Things I Liked – October 2018

Hello! In the absence of Hugh Grant films I’m starting a new, somewhat lower maintenance blog project of just talking vaguely about stuff I’m liking at the end of the month. Although probably I’ll forget and end up doing it at slightly random times.

So, in no particular order: things I am liking, or have liked, in October.

Noah Caldwell-Gervais

You know how sometimes you really want to listen to a slightly melancholy-sounding guy with a really soothing (possibly Californian?) accent talk about a single video game franchise in an excruciating but fascinating depth for, like, three hours? Or is that just me.

In any case, the absolute king of slightly melancholy-sounding guys with a really soothing (possibly Californian?) accents talking about a single video game franchise in an excruciating but fascinating depth for, like, three hours is Noah Caldwell-Gervais.

I think the thing I like most about Noah, apart from the fact his videos are really, really long and his accent is really, really soothing, is that he manages to be relentlessly positive without being fanboyish. To the point it’s slightly depressing in that he manages to have these intense and meaningful experiences with videogames that I found mediocre at best (hi Tyranny).

His most recent video is an epic run-through of the entire Neverwinter Nights franchise which is completely amazing but only if you’ve spent quite a lot of time playing a very specific and not very well regarded RPG franchise from the early 2000s. Which, of course, I have.

The one thing I dislike about Noah is that literally every time I listen to one of his videos I immediately want to go and play the game that he’s talking about.  But because his videos, while long, aren’t as long as say a full play-through of several games I’ll inevitably have listened to another video and, therefore, got interested in another game before I’ve finished with the game that the last video got me interested in.

I don’t know if he’ll translate if you don’t like video games (although he’s also done some interested travelogues as well) but his channel here, and if you’re not sure where to start I’d recommend starting with a game you’re familiar with but here are my top three favourite of his videos:

  • No Man’s Sky in Close Critique and the follow up Deeper Horizons: A Comprehensive Re-Review of No Man’s Sky: Next (given how controversial NMS sky was in a community that I’m aware most of my readers pay no attention to I found his take refreshingly measured in its attempt to understand what the game was trying to be, rather than simply complaining about what it wasn’t)
  • Tyranny and the Language of Power (he got way, way more out of this game than I did).
  • Genre Orphans: LA Noir (I’ve probably over-identified with this video because it’s pitched as part one of a thematic series that only ever ran to two videos and Noah, man, I know how that feels. But, again, it’s an interesting take on a game that didn’t quite find its niche even though it probably should have – I also think it might be genuinely interested to people who are less interested in gaming qua gaming because LA Noir was very much an attempt to be cinematic in a way that wasn’t just having loads of non-interactive cut scenes between the shooting bits).

Strictly Come Dancing

I think this is the British equivalent of what you Americans call Dancing with the Stars, but I’m pretty sure we had it first. Like, at this stage, I’m pretty sure reality TV formats are our third biggest export. I have no idea what Dancing With The Stars is like but the impression I get is that it’s a lot more glamorous but a lot less beloved. Strictly is basically like bake-off except the contestants are D-celebrities at the start of the show instead of at the end of it, and obviously they dance, rather than making cakes.

It also has the least nasty “nasty judge” than I have ever seen, in the shape of Craig Revel-Horwood who occasionally says some slightly critical things and gets booed to hell by the audience. The other judges are a former prima-ballerina called Darcey Bussell (which is most posh British person name ever), the “queen of Latin” Shirley Ballas, and a walking cartoon character called Bruno Tonioli who, I swear, became a parody of himself about six years ago and is fast becoming a parody of a parody of a parody of himself. But who is, nevertheless, sort of delightful.

The basic entertainment loop of Strictly is that a celebrity does a dance, Craig says something mildly catty and everyone acts like he’s shot a puppy, Darcey says something supportive, loveyish and ultimately meaningless like “you gave this dance a beautiful feeling” or “you have a lovely air”, Shirley will pick up on something quite specific and technical that nobody will understand, and then Bruno will stand up, wave his arms and effusively praise the contestant through the medium of a mixture of increasingly tenuous analogies and something that comes perilously close to interpretative dance.

It’s stupid but I love it. And it makes me very, very happy.

Historical Belle Cosplay

Look at this. Isn’t it amazing?

Cosplay by: Athena’s Adventures. You can see more on her Instagram page.

Detectorists

I read a review of this that described it as a tale of “unremarkable lives gone slightly awry” which is kind of the model for every sitcom we’ve made in this country for the past three decades. But this is a superlative example of the form. It’s Mackenzie Crook (who is the skinny guy from the British version of The Office or the pirate with the wooden eye from Pirates of the Caribbean or the wildling who can control animals from GoT) playing a guy called Andy who is a metal detectorist and sort of wants to be an archaeologist but sort of doesn’t, and it’s very, very British.

I think the thing I like most about the show is its unrelenting love of its subject matter, which is this quintessential British combination of small communities, pointless hobbies, the countryside and the connectedness of things, be those things people or times or people through time.

And the other thing I really enjoy about Detectorists is that as, for want of a less aggrandising term, a work of art it has a tremendous unity of purpose. I’m super wary of talking about vision in any creative medium, really, because that way lies auteur theory and great man theory and a bunch of stuff I really don’t get on with. But actually producing a coherent vision isn’t something you need a single auteur to get and it isn’t even something a single auteur necessarily gets you. Most novels (barring the often undervalued contributions of editors, publishers and cover artists) have a single author but they don’t always have that coherence that makes everything fit together with a sense of shared purpose. TV shows, by contrast, are usually produced by a massive cast and crew but it’s still possible to get them all singing with the same voice. The impression I get from Detectorist is that it’s very much Mackenzie Crook’s baby (he is, in fact, a metal detectorist, he’s obviously really into the stuff that the characters in the show are really into) but without the other actors being on exactly the same page, the cinematography reinforcing every beat and theme and moment, without the goddamn theme (which makes me cry every time I hear it because I am that sentimental) it wouldn’t be what it is.

Basically, everything in this show reinforces what this show is. And, to paraphrase the creepy guy from Love Actually, that to me is perfect.

Here is the theme song, which tells you basically everything you need to know about the show, and whether you’ll like it.

Members of Professions Watching TV Shows About The Profession of Which They Are A Member

I mean, this is low-hanging fruit because, hey, guess what, House isn’t an especially realistic portrayal of being a doctor and Suits isn’t an especially realistic portrayal of being a lawyer. I am neither of those things and even I know that. I think what I like about this surprisingly large subcategory of YouTube reaction vids, though, is that the things you pick up on when you’re a specialist are completely different from the things you pick up on when you’re just a general armchair pedant. So you sometimes you get really interesting insights into things like what being a first year medical student is actually like or what particular bits of real law would be pertinent in well-known movie legal cases, which appeals to the nerd in me.

But what I like most, I think, comes back to one of the things I like most about Noah Caldwell-Gervais which is that, ironically, actual profession members are way less dickish about this kind of thing than the average YouTuber. Because most of the professions they make TV shows about are genuinely prestigious things people who are in those professions tend not to have a massive amount to prove. Which means you don’t get that thing you sometimes get on YouTube channels where people are just desperate to prove that they’re smarter than My Cousin Vinnie. Instead what you get is people who usually genuinely love the stuff they’re watching (because, hey, we live in a post-TV world and an awful lot of people who grew up to be lawyers and doctors grew up watching law shows and doctor shows) making interesting comments about how it reflects on their experiences. And, yes, sometimes you get the funny moment when they scream at the screen because somebody is doing something you would never ever ever ever ever ever ever ever do (watching real lawyers react to How To Get Away With Murder is particularly great in this regard) but you also get cool little nuggets of stuff you’d never thought of, like the fact that the bit that’s usually the end of the legal drama where the lawyer makes the exciting compelling argument is basically the beginning in a real court case because no matter how cool the thing  you just said was the other guy is being paid a lot of money to find everything wrong with it.

There’s loads of these out there, but I particularly enjoy: Legal Eagle (for law stuff) and Dr Mike (for doctor stuff)

Christmas Foods

I just love that you can buy mince pies from about the 28th September. I’m seriously tempted to stock on chocolate Santas and give them out to trick or treaters. Basically, people complain about the commercialisation of Christmas but, y’know what, I’m an atheist. So I’m just going to steer right into it. And what better way to celebrate a sort of arbitrary sense of happiness, good will, winter being fun, getting a lot of time off work and spending slightly too much money than by purchasing perishable goods that definitely won’t last until the season for which they were allegedly produced. Like, what gets me the most is that I go into shops and I look at the racks of Christmas puddings and bags of chocolate Brussels Sprouts (this is definitely a real thing, although it’s probably a bit British and probably a bit hipster) and think “who the hell are those for”, then I walk out the shop with two bags full of that shit and then I think “oh yeah, they’re for people like me.”

And while I’m on the subject of stupid holiday themed food, I do want to give an honourable mention to Mr Kipling’s Terrifying Toffee Whirls. Because I honestly defy anyone to come up with a lazier attempt at spooky Halloween branding than just putting the word “terrifying” in what is otherwise the ordinary name of your biscuit. I mean, what’s next Diabolical Digestives, Creepy Custard Creams, Horrifying Hobnobs, Petrifying Pink Wafers.

And I’ve now realised that I could carry on doing spuriously Halloweeny biscuit names literally forever (Ghoulish Garibaldis, Boo-ourbons) so I should probably call it there.

Happy October everyone. Tell me what you’ve been enjoying in the comments.

I mean, or don’t. It’s entirely up to you.

Wait, one more: Party Rings … Of Deaaaaaaath.

silliness
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39 Responses to Things I Liked – October 2018

  1. Robyn says:

    First off, I’m intrigued by your take of a soothing Californian accent and wonder what that sounds like because as a Californian, I don’t think we have one! 😉

    I always find your tweets about Strictly to be adorable and I have no fucking clue what you’re talking about, but you certainly do get into the whole thing. I even found myself looking up Charles Venn after a particularly fun tweet in regards to his outfit and dance!

    I am one of those people who buy xmas candy/treats right after Halloween. I mean, it’s gonna be fresh so why wait?! I’m looking forward to the chocolate orange slice things and all things peppermint!

    • Alexis Hall says:

      I’m honestly not very good at identifying American accents – I can spot that kind of drawling east-coast DC thing and people from the south but that’s about it. I mean, I *think* Noah is Californian but tontally he seems to have an almost transatlantic flavour, like a 1950s movie star. And is all getting a bit creepy as I obsess about the poor man’s voice. But, as a Californian, you should have a listen and tell me if I’m totally off-base.

      Charles Venn is very handsome but … not so great at dancing. Last week he did an amazing routine though. Lemme try to find it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_aunQVvEQyw. And then immediately bounced back down to the lower-middle of the leader-board this week.

      Ohhh – I love chocolate oranges and only buy them at Xmas too. Now I too am looking forward to them 🙂

  2. Ellie says:

    What a post full of fun, happy-making things!

    I’ve already shared how much I missed the BG version of Strictly. I really, really hope someone will bring it up back here.

    My happy-making things this month are a bunch of new cross stitch accounts I started following on Instagram and also couple of fashion historians I follow on Twitter. They are fun and relaxing and a neverending source of bits of curious info.

    • Alexis Hall says:

      Awww. Thank you 🙂

      I really hope they bring back your Strictly equivalent too. We need this kind of … insanely harmless entertainment. Especially in winter. Especially at the moment.

      The fashion historians sound fascinating – who are they?

      • Kamala says:

        Ooo! Have you watched Prior Attire on YouTube?

      • Ellie says:

        Here some of the fashion historians I follow – @kateStrasdin and @FourRedShoes are my favourite. I also follow @HollyCouture and @silkdamask (she posts another shoes only but it’s fascinating).
        Their tweets are lifesaving for me amidst the horrific political news and the romancelandia drama that often threaten to drown my TL.

  3. Gillian says:

    I adore all the sweet things so I pretty much love everything candy and dessert between Halloween and Christmas. IT’S MY TIME! Earlier this month, I started following an architect on IG who runs this amazing account called mansionsofthegildedage which has all these amazing photos from – you guessed it – mansions of the gilded age. Some of those homes are incredible. Other things I’m loving: The Good Place and Wanderlust on Netflix, cozy sweaters, hot chocolate, Baileys (all my fall faves!), making playlists on Spotify and walking through crunchy leaves 🙂

    • Alexis Hall says:

      Oh my gosh, I am definitely tracking down that Insta account. This is definitely my favourite time of year too. It’s the slow fade from autumn to winter before everything is just cold and miserable and dark for ages.

      I love The Good Place, so much, but I’m finding the latest episodes of the third series a bit … unfocused? Compared to the insanely tight structuring of the first two seasons. But the show as earned my trust. Imma see where it goes.

  4. C Germaine says:

    I’m glad to see someone boosting the Detectorists! I’ve watched the 2 seasons Netflix currently has and can’t wait for the something like three more seasons that’ve already been shot to be added. It’s hopeful melancholy.
    Enjoyed your entire post, as ever.

    • Alexis Hall says:

      There’s only three seasons in total – and I think that’s it. But that’s okay, because it ends perfectly, exactly where it should. I ended up buying S3 on Amazon because I wasn’t sure if it would ever get to Netflix and I was head-over-heels in love with the show by then.

  5. Ariana says:

    Hahaha! What a perfect summary of Strictly Come Dancing! I watched the show for the first time in years last Saturday and you just hit it spot on! The show is great escapism after a long week! And a bit of fun!

  6. EmmaT says:

    I’ve had The Detectorists in my queue forever but never remember to watch. I will, for sure, now.

  7. Cristina says:

    The defining thing of my October 2018 was the discovery on YouTube of ASMR videos. Although one may argue that hearing people whispering or flapping their hands gently in your ears can be kinda creepy, I do find it rather soothing. There’s even a Korean channel that combines ASMR with the baking of amazing-looking cakes and I’m half addicted to it.

    @Gillian – that IG account you mentioned sounds really interesting. Thanks for the suggestion!

    • Alexis Hall says:

      I would never disparage anyone for being into ASMR – I try to steer clear of the fetishy end, but I do find certain repetitive tapping, scratching sounds, and whispering very soothing too.

      • Alice Everafter says:

        Oh that’s so interesting – i didn’t realise ASMR is considered kink or fetish 😀 I have it – it’s an unconscious evolutionary dead-end physical response that no-one can figure out a purpose for. For me it’s touch that sets off the brain zaps, for some it’s whispering or crinkling sounds ‍♀️ I found out it had a name a couple of years ago. Loads of videos out there @cristina

  8. Kamala says:

    I agree with the slightly creepy, 1950s, transatlantic flavor. As someone raised in California, I couldn’t tell you if he’s Californian. I would lean towards not based on the above mentioned slightly creepy transatlantic flavor. Us Californians pronounce “caught” and “cot” the same. And John, Sean, Ron, And Don/Dawn. (Not the same as cot/caught.)

    I like your use of “am liking.” When I taught EFL in Hungary (using British textbooks with impossible pronunciation guides and silly vocabulary and unnecessarily complicated time telling- it is twenty past four versus its four twenty- ugh my Pot-culture infused Northern California roots are showing through) the books insisted that like and love could not be used in the progressive. I’d then have to tell them that that is not always the case.

    What else…oh! For some reason, ok maybe because the holidays are fast approaching so publishers are flogging holiday themed books. Whatever. I was just thinking about how your books don’t include some big holiday-centered scene and just how ok I was with that. I mean if it’s relevant to the story, great, and eating chocolate covered Brussels sprouts might be very necessary sometime, but it’s nice to have stories that take place in winter and don’t emphasise holiday cheer in any religious flavor. (Atheists unite!)

    I’d like to try chocolate covered Brussels sprouts. Are the sprouts… raw, dried, baked, steamed? That’s the part I can’t imagine.

    • Alexis Hall says:

      I don’t find the 1950s edge creepy exactly – although my over-interest in his accent definitely is.

      Now I think about it “am liking” has a slightly more idiomatic flavour than “I liked” but I like (heh) the idea that liking something could be an on-going process.

      I think my general dislike of Xmas (rampant commercialisation and exciting foodstuffs aside, which I do enjoy) coupled with my atheism means seasonal stuff (apart from the weather) tends not to feature very much in my brain, which means it doesn’t feature so much in my books. Although the absence is probably a little odd.

      Having said which, there’s an Xmas scene in Ardy III since Xmas naturally occurred in the timeline and Xmas is significant to Ardy because his family are so important to him. And I did once try to pitch an Xmas novella to a my former publishers–the general tone of which you can probably imagine from everything I’ve said about Xmas. They did not go for it.

  9. Askewe says:

    I’m just gonna reiterate what Kamala said, bc the take home there was What is a Chocolate Brussels Sprout?!?? I really, really need to know (obviously!).

    And Kamala is also right that yes, Prior Atire is awesome on IG too (bc for me IG is all about historical fashion, palaces, and with a few artists and ballet dancers thrown in, just because;)).

    Bc you can never have too much of seeing people genuinely having fun whilst wearing bustle dresses.

    • Kamala says:

      I wish there were a like button here.

    • Alexis Hall says:

      I’m sorry, the chocolate Brussels sprouts are a bit disappointing: they are literally chocolate balls, wrapped to look like sprouts.

      And thanks for the Insta rec – to be honest, my feed is all joy and silliness over there, and there’s always room for more 🙂

  10. Sophie says:

    Also speaking as someone from California, I’m about 90% sure Noah Caldwell-Gervais’s accent isn’t actually Californian. But, then again, there are multiple Californian accents and to be honest I’m not that good at identifying accents at the best of times. And I agree that his voice is pretty soothing, which I’ve never heard anyone say about a Californian accent, but I’ll take it!

    “Supportive, loveyish and ultimately meaningless”! XD XD XD

    Detectorists sounds pretty cool! Having seen Pirates of the Caribbean, I think it would be at least momentarily weird for me to see Ragetti without the wooden eye, though. And I also have show themes I tear up at from nostalgia.

    As an agnostic, I also really enjoy Christmas as an “arbitrary sense of happiness, good will, winter being fun, getting a lot of time off work and spending slightly too much money”. It’s my absolute favorite holiday. I had no idea chocolate-covered Brussels sprouts existed, but I’m glad they do, even if I can’t really imagine how they would taste. And like Kamala, I’m wondering how the Brussels sprouts have been cooked.

    • Alexis Hall says:

      Bad news on the Brussels sprouts: they are just chocolate balls, foiled to look like sprouts. Sorry! I am disappointed too.

      I adore Mackenzie Crook – it’s genuinely interesting to see him in a part that isn’t sort of built around the idea he’s a bit funny looking. And even though the show itself is gently comedic, the nuanced humanity of all the characters means he gets to demonstrate some acting chops beyond, well, being a bit funny looking 😉 I really do think you’d love the show if you could get it in the US.

      • Sophie Hammond says:

        That IS really disappointing. But now I’m confused as to why the manufacturers dressed the chocolate balls up to look like Brussels sprouts in the first place. So that the sheer weirdness would encourage purchases?

        It turns out Dectorists is free with Amazon Prime, so I’ll check it out sometime soon. 🙂

  11. Nikki says:

    Going out on a limb here because I have nothing better to do. I’m betting that Noah Caldwell-Gervais is from the Chesapeake Bay area, with his very slight pronunciation of “out” as “oot” and “about” as “aboot.” Very subtle, particularly given he talks so fast. I think he’s worked hard at developing his 50’s voice (you nailed that), sort of flat and “everyman-ish.” His voice reminds me of George Clooney’s father, a radio and TV personality back in the day.

    Unless he’s from the Great Lakes. 🙂

  12. Alice Everafter says:

    Sounds like you had a lovely October what with finishing things and Ducky parties and *waves arm to encompass all the lovely things and pretty dresses* all the things.
    THE thing for me with No Man’s Sky was the real-time flight times (23 hours omg no) despite how lovely and rational Nigel was in the vid. He reminds me of the wonderful Jonathan Meades for whom I have a vague ongoing thing. LA Noire – oh dear i can’t steer the car so I run everywhere. What fun.
    My October was ok actually – saw Othello, took my son along (omg the wth was that stag-night scene? ‘mom, what are they doing?’ cheeky hound). Trying to see all of Shakespeare’s plays in live performance, seen about 20/36 but does Perikles ever get an airing?! Pointlessly nerdy of me but i’m unrepentant.
    Late hol to Marseille which is both lovely and the least French place in the whole of France. I got to stand up to my knees in the sea, like a Victorian maid, which is the best thing in the world, and had a writerly epiphany so can now see a way out of the terrible plot corner I’d wedged my current darling MC into.
    Choc brussels aren’t in our Sainsburys yet, and i’ll be honest i still think coins are still better. Possibly a surface area thing or just gold and i’m a bit of a magpie.
    I think avoidance of epic Hugh Grantathon scale blogs is a wise move. Sad, but wise.

    • Alexis Hall says:

      Real time flight? In NMS? I, err, once flew for 20 minutes to avoid some space police who were chasing me, but apart from that I’ve always used boosters and warp drive and the longest I’ve had to fly was a handful of minutes. But then I came to the game just before Next so maybe that was something they fixed through their gazillion post-launch patches. And, again, in LA Noir I always had my partner drive for me, because I am that lazy.

      I’m glad you made it to Othello – I really enjoyed it. As I think I said at the time I felt it had a very coherent perspective on the play and manage to stick to it throughout, which is the sort of boring thing I appreciate in my Shakespeare performances. I also try to jump on the more obscure plays when they appear – Titus Andronicus tends to get the occasional semi-ironic revival and we saw a Simon Russell Beale Timon of Athens a while ago now. But you’re right I’ve never seen a Pericles except the ancient BBC version. I seem to recall it’s incestastic.

      Marseilles sounds gorgeous – glad you had a writerly break through 🙂

  13. Maarja says:

    My recent favourite British series about “unremarkable lives gone slightly awry” (it’s not actually recent, but I just discovered it on Netflix) is Doc Martin – simply some strange, but at the same time ordinary people living their everyday lives, where there are vague medical mysteries, but very little drama. And somehow fascinating!
    Those chocolate Brussels sprouts, though – are they actually sprouts covered in chocolate? Or simply chocolate balls shaped like tiny cabbages?

    • Alexis Hall says:

      I’m afraid I may have oversold the chocolate Brussels sprouts – they are just chocolate balls, covered in foil that makes them look vaguely like sprouts. SORRY!

      I’ve never actually watched Doc Martin – it’s one of those things I skim past on Netflix despite the fact it’s been on there forever. I will definitely check it out now, though.

      • Maarja says:

        Well, tbh, the sweets you describe sound much tastier than actual sprouts covered in chocolate. 😀
        But I do hope you enjoy Doc Martin! I just got to the last episode on Netflix…

  14. willaful says:

    My October favs:

    Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor. Intense, emotional, beautifully written. Tears your guts out through your eyeballs.

    “Queer Eye.” I never watched the original but the new incarnation is so very *now*, in the good way. I love how they disarm all their clients, first with campiness and overt affection and then by showing they really get what’s going on. And I love when they bring in parts of their own lives and history, because it hasn’t been all sunshine and roses for them.

    • Alexis Hall says:

      Ohhh, I’m a huge fan of Laini Taylor – although I haven’t read Strange the Dreamer. I loved Daughter of Smoke and Bone, though.

      And I’m totally with you on the charms of the new Queer Eye – I mean, I still slightly Side Eye the premise, in the sense it’s marginalised people performing emotional and literal labour for non-marginalised people until the non-marginalised people acknowledge their humanity. But since it’s all very direct and human and consenting and even, to some degree, mutual, I can sort of manage to overlook that. And I love the team–with the possible exception of Antoni who has made me loathe cilantro even though I have no fucking clue what it is actually is. But then ‘food and drink’ is a crappy category anyway, since it’s the one that has the least actual impact on someone’s life and wellbeing. Since it’s sort of like:

      Jonathan: I will make you feel fabulous, yaaaaas queen
      Tan: I will stop you looking like a car crash
      Bobby: I was literally re-build your entire house for you
      Karamo: I WILL MAKE YOU FACE YOUR DEMONS
      Antoni: Guac? Anyone want guac?

      • willaful says:

        Now now, Antoni can turn a simple hot dog into a five buck wiener! I sure wish I could change my whole life with a two ingredient recipe…

        I think it helped that I started season 2, because when I tried season 1 before, I was instantly turned off. But season 2 is filled with marginalized people too, so it feels more equal.

  15. Des Livres says:

    Has anyone pointed you to Elton John’s “I’m still standing” video which has a very young Bruno in it? He’s on the us show, and he has been on the oz show. He’s wonderful.

  16. CA James says:

    I have waited until the middle of November to read your blog post. I never toss your email without reading them. Most times you write about things I’m completely unaware and at first glance I think why would I read this but then it’s November 13th and I read your October newsletter. You always manage to make something I’ve never heard of and don’t think I’d like into something kinda fascinating. Thank you for that Alexis Hall, for your perspective and voice.

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