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Felix’s War Diary: 11 November 1918

Monday 11th

It was a great civic reception “Poincare” got yesterday. it was fine weather and aeroplanes overhead dropped messages into the square. To-day just before marching out, we had the news read out to us that hostilities would cease at 11AM to-day. We left at 11AM. and marched 19 kilos to Quievy with full packs up. Everyone is smiling now the war is over. We go on in the morning to Beauvais.

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NZ’s 8 most important vampires

Eight most important vampires. Let’s do this.

8. Sam Pyar
This is a children’s book about a kid who is probably a vampire? I have never read it but I know the author a tiny bit (hey Shalesh) and I was having trouble getting this list to eight. I think number 9 on this list is probably that girl with the piercings who was in that Vampire larp in your city in the 90s, you know the one. Anyway. Sam Pyar looks cool. Here’s the Amazon Kindle link.

7. Those randos in Wellington
Uh, this: vampire attack in Wellington

6. The vampires in Perfect Creature

Did you see this film? I didn’t see this film.

(NZ On Screen’s entry on Perfect Creature)

5. Grampire

Al Lewis: the most unusual typecasting in Hollywood history? “They only cast me as vampire grandfathers.” I never saw this film either. Al Lewis, though.

(NZ On Screen’s entry on Grampire)

4. Nailini Singh’s vampires

I have never read her books. If they were films I wouldn’t have seen them either based on the last couple entries in this list. Anyway she’s NZ’s biggest selling novelist and should be a bigger deal than she is. Would be ranked higher except her series about vampire killing angels is set in New York, not Taihape or wherever. (Here’s the info page for the first book in that series.)

3. Count Robula
New Zealand is a ridiculous country, and this is one of the high watermarks of ridiculousness, the nation’s recently-deposed Prime Minister Robert Muldoon moonlighting as a late-night horror movie host. I just found out he was still in parliament at the time. Under no circumstances take this country seriously. (Also, fuck that guy.)

(Stuff article by Alistair Hughes including some footage of Robula)

2. What We Do In The Shadows vampires
Known all over the world. One of the best vampire films ever made. Indelible comic creations. Pretty important Kiwi vampires, these ones. But still overshadowed by…

(NZ On Screen’s entry on What We Do In The Shadows)

1. Count Homogenised
IT IS I

COUNT HOMOGENISED

(NZ On Screen’s entry on his eponymous TV show)

NZ television used to put a horror movie on late on Sunday night: the Sunday Horrors. We’re bringing it back by picking a horror movie that’s available on youtube or somewhere else accessible, and watching it on Sunday evening. Join us!

Twitter: @horrorsunday

Facebook: Sunday Horrors group

[Fiction] Inappropriate Boss

After work we talked about Elena’s inappropriate boss. ‘She’s always adjusting her bra,’ Elena said, ‘but a new all-time today, fixing her tights beside me while I’m trying to sort the quarterlies. Skirt hiked up and she’s wiggling her backside, bloody heedless.’

Per had a haunted look. ‘I’ve seen that. Clomp, shoe on the desk. Eyes straight for Christ’s sake! Half the unit knows what you’d see, she talked about grooming her downstairs in section last week.’

‘You poor devils,’ I said, and lifted my glass. We were drinking wine that day, at Per’s insistence. ‘To your innocence. In memoriam.’

‘Hell with innocence,’ Elena said. ‘I’ll drink to shame and those that have it.’

Poor Marina. She was well in her thirties but there were some basics she still hadn’t figured out. I thought I had the answers of course: ‘You have to say something to her.’

‘Doesn’t work,’ Elena said. ‘She doesn’t get it.’

Per snorted. ‘Don’t tell me: you advised her on appropriate boundaries at work, and she thanked you with a real close hug?’

I was increasingly confident in my wisdom: ‘She shouldn’t be in the job! It’s just not on, is it? Have you spoken to Mitch?’

Mitch was Marina’s boss, and Elena didn’t hide her distaste: ‘Mitch is a bastard.’

**

Friday night was drinks for Elena’s birthday, and Marina came. Per and I were settled in a booth, getting steadily merrier while discussing the travesty that was the supermarket DVD shelf, when Marina sat down and yanked the conversation in a different direction. ‘Supermarkets are amazing now! Can you imagine lubricant and vibrators are just there at the checkout! You have no idea what it used to be like. I didn’t even know lubricant existed. And that is really unfortunate, it would have made certain things much much easier when I was a teenager!’

The conversation never quite made it back to DVDs. Marina did most of the talking, and she wasn’t such a great listener when Per or I took a turn. Still, I’m a bit like that myself, and she sort of won me over to be honest. Not that I had to work with her every day.

Elena cornered me as the evening wound down. ‘You got the treatment!’

‘I think I like her,’ I said, then sucked my lips. ‘I am somewhat drunken.’

‘Exactly!’ Elena hit my arm. ‘I like her too! But she’s terrible! She got me a gift, she gave it to me in the office today – you know what it was? Lingerie! Blue lacy underwear! From my boss! What is that!’

‘Is she hitting on you?’

Elena closed her eyes and dumped her head on my shoulder. ‘Worse. I think she’s trying to be my friend.’

‘This can’t continue,’ I declared.

‘It’s really nice,’ Elena laughed into my collarbone. ‘The lingerie. It’s fancy.’

**

As I left, Marina fell in beside me. We walked to the taxi rank and waited together. She took my arm and asked me about my department, and I did my best to answer even though I was many sheets to the wind. Then out of nowhere she said, ‘Sometimes at work, actually, I don’t feel very comfortable. Sometimes when I work late to get something done, and Mitch is there. Sometimes he comes up behind me and puts both his hands on my shoulders.’

I pulled it together enough to say ‘Really?’

‘One time I think he followed me into the toilets. I was in a cubicle but the door definitely opened. But it was late, it was probably just a cleaner that time.’ She gave me a strange little smile, then she changed the subject, and I let her, and then she was in a taxi and gone.

**

Her story stayed with me. A few days later I did the only useful thing I could think of, and went to Irene, my boss. ‘There’s someone in the company being harassed,’ I said after closing her office door. ‘But I don’t think she wants to complain, so… What should I do?’

I was lucky to have Irene as a manager. She’d make sure something happened. ‘She won’t go on the record?’

‘It’s her direct line manager. I guess it doesn’t feel safe.’

Irene gave me a careful look. ‘I see. Well, yes, you can’t complain for her. But, listen. Matters like this… Sometimes there might already be conversations happening. I’m happy to add my voice to those conversations to say, in general, that we have to take this kind of behaviour very seriously. That’s something I can do, following this chat.’

I felt better immediately. Irene would handle it.

‘Good on you,’ she added as I left. ‘This person probably needs a friend.’

**

I wasn’t a friend. In fact I was probably one of the last to hear she was leaving. ‘I think Mitch pushed her out,’ Elena said with lip curled. ‘Bloody typical.’

Per shrugged. ‘Her role was going to disappear sooner or later. Why wait for the ship to sink?’

Elena gave his arm a shove. ‘You don’t get her at all.’

I couldn’t figure it either. I was tempted to share Marina’s account and Irene’s response, but it wasn’t my story to tell. ‘End of an era,’ I said instead.

‘You better be at her farewell drinks,’ Per told me. ‘Help the numbers. She deserves that at least.’

**

At the bar Marina bounced from person to person, mingling happily, and for once her outfit seemed to match the tone of the room. It was a small group but she made it big enough, putting a hand to one man’s chest and laughing, raising eyebrows at another over her glass. Mitch had already gone by the time I arrived, which pleased me, but it surprised me too, like an admission of guilt.

I caught her near the bar and wished her well for her next move. ‘I don’t have a next move,’ she said with that same weird smile. ‘But it doesn’t matter, does it?’ Then she pressed by me, closer than I would have liked; but it felt like she was pushing me away. And like waking up into a hangover, I suddenly understood who Irene had meant.

Per’s arm around me jolted me back. ‘Come sign our card.’

‘I already signed the card.’ This was a lie. I didn’t feel I could.

‘No, we have our own one,’ Per said. ‘Elena chose it.’

‘It’s special for her!’ Elena said, and she grabbed my arm and pulled me to the task. Both of them watched as I held the pen and couldn’t think what to write. Eventually Per nudged me, so I scribbled my name and wrote ‘good luck’.

We gave it to Marina as she was leaving. Her face brightened as she pulled it out of the envelope. ‘Oh, thank you!’ she said, hugging Elena and Per, and then me. ‘So carefully chosen! You see?’ Marina displayed the card: enormous breasts straining a colourful Mediterranean bikini. ‘They look just like mine!’

She wasn’t going to forgive me, of course. She wouldn’t need to forgive anyone. So I laughed with the others, and I meant it, because she was right: the card was well-chosen. And that would have to be enough.

***

I wrote this sketch about a decade ago, and I’ve lightly edited it before publishing here. It is based on true events.

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First female Doctor Who

Some tweets on the occasion of the announcement of Jodie Whittaker as Doctor Who #13:

Doctor Who has always been about patrician intervention to break unjust systems; a dream of Empire, embodied in male social freedoms.

A female Doctor is a deep break from this; so was the working class 9th Doctor. I am excited to see what DW will become.

& remember, Who was created by a young woman and a gay man of colour, guided by an old white man who suggested a female Doctor in 1986.

Their creation has always been a critique of its own sense of male power. Well past time to complete the circle and see what happens next.

Aliens: How Burke takes his coffee

Jim Cameron’s Aliens (1986) is a meticulously-assembled thrill ride, absolutely loaded with enriching details. My favourite of all of them is in the coffee scene.

It’s early in the film, and Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) has returned to normal life after her horrific experiences in Alien. In this scene, the smiling corporate functionary Carter Burke (Paul Reiser) comes to ask for her help. With him is Lt. Gorman (William Hope) of the Colonial Marines. They try to persuade Ripley to return to the alien planet.

There is so much going on in this scene. Watch it closely:

As the characters talk, the main physical action of the scene is Ripley making coffee for the two men. She pours out two mugs (which are transparent – a lovely, and useful, piece of prop design) and hands black coffee, unsweetened, to these two intruders.

Then she goes and pours for herself. She stirs her cup, which suggests she has added sweetener, but she hasn’t offered any to these unwelcome guests.

Lt. Gorman stands straight-backed, holding his mug politely and without interest. He rests against a table for a time, but doesn’t really move. At the end of the encounter he thanks Ripley for the coffee, even though he hasn’t touched it.

Burke, meanwhile, sits down, stands up, walks past Ripley, walks back, sits again, talking talking talking the whole time. It wasn’t until I watched Aliens on the big screen that I realised what he was doing. He’s putting milk or cream in his mug! I love it. My favourite detail in the whole film!


This is, first and foremost, just some blocking, something to get the characters moving around the space so the scene doesn’t seem static. But the film really makes it work. Burke taking his coffee white is a great character detail, suggesting he shies away from undiluted intensity, especially compared with Ripley, who is living in an unfiltered world at this stage of the film. Look also at how he does it: Burke stands up, walks past Ripley into her kitchen without asking, helps himself to her kitchen supplies, and then parks himself back where he was. He’s not showing overt dominance here, he’s just acting like someone who is used to being able to do exactly what he wants, when he wants – a much more subtle and dangerous way of manipulating a situation.

There are plenty of other great details in the scene that fire up red flags about Burke: he sits down without asking, and when he sits down, he starts touching something of Ripley’s (an item of clothing I think), playing with it with his fingers until Ripley snatches it away from him. When he’s up again at the end, having pushed Ripley into an outburst of emotion, he tells her “shhhh”, and puts his hand on her arm, and whispers that he hopes, as a favour, she’d think about it. This is why you never really trust Burke; the film is throwing lots of subtle signals, over and over again, that he will not respect your boundaries and he will smile while he takes advantage of you. 

It’s actually an interesting move in terms of filmmaking – surely the obvious thing to do is have Burke be trustworthy from the start, so his heel turn comes as more of a shock? I feel like Cameron’s made the right call here though, letting the only surprise be the sheer scale of Burke’s mendacity rather than trying to force the audience into going against their instincts and trusting a company man. It also means we never have to compromise Ripley’s character by having her trust someone and be betrayed.

Interesting also to compare to the way you are made to feel about the Marines. The stink of untrustworthiness that Burke carries with him doesn’t spread to them; they might be on the same mission, they might have the same goal in this very scene, but the audience comes out of this sequence with a cautious trust in them that Burke is never afforded.

And some of that storytelling work is done with the colour of a mug of coffee.

I love this film.

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Twin Peaks Rewatch Schedule

How to get ready for the new series!
Join the hashtag #TwinPeaksRewatch 

15 Jan: Pilot
22 Jan: Eps 1 and 2
27 Jan: Eps 3 & 4
5 Feb: Eps 5 & 6
12 Feb: Ep 7 *
19 Feb: Ep 8
26 Feb: Eps 9 & 10
5 Mar: Eps 11 & 12
12 Mar: Eps 13 & 14
19 Mar: Eps 15 & 16
26 Mar: Eps 17 & 18
2 Apr: Eps 19 & 20
9 Apr: Eps 21 & 22
16 Apr: Eps 23 & 24
23 Apr: Eps 25 & 26
30 Apr: Eps 27 & 28
7 May: Ep 29 **
14 May: Fire Walk With Me
21 May: NEW TWIN PEAKS!

* optional: The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer and
 The Autobiography of Dale Cooper books
** optional: The Secret History of Twin Peaks book
*** optional: The Missing Pieces

Trump/psyc

For the memory banks. Minor tweet storm about Trump support and the underlying psyc principles.

Starts here:

https://twitter.com/mr_orgue/status/819265590363729920
(I can’t generate the embed code on the app it seems. If I can be bothered I’ll update this later with the embedded tweet.)

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The Secret History of Twin Peaks by Mark Frost (2016)

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Well. It’s a hefty tome, and a beautiful physical object. Engaging, frequently a page-turner. Often funny, and pleasantly studded with familiar voices. But whatever I was hoping for, I didn’t really get it. 

The book is presented as a dossier about the town of Twin Peaks, including notes by an archivist and reproductions of original documents of various kinds. It is by Mark Frost, co-creator of the TV show with David Lynch. It tells the whole history of the town, from the days of the native peoples, right through to the events surrounding Laura Palmer’s murder. And it bugs me.

It isn’t the inconsistencies. Yes, it’s inconsistent with the TV series in lots of ways, but none of them are obvious, and consistency doesn’t matter anyway. (The three classic tie-in books were similarly inconsistent, and Fire Walk With Me was also inconsistent with the show, so just chalk it up to a collective dream and move along.)

It isn’t the Zelig/Forrest Gumpian appearances of varied historical personages – even L. Ron Hubbard! Frost’s project appears to be giving events in Twin Peaks greater significance against the backdrop of American life and its ongoing mysteries. It isn’t really what I’m looking for, but it is coherent with some of the threads from the show which made clear American authorities were aware of strangeness in the town, and the subplot around aliens and flying saucers is a major focus of the narrative. 

What bugs me is more the fact that, considering how big a canvas Frost is working with, it all feels so insular and referential (and deferential). The same names crop up over and over again through the town’s history. Almost everyone interesting in this lengthy book was either on screen, or directly related to someone on screen. With the opportunity to point at a wider canvas full of the unknown, Frost repeatedly loops back to the same established ground.

Now this isn’t exactly inconsistent with the TV show which kept the focus relatively tight, going to the same circle of characters over and over again – as a TV show must do, to keep its contracted cast busy on screen. However, the same pattern feels myopic and overdetermined here, like fan fiction. Consider by contrast Lynch’s film Fire Walk With Me, which obsessively included the vast majority of the characters from the TV show, but also featured many entirely new characters and situations in prominent roles. In fact, most of the TV characters were left on the cutting room floor. Even those earlier spin-off books filled out their world more than here. 

This focus on the TV characters creates some secondary problems. The urge to feature them was no doubt strong because of their distinctive, memorable personalities, but Frost has varied success transferring them to the page. In particular the writings of Deputy Hawk, Hank Jennings and Audrey Horne all feel off-kilter. If these characters were not quite so indelible, Frost might have got away with it.

Also, frustratingly, the book doesn’t provide many answers to the TV show’s many cliffhangers. (One notable exception is the reveal of who survived the large explosion in the final episode.) Despite a framing device that has the evidence of events from 1989 being discussed in 2016, very little is revealed beyond what we saw on screen. So if you’re hoping this will carry you across the decades and set you up for the third season of the show, you will be disappointed.
Mark Frost, and the publishers, have doggedly insisted that this book is a novel. I guess we might as well call it that, but it feels like its own sort of thing. While there is one central thread across the varied tales in the book, it doesn’t real feel like a narrative as such – there is little to root for in the central character’s journey, and what transitions he experiences are very superficial. The book tries too hard to make a dramatic mystery of the identity of the archivist, but the mystery is inert – knowing who it is changes nothing and adds nothing to the experience, it is just obfuscation for its own sake. Frost is a skilled storyteller (I am very fond of his novel List of Seven for example) but here the many interesting pieces of the book don’t come together into any richer whole. 

So do I recommend this book? There’s plenty to enjoy (the account of a scout camp featuring young versions of some minor characters is a creepy highlight) and it is a beautiful physical object. Still, I end up feeling quite ambivalent. While it is “canonical” (for whatever that is worth), I think it is best viewed as an entertaining homage rather than a new revelatory piece of the wider Twin Peaks puzzle. As a fun celebration of the show, it fits well alongside the rather silly Guide to Twin Peaks and the earnest but necessarily limited Secret Diary of Laura Palmer and Autobiography of Dale Cooper. It is nice to have clear accounts of tangled storylines such as the Josie Packard/Catherine Martel rivalry (inconsistencies notwithstanding). I am glad to have it on my shelf. But it is undeniably inessential. 

I guess my ultimate take is this: I wouldn’t expect David Lynch will have read this book before making the new series. I don’t think that would be a problem.

 So that’s it, then. One for the curious aficionado, not to be taken too seriously.

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Twin Peaks (USA, 1990)

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Twin Peaks is widely regarded as a missed opportunity. Made by David Lynch as the pilot for a planned TV series, it was salvaged into a film by adding an ending sequence. The film’s roots in television are obvious, introducing a sprawling cast of characters – some of whom don’t even get lines of dialogue, such as the mysterious Log Lady. If an ongoing series had been made, it would have been delightful to learn more about these characters, but sadly we had to wait a few years until Mulholland Drive to get a proper taste of Lynchian television.

As it is, the film is often seen as a failure. The ending sequence does appear disconnected from the extensive busywork beforehand – after introducing character after character, each with their own problems and conflicts and each a potential suspect in the central murder mystery, the film abruptly reveals the murderer to be someone we haven’t even seen before, who is hiding out in the basement of the hospital. The murderer’s partner/foil shoots him, then apparently dies of a heart attack, and that’s it, except for a strange and dreamlike coda in a red-curtained room that is widely regarded as inexplicable.

However, I think Lynch has given us all the clues we need to make sense of this film. Let’s take a look.

The bulk of the running time is spent exploring the town. As mentioned, nearly everyone seems to have a secret – not just the teens caught up in Laura Palmer’s strange life, but the adults too. (Notable exception for contrast – the adorably literal sheriff’s receptionist Lucy who seems incapable of leaving anything unsaid, secret or otherwise.) The film is also named for the town. The fact that none of these characters is involved in the crime seems at first to be a pointless rebuke to murder-mystery expectations, but I believe the message is the reverse – that in some sense the town itself is responsible. The film’s focus on the network of secrets and sadness in the town suggests that these secrets in some way caused her death. Laura is the homecoming queen and loved by all – but she clearly is caught up in terrible things, and this picture-perfect town is implicated. (The Norwegian investors subplot, for example, makes perfect sense through this lens – Laura’s death stains the town so much they walk out on the deal, and the town, immediately.)

We get more evidence that the townsfolks’ secrets are the cause of the murder when we meet Mike and Bob at the end of the film. They seem ordinary enough on the surface, but these two men are clearly meant to be interpreted as strange, magical beings from somewhere else (there are two worlds, as the magician’s chant reveals). If Bob could hide in Laura’s room while her mother looked for her, he is clearly using some otherworldly nature to do so.

Mike tells the story of how they lived among the people, above a convenience store no less. The film seems to be telling us that Mike and Bob are drawn to people like the ones we have been watching for the previous ninety minutes – deeply flawed and full of secrets. Or, to flip it into the kind of magical logic suggested by the killer’s use of rituals and magic chants, the town’s many secrets bring down dark spirits upon their head, with Laura Palmer, the homecoming queen/drug user/friend-of-prostitutes-and-murderers, as the incarnation of the town’s dual nature and the prime target for sacrifice.

While Mike has reformed from his murderous ways, Bob promises to kill again, provoking Mike to murder him. The case seems to be resolved, but it is clear Cooper is unsatisfied. As candles blow out, Cooper makes a wish – and we immediately cut to 25 years later.

The meaning of this cut seems clear: his wish was to understand the strange logic of what he witnessed in Twin Peaks. He has spent his career on this quest, and finally, as a much older man, he has found his way to the somewhere else. There, he meets a spirit wearing the form of Laura Palmer. (Bob claimed to catch people in his “death bag”, which presumably means he steals the form of his victims and carries it back to the second world.) The spirit, we are told, is full of secrets. She whispers into Cooper’s ear the answers he was seeking. Credits roll.

I don’t make any grand claims that this film approaches the thematic coherence of later works like Lost Highway, but I think it holds together a lot more thoroughly than most give it credit for. Indeed, from my perspective there is only one piece of the film that remains with me as both unexplained and deeply disturbing. 

The final sequence of the film begins with Laura’s mother remembering that she had in fact glimpsed Bob in Laura’s room that morning. As she screams in terror and calls for help from Laura’s father, we can see over her shoulder a mirror on the wall. And, blurry but definitely visible in my Blu-Ray copy of the film, we can see a face in the mirror – and it is unmistakably that of Bob himself. He is apparently right there in the room watching as Laura’s mother loses her wits! Creepy as hell.

In any case, this film is recommended, and not just so we can imagine what a Twin Peaks TV series might have been like. Instead, let’s appreciate it for what it is – a satisfying and complete film in itself.

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Small Group Action: Getting going

friends

I need your help.

I’ve been working for a bunch of years now on an idea to help us turn our feeling that things aren’t right into real action that has an impact on the world. It’s a toolkit that I call Small Group Action. It’s been used in workplaces and in classrooms and by groups of friends, and it works. It was the basis of my Masters research and I know it can make a difference. 

It’s time to get SGA out into the world, so people can put it to work. I’d welcome any support you can give me.

What is Small Group Action?

It’s very simple: you get a few people into a small group, say 4 or 5 people. You agree to do one action together – a short-term commitment only. You choose the action together, and plan how to get it done. Then you go for it.

4 or 5 people is big enough to do small but substantial things. (You can chain actions together for added effect.) It’s also small enough the group is easy to manage. Short-term means it’s an easy commitment to make, and you get the satisfaction of doing something sooner rather than later.  Group effects help keep you on task – you can actively motivate each other, and no-one wants to let the others down. 

All simple stuff, but harnessed together, all pointing in the same direction? It makes for a powerful engine. 

(There’s more than this, of course, but this is the heart of it.)

What am I trying to do?

The goal is to get the SGA toolkit out into the world. I’m in need of advice about the best way to do this! Some ideas: 

  • A small SGA handbook and forms that walk you through the setup process, all free to download and print.
  • An online tool or app that takes you through the setup process, then sends out reminders/notifications.
  • A website/community that shares ideas for actions and promotes success stories.

Obviously the social nature of SGA lends itself to social media, but I’m not sure how this could integrate effectively with Facebook/Twitter/Instagram etc. 

What do I need from you?

First – advice. Help me figure out what the hell I’m actually trying to get done, here. Comments are good, here on the blog or on Facebook or Twitter. Or email me!

Second – enthusiasm. If this is a thing you could see yourself using, sing out.

Third – expertise. Visual design people, community people, web people, psychology people, UX people, game design people, comms people – any offers of help or guidance gratefully received.

OK then. Here we go.

UPDATE: I’ve put a step-by-step and an action checklist over on the Taleturn website.

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