Holy macaroni, it’s July! As our strangest year ever continues to take us on a voyage into uncharted territories, allow us to help you navigate your way to safe harbours, sheltering from the storms. Now is the time. Here is the place. This is The Cut.Continue reading The Cut – Issue 8
I’m in the process of figuring out a few things about this site and what I do with it. There are a lot of clever people out there who see the humble blog making something of a comeback. I guess that’s something of a kickback against social media platforms and their restrictions. On a blog you can say what you want, how you want.
I’ve been going back through the archives of the site (and there are a lot of them—I’ve been on WordPress since 2005, and Blogger for a few years before that). It’s interesting to see how X&HT started as a ‘web log’ in the truest sense of the word. That is, a way of sharing what you’d been up to on the web. To a point, early X&HT looked a lot like my Twitter stream—links, snarks and short-form thoughts.
I think there’s some benefit to that format. Once a week, therefore, I’m going to try and post out some of the things I’ve found of interest in my travels through the aetherscape. I hope you find it of benefit. Call it a kind of cuttings collection.
In fact, let’s just call it The Cut.Continue reading The Cut — Issue 1
I would love to be able to tell you how the extended time at home has led to an outpouring of creativity, a flood of new writing and art and music from my head meats through my skilful fingers and out, fluttering like glittering butterflies of the imagination, into the world.Continue reading The Lockdown Library
The tap on the door is a regular occurance now. It always brings a little something that lightens the day. A veg box delivery from Vegivores or Geo Cafe. Beer from Loddon, cheese and beer from The Grumpy Goat. Maybe something for TLC’s craft room (she’s playing around with the Cricut she had for her birthday and coming up with wonderful results).
Yesterday, a delivery of herb plants put a smile on my face. Barbeque rosemary, French tarragon, parsley, oregano, sorrel. Planting them in the herb tower I bought last year will be a gentle treat for the weekend. Little sparks of flavour for the summer round the corner.
I have to keep thinking in terms of week versus weekend. Tracking the days, building new routines now I’m furloughed. TLC is working from home, so I’m led by her example. I make tea while she showers, maybe sneaking an extra ten minutes under the covers whle she dresses. An Aeropress coffee each before she hits the desk. Man, I’d forgotten about the simple joys of grinding beans, stirring and watching mindfully as the crema blooms in the brewing chamber. The rush of the good stuff into a favourite mug, hot and rich and fragrant. Another little spark to start the motor of the day.
I’m trying to watch less TV right now. It’s hard enough to steer clear of bad news. The Situation (as TLC and I have taken to stentorially pronounce it) gets into everything as it is. I make one exception–my 10am date with Matt Tebbutt and Jack Monroe for Daily Kitchen Live. As cooking shows go, this is a delight. Even seperated by video link, Jack and Matt have a bright and easy chemistry and are clearly learning loads from each other. It’s educational, entertaining, speaking to the everyday lives of the nation at the moment more truly and precisely than any other show on the air. And you get to learn about the joys of bottled lemon juice or how to make quick and easy pizza. A spark of foodie pleasure. I’m making this tonight.
With time on my hands, there’s room to get back to the projects that went on the shelf earlier in the year. The writing that faded away after Nanowrimo. The half-done short stories. And ever more, my happy place, WROB. It’s an indulgence, sure, and I’m very aware that I am a middle-aged male with time on his hands honking on about his Spotify recommendations. No-one needs to hear that, and frankly I’m not that bothered if they do or not. It feels good and right to me. It’s a spark that shines more brightly with every moment I put into it.
As far as music goes, I’ve been powered by Spotify for as long as I can remember now. Paired with a trio (that’s not mathematically or grammatically possible but I think we’re all beyond that now) of Sonos speakers, we have tunes on tap all through the house. Playlisting is easy and keeps songs rolling all through the day. I do, however, find myself relying on old favourites more often–musical comfort blankets, if you will. Bruce Springsteen, for example, is a constant cue-up these days. We even streamed his 2009 Hyde Park gig through Youtube last week. Three and a bit hours of sheer entertainment.
A new/old find is an album of covers by another old favourite, Matthew Sweet, whose power-pop stylings have long resonated in this household, and his wife.
Yeah, okay, CLANG. Sounds reductive if not downright sexist of me, but I’m holding back for dramatic effect. Come on, give me this one.
The spawny so-and-so is married to Susanna Hoffs. Yes, The Bangles’ Susanna Hoffs. Yes, the Susanna Hoffs who did that side-eye in the video for walk Like An Egyptian and wore that mini-dress in the Eternal Flame video and rocks a black Rickenbacker like no-one else and hey well LOOK–
Proper badass. Power-pop royalty in her own right is what I’m saying, which makes the Sweet/Hoffs pairing all the more special.
Aaanyway, Susanna and Matthew have released a long series of cover versions, and the best of them are complied onto Under The Covers, a cracking set of tunery. Their harmonies are gorgeous throughout. There’s nothing particularly challenging here, but it’s a spark for the soul as far as I’m concerned.
While I’m on Recommendation Road, it would be remiss of me not to mention the podcast run by an X&HTeam-mate and fellow Trekkie, Keith Eyles. Let’s See What’s Out There follows the recently-finished Star Trek: Picard, which I’ve thoroughly enjoyed. You may too, if you’re that way inclined.
Keith and co-host Pete are knowledgable and enthusiastic without indulging in the aggressive geekery that can leak into these sort of exercises. It’s going to some interesting places now season 1 is complete. There is a danger that I may crop up on an episode at some point. Fair warning will be given so you can retreat to a safe distance. Check out an ep featuring another Team-mate, Graham Williams, below. You may find it sparks an interest.
It’s the end of my first week in furlough. There is dark talk of decorating and shelf-building in my near future. For now, I’m enjoying this quiet time, feeling my mind slowly returning to a place where the sparks can fly freely. I hope you’re all finding bright points in the day too, however and wherever you can.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have important things to do. Take it away, boys…
Between 1844 and 2013, HMP Reading was the involuntary home for thousands of people who had caused offence to the state. From its original aim as a new model prison, with design features considered progressive for the time, the building changed, grew and mutated. Over the decades it became shabby, gradually less fit for purpose. Finally, after service as a young offenders lock-up, it was closed three years ago.
And that would have been the end for this unlovely, haunted building, if not for the fact that it is world-famous under its original name. Or rather, because of one particular inmate. Between 1895 and 1897 Prisoner C.3.3 suffered, wrote movingly of his torments, and immortalised the building whose walls enclosed him.
We know the man as Oscar Wilde, and the building as Reading Gaol.
Mike Tack is one of the busiest indie horror film makers in the UK. He constantly pushes himself to the limits in getting the best value out of a very limited budget. His latest, Red Wolf Pines, takes that idea and runs hard with it. Continue reading Welcome… To Red Wolf Pines!
Spoilers, spoilers, spoilers. If you have not yet seen Neil Blomkamp's remarkable Chappie, I recommend:
a) You do so at the soonest opportunity, and
b) read this piece only after you have done so. Which chops the potential audience for it off at the knees, but hey, Readership, you know I have your best interests at mind.
Continue reading Zef Singularity
It’s always good to see something new from up-and-coming horror talent Mike Tack, and his latest, garden-core nasty The Allotment is a step forward for the hardcore accountant. Continue reading Tack Is Back!
I consider myself a romantic. As a long-term SF addict, my sense of wonder is sharply honed, and I love my wife with a passion that can reshape continents. But the notion of Valentine's Day, and the industry it supports, has largely passed me by. Continue reading The Machinery Of Romance
I feel like I’m in a very lonely place at the moment.