August 4, 2023

Pandemic Legacy Season 2: March

WARNING: This blog post contains shameless spoilers for Pandemic Legacy Season 2. Reading this blog post if you have not yet played the game will impair your enjoyment should you decide to play it in the future.

Previously, on Pandemic Legacy…

  • We won our first attempt at February
  • Chicago fell to “forsaken” status
  • We built a permanent supply centre in Cairo

March (First Attempt)

Starting a new month meant some new briefing information. We received a mysterious message about needing to recon South America soon, something to do with a threat from the Hollow Men. No explicit deadline was given. Best hurry up and do that then.

The Hollow Men are going to sabotage something important if we don’t recon South America soon. Apparently.

The number of objectives we’d need to complete this month increased to three. We were also given some more optional objectives. Our list is now:

  • Build three new supply centres (mandatory)
  • recon another new area (optional)
  • connect 2 cities to the grid (optional)
  • access a lost haven (optional, new, mysterious)
  • complete 2 searches (optional, new)

Objectives up the wazoo

There’s a few mysteries in here, most notably the existence of a lost haven somewhere. No more information is given, so that’s something that will hopefully unfold later. Additionally, the card that told us to hurry up and recon South America included a second scratch-off panel, with no instructions on when to scratch it off. Gammidgy wanted to scratch it off there and then, I wanted to wait for some other event to tell us to do so.

As usual we distributed our initial stockpile of supply cubes quite evenly, though we left the havens empty this time, as any cubes placed there would just need picking up and carrying to other cities to be useful. The advantage with having initial cubes on the havens is that it allows us to grab them and take them to the worst-hit cities without needing to manufacture more supplies first.

As usual, the top 9 cards from the infection deck determine the starting state for the board. We broke with our usual tradition of finding Lagos empty – this time it was Sao Paulo and Jacksonville that were hit very hard.

Sao Paulo and Jacksonville hit hard in the initial infection setup

The next step of the setup here is to choose rationed event cards. Due to a string of wins, we could only pick 2 this time, and it was a hard decision.

Twenty minutes into the game setup, and it’s time to choose our characters. Not wanting to interfere with strategy that was apparently working, we selected the same ones as the previous game:

  • Gammidgy – Maggot (Farmer)
  • Susan – Lucius (Administrator)
  • Karen – Ophelia (Instructor)
  • Pete – Bez (Labourer)

At last it’s time to begin!

First Turn

Gammidgy starts by heading to Sao Paulo. There’s two good reasons to be there – one is that it’s currently got no supply cubes, so needs a resupply pronto. Maggot’s farming skills makes him a good candidate for this task, as he can place supply cubes without consuming an action if he manufactured them on the same turn. Another reason to be in Sao Paulo is that it’s the location from where South America will be reconned. We’re eager to do that this game, both because it will serve as an optional objective completed, and also because there’s apparently some time pressure there. However, this will require a lot of yellow cards, as we need to build a supply centre there before we can recon. This could take up to 9 yellow city cards in total. Thankfully we’re off to a good start, as Gammidgy and I already have 2 each. We also note that Gammidgy and Karen have 2 blues each, so we’re starting to think about the supply centre that we might build in that region.

Susan wasn’t really sure what to do on her turn so mainly made supplies, and also used her special ability to move me to Sao Paulo to rendezvous with Gammidgy. Karen headed to Jacksonville to resupply there, and then drew the first epidemic, which popped up in Denver. Having topped up the cities that were empty at the start of the game, we now have Denver, Cairo and London devoid of supplies.

And now the empty cities are all over here

On my turn, I was able to hand my Sao Paulo card to Gammidgy, giving him three yellow cards. I then immediately drew two more yellow city cards, which was frustrating as it meant that if I hadn’t given Sao Paulo to Gammidgy, I would now have enough yellow cards to build the supply centre there. Too late to undo it now though. In the infection step of my turn we also got our first plague cube, popping up in the newly supply-devoid Denver.

Denver is the first city to get a bit plaguey today

Second Turn

Gammidgy has a plan. He’s got a Los Angeles card in his hand, with two scratch-off search panels. If he can get to Los Angeles, two actions will allow him to scratch off both of those panels. We’ll complete an optional objective, and we’ll get whatever goodies are under those panels. So he leaves Sao Paulo and heads north. He doesn’t want to end his turn in Denver, so pulls up one city early.

Another plague cube appears in Denver on Susan’s turn, and Karen ends her turn in Lagos, which means that on my turn I am able to pop over there, take her Lagos city card off of her, zip back over to Sao Paulo, and build the supply centre. Thanks to Bez being a Labourer, instead of it costing five yellow city cards, it’s only four yellows plus two supply cubes, which I’ve been holding onto, just in case.

Our first new supply centre for this game, in Sao Paulo. Recon opportunity ahoy!

Third Turn

Gammidgy completes his journey to Los Angeles and gets his search on, completing our first optional objective. Searching on land unearths some supplies, but it’s the searching at sea that’s particularly interesting. We spy the lost haven, though currently have no way to get there. He draws more yellow cards from the player deck, meaning that he now has enough to recon South America, but will need to journey back to Sao Paulo first.

The results of our first searches

Ah so that’s what a lost haven looks like

We have a lot of those “Produce Supplies” cards in our hands. All the havens are empty, so Susan does a system-wide production. Sadly this means that that particular card has to be destroyed, but the number of supply cubes that get immediately teleported into existence at our havens and supply centres is huge, and turns out to rescue our game. A long-overdue epidemic hits, in Tripoli, but thankfully it’s absorbed by the supplies we have deployed, so there’s no crisis.

This card has produced its last supply

Karen heads to Jacksonville to resupply there, though New York is empty and will need urgent attention. I resupply Tripoli, and get a very nice city card draw – the New York card with the Foundations upgrade. Why is this so nice? Because with that card, my two other blues, and the two supply cubes I’m carrying, I have enough to build a supply centre in a blue city. And wouldn’t you just know it, I’m three steps away from London. I guess we know what I’m going to be doing on my next turn.

A couple of very nice cards from the player deck. Lucky me!

Fourth Turn

After some quick sums, we decide that I should play the rationed event card that I picked up a few seconds earlier, to give Gammidgy 3 extra actions for this turn. With his 7 actions, he is able to travel from Los Angeles to the desperate Denver, deploy some supplies there, continue on to Sao Paulo, and recon South America. Not a bad little turn. We open box 5 as instructed, and it contains all the usual new region stuff, similar to what we picked up when we discovered North America. It also indicates that there’ll be a route to the lost haven from Lima. Tempting as it is to build a road from Sao Paulo to Lima so that we can find the lost haven, we can’t afford to get distracted and throw away this game. Supplies in the cities are running low, and while we’ve completed two optional objectives, we still need to build two more new supply centres before time runs out. I’ve got a plan for one of them, but the other is still in jeopardy.

Huh, I’m sure this continent wasn’t here a minute ago…

London has been stripped of its supplies. Since I’m going to be wanting to go there next to build a supply centre, Susan heads over in advance to resupply it. Sao Paulo has also lost all of its supplies. We have our fingers crossed that no plague appears there – any city with a supply centre will have its population count increased at the end of the game, but this will be negated if there are any plague cubes there.

Karen is able to deliver some supplies to New York and Sao Paulo on her turn, and then I finish up this round by executing on the London plan, exactly as foretold. With a supply centre in London, our eyes are on Cairo. Susan has the black cards required, we just need to stay alive for long enough.

Fifth Turn

Gammidgy places supplies on Sao Paulo and Cairo. Some cities are devoid of supplies but we seem to be getting very lucky with the infection deck draws, and the cards that come up tend to be the city we’ve just recently resupplied. It’s a game of whack-a-mole, but it’s keeping us alive. Susan zooms over to Cairo, builds a supply centre, and the game is won. The final state of our supplies is dire – while North America is in decent condition, the cities in the rest of the world only have 3 supply cubes to share.

The final state of the board. Note the shortage of supply cubes in… well… almost everywhere

End Of Game

Denver is the only city that had any plague cubes, so is the only one to lose population count. This brings it down to one – we’ll need to protect it carefully in the next game to avoid it falling to Forsaken status, like Chicago. On the plus side, we have four cities with supply centres, so they all increase in population count.

The game debrief gives us a new capability – we can now chart new sea lanes! This is of limited use right now, but does offer some potential for travelling fairly long distances with a single action. It also gives us another possible way to access the lost haven, by building a sea lane from Los Angeles.

There’s a very nasty adjustment to the rules in there too – the more city cards we have in the player deck, the more epidemic cards there will be in the deck. We sorta suspected this might happen one day, as the “infection rate” tracker on the board is longer than on other Pandemic boards, and has space for 2 extra epidemics.

What have we here? Oooh… MORE epidemics

We have 5 production units to spend for our game end upgrades. We choose to upgrade London to be a starting supply centre, as this will assist when we want to recon from there. We also give Bez the “Broker” skill as we feel like of all the characters, he’s the weakest. All characters should ideally be making frequent use of their skills.

Bez is now a Broker, allowing him to trade in a city card for a discarded one of the same colour

In conclusion, a successful game. Only one city lost any population, no-one had to roll for exposure at any point, and we’ve unlocked some new areas that we can hopefully make use of in the next game. Getting Lima linked to Sao Paulo and accessing the lost haven is very alluring. There’s lots of things that are alluring. Linking more cities into the grid. Searching in them. Reconning new areas. Spending some of our end-game production units on increasing the populations of cities to stop them becoming forsaken. All things to bear in mind, if we get the chance.

Pete
June 2, 2023

The end of reddit

In January this year, Twitter shut down their API without warning, rendering third-party clients inoperable. I was one of those affected, but in many ways it felt more like a relief than an inconvenience to me. During the last two months of 2022 I had been bracing for my exit anyway, so in many ways it just helped to make that easier.

In some senses I can see the business case for this. Users of third party clients, who access data via the API, do not see adverts. Therefore Twitter was not directly making money from those users, and in principle removing those users would have no cost. However, in mainstream social media, having as many users as possible is the name of the game. Culling your userbase based on how profitable they individually are will eventually lead to a social media platform with just one user left.

Yesterday I discovered that reddit are planning to introduce a new pricing system for their API on the 1st July 2023. Fine, you might think, they’re entitled to do that. But the numbers are exorbitant. No third-party client could possibly hope to survive while paying the stated fees. It seems like reddit are trying to do exactly what Twitter did in January – ensure that the only way that users can access the service is via their official app, where they will see the adverts. And, unlike with Twitter, I’m seeing that I might be a bit more affected by this.

For the last 15 years reddit has brought a lot into my life. From way back in the day, when I first joined it as a sort of post-Slashdot tech site, I’ve gradually found more and more uses for it. Cute cat videos, of course. Discovering new video games (hey, have you heard about this game made by one guy in Sweden? It’s called Minecraft). Becoming a better computer programmer. Getting recommendations for music, films, TV shows. Joining communities of people who share my interests, and then having to leave because I find myself accumulating huge stockpiles of shaving soap. And, of course, general news. I’ve also been a moderator of a subreddit which has grown to over 230,000 members and I’m pleased to say that it’s remained one of the most positive and supportive communities on the internet.

So what’s the problem, you ask? If I love the place so much, why not do what I have to do to stay? Just suck it up and use the official app, Pete. Well, one problem is, I’ve heard that the official app is an utter dumpster fire in terms of usability. But the bigger problem is the forced adverts. And I’m conflicted here, because I’m conscious of the fact that the business model for most large websites these days is “we let you use our service for free, and in return we harvest your data and show you targeted adverts” but this doesn’t feel like a fair exchange to me. I consider my attention to be valuable, and don’t see why I should have to give it up so easily.

I’ll survive fine without reddit. I was fine before it came along, and while it was enjoyable to travel with it for a while, I think it has changed and we’ve grown apart. I’m sure that somewhere out there there is, or will soon be, a website that captures the magic of how reddit used to be in 2008. Or maybe not – maybe I’m about to spend a whole lot less time on my phone.

Pete
May 10, 2023

Pandemic Legacy Season 2: February

WARNING: This blog post contains shameless spoilers for Pandemic Legacy Season 2. Reading this blog post if you have not yet played the game will impair your enjoyment should you decide to play it in the future.

Previously, on Pandemic Legacy…

  • We won our second attempt at January
  • Since we’d successfully reconned North America in our first attempt, we only had to build three supply centres for the second attempt

February (First Attempt)

Our mission briefing for this month was revealed – in addition to building three new supply centres, we’d also need to complete one of the following two optional objectives:

  • recon another new area
  • connect 2 cities to the grid

Of these, it seemed like the second would be easier, as it only requires 4 supply cubes. To recon a new area would require us to build a supply centre in one of a few specific locations, and also gather a bunch more city cards of the right colour. But there was no need to commit at this stage – we could wait and see how the chips fell.

The initial board setup phase left Lagos again completely devoid of supply cubes. What is it about that place? We selected the following characters (and this time I’ve helpfully put them in order of play):

  • Gammidgy – Maggot (Farmer)
  • Susan – Lucius (Administrator)
  • Karen – Ophelia (Instructor)
  • Pete – Bez (Labourer)

Things got off to a very unlucky start, as Gammidgy drew a epidemic (Istanbul) right on his very first turn. Susan was able to immediately restock this, but by the end of her turn Washington and Atlanta were empty, so it felt a bit like playing whack-a-mole already. As usual, at this stage of the game we were focusing on keeping the locations supplied, and waiting to see how the city cards accumulated in our hands. At the end of our first turn, we had three cities devoid of supplies – Tripoli, Sao Paulo and Jacksonville.

We’d emptied all the havens of their supply cubes, so we decided to make use of the system-wide production capability. We need to be careful not to overuse this, as each card has a limited number of times it can be used in this fashion, but equally it would be a waste to never use it at all.

System-wide production of supplies

On just her second turn Susan was able to build a supply centre in Washington, thanks to her ability to build supply centres with one fewer city card. I’ll give you a little spoiler here – Susan was the MVP of this game, and the speed at which supply centres appeared when she was around did make me wonder if she was cheating.

First supply centre for this game, in Washington

At the end of our second turn we still had three cities empty of supply cubes, but they were a different three – it was now the turn of Lagos, Chicago and Atlanta. Moving on to our third turn, Gammidgy was in Atlanta and had the cash to splash, so was able to build a supply line linking Denver in to the grid. We also took this opportunity to make use of the “Lockdown” game end upgrade from the previous game, destroying the one and only infection card for Atlanta forever.

The Atlanta infection card, now “destroyed” and removed from the game forever

The second epidemic again fell on Gammidgy’s watch, this time in Chicago, a city that was unfortunately still devoid of supplies from previous altercations.

A plague on Chicago

Susan’s turn then followed, on which she was able to build a supply centre in Lagos. This only cost 3 yellow cards, as her character’s ability reduced the requirement by one, coupled with the fact that one of her cards was the one with the “Foundations” upgrade from the previous game. Sadly, the infect step also resulted in another plague cube dropping out, this time in New York.

Plague also now in New York

The next epidemic came out on Karen’s turn, and it had barely been any time since the previous one. This would mean a small handful of cards reshuffled back onto the top of the infection deck. The epidemic-hit city on this occasion was Chicago, which already had a plague cube and no supply cubes. Interestingly, the behaviour of epidemics in this game is that they strip all the supply cubes from a location, but they don’t ever add a plague cube, so this worked out pretty good for us.

At the end of our third turn, we could see victory was very close. We only needed one more supply line and one more supply centre. You may be wondering at this point what I’ve been doing this entire game, and the truth is that I’ve just been pottering around in Europe and Africa, ferrying supplies from the havens to the cities that need them most, and quietly taking care of business. No excitement, and no opportunities to use my character abilities or really any of the cards I picked up at any point.

Moving on to our fourth turn, Gammidgy was able to build a supply line to Los Angeles.

LA added to the grid

We also made use of a rationed event card to give a bit of extra protection to Chicago and New York, both of which had picked up an additional plague cube in the last few turns.

Dropping a few extra supplies off in North America

The final play was Susan’s. I had strategically ended my turn in Cairo. This allowed her to use her character’s first special ability to teleport to me. She then used two actions to take the two Cairo cards out of my hand, and her final action was to build a supply centre there, using the four black cards that she now had in her hand (bearing in mind her other special ability, which is the reduced cost for building supply centres). With that done, the game immediately ended. And again, I just feel the need to highlight here that out of Susan’s four turns, she built supply centres on three of them. It’s a sensational contribution.

The game-winning supply centre

We then moved on to the game end calculations, remarking at this point that the setup and teardown for this game generally takes nearly as long as the main playing portion.

Chicago and New York were the only two cities with plague cubes in them, so they lost a population each. The three cities with supply centres gained one each.

Population loss in Chicago and New York

Having completed the month, we also gained some new game-end upgrade options, in the form of being able to upgrade supply centres to be persistent, and a handful of new rationed event options.

Permanent supply centre options

Some new rationed events

Since Chicago was now down to population zero, it was time to see what this turning point card was all about.

We have a city with 0 population, so there’s stuff to open

We learned that a forsaken city becomes effectively neutral in the game – it can’t be infected further, but you also can’t deliver supplies or build supply centres there. You can only pass through. Restoring the population is possible, at the cost of some game-end upgrade points.

Some info about forsaken cities

We also discovered that a forsaken city becomes “infested” which seems to be a more permanent status effect. Starting your turn there will mean rolling for exposure, similar to if you start your turn in a city with a plague cube. With this in mind, it seems like preventing more cities from dropping all the way to “forsaken” should be high on our list of priorities.

Oh it’s infested too? Nice.

With the 5 production units that we had available to spend, we chose to put 3 of them towards a permanent supply centre in Cairo. This would be useful for reconning Asia.

Permanent supply centre in Cairo

We spent a further 1 point on the “Well stocked” upgrade for Los Angeles. One of the reasons that Chicago fell so easily is that it was initially added to the game with a population of 1, so there was no room for error. We want to avoid the same happening with Los Angeles, so this upgrade means that as long as we put 2 supply cubes there at the start of each game, it is effectively immune from infection.

“Well stocked” on Los Angeles

And with our last point we put “Foundations” on New York. It was very useful having that upgrade on Lagos, so let’s lean into that strategy.

Foundations in New York

All in all, one of our most convincing victories yet. I’m a little sad that Chicago has fallen to forsaken status – we may never get the opportunity to search that city and find out what wonderful treasure it held.

Pete
April 17, 2023

Pandemic Legacy Season 2: January (Part Two)

WARNING: This blog post contains shameless spoilers for Pandemic Legacy Season 2. Reading this blog post if you have not yet played the game will impair your enjoyment should you decide to play it in the future.

In October we started playing Pandemic Legacy Season 2. And then for one reason or another it has taken us 6 months to get round to scheduling a second session. Disgraceful.

Previously, on Pandemic Legacy…

  • We lost our first attempt at January
  • The mission briefing for January was to build three supply centres and recon North America
  • We were unable to complete both objectives, so focused on the latter (as it would leave us with only one necessary objective for our second attempt)

January (Second Attempt)

Setting up for this game took a long time, as we needed to refamiliarise ourselves with what the heck all of this nonsense was.

The initial board setup phase left Washington and Lagos completely empty, so we knew that getting some supplies into these cities would be an urgent priority. We selected the following characters:

  • Karen – Paphoestra (Radio Operator)
  • Susan – Ophelia (Instructor)
  • Gammidgy – Maggot (Farmer)
  • Pete – Lucius (Administrator)

This would give Papheostra her first outing, her special ability being that she can transfer supply cubes to and from a character in another location. Reading this now, I’m not convinced that we made much use of this skill in this game.

Our sole objective for this game was to build 3 supply centres, as the objective to recon North America was completed in the previous attempt at January.

The game got off to a somewhat rocky start, with a very early epidemic in Chicago before we’d even completed one turn around the table. At this early stage we are very much focusing on just keeping the cities resupplied, waiting to see what city cards people pick up so that we can get an idea of who’s close to gathering 5 of the same colour, so that we can then come up with a suitable strategy to top those people up by transferring from other players. I was very lucky with accumulating blues, and Karen and Susan had enough yellows for a supply centre between them.

We were also able to establish our first supply line, from Jacksonville to Atlanta. We didn’t go overboard with building supply lines across North America in this game, as very quickly we found ourselves swamped with other tasks.

Our first supply line, from Jacksonville to Atlanta

Another epidemic came up in Chicago, but we weren’t too worried. The behaviour of epidemics in this game is subtly but significantly tweaked compared to the previous game – as long as you’ve got supply cubes in all locations, epidemics are less threatening. But if you have locations with no supply cubes, the epidemics are much, much scarier.

Our first disease cube landed in Washington, not through an epidemic but just through an infection in a location that was already depleted of supplies.

A disease cube in Washington which we were powerless to prevent despite all of us being in the vicinity.

I didn’t get any blue cards in my next turn, so was still stalled on 4. We had made a plan for Gammidgy to transfer his Washington card to me, but we couldn’t execute on it because of that damned disease cube in Washington – neither of us wanted to risk ending our turn there.

The third epidemic came out, and it was in Washington. Thankfully we had dropped a few supply cubes off there, so we simply lost those supplies, rather than having a second disease cube added. Unfortunately, due to there having been quite a small gap between the second and third epidemics, there was a very small reshuffle pile. This meant that Lagos (which had very recently become depleted) immediately popped up again, and we found ourselves with two disease cubes there, and also a second in Washington.

Lagos very quickly turned ugly

At last Karen had managed to accumulate five yellow cards in her hand and was able to build a supply centre in Jacksonville. At long last we were making progress towards our objective, instead of just fighting fires.

Our first supply centre, in Jacksonville

A disease cube appeared in Chicago while I was parked there, which meant that at the start of my next turn I was potentially going to be exposed.

I was there first, then the disease cube showed up

The mechanic here is again tweaked from the first season. In the first season, if you started your turn in a location with one of the Faded, you automatically picked up a scar. In this game, you scratch off a panel on your character sheet. You may get a scar. You may get nothing. Or your character may die there and then. It’s very exciting.

My first exposure, and I got lucky.

I managed to draw another blue card on this turn, so at last I had the 5 blue cards in my hand that would be required to build a supply centre. Things are looking touch and go though, as there are now three disease cubes in Lagos.

At this point we had a good stroke of luck, as a rationed event card popped up that would allow a city card trade. This couldn’t have come at a better time, as we were struggling to find a way to transfer a fifth black card into Gammidgy’s hand

A very fortunate rationed event card

Things were getting very shaky in North America. Susan and I finished our turns in New York, thinking that it was a fairly safe place to be, until a disease cube showed up there. Oh dear. That’s the second time that’s happened to me in this session.

Once again, we were there first!

Fortunately, the second exposure panel was again clear. My luck will surely run out very soon.

A second exposure panel scratched off, a second bullet dodged

I was now onto my final turn of the game. I was able to build a supply centre in my current location, New York.

Second supply centre built, in New York

It had been half an hour since our last epidemic, almost half of the game. It erupted in Jacksonville, which thankfully was very well protected, so no significant harm was done at this point.

We were now into the closing stages. We just needed to hold out long enough for Gammidgy to build the third supply centre. As Susan wrapped up her final turn, she debated placing supply cubes in Jacksonville and Washington, but ended up placing them all in Washington, as we had just a few minutes previously played a rationed event card to remove the Jacksonville cards from the infection pile, so it wasn’t at risk. This turned out to be a lifesaver, as on drawing infection cards, two Washington cards then came up. If she hadn’t changed her mind and moved that cube from Jacksonville to Washington, we would have lost the game there and then. As it was, Gammidgy was able to take his final turn, and build our third supply centre. He had started his turn in Lagos, so had to scratch off one exposure panel, but it was clear.

supply centre number three, in… is that Istanbul?

Here’s how close it was

For our game end upgrades, we had 5 production units to spend. We applied the lockdown upgrade to the Atlanta infection card, meaning that it can be permanently destroyed by spending a player card.

Atlanta “lockdown” upgrade

We also gave Lucius Keswick the “Architect” skill, so they can build supply centres with only 4 city cards. This cost 3 production units.

Lucius Keswick’s new ability, “Architect”

And finally we put the “Foundations” upgrade on a Lagos city card, so it now counts as two yellow cards when building a supply centre.

Lagos with the “Foundations” upgrade

Let’s hope that the objective for February doesn’t turn out to be “hey, this game is not about building supply centres any more” because that would mean we’d wasted a lot of game end upgrade points here.

So, in summary, a win – but only just.

Pete
January 22, 2023

Stockpiling

I have a tendency to build small stockpiles. I get into a thing, and before I know it I have accumulated a stockpile of that thing, and have to force myself to stop buying that thing in order to use up the stacks of thing that I gathered during my initial fascination.

Shaving soap

In 2019 I started shaving using a double-edged safety razor. I foolishly subscribed to a pertinent subreddit, and exposed myself to the immense collections of some of the people on that subreddit. A little bit of that acquisitiveness rubbed off on me, and my desire for various shaving soaps quickly got out of hand. My stockpile is now probably big enough that it will keep me going for the rest of my life. I hasten to add, it’s far from the largest collection that I’ve ever seen. But it’s still too big for my own needs. I also have three shaving brushes and two razors, where one of each would be ample.

Notebooks

I’ve always been quite impartial to a nice notebook, but at some stage I must have switched from buying notebooks when I needed one, to buying them whenever I saw one that appealed to me. I now have a stack of fifteen unused notebooks, and that’s just the A5 ones. I have even more, of different sizes, in a drawer. At the rate I get through them, I think I’ve probably got at least enough to last me a decade.

Snacks

Once upon a time I came up with the idea of keeping a snack or two in my desk drawer in case I get peckish while I work. Naturally, it doesn’t take long before this becomes “I must have a diverse range of snacks in my desk drawer that would put a school tuck shop to shame.” Upon realising that this has happened, I then make a conscious effort to run down the stocks to bring things back to a sensible level. After a short while, my memory resets, and the whole cycle repeats itself. Right now I’m in a fairly sensible place, with just two flapjacks and a small chocolate bar in the stash, but I’m sure it won’t last.

Hot Chocolate

This is my latest obsession. Karen bought me a Hotel Chocolate Velvetiser for Christmas. I’d always poked fun at them, partly because of the dumb-ass name, and partly because it seemed like the kind of thing that is done by a struggling company desperate to find a new revenue stream. Well, turns out, it’s actually a really good piece of kit. Over the last few weeks, every time I’m in a supermarket I gravitate towards the chocolate section and assess the products for how well I think they’d work in a drinkable format, and this has resulted in a few purchases that I wouldn’t otherwise have made. The other day we turned a bar of Lindt “Mint Intense” into three mugs of hot chocolate and it was delectable. This could get out of hand very quickly.

Pete
January 1, 2023

2022: Best Books

As I start this post, I haven’t decided how many books it will feature. Last year, I did a neat ten, so perhaps the question is, did 2022 fit itself into a tidy box, or not? As years ago, it had an unpleasant rollercoaster vibe, and I’m not sorry to say goodbye to that arbitrary parcel of time.

Here are some of the 59 books I recorded on my list, which does feature a handful that I didn’t finish, because I’m old now and I don’t keep reading things I’m not enjoying. I did make an exception to this rule for Jasper Gibson’s A Bright Moon for Fools,, and I was right to do so. My list is once again swelled by audiobooks, which I listen to while I’m running and sometimes when I’m doing stuff around the house. I never thought I would get into audiobooks, but it’s been wonderful this last couple of years, to have their company.

Names for the Sea, by Sarah Moss
Sarah Moss writes slightly dark novels, as far as I can tell; I listened to the audiobook of The Fell, set in lockdown, which I also enjoyed. Names for the Sea is non-fiction, the story of her family’s short emigration to Iceland. I found it very relatable, the sense of bafflement trying to figure out life administration in a foreign language, always on the verge of committing some cultural offense, discovering delightful things but mainly finding it all really, really difficult. I’d like to visit Iceland and this didn’t entirely put me off.

Pandora’s Jar, by Natalie Haynes
Natalie (I call her Natalie because I have seen her on stage at Also so many times, she’s like my mate) features on the list twice this year (wait for it…). Pandora’s Jar is non-fiction, but within her usual remit of retelling myths and legends where the female characters are more than just foils and plot devices. She unpacks the origin stories of Medea, Pandora, Medusa, Jocasta, Helen and Penelope, not only through her knowledge of the early Greek writings, but also with reference to contemporary texts – and we certainly share opinions on Clash of the Titans, which pleases me. This was a good warm-up for this year’s Book of the Year.

We Need New Stories, by Nesrine Malik
I’ve done a lot of Very Serious Reading again this year, because at work I have a big Equity, Diversity & Inclusion element to my role (and also because I find it interesting and improving), and I think actually I’ve always exposed myself to diversity in my reading. We Need New Stories slices through such toxic and divisive issues as Brexit and identity politics, showing what nonsense we have told ourselves in order to get to where we are. It doesn’t matter how liberal you think you are, there will be stuff in this book that hits you in the humilities, and makes you re-examine your thinking. I need to read it again.

The Beekeeper of Aleppo, by Christy Lefteri
This is the story of refugees, and was just sad, sad, sad. I couldn’t put it down.

Lessons in Chemistry, by Bonnie Garmus
I am looking at my list and there are just so many strong novels on it this year, it would be quicker to list the bad books. If you’re in the mood for engaging fiction with a feminist punch, and who isn’t, then you might enjoy the tale of a female scientist in the 1950s, who makes it big as a TV chef – the first TV chef – and her refusal to alter herself to fit the world’s expectations. It also has one of fiction’s best dogs.

Notes on an Execution, by Danya Kukafka
This is an intense and disturbing tale that deconstructs the life and growth of a serial killer, through the stories of the women in his life. Gripping, moving, and so absorbing that it’s perfect to listen to while running. Really got my distance up while I had this playing.

Piranesi, by Susanna Clarke
Another audiobook, another utterly absorbing tale. Piranesi is a character trapped in a strange world, perhaps some dystopian future, where familiar objects and events make more sense to the reader than they do to him. His quest for survival and his search for understanding are heartbreaking, and the answers that he finds feel dissatisfying – I didn’t love the ending, but the vast majority of the book was so wonderful that it still features on this list.

Klara and the Sun, by Kazuo Ishiguro
Ishiguro has the lightest touch, leaving the reader/listener to figure out what’s happening in this sci-fi future, described only from the perspective of an AI being. Klara and Piranesi have a lot in common in their telling, with characters who invest meaning in the mundane, without fully understanding why those things matter. As with many of Ishiguro’s novels, none of the characters are fully likeable, and yet the reader is emotionally invested in their fates.

The Watchmaker of Filigree Street, by Natasha Pulley
This is a charming and absorbing steampunk novel, with a wonderful cast and a satisfying set of twists that you absolutely do not see coming. I say that, I expect you probably would see them coming; I didn’t. Reminded me in lots of ways of The Night Circus, without the actual magic.

Light Perpetual, by Francis Spufford
I read Golden Hill back in 2017, and if I had written a books of the year post that year, it would have been on it. I had high hopes for Light Perpetual, and it lived up to them. I love a cleverly structured novel, and it’s quite remarkable to be reading a book where you know the ending from the start, which is that none of this can happen, and yet be completely absorbed in the intertwined journeys that the characters never really take. Just read it, it will make more sense.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane, by Neil Gaiman
I was a late-adopter of Gaiman fandom, possibly because I associated him with Terry Pratchett and never liked those books much. I’m sorry, I know that’s practically heresy, I can’t account for what I feel. Nevertheless, when I finally did first pick up a Neil Gaiman novel, it was a bit of what-were-you-waiting-for moment, and I’ve enjoyed most of what I’ve read by him, and I’d really like to see this at the theatre; I understand it’s touring at the moment. Gaiman gives me just the right amount of fantasy, laced with the world that I know and sometimes understand, and I find his writing quite magical.

Shuggie Bain, by Douglas Stuart
This autobiographical novel of growing up in a poor Glaswegian family in the 70s and 80s seems like a throwback to the Sad Irish Family genre that was popular a couple of decades ago, except it’s not softened in any way at all. The description of the mother’s alcoholism is brutal and at times difficult to read, and I found the violent, philandering, gaslighting father just as horrible. The setting is bleak and there appears to be no possibility of happiness for any of the characters. I don’t think I can honestly say that I “enjoyed” this book, but I did finish it with a sense of having been through something. I guess I am wishing that on you, too.

But don’t despair, you can follow it up with my Book of the Year for 2022. Ideally, listen to Stone Blind on audiobook, as it’s read by the author, and yes it’s Natalie Haynes again, a seasoned performer and the perfect person to read you her own brilliant words. Stone Blind tells you the tale of Medusa, the youngest of the Gorgon sisters, raped by Poseidon, cursed by Athena, murdered by the brat Perseus. The question asked in this novel is, who are the real monsters? I think you know where we are going with that. Once again bringing the women back into their own stories, as though the perspective of half the planet’s population is a radical new lens with which to see the world: any good book will make you think, but this year hasn’t there been a rich crop of books that ask you to really question your place in the world and everything you’ve ever assumed to be true?

Anyway, I’m doing a PhD now, so I won’t be able to read so much in 2023. Have a good one.

Karen
December 7, 2022

Twitter Highlights from 2022

While it may seem to be a bit strange to be writing this summary while there is still nearly 1/12 of the year left, I have now more or less stopped using Twitter, so it’s safe to assume that there’s not going to be any eleventh-hour additions.

This is pancakes with gammon, sausages, bacon, stuffing and maple syrup. It’s another one of my culinary victories.
2 January 2022

I feel like I got this year off to a good start.

I recently stumbled upon a backup of a blog that I wrote back in 2004, under a pseudonym. I remembered about the blog, but what I had forgotten is that apparently there was an additional contributor. I can’t remember who they were. This is a very exciting mystery.27 January 2022

I still haven’t figured this out. I’ve got a theory, but it’s only a theory.

This looks like I’ve freeze framed her in the middle of a ridiculous rotation, but no, she really just lies like this.
4 February 2022

The fluffy tummy is so inviting, but you know what will happen if you reach for it.

Many people think that the idea of combining potatoes with flour and rolling it into little balls won’t work, but I think they shouldn’t gnocchi it until they’ve tried it.8 February 2022

If you groaned, then that’s as good as a laugh in my book.

I’ve booked my 5 year old phone in for a battery replacement on Tuesday. As you can probably tell, I quite like this phone.12 March 2022

This turned out to be a terrible idea. The “new” battery was as bad as, if not worse than, the old one. I ended up having to buy a new phone, which was a bit of a shame.

In Dyas I just heard a kid say “daddy, can we buy a soda stream?” and it feels like I’ve traveled back in time to the 80s15 April 2022

I remember asking for a soda stream once upon a time. My parents had the sense to veto that one.

Hey guess which fucking idiot broke his toe the day before his holiday16 April 2022

I seem to have form on this one.

I have carried a hatred for Mika for nearly 20 years and I’m not planning on stopping any time soon14 May 2022

In contrast with previous years, I was very quiet on Twitter during Eurovision this year. I think that’s probably because I was chatting with some friends on a Telegram group instead.

Holy shit you might not believe this but Cars 3 is brilliant5 June 2022

The original Pixar Cars movie was fantastic, and I lost track of the number of times I watched and rewatched it with the wee Bernard. The sequel was dire, and so I was expecting the sequel sequel to be direrer. But Bernard recommended it to me, and we watched it together. It was an adorable bonding moment, and the film was superb to boot!

Well compared to the last two Tory prime minister resignation speeches, that one was a bit underwhelming7 July 2022

It says a lot that I couldn’t initially remember exactly whose speech this was, as we’ve had so many Tory prime ministers this year.

Clearing out the garage is always an intensely rewarding experience. I’m never unimpressed by how much space we’re able to reclaim4 September 2022

Based on this post, it seems that we do it about every four years. Hypothetically, if we were to do it more often, would it be less rewarding, because there’s less improvement to be had?

Before this last week, if you asked me whether I was pro or anti monarchy, I’d have said “Moderately anti”. I have to remind myself that social media will always try and push us towards the extremes, and it’s okay to still be “moderately anti”.14 September 2022

Queen Elizabeth 2 died this year. For the last few decades there’s been an undercurrent of murmuring about how big a deal it will be when it happens. Leaving aside the very peculiar behaviour exhibited by those who decided to go into London and queue for hours just to walk past a wooden box, I think we all have to agree that it’s not really affected our lives in the slightest. Some people tried to take this opportunity to start a debate about whether we still need a monarchy, but were shouted down, being told that it was disrespectful to do it at this particular moment. I wonder when the convenient time would be.

Really pisses me off on TV drama shows when a detective walks away from their computer and leaves it unlocked.15 September 2022

An interesting side effect of doing this twitter review project is learning how often I go back to the same well. This particular thought was also tweeted on 9 May 2021 – less than 18 months before. On that occasion, it got 2 likes. This time, it got 27.

I just played along to the Game Of Thrones theme on my stylophone without any preparation and @erzsebel thought it was amazing19 September 2022

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m often less than 100% honest on social media. See if you can guess which part of this particular post was fabricated.

Over recent days I’ve been talking to my cat using a “baby” voice, as an article I read suggested that they respond better to this than being talked to like a human. Much to my chagrin, indeed my relationship with her seems to have improved. I’ve lost all respect for her.28 October 2022

But she is a fwuffy wuffy pussikins with a big catty watty face yes you are yes you are.

Before this here social media platform collapses entirely, I’m hoping that Google will relaunch Reader and we can all go back to blogging like proper civilised human beings.29 October 2022

The end is nigh.

I went to a leadership skills training session in 2016. When asked to give an example of someone that I respect as a leader, I said @elonmusk. I still cringe when I remember that.31 October 2022

It’s very very nigh.

Hehehe watch the trick or treaters run for it when the rain starts31 October 2022

It’s halloween!

Mastodon account created. It’s the first step.6 November 2022

Aaaand the end is nigh again.

Mastodon: for general social media purposes
Twitter: can’t take my eyes off the Elon Musk car crash7 November 2022

You can sense that I’m basically already checked out at this point.

It does feel a little bit like the motif for late 2022 is “rich dickheads get what’s coming to them.” I’m totally here for this.10 November 2022

Here’s hoping.

So, have I left Twitter entirely? No, not completely. But it’s definitely not my first port of call, and I’m much less active on there than I used to be. I might occasionally retweet something interesting, and I may write something on there if I specifically want to tag someone who isn’t in my Mastodon friends list, but I think the key word here is “investment”. Whereas previously I felt invested in Twitter as a community and as an extension of my social life, it’s now just a thing that I’m gradually phasing out, like using up the last of a tub of butter.

Pete