The Great – this year’s Succession?

I’ve never watched Downton Abbey (for no particular reason, other than I just haven’t), but I do enjoy a good historical drama … even if it’s historical in the loosest possible sense.

The Borgias was fun, as was Marco Polo.

But none have been the riot that The Great is … and I’m only five episodes in. Here’s the trailer:

To quote the show’s byline, The Great is “an occasionally true story” based on the rise of Catherine the Great, Empress of Russia.

The humour is just my cup of tea, and helps to emphasise aspects of the time that were probably true, but seldom highlighted in more ‘serious’ accounts.

I’ve been waiting for something fresh, fun and addictive show to fill the void between seasons 2 and 3 of the outstanding Succession.

I think this could be it. Huzzah!

Back to school

New Zealand moved to Alert Level 2 at 11:59pm on Wednesday 13 May.

Today, the kids went back to school and – for the first time in over six weeks – Mrs. V and I found ourselves working from an otherwise quiet house. It felt ever so slightly weird.

When Mr. 10 got home, I asked him how it was. “Good” he said.

Mr. 10 is not a boy of many words.

I pressed on, trying to ask open – rather than closed – questions.

I asked him what was different about school now compared with school before lockdown.

“Not much”, he said, “we just had to wash our hands a bit more”.

Yes, it was tough going … especially since this conversation (in his mind) was the only thing between him and Minecraft.

But, in the end, it was clear that he was glad to be back at school.

Glad to see his friends.

Glad to be out of lockdown.

 

Lockdown highlights

I have to admit that – on balance – I enjoyed my COVID-19 ‘lockdown’.

(For the record, we were in ‘lockdown’ (Alert Levels 4 and 3) in New Zealand from 11:59 pm on 25 March 2020 through to 11:59 pm on 13 May 2020 – a total of 48 days.)

There are many things I stopped doing, that I hope I don’t have to re-start doing.

And there are many things that I started doing, most of which I’d like to keep doing.

What follows is an ever-so-slightly-structured list of these lockdown ‘highlights’ that I hope – if nothing else – will be an interesting zeitgeist to reflect on months or years from now.

I tried to keep fit …

  • Did workouts in my garage roughly every second day … mostly using the body-weight video workouts from the Nike Training app. We’ve got a nice rowing machine, but I’m yet to make this a good, regular habit.
  • Ran a couple of times per week – Mr. 10 announced he’d like to emulate Mr. 13 who ran his first 10km run at 10 … so I downloaded a training guide … and used the Nike Run Club app to track runs.
    • As an aside, I don’t know why I keep using the Nike apps. Aspects like the ‘personalised’ training plans really appeal, but it’s frustrating that the apps – specifically, the algorithms that create these plans – don’t seem to have any consideration for activity that you do/might want to do outside of the specific Nike apps. I would love a more holistic app. Someone will no doubt message me after this with a recommendation… 
  • Did a decent walk most days – usually with dog and other family members in tow. It was fun to explore different parts of the neighbourhood, and the kids laughed at the nickname I gave myself – “El Mule” – on walks that saw us visit the supermarket, and then saw me shoulder a massive backpack full of groceries back home.  

… but admit I ate one too many …

  • Abe’s Everything Bagels with Salmon, Cream Cheese, Capers and Red Onion – in the early days of the lockdown, all sorts of ‘staples’ were unavailable, but there seemed to be plenty of salmon to go round … and this ended up becoming my go-to lunch. I’ve justified the slightly indulgent spend on the basis we’ve saved in other areas (see below!).
  • Pieces of Lindt Chili Chocolate (sorry Whittakers, but this is our current favourite)

The net effect is that I finished lockdown feeling fitter, but not much lighter!

I spent money on …

  • Groceries at our local supermarket. I use YNAB to track/budget our spending, so I can clearly see we spent nearly double on groceries during lockdown compared to the preceding month.
  • Quality news/views (see below).

… but a lot less money on …

  • ‘Dining Out’ (which is our catch-all account for both buying lunch if I’m working up in the city, and takeaways or eating in restaurants generally). Also worth noting that Mr. 13 was home from boarding school during lockdown, and the amount of Weetbix he ate was probably a significant contributor to our overall grocery bill increase. Hehe.
  • Fuel. We spend nada on fuel. The fuel we had in the tanks prior to lockdown beginning was enough for the few car trips we took.

Overall, our total spending dropped 20% during lockdown, meaning we were able to squirrel a wee bit more towards reducing our mortgage.

I aggressively managed my newsfeed, and endeavoured to financially support the few news/views sources I came to rely on. I donated, or started subscriptions, to …

  • Newsroom – IMHO, Bernard and co. do a fantastic job curating and reporting the NZ business and politics news that matters … I would start most days scanning their “8 things” email, and came to really value their work overall. I think I’ll happily be keeping my Pro subscription going past trial. 
  • The Spinoff– hands down the freshest and most interesting COVID-19 crisis reporting … it’s hard to imagine what the NZ media landscape would be like without the Spinoff around, much less my own reading list … so, I am more than happy to do my bit and support the site with a monthly membership.
  • Washington Post – on the back of some stellar US-centric COVID-19 crisis reporting – including this excellent opinion piece from Peter Singer on the ethics of humans volunteering to trial the vaccine, I decided to sign-up for a trial period. I quite often get links to pay-walled WP articles, so it has been nice to see these in full. Time will tell whether the subscription is worth keeping. I wish we had Apple News+ here in New Zealand. 
  • New York Times – their “The Daily” podcast was one of the few I listened to regularly during lockdown and, whilst they published a lot of COVID-19 articles outside their paywall during lockdown, I’ve signed up for a trial subscription.
  • Stratechery – OK, I signed up to this before lockdown – but just wanted to mention how much I enjoy Ben Thompson’s thoughts/writings. I love how Ben has been able to find his niche and earn a living from it. I also love the email delivery format, with the accompanying read-aloud podcast. Easily worth the US$12 monthly subscription. US$15 Stratechery + Dithering subscription.

I watched a reasonable amount of telly … a bit more than usual together with the kids as ‘family time’, but overall probably not more telly than usual. Highlights included …

Netflix:

Amazon Prime:

Lightbox:

  • Vikings – season 6

Neon:

  • His Dark Materials – season 1
  • Devs
  • What We Do In The Shadows – season 2

Other Movies (mostly via Apple TV rentals):

  • Onwards
  • Hunt for the Wilderpeople (for the umpteenth time!)
  • Doctor Sleep
  • Thunderball
  • Speed
  • Sherlock Holmes
  • My Spy
  • Spies In Disguise
  • Birds of Prey and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn
  • 1917
  • The Gentlemen
  • Gone In 60 Seconds

I spent a fair amount of time dialled into calls … which meant I got to do a fair amount of …

  • Sorting LEGO bricks. I will post more about this in due course, but sorting the kids’ my LEGO bricks has become somewhat of a High Fidelity/John Cusack-esque obsession.
  • Actually, it wasn’t all sorting … I did make this Easter MOC (LEGO geek speak for ‘my own creation’) as my entry to my Scout group’s Easter LEGO building competition. Let me just say it’s a shame that leaders weren’t eligible for the prizes. Hehe.

Whilst work was the primary reason for video-conferencing, we also used Zoom to connect with family and friends and play two new games:

  • Kahoot – we did several ‘Kahoot sessions’ with family in Wellington, Auckland and Europe … and also hosted a quiz night with a few colleagues. I admit I quite like quizzes. Even more so with a bit of alcohol. However, I think I’ve now been through the ‘best’ (which isn’t necessarily saying much) of the available Kahoot quizzes, so not sure we’ll continue to do much of this post-Lockdown.
  • Drawful 2 – played this initially with some work colleagues, via a quite complicated set-up (it’s optimised for everyone being in the same room) … and have subsequently downloaded the Apple TV app. Lots of fun – for kids 10+.

Apart from my idle Apple Music listening, there is only one music thing worth calling out …

  • The Nextmen’s sensational ‘lockdown’ DJ sets, especially the ‘Southern Hemisphere’ special they hosted especially for Australian and NZ fans. I only managed to catch the Southern Hemisphere special live (Mrs. Vink and I boogied out in our lounge), but have listened to all of the others multiple times … cooking dinner, washing dishes etc. has never been as much fun.

If I had to pick just one lockdown highlight …

  • My three brothers, our kids and I managed to organise ourselves across multiple timezones to record a special version of “My Favourite Things” (from the Sound of Music film), and create an accompanying music video (and even a ‘making of the music video’ video!) that we gave to my Mum for her birthday/Mother’s Day. I won’t link to it here for several reasons, but suffice to say there was a lot of “laugh/crying” all day.

On reflection …

  • I echo the sentiments of the many commentators who noted how lucky (most) people have been to have access to decent internet during lockdown. It is hard to imagine just what it would have been like to go through this – to stay cooped up at home, to try to be productive, and to relax/pass the time – even 10 years ago, let alone 20 or 30.  Thank god for fibre and all of the other modern technology that makes the most of it.

What’s a couple years between drinks?

So … um … yeah … going to try and get back into the groove after a two year hiatus.

Mr. 8 is now Mr. 10.

And, sadly he didn’t win the competition … but his entry is still there for the world to see.

All this time I’ve spent hibernating at home over the past six weeks has given me lots of food for thought. And lots of things I’d like to share … just not on Facebook … or Twitter … and regardless of who does or doesn’t see them.

So I’ve fired up the blog again. Here we go …