Under Size Me: A Veganuary Experiment

Vanilla is the new Black: warm mushroom pate with lemon and rice, accompanied by field mushrooms and spinachA Tale Of The Before Times (#2 of 5)

This was all The Belated Birthday Girl's fault idea. She announced late last year that she wanted to attempt some sort of reset of her eating and drinking habits at the start of 2020. It's a popular idea, of course: some people do Dry January, some do Veganuary. Her plan was to do both, simultaneously. As a supportive partner, and also for reasons of simple practicality, I decided I'd join her in her efforts.

I've described how our Dry January went in my review of BrewDog's first alcohol-free bar, which opened that same month. In brief, as the number and variety of alternatives to booze has rocketed over the past year or two, it turned out to be a relatively easy exercise, as well as an educational one. Veganuary was a slightly different kettle of tofu, however. It took us both a little while to realise what an asymmetric undertaking this was: as a veggie, The BBG just needed to cut dairy out of her diet, whereas I was giving up an awful lot more as an omnivore. Still, we got through it. And as I had to work a lot harder to get through a month as a vegan, I obviously won.

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A Very Hamburg Christmas

"Not getting many hops off this." Xmas Eve 2019, and the view from the loft conversion at BrewDog St Pauli, or 'Clouds' as everyone insists on calling it. Photo by The BBG.A Tale Of The Before Times (#1 of 5)

I posted the following on February 23rd, at the end of a post about BrewDog Hamburg and our Christmas 2019 holiday: "...would seem like the perfect lead-in to a discussion of... non-BrewDog things in Hamburg generally. But let's pause for now, and we can talk about that sort of thing another time. You know how it works around here, it'll probably be Easter by the time I get around to posting that."

Well, that didn't entirely go to plan, did it?

Let's just forget for now that the world has gone to shit in the last three months, and instead recall a time when you could travel to a foreign country and mingle with people you didn't know. Here, as promised, is a discussion of non-BrewDog things that you could do in Hamburg as recently as last December (though probably not now).

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Simian Substitute Site For May 2020: Primates

PrimatesMONTH END PROCESSING FOR APRIL 2020

Books: The Belated Birthday Girl and I have started reading before bedtime, on the assumption that it's probably more conducive to a good night's sleep than our previous regime of drinking tea and staring at screens. To make it a more sociable activity, we're reading out loud to each other, taking alternate chapters in the book of our choice. This month's choice has been What Does This Button Do?, the autobiography of Iron Maiden singer Bruce Dickinson. The BBG can actually claim to know Dickinson a little bit - back when she used to fence, he regularly turned up at her club to practice. He's famous for dabbling in a wide range of fields, and this book is largely a list of things he's tried that he's turned out to be successful at: singing, fencing, flying planes, brewing beer, beating cancer and so on. When it comes to things that haven't been so successful, such as writing screenplays, the stories tend to quietly fizzle out. Still, that's the nature of autobiography these days, and Dickinson's entertaining way with an anecdote stops it getting too much into 'needless to say I had the last laugh' territory. By the end I'd become rather fond of his inquisitive nature, which explains why he feels the need to dabble in almost everything - hence the title.

Comedy: Online comedy's going through a curious phase. Podcasts are carrying on much as before, and several of them have pivoted to video without breaking a sweat, such as RHLSTP, The Bugle and Vitriola. But what I currently find really interesting are the various attempts out there to recreate stand-up comedy shows in a world where no more than two people can be in a room at the same time. For a while, Saturday Night Live At The Stand (Saturdays at 8.30pm) was the one to beat, with live compere Mark Nelson doing a terrific job holding together various pre-recorded routines sent in by comics, and even encouraging online heckles along the way. It may still be the one to beat, but they're relaunching this weekend (May 2nd) with some format tweaks, so we'll have to see how that goes. In the meantime, a couple of other comedy clubs have been pushing the idea a bit further and having the acts perform live as well, Zooming in from their own homes. XS Malarkey in Manchester (Tuesdays at 8.00pm) runs a weekly two-hour show held together by the chatty charm of host Toby Hadoke, who spends as much time nattering to the guests as they do performing. But it's also worth keeping an eye on Good Ship Comedy's HMS Unprecedented (Mondays at 8.00pm), which after a month of false starts has finally hit a winning formula - book five acts, leave their microphones on throughout, and use the unparalleled banter skills of Ben van der Velde to get them all sparking off each other.

Food and Drink: As mentioned previously, we were meant to be spending the Easter weekend in Aberdeen for the BrewDog AGM, and that didn't happen. But what happened a couple of weeks after that was the Intergalactic BrewDog AGM, an attempt to migrate the whole event (or at least selected bits of it) to an online environment, because that's how everything works now. Surprisingly, it all worked pretty well, and you may even still be able to watch the whole thing here until they take it all down again. In the space of 105 minutes we got an abbreviated business update from James Watt and Martin Dickie (the section on 'things to look forward to in the next twelve months' was a lot more tentative than usual), live music performances by Yonaka and Blaine Harrison, a delightfully chaotic pub quiz pitting James and Martin against fourteen thousand or so punters in the YouTube live chat box, and - best of all - an online tasting session featuring four beers you could order in advance from their online shop. No queuing to get the beers, and the toilets were in decent nick throughout, so I'd say in some areas that counts as an improvement on previous years.

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Easter Parade 2: In Situ Boogaloo

One a penny, two a penny, hot cross buns. It seems like a risky economic strategy in the current climate, but there you go.Covid-19 has no respect for tradition, as we've learned. Since 2012, The Belated Birthday Girl and I have made an annual pilgrimage to Aberdeen for the BrewDog AGM, with its fifty minutes of business presentation in the middle of ten hours of drinking. We were all booked in for the 2020 AGM on Saturday April 11th, i.e. yesterday. You won't be surprised to hear that it didn't happen. (Watch this space, though.)

Other traditions, however, have turned out to be more resilient. Since 2002, with a couple of minor exceptions, The BBG and I have tried to ensure that wherever we find ourselves on Easter Sunday, we'll watch a film that was shot in that area of the world. 2020 would have been the first year that Easter Sunday coincided with our annual Aberdeen visit: we'd got as far as having a candidate film ready, in which ABZ doubled for Somalia (insert your own punchline here, Ricky) in a jolly little tale of the oil industry. In the gap between the cancellation of the AGM and the cancellation of our flights, we even had a sneaky backup plan which involved an Easter Sunday day trip out to BrewDog St Andrews.

All that fell through, of course, and now we're spending Easter Sunday 2020 in London. Which London film should we watch this year? Well, the last time I did a year-by-year roundup of our Easter films was in 2011, so let's build up to the answer slowly by seeing what we've watched since then.

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Simian Substitute Site For April 2020: Monkey Wellbeing

Monkey WellbeingMONTH END PROCESSING FOR MARCH 2020

Art: So, everything's still fucked, then. Which makes March 2020 a very awkward month about which to write a list of artistic highlights. Still, I'll have a go, even though I've barely been out of the house since the 14th. It all started off so well on the 1st, when a bunch of Spank's Pals accompanied me to Dulwich Picture Gallery to see an exhibition of British Surrealism. It's a pleasingly broad selection of works, mainly focussed on the early years of the movement, but prepared to suggest names like Lewis Carroll as their forebears. The inevitable biggies are represented, along with plenty of people you haven't heard of: I'm particularly taken by the artist - I think it was Conroy Maddox, but couldn't swear to it - who took a pile of his 1960s paintings and redated them as 1930s purely as a prank on art historians. The DPG are hoping that the exhibition will continue once (if) normal service has been resumed: in the meantime, the British Surrealism webpage obligingly contains a stream of the audio guide to whet your appetite.

Movies: Technically, the last film I saw before the UK went into lockdown was The Invisible Man, which benefitted from a properly up-for-it Saturday night audience, all the way up to the young woman who yelled 'oh my days' whenever something surprising happened, which was often. But a few days earlier I caught another film on a one-night-only engagement: a concert movie snappily entitled Nick Mason's Saucerful Of Secrets: Live At The Roundhouse. Saucerful Of Secrets is a Pink Floyd tribute band with a twist - well, two twists. The first is that they only cover the band's music from 1967 to 1972, stopping just before the point where The Dark Side Of The Moon made them superstars: the second is that Pink Floyd's actual drummer is in the band. Visually, they're an odd bunch, dressed like five fund managers jamming on a Saturday afternoon: but musically is where it counts. The freak-out sections of the Floyd's psychedelic era are here a little too calculated for my liking, missing the buzz of genuine insanity that Syd Barrett brought to the band during his time there. But the songs are beautifully played, and it's nice to hear them again. Best of all, Mason doesn't look like a man who's going out on the road again in his seventies to top up his pension: he's having a tremendous amount of fun, and it shows. You won't see the film in cinemas again, while the home video and live album releases the screening was meant to promote appear to have slipped from April to September. Have a clip to make up for the disappointment.


Music: On the subject of live music, the last time I was in a room with loads of people watching a band getting loud and sweaty was Kodo: Legacy at the Royal Festival Hall. They've been bringing their traditional Japanese drums to London since the early eighties, and I've been seeing them here since the late eighties: by now, I know what to expect. Legacy is a little more retrospective than usual, taking some of Kodo's classic pieces - the lopsided swing of Miyake, or the whisper-to-a-scream onslaught of Monochrome - and letting a new generation of drummers loose on them. John Peel always used to describe The Fall as "always different, always the same," and that's how I'm happy to think about Kodo. Their European tour is over now, but while they're in lockdown they're amusing themselves with weekly live streams from their rehearsal studio, albeit ones which fail to maintain social distancing between the band members.

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