Books for cash

So, we were watching High Fidelity and yes, maybe had had a drink or two along the way.

This bit happened:

Which I naturally forgot about.

So this came as a surprise:

And now I have this:

It’s a real, physical book because it wasn’t available in Kindle format. And I still went and bought it, which is unusual for me and can mean only one of three things:

  • I really, really like Johnny Cash that much
  • It was a very good and persuasive film
  • I had enjoyed one more glass of wine than I’d originally thought

At this point, I suppose, we’ll never know. (But we can have a pretty good guess.)

A new design for your trophy cabinet

Apple’s recent update to iOS12 has brought with it plenty of changes, some are good, some are bad, some are genius, and some make your life better without you actually realising it needed it. I have thoughts on a few of the interesting new features but I’m kicking off with something that is a subtle change but I’m really loving it.

I’ve talked before about how much I like the Activity feature on the Apple Watch, in particular the badges that you can earn, and I’ve also talked about how frustrating it is when they don’t work. They seem to be functioning correctly for me at the moment, which is a good start, and it’s always fun to view which awards you have achieved and which you are working towards via the Activity app on the phone.

The awards tab used to be just a great big long list of badges that you have achieved, with a couple greyed out that you are probably currently working on. You could tap each to see more details, dates, times, calories, number of achievements unlocked, that kind of thing.

None of that information has changed but the subtle layout update in iOS12 has really brought this page to life for me. The awards have been split into categories, with a new competition section, limited edition badges, your monthly goals, and then individual badges further down. That helps to narrow down your gaze depending what you are focusing on this particular week.

I also really like the addition of the goal information underneath each badge. It’s either telling you how many times you’ve achieved your goal, or what you’re aiming to do in the future. For example, to get my October challenge, I need to close all three activity rings for 20 of the 31 days. You used to have to tap into the badge, read the blurb and do the maths yourself. Here, it is displayed front and centre. It’s not a big change but it just makes checking your progress more of a “glance and be inspired” moment rather than a labour of love each time.

I love when little design tweaks make a big difference.

Tomb Raider’s long shadow

The third release in Tomb Raider’s recent reboot emerged into the wild last month, and I can honestly admit to being completely obsessed with it. I’ve enjoyed the previous two games, but it’s taken me a while to get fully to grips with this new Lara and her rather more complex adventures. Everything is rather more realistic, far more brutal, significantly more graphic and eventually, a lot more fun, than the Tomb Raiders that have gone before.

After playing 2013’s Tomb Raider, I talked of the brilliant game spaces (“the game is essentially Lara does LOST”) and during Rise of the Tomb Raider I was grateful for slightly fewer enemies to kill and more puzzles to complete (“the developers have gone back to the core of Lara”). This time out, with Shadow of the Tomb Raider being on our consoles for less than a month so far, I’m happy that all the good stuff has been built on for yet another great adventure.

We’re maybe halfway through the game, and there have been challenging enemies which are perhaps my least favourite bit, but there have been fabulous puzzles. I’m liking the additional missions to the main story, and some of the spaces to explore are mind-boggingly vast. My ability to look at the map and plan a route only to immediately get lost knows no bounds. My only complaint so far is the swimming controls are impossible. I’ve always struggled but whatever they’ve done to this year’s controls means I cannot do it. Thankfully, Mr C indulged in some swimming practice (Lara Olympics, anyone?) and can now get us out of every watery escapade.

One of my favourite bits of this year’s game is the photo mode. You can pose Lara in a shot, snap a photo and share it however you like. There are competitions to take part in but I just like capturing the moments where the game ever so slightly takes your breath away.

And, of course, Mr C likes that you can capture moments like this, where you juxtapose TR2 Lara into new Lara’s surroundings. So weird.

Just like the previous Square Enix products, I was impressed with how much value for money you get out of this game. We have been playing almost endlessly and are about 50% complete. And now, there are downloadable side missions being released as well. So, as an update to the sign off on my previous review: I guess I will be productive again in 2019.

Assassins and bodyguards

The entire country went crazy for the recent BBC drama The Bodyguard, featuring Richard Madden and Keeley Hawes as a bodyguard and cabinet minister respectively. I came to this show late, as always, so was almost completely spoiled in terms of who did what, who died when, and what the outcome of it all was. That being the case, it wasn’t quite as intriguing for me as I imagine it was for other people, but it was still good.

The last episode, in particular, was a masterclass in suspense especially around the ‘red wire, blue wire’ scenes. Richard Madden was excellent, a revelation to me, as he was through the entire series. I wasn’t that bothered by Hawes, although people rave about her so I am in the minority. And the underlying story, the politics gone wild, corruption in the high ranks, actual whodunit mystery, I wasn’t that interested in. I liked the bodyguard and I liked the two police officers who were on his side.

It was a good show, but I much preferred Killing Eve, which has emerged in popularity around the same time. The BBC America production starring Sandra Oh and Jodie Comer follows the adventures of an assassin and the unlikely MI5 agent tracking her down. Unlikely, only because Eve was formerly in a desk-based role and often seems out of her depth, despite having the balls and intelligence to run circles around most of the people on screen.

This show has lightness amongst the dark, hints of comedy amongst the gore, some great central performances and even better supporting actors (Fiona Shaw and David Haig two absolute favourites). Glad to see this has gained a second series, and I know people are hoping for a second outing for The Bodyguard too. Hopefully they will be released at different times though, so I don’t end up binge-watching them both in a week.

Hidden in plain sight

The second series of Hidden Britain by Drone aired on Channel 4 recently, and I just wanted to take a moment to say how brilliant this programme is. I watched the first series and loved the concept – Tony Robinson introduces film footage taken by drones that fly over areas that are inaccessible or, at the very least, not open to the public.

Now, let’s be clear from the start, that description does get a little bit stretched on occasion, particularly in the second series. Some of the locations you could get to on foot, and there often are people milling about, but still, it’s good to get a new view and look at things from a different angle.

Some of the visits in the second series were really interesting – nuclear decommissioning sites, the rusty sea-forts standing proud in the water, and an abandoned theme park! Some of the areas weren’t as interesting, including a bunker of luxury cars and bees on top of Fortnum and Mason, but it’s always worth sticking through the less fascinating topics.

One of the highlights of the second series was a feature that had the drones flying high above Goonhilly, an earth station in Cornwall. I was confused at first, because I thought this was open to the public. It certainly was when we visited way back in 2005.

Since then, apparently, it’s been recommissioned and is playing a key part in space agency projects to provide communications across long distances. In April this year, Goonhilly announced a  team up with the European Space Agency, helping out with part of a Moon Mission.

I love that this programme made me look into Goonhilly again, because when I visited, it was a slightly rundown place with a rickety visitor bus tour. Now I know it’s not a crumbling old communications centre but becoming a crucial mission control.


Sharp viewing

Like many others, I recently finished watching Sharp Objects, the HBO mini series starring Amy Adams and based on the book by Gillian Flynn. I’ll be honest and admit I only watched this because it has the lovely Amy Adams in it, I didn’t particularly enjoy Gone Girl the book or the film, and whilst I did like Sharp Objects as a novel, I was worried how it would unfold on screen.

My review of the book at the time I read it (2014), included this:

I thought it was so well written, it really drew you in with evocative prose and snappy dialogue. Each paragraph made you feel exactly what those involved were feeling, particularly the sticky, prickly, sickly feeling that grew and grew towards the end.

The mini series was EXACTLY the same. It was beautifully shot, so that I could barely keep my eyes off the screen (slightly awkward when I usually multi-task my TV viewing), and I loved the flashes of scenes intercutting with each other. The way music would start and stop, loud and uncompromising, and the way even the quiet moments weren’t quiet – eery soundtracks or noisy night insects would continue the creepy feeling that emanated from the very first moment.

Amy Adams was brilliant, of course, but actually the trio of Amy, Patricia Clarkson and Eliza Scanlen were all incredible and made an absolutely captivating family (for all the wrong reasons). The story was told slowly but it was never dragged out, and you just gradually got a feeling that this town has more secrets than we will ever get to know.

There’s vague talk of a second series but I hope that never materialises. As this IndieWire review explains (spoilers in the link):

With so many principles still kickin’, a twist ending that casts the series in a whole new light, and a quality product from start to finish, a quick reaction to the finale may be to demand more. But the longer you sit with it, the more fitting this ending feels. “Sharp Objects” was told in flashes; it’s only fitting it ends with a bang.

Just less than 100 percent

Mr C and I are on a bit of a health kick at the minute – nothing crazy, just trying to make better choices – and that means ditching the share bags of Cadburys for something a bit more refined and, dare I say it, grown up.

I’ve been perusing the dark chocolate aisles in awe and wonder, there’s such a wide selection, flavours, percentages and choices, it can be quite overwhelming!

The salted caramel is a particular favourite but I also liked the 70% cocoa. I was impressed by the percentage steps, 80%, 95%, etc and thought it would be an easy step up to 99%.

Tried the 99% last night and bluergh, it was disgusting! How do people eat this stuff? Bitter, dark, basically like eating a spoonful of cocoa powder.

It wasn’t until the light of day (having opened the packaging in movie mood lighting), that I saw the instructions.

Important: Tasting Advice

Excellence 99% is a unique chocolate that reveals all the strength and richness of cocoa beans. To fully appreciate all its flavours, we recommend that you progressively develop your palate through our range of high cocoa content chocolate bars, starting with Excellence 70%, then 85% and finally 99%.

The best way to experience Excellence 99% Cocoa is to break off a small piece and allow it to melt slowly in your mouth.

To taste the full bouquet of aromas, try accompanying your tasting with some coffee.

Who knew? Firstly, I hadn’t realised that chocolate could be such a connoisseur’s art, although I probably should have given the volume of choice in the shops. And I also didn’t realise that I had embarked upon such a journey without realising it. Fancy jumping right to the end of the path without taking the intervening steps! That is so like me.

But, for now, back to 70%, and I’ll enjoy that for a bit before moving up a percentage. The chocolate adventure is underway!