I started rewatching ER at the beginning of 2020. It has kept me company throughout the pandemic, during the first scary lockdown, the milder second lockdown in October 2020 and the never-ending lockdown at the start of 2021. (And I’m still not finished, partly because there are 15 seasons but also because I’ve been watching lots of other things as well.) In April and May last year, when I was very anxious about everything, it helped to watch someone else’s terrible day play out on ER. It also helped that the first few seasons are really good. The storylines are diverting and the writing is quirky and fun. It feels like an ensemble, workplace drama. It’s about more than just the hospital. It stays pretty good until around the end of season eight, when Mark Green dies and Dr Romano has his first run-in with the helicopter. After that they start recycling storylines, and it gets a bit sanctimonious. By the end of season 12, you start to see the influence of Grey’s Anatomy – the final episode ends with a Snow Patrol song and the lives of several beloved characters are in peril.Continue reading “How do you cure ignorance?”
This list is vaguely in the order of when I watched things or when I started watching them. Almost half of them are on Netflix, others are on All 4 or NowTV. There’s a few I watched on a proper tv channel. I actually streamed The Good Fight on the RTE player and it wasn’t terrible.
1. Sex Education (Series 1 & 2)
2. Big Mouth (Series 1 – 3)
I started watching both of these on my tablet on the plane back from Spain at the start of the year. They’re both a bit saucy and maybe not completely suitable to watch in a public place, but it was a late flight and I was tucked in against the window. Unlike the time I watched the first episode of You’re The Worst on another flight. It was on Aer Lingus’s in-flight entertainment list and I wanted to have a look to see what they’d cut. The answer was nothing. They had cut nothing. I was sitting in the aisle and I had to turn if off during Jimmy and Gretchen’s first sex scene out of sheer embarrassment.
Sex Education is sweet and fun and Gillian Anderson is wonderful in it. Big Mouth is surreal and subversive and deeply weird. I loved them both.
3. This Life (Series 1)
This kicked off a year of rewatching tv from the 90s. I wrote a bit about what it was like watching something after a 15 year gap here. I enjoyed it immensely, for the nostalgia factor and because it’s great telly.
4. ER (Series 1 – 9)
Anther rewatch that I’m really enjoying, and I still have 6 more seasons to go. I saw lot of it the first time round and it’s really interesting to revisit a much loved show. It’s still very good, especially the first handful of series when I think they were really doing something new. We’re now up to series 9 and it’s getting a little bit ropey – Rocket had had his first run-in with the helicopter. I’ll say no more.
I watched this around the beginning of the first lockdown. It’s ridiculously good, and a good distraction from unpleasant world events.
There’s a bit too much going on in this BBC drama and not all of it added up. It wasn’t terrible.
This confused me. The set-up is tabloid v’s broadsheet but everyone keeps switching sides, and the overall message seemed to be the press are terrible.
8. New Girl (Series 1 – 7)
I’d seen the first couple of series but it was lovely to revisit and to watch to the very end. It’s a very charming show, and it’s also really funny. The characters are ridiculous and I love them all.
I watched this around Easter time when everything was pretty grim. It kinda helped. It reminded me that things could be worse. I learnt a lot about something that I thought I knew about but didn’t really. I didn’t know the level to which the government lied about what happened. I thought it was a great series.
I tried watching Succession a couple of years ago and gave up after two episodes. I hated all the characters and I just didn’t have time for them. (That baseball game in the first episode is so horrible.) In lockdown, I gave it a second chance and it was either the pandemic or the numerous awards and accolades it has collected since then, but it clicked for me the second time around and I enjoyed it immensely. I still think they’re all terrible people but now I enjoying watching them be terrible to each other. I also enjoy seeing the similarities between it and Peep Show. With Succession, you don’t need to hear the inner monologue, you just see it on their faces.
This was a bit of a disappointment. It started rather beautifully with two college sweethearts abandoning their old lives and getting back together on a whim, after not seeing each other for 10+ years. They run away together by train and there’s some lovely scenes in the first couple of episodes where they’re working out where they stand with each and how much they want to disclose about their current life. Then they get off the train and the whole thing goes off the rails. There’s a big bag of cash and an accidental murder. Phoebe Waller-Bridge turns up as a taxidermist who sings karaoke, and there’s a mysterious man we never meet but who loves mac & cheese. It’s gets strange and confusing. It’s a shame. The other snag for me is that Domhnall Gleeson plays a motivational speaker, and an Irish man. Are there any Irish motivational speakers? I don’t think as a people we have the right temperament for it.
12. Normal People
This show made me miss everything. It made me miss college. It made me miss parties and pubs and wandering through Trinity on a sunny day. It even made me a little bit sentimental about the Leaving Cert. When I read the book, I read it in short bursts. It felt too intense and I needed to take frequent breaks from the characters because being inside their heads felt claustrophobic. For me, the tv show did a great job of capturing that same feeling.
13. I May Destroy You
In a throwback to the way we used to watch television, I missed the first episode of this series and instead of trying to find it online, I just watched from episode 2. This might be why the show always felt slightly off kilter to me, but I also think that might be what they were going for. I feel like it broke a lot of tv rules, especially for a half-hour show which are usually sitcoms, and instead this was pitch dark. It also jumped around time-lines and switched protagonists a lot. Some of the scenes had a dreamlike or fantasy quality even when they weren’t. It used social media really well, and it played with addressing the audience directly without breaking the fourth wall. It was sublime. I read a lot about the show when I finished because I wanted to know more. It left room for me to interpret things for myself and decide what I felt had happened and I loved that.
14. Schitt’s Creek (Series 6)
The final series of Schitt’s Creek was so nice. I loved being reunited with the Roses during lockdown, and it was such a happy reunion. Seeing them win all those Emmys later in the year was also very nice!
15. The Umbrella Academy (Series 2)
I love this ridiculous show about a dysfunctional family of superheroes. It just makes me happy. I also love a bit of time travel and setting the series in 1963 really worked for me.
16. What We Do In the Shadows (Series 2)
This vampire comedy was as wonderful as the first series. I really enjoyed Guillermo learning to value himself and his unique talents, and all the petty grudges between the vampires. It’s just really, really funny.
17. Mrs America
I loved this show about the feminist activists in America in the 1970s and their work to get the Equal Rights Amendment passed. It was about a period of American history I didn’t know much about and I thought it was told really well, particularly as they covered big chunks of time. I liked the story and the characters. It also felt very relevant, especially in relation to politics in America this year.
18. Jane The Virgin (Series 4 & 5)
I finished this wonderful series this year and I miss the Villanueva women terribly. It took me about a year to finish the first series and then it clicked for me and I watched the second series in a matter of weeks. It is an unusual show; it takes a bit of getting used to. It’s part telenovela, part magic realism. There’s a narrator who drops clues about what’s going to happen next. There’s lots of fantasy sequences and a few song and dance numbers. There’s a lot to romance and love triangles. It has the most ridiculous soap plots – like the central premise of a woman who gets pregnant before she has sex – but it also has such heart and such wonderful characters that you really feel for them when they are entangled with criminal masterminds or evil twins.
19. Homeland (Series 8)
I have watched Homeland since the beginning. It has had its ups and downs. I’ve almost given up on it many times but I keep coming back because I love Clare Danes and Mandy Patinkin. And I am so glad I did because they did a really good final series and gave those characters a great ending and I was so glad.
20. Buffy the Vampire Slayer
I’m only a couple of series in to this rewatch, which was prompted by Emily Nussbaum’s tweets about her own rewatch. I remember so much of this show so clearly, particularly the terrible monster costumes. I love it, though some episodes make me really wish I could go read a recap on Television Without Pity after watching. I feel that way about ER as well sometimes. Recaps made every show better, I miss the snark.
21. I Hate Suzie
One of my favourite things I watched this year. It had this really dark centre that showed all the shit women put up with, but then dressed it up with jokes and songs and dream-sequences and fabulous clothes. (Personally I was very taken by Suzie’s fringed dressing gown.) In a way, that’s what being a woman in a patriarchal society is like – pretty shit but we do our best to dress it up and get on with things. I loved the characters, I loved the writing, I loved the visual style of it. I want to watch it again.
22. The Deceived
This murder mystery is written by Lisa McGee and set in Cambridge and Donegal. It’s pretty good, though I didn’t really like the vague supernatural aspects of it. I did like that almost everyone in it was a bit of a baddie, or at least telling a few fibs.
23. Misfits (Series 1 & 2)
Another very enjoyable rewatch. It’s such a ridiculous premise – a bunch of teenagers suddenly get superpowers, while they’re doing community service – but it’s done so well. They have so much fun with it that it’s just really enjoyable. There are three more series but we stopped after two, before it starts taking itself a bit too seriously and is a lot less fun.
24. The Good Fight (Series 4)
I love this show so much. I started watching the new series the day after Joe Biden was officially declared the winner of the US Election, and I think that was the perfect time to see the weird and wonderful series opener. This series is slightly shorter than usual but includes eccentric bosses and a good old-fashioned conspiracy. It also has it’s usual episodes inspired by real-life events.
25. The Undoing
This was all a bit of a mess really. Far too many red herrings and too many scenes that were maybe memories or maybe imaginings. Some of the clothes were fun and I enjoy Donald Sutherland but if you haven’t seen it, I wouldn’t bother.
26. Stath Lets Flats (Series 1 & 2)
This is a very sweet show. There is something of Kimmy Schmidt about Stath, if Kimmy was a Greek estate agent. He and his sister Sophie are just too pure for this world. I’m delighted that there’s going to be a third series, I can’t wait.
27. Glow (Series 1 – 3)
I rewatched this after it was announced that the previously commissioned fourth series had been cancelled. So it was a bittersweet rewatch but I did get to watch it with my sister who hadn’t seen it before and that was nice. It’s a wonderful show and I love how it branches out and goes deeper with each series. I’m still so disappointed that we don’t get to see what happens next. Are the series four scripts anywhere on the internet?
28. His Dark Materials (Series 2)
This show feels Christmassy to me. Partly because it’s on at the tail-end of the year but mostly because it’s on Sunday evening, which is when I watched The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe as a tiny child which is another snowy series based on a book with a Christian allegory at its heart that also makes me think of Christmas. It’s also an enjoyable adaptation.
Does a bar of soap make a good Christmas present? I’m not talking about handmade soap. (Though the header image for this post is from a crafting blog called Gluestick and a post about making your own soap if you’d like to give it a try. Everything I know about making soap I learnt from Fight Club which is not a good guide to follow.) I’m talking about soap that you buy. Would you be glad to get it or does it feel like an obligation gift from someone who doesn’t know you very well? I think soap is an acceptable present – like socks it’s a good backup because everybody needs it. Particularly this year.
The soaps below are maybe more everyday soaps than gift-soaps, but this is a good thing because it means they’ll get used instead of being “saved for best”. I’ve written before about trying to cut down on plastic, and using solid soap is a really easy way to do that. And according to the Irish Times, “The production of liquid soap requires five times more energy for raw material and almost 20 times more energy for packaging production than a bar of soap.” All the more reason to buy a bar for yourself or to give one to someone you love!
These are all soaps that I have bought and used this year.
I bought this soap from Designist back in April. It’s handmade in Slane in Co. Meath and comes in a cardboard box so there’s no plastic involved at all. They have a nice selection of scents and it’s available all over the country, and the around world. You can find a full list of stockists here or order online directly from the company here. They also sell that other 2020 essential – hand sanitiser.
I haven’t been to the physical shop in almost a year but I always love a wander around the Designist shop on George’s Street because you never know what weird and wonderful things you might find there. In April, I was on their website looking for a bedside clock to help me stop using my phone at night. I also bought some Irish-made cards to send to friends and family during lockdown.
Designist sell lots of soap but they also have an interesting collection of books and lots of great kid’s toys. It’s a great place to buy a few Christmas presents. If you don’t know anyone who’d appreciate a bar of soap for Christmas, maybe they’d like a vegan cheese making kit or some gold iron-on patches. It’s also a great place to get really creative Christmas cards.
2. Bí Urban
For anyone living in Dublin 7, this is an extremely local soap. It’s handmade in Stoneybatter using over 50% locally foraged ingredients including discarded carrier oils from Lilliput Trading Company. It’s a really solid soap and holds its shape down to the last sliver!
As far as I know, it’s only available in Bí Urban on Manor Street in Stoneybatter. You can order the soap online but have to visit the shop to collect it, though they do say you can email to arrange getting items posted out. There are lots of other interesting things for sale from the shop including bamboo toothbrushes, local honey and the Bí & Sea Exfoliating Face Mask Kit, which is one of a number of Bí Therapy products.
Bí Urban is more than just a shop. They describe themselves as “a nature based social enterprise promoting health and well-being” and are working on a number of interesting projects, which aim to increase biodiversity in Dublin city and protest pollinators. It’s worth a visit if you’re in the area.
This is the only non-Irish soap on the list but I’m a long-time fan of L’Occitane so I had to include them. We’re in more traditional Christmas present territory here. They do lots of lovely Christmas gift including a selection of guest soaps. But they also have lots of regular soaps. The soaps are really moisturising so they’re great for people who tend to get dry skin in cold weather or from a lot of hand-washing. I also recommend the Shea Butter hand-cream if your hands need an extra bit of TLC this winter.
All their products are palm oil free and they have recycling programming where you bring in your empty beauty and skin care products from any brand and they will give you 10% off your next purchase. I haven’t done this myself yet, but I do have a bag of plastic pots that I am planning to bring in at some stage.
Last the summer, on a stunningly sunny Saturday morning I visited the Museum of Literature (MoLI) on Stephen’s Green for the first time. I was keen to see the building and was particularly interested in their Nuala O’Faolain exhibition. I’d just finished reading her biography Are You Somebody? The book is wonderful, full of the inner life of the author but also really interesting about art and culture in Ireland in the 1960s and 70s. I enjoyed the insights into her working life, particularly her career in television.
I really enjoyed my visit to MoLI. I loved the beautiful building and the garden at the back, as well as the exhibitions. I also visiting the gift shop where I bought a bar of Mr. Bloom’s Lemon Soap.
This soap already had a blog-post written about it by it’s creators. It might be a bit gimmicky but it has a lovely fresh scent and does the job.
Now that museums are open again, I would recommend a visit to MoLI. The Nuala O’Faolin exhibition is still running and I also really enjoyed the poetry room where the poem you hear depends on where you’re standing in the room. The poetry is also running across the walls.
The gift-shop is also worth a visit while you’re there. But if you can’t get there, you can still buy Mr. Bloom’s Lemon Soap on their website. There’s also a wide selection of Irish books, including Are You Somebody? And other gift type things like a Poolbeg Towers ornament or some fancy stationery.
When I went to the library at the end of June, my first visit after lockdown, it was not my typical library experience. Instead of spending time browsing the shelves, I had to order my books online and then wait for the library to phone to set up an appointment to collect them. After weeks of being at home with no plans all day, it felt strange to have to be somewhere at a specific time. The library looked closed when I arrived and I had to wait outside. The librarian opened the door, took my name and then hurried back inside, found my book on a table just inside the door and passed it out to me. That was it. I went to the library and didn’t even get to go inside the library.
At the beginning of February, around the time of the General Election, BBC4 showed the first series of This Life, the 90s drama about co-habiting lawyers. February – a distant time when we regularly left the house to go to work, ate in restaurants and meet friends in the pub – now seems almost as long ago as 1995, when This Life first aired. It’s aged well. The clothes and hairstyles don’t seem particularly ridiculous because the 90s are fashionable again. And it’s still good. The characters and storylines still feel real and dramatic. The first time I watched this show I was about 10 years younger than the characters, I’m now more than 10 years older than them. That’s always the weird thing about fictional characters – how they stay frozen in time while you age beyond them, having experiences that inform how you interpret their actions and attitudes. Some of the attitudes in This Life do feel dated. Attitudes towards women and gay people, particularly. I suppose that’s to be expected; it was 25 years ago. The characters’ attitude towards therapy also really felt odd and old-fashioned to me.
At the end of 2018, Theatre Forum carried out a survey on pay and working conditions in the performing arts. The results of the survey were accompanied by testimonials from artists who spoke candidly about their financial struggles. These were well-known theatre and dance artists, artists who make a new show every year, who have won awards for their work and toured internationally. They are so obviously successful in their chosen careers that it’s natural to assume that they would also be making a good living but despite appearances, their livelihoods still felt precarious. The results of the survey proved that this was more than just a feeling. According to the 144 artists and creative practitioners and 97 arts organisations who responded, average weekly earnings in the arts in 2018 were 30% lower that the average across all sectors (€494.98 compared to €740.32). As well as low wages, the precarious nature of the work means a lack of financial stability, as well as difficulty keeping up with PRSI contributions. There’s also the fact that most arts organisations do not make employer pension contributions or provide a top up to state maternity benefit.
Newsletters, Tiny Letters, SubStacks, whatever you want to call them, I love getting these updates from people’s lives in my inbox. I’ve always loved email. I subscribed to so many mailing lists in the pre-social media days of the internet that email was how I first got to know people online. Email is still the first thing I open when I sit down at my computer.
A good newsletter can feel like a great secret and it feels a little bit odd to be talking about my favourites out in public like this. Maybe it’s because they are sent directly to me and that makes them seem private and personal, or maybe because they remind me of the early days of online journals when every newly discovered site felt like it belonged to me alone. But I like sharing the things I love, and I can console myself with the fact that very few people read this blog, so they will remain mostly secret!
These are five (plus one bonus one) of my favourite free newsletters.
All year we’ve been told that the current climate emergency means that we need to say goodbye to business as usual, that we cannot keep living as we currently do if we want the planet to still be habitable beyond the next 10-15 years. In a lot of ways, Christmas is the exact opposite of sustainable living. Christmas is about eating too much, giving presents, sparkly things, buying stuff, spending too much money and general rampant consumerism. It’s also about tradition. It’s a festival dedicated to doing things because that’s how we’ve always done them. This can mean everything from hanging the 20-year old Christmas decorations that your parents bought the first Christmas they were married to boiling up a big pot of Brussel sprouts even though nobody will eat them. Obviously some traditions are more ecologically sound than others. But this Christmas, for the sake of the planet, let’s embrace change and do things differently.
I really enjoyed this year’s Dublin Fringe Festival. It was two weeks of booking more shows than I could really afford and seeing wonderful performances all over the city. It’s one of my favourite times of year. I love coming out of a half six show while it’s still bright out and then heading off to see something else. I love bumping into friends in theatre foyers and hearing what they’ve seen or what they recommend. Here are some of the things I learnt over the course of the festival.
In May I saw Tana French being interviewed by Anna Carey in Smock Alley. The event was part of the International Festival of Literature. I am a huge admirer of her writing but I’d never heard her speak about it before so I was really looking forward to the event. She didn’t disappoint.