Simian Substitute Site for October 2023: Brazen Monkey Karaoke


Books: One of the unspoken ideas behind our ongoing Audiobook At Bedtime project is that it’s there to help us wind down at the end of the day. As such, you don’t want to be listening to anything too disturbing or downbeat – for example, even before the events of this year, we thought that Sinead O’Connor’s autobiography would be a little too heavy for the timeslot. Yet here we are with David Milch’s autobiography, Life’s Work, which opens with a prologue in which he admits that he’s trying to get the story of his life down on paper before the Alzheimer’s makes it impossible. Milch is a TV writer who’s created at least two stone-cold classic shows (NYPD Blue and Deadwood) and several near misses that were still interesting regardless (Luck was a mess narratively, but I always enjoyed hanging out with its characters). The audiobook pulls off a little stroke of genius early on, by having the audibly ageing Milch himself read out his prologue, but then passing the baton to Michael Harney for the rest of the book. Harney gets Milch’s tone down perfectly from the off: confident enough to pull off the more hard-boiled bits of prose (“He never played pool with my father again. He never walked again.”) while showing a more sensitive side as he picks his way through Milch’s troubled childhood. Once we get into the author’s career (starting out on Hill Street Blues), the book turns into a solid primer on the art of TV writing – building characters, interweaving stories, pushing at the boundaries of what’s acceptable. If you’ve ever marvelled at a turn of phrase in a Milch show, you’ve got several hundred of them to look forward to in here.

Telly: Another one of our ongoing projects – Taskmasters Of Many Lands – has just hit Quebec. With thanks once again to the good but simultaneously naughty people at Reddit, we’re most of the way through season one of Le Maître du Jeu, the Canadian version featuring Louis Morissette as the eponymous maître and Antoine Vézina as his assistant. You can pick the odd hole in their relationship – for example, Morissette is that rare example of a Taskmaster who’s less physically imposing than their assistant – but they’ve quickly established their own spin on the roles, as they should. Morissette is utterly charming but capable of surprising everyone with the occasional arbitrarily cruel judgement: while Vézina has eschewed the usual deadpan approach and is having just the right amount of fun. As for the series 1 contestants, they establish themselves pretty quickly, from Jo Cormier’s overheated attempts to create a catchphrase (‘tout le monde gagne!’) to Christine Morency’s maniacal laughter, which makes her sound like an idiot but carefully distracts you from how cunning her approach to tasks can be. For an English language viewer, the fan-generated subtitles - take a bow, the_little_kicks – are massively helpful, providing detailed notes for any gags that require a knowledge of Canadian culture or geography. Unless it turns out that they’ve spunked away the country‘s five best comics in the first series, I think we’ll be coming back for the second - hopefully by then they'll have stopped nicking all their tasks from the UK version...

Travel: As an excellent birthday present from my sister, The BBG and I recently spent a Saturday afternoon on a London Craft Beer Cruise. It’s a simple idea – you spend two and a half hours on a boat going up and down the Thames, during which time you can guzzle six 175ml measures of some of London’s finest craft beers. Is there a catch? Well, just a small one – they only run these cruises between June and August, a detail that wasn’t apparent to either my sister or us until we tried to redeem the Virgin gift voucher for the experience in... early September. However, when we enquired about booking for next year we found they were sneaking in one last cruise day in 2023, as an Oktoberfest special. We leapt at the chance, and then worried about whether we’d just be drinking bog standard German lager all day. Happily, it turned out that the cruise stuck to the craft beer brief - serving beers from old favourites like Anspach & Hobday, Orbit and Lost & Grounded, but showcasing their work in German styles like Berliner Weisse and Rauchbier. And to keep it hipster, instead of an oompah band accompaniment we got a playlist of tunes from the current generation of New Orleans inspired brass bands (though sadly not our two favourites). It’s a terrific afternoon out in London, and you won’t be able to do it yourself now until at least June, but if you can you should.

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Italia '23 part cinque: Milan

I was going to edit this picture of our Catania-Milan overnight train to have a big red triangle in the top right corner, but decided that was too obscure a callback.[previously: June 14-18, June 18-20, June 21-23, June 24-26]

Tuesday June 27

Just after we go to bed in our train compartment, the aircon in the ceiling starts making a noise like the entire train crew have crawled inside it and are beating their way out with hammers. The BBG wakes up briefly, reassures herself it’s not an alarm, and goes back to sleep for the rest of the night. The amount of sleep I get in the same period can, I think, be measured in minutes. Still, at least things can’t get any worse.

At 7am the train guard knocks on our door, hands us two coffees and says ‘ritardo’. That's a bit rude, I'm just tired. But we eventually realise he's telling us that the service is running late. How late? Opening the window we see we’re parked up in Roma Termini station. But this train doesn’t stop at Rome. By now we should be at least in Florence, several hours further down the line.

Then we spot the large numbers of police outside. Then the guard comes back with a box full of snacks and water.

This is looking ominous.

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Edinburgh Festival 2023: Needs A Different Bit After The Colon

Well, if this is the size of the Fringe programme these days, I'm not surprised that everyone wants an app.The BBG and I have been running around like blue-arsed flies this summer. Aside from our civil partnership and the ensuing honeymoon - that end-of-part-four cliffhanger will get resolved soon, promise - we've also been to Manchester, Sheffield, Aberdeen, Manchester again (happy birthday Steve), Dublin and South Lanarkshire.

So no, despite that preview I posted here a little while ago, we did not get up to Edinburgh for the festival this summer. But as is usually the case on our gap years, a bunch of Spank's Pals went up there without me, and graciously wrote a few paragraphs about it afterwards. So here are Nick, Diane and Charmian with their reviews of Edinburgh 2023.

Probably need to start planning for Edinburgh 2024 soon, then.

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Italia '23 part quatro: Catania

To be fair, it's not the first theatre I've fallen asleep inside.[previously: June 14-18, June 18-20, June 21-23]

Saturday June 24

There are two things the guidebooks always tell visitors to Sicily. 1: don’t mention the Mafia (despite every tourist shop we encounter here having Godfather t-shirts on sale). 2: don’t trust the Sicilian train service to get you anywhere on time. Happily, the next leg of our journey has an alternative to the train, as SAIS Trasporti run a regular coach service between Palermo and Catania, only taking two and a half hours or so to get you from Sicily’s first city to its second one. You can even book tickets for it back home via Omio.

So we grab one more breakfast at BB 22, use our final two bus tickets to get us out to the coach station, and by ten o’clock sharp we’re on our way. It's a perfectly acceptable journey, right up to the point where the driver chooses to ignore the stop in Catania that we’ve got tickets to, and takes us straight to the terminus in the centre of town without stopping. Little do we realise at the time that this isn’t going to be the only time here that buses will screw us over. In fact, just one day later, a bus-related cock-up will result in a hundred or so Catanian citizens thinking that we’re racists.

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Italia '23 part tre: Palermo

Oh, great, now we've got to watch every Italian film released in 2024 to see if this restaurant is in it. (Click to embiggen the photo.)[previously: June 14-17, June 17-20]

Wednesday June 21

The BBG and I have stayed in student accommodation in Edinburgh in the past: we have coping mechanisms for sleeping in single beds. Still, it has to be said that sleeping in the double bed we actually paid money for in the first place would have been nice. To jump ahead briefly to the end, all our subsequent communications with GNV regarding any sort of a refund have been completely ignored by them. I mean yes, they got us to our destination, and we didn’t die, but screw those thieves anyway.

Still, I think, at least we had beds. There are people on this ship who haven’t got cabins, which presumably means they’ve had to spend the night sleeping in chairs. Except when we get downstairs to the deck where breakfast is being served, we find that the path through the bar is clogged by several inflatable mattresses that passengers have brought for themselves. The staff on the ship can’t do much about it: they’re too busy being yelled at by angry punters any time they stand still for more than fifteen seconds. Maybe it is going to be like the Orient Express after all, in the sense that lots of the passengers might eventually get together to collectively kill someone. (Spoiler.)

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