Click & Collect

The BBC aired a one-off hour-long comedy this Christmas, starring Stephen Merchant and Asim Choudry as an unlikely duo travelling hundreds of miles to find a sought-after toy for the former’s kid, and featuring plenty of humour and emotional moments along the way. I loved it so much, I wished I was Film Watching it as I went along – then I realised, I can sort of do that anyway! Ah, having a blog is excellent.

So, here are my favourite bits and pieces from Click & Collect:

  • “£64.99? Sorry, is it an actual unicorn?”
  • The lights! They so remind me of Christmas Lights, that programme with Robson Green and Mark Benton. Oof that was a good show.
  • Do people honk their horns at lights? That’s not something I’d ever think of doing.
  • “I have turned to my superpower, the strongly worded letter.”
  • When people pretend to be on the phone, it always stresses me out that it will ring.
  • “It’s not a list of demands, like a ransom note. The list is there for us to just cast an eye over, thanks very much for your suggestions, we’ll take it from here sweetheart.”
  • I really want a Brief History of Time colouring book.
  • “You can’t put a price on her happiness, can you?” “No, you can’t, but then her happiness will be heavily discounted on Boxing Day.”
  • The fizzed up drink is amazing. “That’s the gas out of it now.” Then the wipers!
  • “We need to show it that we mean business.” Then later. “The balls on this thing, mate!” Ah, sat nav.
  • The handbrake thing confused me for a second there, but omg.
  • I think I have a bit of a phobia about things that make noise when the battery runs out… it’s freaking me out.
  • “Just one retweet from a Lineker, a Rowling, an Edmonds!”
  • Always when the person is like “what more could you do” and then you just have to keep on going.
  • “We have clicked and now we have come to collect.”
  • “That was amazing. Honestly, and I don’t say this lightly, you reminded me of Lovejoy.”
  • I don’t totally understand when they got their car back, but oh well.
  • “It’s very unusual for me to write directly to clients.” “Children?”
  • Love that Santa is blaming Brexit.
  • “Because of me, tomorrow, she’s going to open a chemistry set. Which, let’s face it, is basically just extra school.”
  • Argh, the strongly-worded letter!
  • “Why are you dressed like a big elf?” “It’s a valid question.”
  • Banta Claus.

If you want a job doing right…

I had to put my ‘learn Swift’ project on the backburner for the last few weeks but I’m catching up again now we have a few festive days of freedom. That’s what most people do, right? Spend Christmas afternoon digesting mince pies and learning how to code?

Last time I wrote about finishing up the first course on Ray Wenderlich’s iOS path and moving on to the second which was more about Swift. I’ll admit, I found that one a touch harder than I was expecting – some of the concepts seemed a bit unnecessary for this stage in the course (still being a total beginner), and they also used not-so-simple maths concepts as a way to demonstrate some of the coding tricks. It was hard to relate, so I had to keep stopping and pausing and thinking about what it would mean if I was making my own app.

Thankfully, the fact that I could see the issues with what I was learning actually gave me confidence that I’m getting a good grounding in the Swift language. And I have to keep remembering that it’s not about retaining all the information first time through. It’s about knowing what is possible and being able to reference back to it when you need it.

So, now I’m on the third course wherein we are building a to do list app. The number of times have I written about to do list apps hoping that I’ve found the new one that will fix all my problems and inevitably failing to keep up the habit of using it! Now, I’m writing my own! Okay, it’s a pretty simple app with limited features, but it brings to life the concept of having a problem in your own life and fixing it.

How many times do you hear the story of app developers coming up with ideas just because they had a need in their own life? Now I’m starting to think about what things could work more smoothly in my life and what kind of app I could make to help. There are a lot of apps out there covering all manner of topics and genres, but hey, there’s always room for one more, right?

Fitted wardrobe

Somehow, I managed to miss the fact that Amazon launched their new Wardrobe service for Prime members a few weeks ago. Instead, it only popped up when shopping for something else, but it was very quickly apparent this was something I wanted to try. Shopping is not one of the most fun experiences for me, particularly for clothes or shoes or anything like that, so whatever can make that easier, quicker, just less hassle, then I’m on board.

The idea is a typical Amazon one, a delivery service in which you order between 3 and 8 items (clothing, shoes, accessories) from a range of own-brand and high street names, and get them shipped to your door. Then comes the fun part, though, where you get seven days to try the stuff on and if you don’t like it or it doesn’t fit, you just send it back and pay nothing for the privilege. You don’t pay for anything until you’ve decided if you want it or not, and of course, you’re only charged for what you keep.

So, I’ve known about Prime Wardrobe for about two weeks and have managed two deliveries so far, sending just one thing back. The joy of not having to try things on in those drafty changing rooms, or elbowing people out the way to get to the size of garment you require, it can’t be over-stated. Also, shoe shopping in stores is a particular pain as I have not-average-sized feet and there is never anything on display to try on that actually fits. So getting things shipped to the door is perfect.

The only two hassles are:

  • You do have to make the effort to go to a Royal Mail drop off point if you want to return anything. Hardly asking a lot given the service in question but worth bearing in mind.
  • Also, sometimes searching for things can be a bit wonky – you find something you really like, but it depends on the size or colour you want as to whether it is actually part of the Wardrobe collection or not.

So far, I’ve not had any issues with the Prime Wardrobe service and it solves a lot of problems that I have had with shopping out in the real world. I know the high street is suffering and it’s directly because of services like this but for me, it’s the ideal option. It’s up to the high street to consider their direction from here, because it’s convenience that is queen.

Friday night live

When I read Not Going Out were doing a Christmas Special episode, I was very happy. Love this show, and any excuse for some more of Lee Mack’s fun wordplay is good enough for me. When I read on to see it would be a live show, then I was in two minds. Live shows are good, the additional adrenaline of ‘will they, won’t they mess up’ is an intriguing extra element, and it’s something to talk about whether it goes well or not.

However, the last few live things I’ve seen have all gone off flawlessly and, because they are usually dramas, there’s no room for anything other than perfection anyway. It sort of felt a bit pointless, previously, but this time I realised that with a sitcom, especially one helmed by a stand up comedian, you were probably in for something a little different.

And, I’d imagine, whilst nerve-wracking, it has to help the rest of the cast knowing that if it did all go spectacularly wrong, you’ve got a stand up comedian or two on hand to make light of the situation and talk their way out of it. And that’s pretty much what happened.

Mack had written in the odd aside to camera, a self-aware reference to the live show, but there were a few minor mishaps that he also managed to wrap up as part of the fun. It all went very well and was great fun to watch – one of those televisual events where you get to the end and whine ‘oh, it’s over already??’

It made me think, too, why we don’t have more of this. Broadcasters are always trying to make shows that are more of an event these days, because lord knows there’s enough programming out there to entertain even the grumpiest of watchers. You have to stand out one way or another. And I’ve often thought that the live audience sitcom format works well for this – they read through on the Monday, rehearse Tuesday-Thursday, then do the live taping on a Friday, before it all starts again the next week. Why not just make the live taping a live screening and be done with it?

You could even factor in additional time for any major errors. Say it’s a half hour show, allow 40 minutes instead, and if it goes well, just use that time for some nifty behind the scenes extras. If it doesn’t go well, you’ve got the time baked in for emergencies. I can’t always get myself in front of a television to watch something as it is broadcast, but I would certainly make more of an effort if I knew the show was happening live at that very moment. More please, people!

Stern taskmaster

I’d never even heard of Taskmaster until this latest series, and it only crossed my path because I follow James Acaster on Twitter, and he was a participant in the latest series. I like Acaster’s work, and some of the clips and gifs I’ve seen have made me wonder what all the fuss is about.

I had to do a bit of digging to find where I could watch this show – it’s broadcast on Dave, which means it’s part of the UK TV family. There’s an on demand app called UK TV Play (I do not recommend this app, it’s very poor compared to other video streaming efforts). So, I downloaded and started watching.

Obsessed.

Genuinely, I thought, I’ll just check out the first episode of the first series and see what it’s all about. I binge watched that first series in a weekend, and started working on the second.

It’s crazy but brilliant.

In case you don’t know, five guests are put at the whim of Taskmaster Greg Davies and series creator/able assistant Alex Horne. Each episode features a handful of tasks, for which points are handed out, and one of the comedians will win the episode, and then the points are added together to get a series winner too.

Yea, Mr C didn’t seem all that thrilled when I used that explanation to try and convince him it was good, either.

Perhaps, with the admin out the way, it’s time to talk about the tasks. They are both weird, wonderful, genius and silly all at the same time. Getting three yoga balls to sit on a yoga mat at the top of a steep hill on a windy day. Finding the quickest way of emptying a bathtub without pulling the plug out. Painting a picture of a horse whilst sitting on a horse.

Some are more cerebral, some are basic, and the highlights are seeing how each contestant approaches the tasks differently. The good thing about it, too, is because it’s the same set of people over the course of a six-episode series, you get to know who will try and twist the rules for an easier life, who’ll think outside the box, and who will just jump right in with both feet and see what happens. I read somewhere that the producers approach it a bit like a continuing drama in that sense, and I think that adds to the fun.

So, there are seven series with Acaster in the latest batch that has just finished. I’ve got a bit of catching up to do but at the rate I’m going, I’ll be up to speed in no time. And then they’ve just realised a Taskmaster book, with tricks and tips and tasks to put on your own Taskmaster event. Wondering which of my family and friends I can convince to give it a go.

The house on the hill

I was aware of the hype surrounding Netflix’s recent horror offering, The Haunting of Hill House, but I wasn’t sure I was prepared for it. I quite like a good horror but haven’t watched anything in that genre for such a long time, I’ll be honest, I was a bit nervous about my nerves.

However, a friend recommended it and thus I was convinced to at least give it a go.

As you can probably guess from the fact I’ve written a post about it, I loved it! The first episode got off to a really slow start, and I wasn’t sure I was going to watch anymore until the very last few minutes, where there’s a sudden twist that turns everything on its head.

I don’t want to spoil anything here, so won’t go into details, but from that first episode, it was just superbly told and enticing all the way. Flipping back and forth through time, telling the story in a slow, methodical fashion, and gradually piecing together what has been going on in the family’s time both at the terrifying Hill House or in their lives since they left.

I read some reviews that suggested it was a good enough show but the characters were one-dimensional and uninteresting. I can totally see where that comes from, but equally you have to think about what this family has been through, and the fact that each sibling has essentially shut down in order to cope with the things they’ve seen. If you frame it like that, I think they do a great job.

(I don’t think this is a spoiler, but just in case, look away.) There’s also the secret insight that each child in the family represents one of the stages of grief, which I didn’t know at the time and does, indeed, make me want to rewatch again.

Having said all of that, I was a bit disappointed in the ending. It felt a bit twee after everything we had been through together. The gang sitting around a celebratory cake didn’t feel like it had enough gravitas considering the horrors that have been lived through. But structurally, it worked and I really enjoyed it.

Thanks to my friend for making me watch it, and I pass the recommendation onwards. It’s not gory, and there aren’t many jump scares, it’s just hard-core suspense and intrigue overlaid on a really good story. Great work.

Finding the right path

Earlier this year, I worked my way through Swift Playgrounds – Apple’s easy-to-use educational tool to teach you the basics of the Swift language – and to celebrate, purchased a quite adorable R2D2 that you can program with that self-same language. Unfortunately, I couldn’t quite make the leap in my head from the playgrounds I had been messing about with to the more tangible efforts with a toy, and the instructions that came with that little droid were a bit more advanced than I was.

So I’ve been pondering what the next step is and that’s when Mr C suggested having a look at the courses on Ray Wenderlich’s site. The site has an iOS learning path that starts with building an app. It throws you right in at the deep end, opening up XCode and within minutes having an app that does something, however small.

I followed that first course from start to finish, and I loved it. It’s got the right mix of introducing the basics, guiding you through the more advanced sections and glossing over what you don’t need to know yet, so that you can still get the hands on feeling of making an actual product.

Unlike the playgrounds (which I still enjoyed, don’t get me wrong), you really have a sense of working towards something which makes it that much easier to join the dots in your head and solidify the learning.

I have finished the course now and have a fully-formed app that is actually a fun game. I’m not planning to submit this to the App Store considering it’s not my invention (although a quick search of the store suggests many people have), but I am diving straight into the next course on the Ray Wenderlich path to greatness – that’s what I’m calling it anyway.

The next course is more about the Swift programming language, so back to the slightly more abstract again, but I have faith that having achieved what I have so far, learning the language this time will be more meaningful. I also know that the third course on the list gets you building another app, this time a To Do app. Goodness knows I have experience of those, so I cannot wait!