Last Week: The Human, Star Trek Picard and LEGO UCS Y-Wing

Gosh time really does fly, while simultaneously flexing with all the integrity of sun-warmed chewing gum… so, yeah, it’s Friday already and I haven’t completed my sole personal task of the week – recording what the I’ve watched and done. Obviously I’ve done relatively little, except drunk spectacular quantities of beer and gazed listlessly at our blossoming lilac tree. That’s right: I’ve been outside! In fact, I spent most of last week outside. Work very kindly ordered us some desks in an attempt to aid good workspace habits, since I’ve been sitting on the sofa with my laptop on my knees for six weeks or so… It’s a nice little desk, but it does rather fill our front room. The brightening weather gave me ideas! After a day sitting under said lilac tree I got quite enthusiastic, ordering a WIFI extender thing (with antennae! Must be good.) and unfurling the gazebo. I even went so far as to lay out four of the concrete slabs that have been stacked in our garden for more than a decade, pending the creation of a patio. It was quite lovely. I spent my days in sunshine, watching the cats race around the garden, the gentle scent of lilac and roses wafting into my hardworking face. Pretty nice week all round really.

Reading: The Human (Rise of the Jain #3) by Neal Asher

I don’t often pre-order books (I know, as a publishing person I should know better…) but that’s mostly because by to-be-read stack both physical and digital is absurd. The coronavirus means I want things to look forward to! I’ve been reading Asher’s Polity books for years – fast-paced military space opera with great intergalactic conflict, high tech, terrifying aliens and engaging heroes. The set up… it’s an advanced human civilisation slowly taken over by the AIs we built, so that now Earth Central is a massively powerful AI who runs the whole show, and much better than we ever managed. The AIs do have a ruthlessly utilitarian slant though, and while mostly that means they do make life better for the majority, sometimes it means they sacrifice whole worlds to save the rest of the Polity… This is so far into the story that it’s near impossible to summarise what’s going on! Ancient alien technology – the Jain – enables nano-(and even pico-)engineering on a thrilling scale, but is horribly prone to taking over its user and sequestering every resource in sight, utterly destroying the civilisation that tried to use it. A vast array of active Jain tech has been swirling around the heart of a galaxy for millions of years. For the last few hundred years, Orlandine, a vastly upgraded “haiman”, half AI, half human who has seemingly tamed Jain tech for her own purposes, as well as the gnomic moon-sized alien entity, Dragon, have been preventing it from escaping and wreaking havoc.

That all went spectacularly tits up in the last book, and this is the final struggle to contain the Jain before it wipes out everyone. This installment really builds on the transhuman character development of Orlandine, the Polity AIs, the horrifying crab-like human-munching aliens, the Prador, and a host of other characters, many of them infected with Jain ambition among other things. It’s impossibly epic, with vast stakes, finally revealing the true dangers of the alien tech and a lot more about where it truly comes from. As a huge fan of the universe, I was delighted by this, even if the ending comes about a little quickly. Fear not though, there are plenty of hints at what is still unknown, and critical figures are conspicuously absent. Bring on the next trilogy please!

Building: LEGO Y-Wing Starfighter – LEGO 75181

Ermagherd, is I believe, how the young folk express their fondness for a thing. It is how I should like to express my fondness for this splendid build! This is the first UCS (ultimate collector series) I’ve had the chance to assemble, and I’m pretty impressed. In truth, I nicked it from work (sliced open the box and emptied it into a rucksack, walks away whistling etc), and probably would not have bought it for myself. It’s Star Wars, so it’s huge and mostly grey. The Y-Wings are rightly iconic for getting blown to pieces above various Death Stars, but they look so damned cool. I’ve already got a LEGO Y-Wing, now that I think about it – the 1999 edition that came with a tie-fighter. It was rad at the time, but this massive set comprehensively blows it out of the water and vaporises the lake it was skimming over. At a mere 1967 pieces, I was confident that I could build it in an evening, but naturally failed. Instead it dominated an entire Saturday afternoon while I watched more of season two of Agents of SHIELD (which I’ve had to pause to watch Guardians of the Galaxy and Avengers: Age of Ultron because the latter takes place around episode 20!). Rarely have I spent a Saturday afternoon so productively!

Like a lot of the larger LEGO vehicles I’ve built, there are plenty of time when I have no idea what I’m assembling. This one went through a canal barge to crucifix stage pretty quickly, and as soon as the cockpit clips in it’s instantly recognisable. That cockpit itself is loaded with clever building tricks to give it a smooth and curved underside as neat as the top, sneaky stuff to invert the direction of the studs. It’s stuff I’m terrible at in my own building and I’m keen to learn from it. The nacelles have simpler tactics for allowing intense greebling all the way round the square pillars. The greeblage is mighty all over the back and underside of the Y-Wing. One of the things I often admire about official LEGO sets is the masterful balance of detailing, whether it’s in a scatter of cheese slopes, a light touch in patterning brick colours, or in this – while there’s a lot of detailing, it’s not so insanely overdone that it detracts from the model at a distance. The Y-Wing looks fantastically good, such a nice version of the film designs. There are though a bunch of stickers to apply on the cockpit which stressed me out to apply neatly. Not half as much as the massive sticker for the info plaque though. It really shouldn’t generate such anxiety! Nevertheless, I think I got it on perfectly.

The minifigs are great, as you’d expect, with a finely detailed Gold leader and a shiny silver R2-BHD astromech.  Yeah, I love this thing. It is way too big to put anywhere in our house, sadly, but it will come apart into three neat pieces for transporting back to work once all this is over. Lamentably, having assembled this one, I now find myself eyeing up the far smaller A-Wing that’s just been released. That’s definitely shelf-sized…

Watching: Star Trek: Picard

We’d been waiting for all the episodes to be released on Amazon Prime before we began this. Our preference is definitely bingeing hard, rather than the agonising wait till next week. I’ve not reflected much on the change in our viewing habits in the last decade, but I think I’m getting more enjoyment from being deeply embedded in a show for a couple of weeks than dipping in and out of several simultaneously. However, I fear I’m going to have to do a second watch of Picard, because unlike Discovery which I adored from beginning to end, I just don’t know what to think of this new spin-off. Perhaps we’ll find out while I ramble…

The character of Jean-Luc Picard is obviously great – Patrick Stewart made Star Trek: The Next Generation come alive, and even though a lot of it is barely watchable now, the interactions of Captain Picard and his close-knit crew are delightful. TNG set the ground for the vastly superior Deep Space Nine that followed, with its huge and rewarding story arcs advancing the previous episodic narrative. With the exception of the Borg episodes, TNG never got the opportunity to do that, and with the similar exception of First Contact, its follow up movies are dreadful, though none as bad at those of the original series. I’ve been without Picard since First Contact in 1996 (holy fuck, how long?!), though the aforementioned dodgy movies have continued. So, a twenty year or so wait to return, that’s pretty high stakes.

Picard disabuses us pretty quickly of this being a high action show like Discovery. In a curiously similar vein to the new Star Wars movies’ Luke Skywalker story, Picard is long retired from Star Fleet, having been fired/quit when Star Fleet backed away from a commitment to help resettle the peoples of Romulus after their home planet got fried. He’s spent the rest of the time chilling in his vineyard home, tended by ex-secret service Romulans and generally doing fuck all but seethe that Star Fleet let him down. He’s run away from his responsibilities, having failed to be the man he thought he was. Enter a young (spoiler) human-passing android on the run from some dudes trying to kill her. She doesn’t know she’s an android but knows a lot of stuff, is super-fast and knows she needs to find Picard. It’s no shock to discover that she’s Data’s daughter, somehow. But she gets offed by some more Romulan spec ops bad guys, and Picard’s off on a mission to find her twin sister, save the galaxy, stop the Romulans etc.

Since Picard’s no longer Star Fleet he has to assemble a rag tag crew (stop me if you’ve heard this one before) since Star Fleet really don’t like him any more. The pacing is glacial at times, and it’s hard to understand what they’re actually aiming for in this. It takes ages to get into space (which is all fabulously Star Warsy rather than the Trek we’ve seen before) where we finally catch up with a ruined Borg cube that’s being rehabilitated by Romulans (for reasons I honestly can’t recall), and on which the android twin is working, while dating an actual piece of shit Romulan secret secret secret service guy who’s part of an inner circle dedicated to wiping out all synthetic life.

There is a lot of great stuff in here – Seven of Nine’s return is a delight, Riker!, learning that Romulan assassin folk are just feudal Japanese folk, complete with haircuts and robes is peculiar, but kinda fun, and eventually a lot of things happen, quite fast. Picard nearly dies, they find more androids, he saves the day. I don’t honestly consider that to be a spoiler! The whole show is soaked in nostalgia, which is only partly rubbing off on me. If there weren’t so many people involved, and such cool design work going on I’d write it off as a vanity project. It’s definitely more than that, but I don’t know what… Watch it, if you’re into Trek, otherwise I cannot imagine this having any appeal at all.

Doing: Virtual Improv Drop-In with MissImp

Last week’s new improv workshop was with Stephen Davidson, who’s just the loveliest and most passionate guy. His workshop is a real delight! Enjoy.

 

Last Week: Lovecraft Country, Derry Girls, Agents of SHIELD s2, The Politican, knock-off baby Yoda, The Day of the Triffids, The Voices! The Voices

That seemed like a nice gentle week, though sadly devoid of sun and the opportunity to work outside. I’m getting this post written early (I mean, on time) since I got way behind last week, and this week’s has things to do in it! Tonight me and my We Are What We Overcome compadres are recording again, via Zoom and Facebook Live – join us here at 7.30pm for some thoughts about self care, which is very important at the mo. Which reminds me, I really must post about the last couple of episodes we’ve released… And on Wednesday I’ll be recording with David Escobedo for a short podcast about Happiness. I’ll be talking about how much I love John Wyndham’s The Day of the Triffids.

Here’s a gif of Pixie playing with her beloved feather-mouse.

Reading: Lovecraft Country by Matt Ruff

A book that has been on my radar for some time, but only made proper sonar noises when it arrived at my house. This is a delight to read, combining the lingering dread of Lovecraftian horror with the ever-present horror of American racism. Set in ’50s Chicago, Lovecraft Country weaves together a series of short, deeply Lovecraftian stories revolving around one black family, the eldritch events that they’re constantly dragged into, and its close ties to their daily experience of racism. I found it a hell of a read – it’s ever kind of cosmic horror you want, but with the racism coming from the setting, not the author. Clever, funny, chilling and very thought-provoking.

Watching: Derry Girls season one

Fucking hell, this is hilarious. Made before Sex Education and a bunch of other sassy shows about teenagers, it has all the painfully sharp script and on-point performances I’m now kinda demanding from anything I watch. This is the ’90s in Derry, and it’s flawless. Funny, vicious dialogue, astonishing gurning and sulk-faces from the leads with generally ridiculous goings-on, against the backdrop of IRA bombings and British soldiers on the streets. A genuine delight and I’m deeply looking forward to season two arriving on Netflix. The trailer below totally misses all the savage sweary put-downs, scowling teenage angst, utter cunt of a granddad and more.

Gathering: Knock-off LEGO Baby Yodas

I… can’t… help… myself… I’m genuinely fascinated by these. It’s a great example of what happens when merchandisers get into an IP too late. In this case, Disney so totally locked down The Mandalorian to prevent spoilers getting out (and successfully!), that even LEGO have no baby Yoda (yeah, yeah, “the child”, whatever) figures coming out till September, and then only in a set that costs £120. Bootleggers have filled in the gap, and I’m casually/obsessively picking them all up.

The first one was a basic repaint plus ears of the existing LEGO baby minifigure (centre front), pretty cute with a cheap paint job. But he also came with the Mandalorian himself. Next came the moulded head on the same body, with a cloak in addition to the fabric tunic. A definite step up in tooling and quality. At the same time we had hideous things like the chap on the far-right (possibly politically, who knows), which is a crudely repainted knock-off Yoda head mould) with a surprisingly detailed body and mini-legs paint job. Way too big, since obviously he’s the same size as Yoda himself. Next up, we finally get a space pram (which we have all been crying out for, for months now). This features a totally different figure build, with detachable poseable arms (and hands), with a collar and a great little face if rather angry. The pram itself is slightly flimsy, though you can open and close it, with studs inside for standing baby Yoda up, and an antistud beneath for putting on a base. Lastly, the fucking monster at the back. I couldn’t resist picking that up, even if he does seem better suited to the Mos Eisley Cantina, or LEGO Trolls. Immovable arms, gargantuanism and a brown mug are his primary attributes…

There are yet more being released, notably variations on the space pram. I’ll keep y’all updated…

Doing: MissImp’s Weekly Virtual Drop-In with Marilyn Bird

Last week it was time for my other half, Marilyn, to give us some insight into the kind of character work she enjoys, focusing on voice and techniques for acquiring the vocal noises of others, and the fun characters that emerge from it. Fun!

Watching: Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season two

I have so much love for this show it’s absurd. Once more, so much happens! At the end of season one, newly revealed Hydra agent/bastard Grant Ward dumped my beloved FitzSimmons into the ocean in a box, season two begins with Fitz recovering from oxygen deprivation affecting his memory and coordination, not unlike a stroke. It’s surprisingly heartbreaking – or it would be if I weren’t so deeply invested in the guy! His partner, Simmons, is away on a mission infiltrating Hydra, and in her absence poor Fitz is getting worse, hallucinating her presence and withdrawing from the team. Reader, my heart aches for them. Don’t worry though, he gets better, though not in a single episode. They make good use of the 22 episodes to bring in a host of new characters, adding the remarkably badass Bobbi,  Lance, and Mack to Coulson’s team. The season kicks off with an Agent Carter crossover, revealing Nazi/Hydra artifacts seized after WWII which will give us the main storyline of the Inhumans for this stretch. Mixed in are a second SHIELD’s (headed up by Edward James Olmos) attempted coup of Coulson’s directorship, Ward’s weird relationship with Agent 33 (bearing a scarred version of Mae’s face), a lovely Lady Sif episode, Kyle MacLachlan in splendid crazy-man mode as Skye’s father, Agent Coulson compulsively carving alien symbols as a result of his TAHITI treatment, and so much more. From a big plot point of view, we get the release of Terrigen – the stuff that flips the genetic switch for humans with alien genes to become Inhumans, and the powers that come with it. Skye is one of those affected and becomes properly badass, able to manipulate the vibration of all matter. Fucking cool. She finally meets her mum and dad too, which is quite lovely, even if they are insane in different ways… It’s all a big shake up for SHIELD and the world! A crushing ending though, for everyone who knows this show is only about FitzSimmons, as Simmons is sucked into anoter world… I’m so glad I was able to immediately start on season 3…

 

Reading: B.P.R.D. Plague of Frogs vol. 1

I’m a devoted Hellboy fan, and I admire both the spare art aesthetic of the comics and the unusual storytelling which leans heavily on folklore (and the Cthulhu mythos) with a similarly sparse style. I particularly enjoy the many static panels slowly zooming in or out on the subject, and the frequent lack of dialogue. The Bureau for Paranormal Research & Development is a wonderful invention, having much in common with the Laundry (in Charles Stross’ Laundry Files series), and any other government department/CSI type investigators. That they’re dealing with paranormal and metaphysical threats is really fun. This massive omnibus takes off without Hellboy (I believe the whole 8 volume series continues like that), showing just how good Abe Sapien, Liz, Roger, Johann Strauss and others are without him. The main story is arc is the titular plague of frogs, but there are many sidelines into Sapiens’ back story and other small tales that fit in thematically.  I especially enjoy reading comics this way, it feels more like I’m reading something with the density and depth of a novel, and at 408 pages, it certainly feels like one too. A great story, and is only the beginning of a storyline that will shake the world itself.

Reading: The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham

In preparation for going on David Escobedo’s Improv Boost “Happiness” series this Wednesday, I figured it would be a good idea to re-read it, since The Day of the Triffids is my chosen subject. Good job I did! I’d forgotten lots of it, and invented other content based on the slew of inferior TV versions that exist. Unfortunately I’ve also just realised I’ve made the ghastly mistake of reading the abridged American version, which probably explains why it was even quicker a read than I expected! Dammit. It’s a lovely little post-apocalyptic tale in which the world is suddenly blinded, with a handful of exceptions, and is then hunted to near-extinction by carnivorous walking plants, the triffids themselves. I’ve loved it since I read the book when I was quite young, followed by collecting (I think) everything he ever wrote under his many pseudonyms. It’s a fairly simple story of a fellow waking up in hospital, discovering that everyone else is blind, and his travels through a number of emerging communities struggling to survive in the total collapse of civilisation. It was probably the first post-apocalyptic book I read, and it’s remained with me ever since. The story is filled with sections that seem to so well describe stages of anxiety, isolation and moral confusion which are terribly applicable to today’s pandemic. An absolute classic that’s inspired so many subsequent stories, notably all zombie movies and especially 28 Days Later. I may now binge on Wyndham’s other great novels.

Watching: The Politician season one

Taking all the tension and horror of House of Cards and sticking it in a US high school presidential race produces an impressively tense and chilling satire! This is really well done. From the hyper-ambitious sociopathic rich kids and their scheming, murderous antics, to the utterly disinterested voters, this is another perfectly assembled show. Watch it!

Last Week: The Chrysalids, Happiness on The Improv Boost, LEGO fun, Agents of SHIELD s3

Last week was very short as I managed to squeeze two days off into it. These have largely been spent outside in my garden office sorting and tidying LEGO. It’s very time consuming and satisfying, but does leave me slightly wondering where the time has gone. With a very warm and sunny Friday and Saturday I moved my watching of Agents of SHIELD outside along with dismantling and washing the LEGO Detective’s Office set. It’s a lovely little thing, but it had become very grubby. I’m now trying to rebuild it with a tray overflowing with parts. Inevitably, it’s becoming a quicker process the more of it I’ve built. Feels kinda exponential, as if by the end it will be assembling itself… Marilyn and I have also finally begun a shared build, the LEGO Brick Bank, which has been languishing on my “to be built” shelf for some years now… It’s pretty ace, and is a fine accompaniment to season two of Elementary.

 

In dismantling the Detective’s Office, I re-remembered that I’d built a little half-modular some years ago, but they’ve been joined together for so long I’d somewhat forgotten that it wasn’t part of the set. I snapped a few pics from it before I dismantled it, for posterity, or whatever. The concept was a coffee shop on the ground floor and a bottle shop above. I’d do almost all of it differently now, of course, but I think it did look pretty good. I was very happy to use the Indiana Jones poster tiles to good effect!

We’ve started to enjoy strolling around Beeston late at night. I adore the peace and quiet (I’ve been watching bats in our garden!) and I’m in urgent need of more exercise. I’m looking at you, beer… We’ve met up with a couple of our pussy cats pals too, which has been especially lovely. Given the utter clusterfuck of Bojo’s latest update on the UK’s progress with coronavirus, I suspect I’ll be working from home, getting fat, and taking late night walks for some weeks yet.

Despite the week’s brevity, I seem to have taken part in two podcast recordings and read some books! Victory all round.

Watching: Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D season 3

Fuck me, I love this show more and more. We’re finally getting into the stuff I remember a little better. It’s getting so hard to summarise… I guess this season is properly focused on the fallout of the Inhuman explosion and on the truly epic and dark history of Hydra! First we have to recover Agent Simmons from the creepy monolith that whisked her away from Fitz’s arms at the end of season two. Turns out its part of an ancient Hydra tradition, who’ve been feeding the terrifying alien entity within on fresh young Hydra enthusiasts for centuries. Their ultimate aim is to unleash the monster on the world! The team do manage to rescue Simmons, but doing so reveals to Hydra that the doorway can indeed be bridged. There are some pretty tense moments, and Daisy/Skye gets to assemble her own team of Secret Warriors, comprised of some of the Inhumans now emerging. The first half of the season focuses on Hydra getting into the alien planet, with former agent Ward becoming the host of the Inhuman ancestor. That’s bad news for everyone… and gives us the second half, in which Ward sets about subsuming other Inhumans and advancing a plan to dominate the whole world. Bad guys with big plans! Mostly though, my heart continues to beat for FitzSimmons, and for Coulson and Agent Mae. Honestly, it’s hard to make any sense of this season if you haven’t seen the previous two, but if you have it really is a gift: long form deepening of relationships, expanding on the major MCU story threads from Civil War, and getting into the backstory of Hydra to a massive extent.

 

Doing: The Improv Boost “Happiness” podcast

All round lovely fella, David Escobedo, one of our It’s A Trap: The Improvised Star Wars Show cast members, and rabid user of social media for promoting improv in all its forms, invited me to join him and a few friends for a very short podcast talking about things we feel passionate about. The challenge was to narrow it down to a specific thing to expostulate on for eight minutes. LEGO would be too broad, as would Star Wars, so it sent me down a little rabbit hole of figuring out what I do especially enjoy, rather than the general everything of science fiction and stuff. One of my gateways into SF, or at least one that has cast a lengthy shadow, is the work of the great John Wyndham. Picking The Day of the Triffids was an easy next step. That’s why I read both the abridged US edition then the UK/Penguin edition in a week. The latter is about 10% longer, and just has a little more depth. It’s startlingly apt for our current situation, and I’d recommend it for anyone who finds reassurance in someone else’s words managing to neatly sum up existential and ethical crises. Also, triffids are ace, and plainly the ancestor of all zombie fiction.

Alas, whatever software David was using to stream Zoom into Facebook fucked us over and we lost the last five minutes. Which means you get all of Jac’s enthusing about calculus (whatever the hell that is… :-} ) but lose Vanessa’s final thoughts on our topics which neatly wedded our themes together. Essentially (I think) we’re both talking about aspects of community and how people deal with the situations they find themselves in. Enjoy!

Reading: The Chrysalids by John Wyndham

Having cheerfully chugged down a double dose of The Day of the Triffids I moved straight on to what’s generally regarded as his “best” novel. It’s not my most favourite, but it’s quite a read. Far future post-apocalypse, humanity is struggling to rebuild itself after what appears to be nuclear catastrophe with radioactive fallout causing widespread genetic mutation. As a result, a renewed fervour for purity and the importance of the human (and all other creatures and crops) matching the design laid down by God / government. The consequences of deviation from the norm are severe: death, destruction, banishment to the badlands. None of it’s very appealing.

Our viewpoint is David, a perfectly normal boy: somewhat lazy, chafing a little under the religious intensity of his father and the demands of being in a small farming community in the newly reclaimed lands of Labrador. Only… he’s telepathic, and that makes him a very serious deviation indeed. In the novel we find a lot more of the social awareness and interest in community and individualism that Wyndham show’s in all of his work, and it’s very thought-provoking while being beguiling easy reading. It’s quite a neat trick to cover abominations and socially-mandated murder with such a breezy and familiar writing style. Ultimately, of course, David and his friends have to go on the run from their peers and family. When his younger sister, Petra, who turns out to be an incredibly powerful telepath makes contact with someone in “Zealand”, the whole of David’s world (and ours, since he’s our only view of it) is turned upside down. Moments of bleakness and fear fight with equally delightful epiphanies and hope for true acceptance. It’s great! Read it!

Doing: We Are What We Overcome podcast Special Episode #3 Self Care

Our fortnightly Facebook Live podcast recordings continue to catch me unawares! Mondays are not a good evening for me to have my brain in gear, but I’m trying. Last week we talked about self-care some more. It’s really important to look after yourself at the moment. Divorced of much meaningful in-person human contact, I think we’re all fraying away at the edges. We talked about some of the things that frustrate the act of self-care, and some of the tools we use to keep ourselves as sorted as we can be.

Doing: MissImp’s Virtual Improv Drop-In: Duncan Carty – Artist’s Eye for the Improv Guy

This week we got a really special and different take on improvisation and creativity from our Duncan Carty, combining artistic expression, y’know, like drawing, with how we take inspiration for our scenes and performances. It’s a very good workshop, and I implore you to get out your crayons and walls and go at it. Phew, that’s the eighth improv workshop Emily has wrangled onto our website, and it looks we’re gonna be providing them for the foreseeable future. Enjoy!

Last Week: Elementary s2, LEGO AT-ST Raider, COVID-19 test

Oh no, I’ve left this too late in the week and now have no idea what happened a mere three days ago! Also, it’s now scorchingly hot and it’s cooking my brain cells. I’ve been thinking a bit about the gummy, elastic chrono-confusion I’m feeling. I think a lot of other folk are too, but figuring out other folks’ memories is definitely beyond me. I never know what day it is any more, and were it not for stopping work at 5.30 each day and those two weird days at the end of the working week when there’s suddenly nothing I’m supposed to do, I’m sure I’d just be working 24/7. That there is no need to get up and function is harrowing.

I’m mostly succeeding at dragging myself out of bed and doing exercise in the morning. Generally it’s running on the spot with weights in our front room (the amazing aerobic powers of Wii Fit) while watching Clone Wars episodes (subtitled) and listening to a handful of the podcasts I’d usually enjoy while cycling each day.  It’s profoundly unsatisfying, plus it makes me sweat, which is awful. I’ve been out for a few cycle rides, but I’ve never been a truly willing exerciser – all my cycling was just a cheaper, quicker way to get to work, with the sublime bonus of a swimming pool around halfway there.

Once I start work, it’s mostly OK. Last week got a bit chilly again and drove me back indoors, but by Thursday I was desperate for a change of scenery and returned to my garden office. It wasn’t warm… But being in a different place helps, because I’m just not seeing enough different places. My friend Sophie (who thinks far too much about far too many things, many of them associated with improv) has ideas about how our lack of different environments, especially in using the same places for a wide range of activities normally in different places, fails to trigger important context switches in our brains. Without those usual changes, everything is just the same and none of it sticks properly. Makes sense to me, certainly at the moment.

Watching: Elementary season two

This is proper comfort TV. I’m still surprised and pleased by the combination of Jonny Lee Miller as Sherlock Holmes and Lucy Liu as Joan Watson. They perfectly nail the characters, Miller in particular truly captures Sherlock with a captivating performance: equal parts awkward, arrogant, and ferociously interested and invested in their work. Physically he’s gloriously contained and compact, irritating, irritable, witty and twitchy. Liu is the perfect foil. It’s also very reassuring to be back in 2013 era 23 episode seasons. It’s a splendid show, with long story arcs and rewarding character development looping through and around the episodic crime of the week format. It makes me really happy! For my money, this is so much richer and more faithful to Conan Doyle’s characters and feel than the cold, existential BBC drama. These are people I want to spend time with, and gloriously there are another five and a half seasons, making Miller and Liu the longest-running performers of these roles.

Testing: COVID-19 swab test

I know! I don’t know anyone else who’s had a test, whether they work in a hospital or elsewhere. I received mine because I use the COVID-19 Symptom Tracker app to log my symptoms (or lack thereof) every day. They’ve allocated a bunch of tests to what’s effectively a control group of people like myself who they don’t think have the plague. So I got a test! Weirdly exciting, in the same way as receiving a postal vote. The instructions are impressively massive for a relatively simple process, and all the bits were included. First step: book the courier to pick it up using an online portal. Second step: register the test online. Third step: take the damn test. Two places are swabbed, with varying degrees of discomfort. First the back of the throat, pretty much where my tonsils would be had I not had em yanked out years ago (cue lots of gagging and drooling) Second as far up your nose with the same swab as you can, and swivel… That’s more unpleasant, and it did feel a bit like I was poking myself in the brain. But it’s fine, and nothing to worry about. A chap came to collect it on Sunday. I feel like I’ve contributed something concrete, which is rather nice. Oh, and my test came back negative. I’ve rarely been so happy to fail a test…

Doing: MissImp’s Virtual Improv Drop-In

Another cool recorded workshop, this time an intro to musical improv. I fear it, yet this is a lot of fun. Good for pretty much anyone, of any age, no matter your imagined singing proficiency.

Reading: REDACTED by REDACTED

I can’t tell you too much about this one I’m afraid, but I spent a chunk of last week getting lost in the first of our Marvel novels to enter the Aconyte Books production line. All I can say is it features a popular and somewhat snarky female character, and explores her past and present. Vague enough for ya? It’s great though, funny and action-packed with a strong voice. I’m so pleased we’re making these novels!

Building: LEGO Detective’s Office 10246

After dismantling and washing this lovely modular build out in the sun the previous weekend, I’ve reassembled it! So many pieces just arrayed together on a tray is oddly intimidating, and it felt like it took me forever to re-assemble. It was worth it though. There’s a plethora of cool and cute features inside, plus some clever building techniques I’d love to master, or at least remember…

Building: LEGO AT-ST Raider 75254

I’ve been agonising over buying Mandalorian LEGO sets for a while. I love the show and I wantses the LEGO, but they’re pretty pricey. I can’t justify the Razor Crest – the only set with a legit baby Yoda – for £119.99 for a quite ugly grey set. This was my alternative, netting me an official Mando minifig, Cara Dune (one of my faves from the show) and a pair of grumpy Klatoonian raiders.

Fractionally more colourful than most LEGO Star Wars sets, this is a joy to assemble. The cockpit is ingeniously assembled and has a lot of character. It takes plenty of stickers to make this such a pretty set, and I’m increasingly skilled at applying them (hello, samurai sword paperknife). The minifigs are lovely and detailed (though I’m actually favouring the knock-off Mando I think – more on that another time), and the guns are absurd. Just look at that lovely raggedy AT-ST!

Last Week: Hollywood, The Lock Artist, LEGO Attack of the Morro Dragon, Transformers vol 1, Never Have I Ever

Another week, another near-sun tan. This week I’ve seen a friend in person (what the actual fuck?) and found a new direction for exercise. That sounds pretty good, right? It was extremely disconcerting to meet up with a person in real life – I’ve begun to feel a little like all my friends who have long assured me that they’ve met their best friends purely online – but three hours sitting in the local park in a government-approved triangle was lovely. I’ve been seeing others largely as things to be avoided as they blunder towards me, breathing heavily with no sense of physical distance. Apart from the postman and chin tilts to neighbours it’s the most human experience I’ve had of late. I also attended a properly fun Zoom birthday party too (thanks Mr Ben!), so clearly we’re getting used to these things.

Heading out in the direction of Dovecote Lane park eventually sent me that way on my bike too. I’ve found exercise really hard for the last couple of months. I’ve always relied on cycling to work (and the swim at the halfway point) for a few miles in each direction to keep me fit without feeling like I was doing exercise, and it’s been pretty good for keeping me fit and able to eat and drink what I like. Well fuck you very much lockdown, that’s been properly trashed. Cycling in an aimless circle round university park or Beeston has been quite cack, and while jogging on the spot clearly burns calories it’s too tedious. So I’ve started cycling out to Attenborough Nature Reserve. It’s not especially far, but I’ve rarely explored round there, so I’m enjoying heading off down a road with no clue where it goes. It’s not made me late for work… yet. Even when I didn’t sleep at all on Thursday night I got up and went for an explore before work. Must be good!

In between late night walks around Beeston, drinking too much and watching TV, we’ve continued our slow build of the LEGO Brick Bank. It’s quite lovely.

I’ve also finally returned to LEGO Star Wars: The Complete Saga on our Wii. I’m up to 30-something per cent and enjoying it enormously. I have discovered though that our TV really can’t handle proper dark contrast on a sunny day, so I’m dying a lot by falling off edges I can’t see. There have been a few levels where I’ve had to stand right in front of the TV (in sport mode), and just hoped I’d find the exit to a room. Still, I’ve got Indy and General Grievous to hop around and smash stuff, so I’m happy.

Oh yeah, and another bootleg Mando arrived this week – with shiny beskar armour! Baby Yoda will have his Mister Shiny Helmet. Nicely, he comes with a screwdriver accessory which I assume is supposed to be the tracking fob. There is something in me compelling me to acquire more of these guys… I’ve also just got the Armourer, but pics of her will have to wait till I’ve crafted a custom cloak. What is wrong with me…?

 

Watching: Hollywood

OK, so this should have been in last week’s post, but I’d forgotten that we’d watched it. That’s no indication of how good it is, everything belongs to the neverwhen at the moment. Plus we caned through it in three nights. This is a very strange show, offering us an alternate Hollywood of the 1950s in which the reviled minorities of the day can actually get a foothold in the industry. The show nails the golden era vibe, from movie producer boardrooms to the grim/delightful gas station gigolos. Over the first couple of episodes the show draws together the flailing careers of half a dozen interesting and purposely diverse young Hollywood hopefuls and then sets them together in a movie, despite, or perhaps because of, their race, gender and sexuality – all things that would have killed their careers in real Hollywood. It’s a very pleasing show; the acting is great, from the keen Jack Castello moonlighting as an escort from the aforementioned gas station (it and its owner, Ernie West, are an absolute highlight), aspiring black actor Camille, Archie the black and gay screenwriter who finds himself in a relationship with Rock Hudson (also a delight, and terrible actor in a fantastic screentest montage), and the awesome double act of Hollywood execs Dick Samuels and Ellen Kincaid, plus the quite distressing sleazy and manipulative agent Henry, played with soiled glee by Jim Parsons.

It’s really good fun, and a moving story – each success feels wonderful, and Hollywood getting behind this gang is immensely satisfying, as is the acceptance and coming out of various characters at all levels of the business. For me, it remained jarring however, for just how unreal the situation is compared to Hollywood of the ’50s – it never escaped its own unlikeliness. Most certainly worth a watch.

Doing: We Are What We Overcome – Live Specials

We’re continuing to livestream every other Monday on Facebook, this time on trying to be aware of our mental health states, as well as that of others. I feel like we’re getting better at this live babbling thing. It feels less awkward now. We’ll be streaming to Facebook next on Monday 1 June, and you can watch em all right here.

Reading: The Lock Artist by Steve Hamilton

I’ve been through another couple of weeks of struggling to read properly, or at least as quickly as I enjoy. After discarding half a dozen books less than one chapter in, I finally prised open my book cupboard and pulled out the first pretty thing I could find. It was this! A pleasing and sharply written story of a boy traumatised into silence by an event in his childhood (which is only fully revealed toward the end, and works very nicely),  a lad who discovers he has two talents, drawing and lock picking…  We’re given two main story threads to skip between: his life as the lock artist led by a series of pagers offering jobs that he responds to, and how he got into all this trouble in the first place. They’re both peculiarly endearing, and that’s partly down to the charming internal monologue which carries through all of his interactions, since he does indeed remain mute throughout. He’s funny, and sweet, enough of an outsider through his selective mutism to have a cynical eye, and yet through his silence other people just trust him. Including proper big bad criminal types. It all ends rather badly, but we’re told that from the beginning. His lengthy infatuation and distance romance via comic book pages that he and his sort-of girlfriend exchange is genuinely delightful. This is fast-paced and fun, with a harsh shade of real darkness in both his past and future.

Reading: Transformers vol. 1: The World in Your Eyes

This was a hard read for me. I’m a huge fan of IDW’s previous Transformers continuity, which ran for an extraordinary thirteen years (a feat that I don’t think any other Western comic series, still less one based on a toy line, has achieved), taking us from the brutal finale of the Autobot-Decepticon war through to peace time, with wonderful characters, alternating humour with dark political wranglings. This new reboot has quite a lot to live up to…

We’re taken millions of years back to Cybertron pre-war, introducing us to the sights through the eyes of newly forged Rubble, who’s being shown round by Bumblebee. Of course, it’s the worst possible time to show a new kid round, as the tensions between the establishment and Megatron’s “Ascenticons” are just now bleeding over into violence. It’s a lovely Cybertron, one we’ve only glimpsed before in flashbacks (or, memorably, time travel), and it’s a thriving world with vast architecture, travel and commerce. A successful world, which for what feels like the first time, has organic alien races living alongside the Transformers. It’s sad to think it’ll all be ripped apart soon…

It’s a very pretty comic, but is incredibly slow moving, even for the first chapter introducing a rebooted world. I suspect I’m finding it hard going from the well-established characters of the last continuity to seeing them all reshuffled and now filling different roles. It’s a cool era to set the story in though, and I think it’s got promise.

Building: LEGO Ninjago 70736 Attack of the Morro Dragon

I love Ninjago’s dragons and the insane aesthics the range has pursued down the years, giving us both traditionalish ninjas and dragons, but also Mad Max dieselpunk, enormous mechs, and more recently Tron-style arcade stuff. Bonkers. Oh, and also the stunning Ninjago City builds and the even wilder designs from The LEGO Ninjago Movie.

This set’s a little older, and like most of the Ninjago line I only pick them up when they’re quite severely discounted. Obviously it was the glow in the dark colours that appealed to me most of all, and those lovely wings. It’s a satisfying assembly, with a mini temple build, sky bikes (or something, I don’t really follow the stories), a couple of ninjas and three more of these evil ninjas with transparent legs and heads. Oh, and two ghosts. I’ve already put them somewhere but it’s the dragon I was interested in.

This is actually a smaller set than I thought it was, and comes together very quickly indeed. Despite being larger, and having more pieces than Master Wu’s dragon (a fantastic LEGO set), it’s a shorter build all round. The construction is like many of the others, a combination of big crunchy joints and the little Mixels ones for legs, wings and tail. I always enjoy the design of the dragon head itself, which gives the beastie a lot of character. The chin horn is oddly satisfying! All the glow in the dark pieces give the dragon its lovely roiling curves, but leave it sadly inflexible. It’s a dragon I’d love to coil around a building, but that’s gonna take a severe re-engineering of its body. It’s rather striking, and I imagine this one will remain constructed for quite a while, at least until I want to plunder its glowing parts.

And just because I liked it…

Watching: Never Have I Ever 

We watched this in a single night… I’m always thrilled to stumble across shows with under half-hour episode lengths at present. This is a pretty straightforward US highschool outsider tale, from the somewhat unusual perspective of an Indian-American family. That’s a pretty familiar trope in UK TV, and was very welcome in the even-more-familiar US high school setting. I’m not sure that there’s anything exceptional here, but it’s warmly told, with a number of fun and occasionally over the top performances, all solidly conforming to our expectations of a high school drama. I had some trouble figuring out how old the characters were supposed to be as it’s the usual casting combo of girls who must be in their twenties, but look about 14, and guys who are plainly in their mid-thirties. No wonder kids are so confused these days etc. As usual it’s the vibe between the BFFs that makes this fun to watch, particularly drama-queen Ramona Wong (wonderfully and worryingly odd in the lamentably cancelled Santa Clarita Diet). As filled with diversity and coming out stories as you could hope for, this is plenty of fun, if not especially memorable. Oh yeah, and it’s narrated by John McEnroe. Yes, the tennis player.

Doing: MissImp’s Virtual Improv Drop-In – “Specific and True” with Terje Brevick

Continuing our mission to bring you improv from everywhere, this week’s episode features Norwegian improviser, Terje Brevick, with fun games and a good reminder of the value of details and honesty in improv.

Bootlego Baby Yodas

When I first saw the Child at the end of the first episode in The Mandalorian I was delighted, and very possibly in love. Disney managed the incredible feat of keeping the world from revealing that a baby Yoda was the show’s star, or at least it did for those watching Disney+ in the US. Thankfully I’d been watching along too, otherwise I’d have been unable to avoid the spoilers in the months before it became available in the UK and elsewhere. I’m so glad I did!

One of the most intriguing aspects of having maintained this spoiler-free state is that for months there’s no official baby Yoda merch. This isn’t surprising as licensing tends to result in tonnes of leaked images and spoilers, particularly for LEGO. Right now we won’t get a proper LEGO version of the Child till September when he becomes available only in the £119.99 set of The Razor Crest. At 120 quid, that’s a bit steep for a baby Yoda. It’s an expensive set, even by LEGO Star Wars standards, at 12p per brick. The Razor Crest looks OK, but as with many Star Wars sets it’s a big grey lump and doesn’t excite me much. In the gaping absence of official baby Yodas (because a pluralised “the Childs” just sounds weird), China’s bootleg factories have gone into overdrive. Collecting them has become a slight obsession…

Basic Childs (see, reads horribly.)

The first one popped up quickly on eBay, before, I think we had any sight of the future LEGO version. It’s a basic (and quickly done) repaint of the existing LEGO babies mould (fucking creepy things), with ears stuck on. It’s not terrible, and is quite cute. His “basicness” feels a little like something LEGO might actually do. The little mini capes flap around quite annoyingly till you press them down firmly. He was my first, so he feels kinda special… he cost £2.95 with a Mandalorian minifigure at the end of January.

Number two popped up a week later. The body is identical, as are the pair of capes, one rectangular on the front and a rounded version on the back. This time he’s got a rather nicely sculpted head, much like the official LEGO Yoda, but scaled down and up-cuted. He was a bargain at £1.65! With the immovable arms I figured he was pretty close to what we’d end up with.

Yoda Evolution

If there was one thing missing, it was the iconic space pram that baby Yoda follows Mister Shiny Helmet around in. I’d been looking at a few ways to build one, but then was spared by China coming through once again.  Number three cost a bit more – the bank-breaking sum of £3.99, but finally came with his little carriage.  Along with the space pram came a complete re-design. This chap’s larger, more lime green, and waaaaay angrier-looking. Clearly tired of LEGO’s somewhat freaky babies, this little chap has moveable arms (and indeed hands that plug into the wrist holes like regular minifigures) with a nice scarf accessory. The pram is quite neatly done, if a bit loose in its fitting. There’s an antistud on the base and four studs inside to choose whether you want the lid to close when the child is inside or not. I think it’s rather good, and although he is very angry, I find him rather adorable. The pram is of course MASSIVE though, as you can see when hes hanging out with Mando. Note that the first pic with Mando below is the official Din Djarin figure, and the second is the newer bootleg version with shiny beskar armour.

Then It Got… Hideous

At this point I lost all power to not buy these things. The next two that popped up showed up in mid April, just a few days after space pram boy. They were of somewhat lesser quality, but I was committed. First up, Child number three. He’s a repaint of the usual LEGO (knock-off mould) Yoda figure with mini-legs, and larger eyes literally coloured with marker pen, as far as I can tell, since they started rubbing off immediately. The head is also hard and spiky at the back, y’know, like Yoda’s… On the other hand, they’ve put some effort into the design, adding clothing patterns to all sides of the minifig body, legs and arms, which rather endears him to me more. This chap was the princely sum of £3.49!

And then this one happened. It looks OK at a distance, but close up or next to anything else and he’s a freak monster. This chap’s completely unarticulated, and he’s pretty much a single lump of horrifying plastic. But he does come with a mug, enabling him to empty his bone broth on the ground… Bizarrely for his outlandish size, he is still intended for LEGO system, four studs wide and three deep, allowing him to fit onto other plates with ease. Looks like he’s had a few too many plates of something. This monster was also £3.49, and I feel I’ve been repaid with nightmares.

Wait, You Must, for Good Things There Are 

Just a week later (I know, I know, this is getting ridiculous), possibly the best little dude ever appeared! For £3.95 (someone on eBay’s definitely seen me coming…). This little guy gives me the same feeling I did when the Mandalorian rescued baby Yoda from the Empire: intense fuzziness. He’s a bit bigger, but they’ve done a lovely job moulding his head to be super-appealing. He’s a smarter construction too – a regular size minifigure body, albeit with little custom arms and hands that can’t hold anything, plugged into a neat, um, I don’t know what to call this… body socket? with a ruff on top. Size-wise he feels more like the usual LEGO difference between an adult and child character, with lots of very nice detailing. Goddamn, he’s adorable.

In Semi-Conclusion…

Obviously number six is the best all-round, but how close are any of them to what LEGO has planned? Honestly, I’m a little disappointed. Clearly, he fits into the usual LEGO sizing and design scheme, and has lovely big eyes and cute face, but after seeing so many other versions, I’m not that into him. I’ll almost certainly pick up a copy of him split out from the Razor Crest set.

You’ll be extremely unsurprised that I’ve got at least another two on the way… though they’re mostly for their space pram variants! I think the whole thing is a fascinating example of what happens when they’re a gap in licensing, and I’m oddly inspired by the resulting creativity.

I’ll do another post like this when I receive the others, and another one comparing the Mandolorian designs for Din Djarin himself. Do you have a favourite? Let me know!