Tales from the Bitface (version 4.0)

Baby Driver, 2017 - ★★★★

I saw this at the cinema when it came out back in 2017. Loved it then. Loved it even more now. Incredible soundtrack, amazing (daft) car chases. Crime.

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It’s not yet the end of March. I’ve just put the cushions on the outdoor chairs, and put the umbrella up to shade me from the sun as I sit in the garden drinking coffee. I’m about to cut the grass. And I can hear seagulls.

The Schrödinger's Cat Trilogy by Robert Anton Wilson (Books 2022, 4–6)

Yes, all I do is reread. Sometimes it seems that way, anyway. Well, it was the end of 2014 when I read this last. Seven and a quarter years seems fair. It’s a lot of fun, which is why I keep returning to it, I guess.

The missing scientists, that I mentioned last time? True, it’s never explicitly explained where they went, but I think it’s clear that they found out how to move into other worlds, and went off to visit next-door universes.

The three volumes are entitled The Universe Next Door, The Trick Top Hat, and The Homing Pigeons, by the way.

I’m still making my way through the mammoth book that I mentioned before, but slowly. It’s The Books of Jacob, by Olga Tokarczuk, and you’ll read about it here eventually.

A Room with a View, 1985 - ★★½

It's an old Merchant-Ivory period piece. Pleasant enough, but kind of stilted in places. In part. some of that may be deliberate, to reflect the buttoned-up nature of the times, but it's hard to say.

Amusingly, the image that's shown as I type this on Letterboxd — which may or may not be the image that accompanies the post when it reaches my blog — is from the very last scene of the film, if I'm not mistaken. An odd choice.

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Pitch Perfect, 2012 - ★★★½

Fun story about competitive acapella singers at a US university.

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Miss Sloane, 2016 - ★★★

Decent story about a US lobbyist who takes on the support of a bill to restrict some tiny amount of gun rights. She quits one company and moves to a smaller one to do it.

An absurdly fanciful ending, sadly. The sadness is in American society, not the film.

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Propaganda and Suffering

I’ve seen a strange set of opinions popping up on Twitter over the last week or so, essentially blaming the US, the UK, and/or NATO for Putin’s illegal and horrifying war on Ukraine. Which on the face of it is bizarre, at best.

It’s possible that NATO’s expansion over the last couple of decades was unwise. Yet who could blame small countries close to Russia from seeking the protection that membership brings? Putin’s belligerence was well known even before the current attack.

George Monbiot makes the point well in his excellent Guardian piece:

There is a strong argument that Nato should have been disbanded at the end of the cold war. But while Putin’s sense of threat seems to have been heightened by Nato expansion and mission creep, Nato expansion has also been driven in part by Putin’s belligerence. Are we really to believe that Estonia and Latvia joined because they wanted to attack Russia? On the contrary, it’s because they fear attack. While Nato’s growth is likely to have contributed to the crisis, it’s ridiculous to suggest that Russia is not the aggressor.

– George Monbiot, We must confront Russian propaganda – even when it comes from those we respect

He suggests that Russian propaganda is at least partly to blame. It seems have made inroads on the left. Monbiot mentions the Stop the War Coalition, which normally we would think is an admirable goal and organisation. But their recent letter claims the British government ‘have poured oil on the fire throughout this episode.’ I’m no supporter of Johnson or the Tories, but I don’t think that’s fair. They also say that they ‘do not endorse the nature or conduct of either the Russian or Ukrainian regimes.’

I don’t know what the Ukrainians have done except prepare to defend themselves, and then do so. I’m as against war as any former CND member from the eighties, but when a country is invaded, it has a right to fight back.

Monbiot says it well:

True anti-imperialism means opposing not only the west’s imperialism, essential as this is. It’s about opposing all imperialism, whether western, Russian, Chinese or other.

– George Monbiot, As before

As always, of course, it is the ordinary people who suffer. I recommend donating if you can, to one of the organisations working to help the people of Ukraine:

The Velvet Underground, 2021 - ★★★★

There's a lot to like here if you're already a fan — or at least, have some interest. Probably not too much if neither of those apply.

It has interviews with those who are still with us (or who were when it was made). Not just John Cale, Moe Tucker, Doug Yule, but members of Andy Warhol's Factory crew (the 'Superstars'), like Mary Woronov and Gerard Malanga.

I'd like to have heard more of the songs, especially the less well-known ones, and seen more footage of them, such as there is. It uses the documentary style that just films people speaking and edits those interviews together. That has a certain power, but I feel it might have helped to have a narrative, a voiceover elaborating on the story.

Recommended, though.

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Withnail & I, 1987 - ★★★★

Long time since I saw this, so all I remembered really were the quotable bits ('We've gone on holiday by accident!')

The high dinginess and run-down state of Britain as the sixties ran down is skilfully evoked. It's very male, though. The only female character is the woman in the tearoom who refuses to serve our heroes. If that's the right word.

It's not laugh-out-loud funny, but it has aged surprisingly well.

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13th, 2016 - ★★★½

A documentary about the prison-industrial complex, this is a tough watch. The title comes from the 13th amendment to the US Constitution. While abolishing slavery, that amendment also allowed for slavery to continue — at least for those incarcerated for a crime.

Tough, as I say, but it should be seen.

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Legally Blonde, 2001 - ★★★

We’ve been enjoying the more recent work of Reece Witherspoon lately, in The Morning Show and Big Little Lies, so it was interesting to go back to see her in her younger days. 

It’s a fun enough film. There were no surprises, in part because I’ve seen the live musical, but mainly because it’s not the kind of film that offers surprises.

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Mildly amusing that no one noticed the obvious mistake in my last post/tweet. Or they were too polite to say. It’s still visible on Twitter, fixed on my site.

Dateline: 2022-02-22

Just wanted to note the loveliness of today’s date: 2022-02-22 in ISO format, or 22/2/22 or 22/2/2022 in either US or normal numeric date formatting.

All those 2s. I find it very pleasing. There won’t be another date like it for a while. 200 years, in fact.

The Kids by Hannah Lowe (Books 2022, 3)

I don’t think I’ve ever written about a book of poetry here before. That’s because I don’t read that much of it. Whenever I do, I think, ‘I should read more poetry.’

This won the Costa, but that’s not the main reason I picked it up. The author, Hannah Lowe, was a tutor on my MA course. She taught my Creative Nonfiction (CNF) module. Which sounds a long way from poetry, but a person can have skills in more than one type of writing. She was very good as a tutor, and in fact I got my highest single mark in CNF.

It’s a very short and easy read, but some of the poems go to some dark places. Others — most, I’d say — are highly positive and life-affirming. They were inspired by her time teaching sixth formers in English schools. Which made me wonder on my CNF class chat, should we be worried about what her next collection’s going to be about?

Hopefully she won’t repeat herself. These are all sonnets, or in one cases a series of sonnets under one title, and very good, as the awards people clearly think.

Wordle on my phone is still at the original site. But my partner’s goes to the NYT. There’s no obvious reason for the difference, and there has been no practical difference.

Today we got different words. Mine, both obscure and not even an allowed word on the NYT. What?!

Raw Spirit: In Search of the Perfect Dram by Iain Banks (Books 2022, 2)

Posting about books is slow because I’m reading something gigantic. More of that later (possibly much later). But in the interstices, a return to [The Great Banksie Reread]devilgate.org/categorie…). My friend John mentioned recently that he had just read this for the first time, which prompted me to revisit it (that, and perhaps some great whisky I got for Christmas).

Mildly surprised to realise that when I wrote about it before in The Whisky Post it was not one of my typical book posts. I guess in 2003 I wasn’t doing that. It was just over 18 years ago. Wow.

I concur with my earlier opinion, but note this quote:

Banks gives us a brief overview of the steps in the distilling process, fairly early on, and then makes appropriate use of the various technical terms during later distillery visits. All fair enough. But there is one term for part of distillery’s apparatus — the lyne arm — that he starts referring to without ever explaining what it is (I’m fairly sure: it is possible that I just missed that explanation, but I don’t think so).

Well, I offer an eighteen-year-late correction: he does define the lyne arm on first use. I must have missed it the first time. And I note with mild but resigned annoyance that the link in the quote above is dead, even though the site, Whisky Magazine, is not.

Anyway, well worth a look if you haven’t read it. You may not learn that much about malts, and the scene has changed a lot over the time, but it’s still a joy to spend time with him.

And it seems like Glenfiddich no longer make the Havana Reserve expression. If you search for it online there are prices quoted of around £400 pounds a bottle(!), though no actual bottles for sale. Which is a shame, because it was good, and I’m sure it would still sell if they made it. Maybe they stopped being able to get the rum barrels.

On this date of many ‘2’s (but just wait till the 22nd), here’s a nice sunset for you.

Sunset over Hackney
Sunset over Hackney

The Word on Wordle

To celebrate the news of Wordle’s sale to the New York Times, here’s my result from today:

Wordle 227 2/6


The first time I’ve got it on the second line.

While I don’t blame Josh Wardle for making a ton of money out of it, it does perhaps slightly undercut the narrative over the last few weeks about how he did it for his partner and for fun. But like I say, who can blame him?

It does seem likely that the NYT will put it behind their paywall eventually. As they did with the formerly-free review site The Wirecutter when they bought it, for example. Which would be a shame.

Something I meant to write about before, but never got round to, was how all the mainstream press wrote about it. They made it hard to find, and, I think, helped to encourage the scammy app store rip-off versions. Because they (mostly, from what I saw) did not say that it was a web-based game, and worse, they didn’t link to it. That’s sloppy at best.

Anyway, it seems I’ve done it successfully for 21 days in a row:

A screengrab of the Wordle word game showing 21  days with 100% success. This is the only day on which the game was completed on the second try.
Day 21 of my Wordle streak

You Can Call Me Master

I should note here that I finished and passed my masters. I now have a Master of Arts in Creative Writing. Or don’t exactly have yet, since I haven’t graduated. Technically I’m a graduand, not a graduate.

I’ll write more about the course later. I just wanted to put this out there.

Out, and Into Town

I’ve just been into the West End of London, to various shops. Travelled by bus, masked of course, unlike many.

I’ve still not been back on the Tube since about January 2020, though I have been on short train journeys a couple of times.

Just checking in with the outside world.

The Beatles: Get Back, 2021 - ★★★★★

I wish I could give this six stars or seven. Hell, why not ten? Actually watching it twice in two months and giving it five stars each time is giving it ten.

It is so, so good, in so many ways.

Apparently Disney are releasing an IMAX version of just the rooftop concert soon. That'll be interesting, if too short. I mean, I'd watch the whole thing in a cinema with a good sound system. And I speak as one who once watched the eight-hour version of Wim Wenders's Until the End of the World at the BFI, so you know I mean it.

Cold Winter Morning

I was never a huge Meat Loaf fan, but I always liked Bat Out of Hell, and of course enjoyed him in The Rocky Horror Picture Show. So I’m saddened to hear of his death.

I’ll be playing Bat Out of Hell today.

Nomadland, 2020 - ★★★½

The scenery is bleak, and the setup is sad, but in the end this movie is neither. Frances McDormand's character may have lost her home, job, and even town — she comes from a company town called Empire, which is closed down when the business fails — but she finds companionship along the road.

Sometimes that companionship is herself: she is someone who is happy in their own company, and that's okay. She lives in her van. She's not homeless, 'just houseless,' as she says.

I spent parts of this film wondering if something terrible was going to happen, but it's not that kind of story at all. The worst thing happened before the start, and all the rest is — just life. There's no plot to speak of, but that's okay too.

And though the scenery is bleak, it's also beautiful.

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So if I run brew install python-tk, which should let me build basic GUI apps on Mac with Python, it says:

Error: python@3.9: the bottle needs the Apple Command Line Tools to be installed.
  You can install them, if desired, with:
    xcode-select --install

And running xcode-select --installgives me the following dialogue:

Ludicrous installation time
Ludicrous installation time

80 hours! To install some command-line tools!

(In fact it soon dropped to a more sensible 8 minutes, via 13, but still.)

The Turn of the Screw by Henry James (Books 2022, 1)

This extremely short book is only a novella, but it took me some time to get through it because of the density and obscurity of the prose. James is, I think, notorious for writing long sentences, but that’s only part of it. It’s the textural density, the complexity, and, I think, the wilfully archaic (even for the time) formulations, that make it hard work.

It’s a ghost story, though the status of the ghostly presences is disputed, or at least discussed: are they all in the governess’s mind? The bulk of the tale is the first-person narrative of the governess, but it starts with an odd framing sequence of tales being told round a Christmas-eve fireplace. One of the company is reminded of a manuscript he has, and sends for it. The rest is him ‘reading’ from it. And I’m not sure that ‘framing’ is the right term here, because we never return to the reading party. It seems like a device to let James write from the point of view of a woman.

Once you attune yourself to the style, it’s pretty compelling. Chilling in places.