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w/e 2 September 2018

I’m a day late this/last week because we were on holiday and have only now returned. We spent ten days in rural Herefordshire and it was lovely.

Photo of an apple tree with a hill and blue sky in the background

It was like being on a quiet island with the rest of the world a long way away across the gently rolling sea of fields. I gave myself a break from reading social media, blogs, and Slack, and managed to only check my email a handful of times. Keeping up with the news involved a single morning read of the “paper”. The only indications I had of what people were up to was a select few silent Swarm alerts as friends travelled around. Peaceful. Marred only by a nasty cold that had me between “a bit under the weather” and “transplant my consciousness into a new body this one is ruined where am I” for a few days. Otherwise, gorgeous.

§ We watched the first season of Halt and Catch Fire, the US drama about a company creating a personal computer in the 1980s. Like everyone says, it was really good. It’s a shame that nearly everyone in it was, at heart, a bit of a dick. The only exceptions were Donna and Bosworth, who appeared to be a bit of a dick but — aha, a twist! — wasn’t really.

I liked how so much of the surroundings still looked 1970s, as places did. And I liked how it showed how hard it is to do great work, to be the best. You can have good ideas, good people, a driven leader, good technology, all of that… but if you’re a couple of months late, or not quite good enough, or you have slightly the wrong idea, or have the wrong taste, or get a bit of bad luck… you might not make it. And it’s a long way between being a big success and an also ran.

§ We stuck with the 1980s to watch season five of The Americans which we continue to enjoy, although this season wasn’t terribly exciting. It all felt very much “mid-season” as if it was gearing up for some tense action that… never happened. Up until now we haven’t seen or heard much about the Soviet Union, other than occasional flashbacks. This season had a couple of plot strands set there, an apparently grey and poorly-lit country.

Which made us wonder: what do Philip and Elizabeth think their homeland is like now? One very brief visit aside they haven’t been there for 15? 20? years. And their memories of the place — Philip’s especially — don’t seem especially rosy. When they wonder whether to “go home” what do they imagine life will be like?

§ We also watched the final two episodes of Keeping Faith and, as I feared, it fizzled out in a confusing, unsatisfying mess. It’s like eight hours was too much time for the plot and so there were too many twists and characters and double-crossings and ultimately I barely cared any more. It did suffer in comparison to The Americans, which we’d just watched. That is slow and measured and well paced, which made Keeping Faith, by the end, seem overwrought, unbelievable and unnecessarily convoluted.

The few British TV thrillers I watch seem to be about 50/50 on whether they can manage a decent ending, even when they don’t also have to shoehorn in a cliffhanger for a possible next season.

§ Last week I read Familiar by J. Robert Lennon which I enjoyed. I’d made a note of it after reading this review in the LRB five years ago. It’s been a while since I read a book that I really wanted to get back to and, even though I didn’t ultimately find it quite as satisfying as most of it promised, it was still a good journey.

§ Post-holiday we’re now back in central London with its many, many sounds, and I’ll be back to the usual rut. I hope your back-to-school alternate “new year” feeling is going well so far.

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