Last Week, Sunday 2 February 2020

Ah, February, My Old Nemesis

Alright, that’s a bit melodramatic… I’ve perked up considerably and the prospect of February brings me neither fear nor hope. It’s been a very quiet week, or at least… I think it has. I’ve spent much of today in a courtroom in our dress rehearsal for Light Night: The Glowstick Trials on Friday at the National Justice Museum (you should come along, especially if you have kids – get em judged by strangers!), and I feel a little perplexed about what I might actually have done this week. Let’s see… Ah, I have it. I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time doing minute photoediting at work this week, and I think it’s turned my brain inside out. Don’t get me wrong, I really love learning more about Photoshop (since I use it every day for book design and layout at Aconyte Books, and for doing a similarly wide range of graphics stuff for MissImp, I’d better learn to love it), but I’ve been kinda embedded in the same task, and can no longer perceive the colour blue. Ho hum.

Reading: Between Books

I’ve foolishly ended up reading a pair of books alternately. It wasn’t intentional, but rather situational. I am very fond of my Kindle – it’s amazing to read a book with one hand while brushing my teeth or wandering around the house, so it’s an automatic go-to. On the other hand (or both hands, I guess), I love to read real books with the paper-fondling and all that. So I’ve ended up on two. I’ll not review them before finishing them (that would be daft).

First up, Adam Roberts’ Splinter, which is a curiously Jules Verney adventure about a chap whose dad predicts the end of the world, and turns out to be correct (probably), leaving he, his father and a bunch of believers (in his father) are stuck together on a little chunk of Earth. It’s odd, and I’m struggling to drag myself back it a bit. On the plus side, it’s got this gorgeous cover by Darius Hinks (whose splendid fantasy novel The Ingenious we published back at Angry Robot. He’s a very fine chap too).

Second, I’m back in the Malazan world with Ian C Esslemont’s Return of the Crimson Guard. Kinda digging it. Also noticing more differences from Steven Erikson’s storytelling: there are far fewer “thus”es.

Doing: Lego

I’m at an awkward point in Lego building. I’ve failed to build anything for myself (as in, not as dictated by the instructions in an official Lego set) since my Wizard of Oz at the beginning of last year. That’s a combination of having very little time (mostly due to doing far too much admin for MissImp), and having relatively little space to get all the boxes out for rootling through them. I’ve managed to have a few breakdown and sorting periods which I find very relaxing, but I’ve not felt the necessary inspiration for building. Trying to build and getting nowhere is really grim. Last week I pulled a couple of boxes out and made some intricate and horrifically fragile gold gates, but didn’t know what to do with it.

But yesterday I had the day entirely to myself and after getting a few things done, I got everything out! Ah, six hours crosslegged on the floor leaves a chap utterly unable to stand, but it was totally worth it. I’ve expanded the gate, framed it and started building a structure around it. The tiled floor is very pleasing (I got loads of those quarter circle coral pink tiles from Leicester Square Lego Shop last year). The long hexagonal shape is putting enormous stress on some of the bricks, but I’m pretty chuffed with it. I suspect I’ve over-greebled the walls and will need to tone it right back down, but overally I feel deeply happy about the whole thing. It’s raised up so I can build some terrain and foliage around it when I’ve got some idea what’s going at the back. Some kind of tower…? It’s actually a little further along than these pictures show – check out Instagram for more continuous updates!

Acquiring: The Dinosaur Films of Ray Harryhausen by Roy P Webber

I’m rarely able to help myself when it comes to Harryhausen stuff. The man was a fantastic artist, animator and all-round nice fellow. This one’s been on my list for a while, and I’ve finally added it to the stack. Unlike the recent (fantastic) Titan tomes on the Hollywood special effects genius, this one is all black and white and a lot more text and commentary. Accordingly, it’s going to take me a lot longer to get into and through, but I’m delighted to have acquired it.

 

Acquiring: Fake Lego Mandalorian

Disney’s super-secret hiding of the baby Yoda spoiler in The Mandalorian was an absolute delight but it has left us with fuck all vital Baby Yoda merchandise! The AT-ST from that brilliant shrimp-harvesting episode (I’m trying to avoid spoilers) is the only real Lego set currently available, so I was utterly at the mercy of knock-off merchants on eBay. The Mandalorian himself has a rather cack helmet print, but the body and armour printing is great, and the overall quality of the parts ain’t bad. Baby Yoda filled my heart with joy though. Shame he’s got a slight nick out of his green face paint (revealing the generic pink below). I’m quite pleased. The Mandalorian is a fantastic show, by the way, the perfect space Western that Star Wars is supposed to be and you should watch it. I’m on my third re-watch now…

Watching: Titans

Ah, this is what I’ve been doing this week… I watched both of these shows last year, but damned if I could recall a single salient story sliver. Titans season 2 popped up on Netflix, and that seemed like a fine opportunity to dive back into season 1 with Marilyn. It’s really fun! I’ve got no idea who any of the characters are (save Robin and Wonder Girl). I feel this a a DC thing – other than Batman and his usual coterie of villains, I’ve never taken to and absorbed a general sense of the DC heroes and villains. The parlous state of their movie universe pretty much guarantees my feelings will stay this way. The show picks up a very violent Robin and a couple of his street-scrapping chums to protect a young girl who appears in dire need of exorcism. They team up with a guy who turns into a green tiger and a spectacular woman who can channel the energy of the sun into burning stuff. It’s proper comics far – somewhat perplexing about why anything’s happening, but it’s all done with a pleasingly gritty tone without too much winking or spandex. The fights are pleasingly violent too – it’s no fun being twatted with a staff, and Titans does not pull those punches. The effects are a bit poor occasionally, but it doesn’t really detract much.

Watching: Star Trek: Discovery

ST: Disco was a delight last year, and caning through it again while playing with Lego and every other activity is proving equally satisfying. I like Discovery because it’s got plenty of mental episodic drama, fun characters and splendid special effects. It’s really all I want from Star Trek. Like DS9 it’s got a strong narrative arc which pleases me, and the cast is pitch perfect (Michelle Yeoh, goddamn). As with all the prequel storylines, I end up completely forgetting that this much better looking, higher tech world with cooler uniforms is actually set way before the hilarious jumpsuits of Next Generation. Great fun, and I’m looking forward to its return with season 3.

Last Week, Sunday 9 February 2020

Midweek Confusion

OK, so this next week thing has slightly got away from me. As ever, by this point in a new week my recollection of the seven days past is blurring… Since my Google calendar stopped syncing with Facebook, even that once reliable tracker of things I expressed zero interest in has faded in its utility. Alas, I’ll have to go by memory; apologies in advance.
Alright, I’m genuinely stumped for the first couple of days, as far as the evenings go. I went back to the doctor’s – as I’ve been doing with frightful regularity since last July when we accidentally discovered that I have horrifically high blood pressure. My general understanding based on video games is that a high score is good, but apparently this does not follow in medicine. In order to prevent me from spontaneously stroking out (apparently a genuine risk even at my sprightly forty-one years) I’m being loaded up with various ACE and calcium channel blockers, but to counterbalance their potential for good, the ACE blockers offered a chance of trashing my kidneys, prompting fortnightly blood tests to make sure they hadn’t dissolved and begun circulating. They aren’t! Huzzah. But the ramipril didn’t do much on its own, other than not kill my organs, so now I’ve also got amlodipine (I may or may not verify these spellings… ) to work its mysterious way through the calcium channels. It’s all really quite interesting, to me at least since this is my frail puff-paste meat sack I live in. No more blood tests, and at a much higher dose is bringing my blood pressure down into merely prehypertension range, instead of the top end of stage 2 hypertension (down from my max of 180/109 to 140/90). Win. Plus, I’m now taking a proper Smarties assortment of pills, so that’s nice. Looks like it has a genetic cause, since I’m really quite healthy with my daily cycling and swimming routine, and my cholesterol is fine. In your face three kilos of Quality Streets and another three of cheese in December. Drugs for life – which is cool since I’ve been on asthma meds since an unknowably young age.
For those uninterested in such health wranglings, tough: your body will begin to fail shortly, as I push these pins into this charming mannequin with a crude rendering of your features. But that can’t be all I did last week, right? Indeed, no.

Building: Lego

I have advanced a little with my pretty golden gates. I’ve expanded upwards, in adding mostly extra gold pieces. That’s a minor challenge because, as an inveterate hoarder, I feel like I should use them very sparingly and not deplete my stores. This is idiotic. The whole reason I’ve got the damn things is to use them! And that they look very pretty and they live in a box, and that makes me happy… As you can see I also greebled the fuck out of the walls, and gone way too far. I’ll find pics next week, but I’ve dismantled them in an attempt to make plainer walls which won’t detract so much from the magnificent pearlescent gold.

Watching: October Faction

We finished up watching the second-latest comic book adaptation to slide onto Netflix’s new releases bar (before Locke & Key, which unfortunately looks exactly the same but in Miss Peregrine’s Miserable House of Whatever instead – I’m sure it’s somehow different, and we’re bound to watch it eventually). Best described as Grimm crossed with Mean Girls, October Faction follows a family of monster hunters as they, um, hunt monsters and learn DARK secrets. Pretty chipper performances and casting made this a lot of fun, despite the incredibly predictable plot (not all monsters are monsters, your monster-killing organisation is surprisingly not all that chill). The high school stuff with a pair of twins trying to fit into the new town their parents have dragged them to works well, at least until they discover their own powers and the rest of the story unfurls. Very sexuality positive stuff too, which is always satisfying. Look, it’s not amazing, and the ending is a bit unsatisfying, but it’s a fun watch while you’re eating tea. I guess that’s a recommendation…

Watching: Birds of Prey, or the Film with a Whimsical Title about a Murderer (And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)

I know, I know. It’s a DC movie, why do we even try to enjoy them any more. This is about Harley Quinn, Joker’s recent ex (I mean, literally at the start of this film} and how everyone hates her and wants to kill her, because she is, as I think they say, “just awful”. In the process of people trying to kill her she makes some friends, including a fairly amusing child pickpocket and somewhere in here there’s a story about a massive diamond with encrypted passwords carved in it. There’s several different people’s back stories in here, and they all weave together quite ineptly, constantly tripping the film up. We meet Huntress, who has no character other than being a crossbow wielding lady sad that she saw her parents get murdered (it’s OK, they were mobsters – there’s no reason why you should care at all) by another gang of mobsters, under the instruction of Ewan McGregor, who plays some twat who wears a mask for the final action scenes. I should mention that this might be a career worst performance for McGregor, even counting the Star Wars prequels. Fuck knows what his character is supposed to be. And that’s the tone really, none of the characters have any consistency or make sense (except possibly the pickpocket girl). We veer from snarky comic stuff with Harley, to McGregor’s minion slicing off people’s faces. Everything happens fast, or in pointless time-skipping. Jurnee Smollett-Bell’s Black Canary is pretty cool, except that her having superpowers seems totally irrelevant until she knocks some folks down in the finale. Rosie Perez’ Renee Montoya is described as speaking in cop cliches, and that’s what they give her in lieu of a character. Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn gets to do some genuinely splendid action scenes, and it’s the fighting throughout that makes this mess of a film endurable. Lots of people seem excited by the glitter and beanbag gun scene on entering the police station, but it’s the fight as they leave which is truly splendid. Oh, Arkham looks good – suitably grim and filled with ridiculous architecture and funfairs. I’d rank this as the third best DC movie (of the recent crop, barring Wonderwoman none of their films are even as enjoyable as Batman Forever), after Wonderwoman and Shazam (smoky grey CGI baddies are so Green Lantern) but some steps ahead of fucking Aquaman with it’s ghastly rubbery Sea World. I’m perplexed by this film all round. It grows clearer and clearer that I have no grasp of DC properties at all. In fairness, it’s about as good a grasp as Warner Bros’…

Doing: Creative Mentoring

Every month, for the last seven years (I think), I’ve spent a few hours with my delightful creativity client. We write stories, play improv and inspiration games, all with the aim of simply being mentally and creatively stimulating. And because it’s fun. Not too much to report on this occasion, other than to note (and remind myself) that’s always a genuine highlight of my week. I deeply enjoy the time I spend with Rebecca, and find it inspires me creatively too. What lovely reciprocity!

Doing: the Glowstick Trials at National Justice Museum

After a number of rehearsals we finally got to play for real! Seven improvised courtoom dramas, back to back last Friday evening. The chaps directing it this time around (Richard and Ben) rejigged it very smartly from our previous version, putting it much more opportunity to freely extemporise in our various roles of Judge, Defendant, Prosecution, Defence and Witness 1 & 2. A small tight cast, with lots of quasi-legal nonsense. I was lucky enough to end up playing most roles, not least because of the hideous traffic jams that marred the whole of Nottingham for hours, delaying a third of our team. It might have had some effect on audiences too, as we saw far fewer folks in the streets that in previous years. Ho hum. I had an absolutely marvellous time. Hearing Judge Duncan screaming away behind closed doors, myself mounting a vigorous defence (against Marilyn’s thorny prosecution) for poor Alistair accused of thinking about stealing birdseed (he couldn’t possibly have done – he never thinks!), waxing lyrical as a defendant in my maudlin teenage diary, and countless things I’ve forgotten. It was a blast, and I really want to do it again, somewhere, soon… Any offers?

Last Week, Sunday 16 February 2020

Yup, Still Kansas, Just Has More People

Looks like I’m slightly ahead, I’m wrapping up last week only a day late. Surely this augurs great things… Maybe. By my standards, last week was a veritable social whirlwind. No wonder I now wish to hide in the dark! I have a somewhat quieter week ahead, featuring lots of work to be done and if I’m lucky a couple of Lego-ing slots.

Evening Drinking

Is the evening the best time to drink? I’m never sure. I kinda like daytime drinking when I’m on holiday, but I’ll confess it mostly leads to dozing off in the early evening and arguably not being the best use of time… But that’s what they would argue, and screw those guys, right? Either way, I’ve done a bit of it this week.

I finally managed to catch up with some of my dearest friends from the sixteen years I spent working in Probation before it went to galactic level shit, courtesy of our government’s ideological obsession with privatisation. I finally abandoned ship some four years ago (to find a wildly pleasing new life in publishing), and as usual, I’ve not retained a huge number of friends out of the many people I saw and interacted with daily for so many years. I absolutely suck at keeping hold of folks, which makes me rather sad at times. And then I forget, until I remember again. It’s a cycle… Anyway, due to the remaining aftereffects of storm Ciara and the nightmare that is Nottingham traffic management, only three of us successfully reunited. I’m not sure why it’s mostly my former line managers that I ended up being closest to, but I’m very glad to have done. I get that lovely feeling I do with my cousins when I see them, of snapping effortlessly back into our relationships, just as we had last time we met. It might be one of my favourite sensations in the whole world. If someone’s created a fiendish term to capture it already, I’d be glad to know. I guess there’s something of nostalgia, and muscle memory all bundled in there. Nice to catch up on various gossip / the sheer hell Probation has inevitably declined into, and its further forthcoming catastrophes. A splendid evening out!

I’ve become a fan of Brews of the World in Burton on Trent. Originally they were just a terrifyingly well-stocked bottle shop, and have gradually pivoted into being a fine micropub with ten taps. I tried most of them this week, and was particularly taken with this Star Trek themed beer (presumably in honour of the new series on Prime). Very tasty!

We mostly skipped Valentines Day this year, save for a trip to the cinema and chicken gorging on Sunday afternoon… though I do now have some exquisite sparkly nail varnish and cute stuff!

Watching: Sex Education season two

If you haven’t started on Netflix’s Sex Education, you really should. Set in a rather nice secondary school (filmed in Wales I believe), featuring a gaggle of horny teenagers learning about sex and relationships, aided by Asa Butterfield and his sex and relationships counsellor mum, Gillian Anderson. The script is impossibly well-written and the performances are pitch perfect all round. This season begins with absolutely cripplingly embarrassing scenes of Asa’s character Otis getting hooked on wanking… It’s hard to make this sound classy, but it actually is. Particularly deserving of attention are Emma Mackey’s Maeve (part time collaborator in Otis’s under-the-table sex ed business) whose very difficult family situation really shines this season. I like them all, though I’m most intrigued by how they found so many characterful and hideous garments for much of the cast to wear. Well played all.

Watching: Parasite

A singularly odd film which has happily scooped up a tonne of awards, Oscars included. Written and directed by Bong Joon Ho, who made the magnificently strange The Host and the future hell of Snowpiercer come to life, and filled with fantastic character actors, including Song Kang-ho who was in both of those aforementioned films. I’d been tipped off about this one months ago by some mates who saw it at festivals and I was thrilled it won awards that ensured a longer run at Cineworld…  Essentially, it’s the tale of a down-on-their-heels family who inveigle their way into the home of an upper class family in a really nice house, by getting their existing staff fired and placing themselves in line… I wouldn’t want to spoil it for anyone, but it turns out they’re not the only “parasites” on the family, though ultimately I imagine you could argue that it’s the wealthy who are parasitic on the rest. Slow, funny, and very, very dark toward the end – I really enjoyed Parasite, though I confess to being slightly perplexed about why it’s being so lauded. I guess if you’ve somehow never seen a non-English movie it’s particularly striking. Watch it!

Doing: Brick by Brick exhibition at Harley Gallery

On Saturday we met up with some dear friends who we spend too little time with (we blame it on their kids, they blame our appalling laziness – let’s call it a draw) to visit the Brick by Brick LEGO exhibition at the Harley Gallery in Worksop. As at previous LEGO shows there, the Harley Gallery spills the exhibits over a couple of floors, giving the magnificent builds room to breathe, and supplying plenty of table space for folks to build their own models (we all did!) A particular highlight is the work of Canadian-Ghanaian artist, Ekow Nimako, who I’d seen popping up on various brick blogs with lovely work, but his entirely black figurines and sculptures inspired by are simply extraordinary in the flesh (plastic). I took a bunch of photographs which all suck because of the highly reflective bricks, but I urge you to check out his website https://ekownimako.com/. There are many other very satisfying and clever builds too, and various LEGO sculptures made out of glass, merged with paintings, large-scale near-interactive pieces, and I finally got to see some of Jason Freeney‘s superb anatomical LEGO sculptures. Art aside, it was a really lovely day out with friends – cheers Silvers!

Here’s a short video on Ekow, featuring a couple of the sculptures at the Harley Gallery. The exhibition is there till the end of April, so get it together! Brick by Brick at the Harley Gallery

Last Week: Aconyte Books, Return of the Crimson Guard, ST:DISCO, Improv Triple Decker

Looks Like I Did Nothing

Which is kinda cool. I need down weeks, and from what I recall, last week was one of them. I’ve been working hard, learning a bunch of new things as our first print deadline at Aconyte rapidly approaches, axe in hand with little regard for doors or faces. That’s incredibly exciting though – after nearly a year and a half of work, we’ll finally get tangible evidence of that effort, in the beautiful obtangular form of Wrath of N’kai by Josh Reynolds and Tales from the Crucible, edited by Charlotte Llewelyn-Wells (I know, waaay too many Ls, you wouldn’t believe how hard her name has become to type). That’s our first adventure in the Lovecraftian mythos of Arkham Horror and an anthology of stories from KeyForge. They’re both splendid, and I’m very happy to have played a large part in their cover spreads and internal layouts, as well contributing to the commissioning process for the stories themselves. Oh, and, in the one-hundred word synopses, which is my new artform. They’re out in May! Buy them! Keep me employed!

Reading: Return of the Crimson Guard by Ian C Esslemont

Finally finished this! This is strictly me moaning about being slow and inept, and I knew the second in Esslemont’s Malazan series was nearly twice the length of the first, but still! Totally worth it though. I’m beginning to feel the differences between this and the parallel series by Steven Erikson, though they’re still hard to articulate. These ones feel closer, not that they lack vast scope, but the cast at least doesn’t yet feel as vast. I’m also seeing my favourite groups showing up like the horse-riding Wickans, and a lot of kickass mage action. I’ve read very few epic fantasy series with such a fantastic grasp of battle, and even fewer in which I’m content to linger in that battle for whole chapters at a time, shifting between groups of soldiers and switching sides. It’s great, but remember – these bad boys are 702 pages long! Commit and love them.

Doing: LEGO

So yeah, after blood, sweat etc, I turned to LEGO in the evenings of last week… Since I’ve been making such good use of my time, it’s been well invested here, in lovely LEGO bricks. As you can see below I’ve regularised the shapes around the sides, and added yet more fiddly details at the top and made them all a little higher. Once again I’ve made something I can’t bloody see inside of, so I guess that’ll have to be for me alone… I’m pretty pleased with the outside, with some nice sideways stacked masonry-profile bricks. It’s all becoming increasingly fragile, of course, and I’ve exploded sections of it several times. The walls are at least attached to each other now… At the rear I’m inserting a back wall and shrine kinda thing… I discovered that the best sand green figure I’ve got is this adorable chap from LEGO Atlantis, so I guess it’s his temple now. This section sits neatly on some square jumper plates so I can pop it in and out without wreaking too much havoc. Gonna drop him a little lower I think, and get some more green texture in. I’m very happy that I’ve been gathering sand green and gold and have finally put them to such good use. Next I’ll need to utilise the tonnes of foliage and put the shrine in a place, or something.

Watching: Star Trek: Discovery

Of the various Star Trek series, only Deep Space Nine has ever really spoken to me, and is thus the one I’ve fully rewatched at least five times (I mean c’mon, that’s only 132 hours of entertainment!) I didn’t get on with the characters in Voyager, though I liked all the Borg stuff, The Next Generation is where all the cool stuff started, but it feels patchy as all hell. Enterprise doesn’t even reach watchable. So, I’ve been absolutely delighted with ST: DISCO. It looks incredible, in a way that truly sets it apart from the other series, and the script and performances are polished to the same sheen. My sole complaint is that we don’t get the same soap opera-y character episodes that I adore in DS9. It’s not that they skimp on character development for the core cast, for whom the whole thing is an incredible rollercoaster, especially season two. It’s the sheer brevity of the show, with just fifteen episodes in season one, compared to twenty-four in Deep Space Nine, which makes it pacy and thrilling, but I still have no idea who most of the people on the bridge are, and I feel as if I should… There is very little space to breathe, and rewatching it has been a real boon. Now I actually know what happened! There’s so much going on and so little room in between that I don’t think I managed to take it in.

I reckon it’s got some more re-watch potential, but for now roll on season three!

Watching: MissImp’s Improv Triple Decker at Nottingham Playhouse

Such a fun show! It’s still a real pleasure to have lots of shows to go to that I’m not actually in. For such a long time there were only a handful of us doing shows, but this time we had three teams with none of the MissImp exec in at all. Five Chubby FoxesDenise’s 50th and The Improclaimers. It was a splendid mix, beginning with The Improclaimers’ mock cover-band singer-songwriter duo, followed by awkward stepmum drama with Denise’s 50th and a ridiculous octopus hunt from Five Chubby Foxes. I had a really good evening, furthered by the traditional post-show pubbery, in which we headed off to the Crafty Crow because our usual spot, The Roundhouse, was closed. Sad face, but great booze and brilliant chats. I mean, just look at these lovely folks!