Once There Was Bread, and Milk, and Things
Well, what a week. For all that nothing really happened it sure feels like a lot! We went in to work on Monday and got sent home by the evening. Cue frustrated working off a laptop until I finally cycled in super-early a couple of days later and retrieved my beloved monitors. Work off a single screen? What a bag of wank. I suppose it was the week when the whole pandemic thing felt properly real, for me at least. It’s a strong reflection of the very weak messaging we’ve received from our government, I guess, that even though we saw Italy collapsing, the lackadaisical focus here just kept it unreal. Fast forward a week and I’m stuck at home for twelve weeks because I have pretty bad asthma. Fuckin’ A.
Of course, as a largely antisocial homebody, this hasn’t yet made much difference. Not having improv drop-ins on a Thursday is odd, but since it’s only been one week it just feels like I’ve had a week off (working!) The lack of food in shops most days has given it a true apocalypse vibe, which is both exciting and scary. I can’t say I’m sleeping particularly well, especially once they closed my beloved swimming pool. That left me a couple of days to cycle aimlessly round university park till being restricted to home today. Bah! Bah I say! If anything, being suddenly in contact with a bunch of family and friends has slightly overdosed me on socialising, so I’m content to hide here for now. Content, in the sense of “anxiously refreshing coronavirus news and endlessly scrolling through Facebook”. It’s the extreme uncertainty of course, and I don’t recall anything quite like this before. 9/11, maybe, but without the social media screaming.
So what have I done in the last week? Honestly, it’s a tedious combination of hunting for bread and milk, fretting, being wildly distracted from work, and checking in on people. But we did, of course, consume some media! I’ve been been bouncing between books, what with all the distraction, but have at last settled on Adrian Tchaikovsky’s Cage of Souls, which appears to have the combination of writing style and things happening that I was struggling to find. Oh, I seriously need to write a LEGO building update – I had a good Sunday time!
Watching: Locke & Key
Another Netflix comic book adaptation, finally exploiting all that rich fictional fodder. This one was written by Stephen King’s lad, Joe Hill, and that feels quite clear from the grim murder of one family’s father and their resulting return to the family home – Locke House. Obviously this all spoilers… The house is filled with magic keys, some of which do mildly odd things like putting broken things back together, and others do seriously weird things like take your soul out or unlock your face. It’s a strange mix of whimsy and bludgeoning people with hammers. With a most older teenage cast, it feels a lot like Umbrella Academy and the already forgotten October Faction (seriously, it just took me three minutes to recall the title), not least because it turns out the family is guardian of a secret (the keys, duh) and protecting them from an evil dude. I guess they were going for a Stranger Things vibe with a chunk of It. Mostly it pays off well, with intriguing mystery and a fairly likable cast. I wanted to scream at the kid in it, who keeps using the damn keys even though they’re plainly dangerous. It reminded me a lot of my younger brother at that age… Or everyone flocking to McDonalds and the beach during a pandemic.
Overall it’s a glossier, better produced product than it’s closest relative, Umbrella Academy, but ultimately ends up with another confusing and somewhat bungled ending which detracts from its apparent conclusion. The burning need to set up the next season by retconning who was really a baddie rather weakens the first season. It’s a real shame, because up to the final episode – even the last ten minutes of the final episode – it was a fun, engaging and rather dark drama.
Reading: Lexicon by Max Barry
This was exactly what I needed last week – a fast-paced techno-thriller with conspiracy, a cool high concept macguffin and snappy dialogue. Thank you Max Barry! I read Jennifer Government a couple of years ago and was taken with the speed that Barry whips you through a story. Lexicon has a very appealing idea: that words have power. Dead simple, but delightful to push all the way through. There’s a secret society using words of power to influence, control, and even kill people. Even better, there are alluring suggestions in here of how words are made up of primal commands that hack human brains. Once you know someone’s type, you can figure out how to crack them. Big data seems even less friendly than it did before. To hide your type, the operatives – poets – spend a lot of time learning how to hide all of their emotions and reactions, lest their colleagues get hooks into their brains. It’s got that delicious semi-plausibility which, once accepted, make the story just glide by with a frisson of nervous excitement. The novel is split along two narratives: the operative gone rogue, using power words outside of the organisation to wreak terrible harm, and the operative sent to bring her down. It’s a bit like Salt or half a dozen other cinematic spy thrillers, but with a fine literary polish and plenty of rewarding twists.
Watching: The Maltese Falcon
No Cineworld (and coronavirus) means we have to plumb the depths of our deep and neglected DVD collection. God I love Netflix (and Prime, but less, because it’s mostly filled with crap and its interface is the worst thing since gov.uk), it means I don’t have to open a box and stick a disc in a slot. The freedom is intoxicating. But, since we couldn’t cinematize it felt appropriate to have a similar experience from home. We’re both fans of classic noir, and The Maltese Falcon is (maybe) the best Humphrey Bogart. It also features our other favourites, Peter Lorre and Sydney Greenstreet. A delightful cast, a captivating little murder mystery about who’s really got a mythical golden falcon statue, wrapped up in magnetic character acting and a witty script. If you haven’t seen it, you’re plainly insane and should rectify your brain now. “Come closer..” indeed.