Your browser (Internet Explorer 6) is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites. Learn how to update your browser.
X

Archive for March, 2021

Post

Stroud

This past week, my hometown has been in the news. And it’s actually for something positive. In case you were unaware, The Sunday Times has named Stroud as the best place to live in the country.

While it’s nice to have something positive written about the place, mainstream attention always makes things worse. And by worse, I mean more crowded and expensive.

This week marked exactly a year since I got off the plane from New Zealand into a dramatically different home country to the one I left ten weeks earlier. And the global pandemic has meant I’ve now spent the longest stretch of time living in Stroud since I moved to London at the start of 2010.

Except it’s not really quite been the same as actually living here during normal times, as I like to think I would have spent more time seeing friends. I like to think that anyway, even if I know there’s a distinct chance that it could well have been almost exactly the same.

It was a great place to grow up, spending countless hours in my childhood climbing trees, running about in green fields, and filling my lungs with clean air. And during some summers, my group of friends would pick elderflower for money. Mainly from other peoples’ gardens and run off when we were caught. It was then taken to the company to weigh to determine how much they’d pay us.

In 1994, I remember a friend handing me an envelope for about £3.50 for several hours of work and I thought it was a substantial amount of cash. The company that paid people to collect elderflower is now selling its product in supermarkets nationwide. It doesn’t pay members of the public to collect for them any more, but its success is inadvertedly built on child labour. Albeit children who were highly enthusiastic about being overworked and underpaid.

What followed were some frustrating teenage years when I often had very little to do, and I saw uni more as a chance to escape than anything else. But the town has a lot more going for it these days. And while I may have moved away for almost a decade from 2010, I was usually back once or twice a month, and longer over Christmas.

Stroud Brewery is one of the finest places in the world there is to get a pint of ale. I might have a vested interest here as I am a bond holder, but I speak the truth. I am looking forward to going back there in a few weeks when things start to open up again.

And Stroud’s Farmers’ Market is also great, even if I do very rarely go to it. It has some really nice stuff on the stalls. But as with most busy things, I have to be tactical to get what I want from stalls and get out again without getting trapped within people mooching about.

It’s disappointing in any of the coverage that there was no mention of Stroud outdoor pool in the write up. I always enjoyed going there to its freezing waters, notably in the summer of 1995. I later found out that the water comes from a natural spring, which would explain why it was so cold and why I saw a live frog in there once.

And while Stroud is certainly one of my favourite places in the world, I would not rank it as the best place to live in the country for the simple reason that it currently has a Tory MP. It didn’t have one from 1997 until 2010, or from 2017 until 2019. So it was certainly a contender for the title then.

Regardless, it’s been a good spot to spend the pandemic. I’ve been walking my dog for about three miles every day for the past year and rarely see anyone out and about. While I wouldn’t consider it as the best place to live in the country, I would definitely rate it as the best place to live during a pandemic.

Post

Peep Show

I have just started rewatching Peep Show. And it reminded me just how much I bloody love Peep Show. It is packed full of endlessly quotable lines and hilariously uncomfortable moments. I genuinely place it up there with the very best of TV comedy.

Well, series one to three that is. For me, it kind of went off the boil from series four onwards. While it continued for another six series after what I consider to be its peak, these episodes lacked the magic of the first three series.

It has definite parallels with The Simpsons in that the earlier series are amazing. Whereas in the later episodes, the storylines become more contrived and the humour often feels forced. And they both keep characters together who would have gone their separate ways years ago in normal circumstances.

In terms of rewatching so far, I’ve seen one episode from each of the first three series and laughed out loud numerous times. I’ve also watched an episode from the later series and didn’t laugh anywhere near as much.

There’s probably an element of nostalgia at work, as I watched the earlier series multiple times with my housemates in my student house. But I’m going to persist with the later series anyway, in the hope that I haven’t judged them too harshly.

Anyway, because I didn’t enjoy series four when it first aired in 2007 and there were rumours that series five would be the last, I took it upon myself to write an entire script for an episode. The naïve 23 year old that I was then sent it off to the production company in the hope it would somehow get made. It didn’t.

A simple sort-of copyright trick I learnt on my degree was to post a copy of the script to yourself at the same time as you send it elsewhere. That way, you have a sealed and dated record of your work if anyone steals it. That sealed script sat in a drawer for almost 14 years, until today.

As Peep Show finished almost five years ago, I think any potential opportunities for plagiarism have safely passed now. My storyline was that Mark gets promoted to Johnson’s position and is running things at JLB Credit. Mark also hires a cleaner, who is a sweet old lady that becomes Jeremy’s nemesis and he starts plotting ways to get her sacked. Then the episode ends with Sophie having an awkward meeting at work with Mark where she’s asking for maternity leave. Mark thinks the baby is his, but it turns out that Jeff is the dad.

Reading it through now, there are a few things I would have done differently. But I don’t think it’s a bad effort for a 23 year old novice. And that awkward work meeting between Sophie and Mark did happen in a later series, as well as her pregnancy. Although I don’t think I really have grounds to pursue any legal action.

What hasn’t changed 14 years on is that I still have very little idea about how to get scripts commissioned. Then again, I don’t think many professional writers do either. And I’ve no doubt that there are thousands of other scripts around the world just sitting in drawers, although they’re probably not all for Peep Show.

Post

Ale

This week, I planted some ale hops. I received them from Stroud Brewery as a reward I paid for in their recent crowdfunder to survive the turmoil the pandemic has sent its way.

Admittedly, my track record with plants isn’t that impressive. A few years ago, at least two new cacti I bought for my flat died fairly quickly. One was called a Magic Cactus. The magical powers weren’t specified and it is possible that they consisted of the ability to die significantly easier than other cacti.

But I’m hoping these hops will have better luck. Provided everything goes according to plan, the grown hops will be sent back to the brewery in September as part of the community ale that they brew every year.

Fortunately, there are load more people around Stroud who also have them growing in their gardens and the pressure isn’t solely on me. I’ll also receive nine pints of the stuff as another part of the crowdfunder reward.

It’s going to be fascinating to watch them grow, as the hop plant is something of a mystery to me. In fact, ale is still largely a mystery to me. I love a good pint of the stuff, but wouldn’t be able to tell you what was in it or how it was made. Though I should know more later on this year, as another reward I paid for in the crowdfunder is for me and a group of friends to have a brewing lesson at Stroud Brewery, where we’ll make our own ale.

I may have spent far too much money on rewards in the brewery crowdfunder, but I’m glad I can help a really worthwhile business survive these difficult times. Plus, I get beer in return for my philanthropy. I’m just glad that my tastes have evolved from that rancid snakebite and black that I drank far too much of in my first year of uni.

Fortunately, the brewery hit its target quite comfortably. I’ve spent countless hours there with friends in the last decade, drinking some fine ales and eating amazing pizza. And I look forward to doing so again once the Covid madness has run its course.

And on the subject of Stroud Brewery, I can announce that I will be performing How To Win A Pub Quiz there in September. Half of the ticket price will go to the brewery, with the other half helping me to recoup some of the funds I spent on the crowdfunder. I’m fairly sure that Edinburgh Fringe isn’t happening this year, so it’s nice to have something in the diary. The hypothetical diary that is, I haven’t bought a physical diary since 2019.

Post

WandaVision thoughts

This entry is going to be about my thoughts on WandaVision and features spoilers, so continue at your peril. As with the Mandalorian, it’s been really handy to have a new episode to look forward to each week in these odd times that are mostly spent at home.

When WandaVision was first announced, I wasn’t particularly bothered. I didn’t have much interest in Wanda or Vision based on their MCU appearances. This this is more due to the fact that the characters didn’t have a massive amount to do with their limited screen time. And I didn’t know a lot about their characters from the comics, other than a few things I’ve read online. Then again, you’re much more likely to enjoy things if you go in with low expectations.

But by the end, I had become emotionally invested in a relationship between an omnipotent being and a robot. Yes, I know Vision is a synthezoid, but ‘robot’ makes that sentence read funnier.

The series could have been a massive failure, but it succeeded due to the writing and commitment of the actors involved. This series really showed what a talent Elizabeth Olsen is when given the opportunity and the right material. It was such a nuanced performance, effortlessly flitting between victim and villain. And I really hope she receives all the awards going.

Paul Bettany also gave a great performance. Vision was just as confused about everything that was happening as the viewer. And Kathryn Hahn simply stole every scene she was in, plus she has the best theme tune of any Marvel villain.

The show took a couple of episodes to get going and the 1950s-60s sitcom setting was fun and I was trying to figure out just what the hell was going on. My theory proved correct that Wanda had basically created a pocket reality like Center Parcs where she could control everything, known as the Hex.

I’ve never seen a TV show quite like it and it constantly surprised me. In the sitcoms setting, there was something creepy and more sinister just below the surface. I used to love The Outer Limits in the 1990s and this certainly had a similar feel in places.

Jumping a decade with each instalment didn’t work at all for the most recent X-Men films in terms of continuity, but here it made much more sense. The decades progress in parallel with Wanda losing control over everything as it gets closed to present day (in the MCU, ‘present day’ means 2023). Then there’s the meta-level of those outside the Hex watching what’s happening on TV screens, theorising and trying to figure everything out just as the viewers were. In fact, I would have weekly calls with Marvel expert and former comedy partner Langton to do just that.

And on the subject of the X-Men, there was that certain appearance from Evan Peters as Pietro. He was the best thing about the most recent X-Men films and a much better character than the MCU’s version of Quicksilver, which was a rare misstep by Marvel. When he first appeared at the end of a WandaVision episode, I thought they’d brought him through the multi-verse from the Fox universe.

Yet the more time we spent with this character in WandaVision, the more it became clear what something wasn’t quite right. I’d predicted in conversations with Langton that it either was the Fox Quicksilver, or it was actually the actor Evan Peters. As it turned out, I was closer with the latter guess. Although I would be lying if I said I had guessed the Ralph Bohner swerve.

This Bohner decision has provoked some backlash from some fans online, which seems to be pretty easy to do these days. Yes, it could have been better. But it’s not worth getting angry because a theory you’ve thought up and can intricately explain doesn’t turn out to materialise. Then again, this anger normally means you have a successful YouTube channel and don’t need a regular job.

I didn’t hate the reveal and the MCU has been known to pull similar stunts before, see The Mandarin/Trevor Slattery. But I have a sneaking suspicion that we will see Evan Peters again in Doctor Strange 2, which the end of WandaVision set-up.

Minor MCU characters Darcy and Jimmy Woo reprised their roles to great effect, and the series introduced Monica Rambeau – as an adult anyway. This introduction was really well done, as it was fascinating to see the immediate aftermath of rematerialising after the Hulk Snap. I’m looking forward to seeing where they go with this character next, especially one with such cool powers.

The finale was also been criticised online, particularly the fight in the skies between Agnes and Wanda throwing magic at each other from a distance. But I enjoyed the episode and didn’t have any real problem with the magic chucking.

It’s since crossed my mind that it was possibly shot in this way because of social distancing, as the makers said that about a third of the series was filmed after Covid had forced it to stop for a few weeks. That’s my theory. Franky, we’re lucky to even have such a show during a global pandemic.

Ultimately, it is a show about grief and trying to find a way through it. And it is utterly mad, in the best possible way. But then sometimes grief can have this effect, albeit without all the superpowers, creating a pocket reality, and taking an entire town hostage.