February 28, 2021

Alcohol-Free Beers (Part Twenty)

(View previous instalments here)

This month’s selection box from AFBeerClub contains six new alcohol-free beers for me to review, and two I’ve had before. Here’s the first three reviews, which I write while Bernard does his piano practice downstairs. He’s in a sulk, so is playing very very badly, perhaps deliberately, and it’s all coming out quite jazzy. I think he’s hoping to torture us so badly that we can truly appreciate his pain.

Bristol Beer Factory “Clear Head”

Bristol Beer Factory is a good brewery, so I’ve got a good feeling about this beer. It pours clear and golden with a small head that dissipated quite quickly. The smell is smooth and balanced, with a nice fresh light hoppiness to it. The flavour is truly immaculate, luscious and easy drinking, but still interesting. I have to say that this beer sets a new bar for alcohol-free IPA, it’s a delight to drink.

Signature Brew “Lo-Fi”

This beer comes out pale and hazy. It’s got a strong hoppy aroma, but not aggressively so. The flavour is also excellent – tangy and fizzy, but generally well balanced. It reminds me a lot of Brewdog’s Hazy AF, which I also reviewed once upon a time, and of which I was (and remain) a big fan.

Big Drop “Fieldhopper”

We have mixed feelings about Big Drop round these parts. There’s some great alcohol-free beers coming out of that brewery, but also some duds that seem to me so unpalatable that I find myself wondering how anyone could have thought “yeah, ship it”. This one is a promising-looking beer with a gorgeous deep golden colour. The head drifted away quite quickly, and taking a sniff I got a bit of a hit of maltiness and wortiness. I took a sip, and recoiled in terror. This tastes nasty to me. It’s watery and metallic, and the only “flavour” I could detect was a sort of biscuitiness. All the positive things you associate with beer are missing in this drink. It was on the cusp of being so bad that I chucked away most of it, and that’s something that I very rarely do.

February 22, 2021

Alien (1979)

We had a very frank talk earlier in the day about how this project is going, and whether forcing classic movies down Bernard’s throat was actually doing any of us any good. But we decided to persevere, for now, and for this week’s family film night we chose this 1979 classic, and we also decided to watch it on Sunday afternoon instead of Saturday night, partly because we already had plans to play games with Pockless on Saturday night, and also because Karen is a scaredy cat and thought that watching it in the dark might be too intense.

Alien is a film about the crew of the Nostromo, a commercial space ship, who are on a routine trip when they are woken from stasis by the ship’s computer, Mother (basically a room full of blinking lights) to investigate a potential distress call. The film is set 100 years in the future… well, now 50, and dropping… and while some of the predictions for future technology were quite imaginative, Ridley Scott did fail to consider that in 100 years time we may have upgraded our green CRT computer monitors with a resolution of 320×240.

Upon investigating the signal, the crew discover a hive of alien eggs, while making stupid decision after stupid decision in order to apparently ensure that they bring one back on board. Once a few of the crew have died, things take a turn for the worse when the ship’s computer, who obviously serves the company’s interest, declares that bringing a specimen back is more important than saving the lives of the remaining crew, to which Ripley, now the ranking officer, declares “fuck that”, or words to the same effect, and does the needful.

A subject that can’t be avoided, and this is also somewhat applicable to Jaws (another film that we’ve watched as part of this project), is the special effects. The film is from 1979, so there are no computer-generated special effects. The practical effects are unarguably brilliant for their time, but over the last few decades the average moviegoer has come to expect CGI which isindistinguishable from reality, to the point where even Sunday evening family TV has photorealistic talking animals whose lips move perfectly in sync with the audio. As a result, the few shots of the alien aren’t really that scary any more, and Ash’s final scene, again brilliant for its time, now feels clumsy and a bit sixth-form. When Ripley says “Turbulence…” and the cameraman merely shakes the camera about a bit – there’s no magic there. It’s a bit of a shame – we’ve lost a certain innocence, a willingness to be taken in by a puppet, and we’ll never get it back. Fortunately, like Jaws, most of the horror in this movie is suspense created by not seeing the Alien, so that all still works beautifully.

We can also add Alien to the list of films which have a chilling poignancy in these coviddy times. When Ripley says “By breaking quarantine, you risk everyone’s life.” we could not help but nod and grunt in acknowledgement.

As the credits rolled, we turned to Bernard for his assessment, braced for “the B word”. But to our delight, he said “it was alright” which is 14-year-old-ese for “Jeepers creepers, parents, that was by all accounts a gripping and highly enjoyable cinematographic experience!” The project lives to fight another week.

  • Comments: 3
  • > Aliens is go! Very possibly, but we may want to give it a few weeks and come back to it... - Pete
  • One of the things that helped was getting his buy-in earlier in the day, by showing him IM... - Karen
  • Aliens is go! - Swisslet
February 14, 2021

Film Review: Ocean’s Eleven (2001) and (1960)

If the purpose of this project is to show Bernard the great wealth of movie culture that existed before he was born, then Ocean’s Eleven was an abject failure. For on this evening, he was in a Sad And Grumpy Mood For No Reason, as is the nature of a 14 year old in lockdown, and he had had a disappointing takeaway which must be mitigated with PBJ sandwiches, poached pear, and so on. He paid the movie no attention whatsoever, largely because of the Sad And Grumpy Mood, and also because his parents are idiots.

Nonetheless we soldiered through, enjoying both our own takeaway meals and the movie despite his dark and brooding presence.

Ocean’s Eleven (2001) is a perfectly good movie, and nobody should feel bad about the fact that a bored 14 year old had no interest in it. We chose it because he enjoys Money Heist, which is rubbish, but his choice and therefore superior. It starts fairly slowly as the gang is introduced and assembled, and then a voiceover heist plan is explained, just as it is done in Money Heist, but no. Various problems arise and are resolved in clever ways. One character is inexplicably English (or “British,” as the Americans would say), but as there are no English actors, the character uses words like “knickers” and “guvnor” to clarify what his accent is supposed to be. Julia Roberts stars as The Only Female Character, and knows the difference between Monet and Manet, so clearly is not just a very pretty face; however her only role in the movie is to be claimed by whichever man she considers less vile at the time. It is all both clever and formulaic, and Bernard goes to bed before the end.

In a crazy turn of events, we then took up the idea of immediately watching Ocean’s Eleven (1960) for the purpose of making this review more interesting. The cast of this movie knew each other so well that apparently they improvised most of the dialogue, and generally appear to be having a laugh with their mates throughout. Five minutes in, we already have twice as many female characters as the 2001 edition, and this excellent trend continues. All the female characters wear white fox stoles, and some of them have actual lines. It takes about an hour of chit chat to get to the heist itself, which consists mainly of men walking around giving each other meaningful looks, and is then over in ten minutes, at which point I did fall asleep.

Ocean’s Eleven (1960) wins hands-down for the musical numbers and Sammy Davis Jr’s fascinating jawline, also they robbed five casinos not just the vault of one casino, because they did things properly in the 20th Century.

February 13, 2021

Alcohol-Free Beers (Part Nineteen)

(View previous instalments here)

This month’s selection box from AFBeerClub containeds eight alcohol-free beers for me to review. Here’s the final four of them:

UWE – Stereo Pils

This beer has a very pleasing pale amber colour and a nice thick head. Initial sniff test yielded a certain breadiness in the aroma. The flavour is pretty good, it reminds me of a slightly less fruity version of Maisel. This is another one of those beers that gives you one of those jaw-dropping “wow, can this really be alcohol-free?” moments. Karen also had a little sip, and whereas she usually pulls a very specific face after having a sip of beer, on this occasion she did not, which leads me to think that this might also have appeal amongst those who are not usually beer drinkers.

Tiny Rebel – Rhubarb and Custard

This drink poured a very pale pink, which is not a colour that one normally finds on the beer spectrum. There’s no head whatsoever, but it does bubble awake cheerfully. No surprises in the smell – it’s an exact match for what the title has invoked in your imagination. I was a little disappointed in the flavour, in that I was hoping for something that intertwines some rhubarbcustardiness into a beer, but in fact the flavour is all rhubarbcustard and no beer. I find myself questioning the role of the conventional beer ingredients in this beverage at all. That said, if you like the sound of a rhubarby drink, you’ll probably like this, but calling it “beer” is a bit of a misdirection.

Lowtide – DIPA Toe In

This beer pours a cloudy dark amber colour with nice chunky head. The smell instantly evokes a beer festival, those pungent fruity ales which knock your socks off. The flavour follows through on his promise, ripe and full-bodied and invoking the good old days when we went to pubs and such like.

Hammerton – “Crunch” Peanut Butter Milk Stout

I saved this for last as I had really high hopes, as I do like a dark beer with a twist. It passed the first test, which is the pour, by means of a good viscosity and a creamy head. The second test, the smell test, was a little less impressive, as I only detected a relatively small amount of peanuttiness, but a lot of biscuitiness. And test three, the sip, was sadly a bit disappointing. I was hoping for the peanut flavour to be blended into the drink in a smooth and creamy fashion, but it didn’t quite hit that spot, and it ended up just being a fairly thin-flavoured stout with a weird and disintegrated nut layer. To be honest, I’m not even sure that I’d purchase this for the occasional novelty experience. That said, it’s not revolting, and I wouldn’t steer people away from giving it a try if they like the sound of it.

February 8, 2021

Jaws (1975)

I was particularly looking forward to this film as, like The Godfather, it’s one of those classic films that I have never seen before, not because I didn’t want to see it, but because the opportunity never quite seemed to present itself.

You probably already have a good idea what this film is about. Shark terrorises beach, eats a few people, heroes chase down the shark to stop it terrorising any more people. There’s a subplot during the first half of the film in which Chief Brody (our good guy, who smokes, because back then good guys were allowed to smoke, unlike now, where only bad guys smoke) wants to close the beach to save lives, meanwhile the Mayor (whose name I don’t know, so let’s call him Major Johnson) is more concerned about the money that the town would lose if the beach wasn’t open on the 4th July, their most popular day of the year. They eventually come to a compromise, whereby the beach stays open, but everyone goes out of their houses at 8pm on a Thursday to bang saucepans and boo the shark. Implausibly, the Mayor eventually realises the error of his ways, instead of stubbornly defending his decision long after it’s proven dumb.

The film had a much lower body count than I expected – only 5 human deaths in total throughout the entire film, which by the standards of a modern disaster movie, is barely enough to register. But there’s suspense throughout, and some very funny moments, and an utterly ridiculous salty old seadog character who has an accent that precisely places him as being from almost everywhere.

February 1, 2021

Cat Interviews

In a few days, it will be exactly a year until the lovely Maisy passed away. It is also almost exactly six months since Henry joined us. He’s been a problematic cat, and is soon to be moving on to a new home. The two cats have been very different in personality and comportment, and so with this interview-style blog post, I hope to capture their idiosyncracies.

Hello, and welcome to the show.


Maisy: Hi! I don’t think we’ve met before! I’m Maisy and it’s so super to meet you! I love your shirt. Tell me all about yourself!


Henry: Oh for fuck’s sake. Another person. Please don’t tell me you’re going to expect me to make conversation?

So let’s get physical appearance out of the way. How would we recognise you in the street.

M: I’m quite small, I sometimes get mistaken for a kitten. My colouration is best described as “tortoiseshell”. The vet used to call me a “naughty tortie”, hee hee! He was nice, he had warm hands.

H: Well, leaving aside the fact that I wouldn’t go out into the street, so your question is stupid, I’m black from head to toe, which kinda matches my soul. I suppose I’m fairly big, and I’ve got this loose skin around my belly from back when I used to be chonkier.

And how would you greet me? What’s your standard salutation?

M: Over the years I’ve developed this little grunt I like, it’s a kind of airy “brrfff” that gets the point across nicely.

H: I tend to say “Muh-row!” where the first syllable is an F# and then the second is the F# one octave higher. Don’t ask me why, it’s just what I do.

Okay, let’s keep things light. What’s your favourite place to sit?

M: Oooh, the back of the sofa is one of my favourites. I often fall asleep up there, and then when I nod off and start to slide off, I have to DIG IN to stop myself falling off entirely. The sofa gets a little scratched, but I can’t envisage a world in which I might sit somewhere less unstable.

H: Depends where’s warmest. There’s a nice spot in the kitchen by the radiator where the hot water pipes pass underneath, so that’s got double the heat sources. When the heating’s off, I’ll try to find someone who’s sitting down, and leech some heat off of them. In the summer, the conservatory is pretty nice.

Are there any places that you aren’t allowed to go on your own? Why’s that?

M: Yeah, I’m not allowed in the kitchen unattended. Probably because when I’m in there I can’t resist the urge to jump up onto the surfaces. Don’t know why people make such a fuss, my paws are clean, I lick them regularly.

H: The bedroom doors are always closed when there’s no-one in there. Now I can’t be completely sure, but there are a few occasions when I took a big fat dump on the bed, so that might be something to do with it.

On that note, how are your toilet habits?

M: Impeccable. I always go in the garden and bury it carefully so as to leave no trace.

H: In the summer, I go in the garden. Just drop it right there on the lawn, the staff clean it up for me. In winter, I try and use the litter tray when I can, but as long as I can get it in the general vicinity, I’m satisfied. But only if the litter tray meets my specifications, of course. If anything is amiss, then I’ll use the next best thing, like a curtain, or a bed, or something like that. You know, regular stuff.

Would you describe yourself as athletic?

M: Well, I’m not as sprightly as I used to be, but yeah I like to get fresh air and exercise, do some jumping and climbing, bit of zooming around. Got to stay in shape.

H: Absolutely, I kick a pom-pom around for a few minutes every day, that should be enough for anyone.

Do you like the outdoors?

M: Love it. I had some difficulty settling in, because the other cats in the neighbourhood bullied me sometimes, but I think we reached an understanding.

H: Depends on the weather. I’ll go outside in the summer, if the weather’s nice, and someone leaves the door open for me, but in winter, you can forget it.

How are you with cat flaps?

M: I’m a legend. I can do stuff with cat flaps that you’ve only dreamed about.

H: Hate the fucking things. The only thing I hate worse than having to use a cat flap, is being outdoors. So, I’ll use them, but only under very limited circumstances.

What habits do you have that particularly annoy your housemates?

M: Hahaha, well this is kind of embarrassing, but I do have a thing I do where I jump in through the bedroom window at 6am, and then meow at the bedroom door to be let out, so that I can run downstairs. I think this annoys my housemates because they think I could just use the cat flap to achieve the same end result in a way that doesn’t require outside assistance, but they’re missing the point, aren’t they?

H: Nope. I mean, apart from the pissing and shitting everywhere. I reckon that irks them a tad.

How do you feel about scratching posts?

M: Oh they’re so silly. They’re a poor imitation for a nice piece of furniture. Give me some furniture to scratch on, every time.

H: They’re for scratching on, right? I don’t see why we’re even having this debate.

Do you have any toys that you like?

M: Nah, not one for toys. I like to sit on or in a box every now and then.

H: I’ve got these pom-poms, and well, I’ve gotta be square with you, they’re the one thing in this world that I really love. I carry them around in my mouth, I sing to them, we play a little chase game. They complete me, they really do.

Would you describe yourself as touchy-feely? Which parts of your body do you like being touched the most? Which do you hate?

M: Yep, very touchy-feely. But the one place I won’t tolerate being touched is on my fluffy tummy.

H: Hate being touched by strangers, except maybe under my chin. Love that. People I know better, I’ll let them touch me, but only above the waist.

How do you communicate displeasure if someone touches you inappropriately?

M: Claws, of course.

H: I’ll go in for a bite, you wee shite.

Do you like being picked up?

M: Totes! Let’s dance! I might even sit on your shoulder!

H: Not a huge fan, but I’m starting to come round to the prospect. Only for short bursts though.

Do you like music? Are there any sounds you particularly like or dislike?

M: Hahah, when I was very small, I’d run away even at the sight of a guitar! But I soon got over that. I’d say I have fairly diverse musical interests.

H: I. Hate. Noise. I get scared by loud noises, quiet noises, high pitched noises, low pitched noises, music, shouting, fireworks, barking, cars, trucks, people. I. Hate. Noise.

Thank you very much for your answers. It’s been a pleasure talking to you!

M: Brrrfff!

H: Muh-row!

  • Comments: 1
  • This is just delightful. I am also thinking of another comparison: their catbox-entering s... - Karen
January 31, 2021

The Matrix (1991)

The Matrix is a movie about a man called Neil who has a weird dream in which he is the Chosen One, and cannot tell whether he exists in someone else’s dream, or everyone else exists in his. In his dream, he has accidentally joined the resistance by swallowing a red jelly bean, in a scene which, as an educator concerned with empowering people to get all the information before giving consent to a procedure, I found horrifying. Indeed, what follows are several scenes in which mysterious things are done to Neil without his full knowledge or understanding, and therefore without genuine consent.

Neil is played by Keanu Reeves, in a performance that ranges from looking slightly baffled to looking slightly bored. I shared both of these emotions over the course of the movie. Among the things that baffled me were that the year 1999 represented the peak of human existence, and that the character of Neil was apparently not one of the robots. High points were the appearance of the character Morpheus, at which point Pete and I looked at each other and hissed at each other in unison, it’s Larry Fucking Fishburne. It’s not that we were surprised or particularly delighted by this, it’s just something we do. Later, having torn himself away from the game on his phone for five minutes to find out what we were watching by looking it up on IMDB, Bernard sniggered, Heh heh. Lawrence Fishbum.

The point of this project was to fill in for Bernard all the cultural references that one acquires by having watched the last fifty years’ worth of well known movies. Unfortunately, with the exception of The Shawshank Redemption, he has declared every movie we have watched so far this year utterly boring beyond the reasonable threshold of boring parentness. It’s harsh, but in this case, also true.

  • Comments: 3
  • It’s still worlds better than the sequels. - Lyle
  • What, that The Matrix is a dull film? - Karen
  • Whether it's true or not, in polite society one does not normally say such things openly. - Pete
January 30, 2021

Alcohol-Free Beers (Part Eighteen)

(View previous instalments here)

This month’s selection box from AFBeerClub contains eight alcohol-free beers, all of which I have never had before! Here’s the first four of them:

Coast “Sabro Galaxy” DDH IPA

This beer felt quite viscous as it poured from the can. You can see it has a very good creamy head and is a very cloudy straw colour. The aroma is bold, hoppy, sour and fruity. The flavour is quite unconventional, like some sort of unfamiliar exotic fruit with a chunky savouriness to it.

Tiny Rebel “Space Cake” Oat Milk Mocha Stout

Even before I’d opened the can, I had high hopes for this. “Oat Milk Mocha Stout” is the kind of thing that’s right up my alley, and “Space Cake” is a fantastic name. That said, I’ve been finding that, among all the various genres of beers, the stouts are the ones that seem to struggle most with the transition to non-alcoholic.

The beer pours very thick out of the can, which is a great start. I wasn’t completely taken by the aroma – it smells more like a brewery than like beer, which was a cause for some concern. But the flavour – oh gosh, the flavour – is absolute perfection. Oodles and oodles of chocolate and coffee in this one. This is exactly what I’m looking for, and I could gladly buy it in huge quantities and devour it in an orgy of syrupy delight, but my only concern is that it does contain real coffee, and I am doing the whole caffeine-free thing as well as the alcohol-free.

Drop Bear – New World Lager

Looks like lager, pours like lager, smells sweet and honeyed, but ultimately, like lager. My initially feeling upon drinking it was that it was a bit underwhelming and lacklustre compared to what the smell had been implying. It’s got a bit of tanginess but is very fizzy and a little bit metallic. That said, my sentiments towards it did improve as I got used to the flavour, and by the end I was thinking “hmmmm, I could go for another of those.”

Tiny Rebel “Party Hard”

I was quite surprised by the colour of this when I poured it, it’s so pale as to be barely there at all. There’s absolutely no head whatsoever. It smells quite pleasing, very hoppy with a little hint of mango. It’s tangy and sour and on the very cusp of what I’d even think to classify as “beer”, but it goes down very nicely, and by the end of the glass I had to admit that I’d enjoyed drinking this as much as many of the other beers that I’ve put in the top set, so here we go, Tiny Rebel, have another one of these:

There’s still 4 more beers in the monthly box, so the reviews of those will be coming up in a couple of weeks.