2018 Concerts

Favourites: Thumpers and The Cool Quest.

Mixed Media, Monday 31 December 2018

Book cover for Waypoint Kangaroo by Curtis C. Chen

Books:

  •  Waypoint Kangaroo by Curtis C. Chen could not be any further up my alley. Kangaroo is a wise-cracking spy with a unique and completely unexplainable superpower: the ability to open a hole to a pocket universe where he can store all sorts of convenient tools and gadgets. His last mission didn’t go so well, the secret intelligence department he works for is being audited, and they want him out of the way for a while, so they send him on a vacation cruise to Mars. Of course, the cruise doesn’t go as expected, and Kangaroo gets pulled into a web of deceit, murder, and romance. It’s fabulous, and I loved every page. Even better: there’s a sequel!
  • Turn The Ship Around by L. David Marquet is a management book that tells how the author took the submarine he was put in command of from the bottom of its group rankings to the top, by pushing authority and decision-making power as far down the traditional pyramid hierarchy as possible. I happen to work in an industry and organization where some of the lessons in the book are the norm already, but there is still a lot to learn from here.
  • All Systems Red by Martha Wells — first novella in the “Murderbot Diaries” series about a security robot who has hacked its own behaviour governor so that it can spend more time watching TV shows. It’s fun, though not as comical as the premise might suggest. We have the rest of the series in ebook, and I plan to read more.
  • Domino vol 1: Killer Instinct by Gail Simone, David Baldeon et al. I like the art. The story is okay, but it jumps around a bit too much, and doesn’t land the thematic punches very cleanly.

Films:

  • Mortal Engines Meh
  • Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald Meh
  • 💩The Meg Sometimes you just find yourself in the mood for a Jason Statham film. Skip this one.
  • Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse Awesome! Want more of this.

TV:

  • Travelers season 3: Oh wow. They actually ended it. Wrapped up. Three seasons and done, with an ending that might not be what we want, but that makes narrative and emotional sense. I’m sad that it’s over, because I love these characters and would gladly watch more of their stories. But too many shows feel like they draw out their main arc with filler episodes that don’t lead anywhere. Travelers doesn’t have room for much of that.
  • The Blacklist season 1: Case in point. I actually do rather like this, but it’s really obvious that it’s going to be a never-ending race to peel layers off an infinite onion. How (or if) the characters evolve will determine whether I stick with it for longer.
  • Colony season 2: Feels like it’s treading water at times, but by the end of the season the cast has been through a wringer. I understand that it got canceled after season 3, but I don’t know if the writers were able to wrap it up in the final episodes. Hmm.

Bell

Earlier this year, at the end of May, Fiona and I took a weekend trip to Scotland to visit the Degree Show of Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design in Dundee. Fiona has her eye set on going to art school in Scotland. (Last year we had planned to visit Gray’s School of Art in Aberdeen, but Fiona was too ill to make it work – Alex and I went to Scotland alone, and did a massive road trip around the west coast instead.) My parents occasionally check out the Scottish art school degree shows, and they always come away impressed. Fiona had a different (or at least, an additional) motive for the trip: it was an opportunity for her to meet her boy C.

We flew to Edinburgh on Friday evening and stayed with Mum & Dad. On Saturday we drove to Dundee in the morning and parked near the college. I didn’t see Fiona’s first encounter with C because I was parking the car. But when I got in the building I got to meet him, and he seemed like a very pleasant young man. Fiona and he went off on their own to explore, while Mum and Dad and I took a look around ourselves.

(So how did I feel about letting Fiona off on her own with a young man three years her elder? Well, old, I suppose. On the other hand, when my parents were as old as I am now, they were watching Abi and me get married. So I guess I should consider myself fortunate the Fiona isn’t talking about eloping just yet. Hooking up is normal teenage behaviour, and I’m just glad that Fiona is actually indulging in it now, rather than still being cloaked in depression.)

The works on the ground floor had impressed me a lot already. When we got up to the first floor of the labyrinthine college I stopped to chat with Johanna Tonner, one of the final year students, about the works she was displaying. She had framed prints for sale (I bought one for my office), but her bigger pieces were soft sculptures: torso-sized asymmetric blobs of soft foam core wrapped in colourful hand-printed fabric, mounted on a metal rod at just the right height to walk up and hug. She told me that she had made everything in the exhibit herself: not just the prints on paper and textiles, but she had ground solid metal bases for the sculptures in the college’s metalworking shop, and had made the wooden frames for her larger photos in the woodworking shop. DJCAD. She explained how the first year at DJCAD students get a solid baseline of lots of practical studio and workshop techniques before they decide where to focus their attention in later years.

Print by Johanna Tonner

I guess I just hadn’t thought very much about what “art school” was until then. Although I had been tentatively supportive of Fiona’s desire to go to art school, I had been holding back on enthusiasm and whole-hearted approval. That day changed me. The college teaches a vast range of practical skills. But the imagination, creativity, and artistic vision on display at the degree show was simply staggering. I kept looking around and being blown away by another sculpture, painting, or installation. Animation, architecture, textile and fashion design, gorgeous jewellery, comics and illustration… It just kept on coming.

It filled me with joy: this is what humans are capable of. This is what humans were meant to do. But it also made me sad: many of the amazingly talented students will not be able to make a living from their art. Why not? Why is our society set up to elevate commerce above creativity, banks over beauty? Art and expression are what make us human – not just making art, but experiencing and responding to it as well. I found it a genuinely emotional watershed.

By the time I met up with Mum and Dad again, they had become enchanted by a project on one of the upper floors: Juglares by James Fallan. For his exhibition project he had undertaken a walk from Glasgow to Dundee via Edinburgh, stopping along the way to talk to people and collect their thoughts and expressions on a large canvas he carried with him. After the journey, he turned took parts of the canvas and turned the words and pictures into a 3-D surface that he used as the surface texture for bells cast from bronze, with handles made from sections of the walking stick he used along the way. As part of the exhibit he had a couple of screens showing video of him along the way, and of him making the bells. The bells themselves are gorgeous, and the project captured my imagination just as it had caught Mum and Dad’s.

Juglares by James Fallan – statement
Juglares by James Fallan – statement
Juglares by James Fallan – exhibit
Juglares by James Fallan – canvas
Juglares by James Fallan – map
Juglares by James Fallan – bell
Juglares by James Fallan – bell

Mum and Dad were seriously considering buying one of the bells. It was just coming up to lunchtime, though, so I suggested that we go visit the college café and have sometime to eat and drink before making a decision. While we were getting our food, I sneakily texted Abi and asked her if it would be okay for me to buy the bell for Mum and Dad as a wedding anniversary gift — their 50th anniversary was coming up the following month. Abi agreed, and I broke the news to them that this was going to be their present. They were slightly taken aback (it wasn’t cheap), but very happy.

So after lunch we went back upstairs and waited for James to return from his lunch as well. He was delighted to hear that we’d be buying one of his pieces. In fact, it was his very first sale. And not only that, but this happened to be the day when he has his parents and grandparents over to see his work. They showed up just as we were making the purchase and figuring out how best to send him the money, because I didn’t have enough cash on me. We stood around and chatted with them, and they were proud and delighted to see his work, and to be around when he made his first sale, especially knowing that it was going to be for a memorable gift. Similarly, this added to the story for us, knowing that we had managed to time our presence and the purchase just so perfectly. It was a great moment. It made me happy to buy Mum and Dad such a nice gift, and it made me happy to be supporting the work of a talented young artist.

(Fiona had a lovely day with C. We all met up again in mid-afternoon, but Fiona and C weren’t done having out yet. I drove back to Murthly with Mum and Dad, and Fiona and C stayed on in Dundee for a while and went to the cinema. I drove back to Dundee late in the evening to do the dad taxi run.)

Mixed media, Sunday 25 November 2018

Overlord movie poster

Films:

  • Overlord Alex took me to see this in the 4DX screen of Pathé de Munt. The ads I’ve seen for 4DX make it look a bit gimmicky, and as we entered the cinema I thought the seats would look more at home in a roller coaster. They felt more like firm roller coaster seats. They’re not plush. But the experience they added to the film was undeniable. Overlord’s opening scenes are big and noisy, with soldiers being thrown around inside a plane getting shot down over France in the hours leading up to the D-Day invasion. The 4DX chairs shake you about quite frantically, you get hit in the face by blasts from the wind machine, and occasional sprays of water mist. It’s intense. For a film like this, whose horror/action beats come at you like the slow build ups and exhilarating releases of a rollercoaster, it worked exceptionally well. The film itself is solid, too. It takes the the “nazis + zombies” premise and runs with it, but not into over-the-top ridiculousness. Alex and I both loved it.
  • Cleaner (2007) Not bad, just forgettable.
  • 🤔 The Negotiator (a.k.a. Beirut) In the middle of the Lebanese civil war, the CIA drags former diplomat Mason Skiles (Jon Hamm) back to Beirut to help them negotiate the release of an old friend. Or is that really what they want to happen? This is a cleverly plotted espionage/diplomacy thriller, but the use of Lebanon as scenery felt somewhat exploitative.
  • Ocean’s 8 Not bad, just forgettable.
  • Los Cronocrimenes (Timecrimes) Simple but effective time travel thriller about an ordinary middle-aged man who stumbles into an extraordinary situation, and then makes some really questionable choices. There’s no clever twist to time travel here — it’s just very effectively executed.
  • Scenes from a Dry City Short and powerful documentary about drought conditions in Cape Town.
  • Soyalism Pulls together many strands about how vertical integration of agribusiness is affecting the planet and our food supply. Thought-provoking, not preachy.

TV:

  • Secret City Excellent Australian political/journalistic/espionage mystery with Anna Torv in the lead as political investigative reporter Harriet Dunkley. If you like the Worricker series (Page 8 et al.) and London Spy, you’ll love this. Lots of twists and turns. Lots of political manoeuvring and backstabbing. Lots of reporters doggedly chasing down leads, cultivating sources, and willing do do anything to expose corruption with their story.
  • Maniac Quirky retro-futuristic drama with Emma Stone and Jonah Hill signing up for a drug trial run by an unscrupulous corporation and some very strange scientists. I’m still not sure what kind of story it was trying to tell (other than illuminating the human condition), but if you’re willing to just enjoy it for the mind-bending ride, full of offbeat performances and bizarre visual gags, it’s quite fun. Makes me want to go and check out Cary Joji Fukunaga’s other stuff (specifically True Detective).

Music:

Malcolm Middleton has a new album out: Bananas. It’s good.

Leeuwarden

Looking up at the underside of a fairground thrill ride, with people's feet sticking out

Abi and I took a wee break in Leeuwarden (Ljouwert, Liwadden, City of 100 Names, European Capital of Culture 2018) over the weekend of 10/11 November. We drove north and over the Afsluitdijk on Friday evening, and we stayed two nights at the Van Ver Valk Hotel Hardegarijp, in the village of Hurdegaryp (part of gemeente Tytsjerksteradiel). Frisian spelling and place names are quite different from those in the area around Amsterdam.

On Saturday we went in to Leeuwarden city in the morning, parked near Hoeksterend, and walked into the centre. It was around 11:00, but the city still felt very quiet. It woke up as we got closer to the centre.

Young folks standing around and looking at their phones in Leeuwarden

We didn’t have any particular plans, but I had noticed that there was a branch of Kamera Express somewhere in town, and we happened to bump into it on our walk. I had been hoping we’d pass it, because I wanted to show Abi the Think Tank camera bags I’ve been lusting after. Kamera Express had a special offer on Retrospective (v1) series, and Abi decided to buy me an early birthday present in the form of a gorgeous Retrospective 7 bag. It’s amazing. It has pockets everywhere, and smart movable internal dividers that give it rigidity and allow you to customize it to fit your particular gear.

Think Tank Retrospective 7 bag

The Troop London bag I bought four years ago was nice — I do love a canvas messenger bag — but it didn’t last very well. When I bought my Spikes and Sparrow leather bag a couple of years ago I thought it would replace this one completely. Turns out I have space in my life for more than one bag, though. I like keeping my leather bad mostly packed and ready for my UK trips, so all I have to do is drop my laptop in and go. The Troop bag is smaller, and I’ve kept it around for casual everyday use. But its seams are disintegrating. It’s time for it to retire to a bag farm upstate.

Disintegrating Troop London canvas messenger bag

We had lunch at a cafe near the station. In the afternoon we visited an exhibit of Jorrit van de Waal’s Mechanimal Life. We saw his dachshunds, heron, bumblebee, and tarsier. The pieces were playful and delightful. Unfortunately the art centre was suffering from a power cut, so we didn’t get to see the animals in motion – the dachshunds wagging their tails, for example:

Jorrit van de Waal's text for his Dachshund

After that we walked to the giant Recycle Boulevard second-hand store. We didn’t buy anything but were impressed by the experience! It’s enormous, and arranged more like an Ikea than a classic charity shop or jumble store. Second-hand stores are gaining popularity here.

Towards the end of the day we stopped at the Bagels & Beans for a hot drink and a bagel. We also got a couple of bagels to take back to the hotel with us for evening snacking. We’d had dinner in the hotel the night before (a very nice spinach lasagne for me), but we didn’t feel like another big sit-down meal that day. We drove back and had a quiet evening lying in our room, reading and grazing.

The next day we had breakfast and plotted a leisurely route home through Friesland and Flevoland. We stopped in Hindeloopen for a walk around, and then in Urk for lunch. (Urk turned out to be almost entirely closed, apart from one restaurant.) Hindeloopen has a beautiful new copper, steel, wood, and stone fountain its centre, “Flora and Fauna” by Chinese artist Shen Yuan. A giant set of stag’s antlers enclose a gnarled tree, with exotic birds sitting on its branches. I couldn’t do it justice with my photos, but I loved it.

Men walking on the sea dyke at Hindeloopen

Two bikes on their side

As we were driving into Hindeloopen, we saw what we thought was an upside-down house. We drove the same road on our way back, and we stopped to take a closer look at what is indeed an upside-down house. The architects took the shape of a traditional Frisian farm house and imagined what it would be like if the pointy end at the base instead of at the top. It looks really weird, but I’m sure it will be amazing when it’s finished. (It’s right next to the Hindeloopen train stop, if you want a peek.)

Upside-down house

Right at the end of our drive back, we stopped in at McDonalds IJdoornlaan and tried their new vegetarian “chicken” burger. It was remarkably decent! It certainly answers the question “what will I eat if everyone else fancies McD?”

Abi on the beach at Urk

Abi on the beach at Urk

Abi on the beach at Urk