February 8, 2018
This year I’m trying to keep a diary of what I watch and read. In January I…
I started the year with a couple of rewatches, Life of Pi (I think the beauty is best appreciated on the big screen but I enjoyed it again on the small) and La La Land (still delightful).
Next up was Silence. It was beautifully shot, overlong, pretty harrowing, and an interesting exploration of the (depending on your viewpoint) nature, cost, or futility of faith. Adam Driver looks like he walked out of an El Greco painting, he was perfect.
As part of an effort to watch some classics, Casablanca and Rio Bravo both hit my screen this month. With Casablanca especially, it was interesting how much I could know about a film and still not really know what the film was about. I could name the characters, the locations, quote the lines, but I couldn’t have told you a jot about the plot. It was great, and reminded me how much I love Peter Lorre, even though his appearance was brief.
Free Fire was better than I thought it would be (and the facial hair lived up to expectations). The Lego Batman Movie was… something I’ll keep for when my nephews visit. And The Big Sick was lovely and funny, more Holly Hunter please.
Rounding out the month, I watched Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, and I Am Not Your Negro. I think if you don’t know that there’s something fundamentally wrong with racial equality in America (and elsewhere) then I don’t know how to help you. I Am Not Your Negro is often sad, at times brutal, and throughout a necessary reminder that something needs to be fixed.
Three Billboards is also sad, and brutal, and at times hilarious. Frances McDormand is phenomenal, Sam Rockwell too. I think those complaining about Dixon’s ‘redemptive arc’ saw something I didn’t, the sad truth is that monsters in the real world are human. A horrible person can try to do something good, a virtuous person can do something bad, real people don’t have alignments, it’s not that simple.
The Comixology bug is still strong, but I’m trying to make a concerted effort to read more books this year. That said, I read the first two Atomic Robo collections, these were fun, reminded me of the early BPRD collections. The Sheriff of Babylon Vol 1 didn’t grab me at first but got interesting, I don’t think it’s hooked me enough to keep going. If I spot future collections on offer I might pick them up. I found Captain Marvel Vol 1 so-so, I picked it up what with the movie adaptation in the pipeline but my knowledge of the Marvel Cosmic and recent events wasn’t up to snuff. Cap is a badass for sure, but I felt like I was on the back foot with the story.
The comic highlight for me this month was Invincible, Vol 2. I enjoyed the first volume just fine, but then something happened in this volume that made me double take and flick back to make sure I hadn’t missed something (a bit like the time I read the Red Wedding chapter in A Storm of Swords).
On Kindle I read a couple of historical non-fiction books: The Time Traveller’s Guide to Medieval Europe and Longitude. The Time Traveller’s guide was a bit of a slog, it was clearly well researched and referenced but severely lacking in character. Longitude was much more enjoyable; genuinely dramatic, peppered with historical figures and notable events. There’s a pullquote from a review along the lines of, “makes horology sexy,” which feels a little trite, but this was a genuinely world-changing development.
In fiction I read The Big Sleep, in a similar vein to Rio Bravo and Casablanca I feel I know all the tropes of hard-boiled fiction, but I’ve never read any Raymond Chandler or Dashiell Hammett. Man, this was cool. To begin with I was definitely reading it in my head with the movie voiceover I mostly know from parodies but yeah, I ate this up. I picked it up as a trio on Kindle so I have Farewell My Lovely and The Long Goodbye to look forward to.
And on paper I read One Thousand Monsters, the latest in Kim Newman’s Anno Dracula series. If you’ve tried one of the earlier ones and it didn’t grab you, then this probably isn’t for you either, but they are very much for me, and shifting the setting to Japan only appeals to me more. Yokai as vampire strains is a great way to bring them into Newman’s world, and they are just as weird as yokai scrolls would indicate. The lads from Silence make an appearance of sorts, Popejoy is a wonderful insert. If you enjoyed the others in the series, or are a superfan of Japanese myth and cinema, then this is for you.
January 13, 2018
Over on Matt Colville’s subreddit, The3rdCraigRobinson was after pendants for the eight schools of magic in D&D:
What I’d like to do is have the officially sanctioned Wizards of the Ordo Magica wear pendants identifying the school they belong to. Badge of office. Casting Focus. And most importantly, they will serve as “Papers” to keep from getting bodied by over-zealous Witch Hunters they encounter. And one “Initiative/Novice” Pendant low level Wizards use before they choose a School. Like a large obsidian ring with 8 smaller rings of various color metals. Kind of like a miniature version of Maester Chains in Westeros.
Oh, and in case anyone else can name the 13 Dwarves of Thorin’s Company but can never recall the 8 Schools of Magic, here’s a brief refresher:
Abjuration, Conjuration, Divination, Enchantment, Evocation, Illusion, Necromancy, Transmutation
While I’d like the symbology to be recognizable and evocative (heh!) of each School, I do want to avoid cliches.
So I took a stab at them. If they’re going to be pendants, rings, seals and so forth they need to be something easily wrought, cast, cut, or carved. Simple is always better, and we want to avoid cliches of fire for evocation, skull for necromancy etc. Here’s what I came up with:
December 5, 2017
If you want the short version:
Don’t buy people stuff for the sake of it, give to charity in their name instead. If you really want to buy them something get them an experience (a show, a meal etc.). If you really want to buy them a *thing*, support an independent creator or local shop (I suggest books and board games).
Need the long version? Ok…
Does the recipient need more stuff?
They probably don’t. Not only do they already have a bunch of stuff but they’re about to get a load more because it’s Xmas/Candlenights/whatever.
It may be the case that there is something that the recipient does need, if that’s the case you don’t need a gift guide: just get them the thing.
Assuming you’re here because you don’t know what thing to get a person my first suggestion is to get them no things. Either:
- Give a thing in their name to someone who really, genuinely does need a thing, or
- Get them something they can *do*
Charity gifts may seem like a cop-out (“Oh, you got a goat for… someone else. Yay?”) but unless you are this person’s only gift-giver they’re going to get tangible gifts. Probably a whole bunch. Including a load of stuff they don’t really want and won’t ever use.
You can guarantee your gift is wanted, and used, and you will literally make the world a better place.
It can be an incredibly personal gift. Sadly, it’s pretty likely that something unfortunate will have touched your friend’s life at some point, make your gift a response to that. A bottle of perfume might be nice, but contributing to the fight against the disease that took a loved one, or funding research that might let their nephew see again is a hell of a lot better.
It may seem like an unexciting choice for Smalls. I am almost certain that the fraction of a goat I buy in their name will, at first, be the least exciting present my nephews get. But not every kid lives in a house like they do and goes to a school like they do and it’s important for them to learn that. Plus unless I’m getting them the biggest Ninjago set I can find, any gift I get them isn’t going to be the most exciting. And I should give them more credit, they’re smart kids this will make them think (once they’re bored of remote control Lightning McQueen).
So which charities should you give to? Tbh, I’m not an expert, this year I’ll be donating to:
But there are loads of charities out there. Find one that means something to you or to your recipient, try checking charity rankings (like Givewell) to ensure they’re a decent charity, then go for it.
Get them something they can do. Something they can experience or consume.
If you Google this sort of thing you’ll get the companies that offer F1 days and helicopter flights but I don’t mean those (full disclosure: I flew a helicopter once and it was awesome).
For me these fall into Tickets, Bookings, and Plans.
To a show, a ballet, a gig, comedy, whatever. It can be something you really like, something they really like, something neither of you have ever heard of…
I bought my parents tickets to an Opera for Xmas a few years ago and I know they’ll remember that forever, but I doubt they could tell you what I bought them last Xmas (I certainly can’t).
It can be something for them to enjoy with a partner (throw in a babysitting offer too for brownie points) or it can be for you and them to do together. It doesn’t have to be expensive.
My best friend bought us tickets to see an adaptation of the play within a play from a Midsummer Night’s Dream that was entirely in Russian (neither of us speak Russian) and featured a performing dog. Tickets were £5. We had a blast. Try something you would never normally do.
I couldn’t think of a better word for this (I toyed with voucher but that has implications of the HMV vouchers that were a staple of my childhood). I’m talking about a voucher for a local restaurant or spa, that sort of thing. Preferably something that you’ve done and loved and want them to do too.
Again, it doesn’t have to be expensive, it could be for tea and cake at your favourite bakery (even if they don’t do vouchers just go and ask them – I bet they’ll sort you out), a cocktail at a bar you really like. Something that you did, loved, and wished that person could’ve done too.
My favourite one of all. You can combine this with the above, or, you can do the £0 version. That may seem cheap but I genuinely believe it’s the thought that counts and planning a day out for someone requires a hell of a lot more than buying them a DVD that’s on offer in Sainsbury’s.
Pick somewhere and plan a day out.
Maybe you find a quirky National Trust property (oh hai Snowshill Manor) then look for nearby pubs or cafes, find a walk to or from it. Or you pick a city and work out a route that takes you to every sculpture and blue plaque with a cocktail between each one.
Draw a map of it with little illustrations of you and your buddy doing the things, or make a little book.
I do this for my other half every year and without fail we have the best times.
But I really want to get them a thing!
Ok. In which case I have a few guidelines:
- Support creators
- Support local, independent shops
- Buy fewer things following the above criteria rather than lots of cheaper things from Amazon, Tesco etc.
Right, but what actual stuff?
Books and board games.
Board Games are great. Seriously. There are so many great games out there right now and you probably live near a Friendly Local Game Store (meeting criterion #2 above) plus you can get a single game as a gift for a whole group of people (well hello criterion #3).
Shut Up and Sit Down have a fab gift guide that I recommend you check out for range of great suggestions for all budgets and audiences. My top suggestions would be:
- Mysterium (it’s Cluedo but one of you is the ghost of the victim trying to help the others solve your murder)
- Codenames (the best word/guessing game)
- D&D Starter Set (this is the most fun you can have with your brain, and I can confirm it contains both Dungeons and a Dragon)
As for books… I just love books.
Kottke has a round up of the ‘Top Books of 2017’ lists, though my top tip is to check out top lists from past years too, those books are still just as good. Buy them from your local independent bookshop.
Books I’ve enjoyed this year:
- Bill Bryson’s At Home
- The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch
- Robert Webb’s How Not To Be A Boy
- Golden Hill by Francis Spufford
- David Grann’s The Lost City of Z
- Tim Marshall’s Prisoners of Geography
- Locke and Key by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodríguez
Talking of Kottke, he always pulls together a great Holiday Gift Guide Guide. 2017’s isn’t up yet but you can see 2016’s here and, as above, many of these things would still be cool gifts.
On the ‘supporting a creator’ front, if you follow illustrators or authors on Twitter or Instagram they probably sell stuff, prints, books, postcards, pins. If you dig their stuff then support them, your friend gets a gift that not many other people have, you get to look cool, and the creator gets paid. It’s good all round.
Is that it?
Not quite, there’s a secret final option: make something.
You can do anything from a jar of chutney for them to enjoy with Xmas dinner to a full on hamper of chocolates made by your own fair hand.
My go-to options are:
- Truffles. Everyone likes chocolate and making them couldn’t be easier. Dark chocolate + equal weight of just boiled cream. Add optional flavourings (honey, vanilla, rum etc.). Let cool. Make into balls and roll in cocoa or crushed toasted nuts.
- Chutney. Onions, apples, vinegar, sugar, spice. There are no end of chutney recipes, but importantly: it’s cheap, you can make it in bulk, it’s delicious. Keep hold of used jars to save having to buy any.
- Flavoured Gin. Sloes or Damsons, pricked, plus double their weight in the cheapest gin you can buy, and half their weight in sugar. Leave for at least one month but preferably three. It’s delicious. Bottle it in jars to save having to buy bottles.
Clearly I err towards edibles but you could make a mixtape, throw a pot, knit a scarf, whatever.
Ultimately do whatever you want. I’m not your Mum. But seriously think about whether you’re buying someone a thing just so you have given them a thing, and whether you could not buy them a thing and in doing so make their Xmas better.