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w/e 2019-12-29

It was Christmas week full of Christmas things and Christmas feelings, unless you don’t do Christmas then it was full of other things and feelings. There we go.

§   Our not-very-seasonal viewing involved season one of The Knick, Steven Soderbergh’s drama about a 1900 New York hospital, with Clive Owen as the chief surgeon smacked to the rafters on cocaine and opium. It was quite good. It’s not hugely gripping – I never reached the end of an episode thinking, “Oh, no! Maybe we can watch just one more? – but it’s entertaining enough.

The, “ooh, here comes the modern world” moments – New electric lighting! A vacuum pump! Different “types” of blood! – felt slightly clunky, but I’m not sure how you could mention them without being a bit clunky. Maybe just fewer of them? Cliff Martinez’s twinkling electronic score goes well with the modern-ness of it though, even if it occasionally sounded like one of our devices was alerting us to something.

Mainly, the only bad thing about the show is its repeated insistence of cutting directly to some in-progress surgery, with someone’s hand deep inside a bloody incision. I would definitely avoid the start of season one, episode one, if you are pregnant.

§   We also watched the two episodes of Mackenzie Crook’s new version of Worzel Gummidge which were a delight and definitely worth watching, whether you’re accompanied by children or not. Just funny enough, with a beautiful atmosphere of an idyllic English countryside, very similar to that of his Detectorists. Leisurely sunshine over empty fields.

It slightly irks me that all children in “family” shows like this come from a well-spoken Home Counties middle-class, which gives everything an unnecessary Enid Blyton-ish air. I can see that, maybe, it helps make things feel more “timeless,” which tying the kids’ manners, slang, etc too closely to 2019 wouldn’t do. But it feels too cautiously BBC, not wanting to alienate old people who’ll write in to complain about language they don’t understand.

But it’s a quibble and it was lovely otherwise. I can imagine Crook doing a slightly darker Old/New Weird Britain “reboot” of Catweazle next…

§   These are my last weeknotes from London for a while. As expected, I’m trying not to think, “What are we doing? Why are we making life more complicated?!” But I often recall an Oliver Burkeman column that I can’t now find, which said that if you’re anxious about something, try telling yourself that you’re not anxious, you’re excited. The two feelings are very close but the first is negative and the second is positive. It’s easier to make this shift, changing one feeling for a similar one, than to try to “not be anxious”.

(Update: It wasn’t an Oliver Burkeman column, but this Atlantic article by Olga Khazan which I’d found at the time via Jason Kottke.)

So that’s useful. But, sort of similarly, when I think, “I don’t want to make life more complicated!” I try to remind myself that life being complicated is close to life being interesting. If life was beautifully simple, which is what I often think I want, it would also be unchanging, with no new experiences from which to make memories. And if you’re not making memories then, I guess, what’s the point?

§   I was coming to finish this post when I read that Vaughan Oliver has passed away. Here’s 4AD’s founder Ivo Watts-Russell remembering him. At university Vaughan Oliver and Russell Mills were my designer / illustrator / artist heroes. Reading that history of 4AD last year it was clear Oliver wasn’t easy to work with in that odd company but his work was amazing. I’m glad I got to see him speak about it at St Bride’s in 2011. His work’s still like nothing else. Bugger.

§   2019 keeps on giving doesn’t it. Talking of which, I’ll split my increasingly lengthy summary of my personal 2019 into a separate post. Have a good week, and I’ll write to you from Herefordshire.

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