Circumresurrecting Iceland part 2

Whenever I see this picture, in my head I'm hearing one of those bits from Monty Python & The Holy Grail where they're shouting 'Run away! Run away!' With all the coconut shell noises, obviously.Thursday 28th March (continued from here)

It’s Good Thursday in Reykjavik. Not just because it’s the day before Good Friday – it’s a tradition they have on the last Thursday of every month, when the city’s art galleries and museums all do something special. Some reduce their entrance prices, others stay open late. The House Of Collections (a name I keep accidentally misspelling like it’s some sort of bondage dungeon) is doing both, and one of their exhibitions appears to be ridiculously topical.

Flight from volcanic eruptions – sketches and paintings by Ásgrímur Jónsson does exactly what it says on the tin. It’s a collection of 50-60 images – paintings, watercolours and sketches – all on the same theme: a volcano going off, and people and horses running away from it. The promotional material for the exhibit is a bit deceptive, as it makes it sound like Jónsson made pictures of nothing else, like the art equivalent of that guy who only ever wrote stories about Roy Orbison wrapped in clingfilm. In fact, the House has cherrypicked these images from Jónsson’s wide-ranging oeuvre. Also, because much of what’s on display is in sketch form, the whole exhibit fits in a single room.

Still, at least I now know what the first picture on this page is going to be.

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Simian Substitute Site for May 2024: Maypole Monkey Gnome Ceramic Ornament

Maypole Monkey Gnome Ceramic OrnamentMONTH END PROCESSING FOR APRIL 2024

Books: Evelyn Waugh penned these words: ‘Only when one has lost all curiosity about the future has one reached the age to write an autobiography.’ It is daunting to consider the sudden wave of disillusionment that must have swept over such a brilliant man and caused him to write such balls. Sorry, Jane Austen, but the award for Best Opening Lines Of Any Book Ever has to be passed on to David Niven, for the beginning of his 1971 memoir The Moon’s A Balloon. I'm a bit late to this one, I admit, but I was on a train looking for something to read and it was on offer for a quid on Google Play. It feels like the template for what we expect from celebrity autobiographies these days, a combination of gossipy chattiness and surprising frankness. There's no denying that Niven is great at anecdotes, and it feels churlish to complain that they're all about people - I was hoping for a bit more about the films he was in. I ploughed through the lengthy section on his wartime experiences, looking forward to a discussion of his first post-war job, the magnificent A Matter Of Life And Death: a film he literally dismisses in a single paragraph. It's possible his followup, Bring On The Empty Horses, may have more about the movies: let's see if Google Play knock that one down to a quid as well.

Food and Drink: Obviously you should never kick a gift horse in the bollocks, but I'm going to grumble about Virgin Experience Days in general and one in particular. Having been given a couple of these over the past year, I've started to feel sorry for the people who buy them as gifts, who are given limited information about what they're buying - it's only when the recipient has to redeem the vouchers that the catches become apparent. Let's take a look at, say, Countryside Break with Vineyard Tour and Wine Tasting at Chapel Down for Two: a voucher covering a combination of a night in a country hotel, followed by a morning's worth of fun stuff at one of Britain's best vineyards. And then you try to book the bugger. How busy is the hotel? It's frequently booked out for fancy weddings, so there are only limited weekends when they can take you. Is the hotel near the vineyard? No, it's about four miles away. Can you get a bus? They're massively infrequent and slow. Can you get a taxi? The number of cabs in the village appears to be in single figures, and you need to book them a week or more in advance. Can you drive there? Even if we could, let me point you at the words Wine Tasting in the event title. Quite a few of Virgin's offerings seem to involve getting two unconnected things, packaging them together, and leaving it to the recipient to sort out the nearly impossible logistics of co-ordinating the pair. Having said that, the Chapel Down tour is absolutely delightful and worth doing on its own, but maybe make your own arrangements for getting there.

Music: Probably time for another one of these. YouTube links included for the non-Spotifiers among you.
1. Whenever Ringo Shiina has a new album on the way, you can always count on its first single to be something that stops you dead in your tracks. No denying that she's done that again.
2. I'm liking Lucy Rose's singles when they turn up on the radio, but find a whole album of what she does a bit too much. Those singles, though...
3. It’d be unfair to describe Norman Pain's contribution to the Sindhu Sesh series as a suicide note you can dance to, because you can’t really dance to it.
4. Not really familiar with Anna Erhard before now, but her satirical takedown of Arseholes On TripAdvisor has a jolly Wet Leggish energy to it. Hey, remember them?
5. "Hi, I'm Shabaka Hutchings, and I've decided to give up the saxophone I'm world famous for and just play Japanese flutes now." That's a hell of a career move.
6. Tom Cardy's track is the only one on this playlist that wasn't released this year, but I've always been a sucker for a song that tells a story.
7. For Caroline Polachek, see Lucy Rose above.
8. I've only really known Chilly Gonzales before for his piano work, so I'm very much enjoying his Shabaka-like pivot to classical music criticism.
9. This Ed Harcourt song's been knocking around for years: a live version of it ended up on Pick Of The Year 2018. Now he's finally got around to recording it in a studio (and naming his new album after it).
10. And finally, Yard Act with the song that was my inevitable earworm during our visit to Chapel Down.

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Circumilluminating Iceland part 1

Our tour guide actually apologised to us for the volcano being 'between eruptions' right now. (photo by The BBG)In March 2019, we put down a deposit on a cruise around the coast of Iceland, to be taken in the summer of 2020. Maybe you can guess how it went from there. Before we could get on the boat, the world was plunged into a pandemic, and we had to postpone the cruise until 2021. And when that date rolled around, we had to postpone it again to 2022. Happily, by 2022 we were all pretending that Covid was over, so we made it over to Iceland and had a terrific time.

But you remember what the travel companies were like back then – they were desperate for people to stop claiming refunds on their cancelled journeys, and postpone them to a later date instead. So they started bribing us. The long and the short of it is, for the last couple of years we’ve had several hundred quid’s worth of credit with Icelandair, which had to be used by late 2024.

So, five years after paying that deposit, we used it to spend Easter in Iceland this year. And you've probably got two questions relating to Icelandic natural phenomena at this point. To get one out of the way immediately: that puff of smoke you can see in an otherwise clear sky in this picture is the closest we got to the Grindavík volcano that's been in the news for a while now. As for your other question - did we see the Northern Lights? - it'll take a couple of days to get around to that.

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BrewDogging #88: Gatwick Airport

How does that work when you're airside, exactly?First Basingstoke, then Exeter, now this: it’s beginning to feel like all of the new BrewDog bars we’re visiting this year are in shopping centres.

I mean, have you seen the duty-free in Gatwick North Terminal lately? I swear it gets bigger and longer every time we fly from there. A good five minutes of walking past shelves full of booze, and not a single decent beer in sight. Still, at least that changes once you get into the departure area... eventually.

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Simian Substitute Site for April 2024: Makake


Books: Back in the day I used to enjoy the Joel Morris and Jason Hazeley podcast Rule Of Three, in which they talked to guests about their favourite funny things and why they were funny. Morris’ new book, Be Funny Or Die: How Comedy Works And Why It Matters, scratches a similar itch – and doubly so if you listen to him reading the audiobook version. It’s a comprehensive study of the science, psychology and ethics of humour, and is smart enough to know how dangerous a task that is. In an early highlight, Morris takes Ken Dodd’s famous line about the futility of analysing comedy – the one about how Freud never had to play Glasgow Empire on a Friday night – and analyses how Dodd himself tweaked its wording over a couple of decades to suit his audience. I’m only a short way into the book so far, but enjoying it a lot.

Music: Max Richter’s managed to get a lot of mileage out of his eight hour composition Sleep. We’ve had an edited version that fits on a single CD, numerous remixes (both dancey and ambient), and an arrangement for solo piano. In March we also got 90 Minutes Of Sleep, the premiere of an audio-visual presentation designed for IMAX cinemas. The audio part is a 90 minute edit of the piece, lovingly remixed for a 12.2 IMAX sound system - the subtle subsonic pulse running throughout several sections is something I'd never really noticed before. As for the visuals, it's topped and tailed with fairly straightforward performance footage. But the bulk of the film is a lovely piece of large-scale animation, a series of night sky views that subtly change with the ebbs and flows of the music, making it a completely immersive experience. Curiously, the animator is only named in a throwaway credit right at the end, and I've not been able to find out their name from anywhere else, which is massively frustrating. Hopefully it'll get more screenings where credit will be given where it's due.

Telly: Continuing our project of investigating Taskmasters Of Many Lands, here’s one you can all play at home if you live in the UK. Channel 4’s streaming service, as well as the OG British version, can also give you access to Taskmaster New Zealand and Taskmaster Sweden – or Bäst i Test, to give the latter its proper title. And for someone who's comparing one version of the show with another, the Swedes appear to have gone completely off track. On the surface, there's the novelty value of our first female Taskmaster, Babben Larsson, assisted by David Sundin. But there's a completely different set! There are only four regular contestants, with a series of rotating guests in the fifth slot! The team tasks only use two teams of two! The prize task prizes are presented on video like it's Sale Of The Frickin' Century or something! It's not even apparent until the final episode of the series that there's going to be a big prize for the overall winner! Nevertheless, the basic structure is stlll there, and there's a fun mix of classic tasks and brand new ones. Series 1 is only four episodes long if you just want to dip your toe in - based on that, I'm happy to give series 2 a go.

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