A Guide To A Dreary Weekend, British Television, And You!

It’s a cold, wet, and miserable weekend, which means it’s time to pick a British drama serial to watch. But. But. But! There are rules.

  • It Must Be Damp

No matter what you watch, there has to be a feeling that there’s no central heating working properly anywhere and there’s probably some black mold creeping up the side of the sets. Oddly, this rules out a lot of early black & white BBC serials because they just don’t feel damp enough. Once you get into 16mm film and early VT footage, though, you are golden. After 1992 or so the standard of VT footage gets good enough that things just don’t feel properly damp enough anymore. Early Taggart (especially the shot-on-VT pilot, Killer) gets Glasgow grime across very well. If you’re looking for a period piece instead, then the BBC’s adaptation of C.P. Snow’s Strangers And Brothers is worth a look.

  • Dark Conspiracies

Conspiracy thrillers make for a great Saturday night watch, provided you have no friends and you’d rather spend your time hunting down shifting YouTube channels finding obscure television rather than just opening Netflix. It’s great! Even better are the ones from the 1970s that envisage a dark future of government control set in the late 90s or…2020. They’ll make you forget about that Twitter account for a few hours at least.

Seek out: The Donati Conspiracy, a wonderful three-part 1973 BBC serial which had a follow-up three years later (State of Emergency), though that is sadly not on YouTube…or on DVD. 1990, which is everybody’s favourite “Labour Has Turned Us Into A Dictatorial State And Also Proto-Servalan” series. If you really want Servalan, Blake’s 7 fits here, though feel free to bail out at the end of Series B and just watch the last 5 minutes of the final episode for closure.

Oh! And Bird of Prey for the British take on WarGames. Instead of nuclear war and Matthew Broderick, you get civil servants and Richard Griffiths. GET IN!

  • A Play For Today? Why Thank You!

Of course, you can always turn the old strands of yore. The BBC had Play For Today, Centre Play, Theatre 625_, The Wednesday Play, and eventually Screen One/Two, while ITV had Armchair Theatre and Playhouse. I’d avoid the black and whites due to lack of that proper claustrophobic dankness that you get in early colour, and well…depending on your mood, most of the Dennis Potter plays are probably going to be a bit heavy. Still, if you do want a good Potter, Double Dare is excellent, and Blade On The Feather is also decent if you’re after some Cambridge Five aftermath goodness. Which you almost certainly are! (but we’ll return to that later)

Other great choices here include a rare non-comedic performance from Dave Allen in One Fine Day, and appropriate enough for Hallowe’en, Pandas Fen!

(Oh, also, there are some fun episodes of Performance out there - here’s a dramatization of the Oz Trial, complete with Hugh Grant in a hilarious wig and Nigel Planer playing John Peel!_)

  • Oh, You Want It Funny?

Okay, maybe you want a laugh. Or at least a chuckle. If you’re looking for a drama serial with a very light heart, then obviously there’s The Beiderbecke Affair (and its two sequels). “What’s wrong with being Geordie? Well, nothing, but it’s not Yorkshire, is it?”

Comedy that is both groundbreaking, fearless, and not something you’d want to watch with anybody else due to the horrific stereotypes often on display? Step up, Spike Milligan’s Q series. When it’s good, it’s amazing…other times it’s a difficult struggle.

As for sitcoms, well, there’s always Watching, for all your late-80s bird-watching romance requirements. Or, just skirting under our rules, 2point4children, the BBC’s forgotten answer to Roseanne. If you must go to ITV, I’d head for the first few series of Shelley, complete with the Thames Television Ident of all our childhoods.

  • A Bit of Bully, or Gameshows to Watch

Sometimes, you just want something quick and simple. Why not a classic gameshow? Because spending your night watching gameshows from 1983 is…okay, I’ll admit I’ve done it at least once.

First up, we have Bullseye. Obviously. If you’re going to watch Jim Bowen and assorted odd prizes, you should head for the earlier series which shows off the 1980s in a way that documentaries and received history can often miss. Solid working class misery. And that’s just the darts. Oho.

And then there’s 3-2-1, which I hesitate to recommend because it is…well, it’s hard to describe fully, and that’s why I end up thinking that if you haven’t seen it, you probably should sit through one episode to truly know the depths of despair. I forced my parents to watch this when I was little and here I apologize. Allo Allo I’ll stand by, but making them watch this and them not putting me up for adoption is how you know that parental love is a real thing. Part Saturday night variety show, part twisted gameshow from the very depths of Hell itself, 3-2-1 is a turgid hour of 70s entertainment dying for its last breath a decade later coupled with ‘clues’ that are…well, you have to experience one to really understand the full terror:

They are all like this. You can never win outside of random chance. For anybody that says all TV was better back in the 80s, just show them the visage of Dusty Bin.

Aside from Bully, Blankety Blank is also fun. I’m obviously talking about Les Dawson era, with all the gurning, mother-in-law jokes, and a general ‘can’t be arsed with this’ air that you could possibly need!

  • Documentaries!

But they were wrong. A good set of Adam Curtis documentaries is always a decent selection; you can follow along and yell when he gets the science/theories wrong. Why not try The Way of All Flesh or 25 Million Pounds if you want your Curtis a little more obscure.

Otherwise, throwing “horizon+bbc+1980s”, “equinox+channel 4”, or “world in action” into YouTube is a great way to while away an evening. Gasp! As the APT train splutters into life! Shriek! As your favourite pop stars from the 1980s are revealed to be inflating their chart positions! Find out just how you’re going to die in a nuclear explosion! (Okay, that last one is Q.E.D.)

  • The Gentleman’s Choice

Or, providing it’s very cold and/or damp outside, forego any of these thoughts and just plump for Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and Smiley’s People. Cold, damp, dark conspiracies, the British class system as an underlying theme, plus copious amounts of Cambridge Five allusions! And a very mute Patrick Stewart.

  • Never Under Any Circumstances

Don’t watch Threads if you plan on sleeping any time in the near future.

As it happens, I ended up spending Saturday night watching far too many UK commercials from the 1980s. I may need help.

Credit Card Tales & Copyright Strikes

Last week, I realized I had mislaid my travel/restaurant credit card. I’d been lazy in cancelling it because I hadn’t got around to looking up what services are charged to that card and the other online accounts that are registered with it. It’s always an annoying process having to sort that out, and I just needed to work up the energy to be bothered to fix it.

Anyway, we went to the local Indian restaurant that we tend to go to at least once a fortnight…and as we were leaving, one of the owners came running out to give me back the credit card that I’d accidentally left there last week. So the moral of the story is always to have a local Indian restaurant to hand. Grace of India — Their chicken tikka is pretty amazing and can feed a family of four for about three days.

And! And! And! After, what…six months, the basement work is finally done! I can put things back to normal down there, rebuild the chocolate room just in time for Thanksgiving, and it means that we can also start planning out things for the Crazy Downstairs Escape Room / Murder Mystery. Hurrah!

Otherwise, I have been mostly spending the week thinking far too much about Horace and getting increasingly frustrated with people who seem to think that just because you can do something (i.e. copyright strikes), you have to do it. And like ‘fetch’, Horace is never going to happen. Almost nobody cared about him during the actual era of the Spectrum, for goodness sake. Making a few appearances in a YouTube series is…not exactly on the same level as making Mario a recurring character. I fear it’s only going to get worse with services like Antstream providing incentives for people to hoover up old IP and remove it from freely-available archives. I’m not a fan. I’m also not exactly looking forward to the day that Comcast discovers it owns the ZX Spectrum ROM code.


To be honest, I was expecting SHUX to be something of a disaster. Due to the book and other events, we didn’t do an awful lot of planning. On top of that, three days from our flight, I got an email from the hotel we’d booked saying “So…our staff are on strike, but we might be able to offer you a room at another hotel…”, which resulted in two days of frantically emailing and calling said hotel, getting stonewalled and eventually receiving an email essentially saying “…so we couldn’t book you into the other hotel, but if you would like to be a scab, then we’ll give you 25% off…”. At which point it was time to politely decline the opportunity to cross a picket line and find another hotel. Two days before flying. Oh, the fun.

However, I’m happy to report we had a wonderful time at SHUX. The new hotel was fairly spiffy and just across from this brutalist boi:

We didn’t see a lot of Vancouver, though. It was mainly just the few blocks near the Convention Centre1 and harbour (complete with floating petrol station on the sea!) for four days. Which was a little disappointing…but on the other hand we were rather busy at the convention itself.

I started the first day in traditional Ian fashion, i.e. spilling tea all over myself and having an impressive breakdown in the middle of a food court. Nice! But having calmed down a little, we played some games, I resisted the urge to shout Quiiiiiiiiiiiiins at every opportunity, and we struggled to hear the initial session over the sound of feedback (thankfully, they did manage to fix things enough so that you could actually hear Quinns’ later lecture on ‘Titled Goose Games’). We played some games, wandered around, and finished the evening in an impressive facsimile of a British pub from 1992.

But it was to be the second day that shall ever remain memorable. Firstly, I finally met @mippy! After following each other online since 2003, circumstances finally saw us in the same place, and a random meetup occurred. I also got to show off my confection-making skills to the SHUX crew - I know that Pip was quite enamoured with the Pimm’s Meeple Gummies.

We had one of our few disappointing events of the convention that day too; we took part in an-escape-room-in-a-box event that sounded so promising, but ended up being a bunch of tedious maths puzzles combined with obscure knowledge about board games (at one point, it’s important to know the points value of a certain item in Agricola. Which only one person in our team had ever played and even he thought it was esoteric). It was a hateful experience and all of us were just happy to have it over and done with. Did I mention that it also took two hours?

And then there was Blood On The Clocktower2. Now, we’d played this yesterday, and we had played another game of it in the afternoon, but what we were really looking forward to was an evening game we had been told about in the morning; a game with twice the number of players, all of whom had played the game at least once before. By a stroke of luck, both Tammy and I both ended up being on the Evil side (4 versus 13). Of course, I died fairly earlier, but I cannot convey just how brilliant Tammy was at wrapping the entire side of Good around her finger for almost two entire hours, leading to a final round where only in the last thirty seconds did one of the Good side finally realize the extent of the betrayal. It was hilarious. And we can confirm that Tammy is quite possibly a little evil (this was confirmed the next morning when Matt from SHUX outlined a BOTC strategy that was ‘evil’ and it was exactly the same as a strategy she had suggested the day before!).

(when we randomly bumped into some of the players the next day on the convention floor, one of them even pointed and hissed you! at Tammy as we walked by)

The final day was a little more sedate, partly due to me catching something nasty on Friday leaving me with a horrible sore throat (it’s now a week later and I still haven’t quite shaken it!), and partly due to us skipping a bunch of the day’s activities to walk along the harbour for a bit and watch seaplanes take off into the sky. Absolutely terrifying. Oh, and I found out that Cadbury’s Canada sells a variant of Star Bars! So…I stocked up on them. And I still have one left, so I’ve been reasonably good, I think.

So, that was my first boardgaming convention! Would I go again? Probably. It was a bit of an expensive trek to get there, especially with the last-minute hotel issue. But we had a great deal of fun, and I came back with a few more games plus I now know that backing BOTC on Kickstarter wasn’t a mistake. And, of course, Gen Con is only a little over an hour away…but it’s also ten times the size fo SHUX, which feels a little impersonal. We’ll see what happens next year!

(and Tammy will deny it, but oh, she’s so evil! so evil!)

  1. Yes, finally back in a country that spells things correctly! [return]
  2. BOTC is a Werewolf/Mafia variant with all sorts of shenanigans added. Watch the Shut Up & Sit Down video for more details! [return]

Meeples & Things

This week I finally got to open the impeachment bottle I’ve been saving for over two years. Hurrah!

(I know what you’re thinking, but trust me, I have an even better bottle lined up for the grand prize, no matter how that happens. One of the best bourbons from the past 40 years, and no, it isn’t Pappy)

In other news, I learnt this week that I have psoriasis on 20% of my body. It’s not something I think about too much aside from making Dennis Potter jokes that almost nobody in this country gets, but it’s a little sobering to discover it’s now a fifth of my skin. Not great. But! New treatments to try, although I’m skipping all the treatments advertised in-between episodes of Law & Order with two-minute disclaimers of all the terrifying side-effects. For now, anyway. First, we’re going to try light therapy, or “Ian goes in a fancy tanning booth twice a week.” It seems a lot safer. We’ll see how it goes…

Next weekend, I’ll be up in Canadaland! Tammy and I will be attending SHUX, where there will be dice, cards, various different types of wooden blocks, and the entire Shut Up And Sit Down team. And to celebrate, I spent this weekend making boardgame-themed treats. Presenting, the Pimm’s Meeple Gummy!

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Pimm’s Meeple

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Once I get back, we’ll be firmly into October. And I think I need to start putting together a film showing schedule, one with a theme of “Look, I know I showed people some bad films, but honest, these ones are good. Trust me!” It’s going to be great, I promise…

Yes, father, I will become — A GOOSE!

Untitled Goose Game was exactly what I needed this week. And maybe this year. Who could resist the charms of being a horrible goose and causing mayhem to all and sundry? Nobody, and that’s why pictures of terrible geese are flooding your Twitter stream. Look at that HONK:

I’ve seen some people online describe it as ‘being a story that England likes to tell about itself and is not, and has never been, real’. Which, okay, I get. It’s very much a pastoral / village setting, a gentle affair where the only problem is a horrible goose…but I think they’re honestly trying too hard with that comment. The pub reminds me of The Red Lion out at Wendlebury, and the setting could be any village like Chesterton, Middleton Stoney, Steeple Ashton, and I’ll put £10 on the line right now that Ardley probably has a story involving something as twee.

I also have a theory about when it’s set. Consider this little snippet from when you cause havoc outside a TV shop:

I think Untitled Goose Game is set somewhere between 1988-97. Firstly, that’s such a Radio Rentals or Rumblelows-esque shop. Secondly, the old BBC logo on the TVs definitely harkens back to the pre-1997 design.

So, 1993 or so, and in an obscure Oxfordshire village.

Anyway, if you have a system capable of playing Untitled Goose Game, get it. You will be surprised at how much fun you can have honking all over town and trapping people in garages and telephone boxes.

But what about non-geese news of the week? As if there’s anything that’s as important as geese news. I ask you. Anyhow, a few things happened that I can’t really talk about yet, which makes for a boring blog entry. Hence, geese. Oh, my book went to the printers! It will soon exist! I am hopeful it may make it to the Norrington Room in Blackwell’s. That would be…something.

Also, less than two weeks to go until SHUX! Which means I’m spending next weekend making Meeple gummies…

DC and Back

I promise I haven’t moved to a fortnightly posting frequency. I’ve spent the week at Activate without my personal laptop, so no posting last week. It’s catch-up time again!

  • DC is very warm in September.
  • No, really, sweating heavily after walking from the WMATA station to the hotel.
  • I might be the only person on the Internet that finds HOXPOX boring.
  • I went to Jack Rose and I’ve now had ‘pre-fire’ Heaven Hill bourbon. It’s…alright! Probably not something I would actually spend secondary prices on, but worthwhile to actually try.
  • Conferences are fun, but by 19:00, I really just want to go to my hotel room and hide.
  • On the quiet, Cincinnati has a varied selection of interesting concert venues. Take the Riverbend for example. An outside arena with a fancy roof and surprisingly few mosquitos for the time of year…
  • Flying to DC at 6am and getting a notice at 4:30am that instead of flying direct as planned, you’ll be flying to Chicago instead is not a fun way to start the week.
  • A thought: is it likely that despite everything, Oasis’s lyrics have aged better than Blur or Pulp’s? Granted, this is mostly because Noel is a member of the ‘make it rhyme and we’re done’ school, but there’s nothing as problematic as ‘I-Spy’, is there?
  • It turns out that I don’t remember a lot of Ronin past the Sean Bean scenes.
  • The electronic version of the Dishoom bookhas arrived and I now have the secret of the fabled bacon naan rolls. Coming to a larger audience this Thanksgiving!
  • 2point4 Children is a series that has been mostly forgotten but has aged better than you think for a mainstream BBC1 comedy series (see also: Waiting For God).
  • For my sins, I’m getting an iPhone 11 Pro. So many cameras.
  • No more planes for…three weeks. Hurrah!

Catchup Cavalcade!

  • One of the great things about flying with me is that, yes, I may have my eyes closed and my hands wrapped around the arm rest like I’m trying to break it off, but I will say afterwards that ‘it was an okay flight’, because even though there were a lot of bumps, at no point did I get out of breath or feel like my heart was going to explode. Hurrah!
  • I’m setting myself up for a fall, but I’m definitely getting better at macarons. And I managed to make ice-cream sandwich versions that didn’t cut your mouth to ribbons, which is more than can be said for some James Beard Award winners…
  • The problem with Trump Tower Chicago is not just that it’s a boring, uninspired lump of glass that confuses height with architectural grandeur, it’s that it blocks off the view of these two absolute units.

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  • The cat did warm up to the family after spending the first day hiding, which was nice. We’ve also discovered that when I leave the house, she spends a good deal of that time wrapped around any of my shoes looking at the door. You’re a bit odd, Helvetica Black.
  • Taking a non-standard charger that supports USB-C and USB-A sounds like a great idea, until you discover that the charger cannot keep up with a large MacBook Pro’s power demands. Bonus points if you discover this after seeing your laptop go from 95% to 15% simply by running a local Kubernetes cluster.
  • I may, finally, finally, be finished with the book. The good copy-editors over at O’Reilly have spent the past week carefully removing every ‘u’ from ‘colour’ and making me cry.
  • It’s more fun on a trip when you have a friend with you! Even if she does, as mentioned, have to put up with your mortal terror in a teeny-tiny plane.
  • Willing the Tory Rebels to go on and bring the house down makes me feel a lot like this:
  • I think there’s probably diminishing returns with The Aviary (especially since they’ve switched out many of their drinks that appear in The Aviary Cookbook), but the L.A.M.B. cocktail (using a Porthole with lemongrass, citrus, Thai chilli and shōchū) turning from clear to spicy red over thirty minutes was a highlight and makes me want to break out my Porthole for some winter experiments. I think if I go back to The Aviary again, I’ll probably visit The Office instead of the main lounge. Of course, I’ve got Jack Rose to visit next week…
  • It’s probably best for everybody that I don’t divulge the psi rating of my back left tyre. I promise I’m planning on getting new tyres this week!
  • I have plans for SHUX sweets! Come find us in Vancouver!
  • Oh, and I might have plantar fasciitis. Which is fun! Such fun!

All The Airports Again

So, when I said I wasn’t travelling for ages? Well, it turns out that I’m going to Chicago and DC in the next two fortnights, so never mind. I will instead always be travelling. I’m even at the airport right now, although that’s to pick up my family rather than heading out.

Other than surprise travel, not a lot to report this week; very quiet except for a cat complaining that she still isn’t getting enough treats and the sound of a robot vacuum cleaner trying to clean the carpets before my family gets here.

Thanos Gets All The Four Roses Recipes

The oddest thing about this weekend was having nothing to do. It may have been the first weekend since…April?, where I wasn’t either writing or not at home. It was rather strange to find myself sitting down at 14:00 and thinking well, what now?. And like any 40-year-old, I went to Target and bought command hooks to re-hang frames. But I held them down for forty seconds instead of thirty, so I’m rebelling in my own way.

I did complete one 2019 milestone this week!

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Yes, that’s all ten Four Roses recipes in barrel-strength Private Selections. The last three were a pain to obtain, I’m telling you. But all complete now and just waiting for Thea to make a return visit to the area for an in-depth taste-test. 2020’s bourbon goal? Try not to drink it all during the upcoming election season for a start, I guess.

Anyway, the house is slowly getting in shape for more inhabitants next weekend. Can’t do too much about the carpet and concrete carnage downstairs at the moment, but it’s presentable at least. Helvetica is looking forward to having The Treat Family visit as well.

I’m now going to go outside to pull up weeds. WEEKEND REBELLION STARTS HERE!


Top surprise of this week goes out to the Surprise Skunk that apparently hangs outside my house late at night. Not something I’ve normally noticed, but when you walk dogs in the evening, it might show up! Incredibly bushy-tailed, though I’ll confess that we ran inside rather than getting a closer look or a decent photo. The dogs…the dogs ignored it, like they’ve also done with every fox sighting so far. Terrible protectors!

(with Tammy’s family away in Sweden at the moment, I’m looking after her dogs on days when she has to work late or drive around Cincinnati searching for things for Top Secret Project. Helvetica is not amused)

Otherwise, a different but not hugely eventful week, mostly containing fighting classpaths, JWT permissions, finishing off final edits to the book, and generally just being around the house. Nothing too exciting but not bad, either. I do have to start preparing for the family visit, though! Two weeks today and then Helvetica will be stuffed full of cat treats!

I wrote all the above before waking up on Sunday and finding out that there had been another mass shooting while I had slept, this time under an hour away from Cincinnati. And I’m going to be honest: I almost didn’t go to the Pride event a few weeks ago because it was on my mind. Crowds and celebrations make me nervous in this country in a way that they just don’t back home. Especially when it’s a group of people that white supremacists would enjoy shooting up. But apparently the Second Amendment is a straitjacket that must be protected above all costs.

(in the end, my Sunday turned out quite well, with adventures over town and Yorkshire puddings made with Nuvola flour, but it’s a bleak cloud that hangs over everybody every day…)