Every Christmas, something special happens on Twitter. No, not the annual ‘man called John Lewis replies to tweets about the John Lewis Christmas ad’. Nor the tedious ‘is Die Hard a Christmas movie?’ discourse. I’m talking about the Didn’t Happen of the Year Awards, aka DHOTYA.
This online competition is run by Twitter handle @_dhotya, an account that joined the site in January 2017. The purpose of the account is to highlight made-up stories by other people on Twitter and call them out for their fabrications.
A typical example might involve a mum or dad on Twitter sharing an anecdote about their child, who happens to express wisdom beyond its years, usually with some socially progressive angle (kids asking particularly astute questions about Trump for instance). Or it might be a made-up tale about heroism in a shop, where the author tackled some injustice. And then everyone in the shop applauded. Or it might just be Olly Murs telling his followers about a non-existent shooting in a John Lewis.
There’s a great deal of catharsis to be had in calling out these behaviours. It’s satisfying to identify something as fake, and there’s a sense of internet justice when people get called out for their untruths. Twitter operates as a meritocracy, with the ‘best’ content rising to the top. People who try to game the system through inauthentic tweets specifically crafted to ‘win’ feel like cheaters, and exposing them as such looks like a valid way of restoring the natural order.
And yet, there’s something sinister about the DHOTYA. Some have accused it of encouraging public shaming and dog-piling behaviours. And more specifically, with a large number of the stories it shares coming from women, there’s a worry that all the apparent fun and games are simply masking toxic misogyny. So, are these worries concerned? And is DHOTYA a hero, or villain? Let’s decide.
Everyone agrees: fake news is a real problem
We’ve increasingly seen politicians willing to simply tell barefaced lies to win elections. And nobody’s been able to quite say how much influence the made-up stories your aunt is sharing on Facebook are having. Fake news is more or less commonplace online.
Just last month, the Conservative Party rebranded its Press account as ‘Fact Check UK’ during a party leader debate. They only ended up getting a slap on the wrist from Twitter, but the outrage on Twitter at the time was phenomenal. This was actual fake news in the truest sense, happening in real-time. The Conservative Party Press Twitter account is not a fact-checking organisation and it had no right to do so. You could say that it knowingly and deliberately misled the public during the debate – especially as RTs from the account into your timeline didn’t include any indication of the source.
So with lying Tories, Trump being Trump, and Russia employing a literal troll army to flood the internet with lies, what’s our defence? The answer, so far, has been to try and call it out.
Calling out fake news
To be fair to the social media platforms, they’re getting better at this. Facebook will now tell you in a post when it contains claims that have been refuted by independent fact-checkers. And Instagram has joined the party too, apparently having just started to hide images that it thinks have been photoshopped.
And then there’s Snopes. Once the ‘Urban Legends Reference Pages’, Snopes has grown from being a ‘does the Mothman exist’ site to an increasingly important combatant in the fight against online fake news. It now describes itself as ‘the internet’s definitive #factchecking resource’ and does a great job of calling out mistruths on both ‘sides’ of the argument.
What makes Snopes different from the ‘Didn’t Happen of the Year Awards’ account then? They appear to operate the same function – calling out lies on the internet. But they feel different, don’t they? And it’s probably down to who they’re targeting.
The single highest demographic accused of lying by the account is ordinary, non-famous young women, at 115 of 257 victims – 44.8 percent of all people accused. This is over double the amount of ordinary young men called out, at 57.
And taking into account that 93% of the account’s followers are male, the picture doesn’t look good. The story looks like ‘young men not believing or respecting young women’ and has echoes of the same toxic masculinity that means police don’t take reports from women as seriously as men. The same culture of disbelief that stops victims of sexual assault from coming forward.
There are other clues too. The annual competition runs in a league format that uses the same language and structure as a football league. The account has a standing arrangement with Betvictor for a betting market around the contest. The language and culture of football banter is prevalent, and we all know how that ends And the behaviour of the people who follow the account is concerning.
Look underneath almost any anecdote posted by someone on the internet, and you’ll see people tagging @_dhotya. There’s relish and zeal in tag-snitching someone to the account’s attention, and clearly, a lot of it isn’t good-natured. In I-D’s analysis of DHOTYA, they noted a tendency of the account and its followers to focus on socially progressive, predominantly left-wing liberal issues. Content like this:
So the narrative is against DHOTYA
That this is toxic online behaviour of the same flavour as 4chan trolls and right-wing misogynists. Although it’s clearly a greyer area than that. I’m sure a lot of people follow the account just for the schadenfreude of watching someone get called out for trying to pull a fast one. And the account’s owner has always defended it, saying that it picks the accounts to highlight without prejudice.
But then, when the account is run as a competition, open for anyone to vote on, the consequence that account has go beyond just the intentions of its author. If right-wing trolls (or just meanies in general) hijack the votes then that’s bad. And the author should take some responsibility for that as the platform-provider.
At the same time though, the claims that the account isn’t prejudiced are at least somewhat credible. It regularly calls out men too – with Vice’s analysis showing 112 men targeted, vs. 145 women. And DHOTYA regularly ‘punches up’, taking on the rich and vain – people who are fair targets for a bit of ridicule.
And more broadly, there are stories that we absolutely should be calling out when we see them. The worrying trend of anti-vaccination stems from absolute fake news linking it to autism, and it is correct to confront anyone who chooses to claim otherwise.
Twitter, and truth in comedy
I want my dream vision of Twitter to be a reality. I want it to be a content meritocracy where people are trying their hardest to educate and entertain others. Twitter at its best is the weird celebrating the wonderful, and vice-versa. But the fact is, there are bad agents on there, trying to game the system. (From Vice, again: ‘The Sad World of Adults Pretending to Be Kids for Retweets’).
Is that a bad thing? Who does it hurt if I make up a story about my son spouting Marxist ideology? Or claiming to have seen an ironic sign at a polling station? That’s fine, right?
Yes! Most entertainment is fiction. Go and watch any stand-up comedian and you’ll hear stories from that’ll be at least enhanced, if not outright fabricated. This, in particular, used to bother me and I even ran my own Twitter account for a while pretending to ‘not get’ people’s fake jokes.
But now… I kind of get it? I’ve done stand-up myself, and done my share of comedy writing. The truth isn’t always that funny; it’s usually quite boring. And when we come to tell each other stories, objective truth is always lost as we prioritise what’s meaningful in communication.
So why not just let people enjoy things? Because we’re also all natural critics! We form judgements on everything and it’s natural to be kind of a hater sometimes. We might also want to ask the question of whether anything should ever be beyond criticism (but that’s a question for another blog post I think).
For now let’s just say that enjoying things is fine, and not enjoying them is fine too.
In conclusion: DHOTYA = mostly harmless?
I’m choosing to still follow the account. Although we live in an age of vanishing nuance, I think it’s possible to follow an account and enjoy some of the content while regarding it as problematic. (Whereas I don’t follow, say, Glinner or Gervais).
Social media isn’t just a big part of my personal life, it’s also my job. And part of that has been creating social media guidelines for my workplace. These exist not just to protect the company from its employees (we trust them, don’t worry) but to highlight to folks the dangers of participating in the online social media space. I point people towards Jon Ronson’s TED talk ‘How one tweet can ruin your life’ – taken from his excellent book So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed – as a source of case studies about the worst that can happen.
If you haven’t read the book, I highly recommend it. And although the book doesn’t cover this topic specifically, I think it goes to the heart of the matter nicely. That real people are affected by pile-ons on Twitter, and mob justice isn’t fair.
Let’s run the argument…
We value truth.
We value justice.
Some people do not share all our values.
We’re willing to concede (1) for entertainment. ((I see you sharing The Daily Mash on Facebook)
People on Twitter exploit (4) for their own ‘gain’.
Because of (1) and (2), it follows that we call out (5) when we see it.
(1), (2), and (6) are not inherently contradictory
But (6) goes awry because of the influence of (3). [As an aside at this point, (8) vs (2) explains the backlash we see against (6).]
We can call out (8) while still participating in (6).
And so I think that’s the answer. We know that the online world is becoming increasingly fake. Politicians lie, influencers sell us manufactured lies, and people on Twitter make up stories for likes. Calling it out is our best, and only, defence.
And we can do so while being decent human beings. The DHOTYA account and its followers sometimes fail here, so let’s call them out too. Seeking the truth doesn’t justify misogyny let’s just be just as hard on that too.
Board games have been the ‘hot new thing’ for about five or six years now. But last year felt like something extra special.
Just down the road from me, board game cafe Draughts opened a new branch in oh-so-trendy Dalston, the ever-popular Loading Bar remained a popular joint, and Eurogamer launched their own board-gaming sister site: Dicebreaker.
It felt like everyone and their sister were playing board games last year, and that’s great! For some people, that’s having a copy of Catan, cracking it out every now and again and laughing at how nerdy you are. And for some of us it’s spending hundreds of pounds on Kickstarter pre-orders for games with thousands of cards and miniatures and having to order custom storage solutions just so you have somewhere to store all this stuff. Both approaches are equally fine and valid.
And while I’ve been a big fan of board games for a long time, last year was when I really went to town on it. And I’m lucky enough that my girlfriend is just as keen to play board games as I am. So here’s more-or-less every game I played in 2019, arranged by category. And some notes about whether they’re any good or not!
Legacy games are still my favourite types of board game. If you’re not familiar with them, the premise is basically: boardgames where the consequences of each game continue into the next. Risk Legacy, which I’ve previously reviewed and enjoyed for a second time this year, is a great example. It’s the Risk you know and (maybe) love, but at the end of the game you permanently change the world. Cities rise, you scorch the earth, and so on. Legacy games typically feature an ongoing story/campaign and come with secret pouches/envelopes for you to open. I love legacy games.
Pandemic Legacy Season 2
Pandemic Legacy Season 1 is currently the second-highest rated board of all time on BoardGameGeek. And for good reason. It’s Pandemic – the co-operative disease curing game – with added legacy mechanics and a pretty decent campaign. Comparisons with a TV boxset are pretty fair – they’re called Seasons for a reason. And I highly recommend S1 as a good intro to modern board gaming and legacy board games specifically. That said, I enjoyed Season 2 a lot more.
Season 2 is basically the inverse of how Pandemic works. You’re not curing diseases, you’re keeping the world alive – literally, you’re running around the world adding cubes everywhere. But when you start the campaign, almost none of the world is open to you. There’s an emphasis on exploring and revealing hidden parts of the map. And it can be a good 10+ games before you’ve got all the locations available.
Season 2 adds onto everything that made Season 1 great, with fun decisions, surprises, and rock solid gameplay. Get it, put aside a whole weekend for it, and have a blast. It’s great.
Betrayal Legacy is the legacy version of the spooktacular Betrayal at the House on the Hill. BatHotH features one of the most unique gameplay loops around, pivoting from co-operative to competitive board game midway through the game as you start by exploring a haunted house together, before one player dramatically turns on the rest in one of many thrilling scenarios.
I had high hopes for Betrayal Legacy, coming straight off the back of Pandemic S2. And in many ways it delivered! It has all the right elements: a dramatic campaign, permanent changes to the board, hidden content in boxes and elements, dozens and dozens of cards and stickers.
Where it left me wanting was in areas where the game would suddenly end. The Betrayal scenarios aren’t 100% balanced, so in some cases either the traitor or the other players simply have no chance. And the legacy elements, while very welcome, weren’t especially deep. You mostly just added cards to the event and item decks, without making significant changes to the game itself, other than giving the odd item or so a custom name.
Still, more legacy games are always a good thing, right?
OH BOY OH BOY. Gloomhaven is the #1 game of all time on BGG, and for good reason.
The best way I can describe it would be that it’s Dungeons and Dragons, but with all the Dungeon Master aspects automated. And as someone who always wants to play D&D but always ends up being DM, that’s a very good thing. It means I actually get to play D&D.
There’s far too much to say about Gloomhaven for me to summarise here, but I’ll quickly mention the things I love about it. I love…
The strategic card-based gameplay.
The RPG levelling-up mechanics and retirement system.
The way you slowly unlock the game’s content, with the majority of the playable classes inaccessible at the start.
The random events, and emergent world-building.
What don’t I love? I don’t love the over-complicated systems (though these are fixable with external software). And I don’t love the lack of a decent storage system, though again you can find you own solutions for this.
But is it the best thing I played in 2019? Absolutely.
Charterstone is a legacy game of the ‘worker placement’ variety. Those are board games in which you (surprise surprise) place workers onto a board and gain the benefit of wherever you’ve placed them. The setting is a fairly generic Settlers-style land where you’re sort of building a new little town from scratch and your workers are doing things like producing stone and wheat.
The legacy stuff kicks in via a cool system where you can unlock ‘crates’ for your village to earn points. These crates go on to unlock extra buildings for the town (that anyone can use), opening up the game’s complexity further and further.
Charterstone was a very gentle game, although we only played with two people so we didn’t tread on each other’s toes very much. With more people I can see it getting very interesting and varied, although the game does come with rules that allow you to play with extra automated players.
The best thing about it? The game board is double-sided so if you ever fancy running the campaign again you can just buy a ‘recharge’ pack and get stickering all over again!
ps. this game has the best metal coins of any game I’ve ever played
Ok, here we go. Many of the legacy games I listed about were actually made by the same chap – Rob Daviau. He’s a board-gaming legend and genius, and he’s single-handedly changed how we think about board games over the last decade via the creation of the legacy genre. (I’m a fan, if you can’t tell).
But Risk Legacy and Pandemic Legacy had one limitation: they were already pre-existing games before they were given the legacy treatment. Seafall, then, was designed as a legacy-first game. And it’s.. kind of a mess?
I know, I’m disappointed too. But it’s just incredibly complicated, not particularly fun, and more of a chore than anything else. I really really want to finish it, and to have a good time, but it’s not happening so far. And that’s a shame, and it feels like the ultimate missed opportunity.
Machi Koro: Legacy
A really, really fun legacy game! I had my eye on this one for a while (via the legacy game wikipedia entry), and I’m so glad it turned out to be a winner.
Machi Koro is a game already, of course, but it’s not one I was familiar with. The way it works is that up to four players play as mayors of little towns, earning money to build new structures for their towns, which then activate on the roll of a dice. (eg. I build, say, a bakery in my town that gives me a coin each time I roll a 5). But here’s the thing: everyone rolls the dice on their turn, and this can activate buildings in anyone’s town. And it’s not just earning coins, it could be taking coins away from the active player and so on.
Machi Koro: Legacy slowly introduces more and more mechanics to this formula over 10 games, with all the legacy bells and whistles. There’s nothing fundamentally game-changing but all the additions are welcome, and it’s much easier to get your head around than a hulking beast like Gloomhaven or Seafall.
By ‘campaign game’ I mean board games that you play over multiple sessions, but don’t contain legacy elements. They typically have ‘scenarios’ that are mostly different ways to set up the board and may or may not be related to each other. This doesn’t make them any ‘lighter’ than legacy games though, and gives them added replay-ability over typical games.
Arkham Horror: The Card Game
Arkham Horror: the Card Game is currently #21 on BGG’s list of games, which is somewhat surprising as it doesn’t even feature a board! Instead, it’s a ‘living card game’ where you build a deck of cards from a given pool and play through a series of Lovecraftian scenarios.
I’ve only played through two scenarios so far (so not even a full ‘campaign’) and I haven’t got stuck into the deck building stuff yet, but so far I’m impressed. If you ever played Netrunner (you missed out if you didn’t), it’s basically that with tentacles. New content is released for the game constantly, but in pre-determined ‘mythos packs’ rather than the randomised ‘booster packs’ you frustratingly get with some card games, so I’m sure I’ve got many months of (expensive) entertainment to look forward to if I decide to really take this one seriously.
Good luck finding this anywhere. Originally a Kickstarter game, 7th Continent is now a highly sought-after rarity that even Amazon will struggle to find. Zatu have some in stock sometimes, so I’d recommend keeping an eye out there, or just trying your luck on eBay.
But anyway: 7th Continent is a bit of a beast. The gameplay is a pretty simple choose-your-own-adventure system where your choices and outcomes are represented by numbered cards, of which there are literally HUNDREDS in the box. The average playtime for a campaign of 7th Continent is reported as over 10 hours, though it features a handy save feature, where you basically place the cards you’ve currently got out back into a special part of the box. More games should have this.
I’ve played maybe five hours of 7th Continent so far, and I feel like I’ve only really scratched the surface. I’ve love to play more though – so do seek it out if interested.
Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective
I know I said board games were a modern thing above, but this is a game that apparently first came out in 1981! The version I’ve played is a modern reprint by Space Cowboys, but is very much in the same spirit as the original.
The way it works is that you play as an amateur sleuth in the footsteps of Sherlock Holmes as you try to solve a case. You run around London, looking up locations in a full-length directory and hunting for clues in full-length newspaper clippings. Then you reference the locations in your scenario book to see what you find. It’s simple and lets you focus on actually solving the mystery, rather than faffing around with dice and counters.
The downside is lots of reading. But that’s ok!
Mythos Tales is basically exactly the same game as Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective except that it’s based in Lovecraft’s Arkham. Like, it has the exact same directory and newspaper clippings. It’s made by different people though so I guess it’s just a rip-off?
My caveat against recommending the game is that it has loads of mistakes in it. Which is pretty shoddy given that it’s a somewhat precise game where if you get a name or number wrong you literally can’t proceed. So, erm, watch out for that.
Watson and Holmes
Remember how I said that Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective was good because it didn’t faff about with counters and tokens? Well, Watson & Holmes is what you’d get if you did that, ie. not as good.
Robinson Crusoe: Adventures on the Cursed Island
RC:AotCI is the archetypal ‘scenario’ game. You play as survivors on a deserted island, and go about the business of exploring, hunting, gathering, and building – but there’s always a twist. On top of this simple survival simulator you can play dozens of quite different situations. Maybe you have to rescue your friend from pirates, catch the attention of a passing ship, or escape an exploding volcano. I’ve played through a few of the scenarios and they really do shake up the game in interesting ways.
Crusoe plays a lot like Pandemic, though. It’s co-operative, so you all share what you’re trying to do, and you only have so many actions you can take each. But it’s hard as hell and, even with the best teamwork, sometimes luck is just against you and you’ll lose by the skin of your teeth. Still, I love this.
This War of Mine
This War of Mine is Robinson Crusoe with all the joy and colour taken out of it. It’s gritty, depressing and just as hard. Based on the well-received 2015 video game, you play as civilians in wartime, holed up in a house and occasionally braving out in the world to scavenge for supplies. (Strong Dead of Winter vibes if you’ve played that).
I’ve never won a game of this, and it’s hard to imagine bringing myself to give it another go – it’s just so depressing. At least Robinson Crusoe has coconuts.
TIME Stories is a pure scenario game. Literally, there isn’t a game beyond the scenarios you buy for it, so when you buy the game for the first time you’re just getting the board and pieces, with one scenario to play with. But that’s ok, because the game is solid.
The idea is that you play as time-travelling agents sent back in time to investigate some mysterious time shenanigans. And then you sort of go around exploring various locales, spending ‘time points’ to take actions. When you run out, and you haven’t completed the scenario, you have to reset everything and start from scratch. But, twist: this time you’re not going in blind. You know who to speak to and what to pick up. So you kind of Groundhog Day your way through it until you eventually win.
And it’s good fun. It’s just not super replay-able unless you buy more scenarios, which is ironic for a game all about doing things over and over…
This is a ‘crossroads game’ by the folks who made Dead of Winter. The premise is that you’re the crew of a starship and you play through various ‘episodes’ of your adventures, Star Trek-style. The game is notable for its branching storyline and permanent character record sheets (giving it a very light legacy touch).
The gameplay itself is basic worker placement stuff, with some neat sci-fi touches like extra tokens representing robot workers. It all gets pretty complicated as you add more stuff, but so far I’m enjoying it and seeing where the story goes.
Detective: A Modern Crime Board Game
Made by the same folks behind Robinson Crusoe, Detective puts you in the role of detectives trying to crack various cases. It has a strong whiff of Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective about it, as you run around locations chasing various leads. It has an added layer of complexity though in that information you pick up can unlock new stuff, and new leads whereas in the Sherlock games everything feels a bit trapped in time. Detective also features a time-tracker where certain things only happen on certain days, or in the morning, etc. so it’s a bit of a richer sim.
The game campaign runs over a couple of interlinked cases, which is a good and a bad thing. It’s good that’s there’s an overall arc, but it’s bad because I’d really love to give the system a go without having to dredge through the same names and places over and over again.
Without spoiling anything, we also figured out something pretty crucial super early on but weren’t actually able to ‘apply’ our solution until the last game, which robbed something from the experience.
Games that are just games, and nothing else fancy.
A game in which you play as Allies during WW2 recovering stolen Nazi art. Basically you have to lie to everyone constantly about everything. So if that’s your kind of thing, check it out!
What a beautiful game! Azul is definitely one of the best-looking board games I played last year. The box alone is pure art, which suits the premise: competitive mosaic construction.
It comes with boards that you fill in with pieces you pick up from one of a few assorted pools. But there’s all kinds of complications that mean that you’re not simply filling in the blanks – pick up more than you need of one colour and you’ll lose points for the wastage. The strategy deepens very quickly as you realise that you can easily screw your friends over by forcing them to pick up a huge surplus. It gets kind of savage.
Oh and the tiles. It comes with scrabble-like tiles that you have to feel to believe. They’ve got a feel to them I can only describe as ‘delicious’ and make the most satisfying sound as they clink together.
Scythe is just a great game. It’s set in a fictionalised steam-punky 1930s Europe, where giant mechanical mechs are the main state apparatus. It’s based on this beautiful fantasy art, which you’ll also find all over the board and game cards.
But despite appearances, Scythe isn’t a combat game. Yes, there’s fighting in it, but you’re encouraged to do it pretty rarely (it costs you in-game popularity) and it’s not the main thrust at all. Instead, it’s a pretty technical game of efficiency. You want to build yourself a steady economy of resources and profit by constantly streamlining how you play.
The way round words is probably too much to summarise here, but a unique mechanic I’d call out is that you get four actions to pick from each round, but you can’t play the same action two rounds in a row. The strategic implications of this are pretty profound but get this, one of the game’s classes has a unique ability: to simply ignore that rule. How intriguing!
Scythe also has a non-legacy campaign that I’ve just started. It’s too early to say if it’s good or not, since you start with a pretty standard game of Scythe. But things kicked off with a good 20 minutes of read-aloud exposition so woo for that.
I played a few of these, along with the also-decent Exit series. Together, they’re the industry’s attempt to replicate escape rooms as board games. And I prefer the Unlock! series over Exit.
With Unlock you’re playing with a deck of cards, and the Unlock app on your phone. You then work your way through little scenarios, decoding things, spotting hidden clues, and so on. There’s all kinds of things going on that I don’t want to spoil, but they can give you the same thrill as a real escape room, especially since you’re always against the clock…
Power Grid falls under the surprisingly-robust category of industrial infrastructure-based board games (looking at you, Ticket to Ride, and Brass). In this game, you’re responsible for building up the power supply for the US/Germany by developing different power industries.
The game features a living economy system, where all players purchase resources from the same pool, but resources become more expensive as players buy them up. It’s a game that rewards careful planning and is a decent lesson in economics at the same time. Probably not for everyone though.
Puerto Rico is an inherently problematic game and it’d be wrong to try and get around that when talking about it. You play as the colonisers of Puerto Rico, building an economy for yourself with plantations, etc. You farm these plantations with brown ‘worker’ tokens that are brought over on a ship every couple of turns.
It’s a shame for board games to attempt to gamify problematic eras of history in this way, especially when the board game format allows for so much flexibility in setting. There’s no need to make a game that recreates imperial colonisation so I simply can’t in good faith recommend this game. It’s also not that fun.
Lord of the Rings: Risk
Risk… but it’s Lord of the Rings! Set aside a day for this and have a blast.
In addition to letting you play as the many factions of the LotR universe and war it out for control of Middle Earth, LotR: Risk also has a neat way of recreating the journey of the hobbits on their way to Mount Doom. So as they make their way across Middle Earth, this acts as a fun in-game timer to the end, although it’ll still take many, many hours for you to get there.
Lord of the Rings: the Card Game
A trading card game… but it’s Lord of the Rings! Made by the Arkham Horror folks (Fantasy Flight), this sees you building a deck and going on little adventures around Middle Earth.
Something about this just didn’t click with me, and we spent more time staring at the instructions figuring out the order of the game’s various phases then we did actually… doing anything. But if card games are your thing, and you’re big into Tolkien, this might be for you?
Lord of the Rings: Trivial Pursuit – the DVD game
Ok, imma be honest with you: I bought this because Rob Daviau designed it, and I thought it might have some legacy elements in it. Reader: it does not.
It’s a DVD-based Trivial Pursuit game based on the Lord the Rings. The questions are laughably easy though, and the DVD is just the worst. It somehow looks like they made the game before DVDs were invented, it’s that bad.
Another game from the old days that I’m only playing now! Masterpiece is an ‘art auction’ game where you bid on paintings without knowing their value and then go about trading with each other. (It has a lot in common with Operation Faust, in fact).
It’s not a bad game, it just isn’t a modern board game. It mostly comes down to the roll of the dice as to where you land and what you get. There’s some mild strategy involved in remembering who has what, but that’s about it. The paintings are nice though.
(Masterpiece is the 11,532nd greatest game of all time, according to BGG).
The Fluxx games are interesting little things. They start with two rules and no goal, and you go from there. The gameplay then is literally creating and reinventing the rules of the game. Draw 1, Play 1 is it? Nope, I’ve just played a card that means you Draw 2, Play 1. It’s quick, fun, and chaotic. And it lends itself to endless new variations like this, the Batman variation.
There’s nothing much to say about the Batman version specifically, other than it features all the Batman things you’d expect. A decent purchase for a Bat-fan after a quick game.
One Night Werewolf
It’s that famous Werewolf game you probably played when you were little or in Drama lessons. Except you might have called it Mafia instead. It’s simple: everyone plays a role in a village, and a couple of you are werewolves. At night, everyone takes it in turn to wake up and do something, then in the morning you all argue about who was who and vote to kill a werewolf.
It’s a fun little party game, and the ‘One Night’ variant helps because, unlike the old game, you play a single night instead of a whole week. So if you get killed, you’re back in action pretty sharpish.
Food Chain Magnate
A cute lil’ game where build a fast food empire, right down to managing your corporate structure. And then you try to absolutely destroy all the other players. Brutality with burgers.
Mini two-player board games
There’s a lot of board games out there just for two players. These tend to be smaller, card-based affairs. But don’t let their smaller stature put you off, there’s some real gems out there too.
A simple game of goods (and camel) trading. There’s very little else to say about Jaipur other than it’s fairly pleasant and passes the time on a ferry journey very nicely.
A game about geishas that is basically one big maths puzzle. It’s quite intriguing for a game or so, but grows old rather quickly. Also, the premise is that you’re offering gifts to geisha in order to ‘earn their favour’. Make of that what you will.
Seven Wonders: Duel
I bought the original 7 Wonders for a friend once and we tried to play it in a local pub. We got pretty far into unboxing it and reading the instructions before we decided to just call it a day and focus on the drinking instead. Maybe I just hadn’t developed my gaming chops enough yet, or maybe the beer was just that good. Either way, I stayed away from the series ever since.
But for my birthday I got 7 Wonders Duel, which is basically a simplified 1v1 version of the 7 Wonders main game. The gameplay is simple: you go through three ‘ages’ and pick up technologies and buildings to construct a little civilisation. Along the way you can also build Wonders – expensive-to-build structures that give you massive bonuses.
An average game can take as little as 20 minutes, and it’s deceptively strategic. #16 on BGG’s list, and rightly so!
Well, that was a longer list than I expected! I hope you found it useful (you’ll find links to buy any of the games you fancy by clicking on their images).
If you’re not already a board gamer, I hope you consider giving some of the above a go in 2020. They’re good, clean analogue fun, and I’m always happy to suggest something specific to your interests.
So if you follow me on Twitter, you’ve probably seen that I’m having a bit of a row with Virgin Media at the moment. It’s separate to the row I had with them back in 2017 about something else, but it covers much of the same ground.
Long story short, I’m moving flat next month and I’d like to bring Virgin with me. The tool to check if I can do that doesn’t seem to be working, so I’ve been some after some clarity about exactly what the deal is.
My first point of call was to contact the “moving team” who would apparently do a manual check on my behalf. What I got in response is one of the strangest customer service emails I’ve ever received, and definitely something I think deserves a thorough examination. Because that’s where I’m at with my life.
(And maybe we can take away some wider lessons about the importance of clarity in customer service comms while we do it).
HERE’S THE EMAIL
I’ve blurred out the name because I don’t want to blame the agent here. Although if this agent isn’t constantly screaming “WHY DO WE DO THINGS THIS WAY, WHY OH GOD WHY” then frankly I’m a little concerned. But no, this clearly stems from broken processes and systems. No good system should let this happen.
Let’s start at the top then! What makes a good subject line?
Something that makes me want to read the email
Something that gives an indication of where the email is from
Perhaps a summary of the topic
Basically getting right to it. A good subject line here might be “Sorry, we can’t come with you for your move!” or “It doesn’t look like you can get Virgin Media just yet”.
Instead, Virgin Media have gone with an email that has apparently been forwarded twice already. And is all in capital letters. And tells me nothing about what the email says (can I get VM or not?)
It also uses the word “SERVICIABILITY” which is:
The least friendly word they could have picked
Not a word
Did they mean serviceability? Why say that anyway? Even “availability” would be better – I know what that word means. And it’s a word.
We then have 8 line breaks. I don’t know why. To leave me in suspense? What email tool could they be using for this?
Note: this came from an individual’s Virgin Media address too, so it’s possible they just did this all themselves. But this seems like a pretty standard email to send out. Surely they can have templates. At the very least templates that don’t begin with 8 line breaks.
We then get “Hi,” in tiny blue font. No name or anything. Just hi. Then another 7 line breaks. We’re 16 lines in and I don’t know anything.
The email then continues in a completely different font and colour. I kind of liked the blue! But mixing it up is fine too, I suppose. Keeps it interesting.
“Sorry, your home isn’t in a Virgin Media area”. There’s the subject line! Buried like thirty lines deep.
(Note that they’ve said “We checked your post code” twice now. In two different ways. I don’t know why).
Next up: “Here’s the good news” followed by “Hang tight – we’re redirecting you!”. No clue what’s happening at this point in the email. The use of headers is a bit bewildering. At least they’ve tried to use some kind of structure, but it’s just made everything super confusing. But what follows is even worse.
An entire sentence is repeated. “You can still get a great broadband, TV and phone package” – just there… twice! Once mentioning USwitch (last mention of USwitch in the entire email, by the way) and once without. The “button” that apparently leads to USwitch is nowhere to be seen, and the email instantly veers to talking about Simplifydigital instead.
A highlight in the next bit is “click the link below” where “link below” is in blue, but not a link. It’s like they’ve seen links before in other places and know they’re usually blue. But they don’t know how to actually make links so they’ve just added one underneath instead. Baffling.
Another 10 line breaks and we get the sign-off (not in the screenshot).
Wow. Needless to say this email left me very confused. I wasn’t even sure it was legit. I tried asking Virgin Media and they didn’t seem sure, especially since they’re obsessed with telling me that they (the internet company Virgin Media) “don’t use email“).
It’s not just disappointing, it’s shockingly bad. And it makes such a poor customer experience. I have no confidence in the answer I got, I definitely don’t feel like I’m cared about as a customer, and it really damages the brand.
What could the email look like instead?
Well, firstly I’d have it properly branded. Coming from an “email@example.com” email address or something. And using a consistent font size and colour. It could look like this:
Sorry, your home isn’t in a Virgin Media area
Thanks for asking us to check if you can get Virgin Media at your new place.
We’re sorry to say that we haven’t connected your new address to our network just yet. We’d absolutely love to soon though, and we’re connecting new homes as quickly as we can.
We’ll be sorry to lose you though. You can visit our friends at USwitch here to see which other companies have got you covered instead.
When we get to your area, we’ll drop you another email to let you know. We’ll even throw in a £50 welcome back bonus if you come back.
Until then, thanks again for our time together. It’s been great having you with us.
So yeah basically something like that. Maybe with some more line breaks in it.
A year ago I wrote this. It’s kind of an inventory of all the things in my life that have an effect on my mental health, and an interesting snapshot of where I was at twelve months ago. I found it helpful to write at the time, almost as a form of therapy in itself – just laying everything out there and saying “this is what it is”.
So a year on, I want to do it again. This week is once more Mental Health Awareness Week, which our government in their infinite wisdom have marked by turning on a green light.
Which brings me to the first thing to talk about…
Brexit, and general cultural uncertainty
What the hell is going on in the world? Like, seriously: what’s happening?
It feels like we’re stuck in a perpetual catch-22. Impossible situations, political stalemates, the absolute certainty that nothing we can do will ever change anything.
We’re hurtling towards a climate rebellion, but the biggest issue of the day is how many ovens you should have in your house. (The answer is one, of course. Who has FOUR ovens?)
Sure, these are things that are mostly disconnected from our lives. But it’s a backdrop. And if the big things are so uncertain, what are we meant to do? And will there even be a planet left in 10 years time?
No to mention the last season of Game of Thrones being a complete and utter disappointment. A decade of our lives wasted.
We may not feel it, but we’re experiencing existential trauma on a daily basis. No wonder I’m so tired.
I’m well! Well enough, at least. I get the odd cough and cold, but typically I’m not in a bad state.
I’ve started experiencing a couple of mysterious symptoms recently though. Like perpetual jaw ache, and weird, dry rashes on my hands. But I don’t think I’m sick, I think I’m stressed out. I sleep and eat ok, so I don’t know for sure.
I also worry about my weight. It’s been steadily going up since the start of last year. I’m still not overweight by any stretch, but I keep catching myself in mirrors, or see pics of myself and not liking it. Especially around my face, like the cheeks and chin. And my stomach is getting bigger – I’m literally balancing my laptop on it now to write this. A stomach should never be able to be fulfil the function of a lap.
But at least my arms haven’t fallen off.
I’m in the same flat I was a year ago, which is great. I love where I live and I love the place we’ve got.
Unfortunately one of my housemates is moving out soon, which means either moving to a new place (not ideal), or finding a new person to move in (even less ideal, if they’re a randomer). That’s throwing some more stress onto my plate of course. Moving to London was one of the most stressful experiences of my life, and I’d rather not have to go through any of it again. Even though it would be easier now that I’m ‘here’ already.
But I like my housemates. And I like my housemates’ friends and partners. So all good.
I’m at the same place I was last year. Which is good! I like it there. The people are nice, and it’s an exciting place to be.
Is it a relaxing job? Not always no. And I’m not the best at enforcing my own work/life balance sometimes. I stay late too often, not even getting much done when I do. It’s almost like tearing myself away is giving up somehow. I dunno – room for improvement here.
And there’s been stressful times, especially in the last few months. My job involves trying to keep an impossibly-large number of people happy. And ‘caring too much about keeping everyone happy’ might just be my single greatest character flaw. So when I can’t do it, or don’t manage it, that really upsets me. Especially when a lot of it cascades at once, and you just feel like a bit of a failure.
“Hopefully I’ll grow more secure and confident with time” I wrote last year. Have I? In some ways, yes! I take a more active role in things than I did before. But I’m not a natural leader, stepping up to things doesn’t come naturally to me. That said, I’d set myself goals around things like public speaking that I never thought would be possible, so never say never.
I’m currently with someone I really like and is making me happy. We just spent about two weeks straight together, which was very nice.
They’re into board games and movies and games and comedy, which is all I could ever ask for. So even when I’m not feeling my best, I have someone to support me. Which means a lot.
The fam seem cool I guess.
I’m a bit worried about my aunt. She’s gone from ‘annoying aunt’ status to ‘ok actually not well now’, which has been hard. It makes spending time with her difficult and sometimes resentful. I don’t think I had a very happy Christmas in 2018, partly because of this (but also because I drank so much beer it cramped my legs up and I couldn’t walk).
Other family stuff is fine, or I simply don’t think or talk about it.
This was my big deal last year. Parties and being social and the associated fear and anxiety. Does this still happen? Yes. But is it a major problem in my life? Not as much.
In the end, the CBT did help overall. And I also just grew into my own skin a bit. I think I’ll always be a bit of an outsider. Mainstream stuff usually doesn’t bother me to much (except Game of Thrones, where I STAN AN ICON… sorry I don’t know what that means either). But also I’m quiet, I take time to warm to people. And too much people-stimulation simply tires me out. I like to get away and just be by myself sometimes. And that’s cool.
If anything, I’ve gone quite far the other way. There’s been stretches of weeks where every night there’s been “a thing”. Like maybe a work social followed by a film the next night, then dinner with uni friends the next night, then comedy the night after that, and a work event the next day. In isolation these things are fine, but I do struggle when it piles up. Even if each thing is something I want to do and have, in fact, chosen to do. I do find myself simply tired of stuff, the very things I moved to London to do more of.
I feel better when I’m being creative. That can be messing around on Photoshop, writing stupid stuff on the blog, or trying to tweet something so mad that even I wouldn’t retweet it.
And I’ve found a great outlet for it this year through stand-up comedy. I did a course for five weeks at the start of the year, culminating in a showcase for at my favourite comedy pub: The Bill Murray.
That was really fun. I’m seven real gigs in so far, and I’m trying to keep it up. It’s a tiring hobby though – late nights in far-off pubs. And you have to bring someone with you, who’ll patiently sit though two hours of people-that-aren’t-you to listen to your same five minutes they’ve heard before. Anyone that attends comedy gigs as a ‘bringer’ for their friends is a saint in my eyes.
It’s a lazy trope, but it’s true: that stand-up is kinda like a form of therapy. A confession to strangers about your deepest flaws, worries, and fears. I talk about my anxiety in my stand-up, about the things I’m scared of. “I don’t like feeling like I’m under suspicion – it’s why I’ve never won a game of Cluedo in my life” quips on-stage Cook, someone who genuinely pretends to be bad at walking when behind someone at night, in order to seem less threatening.
So yeah, comedy is good and telling jokes is great for your mental health. More comedians than you think struggle with this stuff (and everyone thinks every comedian is secretly depressed, so there you go). Come see me sometime!
I’m also working on an exciting podcast project. It’s about friendship and mental health, but that’s all I’ll say about it for now…
Am I good? I don’t know.
Ostensibly, yes. I’m not on medication right now. And I’m not in therapy.
But I don’t feel good. My phq-9 score hovers around 13, marking ‘moderate depression’ and I strongly identify with the “feeling bad about yourself” and “little interest or pleasure in doing things” parts.
I’ll still feel quite down a lot of the time. But I’ll more commonly just feel kind of blank. Like spaced out, and not feeling anything. Like a numbness after being over-stimulated. I think it’s probably coming from the work stress.
I have a worrying amount of symptoms from the ‘signs of burnout’ list I just googled. Which seems bad. But I think that word sums up how I’m feeling now. A mix of tired and disinterested. I’m bad at taking time away from work, so often I’m just operating in a near-constant daze.
I think I need to take time for myself more. To properly sit and think about what I care about right now, and what I’m doing for me. But it’s hard to do that when so much is happening ALL THE TIME.
Like my phone notifications are the worst. There’s been so many times I’ve been thinking about something when a notification comes in, then another, and another. Your train of thought is constantly interrupted, with things that all demand your immediate attention. Too many WhatsApp groups or people bothering me for stuff. I just want everyone to leave me alone sometimes. But also I don’t want that. Not really.
Am I feeling anxious? Of course. Anxiety practically defines me, and I’ll never beat it. I can just learn to live with it.
But I’m ok
I’m happy enough most days. I really can’t complain about my situation when so many have it so worse off. And I recognise my privileged position – that at least some of my worries are borne from the lack of not having to worry about so many other things. I have my health, and some wealth, and work, and all manner of advantages.
And things are on the way up, probably. At least, better than twelve months ago.
Let’s just see what happens over the next year. Let’s keep an eye on each other, ok?
I’m a big fan of the local library I just read a book But that’s another story
So declares Yan Wilkinson in Who’s In Control, the first song on British Sea Power’s fourth album, Valhalla Dancehall. And as the very name of that album suggests, British Sea Power are a band more than comfortable with a literary reference. In fact, from just classical mythology alone they’ve drawn upon Zeus, Hercules, and the Trojan War. Listening to British Sea Power, isn’t just listening to music, it’s an education in the arts. Like reading a truly great book, it’s fun on its own, but when you dig into what it’s drawing on, you get something truly meaningful.
One of the reasons I love BSP, and maybe the reason they get a bit overlooked, is that they pick unusual things to sing about. When most bands are singing about love and relationships, BSP have sung about the history of artificial illumination, the smallest church in Sussex, and the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich. You know, standard fare. And throughout these explorations, they pepper eclectic references. And if GCSE English taught me anything it’s that lots of references = very good. Or at least, it makes the songs richer than your standard verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-chorus-chorus affair.
Which brings us to this. For years I’ve wondered about collecting the references I’d unearthed. And finally, I’ve actually got round to doing it. I’m focussing on the first album – The Decline of British Sea Power – mostly because I know it best, but also because I think it has the highest density of these references. And I’m grateful to various contributors across the internet for helping me to fill in the blanks on some of this, especially the folks at SongMeanings.net, the Salty Water BSP fan site, and the stark-raving mad bunch on the BSP forum.
TDOBSP is also a masterpiece of an album from start to finish, musically as well as lyrically. It’s broadly about…. remembrance? At least, that’s my interpretation. As the quote on the front of the album says (from Thornton Wilder’s The Bridge of San Luis Rey): “We ourselves may be loved only for a brief time… Even so, that will suffice… There is a land for the living and a land for the dead.”
Angular guitar riffs meet Russian literature
The album opens with forty two seconds of gregorian chanting. Because why not. But after that, the first line – spoken, not sung – is: “Oh Fyodor you are the most attractive man”. Oh hello, Russian author FYODOR DOSTOYEVSKY, on this nondescript 2003 indie rock release, what are you doing here? The song is Apologies to Insect Life, and the song supposedly draws inspiration from Dostoyevksy’s Notes from Underground – but I don’t know enough about to get the specific references.
It’s a Pixies-inspired clangy anthem that builds with frenetic energy that spills over to the next song Favours in the Beetroot Fields, supposedly an oblique reference to the dispensation Field Marshall Montgomery gave his troops to seek ‘favours’ while stationed out on the front.
BSP & Betjeman
The title of Favours in the Beetroot Fields partially echoes The Licorice Fields at Pontefract, by former poet laureate John Betjeman. Is it a deliberate reference? Possibly not. But we know it’s at least knocking around in the BSP subconscious from their appearance in the BBC documentary Betjeman & Me, in which they perform a reading of Pontefract and discuss Betjeman’s penchant for larger ladies.
Betjeman’s roots spread throughout BSP’s work, but more in tone than outright content. Betjeman’s playful poking at sensibilities pops up in a lot of BSP lyrics. And I have a strong suspicion that the song Lucky Bicycle (which you’ll be lucky to find anywhere) is a reference to the line from Myfanwy. where the poet writes of how his beloved rides around the city on a bike and he cheekily declares: trace me your wheel-tracks, you fortunate bicycle!
Shakespeare and sci-fi
The fourth song on the album, Something Wicked, is probably the best example of the album’s themes. It compares and contrasts various symbols of nature that have been co-opted by mankind for military purposes (the Oak Leak Cluster as military award, the use of camouflage) concluding that “your works of nature are unnatural”. The title is an almost-too-obvious reference to the witches of Macbeth, who foretell the bloody events to come in their warning to the king-to-be.
Something Wicked features some of my favourite lyrics on the album, with a couple of my favourite lines being:
And the lake was clear as crystal The best tea I’ve ever had
There’s no such thing as a filler lyrics for BSP, and I choose to believe that these two lines are a reference to The Shining Levels by John Wyatt – a book about a man who ends up living in isolation in the Lake District (the shining levels of the title being the lakes themselves). That BSP apparently almost named their album after the book is also a strong indication. A highlight of the book is when the protagonist adopts an injured baby deer and nurses it to back to health. The same little lost roe deer from No Lucifer from their third album? Probably!
But as well as the Shakespearean allusions, Something Wicked could also be a reference to Ray Bradbury’s novel Something Wicked This Way Comes. Again, we know that BSP are fans. Their song Georgie Ray off Valhalla Dancehall, is loosely based on Bradbury – as well as George Orwell – and their fifth studio album Machineries of Joy is the namesake of a collection of Bradbury’s short stories.
The idea of British Sea Power being science fiction fans may seem odd, so let’s acknowledge that. So far we’ve brought up mythology, Shakespeare, poets, and nature – none of which suggest an interest in either science or fiction, particularly. But there’s an interesting link here, which gives some more context to other parts of The Decline Of…
Remembering Geoff Goddard & Joe Meek
At university, BSP were friends with a chap named Geoff Goddard. Despite working in the catering department at the University of Reading, Goddard had a celebrated past in the music industry, working with artists like The Tornados and Heinz. Most notably he worked with the producer Joe Meek. Meek’s album I Hear A New World is one of the most incredible (viz. weird) half hours of music you’ll ever listen to, and has been cited by BSP as an influence on their own work. And together, Goddard and Meek created hits like the chart-topping Telstar and Johnny Remember Me. So is it any surprise, then, that the fifth track on TDOBSP is called, simply, Remember Me?
Before moving on, take a moment to appreciate the video BSP made for Remember Me, where they bring to life iconic London statues to belt out the most anthemic track off the record.
The Lonely & Larkin
The seventh song on TDOBSP – The Lonely – might also be the saddest. Hauntingly beautiful, it paints a picture of isolation, of long evenings spent hunched over a keyboard playing music. Just look at how beautiful the chorus is:
I’ll drink all day and play by night Upon my Casio electric piano ‘Til in the darkness I see lights But not candelabra But things from other stars
Oh, did I mention that the song is about the late Geoff Goddard? Yup! It’s a tribute song to the friend-of-the-band, which makes it all the more heart-wrenching. As a portrait of a genuine person by someone who deeply admires and respects them, it’s deeply moving and genuinely poetic.
And there’s a touch of another poet at work here. Compare Philip Larkin’s Aubade:
I work all day, and get half-drunk at night. Waking at four to soundless dark, I stare. In time the curtain-edges will grow light. Till then I see what’s really always there:
It’s not so much a paraphrasing as an out-and-out reworking of Larkin’s original. But it’s far from plagiarism. BSP use reference as the basis for originality, not as a substitute. And I like the idea that BSP are Larkin fans. There’s something a bit punk about Larkin and the idea of a bunch of angry young men studying his works and then blasting them out on stage seems fitting.
See also “it deepens like a coastal shelf” as Larkin’s description of misery in This Be The Verse. I think Larkin was talking about the shallow portion of a continent that is submerged underwater (thanks Wikipedia), but I can hear it ring in Oh Larsen B, from BSP’s second album, an ode to Yan’s “favourite foremost coastal Antarctic shelf”. (A song about the collapse of the Larsen-B ice shelf, of course).
Now That’s What I Call World War One Joy Division
We need to talk about Carrion, the 8th song on TDOBSP, and my favourite British Sea Power song of all time. I think it’s about a shipwreck, judging by some of the lyrics and the fact that the British Maritime Museum had some of the lyrics up on a wall for a bit. It name checks Scapa Flow and Rotherhithe, has a bit about the devil in it, and the refrain is about hair pomade. So basically a perfect song.
As well as being a piece of poetry in itself, I think Carrion has some interesting war poetry allusions in it. In early live shows, the song was preceded by clips of the classic war film A Matter of Life and Death or the audio of “Returning, we Hear the Larks” by Isaac Rosenberg. There used to be a great clip of this on Youtube but I’m having real trouble finding it – if anyone out there has it I’d be truly thankful!
Returning to the text itself, as it were, the line “Can stone and steel and horse’s heels / Ever explain the way you feel?” seems to me to be a TS Elliot reference. His Triumphal March is an inventory of the instruments of war, beginning with “Stone, bronze, stone, steel, stone, oakleaves, horses’ heels”. Oh, and there’s those oakleaves again from Something Wicked.
Do you like my historic rock?
Let’s march on to the end of the album then. At just under 14 minutes, Lately is the climax of the album. The lyrics require close interrogation, and a lot of it I can’t place at all. The song breaks down both lyrically and musically to the end, with Yan just screaming variations of the same line:
Do you like my megalithic rock? Do you like my prehistoric rock? Do you like my teutonic rock? Do you like my priapic rock? Do you like my neolithic rock? Do you like my sterile rock? Do you like my megalithic rock?
We’d see this again in the title of their third album – Do You Like Rock Music? But the song begins a lot more sedately:
Lately, you seem like another language Are you in trouble, Are you in trouble again? And you know how they say, The past, it is a foreign country How can we go there, How can we go where we once went?
Very typical BSP; themes of memory and isolation. And of course “the past is a foreign country” is a quote by LP Hartley which in full reads: “The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.” But it’s interesting that BSP would explicitly call this out as a reference (“you know how they say…”). Reference itself as a form of remembrance.
I really like this verse too:
Replacing Hercules, with the heroic sounds of Formby Remove the tunics touch, stood aside from the putsch, Stood aside from history
There’s the Greek mythology, with the heroic athleticism of Hercules ironically displaced by the saucy northern entertainer George Formby. Then there’s a bit I assume is a Hitler reference with the Putsch.
But BSP could never stand aside from history. They’re too obsessed by it. The ringing from ten minutes of guitar feedback has barely dissipated when the final song of the album begins. A Wooden Horse may be the closest that BSP come on the record to writing a traditional love song. “When wooden horses were in use / I would have built one / And left it for you” sings Yan. But even this sentiment is framed within the context of Greek mythology and history. They just can’t help themselves.
So what does this all mean? Just because BSP have written an album densely packed with literary references, both oblique and obvious, does that alone make it any good? Well, of course not. Other bands have drawn upon history and literature in their music; The Decemberists deserve an honourable mention here for being particular great.
But the way that BSP have done it is unlike anything I’ve ever seen any band do. And it’s not just the scale of it, or the way it’s made me obsessively crawl over every word, and spend hours researching this essay over an entire Easter bank holiday weekend.
What makes the album great is the way that these references reinforce the theme. As we’ve said, this is an album about remembrance, of looking back and appreciating. The album is called ‘The Decline Of…’ for a reason. We look back with fondness at things in the past, but we also displace the old with the new. We reject old myths for the modern, we reject the natural for the mechanical, we forget people and things.
In referencing the obscure and the forgotten, BSP make us remember. Geoff Goddard died in 2000 but he lives on in the music he left behind, and in our remembering him through BSP’s music.
Returning back to the quote that adorns the cover of the album..
We ourselves may be loved only for a brief time… Even so, that will suffice… There is a land for the living and a land for the dead
Giggle Palooza is a Facebook page with 1.6m likes. Which means it must be good. One point six million people can’t be wrong, right? And by examining the page we can learn the secret to creating great online content and, dare I say it, life itself?
Let’s start at the top.
Ok so the profile picture is a small child with her tongue sticking out, where about 30% of the letters of the words that make up the name of the page are visible. That’s ok though, because if you missed it, the page is also named in the absolutely enormous cover photo, where a disembodied figure representing the – I’m guessing – “I want to die” emoji poses next to a 3D rendering of the page name.
Which brings us to our first question: what does the name mean?
Now, we all know and love a giggle. It’s like a little laugh. The kind of stifled guffaw that a little girl might do – like the one in the profile picture if she was giggling instead of not actually visibly laughing at all.
But ‘palooza?’ It appears to be a neologism for an ‘exaggerated event’, but the etymology is kinda whack. The term stems most famously from the Lollapalooza music festival. But that festival itself seems to have derived its name from some older term for just a big, whacky thing. We find the term ‘lallapaloosa’ in PG Wodehouse, for instance. But it’s not an especially modern or relevant term. So kudos to the Giggle Palooza team for bringing it back!
In the About section of the page, we find the Giggle Palooza mission statement:
What a fine ambition! To make as many people as possible laugh as outrageously loud as they can each day. Is that not the same aim as noted utilitarian ethicists Jeremy Bentham and JS Mill, just rendered in different language? And to showcase new artist talent? Such philanthropy! As we approach the collapse of civilisation due to unbridled capitalistic greed, it’s refreshing to see that altruism does indeed still exist.
Let’s take a look at some of this award-winning content then, starting with a post that’s been pinned to the top of the page.
Well, ok. This is kind of problematic. I thought we were done with OCD jokes. But who are we to judge the artists of 2017 by today’s standards? And one million people liked it enough to share it onwards with almost a quarter of a million people reacting in some way to do (mostly likes, laughs, and loves). Is this art? Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t. But it’s popular.
Next post! A more recent one now.
A lot to take in here. It’s actually an animated post, but I think you get the broad strokes of it. It’s a funny sentiment, sure. And the post copy “Sure hope not” really gets you thinking. To say so much with so little. Wow.
Next up it’s a dancing bear.
I used to work with someone who loved this kind of thing. Every Friday, without fail, they’d send a cartoon around to the entire company expressing the sentiment that it was the end of the week and we should celebrate. After about a year, someone replied with “sounds like you really hate your job” and then they stopped. But there’s definitely an audience for it.
Ok, that’s pretty funny! I don’t really understand the “smooth sailing” caption. But I’m with the 1.5k people who liked this. And the digital collage style is reminiscent of the photomontage style of the pop art school. This could be hung in the Tate Modern. It might also be an advert for Vick VapoRub, I’m not sure.
This one doesn’t feel like a joke. It definitely didn’t make me ‘laugh as outrageously loud as I can’. But I guess they’re trying to make a political point, which is a noble use of their platform. Of course, you could say that it’s kind of unfair to judge people for using mobility scooters without knowing their individual circumstances. And maybe people who are overweight (for whatever reason) deserve to get around and engage with society if they have mobility issues. But I’m being too serious, this is a giggle palooza after all!
Ok, I do hate this one.
But I think that’s enough of that. Let’s review what Giggle Palooza can tell us about truly great, engaging content. The key features seem to be:
Extremely basic photoshop work
Expressing approval or disapproval towards specific days of the week (Mondays are bad, Fridays are good)
Somewhat problematic non-inclusive views
So I’ve used the above formula to create the world’s first piece of PERFECT CONTENT:
Podcasts are very in right now. But they’ve been a long time coming.
Remember when podcasts came out? It was 2004. The same year as Usher’s ‘Yeah’, Shrek 2, and Jeremy Clarkson punching Piers Morgan at the British Press Awards. It’s only been 14 years, but it feels like forever.
And for some reason we still all use the word ‘podcast’. Even though it’s etymologically linked to the iPod and we’re all listening to them on our phones. But whatever, languages evolves I guess.
Podcasts were different back in those days. They were usually extensions of things that already existed beyond the podcast world. Here’s a typical UK podcast chart from 2009:
Frankie Boyle: Mock The Week Musings
Friday Night Comedy from BBC Radio 4
The Ricky Gervais Podcast
Jimmy Carr’s Video Podcast
The Twilight Saga: New Moon
Best of Chris Moyles Enhanced
Stuff They Don’t Want You To Know
Stephen Fry’s PODGRAMS (Audio & Visual)
Rhod Gilbert’s Best Bits
So yeah, almost entirely (male) comedians generating extra content around some thing that’s already popular. And one of the Twilight Books for some reason.
That Ricky Gervais one is one of the first ones I remember becoming famous in its own right. Even that was basically just a spin-off of Gervais and Merchant’s radio show on XFM. But it very much set a precedent for how a podcast could be its own ‘thing’ beyond just supporting something else.
And now, podcasts are prolific. Apple Podcasts hosts over 550,000 podcasts alone. And hundreds more are springing up every day.
That’s because there’s a very low barrier to entry for podcasts. To create music, you need to have some talent. To create video, you need some
You can find a podcast for literally any subject you’re interested in. Even Shrek.
But of that 550,000 how many are actually good? The answer is about 50. So 0.01%.
Is that harsh? Not really. The majority of podcasts are soulless productions, made to fill some niche with non-content supported by adverts for a variety of inessential millennial products. They’re usually one of the following:
Two friends (usually men) sit behind a mic and ‘just ramble!’ The content is their oddball take on current events and unnecessary opinions on things.
Entrepreneur-porn. Anything to do with success in business.
Bland technology news reporting. Often laser-focussed on a particular niche like Apple.
Storytelling podcasts, which are now 100% of the gruesome ‘true crime’ genre.
Boring sports/politics/gaming chat.
D&D podcasts that aren’t anywhere near as fun to listen to as D&D is to play.
Culturally parasitic podcasts that exist to comment on the most recent episode of a television show.
I’m not saying that the secrets to success in life can’t be found in a podcast. But no, they can’t be. Podcasts exist to be mildly entertaining distractions from our monotonous lives. They’re something to listen to in order to make your commute feel quicker, to make household chores less painful, or give your brain something to do while you’re having a bath.
These podcasts are actually good because there’s no expectations. They don’t have to be funny, or even interesting – though they often are both. They’re typically just two people having a chat about things.
But wait! Didn’t I say in my list that two people having a chat is the worst kind of content possible? Yes, I did! But when the people in it are famous, or more importantly: people I like, it’s ok. Their opinions are actually insightful and I learn things. So it’s a valuable use of my time to listen to them. Or at least, a non-negative value contribution to my life.
A really entertaining podcast that takes on internet culture and memes. This should be my dream podcast, but sadly it comes out pretty infrequently
Other internet-y podcasts that are ok are Reply All and Why’d You Push That Button? And a special recommendation for Trends Like These, which recaps the week in Twitter trends and news. Trends Like These is co-hosted by a chap called Travis McElroy, which brings us to…
Any McElroy Brothers podcast
The McElroys are three brothers (Justin, Griffin, & Travis) who primarily make podcasts. Although their podcasts often fit the template for the kind of podcasts I hate, for some reason they are immune to my typical objections. Chalk it up to them being so inherently adorable and glorious.
Central to the McElroy podcast empire is My Brother, My Brother, and Me – which may well be the world’s greatest podcast. It’s an “advice show for the modern era” but is basically a platform for their surreal improv-esque forays into popular culture. And they talk about Shrek a lot. So it’s more than just “three brothers round a mic”.
Likewise, they have the only good D&D podcast – The Adventure Zone. There’s another in which they chronicle their attempts to get cast in Trolls 2. And they have one in which they’re committed to watching the movie Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2every year until they die.
And there’s a variety of good spin-offs that the brothers have with their partners: Sawbones (a podcast about medical history), Schmanners (a manners and etiquette podcast, which I saw live at the London Podcast Festival this year!), and Wonderful – a podcast about lovely things.
The McElroy’s are part of the Maximum Fun podcast network, which also hosts the Judge John Hodgman podcast, that I quite like. In this, comedian John Hodgman plays a judge, passing judgement on everyday arguments between couples. It’s good!
h3h3 is a bit of a controversial figure. The youtuber-turned-podcaster has a devoted cult following online in places like Reddit. But his frank manner and habit of picking fights with other popular youtubers (he has an ongoing feud with Jake and Logan Paul) means it can sometimes be a little toxic.
But I enjoy the podcast, mostly for the ‘goofs’ – his commentaries on stupid youtube videos. It’s what made his YouTube channel popular and is always entertaining, especially when his wife Hila pipes up with a dry comment. She’s the greatest.
Currently the 3rd most popular podcast in the UK on Spotify. NSTAAF is a spin-off podcast from the researchers behind QI. Every week they gather to share and discuss the most interesting facts they’ve found out. And it’s pretty good!
This is exactly the kind of thing that could be very annoying. There’s space for exactly one ‘fun facts’ podcast in the world, so I’m glad this has been the one to break out. It’s become a bit of a brand in itself, perhaps superseding QI itself (they have a book out every year now), but ignore all that and it’s an entertaining listen.
Russell Brand’s podcast! Wait, where are you going?
No seriously, I like this. People write off Brand as being a figure of ridicule, who just uses big words and does irresponsible things like telling young people not to vote. But listen to the podcast, and you can’t argue that he’s unintelligent.
Under the Skin covers all kinds of big sociological topics. From things he’s written about himself such as politics and addiction, to more abstract things like metaphysics. His interview with Adam Curtis in particular is really fascinating – and it’s kinda adorable how he tries to pierce Curtis’ hard outer shell with boyish charm.
Quickfire time. Here’s some more podcasts to check out if you’re hungry for more:
99% Invisible. The design podcast that everyone recommends. I’m no exception.
Fintech Insider. Probably only relevant if you work in or know about Fintech. But I’ve been on it twice so I recommend it for that reason!
Four Finger Discount. A very solid Simpsons podcast (which I prefer to the more-widely celebrated Everything’s Coming Up Simpsons).
Harmontown. Community and Rick and Morty creator Dan Harmon melts down on mic in this podcast which is as much a portrait of a man in crisis as it is an entertaining listen.
Household Name. A podcast about things we take for granted, but with interesting stories. “Wait, that’s exactly the same premise as 99% invisible!” you say. And yes, you’re right. But they have some interesting content of their own, like their recent episode on the Pumpkin Spice Latte. Check it out.
My Dad Wrote A Porno. Everyone’s favourite podcast. Does what it says on the tin. Now a worldwide sensation. I have mixed feelings about it but overall think it’s pretty decent.
Worst Idea of All Time Podcast. Australians Guy Montgomery and Tim Batt watch the same film every week for a year and talk about it. So far they’ve done Grown Ups 2, Sex and the City 2, and We Are Your Friends. If that sounds familiar, it’s because they also co-host Till Death Do Us Blart, the aforementioned McElroy production, known to its fans as #DEATHBLART.
See, podcasts ain’t all bad. It’s just that about 549,950 of them are.
Got some good podcasts pick of your own? Great! Keep them to yourself. There’s nothing more annoying than listening to someone else’s podcast recommendations.
In late 18th century France, the Incroyables and Merveilleuses scandalised Paris with their outrageous fashions, wearing extreme exaggerated costume-like dress. Some even donned ‘ironic’ bicorne hats, as worn by the military. They really were unbearably pretentious.
So even though we think of the hipster as a relatively modern phenomenon, that may just be because our use of that word to describe a particular constantly-existing group of people has only been going on for a few years. (And don’t forget that the word ‘hipster’ itself is originally a 1940s term for certain jazz musicians – and not necessarily a derogatory term).
Back in 2005, Charlie Brooker and Chris Morris were satirising this group of people, and the London media sub-culture they occupied, in their sitcom Nathan Barley. Lacking the term ‘hipster’ in the vocabulary of their time, they instead went simply with ‘idiots’, producing what might be the greatest prophecy since the Book of Isaiah.
(Predicting ‘hand-held twit machines’ a full year before Twitter was created still blows my mind).
And there’s another, more timeless, term often used to regard this group of ‘self-regarding consumer slaves’. Quite simply: dickheads. And nothing summed this group up better than 2010’s ‘The Dickhead Song’.
This came out at that perfect time during university when everyone was just starting to get laptops, and viral youtube videos were just becoming a thing, and that weird mix of synth-poppy songs with crudely-done animations was just getting overdone. (Remember rathergood.com? It’s still going!)
The song itself is a pretty decent inventory of the main complaints against hipsters. So, eight years on (sorry I wasn’t waiting two more years to do some bloody anniversary thing), let’s see how it’s aged. And see how well I – a 28 year old man living in North London – fit the dickhead bill.
Got on the train from Cambridgeshire Moved down to an East London flat
Was this a big complaint at the time? People from Cambridgeshire specifically? I feel today that hipsters come from all over the place. And they’re not living in East London anymore. SOUTH is the place to be. Looking at you, New Cross and Deptford.
Me? I technically got on the train from Cambridge and moved down to a North-East London flat. So about 90% of the words in the opening lines apply. Not a good start.
Got a moustache and a low cut vest
I feel this went out of date pretty quickly. Beards overcame moustaches pretty fast. And low cut vests? Nope.
Both outdated too. Though presumably the people who got the sailor tattoos still have them?
I dug through some old photos to see what I could find for myself, and I came across this. It’s extremely bad, but I still maintain I was doing it ironically.
Just one gear on my fixie bike
Yeah, fixies are still a thing. But I feel that everyone has a bike now and it’s not so much a hipster thing. Maybe the extreme no-brakes, high-seat, DIY pedal kind of things you see are still a hipster thing. The jury is out.
Me? My fixie bike got stolen. It was too pure for this world.
got a plus one here for my gig tonight
I don’t agree with this. Being a musician doesn’t make you a hipster, or a dickhead. I guess flexing about having ‘plus ones’ and stuff is, but that falls into the wider category of twattish behaviour.
Me? I don’t play gigs.
I play synth… We all play synth
Synths are out, I feel. There’s probably some new kind of hipster instrument that I haven’t even heard of yet instead. And it seems all the cool kids are ‘soundcloud DJs’ today anyway, whatever one of those is.
Me? I’m happy with an acoustic guitar.
20-20 vision just a pair of empty frames
Are empty frames still a thing? Were they ever? I feel these days, glasses are still ‘geek chic’ cool, but it’s almost cooler to actually need them for vision. Like it implies you’re bookish and books are cool now, I think?
Me? I actually need mine for vision because I’m bookish.
Dressing like a nerd although i never got the grades
See above. Probably cooler to just be smart now.
Me? I have a degree in philosophy. The dressing like a nerd is unintentional.
I remember when the kids at school would call me names Now were taking over their estates
Yeah, there’s a good point here about gentrification – which is still happening and is still very much bad. The fetishisation of deprived areas as trendy is insensitive to their resident populations and drives out lower-income families when new, wealthier people move in.
Me? I’m probably guilty of it. I live in Stoke Newington, which isn’t a materially impoverished neighbourhood by any means, but I do feel guilty walking past several local greengrocers to pick up my overpriced organic veg at the Whole Foods.
Polaroid app on my iphone taking pictures on London Fields up on the blog so everyone knows were having new age fun, with a vintage feel
I can’t believe Instagram didn’t exist when this song came out. But it just about didn’t. (The song was uploaded to YouTube on September 28th, 2010 – the initial Instagram release was October 6th, 2010). Of course, other polaroid-style apps have existed for as long as smart phones have had cameras. But for some reason I just assume that Instagram has always existed. Like Instagram came first, then light and darkness, then the earth and the heavens, and the sea and the skies, and then plants and animals, and then finally humans. Instagram is eternal, we just logged into it.
But yeah, Instagram is ubiquitous now. Your primary school probably has an Instagram account. So it’s not even cool now. It just is.
Me? I tried to see if I’d taken a picture of London Fields because that would be perfect. I couldn’t find one, but I did come across one I took of Greenwich Park, which is just as cliché. Also LOL at the caption I picked for it.
coolest kids at a warehouse rave exclusive list look theres my name I got in… You couldn’t get in
I might be wrong, but I don’t think warehouse raves are a thing anymore. It seems to be more like ‘poetry night downstairs at the pub’ or something. I don’t know – I’m not cool. I don’t get many Facebook invites these days for those weird club nights with like 100 DJs on that nobody’s ever heard of.
never bought a pack of fags i only roll my own
Yes, hipsters are still very much rolling their own.
Me? I don’t smoke.
plugging in my laptop at the starbucks down the road
Oh come on, EVERYONE does that. It used to really annoy me that people would set up shop in Starbucks all day and work. But now I’m the kind of person that would do that, I think it’s a very good thing.
Me? I think it’s a very good thing.
say i work in media im really on the dole
Hipsters still dominate media. They’re in your advertising agencies, they’re running the social media accounts for your favourite brands, they’re producing that TV show you really like. Sorry, you have a lot to thank them for.
Me? My job involves social media so guilty as charged I guess.
im the coolest guy you’ll ever know
Obviously this is me.
Loafers with no socks Electropop meets southern hip hop Indeterminate sexual preference Something retro on my necklace
I feel these are very specific references I don’t quite get, and reflect more ephemeral aspects of hipsterness specific to the time. What might they look like today? Ripped jeans? Grime music? Gender fluidity? Each generation of hipsters will have something unique to cling onto.
Me? I tried to think about the most hipster thing I’ve ever done. It was either going to a Neutral Milk Hotel concert in Camden, or seeing a Wes Anderson movie in Shoreditch and going to a hipster fried chicken place afterwards.
And that’s it. That’s the whole song.
It’s stood up pretty well. It’s still describing a somewhat self-absorbed group of people. But we’ve established that these people will always exist. And since they by definition keep themselves to themselves, they’re nothing to worry about.
And me? Most of the things referenced in the song applied to me in one way or another. (Moving from Cambridge to North-East London in particular is a bit spooky). But I’m a product of these times as much as I am a participant in them. Being involved with culture is bound to leave some cultural residue.
The 80s was a wild time for cartoons, with everything from the Ghostbusters to Mr T getting the animated treatment. And it’s no secret that a lot of these existed purely to sell or promote child-friendly toys, like Transformers or Masters of the Universe. Even some video games were made into cartoons, with the Pac Man cartoon being especially memorable.
But the one I’d like to take a quick look at today is Rubik, the Amazing Cube. Here’s the intro:
Yup, it’s a show about a talking Rubik’s cube.
BETCHA DIDNT THINK THERE WAS ANY LORE BEHIND RUBIKS CUBE DID YOU. WELL THERE IS AND ITS VERY DEEP. RUBIK IS A MAGIC SPACE ELF THAT TALKS LIKE A BABY AND HAS THE FACE OF A HIDEOUS TROLL MONSTER.
According to the mythos of the show, this Rubik’s cube is magical and owned by an evil wizard. The way it works is that Rubik is powerless and inert when the cube is scrambled, and only comes to life when the cube is solved. Yes, I am aware that it is basically the same premise as Clive Barker’s Hellraiser.
In any case, in true 80s cartoon fashion, some punk kids steal the cube from the evil wizard and use it to get their revenge on bullies. In total, 13 episodes were made, airing between September and December 1983. The episode titles are wonderfully evocative, with stand-out favourites being Rubik and the Mysterious Man, Rubik’s First Christmas, and Back Packin’ Rubik.
But I have questions.
Is the implication here that all Rubik’s cubes contain little Rubik people? Or is it just this one? I mean, it was originally in the possession of a wizard – but I’m unclear whether he created it or just has it. I’m also unclear on whether the cube is meant to be magic, that is to say that Rubik exhibits non-standard metaphysical properties and is perhaps some kind of machine elf, or whether Rubik is an alien and the cube is an extraterrestrial mechanism. But why would such a creature exist, if it can be so easily disabled by being scrambled? (In one episode, the cube is fully mixed up after being dropped by a dog).
And in one episode it is heavily implied that Rubik, the Amazing Cube is also Santa Claus.
And that’s all I have to say about this bizarre show.
Reading is one of the few pure joys left in the world.
Books don’t have ads in them. Books don’t have extra downloadable content after you’ve bought them. Books don’t stay in a state of disappointing ‘early access’. Books are good.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not one of those ‘I love nothing more than the smell of a new book, the feeling of turning pages, the rush of knowing you’re getting to the end’ kind of people. Even though my life’s ambition is to one day be rich enough to own a failing bookshop, I read everything on my kindle these days. It’s just more convenient.
But here’s the important bit: I still read them. I’ll spend months ploughing through a good book. Which in the age of 90-minute movies and meant-to-be-binged Netflix shows is pretty nuts. That’s a lot of time and attention to dedicate to one form of entertainment. But I don’t mind at all. A good book is a slow burn, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
But what if you’re too important to have the time to read books? Introducing: readitfor.me
Billed as ‘the #1 book summary service for entrepreneurs, executives, and business coaches‘ the pitch is this: WE READ BOOKS SO YOU DON’T HAVE TO.
They basically produce short twelve minute summaries of the kind of books that people who describe themselves as ‘serial entrepreneur’ in their Twitter bio go crazy over. Books with titles like HOW TO SCALE YOUR BUSINESS BRAIN AND SUCEED WITHOUT TRYING or POWER HACKS TO SUPERCHARGE YOUR MINDSET. So it’s not fiction, or anything good, just typical executive trash. But it’s still annoying to me.
Here’s a gem from their FAQs:
What sort of equipment do I need for this?
All of our videos and workshops can be accessed on your tablet, laptop or smartphone, and can also be projected onto a boardroom wall.
Ahhhh yes. The way books were meant to be read. Little did Dickens know when he put pen to paper and inspired generations of writers in the English-speaking world, that one day we might be reading books “projected onto a boardroom wall”.
Sure, the sting is taken out of this by the fact that the books aren’t any good. If this was attempting to reduce classic literature down it’d be outright offensive. But I think there’s a couple of assumptions being made here that I find distasteful:
That the benefit of a body of work is solely the top-level content, which can be extracted without anything being lost.
That reading as an activity can be outsourced.
That you can be too busy to just a read a book.
Keep books great. Read them! Support libraries! And for the love of God, don’t pay something else to read them for you.