Category Archives: Written

Stuff that I have actually written – stories, reviews, that sort of thing.

Christmas Adverts 2020

Ah, you know this is going to be… something. Don’t you? Christmas adverts now occupy the “showstopper” spot in the eternal advertising Bake Off, and this year *adopts grave and sober voice* more than ever, we need a show.

Lads, we’ve all lived through 2020. Absolute shitshow of a year, and the adverts honestly didn’t help. Fucking Halifax HR managers telling us we mattered to them, Persil co-opting “children playing”, endless echoing faked Zoom calls telling us that yeah times were hard but, I dunno, Werther’s Originals would always be there for us. Awful. Like the real world of actual Zoom calls and genuine restrictions on children’s play and, oh, just, a virus stalking the streets dishing out death and misery like a Netflix executive spotting a beloved show moving into its third season.

When it came to Christmas, I had but one wish. Do something different. Do something fun and exciting, something that pulls us out of this slough of despond. Or, if you must acknowledge the state of the world, do it cleverly. Do it without recourse to videoconferencing or home videos. I know it’s tricky, I know times are hard, but think harder. Shall we see how this panned out?

John Lewis

Right, let’s start with the big one. It’s not Christmas Advert Season before John Lewis drops theirs, although increasingly this seems more like cargo cult behaviour than any serious marker of quality.

Well, they’ve walked the line well enough. The message is clear – we all need each other right now, we should be friendly and open and spread love through kindness wherever we can. TELL THAT TO BORIS AND THE TORIES – RIGHT, KIDS? Haha, just a little humour there. It’s not using the 2020 cliches, good, fine, but it’s also not really acknowledging the state of reality. People sit next to each other on buses. Hairdressers don’t wear PPE. Strangers stand within 2m. It’s aiming for timeless, and I think it just about succeeds without being kind of insultingly otherworldly.

It’s also obviously technically very smart, too, mixing animation techniques and film-making styles, possibly hinting that production was spread across small, diverse teams. In a year where adverts have either looked like they were beamed in from space (like, perfume ads, have you even noticed??) or like they were made by your mates on a £50 laptop, even if it’s not portraying our world, it’s obviously built within it.


This fella’s been on Asda adverts for months now, I’m unmoved by him and his ordinary man of the people bullshit. Usually my favourite genre of Christmas advert is “Bit grey, filmed on an estate of some sort, loads of tinsel in the house to make it look cheerful”, but honestly this did nothing for me. Zero. Whatever mate, you need to up your game. It’s Christmas, make a fucking effort. This is just your regular campaign with a paper crown on. Is this your king??

Walkers Crisps Apparently

I don’t know. Why are Walkers doing a Christmas advert?

I mainly felt a bit bewildered through this. Am I meant to know who everyone is? I feel I am. But I don’t, because I’m some fucking advert Grinch who lives in a cave and hates the Hoo dickheads down in Hoo dickhead town, so it was mostly lost on me. I recognised Carol Smillie, because she literally said she was Carol, and Aled Jones and maybe that old man was Tony Mortimer but beyond that? Well, whatever, oh yeah, Gary Lineker obviously, sorry, anyway, whatever this was basically the whole of Children In Need compressed into 2 minutes, wasn’t it? Celebrity larking about, but with a serious charity message. Trussell Trust are worthy benefactors, no shade there. BUT.

No, you don’t spoof the Coca Cola trucks. Sorry. Not on my watch.


Speaking of which. Holidaysarecomingholidaysarecomingholi-

Guyyyyys, come on.

Ok, fine, you can’t do literally the same ad every year simply because I love it, I guess. I can just watch old ones on YouTube I guess. I’ll judge this on its own merits I GUESS.

Directed by Taika Waititi, don’t you know? Yes, bit of class in our adverts this year thankyouverymuch. And to give him credit, it looks great and the story is cleanly, clearly told – without dialogue, so it’s universal. I’m pretty sure the writing is edited round in such a way that localisation would be a cinch. It tells a solid story of longing, homesickness and of wanting to be near one’s family at Christmas, which is again letting the real world provide the subtext without actually being about the real world. I found it fairly moving, especially the bits involving the truck, and I just generally enjoyed spending the time with it. Can’t argue with that, can you?


Here we go. Fronting up to it, looking 2020 square in the eye and saying “This was bullshit, wasn’t it?”. Bogrolls and handwashing, haircuts and Captain Tom, they’re going for it. Tesco may not be my favourite supermarket, but they’ve won me over a bit here. Making your message “Fucking chill, have some cake” is a nifty move right now. Again, I think the visuals walk a good line, too. They’re just professional enough to not look like they’re passing the responsibility on to amateur videographers but just slightly rough round the edges to suggest “Actually, it was a pain in the arse to make this with social distancing and bubbles and shit”.


Hear that? That’s the sound of a ball being dropped.

Clonk. I’ve really enjoyed Sainsbury’s adverts in the recent past. The Mog one? Beautiful, art. The WWI one? Not my thing, but a high-quality bit of film making. The batshit Artful Dodger Steampunk one from last year? Yeah, fun in its own way. This? Crap. Let me break it down.

So they’re leaning in to the home video thing. Calls to family. Fine, everyone’s fucking sick of it but knock yourself out. However – if you are doing that I want it to feel authentic. This simply does not. When the dialogue on the phone matches the dialogue in the video, either the call is staged, or the video. Or, most likely, both. A cute idea undermines the whole conceit. I spend the rest of the time looking for tells. Modern tech imitating old glitches. Haircuts out of time. Too many shots of food prep. Nahh. Like, we know none of it’s real but don’t show us. This is clumsy shit. You could have done something with this concept, but this is no good.

I’ve waited for the third part, just to make sure it’s not going to do something amazing (like, I dunno, it’s an alien civilisation reconstructing humanity in 2020 via video and voice files, or the two narrators are watching it back on their death beds in a future that has been saved by discount hams) but it seems unlikely and if I wait any longer before hitting publish I’ll look hilariously out of date instead of simply slow as I do now.


This hit me like a truck. Sorry, this felt personal. By the end of this I was crying, great hitching sobs. I needed a few minutes to compose myself. You maybe won’t feel that way if you DON’T have a child at exactly this stage of their life but I do and fuck, an advert for MACCY Ds burned itself into my soul. I’m not watching it again just to write this. Sorry.


Palate cleanser. They’re going to give me Kevin the Carrot, this will bring me back down.

Jesus. Stop trying to make Kevin happen. Anyway, this is basically the Coke advert isn’t it? Imagine hiring a big-name director, creating epic spectacle that also knowingly nods at your company’s place in the fabric of modern ideas of Christmas and then some fucking carrot comes along and does the same story on the back of a hedgehog. Yeah, yeah, the longing want of a family for a distant parent, blah blah, here’s Santa again, but honestly I just hate that carrot.

If you’re wondering why the carrot is falling out of the sky to start with, well



Last year’s advert made a small star of Nandi Bushell, who now has regular drum battles with Dave bleedin’ Grohl, and quite rightly. I loved it at the time, and I stand by that I think. So are they going to try the same trick this year?

Pretty much! Are these two small girls really masters of the art of prestidigitation? They could be! Turned out that last year’s tiny drummer really was a drummer. There are a few moments of sleight of hand that could be faked, could be real. I could maybe do some research, but am I going to? We all know I’m not.

OK, I did and there’s no info, just newspapers publishing the press release. Boring. So it’s fine in that the girls are perfectly charming, the pile-up of effects to transform the show into one in a giant theatre work well, everything ticks along entertainingly enough. If you’re keeping track, this is one that does NOT acknowledge Covid-19 in any way shape or form. Fair enough.

So what’s wrong with it? RIght. Two things. One – we’ve had that magic set and it was rubbish. This VERY MUCH oversells it. Two – Gary Barlow on the soundtrack. Nope.


Genuinely have a lot of time for Lidl’s Christmas adverts. They’ve been doing quietly funny work for the last few years and don’t get nearly enough recognition. This is no exception; a brutally gentle skewing of Christmas ads in general – plinky plonky music, breathless singing, that characterless faux-stop motion CG animation (that turns up in the John Lewis ad this year), heartwarming family stuff (“emotional gravy”.. wait, did they see the Sainsbury’s ad early?) and, of course, that fucking carrot gets four prongs in the gut first chance. Take that, Aldi.

Time Alone

Imitation snow on the window, light blazed, bath filled with thick bubbled. Almost time. Later, water clouded and slick with scented oils, the cold invades once more. Time passed, the time is past. The steam misting the cold window now water again, soaking into the snow-foam.

Cold tiles. Feet bare, tread high and find the bath cold, water stale and still. She steps in, lies back. The water moves slows, closes clammily over her skin. Imitation snow on the window spreads milky patches across the sill. The lights are dim, the blue night grey in the white bathroom.

It is a ritual, performed for no one and no purpose. The oil on the surface is flammable and its blue flame dances will o’the wisp in the room. Corpse-lights. Here, Dracula’s coachman sets a rock to dig in the morning. She extends a leg, and allows all to slip greasily back into the water. She speaks, addressing the room. She incants.

The light will soon be on the other side of the window. True snow is promised in the mellow bulge of the clouds, banking over the distant hills. She takes the water in a small bottle, caps it. Curses, blessings, simple comforts for superstitious minds. She trusts its power. Walks, feet flat to the frigid floor, back out the way she came. Time over.

May Queen in July

This hole is in your head. You have not imagined it, it is in your head. The line of gold bleeds light into your clear, clouded, pearlescent, missing, hidden, shaded, augmented eyes. Your head is the path. This is not in your mind, it is in your head. Look behind you and see how you ripple through our spaces.

Every time you breathe, you choose also not to and the ripples swim and darken, become deeper and more profound. More of you is gone, till the last of you winks out behind a broken wave. The golden thread dims. Please breathe. Your hesitation causes uncertainty. The wrong choice. You are not prepared for this, even as you have been shaped by the walk to reach this point.

The path you walk to each lighted spot is garlanded; honeysuckle and elderflower, juniper and pine, scents the you of now can follow to the next you. May Queen in July, Spring in November. Your path is scented with change and opportunity, follow to the previous you, along the golden line, through the darkening ripples, through the hole in your head.

Sweetness Follows

The end is always the same. Inevitable. Everything broken. How do we begin to explain how it happens, every time? Sweetness cracked like eggshells, hope dimming on her face. Light palled by drawn curtains, summer alive and prowling at the edges of our experience. Birdsong filters through an open window and the realisation that it is late afternoon comes with it.

Continue reading Sweetness Follows

Places of Silence

05.07.2019-promptHard, sometimes, to untangle experience from memory. She raised the phone, tapping the screen to bring the unruly focus under control. The screen presented a world much smaller than her sightline, a compacted miniature of reality in a vivid block of light. Colours burst from every passing pedestrian; yellows and reds the summer side of a bloom of flowers, deep rich purples, slow baby blues the colour of a thought as it escaped knowledge.

There. Good. She tapped again and the image froze, briefly, shearing the moment off from the onward march of reality and into a pocket world of memory – the phone’s memory, the memory of the cloud, incorporeal and endless. Her own memory, whenever she needed it.

This fragment was hers, an image of a crowd breaking around her like the sea. No matter how far she came from this world of damp heat and the close tumult of human contact, she could pick this photograph from a digital file and see. How it was. Who she was when she was here, that was contained behind the image but memory is a two-way process. The memory remembers you also.

She lowered the phone, slipped it like a sea-smoothed pebble into her pocket, moved as if she had never been still into the crowd. Off, now, to places of silence.



21.06.2019-promptLight pressed in; the absence of darkness. Heat. A swollen menagerie of floating grotesques bloomed in his eyes as each arc and flare traced its lines on his retina.

He watched through the barrier. It would hold, it would do its job as he did his. He felt at that moment as if he was out there in person, defending the outpost like a knight. His shield held aloft, the bursts of arcing phosphor spears and arrows of a brutish army. He could smell the farmyard rank of the cavalry horses, the sharp fear-stink of the infantry trapped in their metal suits as surely as he was. At the end of the battle they would be prised out as heroes or as meat.

He was in an air-conditioned bunker, far below the surface. The monitors ahead of him blazed with the light of the attack but he felt nothing. No heat. Not even his heart beating faster. A trackball moved under his cool palm, recalibrating the aerial defence system. Eventually even this would be unnecessary. He was Atlas, supporting the sky, becoming stone. Raindrops could, given time, reduce him to dust. He just had to wait.

The lights pressed in. He dimmed the screens.



Knocked back, flat by the boom of it, water running over his eyes in blinding trails. His vision throbbed like a toothache, the streak white across the middle, scarring the land as he tried to focus on the horizon. The rain may as well have been a shower, he could be back in his hotel, naked in the glass cubicle, cold water pounding on him as his clothes offered no protection.

They call it storm chasing, but the storm was chasing him now, a wild thing thrashing at his being. The wind didn’t so much howl as scream, a constant bellowing roar at all pitches simultaneously. He could not hear himself, but he knew he was screaming too, a sound torn out of him by the base animal he had found himself reduced to.

He abandoned his post, his equipment was scattered and useless anyway. He’d felt rather than seen his camera smash, the lens that had suffered so much in the past without a scratch or smear reduced to a pulp of iridescent glass rubble.

He ran towards the safety of his car, a low-slung, heavy brute of an off-roader. In a city it would be absurd. Here, it looked like a palace. It rocked on its axles, threatening to tumble away before he could grab the door. In a last burst of determination, he made it into the sanctuary of the driver’s seat, where he sat, shivering and defeated, and waited for the storm to chase new lands.

The Christmas Pop Canon – Ranked.

Right. I’m ready. Big challenge, but I’m going to review and rank the Christmas pop canon. Don’t ask how I decided what was and wasn’t on the list – my methods were arcane and terrible. Just know that they were also very correct.

Continue reading The Christmas Pop Canon – Ranked.

Going to Town

The scents of Christmas – cinnamon, pine, the muted sharpness of oranges – were starting to feel oppressive. He’d lost his taste for mulled wine this year, and the warmed-over dregs of a cheap rioja, with shards of broken star anise floating like driftwood on the surface, disgusted him. The snow settling outside depressed him, made him feel trapped and lonely.

Continue reading Going to Town


Numb to the barbed wire now, pushing on, everything is the same shade of dead around him. The field was churned like the battlefields of the Great War but this is peace time. As much as any time is peace time. No time is peace time. There’s always war somewhere. Soon there would be war here, in these fields sectioned off with high fences and rusted wire. The sky was dark, it was the deep levels of the ocean, stars drifting in his failing vision like the organic motes drifting in the twilight of the sea. Soon he’d sleep, maybe he’d wake up and this would be fine. The cold would no longer bite. The spines of the barbed wire would not be swimming in his blood. He plucked a barb from his skin, a bee’s sting of splintered metal. It hurt more to remove than leave it in, but he could hardly drag a roll of this stuff with him. His own blood, dirty red, fell from the holes he had just opened. More churn to the soil. Was this a dream? If he sat up now with enough effort of will, would he see the daylight of his bedroom? What war was this, that was coming over the hill to greet him with fire, and songs of power? What ends were coming? He shut his eyes. It would all make sense if he could open them in sun.