Hi, I'm Rob, and this is where I log the books, films, articles and other cultural flotsam that has caught my attention.

Week notes 2020-12

That’s David Hockney and his dog, Ruby, sat in his garden in Normandy where he’s been painting the blossom in his back garden and dispensing wisdom like this:

“We have lost touch with nature rather foolishly as we are a part of it, not outside it. This will in time be over and then what? What have we learned? I am 83 years old, I will die. The cause of death is birth. The only real things in life are food and love in that order, just like our little dog Ruby. I really believe this and the source of art is love…. I love life.”

  • I can’t tell you how much that quote has helped me over the past week.
  • It’s also really made me want to buy a house in Normandy, retire there to paint and hang out with my dog.
  • If you want more Hockney wisdom, the Guardian has some: “We need art, and I do think it can relieve stress. What is stress? It’s worrying about something in the future. Art is now.”
  • Like most people lucky enough to have a garden I spent most of the past weekend weeding, mowing, planting and even a bit of power washing and just generally making things habitable and comfy.
  • Outside of that I’ve read and watched precious little outside of Netflix. Work has been full on, so evenings have been taken up with taking Buster for a walk, making dinner and then a bit of TV and reading (still Catch and Kill) before falling asleep.
  • Somehow, working from home is more tiring than going to the office. Not sure why, think it might have something to do with the ‘micro breaks’ that come with chatting to colleagues in the kitchen over a cup of tea etc. And also video chat fatigue obviously. VCF is definitely a thing.
  • Done a bit of Zoom socialising too. A spot of online poker with friends, and a quiz with the family. All good stuff.
  • I’ve noticed my podcast consumption has shrunk dramatically too, simply because I only listen to podcasts during my commute. I need to figure out a new podcast routine.
  • This from Hanya Yanagihara on Instagram was also a welcome artistic distraction.
  • And I have been getting a steady stream of great music thanks to my friend, Mark and his excellent playlists:

Week notes 2020-11

  • Above, Kermit doing Talking Heads, for no other reason than it’s fantastic and joyful and daft.
  • I wrote a blog post last week. Honestly I did. Then I closed my browser without saving the draft, and lost all but the next two bullet points. Oh well. There are other things to worry about right now. Here’s how I started a week ago…
  • One of the things about writing these week notes is that you’re able to see just how quickly things change from one week to the next. Never more so than in the last seven fourteen days.
  • Last week was a full week of working from home. A lot of video calls, most of them back-to-back, not really being able to step away from the computer for any decent stretch of time and a feeling that it was taking twice as long to achieve half as much.
  • But, on the other hand, we are very lucky. We have food, we have wine and beer. We have each other, we have friends nearby who we can shout to from the end of their driveway, and we have our beautiful, stupid dog who we’re still able to take out for walks and run round the garden with. Life could be a lot worse.
  • Talking of dogs, the NY Times just ran an piece on why Walking the Dog Is ‘a Piece of Paradise’ and they are absolutely right about that.
  • And talking of food, wine and beer, Little Places is a website that aims to catalogue “any business, creator or maker who is doing something different during this pandemic that brings a bit of delight to people”.
  • Speaking honestly, it’s times like this that I miss having a platform like Londonist to work with, to help people wth, to entertain people with.
  • What are we doing in isolation other than eating and drinking and playing with Buster? Well, for one, I’m immersing myself in Animal Crossing, because it’s calming and wierdly beautiful and also a little bit addictive.
  • I’m reading. I finished How to Listen to Jazz last week, and now I’m on to Roman Farrow’s Catch and Kill: Lies, Spies, and a Conspiracy to Protect Predators, which is maybe not the most escapist book, but is just fascinating and very well put together. I bought it from Bookseller Crow by the way, just before the lockdown. You can still buy from them using their website though.
  • We’re watching TV. We’re deep into the new seriesof Better Call Saul and about to embark on new Ozark. And, no we haven’t watchd Tiger King yet.
  • We’re watching the odd film. We watched 21 Bridges last night (at Nina’s insistence, she loved Black Panther) and it is definitely escapist but it’s also quite flawed.
  • And I have been listening to a lot of music. Spotify has been a nice way of ‘staying in touch’ with friends. Take this playlist my friend Mark put together:

Week notes 2020-10

  • This week marks three years since my wife went into hospital with an abcess on her brain, and two years since I decided to start seeing a therapist (these two events are not unrelated).
  • In a few weeks I’ll stop seeing a therapist. I can honestly say it’s been one of the most positive and helpful things I’ve ever done and I would recommend it to anyone (I say that in the full knowledge that I’m lucky enough to have the time, money and access to a choice of therapists that definitely helped make my experience a positive one, but still… everyone should do it).
  • Last night we flaunted the social distancing guidelines and invited some friends round for wine, food and stupid games, to celebrate my wife’s birthday. It was a fantastic time and made me realise just how much we rely on the comany of others (as well as these margaritas) to get us through the shit times.
  • Myself and Nina will both be working from home for the forseeable future. I have a feeling that ending therapy at this time may have been a terrible mistake!
  • Just started reading How to Listen to Jazz by Ted Gioia, so far it’s an incredibly accessible and not-at-all-up-its-own-arse read, which I’m very thankful for.
  • Not watched many films recently. Mainly because TV has gotten good again (Curb, Better Call Saul, The Trip to Greece, etc). That may all change if I’m consigned to the house for the next few weeks though.
  • I read an article entitled How a Hot $100 Million Design Startup Collapsed Overnight this week. Kind of against my better judgement really. All these articles follow the same pattern: what starts out a decent idea for a small company outgrows itself fuelled by ego and arrogance and dumb VC funding, until it smashes into a hubris-shaped iceberg taking down a bunch of innocent, hardworking employees with it. And, more often than not, the idiot CEO pockets a bunch of cash and moves on to the next world-changing idea.
  • As an antidote to all that, I also read The Culinary Couple Who Built a British Empire, a lovely article about Fergus and Margot Henderson, who built a successful tiny empire fuelled by love, care and joy; and whose passion has inspired others to go on to similar success.
  • In these uncertain times, the Hendersons are the heroes we need.
  • Music this week is an easy choice: New Four Tet!
  • P.S. 100 posts on this blog now. Go me.

Week notes 2020-09

The classic 90s Canadian sketch show The Kids in the Hall is coming back! This is exciting new for me becasue, when it first aired in the UK, I would sit in the dining room of my childhood home, watching the show on a tiny ‘portable’ TV that sat on my parent’s dresser (while they were in the living room watching something they wanted to watch… like the news or something!). My best friend at school was also obsessed with the show and we would go around ‘squashing people’s heads’ and singing ‘Alouette, Gentille Alouette’ because of the sketch above. Which I still find hilarious to this day.

These days I find Joe Pera Talks With You hilarious. If you haven’t been introduced to Joe yet, you owe it to yourself go find him out (he’s on All4 in the UK I think). If you need more convincing, this article in the Guardian should help.

I have just finished reading a very detailed account of Royal Instagram accounts. I don’t care a jot about Harry or Wills or any of them really, but it’s a pretty interesting investigation into the slightly suspicious behaviour of their follower counts.

This week, Buster came to the office with me for the first time. Which also entailed going on a train for the first time. He nailed both tasks with flying colours. I was very proud of him. This must be how parents feel when their offspring speak their first words or graduate university.

Also this week, I went round a friend’s house to drink beer and play boardgames. Of course we had to have a game of Pandemic (so topical), but I was also introduced to Coup! which I enjoyed a lot (lots of bluffing and susipicion).

Musical treat this week, has to be the new album from Caribou:

Week notes 2020-08

  • Above, David Byrne (67!) performing “Once in a Lifetime” on SNL.
  • It’s going to take a lot to convince me that there is a more inspiring person in the world than David Byrne right now.
  • Week notes are late this week because Nina is still away, I am being a single dad to Buster, and occupying myself by seeing friends to play boardgames, eat nice food, and go to the pub – it’s exhausting!
  • I did find a bit of time to watch Harmony Korine’s latest, The Beach Bum, this week. I am very torn on what to think. On the one hand the cinematography is amazing, the cast (including Matthew McConaughey, Isla Fisher, Snoop Dogg, Zac Efron and Jonah Hill) are all having a whale of a time and do a great job, and the whole thing is agreeably bonkers and uplifting in a strange way. But on the other hand, at some points the characters act like self-centered pricks (violently mugging an old man to get money to spend on booze and weed for instance) and there’s no real heart or depth to the film.
  • Last weekend a couple of friends came round (to meet Buster), and I made Alison Roman’s steak tacos with a peanut and chilli salsa (from her amazing book which I got for Christmas). Bloody hell it was good (accompanied by a ton of beers from Craft & Courage in Crystal Palace).
  • Tomorrow I take Buster in to the office for the first time! Wish me luck.
  • To finish this week: a killer, drumless mix of Hall & Oates’ classic Maneater.

Week notes 2020-07

  • Above, LIFT, a film by Marc Isaacs, “who set himself up in a London elevator and slowly wins the trust of the residents, creating a humorous and moving portrait of a vertical community.” I adore films like this.
  • Nina has left for the States with work. She’s gone for nearly two weeks, so it’s just me and Buster left to entertain ourselves for a fortnight. I am lining up friends to meet at the pub (most of whom want to see Buster more than they want to see me I suspect).
  • I am just getting used to dog/pub/cafe politics and etiquette. My favourite person this week was the guy at post office when I went to pick up a parcel. He waved Buster in and declared he was ‘nicer than most of the people we get in here’. All my postman/dog stereotypes have now gone out the window.
  • I started my ‘watching stuff Nina won’t care about’ with one of those cult classics that’s been on my ‘should watch’ list for a while: Two Lane Blacktop. It’s Dennis ‘Beach Boys’ Wilson and James Taylor revving around the States, being hip and existential. I liked it. but it’s no Easy Rider.
  • Over at Esquire Macaulay Culkin Is Ready to Answer All the Questions You Have About Him.
  • I went back to Park Run in Crystal Palace this week. Loads of dogs there, but not sure Buster is quite up to that amount of people all stomping in the same direction. He might improve my time though.
  • Music for this week: The brilliant DJ Andy Smith’s collection of Disco Wonderland:

Week notes 2020-06

  • If I’m honest, this week has all about one man: Jack Reacher.
  • I’ve been aware of Lee Child’s slightly cartoonish (and maybe more than slightly outdated) protagonist ever since Tom Cruise was hilariously miscast in a couple of films. But I’ve never read one of the books (I only just found out Child is British and went to uni’ in Sheffield).
  • But the other month I picked up the fourth Jack Reacher novel in one of those train station book exchange ‘libraries’, and got round to reading it this week. It was an entertaining, actually-way-better-than-I-thought-it-would-be adventure romp and I may read more of them at some point.
  • Full disclosure: last year the Times Literary Supplement ran a column about how great Lee Child’s books are. Am I the kind of person who only reads ‘trash’ if the TLS says it’s ok to do so? No, but I’m adjacent to that person.
  • Last weekend we sat down as watched the new Todd Haynes film, Dark Waters (Mark Ruffalo versus a huge chemical corp in one of those ‘My God, they knew!’ true-ish stories). Cue paunchy, dour Ruffalo and lots of miserable blue/green shades seeping into every frame like a toxic chemical. It’s ok, but doesn’t deserve it’s 127 minute run time (not a lot does these days… am I just getting old?).
  • Buster has been with us for five weeks now and his personality and behaviour are settling down into something resembling routine. We chose the worst couple of weeks to get a dog (we’ve had to keep an extra tight grip on his lead to stop storms Ciara and Dennis whisking him away like Toto) but it’s very much worth it. There is a special kind of contentedness that comes from lying on the sofa, one hand turning the pages of your book, while the other strokes the dog sitting at your feet.
  • A bit of music to finish off the week. Here’s the new album from a guy who was one of the people who I met in the early days of the internet (when the social web was fun and inviting and creative): Dr Rubberfunk’s My Life at 45.

Week notes 2020-05

  • Oh how I can relate to that (not the bra bit, obviously).
  • A bit of a video special this week but before we get to that, a couple of wordy, ready things:
  • Definitely my favourite thing of the week, from a website I’ve spent way too much money at over the years: Oi Polloi’s In Praise of TinTin.

“Think of Tintin and you’ll most likely picture a round-faced, ginger-haired grass who hails from Belgium, yet has a suspiciously good British accent. And while the aforementioned is mostly certainly, definitely true, what you’re probably missing from your list is: cultured menswear fashionista.”

  • Meanwhile, from Bloomberg, it’s I Sabotaged My Boss With Ransomware From the Dark Web (not nearly a risky move as the headline would have you believe, but still an interesting read).
  • And here’s the second article about dancing and Little Women of 2020! (It’s the Oscars tonight and for the first time in my life I really don’t give a fuck about who all the old white men decide to give their statues too. I love some of the films nominated, but the fact that Lulu Wang and Greta Gerwig aren’t even noinated for Best Director – and Todd Philips is – just makes a mockery of the whole thing.
  • First video: The Hustle is Real is “a story about creating your own lane to make money doing what you love and the hustle and grind that goes along with it,” (starring DJ and the man behind Fleamarket Funk, DJ Prestige):
  • In a similar vein: it’s Every Sample from the Beastie Boys’ Paul’s Boutique:
  • Here’s a trailer for The Street, a brilliant-looking documentary “Following the lives of residents and business owners on Hoxton Street, Zed’s film urges us to consider the impact of gentrification.”
  • Did I mention I’m obsessed with the band Haim a bit right now? Well I am, so here they are on the Price is Right being amazing:
  • A few more trailers… First one for David Simon’s take on Philip Roth’s The Plot Against America:
  • And then one for another documentary, The Booksellers:
  • Around these parts we normally sign off our weeknotes with something music-related. So here’s Paul Simon explaining Mrs. Robinson to Dick Cavett in 1970:

Week notes 2020-04

  • It has been a relatively hard week this week.
  • The week started on Monday morning, just after 4am, when I was woken by the sound of barking and whining from the kitchen, and came downstairs to find Buster had…. well his new diet wasn’t agreeing with him, let’s just leave it at that.
  • Two days of wiping up dog excrement from my kitchen floor were followed by two late nights in the office getting a pitch together (and by late I mean anywhere between 10pm and midnight). To be fair, that doesn’t happen very often these days, and there’s a bit of me that enjoys pitching and a team of people coming together to get something done etc etc… But if you’ve been awake from 4am cleaning up poop then its a fraction more difficult.
  • (And, yes, parents, I know: Your heart bleeds for me. That’s why I’m not complaining that hard!)
  • Between me writing that last point and writing this one, I made Sunday dinner while my wife changed the sheets on our bed… And then Buster promptly went upstairs and pissed all over that same bed. Something he’s never done before. The delights of owning a dog.
  • Being angry with a dog is difficult!
  • Meanwhile, in none dog news…
  • They Might Be Giants were the first band I saw live. I was about 12 and Birdhouse In Your Soul was in the Top 10 and they were playing the Sheffield Octagon, so me and I guess what you’d have to call my first real ‘girlfriend’ went, and it was pretty amazing. I’ve always been very grateful that they were my first gig experience. Anyway Flood turned 30 ths week and Spin magazine asked a bunch of musicians what the album means to them.
  • The Guardian interviewed Brian Cox about Succession and being ‘touched up by Princess Margaret’ and it’s pretty great.
  • The Baffler‘s John Semley wrote about two of his favourite films of the year, one of which I’ve seen, one which I haven’t and neither of which have been nominated for Oscars.
  • Does monoculture still exist on the internet? is a very long, but I think pretty crucial, read from Vox. It’s much more about TV and music than it is about writng and opinions, but still an interesting and slightly worrying read.
  • And talking of monocultures and methods of discovery: a much shorter article from the Washing Post about The accidental book review that made Jack Kerouac famous contains these lines:

The persuasive power of an individual review today is vastly diluted by the fragmentation of the media and the frantic chirping of cable channels, Facebook posts, Twitter feeds and text messaging at all hours. Abbreviated attention moves on at an almost mindless speed. A trend rises and vanishes, all but forgotten before it ever sticks. A book and a book review — even if capturing a cultural turning point — today can’t help losing the competition for eyes to Twitter bursts and viral videos. One might wonder what social transitions are never noticed these days in all the noise.

So yeah. Twitter would have buried On The Road basically.

And with that depressing thought, I’ll leave you.

Maybe some They Might Be Giants wil make it better.

Week notes 2020-03

  • That’s Buster. Isn’t he great?
  • One thing no one mentioned about getting a dog, is how much it calms you down. I mean, maybe they did mention that (there’s a lot of talk about how pets are good for your mental health generally) but the thing I’ve noticed in the one week we’ve been dog owners is how our movements and our speech and our demeanour have shifted into this calm, soothing register (most of the time). I think part of it has to do with Buster being a rescue dog who has obviously been through some shit times in the past, and us trying not to spook or upset him.
  • There’s that of course, and then also the fact that you have another living thing around you that you have to dedicate your attention and focus to, and therefore away from your own petty shit.
  • I realise that all the parents reading this will be going, “Well, duh!”.
  • In the time I’ve not been doting over Buster I’ve mainly been readng. I finished Little Faith in just a few days. It’s beautifully written and very moving and I took a lot away from it.
  • I also finished The Art of Noticing (subtitled 131 Ways to Spark Creativity, Find Inspiration, and Discover Joy in the Everyday), which I actually started reading before the end of the year, but it’s one of those ‘dip in, dip out’ books so it’s allowed. I highlighted quite a few bits that I hope to revisit throughout the year.
  • Believe it or not, I’m now reading E.B. White on Dogs (my brother bought it me for Chtistmas, we knew a dog was on its way to us at that point).
  • Just one film this week; the classic 1945 Gothic horror/noir-murder-mystery The Spiral Staircase (as recommended by The Pure CInema Podcast). I’m really enjoying these old horror-ish films a the moment. Not sure why. There’s just something about that quaint, black and white look and the clipped accents and the style of the clothes… mixed with gruesome deaths, that really appeals to me.
  • For your listening pleasure this week: there’s still a few days to listen to DJ Shadow’s great New Year’s Day set on Radio 1.