deserved) and a witty, often heartwarming script, I’m left feeling like it’s a real mess. I dunno – see it for yourself.
Doing: The Improvised Trial
Somewhat busier week than usual, with two rehearsals for MissImp‘s upcoming improvised justice show for Light Night at the National Justice Museum: The Glowstick Trials. It’s the only child and family-friendly show we really do, and it’s tightly formatted for playing in a genuwine courtroom in authentic wigs and gowns! With Ben and Richard as our director/producer team, they’ve reworked the show from 2018-19 and I think made something even more fun out of it. I’ve very much enjoyed the rehearsals, although I’ve kinda dreaded allocating the time to rehearse in. Just the dress rehearsal to come before the big night! We’ll be performing every half hour on Friday 7 February from 6.30pm – 9.30pm. Tickets are a mere £3.50 and you get a glowstick! Pick em up here.
Doing: We Are What We Overcome – the Podcast
As I loudly alluded to above, careening out of the Christmas bubble has not been easy this year. We met up at the New Art Exchange in Hyson Green on Sunday night to record some thoughts about it. Wes got hideously stuck in traffic and wasn’t able to make it in time, which sucks. I think Matt and I just about succeeded without too much meandering (Neil will be the judge…), but his absence was deeply felt. Hopefully Wes will enjoy our attempts to say what he might have said. We were blessed with a nice little audience who were very attentive and asked smart questions at the end, all of which I’m going to have to think about some more. Essentially, I don’t like having a period of self-reflection foisted on me, and I need new/old strategies to keep myself together when my daily routine is absent, and be more mindful about keeping track of what I’ve been up to. Hence this whole thing!
That’s probably enough stuff for the week, right? Well no, I also acquired more Lego, played with our beautiful cats, sat around a lot, did some good stuff at work, and probably some other things too.
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