Books: For the first time in my life, I own a device that’s capable of purchasing and playing audio books. It’s the Nokia 8.3 5G, a phone so cutting edge that it features in the new James Bond film. (Well, it used to...) So, for 2021 we have a new pre-bedtime routine: listening to 20 or 30 minutes of an audio book per night. Our first one is Ramble Book, a sort of memoir by Adam Buxton. In part, it's a look back at Buxton's childhood in the 1980s, focussing not just on his school and work experiences but also on the films and music that shaped him (the latter augmented with a glorious set of Spotify playlists). But it keeps switching between that period and the present day, looking at his relationship with his father during the last few years of the latter's life. Buxton seems determined to portray himself in as bad a light as possible - a constant theme throughout the book is his frustration at how his schoolmates (notably Joe Cornish and Louis Theroux) are achieving much more than he seems to be. And there's a niggling suspicion that his life isn't quite as interesting as he thinks it is, particularly as the book takes pains to largely avoid the period of time when he was properly famous. But he uses the audiobook format well, bringing his expertise as a podcaster to make it sonically interesting (for example, when he goes outdoors to record the sidebar digressions or 'rambles'). It's an enjoyable bedtime listen, and that's all we were looking for at this early stage in the year. Will we go for more challenging choices as 2021 progresses? Watch this space.
Comedy: As reported here three months ago, we came to Taskmaster ridiculously late, and are currently spending a couple of evenings every week catching up. But now we also have to catch up with a YouTube gameshow called No More Jockeys featuring three Taskmaster alumni: creator Alex Horne, collaborator Tim Key and contestant Mark Watson. The rules are, when you think about it, simple: "On each turn, players name a person plus a category they fall under. That person and category are then eliminated, and subsequent people must not fall under that category. As more categories are added it gets harder, and eventually impossible, to name anyone new." You might just have to watch an episode if that explanation didn't make much sense. As the games progress, the discussions and challenges become more and more digressive - ultimately, Jockeys is more of a bants-generating algorithm than an actual contest. But it's a very good one, with the same delightful edge of silliness to it that Taskmaster has. We've joined it just at the start of the third set, with new matches appearing online every Friday.
Theatre: We've seen a few pre-recorded theatre shows online over the past year or so, and they've been fine. But somehow, watching a play that you know is being performed right this second has more of a dramatic edge to it, and I really can't explain why. Hence my joy at Project Arts Centre's livestream of The Approach a couple of weeks ago. It turns out to be a pretty good play to stage in a pandemic: three characters who only ever appear two at a time, holding conversations at opposite ends of a subtly extended cafe table. Writer/director Mark O'Rowe has been mentioned here before in the context of his 2008 Edinburgh Fringe hit Terminus, and this new play is a similar slow-burner which requires you to hang onto its every word to catch the secrets buried underneath. (Its final revelation turns out to have been there in plain sight since the first scene.) The three actresses involved - Cathy Belton, Derbhle Crotty and Aisling O’Sullivan - play it to perfection, and it's just a shame that you've missed both the livestream and the week-long period after it that a recording was available as video on demand. Sorry.
In the meantime, your Simian Substitute Site for February 2021 is Miss Monkey's Valentine's Day Problem, an episode of the web show Mr Monkey, Monkey Mechanic as seen on YouTube channel Super Simple TV. Kids' telly is shite now, isn't it? Not like in my day. Still, that's where we are.
January was a quiet month, I'll admit, but February should perk up a bit with the traditional February thrills of the Japan Foundation Touring Film Programme. And this year, inevitably, it's had to move online, so you can all get involved - especially with the new pricing structure they've come up with, which is that every film costs absolutely nowt (though you still need to book tickets). Visit the official site for details, and then come back here to see what I thought. I know that last year's JFTFP report went up four months late, but this year's should be a bit more timely. Hopefully. Feel free to nag me in the comments box below if it isn't.
(Oh, and in somewhat predictable news: Dave is, once again, the winner of 2020's Christmas Pick Of The Year competition. He realised that the correct answer to the question was Waking Up - a song title that appears on the compilations for both 2020 and 1995, but in this case they're two entirely different songs. Apparently, Dave spent part of Christmas building a structured database of all the POTY song titles to help him solve this puzzle. It'd probably be a bad idea to mention to him that I subsequently released a gigantic Spotify playlist of all the streamable POTY songs that'll do a similar job, so I won't.)