Stuff I’ve Read, Watched, Done #30 – January 12th, 2022

Happy start to 2022!

I know that’s a bit late. The month is over a third over already, and the year more than 1/36th the way through. But still, the sentiment is the same.

We ushered in the new year at a simple but impressive fireworks display at the beach.

Well, technically that’s not exactly true, as that was at 10:00 pm on New Year’s Eve, to make for a somewhat easier situation for families and tired people like ourselves. But they were still pretty cool, especially because you felt so close to them. When I was a kid I was terrified of fireworks because I thought they were going to burn my eyes (hmm, was this before or after I had seen Day of the Trifids?) I would have been traumatized if I’d have been as close to them as I was that night.

Fireworks got in my eyes!

We went home afterwards, and actually ushered in the New Year from the safety of our living room, with my wife asleep in our bed.

It’s been a busy and intense start to the year on our side of things, full of busy family activities and coping with ever-changing COVID-related mandates. Of course the challenges I am facing are nothing compared with those that many others have to contend with. Someone close to me, for example, has been unable to visit her Alzheimer-afflicted husband in his nursing home for a week or so now (previously she went every day). She’s not actually sick–she is just a victim of the concern that the germs that are out and about in the community could get into the nursing home (I’m not sure how the staff that come and go every day are managing that risk) and evidently none of the numerous existing health measures that are in place are sufficient to mitigate the risk. The potential implications to this for both husband and wife are pretty severe.

Now, thankfully, it sounds like today they are attempting a workaround that involves full personal protective equipment for the visitor (again, it’s hard to imagine the staff taking such measures daily). In any case, one can understand the concern that a nursing home would have, but there are severe consequences to these sorts of decisions that should not be trivialized.

Meanwhile, in the world of work, I am trying to move three different projects through various stages of post-production.

There’s a documentary about Sister Veronica (an Aboriginal nun), a documentary about Mt. Margaret (a Christian mission in country Australia which seems to be a much more positive place than those words conjure up) and Stuck, a time-loop movie that was dreamt up during lockdowns (which is hopefully less pretentious than it sounds). I’m grateful to be able to work on all of these.

My wife and I also have had some unusually quiet days as all three of my daughters have been away at different points during this time. My oldest daughter is away on the east coast of Australia for several months, and her younger sisters went away for a camp the week after New Year. Then they were back for a couple of days and are now away again at a “Summer of Service” type outreach run by the missions organization I am part of.

As a result, certain regular TV viewings have had to be crammed into the time when they were around, and my wife and I have had to come up with other things to view when they have been away. As a result of these two factors, some shows, like The Man in the High Castle, we made no progress on at all.

What did we watch? Well…

Ted Lasso

Our friend came over and got us onto this, which meant signing up to Apple TV+ for a free week which has now turned into a paid month. It’s obviously a crazily popular and well-regarded show and it’s easy to see why–the cast is great an the writing very funny. It has meant that our home is absolutely bombarded with swear words which makes for an odd contrast with the otherwise upbeat and cheerful tone of the show. We are about halfway through the second season (of two) and I’m eager to finish it, because it’s really good and because I want to cancel Apple TV+ before it costs us any more money. But my girls are watching this one so I have to wait for them to get back.

The Invasion

There are Spoilers in this one, just so you know.

Before I cancel Apple TV+ I also have to finish The Invasion, or alternatively decide I am done watching it. This is, as the title suggests, an alien invasion show in which we see the chaos of a global cataclysm through the eyes of several different characters scattered across the world, from a grass roots point of view, so to speak. There’s a US soldier in Afghanistan, a British schoolboy involved in a bus accident on a school trip, a New York family going through marital issues as they cope with the panic, and a Japanese space-program specialist who is involved in a romance with an astronaut who is presumably killed when it all starts going down, whose grief is given is much more screen time than if it had been a heterosexual couple.

There’s also Sam Neill as a sheriff in the United States who finds stuff going crazy on his last day before retirement, but he apparently dies in the first episode so that’s a disappointment.

Also a disappointment is the fact that even though the show is tense and dramatic, and it’s also incredibly tedious, with events unfolding at a glacial pace. Four episodes in and though bad things are happening, it’s still completely unclear what they are. Plus, most of the characters are kind of annoying and unlikable. So I am trying to decide if I’m going to keep watching it or just read a plot summary on wikipedia.

The Detectorists

In addition to this Apple TV+ thing, my wife and I bought each other a year’s subscription to Britbox for Christmas. It’s been very worthwhile, and one of the discoveries we’ve made there is a sit-com called The Detectorists, which is about two loser-ish guys played by Mackenzie Crook and Toby Jones, who spend their days roaming through the fields around their county with metal detectors, hoping to find treasure, but perpetually (at least so far) failing. Crook is an actor I’m not familiar with even though he has been in lots of things, including the British version of The Office–he plays Andy, who is clearly punching above his weight class in his relationship with Becky, a school teacher played by Rachael Stirling. Toby Jones I mostly know as strange villains from Captain America, Doctor Who, Jurassic World and Sherlock, but here he plays a strange but likeable oddball named Lance.

We are about halfway through the show’s three seasons (nineteen episodes in total). It’s a really likable show which is genuinely funny and has a sweet spirit. The quirky cast also includes familiar faces Sophie Thompson (from the 1994 Emma) and Diana Rigg (Rachael Stirling’s real mother) as Becky’s mother.

All Creatures Great and Small

Britbox is also paying off for us in allowing us to easily watch the second season of the revived All Creatures Great and Small. My wife loooooves All Creatures Great and Small, both the original show and the books that it is based on. I haven’t seen all of the episodes of the old show but I have seen a bunch and have really appreciated it, even with its languid pacing. Robert Hardy’s Siegfried Farnon is really one of TV’s great characters.

But we have all also enjoyed the newer version of the program. The cast is all quite different, but I really like the approach the show is taking with the story and the characters. Callum Woodhouse (whom I remember from The Durrells) brings a fair amount of depth to Tristan, Rachael Shenton (who won an Oscar for her short film The Silent Child) is lovely as Helen Alderton, and Anna Madeley adds a lot to the show as a younger version of Mrs. Hall than we’ve had before.

Diana Rigg also played Mrs. Pumphrey in the first season, but after she passed away she was replaced by Patricia Hodge who is fine, but much less crazy seeming.

The Book of Boba Fett

We only saw the first episode of this before all my kids comings and goings began. After a couple of seasons of The Mandalorian, it was a show which held very little personal appeal for me. I guess I’m not interested in Boba Fett as a person; I was more interested in him as a cool action figure with neat armor, and I saw plenty of that in The Mandalorian with the main character, as well as Boba Fett himself. But I found I enjoyed the first episode a fair bit, although the Star Wars connections feel sort of incidental to me. Instead, it’s just a cool space-western story–the same as all Star Wars at the moment (unless it’s Visions, and then it goes full space-samurai).

Death in Paradise

I’ve watched years of Death in Paradise but until Britbox I’ve never seen any of the Ben Miller episodes in the first two seasons. My only view of him is in the third-season opener when (Spoilers) he is actually killed before the opening credits and Kris Marshall replaces him as the series’ lead.

My wife and I returned to the beginning when we decided to tune into Death in Paradise because it turns out that Britbox only has episodes up to Season 8, which we had already seen. Ben Miller’s Richard Poole turns out to be the most annoying of the show’s lead detectives simply because he’s the most comically inept at adapting to his new Caribbean surroundings.

I was also excited to see Sara Martins as Camille Bordey again (my favorite of the show’s parade of beautiful Detective-Sergeants who assist the lead character in the police work).

It was surprising to see her debut as a mysterious person-of-interest in the initial case, though naturally it turned out that she was working undercover. She and Poole have an unpleasantly frosty relationship although one presumes that will warm up as the show goes on–we’ve only watched the first two episodes so far.

It’s also interesting to note that that those first two episodes don’t have the formulaic feel that a lot of the show winds up having. All the familiar elements are present, but they are not so settled into the structure that you can predict what scene is coming next, as often became the case.

As far as Steps are concerned, I gave myself a break over the Christmas week and it shows when you look at the count–I averaged under 5000 per day (less than half of my normal goal). The fact that it was like a million degrees outside helped to make the decision to slow down an easy one to make.

The following week I picked things up again, and in particular had a bit of a crazy day on Wednesday, as you can see.

Refreshing and Inspiration

I have to confess I’ve been feeling a bit down about many things going on in the world, my state and in the lives of many people close to me lately. But today in the staff meeting of the missions organization I work with, we had an encouraging message from one of our leaders which focused a lot of Psalm 40 in the Bible. This is a special Psalm for me as it’s the first passage in the Bible that I felt God “lead” me to, when I was praying 30+ years ago in college, feeling very down in the dumps and hopeless, and asking God in a sense if he was really there. I felt “prompted” (not sure how else to explain that) to read Psalm 40. I had no idea what it would say but found myself greatly encouraged by the song, and today have found that to be true again. The psalmist talks about being trapped, but then being lifted up and given new solid ground to stand on and a new song of praise in his mouth and heart. Go check out the whole thing if you want to but here are the first three verses (in the New Living Translation):

I waited patiently for the Lord to help me,
    and he turned to me and heard my cry.
He lifted me out of the pit of despair,
    out of the mud and the mire.
He set my feet on solid ground
    and steadied me as I walked along.
He has given me a new song to sing,
    a hymn of praise to our God.
Many will see what he has done and be amazed.
    They will put their trust in the Lord.

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