Simian Substitute Site For September 2017: Monkey Trousers Theatre


Food And Drink: Another August, another Great British Beer Festival, this year celebrating 40 years of operation. Unlike Edinburgh, though, I couldn't tell you exactly how many of them I've been to. If I'm honest about it, not much has changed since last year: craft beer continues to slowly make its presence felt (including a London Beer City bar featuring some of the capital's premier hipster hopheads like Five Points and Redemption), but mostly it's the usual collection of cask ales surrounded by silly hat shops and beer nibble vendors. For the record, I drank Loch Lomond's Lost In Mosaic‎ (5.0%), Gyle 59's Caribbean Cocktail (4.5%), XT's Seventeen (4.5%), Blue Monkey's 99 Red Baboons (4.2%), Redemption's Big Chief (5.5%), Marble Brewery's Imperial Red (9.0%) and Runaway's Smoked Porter (6.0%): meanwhile, The BBG had Great Western's Hopaholic‎ (4.5%), Shiny's Pail Motueka Nelson (4.0%), XT's Four (3.8%), Salopian's Automaton (7.0%), Windsor & Eton's Conqueror Black IPA (5.0%), Smuttynose Brewing Company's Old Brown Dog (6.5%) and Stubborn Mule's Original Chocolate Stout (5.8%). Nothing massively spectacular in that lot - at least, not that I can remember a month after the event - but they were all pretty drinkable. So we did.

Music: The promotional tweet for the most recent music download I bought reads as follows: "The album no one's been waiting for has finally arrived!" They may have a point there - after all, the film Monty Python And The Holy Grail was released in 1975, and has had a perfectly good accompanying soundtrack album for all that time. It's a dialogue-heavy album, though: for various reasons, the music used throughout the movie was all sourced from the De Wolfe library, rather than being specially written. Nevertheless, 42 years later we now have De Wolfe Music presents: Music from Monty Python & The Holy Grail, in which all those library pieces are assembled into a single download. It's a ridiculous thing to do, and yet it works: people of a certain age who've watched the film far too many times will recognise these music cues instantly, and start giggling even though they're totally divorced from the visuals and words that accompanied them. It's possible that the parodic nature of the film means that generic, off-the-shelf music is the only thing they could have used. But it's surprising how well it works in context - for example, the climactic journey to Castle Aaaargh (eds please check spelling) wouldn't be as effective without the epic sweep of Stanley Black's The Promised Land behind it. No physical release is planned, I believe, so you'll have to buy the MP3s using the link at the bottom of the page, or find a stream somewhere. Oh, here's one.

Theatre: Like many people, I first came across playwright Jez Butterworth because of his play Mojo: or more accurately, from the movie he made from it. Twenty years after that, he's one of the biggest box office draws in London theatre - tickets for his latest play The Ferryman are ridiculously hard to come by, much as they were for his previous hit Jerusalem. It's set in Northern Ireland in the early 80s, and tells the story of farmer Quinn Carney (played by Paddy Considine in what I believe is his stage debut), living out a peaceful existence with his ridiculously large extended family. All that changes when Quinn's brother is found dead, the victim of an IRA execution. It's a leisurely three hours long without the intervals, but director Sam Mendes paces it beautifully, the only false step being the suddenness of the climax - you can see why Butterworth wants to accelerate the pace, but it's a little too accelerated for comfort. Considine is as great as usual, but the twenty-odd other people he shares the stage with all get to shine as well. If you want to experience something approaching every known human emotion in a single evening, then the play's run has just been extended to early 2018.

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Simian Substitute Site For August 2017: Monkey Dance


Movies: I'm not quite sure what to make of Sofia Coppola's remake of The Beguiled, but it's probably my own fault for watching the Don Siegel original a few days beforehand. The trailer for the 1971 version is hilarious in the way it's pitched as poor misunderstood Clint versus a coven of terrible women, and based on that you could see why Coppola would want to try a more feminist take on the story. Watch the whole of the Siegel film, though, and it's a lot more complicated than that: Eastwood is given plenty of chances to demonstrate he's a wrong 'un, from his willingness to kiss 12-year-old girls to the unreliability of his war flashbacks. Coppola's version takes all of these interesting details and smooths them down till they're virtually invisible: in particular, by removing the one black character from the story and making Colin Farrell a mercenary rather than a loyal Union soldier, she's taken out virtually every trace of the Civil War backdrop that adds another layer of complexity to the tale. The performances are fine and it looks pretty enough, but Siegel's is a much more nuanced film even now.

Telly: I've raved about Archer in the past, of course: a spy spoof that in its earlier seasons played out like a muckier cartoon version of Get Smart. But possibly the most fascinating thing about the show is how it's moved on from that, as creator Adam Reed keeps changing the format from season to season. In the last few years alone, the core team has moved from being Miami drug smugglers to government operatives to private detectives. And now, with Sterling Archer in a coma following the events of season 7, the show's managed to detach itself from any sort of reality altogether. Because Archer: Dreamland is an entire eight-episode run playing out inside his head, as he imagines himself and his co-workers inside a 1940s film noir plot. The gags are still as rapid-fire as ever, but there's also a surprisingly dark edge, with some extraordinarily grim twists in the story. At the time of writing, I'm one episode away from the end, and have no idea where it's going to go from there, and I'm kind of loving that. You can catch up with the whole damn thing from the start on Netflix, as ever:  meanwhile, for those of you only with tellies, they've recently started showing it on weekday nights on Viceland.

Travel: We've just come back from a long weekend in Munich, partly to celebrate a small triumph achieved by The Belated Birthday Girl, partly because we promised ourselves a year and a half ago that we needed to do it. Munich at Eastertime is all well and good, but we suspected the best time to be there would be when the biergartens are open for the summer. Turns out we were right. The two main ones we investigated on a hot Sunday afternoon were the ludicrously pretty Chinesischer Turm and the rather more functional Königlicher Hirschgarten, both of which can fulfil your requirements for litre glasses of beer and freshly cooked sausages. (Other biergartens are available. Lots of them.) Other things worth doing in the city include staying at the Cocoon Stachus hotel, breakfasting at Tresznjewski, dining at Ayingers or Conviva im Blauen Haus, and guzzling less traditional brews at places like Tap-House Munich or The Keg Bar (if you're keen to try beers from the likes of Camba or Crew Republic that literally break the local purity laws). We also managed to fit in a couple of side excursions - a day trip to Regensburg to see, among other things, the oldest continuously open restaurant in the world: and on the way back to the airport we swung through Freising, home of the oldest still-operating brewery in the world. Never let it be said we don't have a sense of history (well, at least where sausages and beer are concerned).

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Simian Substitute Site For July 2017: The Old Monkey


Books: The character of Alan Partridge first appeared as a sports commentator on radio and TV. Subsequently he's had a failed chatshow in both media, been the subject of a couple of fly-on-the-wall documentary series, streamed his North Norfolk Digital radio show over the internet and telly, hosted some specials for Sky, starred in a film and written a couple of books. Basically, he's become a continuity nightmare on the scale of the DC Comics universe. Luckily, he's currently in the excellent hands of Neil Gibbons and Rob Gibbons, who've been collaborating with Steve Coogan on the writing of all things Partridge since 2010. They've brought two interesting new approaches to the character: firstly an acknowledgement that the ageing process has changed his attitude to life subtly, and secondly a determination to pull all of the previous Partridge incarnations into a single unified canon. Their latest work, the book Nomad (just out in paperback), does both of these with glorious aplomb. It's the story of Alan's attempt to walk from Norwich to Dungeness, recreating a key incident from his father's life, and doing it in the distinctive voice of one of the most unreliable narrators you could hope for. There's a proper novel in here alongside all the jokes, and one which takes care to integrate this tale into what we already know about Partridge's life, at one point dedicating an entire chapter to a speed novelisation of the Alpha Papa movie. It's an excellent addition to the Partridgeverse, and should set us up nicely for the potential awkwardness of his rumoured return to the BBC next year.

Internet: I've got a new PC! Which means I've spent most of the past week rebuilding chunks of my digital life from scratch, including my iTunes database. Which led me to thinking about the podcasts I'm currently subscribed to. In case any of you might be interested, here's what my feed now looks like after some discreet pruning.

  • The Adam Buxton Podcast - great jingles, as you'd expect: what's more unexpected is how good an interviewer Dr Buckles has become over the few years he's been running this podcast.
  • Answer Me This! - Helen Zaltzman and Olly Mann answer the questions that you can't be arsed to research yourself on Google.
  • Athletico Mince - accidentally omitted from the first version of this list, it's Bob Mortimer and Andy Dawson's sort-of-football-but-not-really podcast.
  • BBFC Podcast - sometimes a little dry, but a fascinating series of case studies looking at how film certification has changed over the decades.
  • Bigmouth - a weekly round table of reviews from some of the people behind the late lamented Word magazine.
  • The Bugle - Andy Zaltzman and a rotating pool of guests (including his aforementioned sister Helen) attempt to have fun with the week's news, no matter how impossible that might seem at the moment.
  • Distraction Pieces - Like Adam Buxton, Scroobius Pip's evolved into an excellent interviewer, most recently persuading Goldie to let slip the real identity of Banksy (or did he?).
  • Dumb White Guy - comedian Brendon Burns in a podcast that's 50% talking to other comedians about race and gender issues, and 50% navel-gazing about his own attitudes to them (sometimes recorded in bed with his wife).
  • Fatal Attractions - the artist formerly known as FilmFan hosts a weekly discussion on tacky erotic thrillers from the 80s and 90s.
  • Jesse vs Cancer - Jesse Case, former host of Probably Science (see below), was diagnosed with 'stage 4 ass cancer of the ass' two years ago. This is him talking about it, and anything else that comes to mind. Funnier than it sounds, honestly.
  • The Mike Harding Folk Show - the first podcast I ever subscribed to, mainly because I admired how Harding recovered from being sacked from Radio 2's folk show by relocating the whole thing to his garden shed.
  • Page 94 - Private Eye's podcast, which (like their website) is made up of backup material relating to what's been recently covered in the magazine, a strategy that's made them one of the few dead tree operations still in profit.
  • Planet Maynard - a mishmash of stuff held together by Australian DJ Maynard. The best episodes are the Bunga Bunga strand, co-hosted with Tim Ferguson of the Doug Anthony All Stars.
  • Probably Science - Andy Wood and Matt Kirschen talk about science with experienced scientists and way-out-of-their-depth comics.
  • Richard Herring's Leicester Square Theatre Podcast - Herring's shambolic natters with comedians and media people always have their moments. Coming up this month: his uncomfortable reunion with estranged podcast partner Andrew Collins.
  • Skylines - the latest addition to my feed, a series of discussions relating to the CityMetric website and its features about world cities.
  • SPEKTRMODULE - Warren Ellis' irregular mixtapes of ambient music.
  • Vitriola - Robin Ince and Michael Legge talking swearily about music both old and new.

Telly: Remember last month I was talking about Twin Peaks, and how after four episodes it was feeling like standard late period David Lynch? Well, now I've seen episode eight, forget I said that.

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Simian Substitute Site For June 2017: Monkey Town


Movies: As I've mentioned elsewhere, I've done quite a bit of travelling in the past month, to the extent that I spent 64 hours this May just sitting in planes. That made for a lot of inflight movies, as you can imagine. I'll just mention one here, a German film called Vier Gegen Die Bank (Four Against The Bank). It was released domestically last Christmas: we saw posters for it all over Berlin during our visit, but it was impossible to fit it into our schedule at the time, so thanks, Lufthansa. At first glance, it's a caper movie for our fiscally embuggered times: a disgruntled former bank employee, plus three other guys who've lost all their money thanks to mishandled investments, conspire to get their cash back the hard way. The surprise comes when you discover it's made by Germany's most internationally famous director, Wolfgang Petersen (Das Boot, The Neverending Story, In The Line Of Fire, Troy and many more). He's been very quiet since Poseidon in 2006, and it's curious that he's chosen to come back with a remake of a TV movie he made 40 years ago. It's an enjoyable enough romp, but you sometimes feel that Petersen is hurling much more technical skill at this material than it really deserves. Still, it's worth a look if it ever gets over here.

Music: Time for another song-by-song justification of a Spotify playlist, featuring tracks that have been in my head for one reason or another over the last few months.
1: We start off with the end title theme to Takashi Miike's Blade Of The Immortal, as reviewed here and explicitly referenced here. This is the version that appears in the film, and opens with a magnificent noise like all the cats in hell being tortured simultaneously, so have the volume set high from the outset.
2: Another film-related track, this one at the request of The Belated Birthday Girl, who was delighted to be re-acquainted with it when it turned up on the soundtrack of Colossal. It's a great movie with a cunningly deceptive trailer, and I'll say no more than that.
3: The second Art Of Noise album, In Visible Silence, has just had a welcome 30th anniversary cleanup and re-release. Return to a time when a guest appearance by Max Headroom on your single was considered a plus point.
4: Last time I did one of these I cracked the old "Elbow are releasing their album again" gag. And after that I bought it, and whaddaya know, it's another great one.
5: Still got this one in my head after the BrewDog AGM. It was a revelation when I realised that musically, it's structured in an identical way to the Doors' version of Light My Fire.
6: No, I can't pronounce the title either, but it's the end title song to the other film I reviewed on the most recent Monoglot Movie Club, Shock Wave.
7: Banned on all major radio stations, you say? I remember the days when that used to be a thing to be worried about. Not any more, apparently.
8: I got myself primed for the 50th anniversary re-release of Sgt. Pepper by re-watching the documentary Eight Days A Week on one of my planes, which resulted in three underappreciated tweets. The remix by Giles Martin has done some astonishing things to the album: for example, the end of Mr Kite is no longer a cacophonous riot of fairground noises but has discernable layers to it.
9: The Art Of Noise track is 30 years old this year: the Beatles one is 50: this is 40. Marquee Moon is one of those albums I've always borrowed from other people, and this was the year I finally bought a copy for myself.
10: "We've got the power to be loving each other no matter what happens. We've got the power to do that." Some months a lyric just hits closer to home than usual, and by 'home' in this case I mean 'Manchester'.

Telly: So, four episodes into Twin Peaks season 3, what can we say about it? Well, if David Lynch and Mark Frost didn't want people to compare it against the first two seasons, they shouldn't have called it Twin Peaks. What I suspect people loved most about the original show was its extraordinary mixture of tones, where the blackest tale of abuse and murder was interwoven with sequences of goofy, surreal comedy: taking the cliches of the daytime soap opera and subverting them as much as was possible on 1990s network television. This new incarnation is very much in the style of Lynch's last couple of films: anyone who's seen Mulholland Drive or Inland Empire won't be surprised by the level of darkness on offer here. But the lighter tones - the stuff that actually made it Twin Peaks - while still there, are separated out from the main flow of the narrative and feel tacked on. So far, it's very much the story of Dale Cooper's slow return from the dark place he found himself in at the end of season two, with many of the other regular characters limited to brief walk-ons. There are occasions where Lynch and Frost acknowledge the audience's desire for easy nostalgia (including the perfectly timed use of a familiar bit of music in episode four), and there's a definite frisson from the way that the characters have aged in real time over the last quarter of a century. But for now, this feels like a typical late period Lynch project, and it could have been a lot more surprising than that.

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Simian Substitute Site For May 2017: Monkey Tree


Food and Drink: "So, are you lot real punks, or just pissheads with business acumen?" asks the lead singer of The Stranglers (the new one, not Hugh Cornwell). To be honest, there was a time when you could have asked the same thing of The Stranglers. But he's asking the assembled shareholders at the 2017 BrewDog Annual General Meeting, so the line between the two is somewhat blurred. Particularly as some news that was dropped earlier in the meeting - involving a large investment from a venture capital firm - has sharply pushed up the value of our shares, at least on paper. I'll talk a bit more about what all that actually means in a future episode of BrewDogging. But if we leave aside the financial for now and just focus on the AGM as a social event, it was generally pretty good with a few ups and downs. The main downer this year was that having successfully worked out the right number of staff to serve 6000 thirsty punters, this year they invited 7000 but kept the same number of staff, leading to appalling bar queues. One of the ups for me, though, was BrewDog's beer tasting session: in recent years they've fobbed off attendees with beers we already knew, but this year they hit us with a couple of barrel-aged monsters unlikely to be drunk again outside that event. And, yes, The Stranglers were terrific: if you're going to hire any band of pensioners where the only original members left are the keyboardist and bass player, they'd have to be top of the list. Meanwhile, The BBG wants me to point out that if you're ever in Aberdeen with 90 minutes to kill, BrewDog's Dog Walk brewery tour is a rather great way to get over a hangover that you may have picked up for some reason or other.

Internet: John B. McLemore lives in Woodstock, Alabama. Except he doesn't call it that: he thinks Shittown works better. When he calls up NPR reporter Brian Wood with a story of corruption and murder that the town is covering up, and that story's turned into a podcast by the makers of Serial, you think you know what to expect. And in the early stages, S-Town fits the template that Serial more or less invented. It's a beautifully edited and produced package of voices, sounds and original music, all tied together by a narrator who starts to develop a personal interest in the story. But none of that can prepare you for the way S-Town evolves over its seven episodes (all available for immediate download). It's a seven hour audio documentary that meanders down blind alleys and doesn't answer all the questions it asks: but in the end, it answers the most important ones. If the phrase 'must-listen' didn't exist before, it does now.

Movies: I don't always get to see every film I want at the London Film Festival: too many movies, too little time, the usual story. Even worse, sometimes a great film turns up on general release which actually had an LFF screening I wasn't even aware of. Mohamed Diab's Clash is one of those. Set in the aftermath of the 2013 military coup in Egypt, it shows a hellish nightmare on the streets as rival demonstrators kick the crap out of each other and the police kick the crap out of them both. Diab's stroke of genius is to show all this from the most limited perspective possible: the entire film is set inside the back of a police van, as pro and anti protesters are piled into it and tensions reach boiling point. It's a remarkable technical exercise, and not just an experiment in cost-cutting: we frequently get glimpses of what's going on outside through the doors and windows of the van, and it's terrifyingly well-staged, contrasting boldly with the claustrophobia inside. Clash is in the tail end of a spotty cinema release across the UK, and should be seen there if at all possible: it's one hell of an experience.

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Simian Substitute Site Of The Month April 2017: Museum Monkeys


Art: There's a bit of a cold war going on at the Royal Academy at the moment, with rival exhibitions from America and Russia battling it out for your attention in the same building. I can't really say much about America After The Fall: Painting In The 1930s because I haven't seen it, although people I know who have seem to have enjoyed it. But the much larger Revolution: Russian Art 1917-1932 (showing here till April 17th) is a monumental collection of work. The dates in the title are a clue as to why: the exhibition spans from the immediate aftermath of the Revolution (and Lenin's ambitious use of multiple artforms for the spreading of Bolshevik propaganda) to the point where Stalin had effectively abolished the avant-garde, leaving only Socialist Realism in its place. The narrative line of those fifteen years is brilliantly laid out, and results in a collection of art where everything has a subtext, whether it's pro-Bolshevik boosterism or anti-Stalinist subversion. It's a heady mix of painting, posters, photography, film, and a splendid room dedicated to one of Vladimir Tatlin's worker's flying bicycles, which apart from anything else makes you marvel at the way the words 'worker's', 'flying' and 'bicycles' bounce off each other.

Movies: When you've been going to the pictures regularly in London for over thirty years, it gets harder and harder to say 'hey, I went to a cinema this month that I've never been to before.' But this month, we managed it. Olympic Studios in Barnes have been showing films since 2013: before then, they were the Olympic recording studios, which was probably the starting point for at least one record in your collection. (The advert for the cinema itself shows the Rolling Stones recording Sympathy For The Devil there.) Now it's a two-screen cinema which acknowledges its roots in the quality of its sound - it's the only London cinema with Dolby Atmos, and even something as simple as that Volkswagen advert with the Dead Prez soundtrack ends up having bass so solid you feel you can hold it in your hands. The programming policy is mainstream, but with a couple of quirks: the specific reason for our visit, for example, was that it was the only cinema in London that was still showing Loving by the middle of March. As a bonus, the attached restaurant is rather terrific as well. Olympic's only a couple of bus rides away from Château Belated-Monkey - and thanks to The Mayor Sadiq Khan, we only need to pay for one of those - so I suspect we'll be back in the future.

Theatre: The Belated Birthday Girl always insists that she doesn't enjoy theatre as much as, say, film: but there are two main exceptions to that rule, as she will go out of her way to see anything directed by either Robert Lepage or Simon McBurney. This may be because both of them have a detail-intensive, multi-media, almost filmic approach to making theatre: and McBurney's latest project at the Royal Court, The Kid Stays In The Picture, takes the parallel one stage further by being about the movie business itself. More specifically, it's an adaptation of the autobiography of movie producer Robert Evans - if you think the title sounds familiar, it's probably because they made a film of it fifteen years ago. The producer of The Godfather, Chinatown and Rosemary's Baby has a lot of stories in him, and they're well told here. But like the 2002 documentary, this is really just a talking book with added pictures: what makes it work as theatre is the extraordinary array of images McBurney and co-adapter/co-director James Yeatman conjure up on stage, using a battery of video effects. You could argue that it's less emotionally driven than some of McBurney's other work, to the extent that even the impact of Sharon Tate's murder is dampened by the technique used to tell the story. But that technique is dazzling. It's only got one more week to run, closing on April 8th, so hurry hurry hurry.

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Simian Substitute Site Of The Month March 2017: Messy Monkeys


Movies: In early 2016, I guess this section of the site went on quite a bit about Chinese New Year: although as it was the official Year of the Monkey, at least I had an excuse. By comparison, this year's transition from Monkey to Cock (and I've been told by people who know about these things that calling it Rooster is just Westerners being a bit squeamish) was relatively restrained. Having said that, I did get to see one of the latest Chinese New Year movies, and it did feature another iteration of the old Monkey King legend. Back in 2013, god of Chinese comedy Stephen Chow wrote and directed Journey To The West: Conquering The Demons, a retelling of the familiar origin story of how Monkey, Pigsy, Sandy and the monk Tang Sanzang got together and set out on their quest. Four years later, we now have the sequel Journey To The West: The Demons Strike Back, which tells a couple of stories of the team's adventures during that quest. This time, Chow has limited himself to writing and producing, and left the direction to the equally godlike Tsui Hark: that led me to believe that the film certainly wouldn't be lacking in visual ambition, but some of the clarity of the storytelling may be lost along the way, a frequent problem with Tsui's films. I needn't have worried. Chow seems to be acting as a steadying influence as producer, ensuring that the gargantuan scale effects sequences stay within the bounds of visual comprehension throughout. At the same time, he's not lost his knack for cramming jokes of all types into a film, whether they fit into the period setting or not: this trailer shows you the degree of daftness to expect. (That's Tsui and Chow themselves in the final shot, a piece of information which may come in useful when you hit one of the most unexpected gags in the movie.) Given that the entire principal cast has been replaced between the first and second JTTW movies without any apparent impact at the box office, it looks like Chow can keep making one of these every few years as long as he can keep writing them. Clear a space in your diary for February 2021 just in case.

Telly: Over on Netflix, they've currently got series one of Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency. You may think you've seen this already, but you haven't: you've seen Dirk Gently, a series of feature-length stories starring Stephen Mangan as the sort-of-detective created by Douglas Adams. The thing that made Adams' Gently novels so much fun was the sheer amount of detail they hurled at you, while quietly reassuring you that despite all evidence to the contrary, everything would tie together by the end. When you're telling ninety-minute stories (as the Mangan version was), there isn't time to wander down all those apparently random tangents. But now we have a new eight-hour American miniseries - showrun by Max Landis, son of the more famous John - telling a single extended tale. On the evidence of the first three episodes, it's certainly got the density of the original books, as well as an enjoyable performance by Samuel Barnett treating Dirk as a more annoying version of the eleventh Doctor. You could take issue with the way Landis has chosen to pump up the level of violence, resulting in an overall tone that's quite different from what Adams achieved in the books. Nevertheless, it still feels kind of right, so I'm in for the rest of it.

Travel: I've travelled with easyJet in the past. As budget airlines go, they're perfectly fine within their limitations. I've also used some of Stelios' other ventures such as his internet cafes, again without any major problems. But I'm going to have to draw the line at the easyHotel. For reasons which needn't concern you, The BBG and I had a requirement to be at Paddington station very early on a Saturday morning. We looked into the possibility of just getting a taxi from home at the crack of sparrowfart, and then thought of an alternative: was there a cheap hotel in the Paddington area we could stay in on the Friday night? And the answer was, yes, the easyHotel London Paddington, offering rooms from a mere £34. Never has the adage 'you get what you pay for' been so harshly demonstrated. Admittedly, we'd gone for one of the basement rooms with no window to save a few bob, but even then it was microscopic: the tiny amount of floorspace not occupied by the bed was just enough to allow the bathroom door to open and no more, so tough luck if you've brought any bags or anything. The bathroom was equally compressed, with the shower curtain being the only thing stopping the shower from drenching the toilet in water. And everything is painted in easyJet orange to subliminally hammer home the branding. We were expecting that anything beyond basic service would require a surcharge: the TV, the wi-fi, even getting your room cleaned between one day and the next. But it proved to be the final straw when we went to reception with cash in hand to get a cup of tea before bed, and were told 'the machine's broke' with no attempt at trying to find an alternative solution. Maybe we'll just go for the early taxi next time.

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Simian Substitute Site Of The Month February 2017: Pancake Apes!


Comics: Received in Christmas presents last December, thanks to The Belated Birthday Girl: a book entitled The Comic Book Story Of Beer. No real surprises there, I guess. Writers Jonathan Hennessey and Mike Smith have set themselves a major challenge, as the book's subtitle suggests - The World's Favourite Beverage From 7000 BC To Today's Craft Brewing Revolution. But in the space of 170 pages, and with the invaluable help of artist Aaron McConnell, they just about pull it off. You could argue, perhaps, that it's a little too self-consciously epic, flitting around between a variety of framing devices without ever really settling on one. But it's an entertaining illustrated history, with some useful digressions along the way regarding the brewing process and the various beer styles that have been popular throughout the 9000 years covered. As I'm just about to start a Dry February - it's less annoyingly trendy than Dry January, and shorter too - this book may be the closest I come to beer for the next four weeks.

Movies: As we enter Oscar season, there are plenty of movies in the cinemas battling for your attention. You may have missed out on Dangal, though, despite it becoming the highest-grossing Bollywood film of all time within three weeks of being released. Ever since Lagaan, Aamir Khan has been the most fascinating of the Bollywood stars out there, always willing to experiment with subject matter that might raise the eyebrows of Indian audiences. The story of Dangal is no exception: former wrestler Mahavir Singh Phogat (played by Khan himself) desperately wants his children to carry on his legacy, and when all his children turn out to be girls he decides to train them as wrestlers anyway. The rest is history, as this is a true story - Geeta and Babita Phogat went on to win medals at the Commonwealth and Olympic games. Like Lagaan, it's a sports drama where the final outcome is never really in doubt, and if anything Dangal is even more shameless in the devices it uses to stretch out the tension. But it's a finely paced story, well acted by everyone, with Khan once again not afraid to push his character to the point where you almost lose sympathy with him. It's still hanging on in a few UK cinemas, so see it if you can. Or just enjoy its naggingly catchy theme song

Music: 1: Not wishing to get too far into the controversy over whether it's any good or not, I'll just say that all the negative reviews of the film La La Land read like first draft suicide notes from people who don't know what joy is any more. 2: The first ten seconds of this are sponsored by The BBG, who wonders whether this and the previous track are related. 3: In a career noted for its visually deranged videos, the one for new single Harajuku Iyahoi is still some sort of high water mark for Kyary. Until the next one. 4: This one comes from a present that I bought The BBG for Christmas, the KMH greatest hits album (more specifically, the limited edition bonus disc with b-sides and live tracks and so on.) 5: A more cynical person might yawn and say that Elbow are just about to release their album again. But it's always a good one, and I'll be in the queue this weekend when it happens. 6: Inspired by seeing JJ live at the Roundhouse, where the 10-15 minutes jams of their last album Starfire suddenly made complete sense. 7: Favourite quote so far from a 2017 movie: "What is this?" - Mark Renton, T2 Trainspotting. 8: Another track from the T2 soundtrack. I was raving about Young Fathers as far back as 2008, you know. 9: You're all still watching Crazy Ex-Girlfriend on Netflix, I take it. Just in case you're not, this is a love song performed by the single most appalling male character on the show. 10: I sent two tweets about John Hurt's involvement on this track the day his death was announced: the official AoN account retweeted this one, but curiously not this one.

Continue reading "Simian Substitute Site Of The Month February 2017: Pancake Apes!" »

Simian Substitute Site Of The Month January 2017: Małpka Express


Comedy: As has been the case in previous years, our final night of 2016 was spent in the company of Hampstead Comedy Club boss Ivor Dembina, as he  hosted another one of his No Rip-Off New Year's Eve stand-up shows. And as ever, the first morning of the following year requires me to battle a hangover and tell you what that show was like. This year we got half a dozen comics for our money (a very reasonable £15). Well, it was supposed to be half a dozen comics. Ivor opened the proceedings with an announcement: "the bad news is, Harry Deansway's had to pull out. The good news is, I've heard he's shit." Of the rest, Faye Tracey's trombone-based antics, Rick Kieswetter's edgy observations on race and Zak Splijt's shouty but smart character LJ Da Funk all had their moments. The highlights of the night, though, were Jon Long and his comedy songs, and Mark Silcox's hilariously deadpan turn, so ridiculously low-key that it took a few minutes to realise how brilliant his jokes were. The show ended with Auld Lang Syne at midnight followed by a quick fizzling out, which was a shame when compared to Andy Zapp's impromputu iPhone disco last year. But other than that slight disappointment, it was once again a great way to see in the New Year without all the usual hassles.

Music: Earlier in December, I posted my traditional Pick Of The Year piece, selecting a CD's worth of songs from the preceding twelve months and setting a competition for one lucky reader to win their own copy. You may remember that the 2016 CD had the unwieldy title of Täähä Menöö Hyvi! (from a song by the Finnish band Enkel), and the competition required you to explain the title in English. At this point, I somewhat predictably have to hand you over to Dave in Shoreham, and quote extensively from an email he recently sent me. I know the competition still technically has a month to run, but look at this and tell me to my face that he hasn't won it...

Well, I complicated that more than I should have done - having found no translations in a variety of Finnish translation sites, I resorted to emailing the band, who replied very swiftly, and in great detail:

Hi Dave!
That means "oh, this is going well!" or the way the man on the archive recording originally said it could even be "oh, this is going better than I thought it would!!".
We spotted it on recording of Aapeli Hautanen, a melodeon player from Jalasjärvi. On the tape he starts playing a tune, plays for a while, stops and goes "täähä menöö hyvin!" and then just continues from where he stopped. So funny!
The proper Finnish for that sentence would be "tämähän menee hyvin". Aapeli Hautanen, as well as 2/4 of the band comes from the county of Southern Ostrobothnia and there the dialect is still very strong. That's why it's a bit different than it would be in "official Finnish".
Greetings from the whole ENKEL!
All the best,
Leija / ENKEL

Of course, I then watched the video, and realised that it's stated very plainly in the middle of it (and this also explains how you got that particular dialect spelling) D'oh. Still, some interesting info, and a great video.

I was assuming that people would just watch the video and get the correct answer from there, you know. Regardless, congratulations once again, Dave. And to celebrate, here's some previously unseen footage of Enkel from that first time we saw them in Helsinki on Midsummer Night last year.

Travel: It probably won't surprise you to learn that we were away over Christmas. The main cities we hit this time were Berlin, Warsaw and Krakow: anyone who's spent any time on this site can probably deduce how we came up with that route. Full reports from each city will follow in the near future, or at least some time in 2017, you know what it's like around here. But there were two other cities we passed though at high speed during our return journey, so I can give you a couple of notes about each of those here. We'd never actually spent any real time in Cologne before, having just used it as a railway interchange and nothing else. As it stood, all we had time for this visit was dinner and a night in a hotel. Dinner was at the ridiculously named Gilden im Zims 'Heimat kölscher Helden', a delightfully traditional brauhaus where the bratwurst comes in units of half a pound and a request for beer is automatically assumed to mean kölsch. Our hotel for the night was the equally overnamed CityClass Hotel Europa am Dom, a perfectly reasonable business hotel kicked up a notch by a gloriously comprehensive breakfast buffet. The following morning we headed out to Brussels for the final stop of our journey before getting the Eurostar back. We can report that BrewDog Brussels is still looking a bit quiet, but at least had some life in it on a Friday lunchtime. Meanwhile, the Winter Pret collection of Christmas markets and other attractions is still as lovely as ever. If you're reading this on the day of publication - January 1st 2017, obviously - there's just about enough time for you to rush over there and catch the final day. Otherwise, you'll have to go back next Christmas.

Continue reading "Simian Substitute Site Of The Month January 2017: Małpka Express" »

Simian Substitute Site Of The Month December 2016: Our Christmas Monkey


Food and Drink: By the end of November, we'd been informed by the Guardian that hygge is basically the Danish word for fascism. It's the sort of news that makes you want to go back to a simpler time: say, the beginning of November, when hygge was merely the latest trendy Scandinavian fad that we'd picked up in the UK. (Advance warning: visit MostlyFilm on Friday December 2nd to find out about the next one.) It partly explains why early in November, I was in a kitchen in Bath attending an actual training course on How To Hygge, purchased for me as a delayed birthday present by The BBG. It was held at The Bertinet Kitchen, which is normally where baking whiz Richard Bertinet teaches his own courses on bread and pastry making. But for this one, he handed over to Signe Johansen, who by the wildest of coincidences has just published a book on the subject of hygge. In brief, that feeling of cosiness that the word implies appears to be largely achieved using booze and fat. Over the course of three hours, we made several dishes - whisky-cured gravlaks, savoury muffins, mussels, spiced madeleines and cherry glogg - and then spent a delightful long lunch around a communal table scoffing them all. This was probably just a one-off session, but the setup at Bertinet Kitchen is really well put together, and I'd imagine the man's own baking courses would be equally entertaining.

Movies: There are certain statements which are so self-evident, it seems ridiculous to even utter them. Here goes, anyway. Abel Gance's Napoleon: now that's a movie, isn't it? It's been difficult to see the 1927 silent classic, though: partly due to its epic length (five and a half hours plus intervals), partly because its triple-screen finale requires a cinema to lay its hands on two additional projectors. Typically, the few screenings it's had in the past have been in concert halls with a live orchestral accompaniment. But now, the latest restoration from the BFI has made the film available to all, with a beautifully recorded Carl Davis score (though he's stolen a lot of it from other composers, in the fine tradition of silent film accompaniment) and a neat digital workaround for the spectacular change in aspect ratio in the final reel. It's amazing to see just how modern this 89-year-old film feels, with its psychedelically rapid-fire editing and unexpectedly mobile camerawork. Its modernity even extends to the acting - sure, most of the cast are gurning it up like silent movie actors do, but in the middle of it all is Gance himself quietly dominating the screen in his minor role as Saint-Juste, as if to say to the rest of his cast "this will look really cool in the future, trust me". Once we hit that finale - which still requires a daredevil move from the projectionist to make it look seamless - you'll be coming out of the cinema wanting to storm the barricades like a good 'un.

Theatre: Three things that are wrong with Lazarus, the David Bowie musical currently playing at the Kings Cross Theatre in London until January 22nd. One: despite its fancy Enda Walsh script and its callbacks to The Man Who Fell To Earth, this is still a jukebox musical, in which a collection of old and new Bowie songs has been used as the starting point for the plotting. The generic antagonist, for example, has to be called Valentine so they can squeeze Valentine's Day into the setlist, which is precisely the sort of nonsense I was yelling at Mamma Mia! for nearly two decades ago. Two: the arrangements of the songs... well, it's hard to describe exactly what's been done to them, but they've been blanded out to sound just like any other piece of musical theatre from this century. The cast give it their all - notably Michael C Hall in the lead, who has the thankless task of trying to make Bowie's songs his own and somehow pulls it off - but the mushy accompaniment works against them at every turn. Three: director Ivo van Hove and designer Jan Versweyveld have given the show a similar design strategy to their collaboration on Song From Far Away at the Young Vic last year, using a simple long, thin apartment set with video projections over the top. This would be fine, except that van Hove then insists on staging a lot of the important scenes at floor level in the extreme corners of the set, which are largely invisible thanks to the rubbish sightlines in the Kings Cross Theatre. It's possible that you may be able to see better if you pay more for your seats than the £35 we did, but it's still not really a solution. Having made all those complaints, there's a lot to like in the performances and the visual sweep of the thing, so if you're prepared to ignore those three points you may enjoy it more than I did.

Continue reading "Simian Substitute Site Of The Month December 2016: Our Christmas Monkey" »