Category: List Page 1 of 3

Oops, I Forgot To Include ‘Writing Unnecessarily Long Blog Posts’ In My List Of Things You Can Do To Entertain Yourself

(Or ‘The Jacob Marley of posts – by which I mean it’s heavy-laden with links’)

As noted in yesterday’s post, this is a predominantly indoorsy time, so I thought I’d share some stuff that might be of interest – I am, as I hope is clear, in no way saying “you must do this” about any of the following (especially the physical activities suggested), it’s really just a list of things that I’ve enjoyed, and you might too. So with that (hopefully kind of unnecessary) caveat out of the way, on to the list, with its arbitrary categories:

Physical activities

Being indoors all the time is hardly conducive to a lot of exercise – unless you’ve got loads of weights or one of those Peleton things – so it’s probably useful that in the UK one of the accepted reasons to go outside is once a day for exercise. But for people who can’t do that – no open spaces nearby, for example – a lot of folks in the health and fitness business have made their stuff accessible online; you’ve probably seen that Joe Wicks is doing daily workouts every morning, but I thought I’d share a few others. Key thing, I feel, is to find what works for you – they often say that mental and physical health are linked, so keeping the blood flowing is likely to help you stay chipper at this odd time.

I’ve embraced yoga in the last few years and found it’s very much for me, and luckily a couple of my teachers have gone online recently:

Meg of Real Life Yoga is one of the funniest teachers I’ve ever had, as you can probably tell by the video she’s posted of a yoga sequence to do if you’ve got a hangover; but she’s also posted some short, non-morning-after videos aimed at people who are working from home, which are worth a look.

Charlie is a very friendly and supportive teacher and I’ve attended his lessons several times, including a beautiful session in a candlelit church; he’s posted some instructional videos online especially for this time. They’re free to view, but if you can make a contribution that’d be lovely.

I’m currently six weeks into the at-home programme of Broga, which is (as the name suggests) a version of yoga originally aimed at men (or at least, aimed at getting past male preconceptions about whether yoga is for them). It’s hard work, and more actively so than most yoga I’ve experienced, but it’s one of those workouts where you really feel the endorphins and the sense of achievement when you’re done. I’m using the DVD, but they’re very kindly hosting live classes online; as I understand it, you go to their Instagram page and press the Live button, and you should be good to go (I can’t be sure – I’m not on IG myself). Good news here is that not only are many of their instructors donating their fee to charity for doing these classes, but they’re also running additional classes, including ones for families, so definitely worth a look.

And in the world of yoga, one of the most well-known online instructors is, of course, Adriene – millions of subscribers and dozens of videos, suitable for beginners and expert alike, with a whole variety of durations; basically something for everyone, and a great place to start (the only reason I mention her further down the list here is because I wanted to start off with teachers and styles I have personal experience of).

Of course, yoga isn’t the only kind of exercise you can do indoors, and for many other ideas I heartily recommend Nerd Fitness – a site that doesn’t take itself seriously, but does take exercise seriously, and has a slew of great resources and exercise plans: for obvious geek reasons, I like their Batman Bodyweight Workout, but there are loads of other at-home workout routines. Definitely deserves a look, not least for the great Lego setups that illustrate so many of their articles.

Lastly on the physical exertion topic, I like to run – granted, it’s not for everyone (and not everyone is allowed out at the moment), but if you’re thinking this might be the time to try it out, then a lot of people I know (including m’colleague) have had a lot of success with Couch to 5K, often surprising themselves with just how much progress can be made in a pretty short period of time.


Mens Sana in Corpore Sano, as the Romans had it (apologies for that Juvenal joke), and it’s probably fair to say that in the last few years topics of mental health and well-being have been much more openly discussed, with mindfulness and meditation being … well, I’d like to say ‘increasingly popular’, but I have no evidence of that to hand. But I’ve certainly seen a lot more articles on those topics in the papers and magazines, and they seem to get a lot of mentions in podcasts and the like, so I’ll assume this is in some way reflected in reality.

I’ve been a fan of meditation since my teens, and whilst I wish I could pretend that means I’m an expert at it, it still feels like something that I can still learn a lot about – that said, I’ve found it a great way of just getting centred and feeling a bit more in control of one’s thoughts and actions, particularly during turbulent times, so I’d recommend it – here are a couple of apps you can get for smartphones:

Insight Timer – my app of choice, it’s free and you can create your own sessions (selecting duration and background sounds), or listen to the guided meditations or talks by noted experts like Tara Brach.

Headspace – probably better known than Insight Timer, and a lot of people swear by it. It didn’t quite do it for me, but that’s probably just me trying to pretend I’m some kind of maverick, swimming against the tide and not liking the same stuff as everyone else. Yeah, lookit me, I’m a rebel. Ahem.

Calm – again, a very popular app, this one has a particularly elegant style (just click on Get Started and enjoy the interface), and even has bedtime stories read by people like Stephen Fry.

As ever, there are a wealth of resources online for this kind of thing, and since meditation essentially boils down to sitting comfortably, closing the eyes and focusing on the breath (as a starter; that’s not the entirety of it, obviously), you should be able to get started for pretty much the sum of zero pence. The best things in life can, after all, be free.

Right, so that’s enough of you looking after yourself, let’s move on to entertainment…

Streaming TV and Films and stuff

I’m not even going to try to list everything that’s available (I know that, for example, the BBC have put loads of box sets of TV series onto iPlayer, and I’m sure you know what kind of thing you’re into), but here are a couple of things I have found and enjoyed…

Netflix – As well as six seasons of Brooklyn Nine-Nine, a delightfully warm-hearted and upbeat comedy, I recently found and thoroughly enjoyed the film Extra Ordinary; put me in mind of a cross between Derry Girls and Ghostbusters, and is a lot of fun. I wasn’t familiar with the cast or creatives involved (apart from Will Forte, who seems to be having a lot of fun), but they’ve all done a terrific job. Really worth your time.

iPlayerAs mentioned above, they’ve put a whole load of shows up to help the nation stay entertained while we’re all indoors, and whilst the list could go on for ages, I’d particularly highlight the fact that every episode of Inside No.9 is there to be watched; they’ve just finished their fifth series, and it’s maintained a consistently high standard, to the extent that I wonder if I, as a viewer might be in danger of taking for granted just how ruddy good it is. If you’ve not seen it yet, this is a great chance to catch up.

And possibly hidden in the films section on iPlayer is the frankly bonkers film Mindhorn, which is funny, clever, and only about 85 mins, so it doesn’t have time to drag. That’s how to do it.

All4I mentioned above that some programmes are so good that it’s easy to almost overlook that consistent quality – and Friday Night Dinner is one of them. The sixth season is currently showing on Channel 4, and there’s no drop in story quality whatsoever, and the performances are just as solid… by which I mean solidly ridiculous, most of the time. All the episodes are currently available to view on All4.

Oh, and I mentioned Derry Girls earlier, which is also on the All4 site, and which is terrific.

Aside from the above (and other streaming services which I don’t have and so haven’t mentioned), there are some interesting cultural whatnots worth checking out:

National Theatre Live – in the last couple of years, the National Theatre have taken to screening filmed versions of some of their plays (and transmitting them to cinemas around the country, which strikes me as a clever way of getting stuff seen by people who (a) don’t live nearby or (b) don’t know if they want to spend forty quid or more on a production they may not like that much).

As theatres are closed right now, the NT has started screening a play every Thursday on their YouTube channel, and it remains there for a week, so don’t feel you have to watch it in real time. As I type this, Jane Eyre is the current play, and I believe that one of the future presentations will be the production of Twelfth Night from a couple of years ago, starring Tamsin Greig, which I thought looked interesting, but never got to see, so I’ll be looking out for that.

Royal Opera House – In a similar vein, the ROH are screening a selection of performances of opera and ballet on their YouTube channel. I’ll cheerfully admit that whilst I like me a bit of opera, ballet’s a bit of a blind spot to me, but maybe this is the perfect time for me to try some, with time and money less at risk if I do so? Worth a look.

Podcasts – are like the radio shows you can pause and rewind, and so are a great way to hear other people’s voices, and opinions, and learn stuff and laugh (or all of those things). Plus you can get on with stuff like washing and tidying while they keep you company. I’m sure you can find a ‘cast (that’s what the cool kids call them, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise) on a subject of interest to you, but the following are ones which I always enjoy:

How to Fail – Elizabeth Day talks to successful people, about how they’ve been shaped by their failures… that’s a really dry summary of a really interesting show.

Scriptnotes – John August and Craig Mazin’s long-running ‘cast about writing. Mainly for the screen, but loads of lessons about creativity and the like anyway (this week’s episode has Ryan Reynolds and Phoebe Waller-Bridge as guests! How cool is that? Well, actually I don’t know how cool, as I haven’t listened to it yet. But I’ve listened to the previous 444 episodes, and they’ve all been good, so the pedigree of the show and the guests alike suggests it won’t be rubbish).

The One You Feed – host Eric Zimmer talks to people in the fields of religion, psychology, philosophy and … er, let’s say spirituality, about the quest to live a better life. That makes it sound a bit woo-woo, but it’s usually pretty practical, and I’ve learned a lot from it. Your mileage, as they say, may vary, probably dependent on who the guest is in any given episode, but definitely worth a go.

and of course, a whole host of other podcasts are available, from a whole host of sources; BBC Sounds, iTunes, whatever. It’s kind of like the way you figure out what music you like, I guess – have a look in a chosen area, give something a go, see what happens or what it might lead to. Actually, that sounds more like a general approach to life, I guess? Yeah, why not.

I haven’t mentioned books or magazines here – again, there are so many of them around, and most people I know already have enough stuff in their ‘to read’ pile. But this might be a good time to read that book you’ve been ‘planning to get round to’? For my part, I’m thinking of reading some Jane Austen for the first time since secondary school (any suggestions as to whether I should go for P&P or S&S gratefully received. Whaddayamean, that’s not what the literary establishment call the books? Hmph).

Food and Drink

This is, of course, a great time to eat and drink the whole day long, but that may not be the best idea, and I can already imagine the marketing departments of various weight-loss firms are planning their post-lockdown advertising campaigns and rubbing their hands together with excitement. As with so many things a healthy balance is probably the way to go. As I always say, moderation is the only thing one should do to excess.

Drink-wise, do get lots of water, it’s cheap and hydration’s never a bad thing; I’d recommend loads of tea as well, but it’s up to you.

Same goes for food, of course – it’s tricky enough getting hold of some staple food items that you’ll probably want to focus on hitting the usual food groups, though could be a fun time to learn some new recipes – I’ve recently tried out a three-ingredient recipe for peanut butter cookies, which came out pretty well, and was hassle-free. There are loads of recipe sites online, so if you have some stray things in the fridge or cupboard, might be worth a quick online search to see what culinary magic you might be able to perform.

And I think that’s enough to be going on with, don’t you? I hope that there’s at least something – if not several somethings – in the above that might be of interest to you. But even if not, I hope you’re doing okay, and staying safe.

Whereof One Does Not Know, One Should Talk Louder, And Perhaps Intersperse It With Swearing Or Colourful Metaphors

Words people say without knowing their true meaning – an incomplete list:

“[Whitehall] Mandarins”

Your contributions are, of course, welcomed; the Comments section eagerly awaits your input.

10 Things I’ve Learned From Watching Come Dine With Me A Smidgen Too Often

1. Anyone described as being a ‘self-confessed foodie’ is usually a bit of a pain

2. When shopping in your local deli/butcher/fishmonger, be sure to mention that you’re holding a dinner party, and address the person behind the counter by their first name more often than is normal in conversation

3. Not supplying drink for your guests, even if it’s for religious or medical reasons, usually leads to them getting a right arse on

4. Musical entertainment, whether provided by you or hired professionals, is not a good idea if you want to win

5. Any female contestant not in some kind of relationship will be labelled a ‘singleton’ in the commentary

6. Depending on how the group is constituted in terms of gender, a butler (with or without a shirt) may be popular

7. Don’t try out something new on the night of your big event (actually, re haircuts and outfits and the like, this rule applies to much of life)

8. Rare is the person who can lift the silver salver without making the money move in some way. Less rare is being able to see the cameraman reflected in the surface of the salver

9. It’s impossible to stand in the kitchen and talk to the camera about the meal you’re preparing without acting like you’re either Nigella L or Hugh F-W

10. Dave Lamb’s voiceovers for Come Dine With Me are like the commentary for Masterchef, but with an awareness that – ultimately – we are only talking about cooking here.

…Which is probably why I watch the show a bit too much, as the above rather shows.

You’ll Notice I Don’t Mention ‘Press Packs’ Or Other Such Possibilities.

When the Thomas Harris book Hannibal came out in 1999, I was very keen to read it.

I’d enjoyed Red Dragon and The Silence Of The Lambs – even if they were essentially the same story twice (representative of the FBI reluctantly goes to imprisoned serial killer Hannibal Lecter for insight into a current case), they were solid crime thrillers with a good sense of being a race against time, to stop a killer.

In Hannibal, on the other hand, Lecter has escaped, which removes the ticking clock element, and instead of the reality-based investigation, the tone of the book is more one of gothic melodrama, with an ending that left me speechless in the worst possible way (working from memory: Lecter digs up Clarice Starling’s dead dad, drugs her and confronts her with the corpse, and after a bit of her boss’s brains being eaten, she and Lecter become lovers). It was like I’d recorded LA Confidential and found that someone had taped Friday the 13th over the last third of it. Very disappointing. But I guess these things happen.

More strangely, though, there seemed to be a lot of very positive reviews of the book when it come out (as evinced here), often using words such as grand guignol, but hardly ever referring to the ending and making me suspect that they hadn’t actually read it all the way through before getting their reviews in. Anyway, it certainly made me less trustful of reviews, and blurbs and publicity material (I know, it’s appalling that I was 28 before that truth hit home; I like to think of it as a charming kind of naivete, but history will be the judge).

A very similar thing happened to me yesterday in relation to the new John Grisham paperback, The Associate; I used to like Grisham’s stuff a lot, though the further I went through the world of legal academia the less I enjoyed them, until I just stopped reading them.

But The Associate sounded more like The Firm, with its storyline about a newly-qualified lawyer in trouble, and I wondered if this might be a fun read. The print reviews certainly seem to suggest so – look at this gallery of praise taken from the Amazon page for the book:

It’s a damned good read. This is Grisham returning to what he knows best.
Scotland on Sunday

Grisham paints a fascinating picture. Vintage Grisham, with a really believable ending
The Guardian

Tense and exciting
Evening Standard

The suspense is there in what is easily his most recognisably ‘back to form’ novel since The Firm. Grisham has returned with a vengeance to his trademark territory: the grim world of corporate law and the sinister machinations of the men on its fringes.
The Times

In typical Grisham fashion it does hurtle along at a decent clip
London Lite

Don’t wait for the film read the book first this time. The maestro of the legal thriller’s new one centres on a brilliant student with an unfortunate secret.
Daily Sport

A classic Grisham plot, similar to his first major success, The Firm, and told with the same elegance and elan.
The Daily Mail

Grisham never disappoints and this is another fantastic read
The Sun

In The Associate, John Grisham returns to the legal milieu he explored so vividly in The Firm. Grisham is such a storyteller that you want to turn the page
The Guardian

Grisham’s new book harks back to the one that made him famous, and effectively defined the legal thriller genre: The Firm. Grisham does a fine job of evoking the insanely competitive culture of a major New York law firm.
The Mail on Sunday

… so, lots of praise there, and many of them referring to the book of his which I’d enjoyed so much, which made me feel it could be one for me… until I went onto the Amazon page and saw that the vast majority of the reviews were negative, and repeatedly spoke about one particular failing: the story just ends without resolving anything.

Seriously, check out the customer reviews; over and over again, people say how much they were enjoying the book, wondering where the story was going and how he was going to tie up the loose ends, and over and over they say that he doesn’t, that the book just ends.

And so I don’t think this is a book I’ll be buying (probably for the best, I have a sizey book-queue already), but I find myself remembering the Hannibal experience and starting to wonder how it is that professional reviewers can overlook something so fundamental as a letdown, or an absent, ending.

I’m very keen on stories that reward you for time expended on reading them by showing that, yes, we were going somewhere all along (and even better if the seeds of the end were planted near the start – as in The Shining), and whilst that’d kind of a personal preference, the concept that ‘stories should have a beginning, middle and end’ is a fairly well-known one, and you’d expect that most reviews would refer to a weak or rubbish ending (as Marie did in this review on Wednesday).

Deadline problems aside, is there a good reason why this sort of thing happens? Is it seem as in some way gauche to address such fundamental elements of a novel?

And of course, the alleged absence of a climax certainly makes the Guardian quote (second in the list above) look pretty strange – unless they’re making the point that sometimes life just carries on without tricky situations being resolved, but that seems an odd thing to do in a thriller.

Nine Popular Maxims – Now With Added Experience-Derived Commentary

Better out than in applies to sharing of feelings, not flatulence

If you want to be popular, if you’ve got it, flaunt it tends to refer to cleavage or a six-pack stomach, not intelligence

Possession is nine-tenths of the law, but if you study it at degree level, don’t expect to spend 31 months discussing possession. If that’s your bag, you’re probably better off doing an exorcism qualification

Revenge is a dish best served cold is most applicable when you’re giving your nemesis poisoned gazpacho

Write what you know could be a hindrance if you’re a science-fiction (or fantasy) novelist

Charity begins at home, but people who say it don’t tend to be charitable at home or elsewhere

Dance as if no-one’s watching may get you voted off in week one of Strictly Come Dancing

It’s the exception that proves the rule“, when said, usually proves that the speaker doesn’t know the origin or true meaning of the phrase

A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down, but not when you’re administering insulin to a loved one with diabetes

By Naming Things, We Often Come To Believe We Understand Them. Let Us, Then, Understand This Our Today

To me, it seems painfully obvious that what this world needs now is not love sweet love, but instead something much more important : a name for the time in which we’re living.

It’s a time of great economic, political and social uncertainty, and what’s more the weather’s cold and snow is getting in the way. During the similar period in the 1970s, some bright spark called it the ‘Winter of Discontent’ (quoting Shaky, no less), and summed it all up in a mere handful of words – genius, and that’s why the phrase is still used even today to describe that era. Not as often as ‘-gate’ is slapped on the end of a situation by lazy journalists, sure, but that happens more often than most of us blink, so the comparison’s probably unfair.

Anyway, before the last of the snow melts on this sceptr’d isle (see what I did there?), I think it’s time that we tried to capture the zeitgeist, and have a quick round of Name That Time.

I invite your suggestions, but in the meantime, here are mine:

– The Even Greater Depression
– The Big Freeze
– The Bank Nationalisation Programme
– The Winter We Most Needed Woolies
– Boys (And Girls) In The Brown Stuff
– I’m Ready For My Foreclosure
– At Last The 1929 Show
– The Day I Swapped My Mortgage For Two Goldfish

Think my suggestions are garbage? That you can do better? Then please leave your suggestions using the Comment facility!

I’ve Got A Smattering Of Links To Bring You – Tough Links, And Cuff Links, And Um, Doo Be Ding Doo…*

Do you live outside the UK? Then you might be able to access this free ‘motion comic’ version of Watchmen issue 1. For the record, whilst the film trailer looks quite pretty, a filmed version of Watchmen makes about as much sense as a musical version of the Mona Lisa, to my mind.

Alexander Armstrong and Ben Miller revive their characters Craig Children and Martin Baine-Jones for what seems to be a new series of free podcasts.

I’ll wager more than a few gents of a certain age have been disappointed by this particular product’s name.

I urge you to look at Section 53 of the judgment in the recent case of Mosley v News Group Newspapers Ltd. Nicely put, The Honourable Justice Eady, very nicely put indeed.

*With apologies to Messrs Batt, Pratt and Steele.

LIST: Five Things I Have Learned In The Last Month

(Shared in the interests of adding to the sum of human knowledge)

1. If you’re going to the Tutankhamun exhibition at the Dome in London, make sure you take along a Waterstone’s loyalty card, as this allows you to jump the queue (apply for a free card here).

2. As well as making beautiful beds, the customer service supplied by Warren Evans is top-notch. And I speak as one who used to work in customer service, and worked hard at being good at it.

3. However, the camlocks and the like supplied for constructing furniture purchased from Next are feeble and not fit for the job at all. My screwdriver set is far from the strongest in the land, and it broke several of the camlocks. And the instructions contain errors – how, I ask, are you supposed to put a camlock into a piece of wood if you’ve already screwed another bit of wood over the appropriate holes? You can’t, and given that it took me more time to construct a wardrobe last weekend than it did to complete the London Marathon last year, Next will be receiving a letter of complaint in the near future. A very hoity one at that.

4. The free podcasts by Adam and Joe from BBC Radio 6 are a lot of fun, and worth your time.

5. Unless you relish the possibility of disinfectant or other people’s urine on your fingers, you should always check your shoelaces are tied before entering a public lavatory.

St Valentine’s Day (Virtual) Postbag

Well, despite the fact I’m getting married this year and am thus happily unavailable for propositioning, strangers are still sending me e-mails of a sexual nature. Here are some of the subject lines from e-mails that I’ve (genuinely) received today.

-Penis Enlargement Facts
-Sharon had never come before when we made love, but since I’ve become thicker and longer, she comes every night.
-Incredibly fast, unbelievable gains to your sch1ong in just weeks.
-Increase the length and power of the rod in your pants today.
-Do you want enlargge your p]enis? gcfdl
-Don’t be ashamed of having a small member, you can add inches today, easily.
-Scarlet Johansson loves Men with huge equipment – do you measure up?
-Tired of losing your erect1on halfway, or having a small weener? Change it today.
-Hot Rods get the chicks
-Make your girlfriend appreciate you more this Valentine’s Day
-Give the girls MAXIMUM satisfaction
-Studies have shown that 87% of girls aged 18-26 wish their men had larger pen15e5.
-Be the Stallion you’ve always wanted to be
-Give your girlfriend MORE this Valentine’s Day

One running theme does suggest that they might adore me as a person, but feel I’m lacking in some way… but still, it’s always nice to get post on Valentine’s Day, isn’t it?

Happy St Valentine’s / Commercially-Motivated Greetings Card Sales* Day to you all.

*Delete according to your personal degree of scepticism.

Any Colour You Strike*

You’re probably wondering what’s been going on in the world of the Writers’ Guild of America strike. Well, as well as the Screen Actors’ Guild awards going ahead without a WGA picket line (not really surprising, as SAG members have been impressively supportive of the WGA), the following highlights are worthy of note…

– The WGA made more deals (links: one, two ) directly with filmmakers.

– The informal talks between the WGA and the studios are continuing, and though there’s a news blackout so as not to prejudice anything, there are rumours suggesting the talks are proving productive. We’ll see…

And if you’re after an eloquent view on the strike from someone directly affected by it, the writer-director of Field of Dreams and Sneakers, Phil Alden Robinson, had this to say.

*Apologies to the mid-70s line-up of Pink Floyd.

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