Comedy: Andrew O'Neill sums it up beautifully towards the end of his event. "You read one book about Jack The Ripper, and you think you know it all. Then you read a second one, and you don't know what to think any more. And then you read another twenty, and you go mad and start doing walking tours." O'Neill's Jack The Ripper Walking Tour was something that The Belated Birthday Girl and I found out about shortly after becoming familiar with his stand-up comedy, but it's taken us this long to find a date that actually worked for us. (I ended up buying tickets for The BBG as part of her Christmas present, which is either deeply romantic or deeply troubling depending on how you look at it.) O'Neill has one hell of a juggling act to perform here, and he makes it look deceptively easy, negotiating some terrifying emotional hairpin bends in his telling of the story. For example, a surreal riff on the confessions of a tarpaulin fetishist (amusingly YELLED directly into The BBG's face on the night we attended) segues into the grim retelling of the discovery of the Ripper's first victim. It's a terrific mixture of history, comedy, creepiness and cardiovascular workout (he's a fast walker): he finds time to dissect all the crackpot theories about the Ripper's identity, while managing to come up with an equally plausible one of his own. He organises the walks on an irregular basis, but if you stalk him on Twitter you should get an early warning of when the next one's happening.
Telly: I think one of my greatest achievements in 2013 was to finally get around to watching an episode of Horrible Histories while sober. It's always been a fun thing to pull off the PVR when you get back from the pub: like Andrew O'Neill, its mixture of hard historical fact and wacky comedy is delightfully appealing to both adults and children. (That last sentence is not intended to suggest that you take your kids to a Ripper Walk, by the way.) Horrible Histories finally shut up shop in the summer of 2013, whereupon its six leading cast members took the Murdoch shilling and moved over to Sky with a new series called Yonderland. It's set in a mystical fantasy world which is being slowly torn apart by evil forces. Fortunately, they've identified a saviour who can rescue them: unfortunately, it's 33-year-old suburban housewife Debbie Maddox (Martha Howe-Douglas), and she doesn't really want to do the job. Freed from the constraint of having to teach stuff to kids, the team just focus on generating smart family-friendly fun, and they manage that just fine. The show recently finished its first series, but Sky will probably repeat it to death like they usually do, and there's a DVD on the way this month.
Travel: The BBG has had a long-time interest in the life and work of Alan Turing, so it's surprising that it's taken us this long to visit Bletchley Park. And now we've been there, we want to go again. It's a sprawling site, and the few hours we'd allocated for it allowed us to barely scratch the surface. The main building offers, as you'd expect, a detailed examination of the secret codebreaking work that literally changed the course of the Second World War, with lots of old Enigma machines and the like for you to examine. But there are a dozen or more other buildings in the complex. The National Museum of Computing, for example, which will generate all kinds of nostalgic feelings in old IT people who will freak out when they see a model of their first ever removable hard disk drive (the DEC RL02, featuring a massive 10.4MB of storage when formatted). Or the tiny cinema museum, with a huge display of vintage projection equipment, and an art deco cinema showing old newsreels. And that's just the stuff we found. Get yourself a cheapo ticket and train deal from National Rail and go there as soon as possible.
Anyway, Happy New Year and all that. As is traditional, the first Simian Substitute Site of the year is being written with the assistance of a massive hangover, provided this year by the combination of Hampstead Comedy Club and BrewDog Camden. Any factual inaccuracies and spelling mistooks are therefore entirely their fault. But feel free to comment on them in the box below anyway.