Books: January is traditionally the month to start going through the books that you received for Christmas. It's therefore my pleasant duty to report that Simon Singh's The Simpsons And Their Mathematical Secrets is an early contender for my favourite book of 2014. Thanks, luv! Anyone who's ever spent any time watching The Simpsons will be aware of their love of geeky in-jokes: here, Simon Singh entertainingly writes about the gags that the writing staff appear to have included mainly for the amusement of themselves and a small number of maths professors. It escalates nicely, starting off with the Season 1 "r d rr" joke that O Level differential calculus can just get you through, and roaring past your personal comfort zone to a fake disproof of Fermat's Last Theorem that looks like the real thing on a domestic calculator. Singh guides you gently through the hard sums involved, happy to point out when it's acceptable to skip a bit. It's also interwoven with a history of mathematical jokes, for those of you who enjoy stories about squaws and hippopotamuses and so on.
Music: Regular readers will know that Ed Harcourt is held in very high regard in these parts for a number of reasons. Last year was a curious one in terms of our relationship: his album Back Into The Woods was a minimalist experiment that didn't quite do it for me, but in the same year he provided a suitably showstopping closing-down gig for Kentish Town venue The Bull and Gate. This year he came out of the traps early with a mini-album called Time Of Dust, and he's totally back on form. There's more invention and tunesmanship in these six tracks than most acts manage in a full-length album, aching with the sort of light and shade that Woods eschewed for the sake of more shade. Harcourt's website claims that this is merely a stopgap release to make the wait for his next full album more acceptable, but it's way better than that would suggest.
Theatre: One month into 2014, and the travelling continues. I went back to Helsinki for a week in January, but it was too cold and snowy (a low of -16 Celsius one night) to do very much other than hide in my hotel and write this thing. By comparison, the weather in Dublin was positively balmy: I managed to get out of my room in Bono's hotel most nights and try a few local restaurants. I even made it to the theatre one night, thanks to Decadent Theatre's production of A Skull In Connemara at the Gaiety. It's typical of Martin McDonagh's early plays, starting off by gently sending up the cliches of stage Oirishry before violently subverting them. In this case, it's the story of Mick Dowd (Garrett Keogh), who has a regular job clearing out old corpses from the church graveyard to make room for new ones, and the comic complications that arise when the time comes for him to dig up his own dead wife. It's enthusiastically played by everyone, with Jarlath Tivnan - the grandson of Brendan Gleeson's fiddle teacher, apparently - having enormous fun as one of those young eejits that McDonagh enjoys writing so much. If you're in Ireland over the next few months, north or south, then you might be able to catch the show on tour.