Stuff I liked in April

Lux Prima

Karen O & Dangermouse make something a bit trippy and chanteuse-y. A tip from Rachel at Juno.

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

This passed me by first time round, but I watched it over a couple of nights in Oslo at the top of the month. It felt so dry and moody. I’d love to find more anthologies like it.

Buying a home

I love our house. It’s more than double the size of our old flat and we’ve got two toilets. It’s fabulous and I’m proud how homey we’ve made it already. I’m typing this at the kitchen table. Love it.

Fleabag

I loved each episode but thought the arc of the second series was a bit uneven. I reckon that’s on me: I’m now so used to the box-set slow pace of US TV dramas that I felt there were two or three whole seasons of Fleabag missing. Still, absolutely vicious stuff. Loved it.

Robyn at Ally Pally

Honey left me cold, but it works terrifically live. Also, great to be at the reunion of everyone who moved to London between 9/11 and the financial crash.

Peregrine near the office

At the end of a day I was heading from the office to the station and saw a few sparrows chasing something larger and sportier off from a rooftop.

The next day I took a punt on wandering at the foot of the church near Juno, and saw *something* preening feathers up at the top of the steeple. I waited fifteen minutes of so, eventually seeing it kicking off and jetting into the housing estate. In silhouette, all bullet and attitude, a peregrine. Beautiful.

Dawn chorus walk in Sydenham Hill Wood

Homecoming (the Beyonce one)

Obviously brilliant. Got the marching band version of Kendrick Lamar’s ‘Humble’ in my head for a full week.

Lauren Laverne’s bank holiday Monday show

Lovely Mark works on the show, and every time I tune in I imagine he’s structured the playlist specifically to get me to dance in my kitchen. Reader: he succeeded.

Russell’s post about DJing

“The art elite of Oregon were peering at tiny scribbles and sculptural interventions and I was playing Transglobal Underground and Afro Celt Sound System.”

Making a delicious trays of canelés

The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina

This remains one of the worst television shows I’ve ever seen and I will watch every last episode.

Britney

Fringe comedy at the Soho Theatre about Charly Clive’s brain tumour and the efforts of her friend Ellen Robertson to be there for her. Excited to see them do other stuff down the line.

Avengers: Endgame

I had low hopes for this. By this point, twenty-odd films in, there are so many characters and plot beats I don’t *really* care about, that the thought of three hours in that world was a bit daunting. It could certainly never be as good as Thor: Ragnarok.

It managed to be cathartic, entertaining, flawed and delightful. I even cried a couple of times. It managed all that while feeling like the most comic-book movie of the whole franchise… maybe even *because* of that. Very impressive. I don’t expect I’ll ever watch it again.

Stuff I liked in March

Bad Moon Cafe

Well, Bad Moon was a bit of revelation. Gaming tables are top-notch, the vibe was pretty open and friendly, food and drinks were good. Looking forward to popping in and out of the place for more sessions as the year rolls on!

Being referenced by a candidate in a job interview

We’re hiring more folks at Juno, and I had the weirdest moment in one of the sessions where a candidate talked about some things I’d written at IF as an influence on her work. She had no idea who I was or that I’d written them – I was just introduced as ‘Matt’ on a Hangout call – so it felt natural and therefore EXTREMELY WEIRD. But in a good way.

The Tiffany Aching series

I’ve been re-reading the Discworld series, picking up the newish hardback editions and ploughing through them as I go. It’s been a background effort for a couple of years now (and I won’t have finished until the last two in that edition are released in Autumn). But I feel comfortable calling it: the characters that have come out best have been the Witches.

The stories are tight, the characters are distinct and the setting feels like the best blend of high-fantasy, parody and low-drama. He gets that mix wrong so often through the series, that the fact he nails it just about every time with this cast feels very special. The Tiffany Aching books (a young adult take on the witches cast) are probably his best sequence. The middle three in particular – A Hatful of Sky, Wintersmith and I Shall Wear Midnight – balance coming-of-age stories and adventure so well. The Shepherd’s Crown (the final Tiffany Aching novel, and the Discworld novel) stacks the landing somewhat. It needed another draft, maybe two, but Pratchett’s hourglass ran out. All that said, if there were any batch of Discworld books I’d recommend to a newcomer, it’d be these five.

I had no time for these when I first read his work. I figured it was ‘Kids stuff’. But all of Pratchett’s work is kids stuff. None of the stories are especially adult, and the world is at its most accessible when you’re in an unguarded mood and you go with it.

Russian Doll

Loved it. Plugged all the pieces together really nicely, and the final episode was outstanding.

Derry Girls

Series one was wonderful. Series two I’m less hot on, but it’s still great.

Trapped

So. I’m pretty sure Icelandic drama Trapped is rubbish. The plots are contrived, the translated dialogue feels full of brute-force, ‘tell, don’t show’ moments, and there’s no way any of the people in it should still be employed – given the catalogue of errors that accumulate each season.

But because I don’t understand Icelandic, I don’t have any opportunity to focus on the things that undermine English-speaking police procedurals. I also can’t guess whodunnit in the same way you can on British dramas (“Oh, I bet he cost a lot of money… he’ll probably turn out to be the killer”). So, yeah.

Queer Eye

Love it. Cried about a dozen times across this series. Such a good selection of people. Also, still revelling in my season 2 turnaround on Bobby, who is far and away The Best One.

(Quite a TV heavy month, I realise now. Not surprising, given that we’re building up to moving home next month.)

This exquisite, dumb Made In Chelsea ad

So stupid. So wonderful. So stupid.

A guy who works at Levi’s Regent Street

Good customer service stories are exactly as boring as bad customer service stories, but they’re so much nicer to live through. Basically, one of the staff did their job and helped me and my lanky/going to seed self out. Didn’t have quite the right stuff in stock – and knew that going in – but he still put the effort in to get me confident in sizing and fit.

Ant Man and The Wasp

I’ve now seen all the MCU movies, and I think this, the first Guardians movie and Thor: Ragnarok are probably the best ones. They have actual jokes, no-one’s mooching about being emo, and the stakes feel proportionate to the story.

I’m looking forward to Avengers: Endgame, but I already know it’ll be too long, there won’t be enough jokes, and a huge chunk of dramatic tension will be undercut by the need for sequels to exist. Just like the comics.

Pure

Pure felt so distinct and so well-put-together. I don’t think any plot in the show surprised me (I don’t think they were supposed to) but the cast and the script made everything feel so well connected and so live. Such a joy.

Oslo

I’m here again, teaching at AHO next week. I really really love this city, and the folks in it.

Stuff I liked in February

Deadwood

I never saw Deadwood first time around. I’d always wanted to though, and in the run-up to Christmas bought the box-set for a few quid in a secondhand shop. I loved it. Bitter, portentous, vile. Atmospheric. I got thoroughly into the town and wish-wish-wish it had played out to the Deadwood fire (a moment telegraphed from damn near the start).

I’m looking forward to seeing what comes of the movie.

“Bucket of shrugs”

I’ve been casting around for a phrase for something for a while, and “Bucket of shrugs” finally blurted from my mouth. It’s a way I’ve started referring to particular ‘checking and approval’ activities: you get a bunch of documents or facts, and make a vague judgement about whether things are ‘okay’ against some very vague criteria.

It’s a very, very common thing in legal services. It’s opaque, frustrating, and inherently hostile to clients. Making sure we never build a ‘bucket of shrugs’ into our processes at Juno is totally vital to building accessible, scalable legal services.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine

I finished this book off around about the same time Phil wrote this blog post about ‘Olive Kitteridge’ and it rang similar bells. I found myself twisting in frustration at Eleanor’s behaviour throughout (it’s the point of the book, really). Enjoyed it though.

Grief is the thing with feathers

A recommendation from Gemma. I loved it. Gnarly and fractured. I burned through this in my commute and and from work… arguably too quickly. I’ll definitely return to it down the line. Connected a couple of loose ideas too, which’d be nice to do something with… possibly another writing project for Richard.

The February 8th entries on kottke.org

Physics and hip-hop. Four entirely unrelated links that opened up an internet for me: Buy the Cheap Thing First, Skipping Stones: “Every Throw Is a Complete New Puzzle”, Remembering J Dilla On His 45th Birthday and Me Cookie Monster. Ask Me Anything. A good day in links.

Bob Mortimer on Desert Island Discs

After a Guardian article in praise of fluffy, consequence-free interviews I got listening to Lauren Laverne’s run on the programme. Bob Mortimer came off as a lovely, relatable introvert. A chill time.

Josie Long on the Off Menu podcast

I’m enjoying Off Menu. Desert Island Discs for food. Especially enjoyed the Josie Long episode because Felix got a shout out. He is a wonderful man, who makes wonderful drinks.

Battletome: Flesh-eater Courts

My favourite Warhammer faction got a new rulebook! Insane ghouls who toil under the delusion that they’re actually noble knights… I find The Court of The Carrion King deeply relatable.

H is for hawk: a new chapter

Natural World documentary following Helen Macdonald as she rears a goshawk for the first time since raising Mabel – the bird she trained through H is for Hawk. I have a lot of time for that book, and absolutely intend to revisit it down the line. This was a nice top-up.

Flat Pack Pop

Music doc about the music of Denniz Pop and Cheiron Studios. It was rough around the edges, and lacked a few key interviewees, but I loved this for being one of the first docs I’ve seen that took the pop music of my youth seriously. I feel old enough to deserve that now.

Trixie Mattel: Skinny Legend

Dumb fun. Now mega-excited to see Katya.

Stuff I liked in January

In the spirit of Cheathco’s ‘Things I have faved‘, here’s a bunch of stuff I pulled a hard fave on in January.

Most of ‘The Seven deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle’

A qualified fave for this book, recommended by Mark and Ella. I was caught up in the plot – a looping muder-mystery – right up until the moment where one character explains why it’s all happening.

I didn’t really need or want any of that. I guess that’s the biggest way my tastes have evolved over the last few years: I just want to get caught up in plots, not whys. Still, a great start to booking in 2019.

Ann spotting a kestrel in Letheringham

A few of us holed up in a beautiful holiday cottage over new year, an old mill, surrounded by farms. Ann took herself off for a walk in the copse on New Years day while I sat reading by the stream, and as she came back through she startled a kestrel. It took off and gave us both a really graceful display.

41256

Russell’s wrapped up his podcast. I loved it. I feel smarter and more literate for having listed to it, a bit like LRB for the ears. Sad to see it go.

Into the Spider-verse

Vibrant and delightful, Into the Spider-verse got me all caught up and emotional. Connected a little too sharply with the gone-to-seed Peter Parker dragged into Miles Morales’s world. I’m looking forward to giving this another watch, hopefully at the Prince Charles when it hits its second run.

Ghosts of the Tsunami

A book recommendation from Robin Sloan’s newsletter. About the survivors 2011 tsunami, I founds passages in this absolutely devastating.

I usually read on commutes, and pretty much each journey to and from work I had to put this down and blink through tears.

Juno

I work at Juno, a start-up that offers legal services. I’m working on a real thing, with actual users, doing a mixture of writing, product-development and typing out code. I bloody love it.

Since October I’ve been working closely with Charlie, a lawyer at Juno, to rebuild our system for handling house purchases. It’s been hard work, made a damn sight easier because I’m surrounded by a supportive team, who have a really good attitude.

In the last few years I made career decisions that put me at arms length from working digital products. I discovered I find that deeply unsatisfying. Depressing, if I’m honest. Course-correcting last spring was draining and difficult, but the reward in the last couple of months has been amazing.

The Favourite

I felt unsettled throughout The Favourite. Very good. Would Lanthimos again.

Fältinspelningar

Live album by 1900. I keep going back to this, and Mary Casio: Journey To Cassiopeia by Hannah Peel which I found a little before Christmas. Music for typing and journeys.

Sydenham Hill

Cold Lasagne Hate Myself 1999

Ann and I fell hard for James Acaster after Katie recommended Repertoire, and we watched his stretch on Taskmaster. His new set is more explicitly personal, and less weird. We loved it.

Circe

Madeline Miller’s retelling of a bunch of ancient Greek myths from the perspective of goddess Circe. I dropped a few other books to burn through this, and took myself on a couple of reading dates towards the end so I could soak in it. Beautiful stuff.

TBH, I think part of why is because it dovetails nicely with the bits of trashy Warhammer fiction I like so much. Special shoutout there to The Undying King, in which the deathless servants of the god of the dead come to terms with the facts he’s gone mad.

Fallow Cross

Went for a one-day design workshop at Fallow Cross with a couple of designers at Punchdrunk. As with all group teaching stuff, I squirmed and bristled at lots of it – I don’t work well in those environments – but the teachers and space were terrific. A few things/stories/project idea kicking about as a result, which was the real reason for going.

The Mae Martin Experiment

Terrific night watching Mae Martin do her best to handle a bucket of questions from a trashed Soho Theatre crowd. Nicely handled, very funny, definitely up for watching her again down the line.

Right, let’s see how February goes.

A lonely isle

A lonely isle is an audio project I’ve been working on with Ann and Richard. It’s a collection of anecdotes about Rockall, a remote island in the Atlantic ocean.

A lonely isle cover

You can check it out on alonelyisle.co.uk, Apple podcasts, Stitcher, TuneIn and Soundcloud. The soundtrack is up for pre-order, and it’s bloomin’ lovely.

This is my version of how it came together…

Dead reckoning

This project, which I’ve always thought of as ‘Rockall‘, has been in the works for quite a while. I first read James Fisher’s book about the island in 2012, while I was looking up names for a new company (this was the era of BERG codenames and I liked the idea of naming a company after a sector in the shipping forecast).

Rockall is a tiny, tiny island in the north Atlantic. Fisher’s book is a weirdly cold account of its human and natural history, full of drama but somehow still at arms length. I was pretty taken by it. I tried to spin it into a comic anthology, a couple of video blogs, then costed out a trip to get there and film it… but something never quite gelled. I was going about it the wrong way.

In his book, Fisher talks about how the weather on one trip forced his companions to get to the island by dead reckoning. In the end that’s kind of what happened with A lonely isle. In each of these early attempts I had a very definite idea about what it should be, but I didn’t have the skill to actually make it happen. I had to surrender to the process a bit more, and just let go at each step, waiting to see where it took the idea.

Drift

Rockall was one of the ideas floating around when Ann put out a call inviting people to record with her. After we’d recorded Markov Blake I went back to Fisher’s book to trawl for anecdotes – little fragments of the island’s history we could pull together into some kind of shape.

I tried a few ways of framing these, but in the end it we kept it simple. We held onto the anecdotes, stripped out a lot of the framing material, and wound up with a script that let the islet’s visitors speak for themselves.

At the time that felt tricky. I wasn’t sure that I was actually writing anything. But in retrospect it makes sense, especially alongside projects like The Bureau of Small Observation, A barrow by a beacon and even Her Wilderness and Waves back in 2009 (a zine/album review designed to be read in a random order).

I like projects made up of fragments and facets.

Meanwhile, I’d been chatting to Richard about doing something with music for it. I think this is around the time he and Tom Armitage were working on Songs for Spoken Words, throwing open the possibility of what the project might morph into. I’d had different versions of a Spotify playlist kicking around for a while, so I shared one with him, sent the script his way, and let him take it from there.

By the time Ann and I recorded the script with Matt Addis, Richard had already thumbnailed some beautiful fragments for us. Between recording soundtracks, albums, and sessions at Abbey Road, Richard gave these little pieces room to breathe.

The six tracks tell the stories in a way that the words can’t. You can hear the clouds surrounding Fisher’s plane in We waved, they waved, feel the ground coming up in 18th September. It’s great.

The landing

Rockall’s been kicking around in one form or another for about six years now. I’m proud it’s out and, frankly, relieved. Slow projects are tough (Russell’s got a nice ‘bit’ about that in the talk he did about making a contraption for Howies).

Momentum and motivation comes in fits and starts. That’s a world away from my professional life. It’s nice to let this little bit of my brain spin down and let the project go.

Anyway, go and have a listen. If you like it, let Richard, Ann or Matt know. They did all the hard work.

Anecdotes and arguments

I did some teaching last week. It was brilliant. I met two groups of thoughtful, critical students at the Royal College of Art and The Oslo School of Architecture and Design.

In both cases I’d been invited to talk about storytelling. To give students a lens for thinking about how they present what they do.

Instead, mostly, I talked about collecting anecdotes*. Blog posts, photos, films… the kind of thing Giles has written about before. With a large enough pool of anecdotes about how and why you’ve made something, you can be selective about how you share work with the world.

In the lectures, I called that ‘building an argument’. I always picture it like using anecdotes as Lego bricks. Clicking things together to make something that stands up.

I told them to steer clear of “narratives” and “storytelling”, because I don’t really trust those ideas.

I get why people who do things for the internet talk a lot about narrative. Mostly, people who work on the internet spend lots of their time typing. Making that typing part of some epic mythology introduces some romance and drama into it.

Arguments are flexible, changeable things. I think being flexible and changeable is much more valuable than being tied to a story that you can’t critically examine.

There are no monsters. Typing isn’t battles. There is work. The best way to communicate work is show it. All the little pieces, and all the people involved in making it.

Anyway, it was a great time. I didn’t take any photos of the classes, because I thought that’d be rude. Instead, here’s a picture of some stairs the stair-making class at AHO built. It’s probably a metaphor or something.

*I also talked a lot about Rupaul’s Drag Race, which is an amazing example of TV built on anecdotes and snippets from a billion places. Like Ella says “Professional blogs are a lot like reality TV”