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Archive for December, 2021

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Farewell, 2021

The 12 months of 2021 has been another Covid year when everything has remained on-hold. I’ve spent time waiting for things to get back to something vaguely normal, only for another rise in Covid cases again and more uncertainty to prevail.

At least 2020 didn’t start out quite so bleakly as 2021 did. My main concern when 2020 began was whether I had enough pairs of pants and socks for my ten-week trip to Australia and New Zealand.

What neatly summarises how little I’ve actually done this year is when a hair cut is viewed as a major event, even if my doomed mullet was 18 months in the making.

I only gig five gigs this year. This is the lowest number of gigs I’ve done since possibly 2008, when I took an official hiatus from comedy after starting my new job as a reporter for a local newspaper. I ended that year burnt out and in hospital with a broken ankle, so I’m grateful that neither of these things happened. But there’s still technically time left in the day.

For the first eight months of the year, I wasn’t really missing comedy at all. I’d already kind of got it out of my system during 2020 when there were no gigs running. Arguably, I never quite got back into the rhythm of gigging regularly after the Edinburgh Fringe of extreme
highs and lows in 2018.

Anyway, I wasn’t missing comedy this year until I saw my Facebook feed filled with people braving the pandemic and doing shows at Edinburgh with full rooms in August. It was particularly seeing my old room at the Kilderkin full that made me really miss it and want to be there. But then most of the comedians I know who went there ended up getting Covid afterwards, which is what put me off going up in the first place.

The end of August saw me returning to the comedy stage. I felt a little rusty at the first one, then much better for the second, even if being in a room full of people did make me paranoid. Then I did two performances of HTWAPQ, one in Stroud with a few technical difficulties. Then one in Swansea, with no technical difficulties but instead had chatty volunteers on the door who ended up annoying the entire audience. The fifth and final gig was for the year was in Ashton Keynes at the end of November. That was also fun. But I’m going to need to solve my booking admin issues for 2022.

Probably the highlight of my year was the brewing day down at Stroud Brewery, where I was joined by three of my good mates to spend the day making ale. It was so different to anything I’d done before and proved just how little I actually knew about the brewing process. In short, it’s nothing like cooking a pot of something where you can make adjustments to the flavour as you go. It’s more of a science like baking where measurements and temperatures have to be exact, otherwise everything goes wrong. And if you make a mistake, you have little control in changing it. These are reasons why I enjoy cooking and avoid baking.

It was really strenuous work with the mash in, but the combination of learning, drinking, and laughter made the day fly past. I would definitely like to do it again one day. The brewing day was part of the Covid crowdfunder for the local brewery, which also got me growing hops in my garden. While this year’s harvest only yielded 1.5 hops, it was a fun project to have. And next year, it should yield least three hops.

A week in Westward Ho with my family was enjoyable, although not exactly relaxing as I was on driving duties and mainly concerned with making sure my dog wasn’t too stressed out by her new surroundings. Still, sunshine and ice cream every day on the beach is never a bad thing.

This year, I also had my Facebook account of almost 15 years locked due to what was described as “unusual activity”, despite the fact that I barely post anything on there these days. To unlock it, it asked for me to upload a scan of my official photo ID such as a passport or driving licence. That wasn’t going to happen, so that was the end of that. With it went an archive of pictures and stupid comments over the past decade and a half. But it’s fine. As Kylo Ren says: “Let the past die.” But the thing is, the past is already dead. That’s why it’s called the past. It also means I won’t get quite so jealous if I don’t go up to Edinburgh in 2022.

In October, I returned to working full-time. I just don’t have to worry about commuting as it’s all home-based and I can still take my dog for long walks every day. My bank balance is looking a lot healthier at the end of the year than it was at the start. It’s been nice to have a break between Christmas and New Year, even if my Covid booster on 23 December did hit me harder than my first two doses of the vaccine.

And there were two visits to London. Cue more paranoia of being surrounded by large groups of people. Importantly, I met up for a pint with Moz and Langton. It was the first time that the three of us were all together in four years. Hopefully, 2022 will see more of this. My current plan is to move there in September.

Then there are all the shows I consumed on Disney+. WandaVision was unlike anything I’d seen before. It left me perplexed and fascinated at the same time. Falcon and the Winter Soldier and Loki were both entertaining. And Hawkeye was surprisingly great. The recurring theme for these shows is taking a character I’m not overly fussed with, but doing something new and interesting with them so that I want to see what that character goes onto next. With The Bad Batch, it was fun to step back into the Star Wars universe. And The Book of Boba Fett has started promisingly.

My film of the year is actually The Suicide Squad. The first Suicide Squad film was atrocious for a number of reasons, but maybe all its problems were solved by prefixing the title with ‘The’. James Gunn’s sequel surprised me and made me laugh a lot. And while Spider-Man: No Way Home was good, there wasn’t much in there that really surprised me.

Although 2021 has seen some highlights and not many lows on a personal level, I will be glad to see the date turn on the calendar amid the hope that 2022 will be better and see an end of this infernal virus.

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Christmas stuffing

Yesterday, I maintained my Christmas tradition of stuffing my plate with food and feeling debilitated afterwards.

And for the fourth successive Christmas, there was no meat on my plate. There are several advantages to cooking a vegetarian Christmas dinner. The main one is there is none of the painstaking preparation required for a turkey. For about seven consecutive Christmases, I’d made a mission to make turkey taste nice and to not be dry.

I’d adapted a Jamie Oliver recipe that involved chopping up cranberries and squishing them into a block of butter with rosemary, sage, and pepper. I’d then spread the butter underneath the skin, with some tangerines shoved up the cavity.

It wasn’t just the preparation that took a long time, cooking also meant I had to get up early to get the turkey in the oven, then check it every so often for the next four or five hours. This would never have been a problem in my childhood, as I rarely slept on Christmas Eve.

The turkey-butter trick worked better in some years than others. But for the most part, it was tasty and hardly ever dry. I stopped buying meat at the start of 2015, which I have mainly stuck to other than for drunken relapses in Scotland. But I continued having turkey at Christmas for a couple more years subsequently. I was disappointed when my sister said she didn’t want it one year, so my parents had bought a turkey crown. And that was the end of turkey at Christmas for me.

Since then, I’ve gone for the veg wellington option. Yesterday, I ate an entire one to myself. It’s much less preparation time and you don’t have to worry about making sure it’s properly cooked before eating it for fear of food poisoning. By this, I don’t mean I’m eating these wellingtons raw. The pastry is an effective indicator. But despite the wellington taking at least four hours less to cook, we still didn’t end up eating until almost 2pm on Christmas Day.

While the meat may have gone, the gluttonous urges and subsequent bloated state remain. That sentence really should be in a Christmas song.

One thing I have been missing for the last few Christmases is Doctor Who. They usually weren’t particularly memorable, but it did at least give me something to look forward to later on Christmas Day after opening the presents and consuming large quantities of food. While there is an episode out on New Year’s Day, it’s just not quite the same.

I remember reading an interview with Chris Chibnall a few years ago where he said he’d run out of ideas for Christmas specials. Well, if there are any Doctor Who producers reading this – and I know they almost certainly are – then I have written a Doctor Who Christmas special entitled: The Time Lord Who Stole Christmas. It involves thousands of alien parasites that attack people, so is particularly festive and family-friendly. Get in touch, producers.

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No Way Home

Caution: this post contains words of a spoilery nature for Spider-Man: No Way Home. I saw the film this week and will now write my thoughts on it. This is me getting some use out of my film studies degree, writing something on here that I won’t be getting paid for. I blame the editor.

In preparation for watching the new film, I watched the Amazing Spider-Man 2 for the first time as it was the only live-action Spider-Man film I’d not seen. I didn’t really enjoy it or feel any connection with the characters, but it wasn’t as bad as the general consensus suggested. It was just sort of there. One of my biggest problems with these films is that all the people with superpowers all get them from the one Oscorp tower.

Anyway, onto the newest film. I saw it on the day it came out after work. It was the first time I have watched a Spider-Man film in the cinema when I’ve been wearing a mask for longer than the main character. It was also probably the loudest an audience has been in terms of responses to what’s happening on the screen. I’ve been in audiences where people clap and cheer before in the cinema, normally in the midnight screening, but this definitely had the most audible responses.

I mentioned spoilers at the start of this. And I had already had many of the film’s surprise cameos spoiled for me before seeing the final film due to the uncharacteristic levels of leaks there were. All of them turned out to be right, at least the ones I saw.

My biggest concerns were that the film would be bloated or would be over-reliant on nostalgia from the films of the past. But everything worked. Seeing Willem Dafoe and Alfred Molina reprise their roles after the better part of 20 years just reminded me of why those first two Raimi films were so good. And particularly Dafoe here was even better than in 2002. The other villains all have something to do, and Jamie Foxx’s Electro is much better this time around.

But why I was most excited to see this film was the strongly rumoured appearance of one Tobey Maguire. He will always be my favourite Spider-Man. And it turns out he is in it, with Andrew Garfield. And despite my allegiances to Tobey, Andrew’s performance is the best of the two here. He looks like he’s actually enjoying himself and that the weight’s been lifted off his shoulders that was weighing him down in his two films.

One thing I would have changed about the film was the entrances of both Andrew Garfield and Tobey Maguire. It should have been a little grander than just walking through a portal. I am willing to offer my editing services for future MCU content if needed.

But this is definitely Tom Holland’s film. The ghosts of Spider-Man past don’t overshadow him and he gives his strongest performance to date for the character.

It was a lot of fun seeing all three cinematic Spideys together on screen. For me, this film and the one before it are like Avengers Infinity and Endgame. As with Infinity War, Far From Home is a better film. But like Endgame, No Way Home has those memorable moments that I know I’ll be watching crowd reactions to repeatedly.

And the ending was spot-on, effectively rebooting Tom Holland’s take on the character. He now patches up his suits with a sewing machine and has none of the fancy Stark tech to get him out of trouble, which is one thing that was slightly jarring in the previous films.

It’s always a good sign when you want to watch the sequel straight away and I am looking forward to seeing what they do with the character. Provided the ‘they’ are Marvel and not Sony, that is.

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Phone problems and fixes

For the past six weeks, I have been having issues with my phone. Pressing the power button no longer has any effect, but my phone compensates for this by having the power button options menu pop up without warning multiple times a day.

It has turned off my alarm more a few occasions, causing me to sleep longer than intended. And it also causes videos to cut out.

Both of these issues are problematic. For one thing, if I sleep through my alarm then there is a good chance that I’m going to be late for work. For another thing, watching stupid videos on YouTube is probably about 95% of what I use my phone for.

When I got the phone almost four years ago, I had a feeling that it would be only a matter of time before I’d break something on it. This was due to the fact that the back is a smooth metallic surface that easily slips out of the hand. My solution to attach some gaffer tape to the back of it did what it needed to do and gave me some grip. Admittedly, most of my repair jobs involve gaffer tape.

But the phone’s slippery structure is not what led to the inevitable two cracks in the corners of the screen. That occurred when I was at Twickenham in 2018 to watch some rugby and I put my phone in what I thought was my pocket, only to stand up and soon realised that it wasn’t a pocket when my phone fell onto the concrete floor below. I then cracked the phone again in a different corner about an hour later. I performed a repair job that didn’t involve gaffer tape. Instead, I used the varnish that goes over paint to cover scratches on cars.

This held for a couple of years, but could only delay the inevitable malfunctioning that I’m fairly sure was when the phone got some water in when I was in Swansea in October.

Ever since then, I’ve been asked multiple times a day if I want to select Power Off, Restart, or Emergency Mode when I’ve just started watching a video about wrestling analysis, Easter Eggs in a Marvel Disney+ show, or something related to space travel. Sometimes the phone lets me think that the problem has been fixed and lets me actually watch most of a video, before cutting out close to the end. Other times, the phone just flashes repeatedly as if it’s some distress beacon. I swear I haven’t done anything.

I knew the time for a new phone was upon me. Fortunately, I found a phone of my dad’s that he’s not exactly using anymore. It’s actually a more recent model of my phone, which doesn’t feel quite right given that I’m a more recent model of him. But it does mean that the charger works and I can avoid buying a new phone for the foreseeable future.

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Spider-Men

I have bought my ticket to see Spider-Man: No Way Home on the day it comes out, as it’s the only way to avoid spoilers. Or at least minimise the possibility of encountering spoilers. It won’t be until the evening on the day of release, so I’ll also have to avoid social media for the day. This is not a bad thing.

I was seriously considering going to the midnight screening, but it doesn’t seem to be available in Stroud. And it’s probably just as well. It’s going to be a busy month in the day job and working the day after a midnight screening is rarely productive. I’ve done this three times before, in 2015 and 2017 for the Star Wars sequels, and then in 2019 for Avengers: Endgame.

Most energy the next day at work is spent either trying to stay awake or finding the will to not blurt out spoilers to more sensible people who are going to see the film at a time when they wouldn’t ordinarily be asleep. But it’s not like I have to worry about the latter so much at the moment, as the main company in my current physical office is my dog. And I’m fairly sure she’s not interested in watching any films.

I would say that Spider-Man fan is probably my favourite superhero. When I was four or five, I had a Spider-Man costume I’d wear pretty much permanently. I distinctly remember having Doc Ock and Spidey action figures and had a game for my Game Gear where I could never get past the Electro level. I just kept getting hit by bolts of electricity that I had no chance of dodging.

Then in the mid-90s, I had gotten hugely into the X-Men after the cartoon, shown every Saturday morning on Live and Kicking. But when that series ended, they started showing Spider-Man – and at first, I was sure I wouldn’t be suckered in by another Marvel cartoon. How very wrong I was. I quickly became hooked and got to know the rogues’ gallery of villains.

Next up came the 2002 film directed by Sam Raimi, which I thought was great. A few things were a bit off, but they got most of it right. Most importantly of all, they got the essence of the character spot on. And Tobey Maguire will always be my favourite of the Spider-Men. And on a personal level, it particularly struck a chord for me as I was the same age as the character was when it came out. Not Tobey Maguire though, he was nine years older than me. A record he maintains to this day.

Then Spider-Man 2 happened and it remains one of my favourite films to this day. The score, the expert comic timing, J K Simmons, Alfred Molina. I could write an entire post on here about how great it is, but I may save that for another day when I don’t have much else to write about. It was the perfect sequel, arguably even better than Toy Story 2. I say ‘arguably’, as I’m not even sure of this myself.

The Spider-Man tie-in game was also one of my favourite games and I started playing it when I was meant to be writing an essay during the uni holidays for a unit I’d failed in the first year. I failed the retake, possibly due to this game. But it was worth it. It was an open-world game, where I swung around New York so much that I couldn’t probably find my way around there just from playing the game so frequently, especially if it involves swinging from buildings. Admittedly, this is unlikely.

Next up was Spider-Man 3, which I was very excited to see in New Zealand in 2007. At the time, I loved it. But then at the time, I also loved Batman and Robin. Spider-Man 3 is massively flawed and bloated but has taken on a life of its own in memes that may very well have redeemed it.

Then came the first reboot. And I can’t remember what I was doing in 2012, but I didn’t get around to watching it. I then avoided it on DVD and never actually saw it. That was until last night when I thought I should watch it ahead of No Way Home as a certain lead actor is strongly rumoured to appear in it. I didn’t really enjoy it if I’m honest. There’s none of the goofy charm of the Raimi films. It felt like a manufactured cover version of a song that I love. It tries to hit the same origin beats, but in a slightly altered way to try and consciously make it different to what came before. But in reality, it just doesn’t work as well. I hear the sequel is worse, so I look forward to watching that. I am expecting I’ll probably prefer it, as that’s how I often react to popular opinion.

And that brings us to our latest Spider-Man films in the MCU. I actually really like them. A few things feel a little off. He has too much expensive tech when part of Spider-Man’s charm is that he’s struggling to make ends meet and making things up on the spot on a shoestring budget to save the day. But crucially, the MCU films get the essence of Peter Parker right in a similar way to the Raimi films. While Tom Holland doesn’t surpass Tobey Maguire for me, he is very good. And I really like his best friend Ned, who practically steals every scene he’s in. And Far From Home was one of the best Spider-Man films. Oh, and Into the Spiderverse was great, although I would have scrapped the pig and robot characters from the final film.

Now it’s onto No Way Home. I do have concerns that they’re trying to cram too much in. But Kevin Feige knows how to make these massive ensemble things work. And if it sees Tobey Maguire suit up again, then it will all be worth it. Hopefully, I’ll find this out when I’m watching it in the cinema and not on social media beforehand.