BrewDogging #82: Upminster

i just come out of the ship talking to the most blonde I ever met shouting lager lager lager lager shouting lager lager lager lager shouting lager lager lager shouting mega mega white thing mega mega white thing mega mega white thing mega mega shouting lager lager lager lager mega mega white thing mega mega white thing so many things to see and do in the tube hole true blonde going back to romford mega mega mega going back to romford how am i at having fun i know why you're on your way to a new tension headacheFor those of you who are counting, I've been in my current Moderately Responsible Job In The Computer Industry for just over four years now. It's fun to look back on my first Christmas there, when I had to explain to my new colleagues that I was going to be spending the festive season in Cardiff: not because we knew anybody there, but because we wanted to go to a bar and get them to put a little stamp in our Beer Visas. As I said here at the time, it led to a series of awkward conversations with people who were only just getting to know me, but "I'm sure they'll get used to it eventually."

Four years later, I'm telling the same people just before Christmas 2022 that I'm going to see a panto in Hornchurch because there's a newly-opened BrewDog bar a couple of miles down the road from it. They don't bat an eyelid. See, they did get used to it.

Continue reading "BrewDogging #82: Upminster" »

Simian Substitute Site for January 2023: Monkey Climber Magazine


Books: Our last audiobook of 2022 is a welcome return to showbiz fluff. Trevor Horn says as much in the opening sentences of Adventures In Modern Recording, making it clear that the family tragedies that have been a major part of his life this century won’t be covered here. Instead, this is a memoir focused on his life in the music business. Horn’s professional career started as a bass player precisely at the time when big bands like the one he was in were falling out of fashion, to be replaced by beat groups. He eventually made it onto Top Of The Pops as frontman of The Buggles, but gradually realised he was better suited as a producer than a performer. The book breaks down neatly into individual chapters looking at the stories behind specific records he worked on: the chapter on Duck Rock is one of the wildest, as Horn and Malcolm McLaren wander round Africa and America recording everything they hear without having the faintest idea what sort of record they want to make. Truth be told, Horn isn’t an especially elegant writer, but he’s at his best coming up with neat verbal illustrations of his processes: like programming a precisely calibrated bass and drum track, getting the band to play along with it, and then taking the programmed bits away, which he describes as being like using tracing to come up with a picture of your own. (Except for Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s Relax, where he threw away the tracing paper instead. But that’s another story.)

Theatre: I mentioned in my review of 2022’s Edinburgh Festival that we were a bit short on theatre events, and to be honest that’s been true for the last 12 months. Happily, with just a couple of days left in the year, I finally got to see something that counts as a theatrical highlight. The Wife Of Willesden is Zadie Smith’s reworking of Chaucer’s The Wife Of Bath, transplanted to present day north-west London – it’s running at Kilburn’s Kiln theatre until February 11th. Smith keeps Chaucer’s original structure from The Canterbury Tales, with more time dedicated to our introduction to the narrator than to the actual tale she tells. Alvita (Clare Perkins) has been married five times and survived them all, so when she says she has a story about how men and women relate to each other, you need to listen. Robert Jones’ gloriously immersive pub set – pay the extra few quid to sit at one of the tables, you won’t regret it – is the perfect setting for Indhu Rubasingham’s energetic production, with a smallish cast juggling multiple roles superbly. God knows what they’ll make of it in Brooklyn when it transfers there in April, but hopefully they’ll know a good time when they see it.

Travel: Well, not travel as such. For the second year in a row, The Belated Birthday Girl and I decided to stay in a central London hotel over Christmas and let them do all the work. (Malmaison London, since you ask.) Still, along the way we got to pretend to be tourists on a couple of occasions. One was a visit to Lift 109, the newly-opened elevator ride up one of the chimneys in Battersea Power Station. Aside from disappointment at one of London’s most iconic buildings being converted into another fucking shopping centre, the main potential cause of disappointment is not being aware that even though your ticket pays for a 45 minute ‘experience’, only 8 of those minutes will be spent admiring the view at the top of the chimney – the rest of the time will be spent queuing, or interacting with low quality video displays. Go in expecting that, and you’ll have a fine time - the view from the top is lovely, especially on a clear night. But for more low-tech, longer-lasting thrills, go to the Postal Museum and its history of Britain’s world-leading post service, because your ticket price includes a 15 minute ride on the little underground train they used to use to ferry mail from one side of London to the other. The ticket gives you unlimited access to the non-rail bits of the museum for 12 months, which isn’t that terrific a deal unless you’re particularly interested in their temporary exhibits (to be fair, the current one about postcodes is pretty cool, though it's only sticking around until January 8th). But one ride on the train and a look around the exhibits is well worth fifteen quid, particularly if you check out their collection of GPO films.

Continue reading "Simian Substitute Site for January 2023: Monkey Climber Magazine" »

Living For The Weekend: A 2023 Diary By The BBG

At least it's not a picture of bloody Iceland this time.It was announced in November 2022 that we'll be getting an extra Bank Holiday in 2023, to mark the coronation of King Charles III. It'll be happening on May 8th, in case you were wondering.

By now, you've probably picked up a new diary or calendar for next year. Do me a favour, will you? Have a look at it now and see if that May 8th Bank Holiday is listed or not. It almost certainly isn't.

Once again, it would appear that publishing a diary just days before the end of the previous calendar year has its advantages.

Continue reading "Living For The Weekend: A 2023 Diary By The BBG" »

Take The Drums Out: Pick Of The Year 2022

It's the second time this picture's been used on the site this year, if that helps.Anniversaries? We’ve got ‘em. The 41st of my annual Pick Of The Year compilations, in which the best music from the previous twelve months is squashed onto the most common storage medium of the day, hits several milestones: it’s the 5th one to get a Christmas Day release, the 25th one to make it onto a CD, the 30th one that Lou has been given a copy of, and then there’s the small matter of it being 40 years this month since I first attempted to compile one. Last year, I wrapped up the 40th compilation by saying “I think ultimately, the test is going to be this: has it become a chore trying to find 80 minutes of new music that I enjoy each year? When we hit a year when that’s the case, then I guess I’ll stop. But it hasn’t happened yet.”

Still not happened.

So, with the usual season’s greetings from myself and The Belated Birthday Girl, here’s 78 minutes of the best music of 2022 in text, YouTube and Spotify form. And at the end of this page you can find the usual competition to win a copy of it as an actual CD. Can you beat Dave this year? I’ll be interested to find out.

Continue reading "Take The Drums Out: Pick Of The Year 2022" »

Simian Substitute Site for December 2022: Exotic Monkey Christmas Tree Decoration

Exotic Monkey Christmas Tree DecorationMONTH END PROCESSING FOR NOVEMBER 2022

Books: Probably the biggest artistic thing I did this month was serve my first ever term of jury service. Not because of any drama in the courtroom itself – although there was definitely some of that – but because jury service involves a lot of sitting around waiting for things to happen, and the official advice you’re given is to bring a good book with you. I ended up getting through two and a half books in the various bits of downtime spread across the fortnight, so for once this section is a review of some ebooks rather than audiobooks. How To Be Perfect, a guide to moral philosophy by Michael Schur, takes all of the research he did into the subject for The Good Place and converts it into an enjoyable history of the approaches we’ve taken as a species to differentiate right from wrong. (It seemed appropriate at the time.) Meantime is Frankie Boyle’s attempt at jumping on the Famous People Writing Crime Novels bandwagon, but fails in two key aspects: all the characters speak in his voice, and they’re all prone to long rants about the state of things that have Author’s Message stamped all over them. Still, you’re at least guaranteed the odd bracing line, like his description of nepotism as ‘incest for cowards'. Currently I’m halfway through Alan Moore’s short story collection Illuminations, and absolutely bloody loving it: if anything, it reminds me of a more literary version of the short Future Shocks tales Moore used to tell in 2000AD, because of their devotion to messing with time and your narrative expectations. And you can tell Moore is designed for writing short stories, because his last lines are always fucking perfect.

Internet: Even if you’re not seeing any of the newly enabled Nazis being pumped directly into your timeline, there’s no denying that Twitter has become a lot less fun than it used to be. So what do you do? The general consensus appears to be, you go to Mastadon. There are plenty of blogposts out there to walk you through the process, but here’s a short personal summary (partly assisted by this one). The first complication is that you can't just join Mastodon, you have to join one of its instances: part of what sets it apart from Apartheid Clyde's domain is that it's decentralised and not just managed from a single location. The trick is to avoid the large ones - obvious instances like have become massively overloaded over the last couple of weeks and grind like a bastard - but watch out for small ones with limited support and a high risk of future collapse. For better or worse, I've thrown in my lot with newish Mancunian instance, which has a good name and appears to be run by nice people who like beer. Then you need to work out which program you use to access Mastodon, bearing in mind that their own client is by all accounts bobbins. Like many Android users, I've gone with Tusky, and it seems to work just fine. Finally, once you're in there you'll need to recreate your list of people you follow from scratch, and I think this is the biggest aspect of migrating from Twitter - everyone's conscious of what mistakes they made when they built their Twitter following list, and is keen not to make them again. With all that in mind, you'll find me there at - it'd be lovely to see you there, so I could post stuff that's a little more ambitious than this.

Telly: Because I'm posting this late while still a bit drunk (my first Christmas party of 2022 happened today), by now you've just missed the grand finale of season 14 of Taskmaster. Hopefully this means that the verbal NDA I agreed to several months ago no longer applies, and so I can talk about how The BBG and I went to the taping of an episode of this series last April. Getting tickets isn’t particularly hard – visit SRO Audiences, go to the Taskmaster page, sign up and wait for them to announce a new series. Obviously demand is quite high, so you’ll need to leap into action as soon as they’re announced. A block of ten shows gets recorded over five consecutive weekdays, one in the afternoon and one in the evening, and generally the afternoon ones are easier to get into. Of course, this is assuming you can travel to the taping site at Pinewood Studios, which is impossible to get to by public transport and takes a ten minute taxi ride from Slough station. To make things even more complicated, they ask you to arrive early because they overallocate the (free) tickets, so even if you've got one in hand they can't guarantee you'll get in. We turned up an hour and a half before the scheduled time, which may have been overkill, but we weren't the first there. Once you're inside, it takes about three hours to record a forty minute episode, even though a good half of it is pre-taped tasks: there's a very baggy feel to the banter in the studio, and it's fascinating to observe how that gets hacked down for TV broadcast. The episode we saw being filmed was S14E03, and the spectacular reveal that takes place just before the first ad break was even more fun experienced live as it was on telly. But if you're curious about what you missed by not being there, this package of outtakes may help (from about 16 minutes in, and yes, that improv section was as excruciating in person as it is on YouTube).

Continue reading "Simian Substitute Site for December 2022: Exotic Monkey Christmas Tree Decoration" »

London Film Festival 1989-2022: An Index

Because Films Inspire... some sort of hideous trainspotter impulse, apparentlyI started going to the London Film Festival in 1989, and I've been there every year since. Thanks to a combination of Spank Gold articles (after-the-fact writeups of the 1989-1997 festivals), reposts (pieces written for the old site between 1998 and 2005) and live blogging (since 2006), I've got a record of every single film I've seen at those Festivals.

Trying to pick your way through all of those is obviously going to be hellish, hence the index below. Similar to the equivalent index I've assembled for the Edinburgh Festival, each year links to the relevant piece on that particular LFF, including a roughly chronological list of what I saw (plus, of course, any additional films reviewed by Spank's Pals). As a bonus, you get a thumbnail-sized history of programme cover designs.

This will be updated each year after the LFF, so most of the time this page should be resident at the top of the LFF folder on the site. Have yourselves a good old browse through, and try not to think too hard about how much the tickets for all this lot have cost me over the last couple of decades.

[updated 17/11/2022 to include 2022 reviews]

Continue reading "London Film Festival 1989-2022: An Index" »

Spank's LFF Diary: The Wrap Party 2022

You know, people say that the Southbank Centre doesn't work as a red carpet venue, but then you see pictures like this...As ever, let’s start our roundup of the 2022 London Film Festival - yes, I know, one whole month after the event, I've been busy - with a look at how what we saw this year breaks down under the Clare Stewart Classification System:

Galas: 4
Special Presentations: 0
Official Competition: 2
First Feature Competition: 0
Documentary Competition: 0
Love: 2
Debate: 3
Laugh: 2
Dare: 2
Thrill: 3
Cult: 3
Journey: 3
Create: 4
Experimenta: 1
Shorts: 14
Expanded: 5
Family: 0
Treasures: 2
Events: 1
Free: 1

Quite a decent balance, all things considered. In terms of the high-end stuff, we managed to see four Galas at their overflow screenings, thus avoiding having to pay Gala-level prices. The two entries from the Official Competition that we saw were both excellent, although we managed to miss out on the actual winner. The lack of entries we caught from the Documentary Competition initially surprised me, until I realised the other way of looking at that is to assume the wrong documentaries were put on the shortlist, because there were some magnificent ones this year.

So, now we've established my disagreements with the LFF jury, what were my own personal favourites? Well, I won’t say just yet, and instead I’ll give the floor to The Belated Birthday Girl to say what she liked, or didn’t.

Continue reading "Spank's LFF Diary: The Wrap Party 2022" »

Simian Substitute Site for November 2022: Timkey The Monkey And His Magic Flute

Timkey The Monkey And His Magic FluteMONTH END PROCESSING FOR OCTOBER 2022

Books: I think that The Belated Birthday Girl has changed the way I think about the Edinburgh International Book Festival, and I kinda like it. In the past, I'd go specifically to see authors: these days, we tend to book for talks on subjects that attract our interest. Maybe it's a general move from fiction to non-fiction that's triggered this? Anyway, one of the highlights of the festival this year was a talk by two paleontologists, and one of their books is currently our audiobook at bedtime. Otherlands by Thomas Halliday is a speculative history of our planet told in a beautiful way: each chapter is a detailed pen portrait of what Earth would look and feel like at various points over the last 500 million years or so. Halliday's masterstroke is to tell the story backwards - chapter 1 is 50,000 years ago, chapter 2 is 2 million years, and so on - which stops human development becoming the main focus of the narrative: by the start of chapter 3 we're out of the picture as a species, so we can concentrate on all the other fascinating stuff going on. As an audiobook (read by Adetomiwa Edun), it's more of a meditative experience than a compendium of hard science fact, but Halliday's rich imagery gives you plenty of lovely ideas to stuff into your head before bedtime.

Food & Drink: As Twitter enters what everyone assumes is going to be its death spiral, let’s take a moment or two to think about another social media platform that really should be considered dead by now. Moblog was incredibly fashionable when I joined back in 2004: a website where you could share pictures you’d taken on your phone, with text attached? Who else is doing that? Eventually, the answer to that question became ‘loads of people, especially Twitter and Twitpic’, and Moblog dwindled into irrelevance. But when Twitpic crashed and burned several years ago because of an earlier bout of Twitter’s arseholism, and I needed a mobile miniblogging platform that I could easily post to while drunk, Moblog started looking enticing all over again. So since 2014 I’ve been using it specifically for posting live reports on the beers in BrewDog’s annual Collabfest. It’s quite possible that nobody else is using Moblog these days - when you look through the last thirty days of posts, it's hard to find anything that hasn't been posted by some sort of bot - so I'm nervous that one of these days I'll go there and find it gone, and have to move over to bleedin' Instagram or some such nonsense. Until then, here's my on-the-spot report from Collabfest 2022, pages 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 and a coda to finish off.

Music: Two songs into ABBA Voyage, and Bjorn is running towards the front of the stage and clapping in time. Inevitably, all of us start clapping along with him. It’s about four seconds before I say “wait a minute, why am I clapping along with you? You’re not here, you’re a computer generated hologram being projected onto the stage. Actually, you’re not even that, you’re just a high resolution animation on a massive telly. Come to think of it, why am I even talking to you?” The most astonishing thing about ABBA's much hyped virtual show is that you don't spend every minute of it thinking something like this. A huge amount of technical effort has been put into combining real and virtual elements in such a way that the boundary between the two is invisible. The physical lights in the arena have been synced up to match the lighting of the fake ABBA members 'on stage': the live ten-piece backing band keeps precisely in time with the pre-recorded vocals, in a rare example of arse-backwards karaoke: there are video interludes covering the pauses for costume changes that aren't actually happening. Everything is done with the aim of convincing you that you're at a real gig, and they've nailed it (apart from the lack of queues for the bars and cloakroom being totally unrealistic). If this was an event put together to showcase a bunch of average songs, it would be pretty special already. Except it's showcasing a bunch of ABBA songs, which lift the whole thing to stratospheric levels. No, we don't get a hairy Viking on drums like I was hoping for, but it's still one hell of a night out.

Continue reading "Simian Substitute Site for November 2022: Timkey The Monkey And His Magic Flute" »