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LEGO Temple of Quiet Contemplation on Display at Birmingham LEGO Store

So, I’ve been busy, and forgot to tell y’all about finally achieving a life goal that I hadn’t realised I had… I keep forgetting to celebrate the things that I love and make me happy. I shall try harder…

A few months ago, in the depths of pandemic peace and quiet I joined Brick Central LUG – a recognised LEGO user group for those individuals such as myself with an abiding interest in the wondrous brick. I figured it would be a good time to ease into things, since literally nothing was happening for anyone anywhere, and all my other activities were similarly stalled. It’s slowly been defrosting since then, with a bunch of online activities due to kick off this Friday, which I’m pretty excited about.

I had not twigged that the lovely builds I’d seen in display cases at LEGO stores were supplied by LUGs, and that since I was now in a LUG, that maybe one of those cases could be mine… Not until our LEGO ambassador posted in the LUG Facebook group that a month-long slot was coming up at Birmingham’s store, now that it had re-opened, and asked for submissions. I don’t keep stuff assembled for long, and had been quite close to happily dismantling the temple a week earlier, so it was the only MOC I have around. I’ve never displayed any LEGO publicly before, and I’ve always been rather intimidated by the incredible building I see online and at shows, but after much dithering, I finally sent some pics in. Now, it’s possible that no one else had anything ready, but I prefer to think that there was a lot of competition and a tragic error was made, resulting in mine being selected. Also, I was available for a very early start to be at the store as it opened on a Saturday about three weeks ago.

There was a slight hitch: the case is only 23.5 centimetres high, with a thick lip reducing the opening to about 21.5 cm. The temple had never been assembled with such constraints in mind, but I was confident I could shave a couple of inches off the top. I mean, that’s what I said anyway… It gave me a chance to open up the walls a little and neaten up some of the edges while adding a little extra gold (plus saxophones, so that’s a win). It may not be noticeable to the unobsessive eye, but to me the reduced height made it much prettier. Here are some before and after pics:

Totally different, right? Next up was transporting the damned thing by train. Thankfully I’d nicked this “Really Useful Box” full of LEGO a few years ago, and it’s the perfect size for a 32 stud baseplate surrounded by fat bubble packaging. The baseplate itself was blu-tacked onto a cardboard box lid so it could’t get bounced around and I’d be able to lift it out completely. I took off all the fiddly bits at the top which were obviously gonna get knocked off though. And… success. Not one plant bit out of place! Sure, I had to partly dismantle it to fit it into the display case, but I was very pleased.

It was great to meet Mike, our LEGO ambassador at the store, and to meet Adele and her amazing LEGO store team. They were all incredibly lovely and genuinely interested in chatting about LEGO and my daft little temple. They were also kind enough to take some pics of me looking absurdly happy:

It’s fun to browse a LEGO store with others, especially when in a flush of excitement you want to have a mini-LEGO bender… I’m very grateful to the store team for making me feel like a proper VIP. Quite a lovely day all round, not least because this was the furthest I’d been from home since March! Alas, it has but a few more days left on display before I must go and retrieve it, hopefully with similar success. And I guess that means I’ll have to see what’s on the pick a brick wall too… Brick Central LUG have a nice feature on the build here: Temple of Quiet Contemplation, and I’ve been very touched by the nice things people have said about the temple too. I’m looking forward to doing some more building, and perhaps taking this to a show some time next year!

You should join Brick Central LUG! Do so here.

Last Week Film Reviews: Bloodshot, Empire Strikes Back, T2, Flash Gordon, and Tenet

Of Birthdays and Other Time Slips

Woah, August really went and ran off, didn’t it. In my defence, I have been both very busy and very not busy at all… I did have a birthday though, which as most folk have noticed this year, feels rather odd. It was followed by two weeks of frantic work, which have been great but knackering. However, I’ve been levelled up to the noble heights of width and wisdom that forty-two bring, and that’s something I guess. My official ageing was preceded by celebrating twenty-two years with my other half, Marilyn! And that’s definitely a long time. We attempted celebration in these benighted times with our usual meal out and cinema combo, but inevitably that went quite poorly… Having misunderstood whether Nando’s was really open (it wasn’t), we ended up in a rather cramped Pizza Express being reminded of how awful it is being near other people and that their pizzas are defiantly OK. A bit stressful that. Not our most successful anniversary, but not our most disastrous, by a fairly long shot…

But it did bring us back to the cinema, which is probably the most ordinary thing that we’ve been missing since March. Having watched a few big Netflix movies on our TV, I got the definite feeling that we’d have enjoyed them more if we’d seen them on a screen larger than our house. That said, I’m on my third rewatch of the entire MCU, and they’re only getting better, so maybe Netflix just doesn’t make great films… We were a little concerned that like the pubs, cinemas would be filled with hugging crowds spitting over each other, but I’m perhaps more concerned that it’s the exact opposite. We’ve yet to be in a screening with more than ten other people, and that can’t be a good sign. Now, I should preface this series of half-arsed film reviews with the caveat that although I may seem to have hated all these films, I do like films, honest.

The New Era of Cinema

Bloodshot (2020)

We followed an OK anniversary pizza with the last film that we missed as lockdown kicked in: Bloodshot. It’s, uh, not good. Alright, it’s perfectly fine but contains nothing of note. Looks increasingly like Vin Diesel is now always Dom Toretto, and therefore every movie in which looks exactly the same is in fact part of the Fast & Furious universe. I don’t believe there was anything in Bloodshot which rules this out. It’s got the usual super-soldier plot with a twist that isn’t so much surprising as utterly uninteresting. It’s quite fun watching Diesel shoot people in a tunnel while covered in flour, so it has that to recommend it. I guess I should summarise…

Diesel plays a US marine (or something, it honestly doesn’t matter which) who gets killed by a rather nasty piece of work who’s murdered Vin’s wife because Diesel may have seen something on his last job (I know this isn’t quite right, but almost no details about this movie have successfully penetrated my memory). He wakes up in a lab somewhere, newly constructed of amazing nanotech that can boost all of his capabilities and stitch him back together near-instantaneously. Incredible tech! In the same lab they’ve equipped another guy with robot legs, some dude a face made of cameras and lady with a robot lung. But only Diesel gets the nanotech. For reasons. Oh yeah, and the big twist? All his memories of how he died and the guy doing it are fake (there were no gasps in the audience of seven), and he’s being used as a memory-scrubbed assassin (like the Winter Soldier, but with more bass and less interest) to (I think…) kill off all the technological competition, or something. He goes rogue, obviously, probably kills everyone else except lung-woman, as they were right twats, and at the end goes off to build a family of cars. Alright, he doesn’t, but the last shot of the movie could easily have had him burbling about “family” and going off to commit family-supporting car crimes. I strongly recommend that we all watch this before The Fast & the Furious — I think it’ll add fascinating subtext to the series.

Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back (1980)

On my birthday proper we saw the far better The Empire Strikes Back. I’ve only seen it on the big screen once, for the special edition releases in the 90s, and I’d forgotten how much fun it is on the big screen. This is still the special edition, which has the fewest dodgy Lucas tweaks – namely adding AT-STs for half a second during the battle for Hoth, and making Bespin enormous (which I think makes it much less plausible and confusing) – and so feels relatively untouched. It’s great fun, cheerily expanding on the Star Wars universe while giving us its bleakest ending (till The Last Jedi, obviously). I love pretty much everything in here, from the space worm to C-3P0 being toted around in a bag by Chewbacca.

I have a very nostalgic and romantic sense of this trilogy, inextricably bound up in my childhood and as I guess my core fandom, and it’s still only these three films that I feel when I think of Star Wars, though Rebels, Clone Wars and The Mandalorian are certainly getting some mindtime. As such, it’s important to try to watch these with a bit more of an adult eye, I think. Although they’re often touted or dismissed as “kids’ films”, there’s really nothing in here for children. No child characters at all, nothing fluffy that doesn’t either try to kill the characters or become a sleeping bag, no particularly inspiring acts of heroism. I suppose “Boy’s Own Adventure” covers it better – it’s war movie-lite. The acting is pretty wooden throughout, more so than I remember, and perhaps it’s this which truly unites all nine Star Wars movies.

The special effects are splendid though. The Hoth and asteroid field sequences still look pretty great, and the set design is cool and detailed. Seeing it on the big screen again I’ve finally spotted the famed “ice cream maker” that a guy is pegging it across Bespin with that turns up in The Mandalorian holding beskar, and re-noticed the very many snakes randomly draped across scenery on Dagobah.

Rewatching any of the original films serves to undermine all the connections they have with the other films, but then this is not a well-planned or thought out series, and trying to make them all fit together neatly fails quite horribly. I’m increasingly convinced that Darth Vader is not Anakin Skywalker. Partly because everything in The Clone Wars (I’m only partway through season 6, so there may be more thrills to come) suggests that Anakin simply is not that kind of tyrannical, space-racist genocidal child-murdering person. And I know the Sith just cannot do inter-personal relationships, but I just don’t believe how he treats his son in Empire and Jedi makes any sense. But I don’t to, because those films don’t seem to live in the same space in my head. I think I’m feeling them as multiple versions of the fairy tale, or something. More importantly, I still really enjoyed watching Empire on the big screen again.

Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991 – whaaaaat?!)

Our local Cineworld have been trying desperately to get up and running again, and after discovering that less than ten people attend each screening, we’ve felt pretty comfortable visiting more regularly again. I’m delighted that they’ve been showing “old” movies (which truly emphasised my own age) such as this 90s classic. I watched this quite a lot at uni, and have a lot of fondness for it. It hasn’t aged well, but it remains a lot of fun. The portentous voiceover has now been done so thoroughly to death in the sequels that it’s almost funny here. A lot of the particularly cringey stuff I remembered is from the special edition, all happily absent here, and leaves us free to enjoy the oddly charming T1000 murdering his way through poor young John Connor’s life. Connor’s relationship with Arnie’s T101 is the surprising heart of the film, all the more poignant since his mother, Sarah, is right there. I feel for her quite a lot, plus she’s absolutely badass and I’d forgotten what a shock change it is from The Terminator. Makes me want to rewatch Terminator Dark Fate, which I really liked at the cinema, partly because Sarah Connor is back, even if they do kill John right at the start… About half of the effects still look OK (not T1000…) as Stan Winston’s physical Terminator effects are delightful, especially the foot crushing a human skull at the beginning. The nuclear holocaust scenes are appropriately horrifying, and the overall mood and urgency still felt very present. It was really fun, and though it has dated quite badly in a lot of ways, I can still feel the amazing gear-change from the first film and my memory of being blown away the first few times still overrides my present criticisms.

Flash Gordon (1980)

Another irresistible cinematic offering. I’ve always enjoyed the nonsense of this film, but had never seen it on’t big screen. It doesn’t survive well… I can’t imagine seeing Star Wars in ’77 and then creating Flash Gordon a couple of years later, it’s staggering that this came out in the same year as Empire Strikes Back. Considering this was the 4K restoration, I’m given to understand that this is an improvement on what original audiences suffered through. It even has a “this film was made at a different time” warning at the beginning, though I’m not sure what that specifically refers to – presumably Ming’s Fu Manchu vibe and that they have little persons on chains. But all of its production values are essentially zero, with special effects that look worse than Buster Crabbe’s 1936 series. My personal favourites are the lizard people with eyes and mouths inside their Kermit the Frog costume mouths, the Mongo security guys with fuzzy felt plague doctor masks, and the abundance of beads on everything. Only Max von Sydow and Peter Wyngarde (Ming and Klytus) appear to be trying to act, everyone else is doing their level best with an abominable and nonsensical script, but their best will only come much later in their careers. Honorable mentions perhaps for Ornella Muti as Princess Aura and Mariangela Melato as General Kala, who at least hit the kind of menacing spacey sexiness that Flash Gordon is probably aiming for. From the wince-inducing football cheerleading while Flash knocks down Ming’s guards, to Brian Blessed’s cheeky winged-birdman, Prince Vultan, this thing is a complete mess. Even the famous Queen soundtrack only saves it a bit. And yet… I laughed through most of it and had a rather jolly time. I’d also forgotten that Flash Gordon has lots of (weirdly stretched) panels from the original comic strip through the opening credits (later perfected by Marvel), which I rather liked. See it on a very small screen while drunk.

Tenet (2020)

I’m sure we’ve seen something else, but I’m damned if I can remember what… oh – we saw Tenet (yesterday!), hailed as the first big post-lockdown movie that will save the cinemas. I can only hope so. We were a quarter of the audience, which is really sad for a massive Hollywood movie in Cineworld’s second-largest screen. I’m not sure I have a lot to say about it… this is a knowingly paradoxical time travel movie based around a fun gimmick, “inversion”, in which causality is reversed for objects or people affected by a kind of radiation. It’s best not to dwell on it too much, they have a go in the film and hilariously abandon it. There’s the usual pop-culture physics and philosophy ideas about the grandfather effect and reversed entropy, which again they’re keen for audiences and the characters not to worry about too much “do you have a headache yet” asks one character while explaining how temporal paradoxes work, or rather don’t.

Oh yeah, the plot. With all the caveats above, that this is explicitly about causing paradoxes and creating a story which, by definition, can’t make sense, here goes… “We live in a twilight world” (a nice phrase, nicked from somewhere, I’m sure) in which a new, super-cold war is going on. The future is at war with us, sending these inverted objects, like bullets, back in time so that its stooges in the present can gather all the bits of a macguffin and assemble them with a big explosion to reverse entropy forever, which may, or may not, destroy everything. But it probably won’t, because that would also destroy the future, unless changes you make in the past don’t affect the future. But if that’s true, why bother trying to change the past… Etcetera. As I said, it literally can’t make sense, so it’s best not to worry about it. The present-day stooges are led by Kenneth Branagh’s Russian mobster (almost a parody performance of Russian mobster shtick), who’s amassed immense wealth by doing the future’s dirty work. The job is to first identify who he is, and then stop him.

The cast is fantastic, with really compelling performances, especially from John David Washington (as the awe-inspiringly irritatingly named “the Protagonist” as he refers to himself several times, in place of giving him a fucking name) and Robert Pattinson (turns out he’s not just an abusive vampire) as his kinda sidekick/partner, and Elizabeth Debicki as the wife of our Russian gangster, who seems to be pivotal in preventing the end of the world, but actually isn’t. The splendid supporting cast really rounds it all out, and is ultimately what carried me through the movie.

This is an odd film. There are a number of big action sequences, though not many till toward the end that really try to expand on the use of inversion other than in odd-looking fights, including a fun heist at an art repository for criminals held in the “free ports” between custom zones. I can’t now recall exactly why they go into one, as I recall their intention is to destroy a Goya drawing to remove Mr Russian oligarch’s control over his wife, but as he’s already taken it out, their mission was pointless, but it becomes necessary later for them to go back in time through the same spot to save his wife’s life. I do think a lot of it unravels when you start thinking about it, or, if you’re a massive Nolan fan, this is the genius and clever stuff of the movie, that all their failures are only failures in one direction, once inverted then they become successes. Yeah, I guess. I am not entirely convinced. But it is fun to watch a lot of people running backward, and seagulls flying in reverse and stuff is satisfyingly unnerving. Its quite long, but not excessively so, at two and a half hours, but I never had any sense of how far through the story we were (again, you can totally argue this intentional) or felt any particular tension, except at the end, which was quickly dispelled. As soon as you can fix it by going back in time, it does rather gut it of tension.

It’s also stupidly loud. The bass feels like it’s cranked up constantly to the point where it was unpleasant for long stretches of the film. Its effect is a little like that of the Michael Bay Transformers movies, where everything is made to feel as if it’s super-important, all the time and as a consequence you can’t really take any of it in or remember it properly afterward. If that’s the intention, cool, I guess. In some kind of conclusion, the performances are great in a film which purposely makes a little less sense than Inception, but successfully tricks you into thinking it’s super-clever while watching it.

Last Week: Preacher, Snowpiercer, Djinn City, LEGO Hidden Side, Aconyte Books and More

I’m now three days into a mostly well-earned week off and have no real knowledge of what came before… We’ve been trying to do more things, or at least more things that involve the outside world. It’s been a fortnight of new firsts. I’ve finally been into Nottingham city centre for the first time since mid-March. It was very strange to wheel back in – I only visited for an eye test – and see what seemed like millions of people. In retrospect it was probably the equivalent of a disappointing Tuesday morning. I went back in a week later to pick up my new glasses  and it was certainly a lot busier. I cycled around for a bit, and there’s just nothing there I need any more. My desire to wander round a shop is at a new low (unless it’s a charity shop, bookshop, or LEGO shop. And there were none of those available), and I find it hard to imagine that changing much. I guess I’m not gonna be the shot in the arm our economy needs… We’ve also finally been to a pub, for a spot of birthday lunch with my mum. It was great to see her, because it has been ages, but the weirdness of being back in the Victoria was overwhelming. Not just having to wait to be seated, and leaving my name and phone number, but its gaping emptiness. We were the only people dining inside on a Saturday lunchtime, except for the group that briefly ate directly behind us (there was so much other space!) and perhaps fifteen people in the beer garden. I didn’t feel unsafe, just a little weirded out with thinking “what’s the point of this place?” I imagine some of this feeling will fade as these places become normal again with more activities being arranged in them.

Oh yeah, and I’ve been swimming! My beloved Lenton Centre is open again, and I am delighted. I’m not a huge fan of evening swims, since I’m normally well into wind-down and the sleeping drugs are kicking in, but I couldn’t miss the opportunity. They’ve done what they can for safety: super-wide swimming lanes, restricted numbers, widely spaced changing rooms, and (alas) no showers. Mind you, can you be safer than when immersed in a giant tank of coronavirus-murdering chlorinated water? I did the full hour, taxing muscles which have been utterly forgotten for four months. The next day I felt like I’d been crudely hewn from wood. It was a joy to be in water again. So much so that I’m getting up before midday on my birthday to do it again! Plus, we’re going to the cinema this week – The Empire Strikes Back is available on my birthday, and that’s the kind of normal I can’t resist. I’m even contemplating a trip to a real live LEGO store this week, though I may not if I don’t have my AFOL flag added to my card for the VIP day next Saturday. Who knows! It’s not like I’m short of LEGO at home…

LEGO: Merging Hidden Side Sets

I’ve been really happy with LEGO’s Hidden Side line, even though I’ve little interest in its augmented reality play features – the sets are just really cool! I was very taken with the Shrimp Shack Attack and Wrecked Shrimp Boat, which were both a delight to build with nifty techniques and great colour scheme. They seemed to have that same nice subdued sand-green/blue vibe as the stunning LEGO Ideas Old Fishing Store, so why not combine them… Originally, I wasn’t going to change very much at all. I wanted to retain the fantastic shrimp shack sign and the generally grungy vibe of the shrimp shack, plus the whole shrimp boat. As you can see, it did get a little more complicated. I ended up curving the shack round so it could fit in a corner of the baseplate and leave room for the boat, but it didn’t leave enough room, so… the boat became part of the shack, and into a nice little cafe. Making a floor I could tile around the three sections of the restaurant was challenging, but I like how it turned out. Inevitably, including the boat meant taking it apart and rebuilding the underside with different elements. There’s an awful lot of junk under the pier which was a nice chance to use my many crates and lobsters. I had a little fun making an ice-cream stand too, with a rather nice LEGO Friends sticker. I’ve hidden many things in the build and intensely enjoyed its construction. I reckon it looks pretty sweet next to the Old Fishing Store too. Hurray.

Watching: Snowpiercer

I expected to have a lot to say about this TV show, but I… don’t. It’s a good, more detailed, and fuller version of the movie that came out a few years ago, but it doesn’t really add anything. It’s equally bonkers – the conceit being that a super-train 1001 cars long that continuously circles the ice-choked globe – but has more detail, like seeing more of the engineering and a slightly better sense of this ten mile-long train as an environment. The story is much the same too (I guess that’s not surprising), it’s one of social revolution as the tailies (the “freeloaders” who jumped on the train without a billion-dollar ticket) seek to escape their appalling conditions and democratise the train by uniting with third class (who keep the train going – wait, that might be second class… doesn’t really matter) against the total wanker rich class who live in luxury in first. It’s fun, violent, fast-paced, and has many things to make you shake your head at the excesses of the wealthy. Jennifer Connelly is excellent, as is Daveed Diggs in the two (mostly) opposing leads, and the rest of the cast is well chosen. It works! I assume we’ll watch season two, even though we got confused about whether we’d actually finished season one.

Reading: Djinn City by Saad Z Hossain

I’ve continued to struggle with reading, and I think this was a change in pace that really worked for me. Djinn City has a familiar setup: Indelbed is a sad lonely kid living with his alcoholic father, who discovers that his dad’s actually a magician deeply involved with the djinn we’ve shared our world with for millennia. He only finds this out when his dad ends up in a coma and he’s kidnapped by bad guys and dumped in a magical oubliette filled with horrifying flesh-eating dragons and an utterly sociopathic djinn who kinda befriends him… This is profoundly weird reading, both funny and very grim at the same time. There are lovely splashes of Bangladeshi society alongside the wildly arrogant and powerful djinn cultures, against the really awful things that happen to Indelbed (experimented on and then burned alive…), and the fantastical worlds and creations of the djinn themselves. Super-dark, full of intrigue and deep dark conspiracies, there is a huge amount to love and get into here. I am… perplexed that this isn’t book one of a series (or isn’t yet) as the ending feels an awful lot like it needs to continue. Read it, even if there isn’t a book two!

We Are What We Overcome

We met up again for our last fortnightly webchat. Much sadface for me as this has been one my anchoring events through lockdown. However, it’s quite a time commitment for those of us with exciting new jobs, so we talked about how we feel about the future. Not just our post-COVID future, but how we look forward in general. It turns out we somewhat suck at it. I’ve always been bad at imagining the future – I just can’t see myself in it. Still, interesting to ponder on, and I found it both thought-provoking and reassuring to hear the others’ attitudes. We’re planning to meet up in person late in August and get back on track with the regular podcast. Speaking of which, I keep forgetting to mention that new episodes are going quite regularly. Check ’em all out here: https://anchor.fm/we-are-what-we-overcome.

Workstuff

It’s been a busy couple of weeks, especially running up to a week off (to continue being at home, without work to do…). Much finalising of cover art, preparing books for print, for very soon our first books will be published! September sees the first two – Wrath of N’kai and Tales from the Crucible: A KeyForge Anthology, but we sorted those out months ago, before the whole pandemic thing flipped the world upside down. It’s October I’ve been working on, and will hit November’s books the second I return! In the last week we’ve finally been able to show off the first two Marvel novel covers we’ve been working on: Domino: Strays and The Head of Mimir – check ’em out at Marvel.com. Full credit to the wonderful Joey Hi-Fi and Grant Griffin for the two covers.

We followed that up with a little chat about how they came together on Facebook Live:

Watching: Preacher, season three

I’m not sure I know how to summarise Preacher. Ex-man of the cloth / career criminal Jesse has the voice of God (the power to command anyone to do anything) but dark super-Catholic religious corporation, Grail, wants that power so they can invest it in the actual descendent of Jesus – a heavily inbred idiot. In this exciting season of insane and hilariously grim adventures, Jesse and his best friend, the vampire Cassidy, bring the recently killed Tulip to Angelville, the hell hole where he grew up because his grandmother can save people’s lives, by eating their souls… It’s a very over the top show, with great fight scenes, lots of swearing, blasphemy and gore. All the good stuff. I’ve given up trying to understand what’s really going on and am just here for the ride. The return to Angelville explains a great deal of why Jesse is such a mess, while Cassidy’s adventures in New Orleans both delightfully mock The Vampire Letsat etc and subvert it. A lot of what I like is the largely British cast having an absolute whale of a time. Also, Hitler working at Subway and using that to restart the third reich is kinda special…

MissImp: Making Monologues Work for You with Jon Nguyen

We still can’t do proper in-person drop-ins and it looks like there won’t be much in the way of live shows this year, so we’re continuing with our video series inviting great improv humans to share their brilliance with us. These are now fortnightly so we can do a live online Gorilla Burger on alternate weeks! Jon is splendid.

 

Last Week: The Order, The Kingdom Above the Waves, Warrior Nun, Derry Girls, LEGO Overwatch and Jurassic World

Oosh, where has the time gone? It’s hard to figure out whether it’s the weeks or the weekends that go by faster. Either way, they’re going nuts and I’m waaaay behind on my weekly updates. I’ve noted this for the last couple of weeks, sighed, and discovered that it’s now Thursday or something equally ridiculous. And of course, the longer this goes on, the more I have to write and the more impossible it becomes. I guess I’ll have to draw a line under it… This week you’ll only be seeing the things I gave a damn about from the last couple of weeks because otherwise I’ll never finish!

A Rare Moment of Self-Reflection

What I should do is to think a little about why I’m now struggling to do this. In part it’s because this exercise was great at the beginning of lockdown, and gave me a focus. Now, of course, I have a fucktonne of work to do and things are sort of ramping up in other areas of life, like occasionally seeing people in the flesh and stuff. A number of things have helped me keep it together for the last 129 days (I think) of working at home: work, obviously, is my primary routine and aiming to go for a cycle ride beforehand really frames my day. Every Thursday for ages (forever? Who knows) I’ve been hosting a virtual pub for our MissImp weekly regulars (and folks from further afield too, which has been amazing) which has filled my regular evening out slot nicely. Then there’s been the fortnightly We Are What We Overcome webcasts, and the quick chats we have on the off weeks. That handful of regular activity has been great.

I try to keep these posts going because of something we talked about in one of our podcasts: if I’m depressed, I can’t remember any good things I’ve ever done, and if I’m all perky and up then I don’t care about remembering what I’ve been doing. Right now I’m mostly pretty chipper, largely a consequence of being busy and having acquired lots of LEGO recently, so this doesn’t feel important in the same way it did a few months ago. That’s a tricky place for me to be in, because despite occasional dips into glum days, I think I’ve been upbeat for a while now. The longer I’m upbeat, the less likely it feels that I’ll go down, or that I’ll worry about crashing. And that’s actually a decent indicator that I’m going to have a bit of a crash. Keeping track is the whole damn point! Must make more time. 

Anyway… what have I been up to? Well, we’ve seen real live humans on both the last Saturdays, partly in attempt to normalise the new normal, or whatever the pre-second wave era is called, and partly because it turns out that folk want to see us, which is very nice and reassuring. Messing about with my sister and nieces at Highfields Park was a rather fun afternoon, as was eating and drinking at Dovecote Lane park last weekend. That bandstand is perfect, other than it’s brutish tarmac flooring. As I have alluded to earlier, I’m also quite busy at work as we race for the print deadlines for October titles, commission more and more artwork and do general bookstuff. It’s ace really, but is certainly filling my days tightly. We’re not likely to see the office for another month, and that’s OK with me.

I’ve been a rather busy LEGO person too, albeit more “busy” in the sense of “buying” than making much. I did join a LUG though, the Brick Central LEGO User Group. I’ve thought about it a lot over the last couple of years, and though I’m not sure how much time I could feasibly put into big displays and conventions, I’m interested in finding out. Also I got neat printed bricks and bits and pieces when I signed up, so I’m happy with that. I took advantage of the LEGO double VIP points last week to pick up a “few” things, from cute little LEGO Dots and baby dinosaurs to the massive Pirates of Barracuda Bay set. It is all very exciting! I’ve got some random builds I need to take some decent photos of and share them too.

Watching: The Order, season 2

I can’t deny that this is a low-rent Teen Wolf crossed with the Chilling Adventures of Sabrina the Teenage Witch, themselves low-rent versions of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and so many more.  I remembered nothing of the previous season, even when we saw the “last time on this thing”, and would have sworn I’d never seen it at all. Nonetheless, this proved to be effective brain chewing entertainment while eating, in the sense of it noticeably degrading one’s braincells. Daft witch academy with neighboring anti-magic werewolves (who turn out to have previously been the witches’ bodyguard or something), but the wolves have all been tricked into being witches, or something. It doesn’t really matter – the entire show is redeemed by the delightful relationship between the four werewolves, which feels very much like how I felt about my university housemates: loving, occasionally fighty and laced with sarcasm and alcohol. Shame the lady werewolf ended up in hell this season. I’m sure I won’t remember this next time either, but if I can be persuaded to watch season 3 I’m sure I’ll enjoy it.

Reading: The Kingdom Beyond the Waves by Stephen Hunt

Continuing the really quite wacky steampunk series set in a far-future with multiple species of human (Craynarbians are splendid shelled folk, for example), steammen, and wild action adventure. I have insufficient time to summarise this one, but it covers an Atlantis-alike ancient city in the sky, infernal plots of genius industrialists to take over government, a frightening Borg-like jungle species, savage feral robots, submarine journeys, and so much more. The whole series is an absolute blast and I’m enjoying re-reading them enormously. Get on it.

Building: LEGO Overwatch Watchpoint: Gibraltar #75975

While I still have almost no idea what Overwatch is (yeah, yeah, I know it’s a game, and my friend Sam has a nice summary on Overwatch here), but I adore the LEGO sets. I’ve had my eye on this one solely because it features a gorilla in a spacesuit. Now that it’s reaching the end of its shelf-life “Watchpoint: Gibraltar” has become more affordable, and on a midnight whim (always the best time to buy LEGO) I ordered…

The minifigs are an utter delight! Check out Pharah (in blue) with that gorgeous gold visor, and Mercy (admittedly with the usual pink-printed-on-black face which never really works that well) with a lovely hair/hat element and lovely printed torso and legs, plus the rather ominous Reaper. I’m guessing he’s the bad guy. The gorilla is apparently named “Winston”. I hadn’t noticed that he’s wearing glasses, but he’s rather charming either way.

The build is pretty straightforward: you make a spaceship, which has a couple of separating sections, and the cool but not very exciting gantry/rocket leaning post thing. The spaceship itself is a satisfyingly sleek affair, with cleverly connected sections and very neat work on making the hatch fit flush. Building it felt like a wonderful flashback to my childhood, making largely flat spaceships that feel a little like this, but much less good.

The whole thing looks very pretty, but is inconveniently tall for anywhere I want to put it…

Watching: Derry Girls, season 2

Just marvelous. I can’t recommend this show enough, and I’m thrilled that there’s a third season on the way. Set in, um, Derry, in the 90s, this teenage sitcom is pretty much perfect. In keeping with non-American TV shows about teenagers, this lot actually look like real teenagers – the scowl game is extraordinary. The relationships and dialogue are brilliant, and you can’t help but love them all a little bit. The parents are savage and equally funny (finding Bill Clinton is a particular joy). The costumes are bang-on 90s-hideous and the soundtrack makes me unusually nostalgic.  My only complaint is that there aren’t enough episodes. Not even close. Apparently Netflix screwed up and released this early, so it’s not available any more. Sorry folks!

Building: LEGO Jurassic World Dr Wu’s Lab: Baby Dinosaur Breakout #75939

Jesus Christ, baby dinosaurs! How was I ever supposed to resist? Reader, I did not. Clearly.

Like many of the licensed sets, especially the Jurassic World theme, there isn’t a lot to this. That said, the build is drawn out by the usual agony of applying stickers to transparent elements, and my desire to get them mostly straight had me turning on extra lights and teasing them into place with a scalpel. The egg turning machine is pleasing, and although I was complaining about applying the stickers, this is a set where they really do shine. The details in them are lovely, from the laptop screen to all the heads up displays, they’re adorable, and I’ll have to find more uses for them.

The figures are reliably cool, and I really like the LEGO Friends elements such as the baby feeding bottle sneaking into the mainstream LEGO sets.  Dr Wu has the most cunning expression, just like in the movies! But none of this matters – all shall be recycled for parts except for the ADORABLE baby triceratops and even babier ankylosaur. Just so goddamn cute. I couldn’t be happier.

Watching: What We Do in the Shadows, season 2

A show that completely revels in its own stupidity with enormous commitment, we caned this in a single sitting too. Colin, the energy vampire, continues to be my personal favourite, but they’re all pretty great idiots. I’m delighted that the main storyline has turned out to be Guillermo’s, as he learns of his vampire-hunting past and wonders about his future, killing vampires while still being a dedicated familiar. Wonderful nonsense.

Doing: We Are What We Overcome – Fortnightly Mental Health Check-In

We reflected a little on how life has changed with a whole fortnight of being allowed to go to the pub… And here’s the link for next week’s chat.

Watching: Warrior Nun

This is dreadful. OK, that’s not entirely fair, but it’s definitely mostly fair. This is the story of a bunch of nuns who are warriors (duh), fighting demons and stuff. One of the nuns always has an angel’s halo embedded in their back, which makes them a sin-fighting superhero. When a mission goes badly tits up, the warrior nuns rip the halo out of their dead leader and stick it in a recently dead girl… She comes back to life, no longer paraplegic, but certainly perplexed about why she’s alive, why she has superpowers (kinda), and why she should give a shit about the Catholic church. Sounds fun, right. The trailer looks pretty fun too, and there are about 25 minutes of great stuff spread across the entire show, with some fun fights, laughable CGI demons, the one good character (Shotgun Mary) who appears to be in another, much better, show. But the rest of it is bogged down by impossibly tedious exposition where characters literally open books and read endless passages from them, or an agonisingly dull romance, in which the most exciting bits are them sitting on a ferry. The show almost redeems itself with a final heist episode but by that point it’s so laden with cack that I couldn’t bring myself to care. You may enjoy it though.

Doing: MissImp’s Virtual Drop-In – Roberto Lewis

More great and splendid video content right here, on one of my favourite topics — coming in with nothing! (I mean, favourite because I cannot plan…)

Last Week: LEGO, Knot Ready, Space Force, Provenance, MissImp, CrazyBricks, Agents of SHIELD, We Are What We Overcome

Wow, the last couple of weeks alternating surging heat and grim weather has thorough melted every bit of my desire to do anything, including remembering the time before the heat haze. Still – we shall prevail! It was a quietish couple of weeks in any case, though did have a couple of cool things in it. Not least that I’ve been able to live outside in my gazebo office, and keep a close eye on our ridiculous cats and their shade seeking antics. We were all sad when the thunder and hailstorms drove us inside… Taking keen note of the foul weather I finally picked up some serious LEGO storage towers and did some reorganising. They don’t take up less space, which is unfortunate, but I can access key bricks sets much more easily!

Last week turned out to be a mini podcast week, so I’ve spent more time talking than usual (taking up precious drinking time, alas). More We Are What We Overcoming, which has become a cornerstone of my fortnightly routine, and really does help me think about how I feel and how I’m behaving in this quarantini time. That’s not the same as actually changing my behaviour, but being aware that I’m doing little but drinking and sighing at the sun is a start… My other half and I were also interviewed for the Knot Ready podcast: a look at marriage from a modern, feminist perspective, since we’re nearly twenty-two years into a non-marriage we have some insight into why folks may not get married, or at least, possibly, why we haven’t. It was a lot of fun to chat about how we got together (half a lifetime ago!) and other stuff. I’ll definitely remember to share when our episode is out, but you should subscribe to the podcast anyway because Lucy is pretty ace and it’s a genuinely interesting subject.

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I am KNOT READY ?? . I am ready to tie the knot! I am lucky enough to have found an amazing person who makes my life better and who I want to commit to fully ? . So when I say I'm freaked out by marriage – it's not a commitment thing! . I'm freaked out that this institution, this human invention, controlled by religion and the state and shaped through time by patriarchal narratives, has become synonymous with romantic love, and not just culturally but for me personally! Something has got it into my head that our relationship is incomplete without marriage, despite suspecting on an intellectual level that nothing much will change afterwards. . Why am I spending a silly amount of money on one day? Why did it make me sad to not be engaged to my person? Why is marriage so important to me? . Freaky questions! For some answers, turn to Knot Ready ?? Episode one comes out this Friday! Link in bio to subscribe or learn more ?

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We’ve also seen a few more genuine humans in the meatspace, a thing which makes me feel ever so odd. I suspect that I have been at home for too long… But we had a lovely slow wander around the University Park lake and a bit of the radically altered campus up the back of the Portland Building. Lots of baby birds, and our friends’ new baby of their own.

Building: LEGO Hidden Side’s Newbury Haunted High School #70425

OK, so I built this ages ago, but it’s really pretty. Thing is, in its standard configuration it sprawls a little wide, and is distressingly not quite a modular building. So I fixed it! My goal was for it to fit in with the other modular buildings, but of course it’s four studs wider than a baseplate, so something had to go. In my first attempt I tried to compact the bay windows but made a horrible mess, so dismantled the whole thing and rebuilt it using the instructions and deviating where necessary. Where necessary was a bit of a pain – to keep the play functions I needed to keep the bay windows and the full width of the clock tower. My only viable option was removing the four silver unicorn spires with their supporting arches, and that hasn’t really hurt the build much. I’m not super-happy that the decorative ground floor arches are now somewhat obscured, but I’m chuffed with the overall result. That it gave me a chance to go nuts on a swirly tiling pattern in coral pink was a massive bonus. I’ve kept all the play features, but lost some of the details inside. I may remove all the worn detailing too and just have a lovely school in between the detective’s office and the bank. As was noted in the Brickgeekz Facebook group, its colours do rather resemble the now-exceedingly rare Town Hall which I could never quite afford. Win!

Watching: Space Force

This is certainly quite fun. A show about Trump’s cretinous “space force” which supposedly satirises the idea, but instead gets caught up doing a sort-of sincere NASA knock-off to get Americans back on the Moon. It doesn’t seem to be sure what it’s taking the mickey out of, leaving the comedy unfocused and swaying madly in each episode. The characters are pretty stock fodder: uptight air force general played by Steve Carell, who looks rather lost, desperate to make it funny by crashing in and out of character while relying heavily on clearing his throat to cover all forms of emotion; very smart scientist guy who isn’t that great with people in the remarkable form of John Malkovich, who shows off his comedy chops nicely (largely by staying in character); total arsehole PR guy Ben Schwartz, who is utterly hateable (in a good way) but of course redeems himself, sort of; space force pilot/astronaut Tawny Newsome, desperate to get on the moon and be somebody; the air force general’s neglected daughter who just wants to have some fun / get any attention at all from her dad. The supporting cast do a great job too, but the tone constantly swinging from idiots messing up the mission to “hurray USA” sentiment leaves them all out in the cold. It’s just odd. I did enjoy the show, and it certainly has some splendid moments, mostly as they get towards the moon landing itself, but I’m not going to be racing back for season two. The Chinese are the main rivals in this new space race, and it’s a bit… broad… for 2020.

Doing: We Are What We Overcome

The next of our “lockdown specials”, lovingly recorded by Zoom and broadcast live in Facebook. Didn’t quite work last week, for no clear reason, so we popped it up on Tuesday instead. We talked about the thorny subject of change, which we seem to have to deal with all the damned time! It’s an interesting issue, covering not just what change is and how it feels, but how we learn (or don’t learn) to deal with it. All terribly pertinent and that. We came back yesterday Monday 19th to discuss how we feel about the easing of lockdown (or whatever the fuck this shower of wank called a Tory government are doing): check that one our here: Facebook Live.

Kickstarter Reward: Munchkin Bricks 2

With all the global lunacy I’d quite forgotten these were on the way! The last-but-one project of Guy Himber, aka CrazyBricks. These are pretty silly accessories and things to accompany the equally silly Munchkin card/boardgame. I just thought they were really cute, god knows what I’m going to do with them. Particular favourites for me are the chibi cthulus (some may become gifts for others…) and the splendid octobricks!

You should definitely check out his current project, which is already very well funded and heading for far-reaching stretch goals: Dino Dudes! Yep, it’s just what it sounds like. Go get em! Nicely covered here by the excellent Beyond the Brick channel:

Reading: Provenance by Ann Leckie

My first Leckie, having not yet gotten around to reading the acclaimed Ancillary Justice series, though this one is set in the same universe. It’s perfectly fine small-scope space opera, focusing on a young woman’s attempts to secure her future (by being named as heir to a senior politician – her adopted mother in a society with interesting communal creche arrangements) by breaking a thief out of prison and lording her victory over her brother. The thief has apparently nicked some precious vestiges, Leckie’s intriguing concept of highly-prized mementoes of the past, which might be anything from an actual artifact, eg a bell used in the first summoning of parliament, to a signed bus ticket on a special day. The Hwaean people are obsessed with the things, and it would be a terrible shame if they turned out to be fake… There’s lots of running around with aliens and robots and occasional murder of diplomats and so on, all risking the failure of a super-important peace accord between humans and some potentially terrifying aliens. Provenance is neatly written, though it loses something in having the plot summary on the back cover take only the first chapter or so to resolve, leaving me unsure where it was going after the exciting sounding heist was dealt with so quickly. It never quite recovered for me, which definitely confirms that I should not read the back cover of books I’m about to read. The author’s interest in diversity and multiple genders, modes of address and interesting social set ups are fun and satisfying to read about, so I suspect I’ll enjoy getting properly into the Ancillary Justice vibe; I just shouldn’t have started here.

More LEGO. SCUM: A Star Wars Story

I’ve now built the main cast of our Star Wars RPG! Clockwise from top-left: my Tusken raider with savaged translator droid strapped to my back, Jon’s Twi’lek bounty hunter, Ben’s Nautolan hacker, Diarmuid’s hapless and much abused Imperial officer, Joe’s GH7 medical droid (a real delight to assemble) his Mandalorian bodyguard (played by Charlie). It’s fun! Now I wanna build some of our missions…

Watching: Agents of SHIELD season 4

I’m sure you’re growing weary of this, but Agents of SHIELD is a goddamned delight. Best show on TV? Maybe. (Warning: many spoilers ahead.) This was the last of the seasons that I’d seen before, so was by far the most familiar. And yet, in the style of all their seasons, a MILLION things happen, overwhelming any sense I had of how long any of the events took. To give you some idea of just how wild this season is, we go from introducing Ghost Rider, in a surprisingly coherent way, to another Avengers nightmare of AI coming to life and taking over various characters with robot duplicates (in this case, Ada, built by splendid returning cast member John Hannah), followed by an incredible immersion of the main cast in a vast virtual reality “The Framework” (built by Ada, John Hannah, and Fitz) a terrifying alternate reality where Hydra has won and rules the world, busily oppressing and annihilating inhumans so that Ada can build herself a real body. Jesus Christ, it’s a lot. Add to that a new director of SHIELD, the ongoing friction between SHIELD and the inhumans vs the rest of the world, plus god knows what else that I’ve forgotten, and I’m happily mindblown. Of course, it’s also the doomed FitzSimmons romance show too, as those two get yet another absolute kicking when we see that Fitz is the chief Hydra scientist, experimenting and murdering all sorts of folk, like Simmons… How will they put themselves back together? Who the hell knows because at the end of this season most of the team is abducted and wake up in SPACE! In truth I’m already a good way into season 5 and I could not be happier.

Doing: MissImp’s virtual improv comedy drop-in

I’ll admit, I’m as behind on these as I am on everything else… First up, The Tiny Glass Person with Feña Ortalli:

Followed by the marvellous David Escobedo in Discovering Your Dynamics:

Last Week: The Best of John Wyndham, Artemis Fowl, The Vast of Night, Journal of the Plague Year

The sun has re-emerged over the last weekend, albeit studded with lightning, but it means I’m happily back outside for work and well, whatever. Feels like a steadier week all over, though sleep is still quite patchy. I assume everyone else is drinking more booze during lockdown (please say “yes”) which doesn’t always play well with upping one’s sleeping tablets… There’s a balance to be found there I guess. I certainly had a few days last week where I just could not be fucked to get out of bed early enough to go and do exercise, which of course then makes everything harder. Self-discipline is harder than it should be. That ride out first thing in the morning is proving ridiculously important, not least because it gives me some hope of keeping up with my podcast backlog. No forty minute tootling round Attenborough Nature Reserve can compete with an hour and half daily commute, so I’ve been forced to be brutal with my subscriptions. I don’t feel good about dropping a couple of podcasts, but I’m finding I want to listen to much more of the banter and nonsense of The Weekly Planet than the BBFC Podcast. Once we’re finally back at work I’ll be upping my audio intake again.

In the meantime… Last week had some fun stuff in it. I’ve gotten into reading anthologies for possibly the first time in 25 years, and have cheerfully chewed through a couple in the last week. I’m hoping it’s gonna prime my brain for delving back into much longer fiction, but that also means I need to prise open the book cupboard, and that’s intimidating in all respects. In gaming news, I’m up to 86.6% in LEGO Star Wars – The Complete Saga, so that’s good news. Hit the 4 billion studs ceiling at last… We also ran a full virtual Gorilla Burger last Thursday in the MissImp Facebook group, after testing it out a month ago. It was really fun! But Zoom hosting is exhausting. I slept good and hard after finally chilling down afterwards.

Reading: The Best of John Wyndham by, um, John Wyndham

This is a great collection of Wyndham’s works, selecting key stories in chronological order. I’m always struck by how damn readable Wyndham is. He’s got such a smooth and friendly writing style that I feel instantly engaged and warm towards it. Some of the stories feel a little dated, but I suspect that’s mostly because the themes and ideas have been explored in much greater depth and length subsequently – he’s still a hell of an innovator. Standouts include Pawley’s Peepholes in which future folks wreak havoc by treating a small town like a reality TV show, and their revenge is very pleasing; the rather stark coverage of racism in Dumb Martian feels very timely, as an human buys a martian bride to while away his time working in isolation in deep space… it does not end well for him; I’m very fond of The Man from Beyond, which features a pretty classic SF timeline twist as an earthman earnestly persuades venusians to avoid all contact with Earth, and the opening story The Lost Machine is a great account of an AI surviving 20th century humanity. Hell, they’re all good, ranging from fun to thought-provoking. What more do you want? Onward to Jizzle I think.

Reading: Journal of the Plague Year: A Post-Apocalytic Omnibus by C B Harvey, Malcolm Cross and Adrian Tchaikovsky

Sure, this is the perfect time to read about a pandemic that wipes out 99% of the global population. I thought as much. C B Harvey’s opening story Orbital Decay set on the International Space Station while the pandemic sweeps the globe, including the right wing nutters convinced that it and the space mission are all a hoax, was exactly what I wanted to read: tense, intriguing and has a perfect SF twist at the end. Of course, I’d totally failed to note that this is one of several omnibuses set in the same world of “the Cull” as the people name the disease, but was delighted to find all three stories set at different stages and places across the world. Malcolm Cross’s Dead Kelly covers the exploits of an Australian gangster returning from the bush to assert his authority on the dwindled survivors of a town. It’s pretty punchy, though it wasn’t exactly the “everyone’s dying right now” vibe I apparently sought. The omnibus finishes up with Adrian Tchaikovsky’s The Bloody Deluge shifts the action to survivors in Poland choosing either salvation with tolerant religious groups, or the rabid Nazi religious kind. Tough call! That too, is very tense and typically complex and interesting. It seems this is just stories #13-15 of the Afterblight Chronicles, so there’s plenty more to get into!

Watching: Artemis Fowl

Fucking hell. I know book to film adaptations are tricky, but you don’t have to fuck it up in every possible way. Suffice to say (lest I fall to ranting), this is almost the polar opposite in terms of plot and character for Eoin Colfer’s quite excellent YA adventures (which you should read because they’re lots of fun. I’ll be re-reading them to erase this ghastly brain stain). Instead of Artemis being a wickedly smart evil genius crimelord, his dad’s a criminal (except he’s not, he’s rescuing important artifacts, because why would the story be interesting or good?), and he’s a maudlin teenager directed in staggeringly poor fashion by Kenneth “The Worst Poirot Imaginable” Branagh. Just get fucked. It’s impossibly tedious and generic, failing both its source material and audience with incredible dexterity. From a story about a ruthless criminal mastermind discovering the secret faerie realm, kidnapping one of them and ransoming it to restore his family to its former fortunes, we go to a moody kid who has to find the bullshit object his dad has stolen from the fairies, but it’s in his house already, so there is no adventuring at all and instead of discovery and witty hijinks with the fairies, we get an interminable siege of his house, presided over by Judi Dench in her “Pete Postlethwaite in a condom-lampshade Aeon Flux“ follow up to Cats. I’d almost forgotten about the abysmal framing of the story with Mulch Diggums (the giant dwarf) telling the story while in prison. Its existence suggests they totally lost the plot and desperately reached for a prologue that should have been unnecessary, delivered by Josh Gads desperately straining his voice for deep and gravelly. Fucking hell. Watch the trailer, punch yourself in the face why don’t ya.

Watching: The Vast of Night

Recommended by a friend, this is an extremely low budget and vaguely Lovecraftian-vibed UFO story set around a telephone exchange and local radio station. The dialogue is mile a minute, in incredibly long takes, which is really impressive, and it’s really committed, well-written stuff. With its very low budget there’s not much in the way of aliens, till a nice reveal at the end. The mystery loops around a weird sound breaking into the local DJs music and chat show, noted by the girl working the telephone exchange. The mystery deepens when an ex-military caller recounts his experiences on secret missions where that sound was also present… The film accelerates really nicely, maintaining a general air of increasing tension and that something profoundly weird is happening. Expect no Independence Day action nonsense and you should be pleasantly surprised. There are also a few long and slow gliding shots through the town at near ground level (presumably camera on a bike or drone), which are absurdly tense and interesting. Watch it!

Watching: Trinkets season one

Continuing our taste for absorbing every teenage coming of age drama on Netflix, Trinkets is exactly that, but with a trio of shoplifters. That’s pretty much it, except they’re very well cast and delivered, even if the material is quite familiar stuff. We liked it a lot, even though I can’t necessarily produce a lot to say about it. If you like this kind of show, you will like this show.

Doing: MissImp’s Virtual Improv Comedy Drop-In with Sophie Owen

Yet another really very good pre-recorded workshop for your enjoyment. This time we’ve got Sophie Owen talking about status; how to use it and some especially useful stuff about recognising it in the world around us.

Last Week: Upload, Friday Night Dinner, We Are What We Overcome and things I’ve forgotten about

Somewhere, recently, two weeks have been misplaced… I’m pretty sure they happened, but I’m damned if I can tell you what I did that took up a whole fortnight. Oh well, that seems to be the way of things at present. I’ve been working from home for something like seventy-five days, which feels both completely normal and utterly insane. The only bit I’ve got any clear recollection of is the last weekend, and a half-arsed list of things I’ve watched. It’s possible I’ve only played LEGO Star Wars – The Complete Saga on our Wii and then gone to sleep. I’m failing to read, or to concentrate enough to read quickly. It’s frustrating as reading is my most relaxing activity. I’ve abandoned about three novels and picked up The Best of John Wyndham and am slowly, so very very slowly, working my through it. Totally Brewed continue to be my drinktrack (y’know, like a soundtrack, but with drinking!) to the pandemic with their end of the week deliveries. Fine, fine humans. I’ve also been idly flicking through the obscenely large and beautiful Hardware: The Definitive SF Works of Chris Foss featuring so many science fiction book covers I recognise, especially all those Asmimov and EE Doc Smith covers I still have on my shelves. Seriously, it’s a beast of a tome, and I’ll be browsing it for months to come.

What else? Well, while the world burns (more, I guess), I find I’m just dissolving into anxiety and distraction. I’m not pleased about the return of cold and rain which has driven me out of my garden office either. Still, some good things have definitely happened. I’ve been trying to get lost while cycling in the mornings, with some success. I’ve refused to look at maps of the area around Attenborough Nature Reserve, but it all seems very pretty. On Saturday, my sister invited me to teach a mob of Beavers how to talk like a pirate on Zoom. That was fun! There were some excellent homemade cutlasses and flags. In the evening I played my first ever roleplaying game, which was also great. I’m very grateful to our GM, Diarmuid, who invited me to play along in Star Wars: Edge of the Empire, even knowing that I had no idea what was happening and thoroughly bumping me out of my comfort zone of drinking and watching TV; and to my fellow smugglers who were funny and exceedingly patient. Our one-shot game was called Scum, focusing on a gang of misfit smugglers (not intentionally misfit, but geez, once we we were set loose on characters…) with the job of jail-breaking a Hutt. I enjoyed playing a Tusken Raider, named Sahwa-wa, who saw his clan murdered by the rogue Jedi, Anakin Skywalker. My revenge was foiled when all the Jedi disappeared, leaving me seething and unable to do anything about it. I carry a dismembered protocol droid to translate for me, and my bantha lives in / fills my cabin. I blew a general’s head off! We did eventually succeed, and many people died. We had fun!

Watching: Upload season one

This is a curious little TV show, exploring the banal horrors of a digital afterlife. Programmer, Nathan, gets uploaded after being in a rare car accident. Only he’s been talked into it by his overbearing girlfriend, and may not have been about to die at all… Once in the horrendously expensive Lake View – because of course only the truly wealthy can lead the afterlife they really want to – he discovers worrying gaps in his memory about what his job was and that he might have been killed. It’s a funny show, with a rather cynical tone which appealed to me. The scene where they try to download the founder of digital afterlife, with catastrophic results is bloody and hilarious. The tedium of the hotel-based afterlife, the bug-filled digital world, the sometimes awful people Nathan is now stuck with, and a growing relationship with his living customer service rep all contribute to a genuinely delightful nightmare. Nathan’s existence is ultimately controlled by his (living) girlfriend’s whims, dressing him, denying him access to the endless microtransactions, and making his funeral all about her. Lovely brightly coloured dystopia.

Watching: Friday Night Dinner seasons 3-4

This one might be more a matter of taste… I’ve really enjoyed this sitcom composed of the Friday night meals of a secular Jewish family. The cast is exceptional, featuring Tamsin Greig (who should already be a national treasure), with Paul Ritter, as mum and dad, with Simon Bird and Tom Rosenthal. Very keen on slapstick and characters just this side of over the top, the foursome’s constant conflict is a real joy. A supporting cast including Mark Heap (another one who needs national treasure badging) makes this near-perfect. The last couple of seasons have featured a frozen fox, grandma marrying a total cunt, awful old college mates, vicious little blackmailing kids and so much more. “My nipples are boiling,” kinda sums this show up for me.

Doing: We Are What We Overcome podcast – Mental Health Check-In

We’re still going! Our fortnightly Facebook Live things are becoming a thing in their own right, which is nice. We’re aiming to check in first and foremost, with a theme or discussion topic to focus our current experiences around. Last week we talked about anger, which feels fairly timely, to say the least. It’s a strange feeling, one that can destroy you or push you to achieve and create all sorts of things.

Doing: MissImp’s Virtual Drop-Ins (double this time)

First up, an amazing introduction to freestyle rap, which makes it almost seem possible…

Followed by the rather wonderful Twinprov and “Re-imagining the Virtual Space: Creativity and Connection Together, Apart

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!

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.

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: 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: 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 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: The Obelisk Gate by N K Jemisin, Agents of SHIELD, LEGO Hagrid’s Hut

For all that most weeks are quiet now, last week seems to have been especially so. I imagine that’s in part from accepting the new terms of existence, and from it being another four day week with its concomitant blurring of time. I feel quite ineffectual a lot of the time, which I suppose is OK, since there’s damn all I can do about our situation other than moan about it.  I feel a lot like Hulk with tiny arms: full of emotions but unable to do anything with them.

It’s certainly taken me a few hours to finally sort all that washed LEGO back into their neatly sorted containers, and I’ve had Agents of SHIELD to accompany most of that. Much of the weekend was dominated by admiring the vast quantity of Easter chocolate my other half acquired at Tesco where they’re pretty much burning their excess stock. Eighteen pence for a bag of mini eggs?! We have many. And thus shall grow the belly further…

It’s been a nice weekend to spend time in the garden reading, and looks set to continue for a little while. I continue to be quite happy at home with my cats.

The most exciting thing of last weekend (apart from my parents’ peculiar psychic link causing them to both ring me at almost the same time) was a work thing – we’ve finally got the evidence that we at Aconyte Books have been doing something for the past year – we got books! Hurray! I can’t show them to you, because they’re awaiting appropriate fanfare, and won’t be in bookshops till September, but having our labours physically realised is really quite thrilling. These are the first books I’ve designed and laid out the internals and externals for (with a lot of support, approval, tsking and head-patting) so it’s a pretty big deal for me personally, as well as for the whole team. I don’t think showing the spines will get me killed, but I guess we’ll find out soon.

Reading: The Obelisk Gate by N K Jemisin

At last, I’m a mere four years behind with reading the very best of modern science fiction and fantasy! This is the second of the incredible Broken Earth trilogy which won a Hugo Award for each installment. Like so many of my favourite SFF novels, Jemisin has blended aspects of science fiction and fantasy together, so that we explore a truly post-apocalyptic world, riven by irregular “Seasons” of environmental catastrophes, driving humans into their comms (communities) and hoping they have enough supplies to last the season. This has been happening for thousands of years, since some event split the Earth, leading to repeated collapses of civilisation and a species directed solely toward survival, at any cost. There’s delightful social commentary on how humans behave when facing these awful threats, with rivalries between comms and the complex psychologies of those living in them, with their dwindling knowledge and science. Supporting / protecting humanity are the Guardians with their enslaved orogenes – essentially geology wizards who can manipulate the earth itself – feared and despised for their awesome powers, despite being used as a protective shield against the unreliable Father Earth. This book follows the even more catastrophic events of The Fifth Season in which Alabaster, one of the most powerful orogenes (or “roggas” if you hate them), triggered a vast tectonic split to destroy the home of the Guardians. We travel with his apprentice/lover/friend Essun as she assists in bolstering a comm against the season her mentor has unleashed. He has a plan… for Essun to undo the appalling damage that the Earth suffered when it lost its moon. On the other side of the story we see Essun’s lost and estranged daughter being taught to develop her own powers of orogeny by someone who seems to be completely insane. There’s a tonne of fascinating detail on orogeny – science or magic? – and I find the characters completely captivating. The stakes are wildly high, all of the time, and the second-person storytelling is surprisingly engaging, though it took me a little while to get into it again. This is one hell of a series, especially for reading right now: maximum apocalypse, beautifully written!

Doing: LEGO 75947 Hagrid’s Hut: Buckbeak’s Rescue

I’ve no idea what part this set plays in the films or books (I gave up on em fairly early I’m afraid), but I was very much drawn to the hexagonal shacks, and the lovely little pumpkin elements. It was a pretty quick but satisfying assembly – the roofs and floor are neatly done to produce this shape, and it’s definitely something I’ll try to keep in mind for the next MOC I start on. It’s a slight shame they’re only half-hexagons, with their backs missing. I guess I could probably source the parts from my various boxes… Buckbeak the gryphon is rather nice, and I’m sure I’ll find a use for him. I also enjoy this odd-seeming executioner (?) who comes with the set. I’ll admit I haven’t even put together the Harry Potter minifigs, but this set is quite lovely with or without the brand association. The fetching doors use massive stickers which even with my trusty scalpel I found tricky to apply. That might just have been because I was drinking beer, watching Agents of SHIELD and lying horizontally on the sofa at the time. Who’s to say, eh. It is however, brutally expensive at £49.99, even with half a dozen minifigs with the cool poseable mini-legs. I got it waaaay cheaper than that without a box, otherwise I’d not have been building it at all.

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

I can’t believe this started seven years ago, and only now am I rewatching it from the beginning. Hurrah for Disney+ and sitting in front of the TV for hours at a time playing with LEGO. I’m not entirely sure how far through the show I’ve watched, since its appearance on UK TV and streaming services that I use has been kinda erratic. I’ve definitely seen the amazing season where they’re in a virtual world run by HYDRA, but I haven’t seen them go into space… WTF? So I’m quite excited about catching up. Part of my confusion comes from this having full length TV shows – 24 episodes! It’s like being back in the nineties, and I love it. Those long seasons mean so much happens in season one. Can’t wait to reach the seventh and final season.

Agents of SHIELD brilliantly picks up after Avengers: Assemble with the surprising reappearance of Agent Coulson, who quite definitely died in that movie. But that’s a mystery for later… In the meantime we’ve got a team to assemble, and then deal with cyborg/jacked-up dangerous folks running around as part of Project Centipede, followed in short order by the collapse of SHIELD (following Captain America: The Winter Soldier) and the rise of HYDRA. It’s quite a ride! The cast is pretty delightful though, from the warm, tough and lovable Clark Gregson as Coulson, his badass kung-fu sidekick who will not smile, Agent May by the splendid Ming-Na Wen, mysterious hacker turned agent Skye (Chloe Bennet), the wonderful duo “Fitzsimmons”: Iain de Caestecker and Elizabeth Henstridge as Fitz and Simmons respectively, our ace scientists and darkly handsome agent Grant Ward, played by Brett Dalton. The vibe is so “NCIS with superheroes” it hurts: packed with banter, action and an unfolding season arc that I really thought lasted several seasons. The revelations of HYDRA’s subversion of SHIELD cut all the harder, with the betrayals and fear that follow – and all reinforced by having relatively recently seen all of the MCU. I’d vaguely remembered season one as being quite weak, but it isn’t – it’s just the first three or four episodes of them establishing characters before it all properly kicks off. Watch it! I’m already into season two…

Doing: MissImp’s Virtual Improv Drop-In

Last week we got a great workshop on science fiction and fantasy in improv from Philippa Stazicker, part of one of my very favourite shows Four Far Away. Well worth a look in whether you’re an improviser or not.

Last Week: Sabrina season 3, The Hanging Tree, Iron Man, Incredible Hulk, Iron Man, The Collapsing Empire

Short Week, Long Weekend – Does it Even Mean Anything?

I think I’ve fully adjusted to working at home now. Got my Wii Fit running on the spot for half an hour before starting work routine sorted. The cats come and sit with me for few hours, which is lovely. The lack of urgency is vexing, but I’m still getting things done. The evenings continue to be filled with LEGO and the usual TV watching or book reading. I’m beginning to wonder if this whole pandemic thing is just for me… being at home is kinda great.

Catching up with a bunch of the MissImp Thursday drop-in regulars was very reassuring – it’s my only specific evening of any week, and it was good to reestablish some kind of weekly calendar. I need to take some pics of the amazing LEGO Ideas Dinosaurs set that I’ve eked out over this week, they really are very pretty and need to be reviewed! I’ve also washed a lot more LEGO, so that’s news for anyone who needed it. Cleaned this whole box, and I reckon about 15% was Mega Blocks.  It took a lot more bags than that to dry out though! We’ve just started watching Star Trek: Picard, and I’m very excited.

Watching: The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina the Teenage Witch, season three

I’m quickly coming to the conclusion that I shouldn’t be watching TV shows I don’t deeply care about. I have watched all of Sabrina, and I do enjoy it, but I’m damned if I can tell you what’s actually happening. This season it’s more of the same except that Sabrina’s heading for being queen of Hell (quite fun to spend some time in Hell itself, with its attendant Star Trek alien-style demons). Lots of things happen… including the introduction of a priestess Voodoo (with a murderously awful creole accent) and killer pagans. Everyone remains chipper and fun to watch – if you enjoyed season one and two, you’ll enjoy this as well!

Reading: The Hanging Tree by Ben Aaronovitch

A rare re-read for me… I’d finished The Girl Beneath the Sea, couldn’t face getting out of bed, and had re-added this to my Kindle because I couldn’t remember where I was in the series. It’s a good re-read! For those not following the Rivers of London series: The Dresden Files crossed with The Bill. London copper Peter Grant gets dragged into the near-forgotten magical police as a huge resurgence of magic begins. The books have a similar light-hearted feel to Charles Stross’s excellent Laundry Files, though they’ve yet to become quite as dark. The police procedural aspects appeal greatly to me, completely eclipsing my general loathing of SFF set in London, plus Grant’s West Indian family, his dad’s love of jazz, and Grant’s relationships with his old-school magician guv’nor, and the literal rivers of London embodied in stunning female form have made this a really fun series for me. The Hanging Tree continues to pull story threads related to the Faceless Man who is the magical Moriarty for this series, the general rise of magic and diving a little deeper into how magic actually works. It’s an enjoyable read, even though I can already see why I’d forgotten if I’d read it – there’s no enormous story arc shift here, it’s firmly in the “another Peter Grant case” zone. I’m looking forward to the next one.

Watching: Marvel Cinematic Universe

Sure, I’ve seen most of these films multiple times anyway, but I’m enjoying taking advantage of Disney+ to watch them all back to back without the sheer hell of opening and closing DVD cases. I still think the MCU is one of the most extraordinary cinema achievements. No one has managed a watchable ten film series with such consistency and purposeful story arcs, let alone one with twenty-plus instalments and half a dozen excellent TV shows to back it up. Even Star Wars, which I adore, spectacularly fails at planning and consistency, and for all that I really love the new sequel trilogy, it’s afflicted with the same inability to plan for the next film that plagued the originals and prequels. So, Marvel – our literal movie superheroes.

Iron Man (2008)

It remains a delight that the MCU begins by rehabilitating Robert Downey Jr into what will undoubtedly prove to be his signature role. In retrospect this looks oddly low budget, with its gritty video feel. That certainly softens later, making Stark appear to age backwards for a while. As in several of Marvel’s origin stories, this is a small film with big bangs, but introduces us to the central theme of ordinary people becoming exceptional and having to make a moral choice about how to use their powers. Stark of course, is already a genius, but losing his freedom when captured by the Ten Rings terrorist organisation, and realising the harm his weapons industry does inspires him to become so much greater. It also has the first demonstration of how Marvel manages its extraordinary characters, by constantly undercutting Stark’s smugness and arrogance with slapstick injury and being put in his place by his closest companions. All the “building a better suit” montages do this wonderfully, and we’ll see it again for Thor. He’s a massive dick though…  particularly with Pepper, and less so with Happy than in later films. I’d completely forgotten the villain of the piece is Jeff Bridges’ corporate monster. Very topical then, and even more so now. Lt Colonel Rhodes in Terence Howard’s hands is utterly bland and he is sadly not at all missed for Iron Man 2 and onwards. I’m watching Agents of Shield from the beginning again, and it really does deepen all of my fondness for Agent Coulson (and Nick Fury) throughout. Stark’s suit is endearingly angular, and I rather miss the physical effects which are later replaced with nano suits by the time of Infinity War.

The Incredible Hulk (2008)

Cruelly, a distribution deal with Universal means I already had to reach for my DVDs for the second MCU film. This one gets a lot of stick, but for anyone who played the Playstation 2 game The Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction, this is an absolute joy. Borrowing not just the main storyline, but the actual moves Hulk pulls in the game, like ripping a car in half to make boxing gloves, earthquake punches and many more, means that I adore this film. Sure, I can’t imagine Edward Norton continuing in the MCU, but Hulk does us a massive favour by bravely embedding the complete origin story in the splendid comic book style opening credits (largely leaning on Ang Lee’s horribly dull Hulk) before introducing Bruce Banner hiding in South America. It’s a marked change of pace from Iron Man, with much larger and more frequent action set pieces and a pleasingly psychotic Tim Roth becoming Abomination – a bit closer to a big bad villain than a CEO in a metal suit. This one’s unusual in that very few of the hints and leads from it have yet been followed up – we’ve seen no more of his love interest Betty, her father General Ross, or scientist Samuel Sterns who looks like he’s turning pretty Hulky at the end. With the Ruffalo Hulk now all chill and contented with his dual forms, and feeling like he’s at the end of his character development arc, I wonder if we’ll get a proper gamma villain to rile him once more.

Iron Man 2 (2010)

It’s hard to believe this was a whole two years after the first couple of movies, but then I hadn’t realised they were only released a month apart! This is probably one of the weakest entries in the whole MCU, although most of them fade away if you watch it back to back with the first movie (a bit like Gremlins  but less so Ghostbusters. Ghostbusters 2 is really bad). It feels very much like filling time before we can get to some more characters and a proper villain. On the plus side we get the infinitely more fun Don Cheadle as Rhodes (suiting up as War Machine), and I’d forgotten that this is when we first meet Black Widow (fantastically introduced beating up Happy in the ring). We also see some of Howard Stark and his relationship with Tony, which proves much more important in Captain America: Civil War and is finally, beautifully paid off in Avengers: Endgame. So yay, for that! I suspect these weaker films are all going to be much better with the rest of the story in my head. Iron Man 2 continues the Stark arc of atoning for years of enabling mass murder, and this cleansing punishment probably is necessary for him to later appear in the Avengers films on an equal standing with the super-upright Captain America, Thor, and the rather humble Hulk. The story, um. Well, a Russian dude Vanko (a hopelessly miscast Mickey Rourke) who’s dad co-invented the arc reactor with Tony’s dad takes Iron Man’s success rather personally and sets out to destroy him. Cue laughable Zardoz costume with arc whips. It’s a rehash of the first movie after that, with an underused Sam Rockwell trying to build iron man suits / robots / whatever for his very similar company using Vanko’s genius. The CGI man fighting nearly identical CGI men problem that later besets Avengers: Age of Ultron appears here. Other than that, it’s more of Iron Man doing Iron Man things, upgrading the suit, the arc reactor, getting comically injured and being sweet with his robot arm. All the dialogue is still fun and snarky, but the film overall is just fine. I recall being enormously excited by the end credits tease of a hammer found in New Mexico…

Reading: The Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi

A fun and quickfire space opera, reliably easy to read with engaging and smart-mouthed characters. There’s not a lot more to it than that though. This is the first of Scalzi’s big new space opera series featuring the intergalactic human empire, the Interdependency. It’s all connected together by “the flow”, a convenient natural anomaly like a slow wormhole which links the various chunks of humanity together and takes months to get from one end to the other. Ruling over it all is an emperox and a bunch of semi-feudal merchant guilds who own complete monopolies on very granular products like “grapes.” Given that only one guild can provide chickens (or something) everything has to sort of work together. Big shock: the flow’s going to disappear, and so humanity and their present system are fucked. There’s a plenty of good stuff here: the time delay in communications, rival guilds vying for power, a massive cataclysm, space pirates and fun action scenes, and yet it all feels rather thin. That might be because there’s no sciencey stuff to this space opera, other than dropping big words like “phsyics”, and the interdependent guild setup feels both forced and like something I’ve read a hundred times before. While I enjoyed this as a quick read I’m not racing to find the next in series.

Doing: MissImp’s Virtual Drop-In

 This week we had Claudia Behlendorf from Germany with a fun workshop on creating big characters fast. We also instituted our first post-improv virtual pub event for regular MissImp folk on Zoom. That was a very uplifting web chat! While improv on Thursdays has been part of my life for more than fifteen years now, it’s the being with people in person and chatting in the pub afterwards that I’ve actually been missing. We had eighteen folks at one point, including some real out-of-towners and people we haven’t seen for a long while. Very nice! It’s on again next week.

Last Week: Cage of Souls, Altered Carbon, The Girl Beneath the Sea, We Are What We Overcome podcast, MissImp Virtual Drop-Ins

BIrthday, Booze and Bumbling

Sure, it’s Friday – or is it? Who the hell knows. I can’t tell the difference, and worst of all I’m writing this (at last) on day one of our four day bank holiday weekend. Thank goodness my workmates told me, otherwise I’d have been working all day. So, with five days separating me from last week, what can I actually recall… I’m in luck, because I’ve started to keep a list. Genius plan, which I undermine as I fail to write stuff down. That feels a lot like our present state of lockdown – it all constantly slips away… I’m still feeling the massive contrast between the hysteria of 24 hour news and this just feeling like normal life. I’m also utterly thrilled to be spending so much time with my beautiful cats.

Still, we had my other half’s birthday, and I feel we made the most of it. Our usual birthday activities are something along the line’s of 1) get up very late, 2) take ages to eat breakfast and get dressed, 3) open presents while watching cartoons (this year we enjoyed Disney+’s Chip ’n’ Dale: Rescue Rangers, which feels like it’s suffered the passage of time better than Duck Tales), 4) go to the cinema, 5) eat out somewhere, and 6) crash out on the sofa. On that scale we at least managed all but 4 and 5. So that’s not bad. The whole pandemic and not being able to choose to go out only really hit home when we wanted to complete our usual rituals. Nemmind. I snagged a piece of rather nice original Peter Firmin Bagpuss art, so part 3 of the day was pretty good. We celebrated with a few more folks in a large and very chaotic Zoom party. Weird, for sure, but nice to see peeps.

Obviously all independent businesses are struggling right now, and worse, some people are finding it hard to acquire enough booze to get through the melding days. No fear of that here in Beeston! I was over the moon to see our local independent brewer Totally Brewed (who have homes at the lovely micropub Totally Tapped in Beeston and The Overdraught at the top of Canning Circus) arranged for Friday home deliveries!

Doing: podcasting (live-ish) with We Are What We Overcome

On Sunday we the We Are What We Overcome podcast gang got together to attempt a Zoom to Facebook Live thingamajig. It worked so well in practice, but totally failed to work as expected. Not to worry. We recorded it anyway, and popped the video up on Monday afternoon. We decided to have a little check-in, like we usually do at the start of our episodes, but for longer as this is a strange time, and we all have different feelings about it. I think it’s quite a nice chat – you can watch/listen to it below. Rather nicely, it’s all four us, including Neil who’s usually behind the sound recording desk (or whatever it is that he does to magically trap our speech). At some point we’ll pop the audio out on the podcast feed, but there are a few in the bank already to be rolled out on schedule first. Even better news, we’re gonna try the Facebook Live thang again this Sunday, and every fortnight for the near future, or at least as long as we’re in lockdown. Future ones will show up on our Facebook page here, and I’ll stick a link on the WAWWO page of this website too.

Watching: Altered Carbon season two

I really enjoyed Richard Morgan’s Altered Carbon and its sequels – splendid fast-paced noirpunk with loads of action and murder/spy stuff. The central premise that your identity is contained in a stack at the top of your spine and can be swapped between bodies (the so charming “sleeves”) is fantastic, and the results of your body no longer being a part of who you are is ingenious and spun out well in the books. It translated pretty well into season one of the Netflix show, albeit with a lot of gratuitous nudity as we found ourselves in a pretty traditional cyberpunk setting of rain and holograms of hookers everywhere. I enjoyed it, but until I saw the ‘last time on Altered Carbon‘ I could not have told you what happened.

I fucking love Anthony Mackie, he’s immensely charming, fun, and credible in action, drama and comedy (having re-watched Captain America: the Winter Soldier just this afternoon, he is confirmed in my mind as a splendid human). But there’s something wrong with season two – it’s just drifted into the quest for Takeshi Kovacs to find his long-lost love, and while that’s in the books, it doesn’t feel like the driving force of the story. The noir detective element is here, but it feels lost and forced. Added to that are the continued tribulations of his AI hotelier pal, Poe (yep, Edgar Allan), who is very appealing as he finds another AI who he clearly kind of fancies as his grasp on the world deteriorates, but it doesn’t matter. The AI subplot is completely irrelevant and its lack of importance kept punching me in the face. Alas, this season has lost me and I kept drifting away while watching. Maybe I’ll have a rewatch after this nonsense time is over, and perhaps I’ll focus better.

Reading: Cage of Souls by Adrian Tchaikovsky

I cannot help reading Adrian’s books – it’s a kind of addiction. This one had languished for a while on my Kindle TBR because I’d incorrectly associated the cover with fantasy, and I’ve been in a science fiction mood for a while. Reading definitely feels tougher than usual, and it takes something extra (or just really fast) to captivate my attention. Here we have far-future post-every-apocalypse with Shadrapur, the last human city on (presumably) Earth. Humanity stumbles on, pretending that the end is not very close, echoing the civilisations that have fallen along the way. I’m a sucker for post-apocalyptic stuff (not so much the usual zombies). This has much more of JG Ballard’s The Crystal World and a bit of Brian Aldiss Hothouse vibe, with the natural world running riot, overwhelming our vain attempts at order and showing every chance of becoming something else. Cage of Souls takes us through the life of one of these last men, Stefan Advani, and how it is that he ended up in a ghastly prison cast out in the middle of nature. This is a big fat book, and for a while it was slow going, though that’s rarely an issue with Tchaikovsky’s glowing prose and this most alluring world of the end-times, but as the depth of the world and its strange inhabitants unfolded I was happily engaged. The Count of Monte Cristo feel is strong, with our unjustly imprisoned academic turned accidental rebel, dealing with an appallingly dangerous prison that the guys in Oz could only hope for, with monsters seizing inmates through the bars of the lowest levels and an absolute monster in charge of the prison. The novel really opens up when we explore the misadventures that preceded Stefani’s arrival, and (spoiler), what happens afterwards. It’s a delight of a book, full of surprises, possible callbacks to novels I adore, an unreliable narrator and a weird, weird world to engulf them.

Reading: The Girl Beneath the Sea by Andrew Mayne

After a big book I needed a short book, and this was waiting for me on my Kindle. A short, quick detective thriller with a slightly different setup (though with hefty shades of Clive Cussler’s Dirk Pitt stories), of Sloan McPherson – 50% diver with a family dedicated to shady treasure hunting, and 50% auxiliary cop in the Florida quays. There’s nothing exceptional about the plotting – Sloan gets a body dumped into the canal while she’s diving, and quickly finds herself implicated in a conspiracy linked to her dodgy criminal uncle and the aforementioned shady family. It had everything I needed, from snappy dialogue and snarky characters to gunfights and underwater shenanigans. Very satisfying, and I may well dig up the next in the Underwater Investigations series.

Watching: Virtual Improv Comedy Workshops with MissImp

Time blurs, and I discover that the workshop I wrote about last week was actually from the week before! Who’d’a’ thunk it. But that’s cool, it means there are two workshops for you to catch up on. First up the splendid Ki Shah and Russ Payne on Physicality, Objects & Movement. This is a genuinely charming two-hander and I think you’ll be smiling all the way through. Second up is LA improviser Jay Sukow on Solo Improv. I confess I’ve not yet watched this one, which puts me at least two behind as well… Both vids are below – enjoy!

Next Week

Sabrina the Teenage Witch season 3, The Hanging Tree by Ben Aaronovitch, LEGO Ideas Dinosaurs and probably The Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi (if I finish it this weekend). I should do an MCU quick review thing at some point too.

Last Week: AJ and the Queen, I Am Not Okay With This, CHEER, Disney+, LEGO and Improv Workshops

What day is it?

The days and nights are beginning to blur… Having a day off on Friday was nice, but didn’t really help with the curious sense of dislocation from the world. I do like working from home, and on a task level it doesn’t make much difference to me – that, combined with being a proper homebody anyway and the odd quiet holiday sense of this pandemic has my body and brain profoundly confused.

In proper pandemic fashion, we went to a birthday party via Zoom on Saturday, and it worked really well! Sixteen people (I think), and not too chaotic, once we were past the obligatory head fuck with swapping background images in and out. That part felt much like watching Predator for the first time… unsettling.

Watching: Virtual Improv Comedy Workshops with MissImp

Since we can’t meet in person at present, our first phase for MissImp has been supplying recorded workshop material to follow along with at home and bring some light and silliness into the house. Emily has been hard at work finding folk with skills to share, and we’re delighted to make them available to anyone for free. Keep track of them as they become available every Thursday here (or on YouTube). Here’s the first one, featuring a charmingly cabin-feverish Emily (also see below), and the second with Leicester-based pals Ki Shah and Russ Payne. Enjoy!

LEGO photographing and washing (oh, the thrills!)

The nice sunny days that I watched from my sofa last week provided the perfect opportunity to get outside briefly and take some half-decent photos of my latest LEGO build, the temple of quiet contemplation. I have been using it as such, spending hours gazing at it, saying “mmm, that’s some nice LEGO there”. Hey man, it’s working! Anyway, I posted up some of those pretty pics and you can check ’em out here: A Place of Quiet Contemplation.

Meanwhile, the lull in having to interact with the external world has finally led me to disassemble and wash two of our LEGO modular buildings, the Palace Cinema (10232) and Parisian Restaurant (10243). They’ve both been gradually accreting a vile layer of greasy dust due to living in our kitchen. It takes approximately the length of a Marvel movie to properly wash a building… They’re both very satisfying builds, but I hadn’t noticed till taking them apart just how many more pieces there are in the newer wave of modular buildings like the Parisian Restaurant than the Cinema – nearly three hundred more, and that really shows when you’re trying to lay them out to dry on a towel. I’m not brave enough to put my LEGO through the dishwasher, and chose to handwash instead. For those who may wish to burn their hours of confinement cleaning plastic bricks, I just used a splash of washing up liquid in hot water and a toothbrush to attack the most egregious filth. I’ve now got three of those mesh bags that Sainsbury’s sell for fruit and veg filled with Lego sitting on a radiator. Seems to take about a day to thoroughly dry out. The best thing about this is we now have space to build some more stuff! I’ve got my eye on the Brick Bank (10251) and the Monster Fighters’ Haunted House (10228), both of whom have been neglected in their boxes for some years.

Watching: Disney+

Inevitably, we subscribed to Disney+… launching during a stay-at-home pandemic is phenomenal good fortune! I’m only in it for easy access to the Star Wars series, though I’ve already seen The Mandalorian (it’s very good Star Wars – you should watch it now), and the splendid Rebels, but I’ve only ever skipped through The Clone Wars, partly because a lot of it is just very similar battles and it’s Anakin and Kenobi, two of my least favourite characters doing their dry schtick. But there’s also Ahsoka Tano, Captain Rex and Darth Maul – all characters I came to love from Rebels and can now fill in the gaps for. I’m also 100% happy about being able to watch the Marvel Cinematic Universe all the way through again. I’m already up to Thor: the Dark World. It is however astounding that Disney+ doesn’t let me just binge through them all in order! On finishing Iron Man 3 it offered me Iron Man to watch… C’mon Disney, don’t make me keep looking it up. We’ve had a glance through the rest of the content, and with very few exceptions it is entirely kids’ stuff, which is cool, but not very appealing. I hope Disney start adding all the amazing non-kids’ movies, like everything they bought off Fox! The interface is based on Netflix’s, so is familiar and continues to make Prime Video look incredibly bad.

Watching: AJ and the Queen

I’m not entirely sure why we watched this. I think it was the burning need for something light after watching season one of Westworld. There are worse reasons for bingeing. I’ve never followed RuPaul, other than by knowing the name, and quite liking him as the stoner neighbour in Girl Boss. He’s in full flow here, both in aiming for drama and his immaculately made-up drag performances. The story is surprisingly dark in places for a thinly veiled drag show tour: Robert (RuPaul) gets fucked over for $100k by his boyfriend and business partner, trashing his hopes of retiring from the crappy club he performs at and setting up his own place. To cover some of his costs, and in hopes of recovering from devastating heartbreak, he embarks on a planned tour of various shitholes across the US. But he ends up with company, in the form of AJ, an (spoilers) eleven year-old girl living on her own because her mum’s a drug addict working girl. It’s all a little forced, but the rapport between RuPaul and her spiky co-star, Izzy G is delightful. Similarly ace is the affectionate relationship between Robert and his blind drag queen flatmate Louis, played by a phenomenal Michael-Leon Wooley. The piece hangs on the characters, and it’s AJ and Louis who help it rise above the slightly shonky acting and setup. I’m not sure I need another season, but I’m quite glad I watched this one.

Watching: I Am Not Okay With This

This is great – a very tight seven half-hour-long episode season featuring Sydney, a teenager discovering her superpowers along with her romantic feelings, plus school outsider, weird friends (Stanley) and the promise of Carrie-style blood spectaculars. I don’t really want to spoil this one… All the performances are spot on, particularly the leads: Sydney (Sophia Lillis) and Stanley (Wyatt Olef), and everyone else… Sydney’s little brother (Aiden Wojtak-Hissong) fits the modern fad for rather grown up youngsters with fine comic timing. It’s filled with teenage angst, but not too much brooding, heartfelt parental performances and the super-awkward romance we’ve come to love in Sex Education. But it’s all that plus extremely unwelcome and uncontrolled superpowers. Exactly my thing, bring on season two please.

Watching: CHEER

Goddamn, but I do love Bring It On, so when we saw a short docu-series about real-life cheerleaders it was hard to say no. It’s a weird one, because while it’s celebrating the startling athletic prowess of these young women and men (slightly more men, which was initially surprising) it’s super-clear from the outset that this is almost guaranteed to be a dead-end activity. Here we have about forty university students (I think, frankly the US college system of freshmen and sophomores is something I’ve never grasped) who have moved to this college in the middle of nowhere (Texas) solely to cheer and neglect the rest of the studies, but there is no continuation of their sport in the professional/adult world. At best some of them may coach the next frenzied generation in the inevitably multibillion dollar industry, at worst… they’ll leave with a middling degree and satisfaction at their achievements (or not – nailbiting suspense!)

As in any documentary series, you can feel very particular storylines being selected and “characters” focused on, but it feels even more forced than usual. Perhaps inevitably, many of these students come from difficult backgrounds where they didn’t fit in, and it’s wonderful to see them flourish. All of that is countered by the show really wringing those stories out for their misery value. Their hero worship of their coach is frankly disturbing – it might just be that I naturally swing far away from inspirational leaders – it feels super-culty and brainwashy. It’s especially grim when their intense, focused coach takes zero responsibility for the many serious mishaps and injuries that occur as the cheerleaders are encouraged to rehearse through exhaustion and existing injury – and are then variously dropped from the team. Made me wince. I’m left with very mixed feelings about how the story was told, as well as the sport itself. The acrobatics however, are spectacular and inspiring, and I really felt for many of the students. It ends with very little resolution for most of the cheerleaders we follow through, just one who falls through the cracks. Watch it? Maybe on fast forward and pause for the tumbling.

Next Week

Probably a review of the new season of Altered CarbonCage of Souls by Adrian Tchaikovsky, and almost certainly more LEGO.

LEGO: A Place of Quiet Contemplation

Welcome to the Temple

I’ve been building this for months, kinda. I originally I assembled some complex and fiddly gates using lots of gold pieces, and left it standing alone for about five weeks before beginning to tinker with walls and shapes. Mostly I blame a trip to the London Lego Store where I picked up a huge number of coral pink quarter-circle tiles, and all the other times I gorged on sand green bricks. The whole front section came first, mounting the hideously fragile gates with right-angle skeleton arms, and then spreading up and out with as much lovely gold Lego as I could convince myself to use. There are cups, weapons (many light sabre hilts and sais) and taps hidden in there somewhere… I learnt some new things, like the lattice window frames can be jammed into the underside of arches, as well as laid flat on top of bricks with studs through them.

It’s built around a tight octagon, which seriously stressed the hinged plates at the bottom, so I was cautious about building on top of it. Eventually I connected them lightly using jumper plates, and later ensured they were all attached to each other, if not the base… I’ve been admiring sideways built shapes for ages, and done little to practice myself, but the green “brick profile” bricks in the walls are all assembled sideways, using lots of headlight bricks to fit them together with long tiles, and to attach the vertical 2×12 plates which fill in the gaps. After that it was just a lot of greebling… with many changes to make it more uniform in colour, which I think has worked out pretty well. I’ve relearned a few things about how many plate widths apart headlight bricks need to be in order to lay other bricks and plates across them, but I still have to refigure it out each time (not that bright).

The steps at the front were fun to make, with a series of the tiles that have flat upright walls fitted together. Nice pattern! I’ve also finally made foliage I really like – again, thanks to pick-a-brick walls I’ve got tonnes of the individual green leaves which here are attached to lots of the small plant leaves, in turn hanging out of the old and new flower stems (with and without bar), and all those are attached to the sea grass pieces at the front. I think they tumble in a pleasingly organic way, without being quite as fragile as I expected.

Once more I’ve built something that it’s impossible to photograph the inside of properly. One day! Thankfully, I made the rear of the temple entirely removable so I could work on it, which provides a lovely view of the tiled floor, and allows me to turn the back wall around so you can see it below. I used the only good sand green minifig I have, the LEGO Atlantis Barracuda Warrior who has delighted me forever.

Barracuda temple. I wonder if this whole thing was once underwater… This is with the back section reversed.

So, pretty chuffed! I have nowhere to put it…

A slightly higher resolution gallery can be see here.

Last Week, Locke & Key, Lexicon, The Maltese Falcon

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.

Last Week: Westworld, The House of Shattered Wings, Van Gogh The Immersive Experience

In the Time Before Crisis

Wow, last week feels like it was ages ago. Hard to believe that Sunday 15 March is only two days dead.  All the more important to scrape together my fragmentary memories before they’re washed away in a wave of hand sanitiser. Not that we can find any in shops any more. Thanks fuckheads. Last week was already becoming dominated by the outbreak – now pandemic – of COVID-19 and I’m really weary of it. I’m tired of compulsively reading about it, and our government’s shocking (but not surprising) ineptitude at handling it, but most of all I’m tired of this fluttery anxious sensation about the future. It really doesn’t help that so many utter fuckwits are raiding the supermarkets and making it impossible to get, say, toilet roll or paracetamol, or (today) bread or fresh fruit and vegetables. For fuck’s sake. It’s such a frustrating cycle, and it means if I can finally locate the item I want, I’m gonna end up buying two because I’m not gonna find them again. And I hate being dragged into that cycle of compulsion. The endless hand-washing is bad enough. Anyway… 

Watching: Westworld season one

I’ve been waiting to watch this for ages. I’ve got fond memories of the Yul Bryner movie, and of the general style of things from Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park (which is surely just another nightmare ride in the same park). I wasn’t disappointed. From the gorgeous opening credits, the sublime score and its old West-style piano renditions of popular modern songs (do pick up the soundtrack – it’s ace), to the splendid performances throughout, this is a real SF treat. The story is straightforward enough: dudes make a park filled with simulated humans to amuse rich people through torture, rape and murder. A tale as old as time… Of course the “hosts” are becoming sentient, but their memories get scrubbed every day or every time they’re killed, which is often, and it’s not really working any more.

It’s magnetic viewing, with park guests drawn into the drama, and seeking hidden meaning within the park’s elaborate narratives, and hosts seeking their own freedom from the stories, and possibly from the park itself. Slight downsides, I guess, in the usual HBO vein of truly excessive amounts of nudity, though it’s not remotely erotic, so maybe they succeeded in their thematic point about dehumanising the hosts. It’s also really bloody, which should not be a shock in a western murder park, but there’s still more than you’d like to think people would go for. Gah, there’s too much spoiler fodder I’d like to get into, and some tricksy time-slipping stuff that I believe I need to rewatch the season to really appreciate fully. Just watch it, alright, it’s phenomenal – just look at the magnificent cast. We can watch it together while we’re all at home for the next three months.

Reading: The House of Shattered Wings by Aliette de Bodard

I‘ve learned that despite summarising books professionally for work, I suck at it for reviews of stuff I read. With that in mind… Aliette’s novel introduces us to a Paris (and presumably world) ravaged by magical warfare. In its ruins stand the Great Houses, centres of magical and political power headed by powerful magic users, such as literal Fallen angels. They vie for power amid the rubble, casually destroying lives and each other to claw their way to the top of the slagheap. We first meet a brand new Fallen, as she’s about to be dismembered for magical parts to be used by others. She’s rescued, and one of her tormentors is captured, by the leader of House Silverspires. But nothing is what it seems; dark secrets and past grudges are the foundation of the house’s power and it’s all set to come tumbling down.

Yeah, that sucked as a description, sorry. What I can tell you is how much I enjoyed reading this. Aliette’s prose is gorgeous, and the setting which ranges from the decay of Paris to the near-mythical magical cities of the Far East is deeply intriguing. Partly I’m thrilled to have a great intimate fantasy novel based in a city other than London or Venice (please, spare me another), but also because I like this set up. Theology made real, with few proper answers given – I suppose I’ll have to read the other two books in the trilogy to figure it out propery – magic based on the fading grace of Heaven or from the ground up parts of angels is very appealing. It’s also a rather strange book, in that it seems to promise epic, but is much more rooted in a broad domestic setting (it’s kinda what I imagine Downton Abbey would be if it was appealing enough for me to watch), and I rather liked that. Strong recommend – you’ll have fun.

Doing (I guess): Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience

We wanted to do this the weekend before last but it was closed, so we seized what’s likely our last chance to see this at All Saints Church in Leicester (as of writing this the exhibition is still open, but for limited numbers per self-guided tour). Our slightly poor time management (we don’t get up well at the weekend), meant we got five whole minutes in the Leicester Vintage Toy Shop, which was not long enough. There were so many wonderful things to pore over… Another time, I guess. I’ve liked his work since I visited the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam as a teenager – I hadn’t especially cared before I saw it for real – and this seemed like a fun way to see more. Big colours and deceptively sweeping strokes of fat paintwork, plus more cobalt blue that you can shake a paintbrush at.

The exhibition is traveling around various places and is part historical journey with some very nice big pictures and timelines of Vincent’s short and troubled life. The main event is the immersive section, but before that they have a lovely projection of his very many vase paintings overlaid on an urn, which I probably could have watched all day… There’s also a nice life size creation of his famed bedroom, and a short documentary about him, albeit with a rather portentous voiceover. We tarried around these other exhibits for a bit, but finally wandered into the main event: one of the larger chambers of the church, painted with light from projectors over every surface, including the floor. It’s a twenty-minute (I think, I lost track of time) of Van Gogh’s paintings morphing and flowing across the walls, accompanied by a spoken guide through the artist’s life, with inspiring excerpts from his letters. It’s absurdly trippy, and hard to describe, so I badly filmed some bits of it to give you a better (or worse) idea what it’s like.

After this we took in the virtual reality finale (which is an extra £3 each). I’ve never viewed any VR media before, except possibly some truly ancient stuff when it was all crude polygons decades ago. This is both much better than that, and very limited at the same time. It’s a lovely stroll through Van Gogh’s Arles, placing a bunch of his best-known works in the landscape. I enjoyed it, as a novelty experience, and I kinda liked being able to look around and see the terrifying robotic sheep (I know, so Westworld),  but it did make me somewhat dizzy and headachey. It’s fun, but not a patch on the projection show.

I love this use of space and new ways to view and appreciate art. It’s so very different from just seeing paintings in a book. Check it out, if you can.

Last Week: Onward, The Invisible Man, The Good Place, Braggart, Betrayal at House on the Hill

Week ending Sunday 8 March 2020

I had a nice long weekend filled with LEGOing and the watching of things, which left me quite chipper. Obviously by this far into a week (Wednesday – egad!) I’ve thoroughly squandered the languid lie-ins we achieved. We were intending to visit the Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience in Leicester on Saturday, but found it was closed due to the “Light Up” festival taking place, which seemed odd as the exhibition seems to be entirely illuminations… Oh well. I was a bit annoyed that my poorly-planned intentions were so easily scuppered, and with them a self-indulgent trip to the Leicester Vintage Toy Shop and it’s many examples of beloved and dreadful plastic tat. Next time, possibly next week… Still, it did give me quite a lot of extra time to play with LEGO. I don’t have any updated pics yet, but I was highly gratified this week when a friend popped round and exclaimed with delight at its progress (before I knocked chunks off in my haste to show it off).

Games Night – Braggart, Betrayal at House on the HillThe Last Word

I also had a nice chance to play some boardgamey things (other than as part of vital team building at work!)

I introduced the mob to my current favourite card game (excepting Fluxx and Gloom), Braggart. It’s a delightful little storytelling game, based around the idea that you’re all winos in a fantasy tavern bragging about your made-up adventures and conquests. The cards offer you parts of a story (scene, deed, foe and result), and as long as you have the two central components you can offer your boast, ideally with wild embellishment and braggadocio. Your companions may nod sagely or cry “liar” and swap high-scoring cards in your yarn for low-scoring cards in theirs, eg previously you fought a mighty demon, but in reality you punched an orphaned child.  If it’s accepted unchallenged you can get the points (coins) on your cards. It’s a fast, silly and splendidly fun game with remarkable replay value. Note for the designers: I would kill for an expansion.

We grew a little more serious and horror-struck with Betrayal at House on the Hill, which I’ve heard of but never played. A random assortment of folks with various physical and mental attributes explore a haunted house, revealing new room tiles as you pass through doorways until someone comes across too many Omens and you trigger the “haunt”. As far as I experienced, each room is filled with nightmares that instantly wiped out my twelve year-old boy’s mental faculties before stumbling into a skeleton-strewn inside garden and plummeting into the grim basement area, from which I never escaped. I did find “a girl” and “a dog” to be my companions, so I guess that’s good. Not a great deal happened before I triggered the haunt, becoming the titular traitor and taking control of the monster, Crimson Jack. He was defeated within one round of becoming active, and that ended the game… It looks like it has a lot of potential with complex and interesting possibilities,  but we didn’t encounter a lot of that. Most of our enjoyment came from laughing at the awful things happening to my character rather than from the game itself!

We’ve played The Last Word before, and it performed as expected. You get a stack of subjects and another one of letters, the task being to name as many things in that subject beginning with that letter, before the buzzer goes off. The time period is random, and the goal is to the last person to say something vaguely cogent within the time limit. It’s fun! Largely this is just yelling things which are tangentially related to the subject and hoping the people you play with will allow them. Lots of give and take, a lot of filthy suggestions and semi-hysteria. Good.

Watching: The Good Place

If you haven’t seen this yet, then either you lack Netflix or the pressure of other people who saw it and loved it. I really enjoyed it, and we wrapped up the final season this week, having waited until the tedious dripfeed of weekly episodes was over and we could binge it properly. Difficult to summarise by the end of the fourth season I guess… but plainly spoilers are imminent.

A quartet of humans die and awaken in “the good place”, except they were all sorts of failures at being good people and it turns out that they’re actually being psychologically tortured in “the bad place”. And that’s just the beginning. Our four humans are Eleanor, a scumbag person from Arizona (the splendid Kristen Bill), fatally-indecisive philosophy professor Chidi (the remarkably buff William Jackson Harper), ghastly name-dropping socialite Tehani (Jameela Jamil, playing the sort of person who I imagine writes the Metro celebrities pages) and genuine cretin Jason (played with stupendously vacant happiness by Manny Jacinto), In time they fully grasp their situation, grow as people, become good, and ultimately restructure the afterlife. They’re aided in their adventures by the Architect of their particular afterlife (staggeringly on-form Ted Danson, with very good wig) and his infinitely powerful Janet (D’Arcy Carden)  who comes to believe that humans can be redeemed and that there’s something very wrong with the whole system. All of that plot belies that this is an utterly charming character-based, intensely plot-driven sitcom. It’s very funny, packed with pop philosophy and psychology, delightful character turns and relationships I ended up feeling very invested in. It’s a proper heart-tugging finale too.

Watching: Onward

PIxar dig deep into the hearts of its audience to yank some heartstrings, this time playing them in a modern fantasy realm where everyone’s given up magic and uses technology, and their magical past is remembered only by those playing a thinly veiled Dungeons & Dragons. In keeping with Disney sensibilities, we have a nice family with a dead dad, and on the youngest lad’s sixteenth birthday they get the chance to bring him back for a single day. Cue adventure. With a cast headed up by Tom Holland and Chris Pratt it’s quite snappy and the characters are all charming, though I think they could have been played by almost anyone and you wouldn’t really notice. It’s pretty fun, especially as someone very casually aware of what happens in D&D, since most of the comedy and action are based in learning magic and various questing stereotypes. I enjoyed it at the time, but like everything Pixar’s made since Up, it’s rapidly fading from memory (this is in five days!) Good for the kids and fans.

Watching: The Invisible Man

Once more, Universal Studios attempt a resurrection of their classic monster characters, and for the first time since The Mummy (Brendan Fraser’s, obviously, not the fuckawful Tom Cruise tediothon), may actually have succeeded! I should qualify that a bit… This is the invisible man as domestic violence perpetrator and psycho stalker. I guess that’s what anyone who wanted to be invisible probably would be like. I’m not good at horror/thrillers at the cinema, and this one had me twisting in my seat and chewing my fingers. Elizabeth Moss is electrifying as the bullied spouse, Cecilia, it’s a harrowing performance. Creepily shot as if two people are in frame even when it’s just Moss, it swiftly becomes deeply disturbing. Obviously the fucker is gaslighting her like crazy and ruining all her relationships, as you do when you’re a total arsehole. The film really ramps up a gear when Cecilia starts fighting back, and I found it immensely satisfying. GOOD!

Last Week: LEGO Trolls, Titans season 2, Deep Blue Sea 2, The Quiet Earth

All Work and Some Play… Week ending Sunday 1 March 2020

Another week of gentle peace and busy days of WORK THINGS. Consequently I don’t have much to report, other than that my cats are beautiful and I’m generally quite content, if verging slightly on manic. To deal with that, I’ll be taking my stay calm and sleep goddammit drugs a bit earlier than usual, otherwise I’ll find myself checking work emails at midnight for that elusive “here’s the instruction you need” email. So what have we been doing? Weeeelll, I guess I’m going to have to start scribbling notes about what I’ve been doing on a daily basis, because once a thing is done, it seems to be just clean gone from my brain.

We had a couple of lovely opportunities to see friends and family this week. First, a dear pal from the States is in the UK for a week, so I ditched the improv drop-in for a wonderful evening of catch up chatter. I really enjoy those friends with whom you can slip back into whatever state you were in last time you met up. Speaking of which, Saturday saw another convergence of my siblings and spousal partners for food, drink and noise. They’re some of my best evenings, and I’m happy to find that we’re probably closer now than we ever were when we were younger. Even if I did then choose to sleep in an unfamiliar bed and deal with children early in the day – I mean, really, who gets up before midday on a Sunday?! Still, I built a small LEGO tattooist’s with my youngest niece and a cat habitat with the eldest. Win.

Revitalizing: LEGO

That all left me so thoroughly trashed that I almost had a nap on Sunday afternoon. Almost. I stirred myself into action by finishing off the (insane) LEGO Trolls: World Tour set Pop Village Celebration (41255). It’s a fun build, but seriously, what the fuck is any of this? I’m psyched that there are now felt pieces in the LEGO building kit! I’ll aim to do a proper review of this later. That woke me up enough to continue with my lovely gold and green castle/shrine thing. Not enough to give you a proper update just yet, but I’m happy with the progress.

Watching: Titans season two

I really liked season one of DC’s Titans. It’s rare to enjoy anything with the DC label as they’re just so bad at translating their properties into live action, but it was really fun, kinda gritty with suitable TV-level special effects. But what the hell happened for round two? The first episode appears to be the last episode of the previous season, which instantly wraps up all the bad alien dimension stuff that was threatening the world. Now it’s all cool, and the team splits up. That was… odd. After that, Dick Grayson forms a new Titans team in the lush Titans tower, and we’re all confused about why this wasn’t episode one. It never really recovers from there. The introduction of Deathstroke is kind of fun, and we’re soon saturated with mini-Deathstrokes (his kids), who variously get killed or turn out to be bad guys who become good. It was intensely frustrating to see the characters from the first season tossed into thirteen episodes which have fitful pacing, no narrative arc for the existing characters, too many new characters (hi, Superboy!) the utterly baffling behaviour of evil scientists Cadmus, Dick Grayson sulking and fucking everything up, a nice turn from Bruce Wayne, and lots of random crap that makes no sense… Ah man, such a mess. It’s the worst of comic book plotting and cramming of continuities into too small a box, far too fast. Oh, and just wait for the utterly purposeless death of someone you like at the end of the season. For fuck’s sake, just make him Nightwing at the start (without a huge codpiece) and let us enjoy some superhero hijinks.

Watching: Deep Blue Sea 2

Deep Blue Sea is a proper guilty pleasure of mine. It has a very satisfying B movie cast including a shouty Samuel L Jackson, Thomas Jane, Saffron Burrows, LL Cool J (ha!), with a genuinely funny script, quite scary massive clever sharks, fun action scenes, stupid science and lots of payoffs. As someone more scared of the idea of sharks than I ought to be, I find it both appealing and terrifying. So naturally, I’ve been keen to see the sequel for some time. You’ll be shocked to hear that it’s fucking awful. Almost unwatchably bad. Everything good about the first is dunked in a bucket of chum, coming up choking, wet and reeking. The sharks are cack, the script is… not good, and almost nothing happens. Plainly filmed for a tenner, and that ten quid spent on buying the sound effects from Piranha 2. There are baby sharks that make a bizarre squealing sound and a mad scientist for whom, when he necks the precious shark cleverinating potion, we see random chemical structures and equations (a la Numb3rs) to show how clever he’s becoming. Very not good. Please compare the trailers below for further details. And do watch Deep Blue Sea – it’s great.

Reading: The Quiet Earth by Craig Harrison

I’m somewhat relieved to discover that googling “the quiet earth book” immediately brings up “…ending explained”, as I had no idea what the hell happened. I should say that this is a long-awaited read, since I saw the film version as an impressionable teen and was suitably impressed by the post-apocalyptic (well, everyone disappears, so a really clean apocalypse) vibe, suicidal characters, but most of all by the prospect of being all alone in the world and rooting through everyone’s stuff… So I was interested in seeing how much of a gaping void there was between the book and film, and unsurprisingly, it’s pretty vast – or at least it feels like it is.

In the novel, a very sad scientist who allowed his autistic son to drown himself, and who also had a hand in the experiment that maybe caused every other living animal in the world to disappear at precisely the same time (barring himself and two others), wakes up to discover he’s alone. This leads us into a few hundred pages of his existential angst, grief about his son and collapsed family, meeting and falling out with the only survivor (a nice Maori chap who’s probably a war criminal – don’t worry, they later have a grenade-tossing shootout). We learn he sabotaged the experiment he was working on, and tried to kill himself, leading to the current world catastrophe.

It’s a lot clearer, or at least more sharply done in the film. Everyone who was alive at 6:12 died, and everyone who died at 6:12 remains alive. I think the end turns out to be just a dream, or something. If so, it’s an ending that neatly undermines the whole story. I suspect there’s good stuff in here about the psychology of despair and sadness, but I bounced off the vibe and what felt extremely muddled and hard to understand toward the end, and had to force myself through it. I kinda don’t want to watch the film again, in case it’s not what I recall…

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!

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