Books: Our first new audiobook of 2023 is one that we’ve been thinking about buying for a while now – since August 25th last year, to be precise. That was when we saw Oliver Bullough being interviewed by Ian Rankin on stage at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, in an event which you can still watch on a pay-what-you-like basis on their website. Watch it now, and see if it makes you as keen to read/hear Butler To The World as it did us. Bullough has a simple question he wants to answer: how did Britain go from being a dominating superpower to become the place where the rest of the world goes to launder its money? He takes a forensic approach to the history of modern British corruption, taking the Suez debacle as his starting point, and tracing from there how Britain’s USP transitioned from Owning An Empire to Fannying Around With The Monetary System. I suspect Bullough has broadcast journalism somewhere in his background, because he reads this splendidly in the audiobook edition, keeping the whole thing thoroughly engaging even as he delves into the complexities of international finance and the long-term impact of deregulation. Having said that, if you go for the just-published paperback edition instead, you’ll get a bonus chapter looking at how the Ukraine situation has changed things in the year since the book’s original publication. Your call.
Music: Here’s a set of simple instructions for you. 1: go to the page on this site for my 2022 Pick Of The Year music compilation, Take The Drums Out, and scroll down to the bottom of the page to read the competition, which was first published at around noon on Christmas Day. 2: scroll back up to the top of the page and read the mouseover text on the cover image. 3: page through the posts I wrote on this site in 2022 to see which one was the first to feature that cover image – there were only 52, it won’t take too long. 4: having located the post, read the text around the picture and work out which of the locations mentioned may have featured lots of people dancing to a Viking thrashing at a drumkit. 5: look up the location by name on Google Maps. 6: right click on the location and make a note of the first set of numbers that appear in the popup. Depending where on the marker you click, they should be something like 64.14741053278492, -21.937786882702298, the co-ordinates for the bar Lemmy in Reykjavik where that photo was taken. Oh, I’m sorry, was that too difficult a competition for you? Tell it to Dave, who sent me his answer at 7.13pm on Christmas Frickin’ Day. He wins again. Everyone else, at least try to make an effort next year.
Telly: Another Christmas tradition that seems to have sprung up in recent years is our taking out a Disney+ subscription for a month, bingewatching anything good that’s been added to their catalogue since we last subscribed, and then cancelling it before they can charge us for a second month. Putting aside the Guardians Of The Galaxy Holiday Special (45 minutes of pure James-Gunn-in-kid-friendly-mode delight) and Star Wars: Andor (in which absolutely nothing had happened by the end of episode 2, so fuck that noise), there are two series which hooked us this time around, neither of which should come as any sort of surprise. All too often, streaming shows work for one complete season and then run out of ideas second time around. This may explain why I’ve particularly warmed to Only Murders In The Building, which had the brass-balled audacity to set up the plot for its second season in the opening minutes of its first: creators Steve Martin and John Hoffman (and their writing team) know exactly where they’re going. The balance between new characters and returning old favourites is maintained beautifully, as is the balance between a twisty murder mystery and the joy of watching some old mates mucking about. Meanwhile, if unbalanced is what you want, how about a Korean drama with Takashi Miike in the director’s chair? Based on a web series, Connect tells the story of a young musician who falls victim to an organ harvesting gang, but manages to escape with only one eye missing. Unfortunately, in certain situations he can still see stuff through his missing eye, which has now been transplanted into someone else’s head. Even more unfortunately, the recipient of his eye is a serial killer. And I still haven’t told you the most ridiculous aspect of the plot yet. It’s six episodes of overblown violent insanity, and Miike turns out to be the ideal person to bring it to the screen. In very different ways, Murders and Connect are surprisingly addictive, which is why we’re still watching them at the time of writing and have had to let our Disney+ subscription roll over into a second month. Damn you, Mouse!
In the meantime, your Simian Substitute Site for February 2023 is Monkey Valentine, a short documentary produced six years ago by Longleat Safari Park. It's got a simple premise: the staff set up a small Valentine’s Day party for some of the park's residents, and wait to see what happens. Since childhood I've always had a particular image in my mind of the park thanks to the popular car sticker We Have Seen The Lions Of Longleat, and it's frustrating that I can't remember which bit of 70s/80s popular culture had characters so posh that they were said to have a sticker reading The Lions Of Longleat Have Seen Us. Anyway, no lions are involved in this film, in case you were worried about that.
Coming up in February: a slight return for an old fan favourite, plus the usual annual glut of Japanese film reviews. Feel free to drop comments in the box below, if you like.