Yearly Archives: 2012
This Crazy World We Live In
No. 3 Yarn bombing or graffiti knitting – whatever you call it’s wacky and utterly wonderful
The mysterious graffiti knitters of Saltburn by the Sea had already been at it long before the Jubilee. The inhabitants of the seaside town were already used to finding the little knitted figures and objects that would suddenly appear at various sites around the town. As if this wasn’t magical enough, last March they woke to discover a 50-metre long ‘scarf’ decorating the railings along their famous pier. It sported tiny knitted athletes, representing every Olympic and Paralympic sport, including figures in weenie wheelchairs. Come the Jubilee, the seafront was again adorned, this time with knitted representatives of the Queen and Prince Phillip, together with woolly Corgis, tea sets, crowns and flags.
Some call it yarn bombing, others prefer yarn storming or graffiti knitting since this bombardment is far from the images conjured up by the idea of a bomb. Rather it is a gloriously subversive form of graffiti – making you smile and wonder in equal measure. The movement’s beginnings are credited to Magda Sayeg, from Texas. She began in a small, but delightful way. The clothes shop she managed in 2005 stood in a boring, ugly, concrete neighbourhood. Seized by a need to add some colour to her environment, she knitted a door handle for her shop. Inspired, she went on to knit a sheath for the stop sign pole. Such was the interest these provoked that she started to scatter bits of knitting across the world. Over parking meters, a bus, the gun on a statue of a soldier – and so it goes on.
I first came across this inspired movement though the Radio 4 Saturday Live programme, which highlighted the activities at Saltburn by the Sea and instigated a hunt for the mystery knitters. Intrigued, I did some more research and found that in a relatively short time, yarn storming has spread throughout the world. There’s hardly a town or city where you won’t find a tree in a bright stripy jacket, a statue sporting woolly gloves, a drain pipe, a lamppost, a bicycle – even cracks in the pavement filled with multi-colored pearl and plain.
Investigating further, I discovered ArtYarn, a collaborative knitting and crochet project. Formed in 2008 by visual artist Rachael Gwilliam, it brings together local groups and global artists to create stunning, imaginative and cutting edge gallery installations and public arts projects. It also instigates creative craft workshops. I also found, to my immense pleasure, the wonderfully named Knit the City and the knitting community, Stitch London with its marvellous slogan ‘Keep calm and carry yarn’. Knit the City was established in 2009 by Lauren O’Farrell, initially to distract herself from the treatment she was receiving for cancer. She got the all clear in 2007 and, with Stitch London, celebrated by knitting a 550 ft. scarf to tie around the lions in Trafalgar Square. Over the years they’ve tackled projects as diverse as phone box covers, installing a 13ft spider’s web, replete with trapped insects and fairies, in the “graffiti tunnel” beneath Waterloo station, driven a handmade herd of sheep over London Bridge, and installed a white rabbit on the South Bank.
If you love things that are different, beautiful, kooky, weird and wonderful or a combination of all these, Google ‘yarn storming’, ‘graffiti knitting’ or ‘images for graffiti knitting’. Or click any of the links in this post. Then sit back and prepare to be amazed. For all the dark and nasty stuff in the world, aren’t we lucky that there also exist such creative, imaginative, eccentric and delightful people. Long may they continue to add colour and pleasure to our world.
Images in this post: Bus:BNPS, Saltburn: Northern News & Pictures, Tree: rebelyarnsfiles.wordpress.com, Statue: slackershack.wordpress.com, Sheep: Frantzesco Kangaris for The Guardian
The video below looks a great deal better on the big screen, which is where I saw it last weekend. Nevertheless, it’s still good in the smaller format. As an example of letting your fans do your work for you, it’s superb. It’s also a great example of how to form a bond with your clients, to make them feel all warm and fuzzy as well as reaching out to prospective travellers and making them want to pack and take a plane and head for your shores that instant.
What did the Canadian Tourist Board do? Just asked Canadians to send in their videos. Which they did – 65 hours of it, of which this commercial spans two short minutes. Great minutes – not simply showing the beauty of the country, something we know about, but demonstrating what it’s like to be there. It will have taken some time to edit all that footage, of course, but that would have cost a fraction of the amount needed to create a commercial from scratch. It might have been the cheaper option but this film is far from cheap. It’s clever, intelligent and engaging and fun.
As if the government weren’t making a sufficient hames of everything it touches, the BBC, NHS and various regulatory bodies have all got in on the act in recent weeks. As I explained in a post some time last year, to make a hames of something means to make a mess of it. The expression is derived from a particularly complicated harness used for plough horses. Everyone screws it up.
A cute hoor is another creative Irish expression. Cute means clever, and hoor means exactly what it says on the tin. A cute hoor is a rogue or a charlatan, someone who seems respectable and upright but who never misses a chance to rip you off. In Ireland it’s applied to everyone from cowboy builders, to bankers, politicians, tax evaders – the whole sorry bunch of them. Sound familiar? Stand up and take a bow Dennis McShane, Starbucks and many more too numerous, and possibly libellous, to name. In the Emerald Isle they tend to be lumped together as ‘the Cute Hoor Party.’
Somewhat to my consternation I can’t find a specific slang term for bank or bankers. The Irish seem content with the British rhyming slang, which I have to admit, works. So why change it? Though they have in a sense; at least there’s a derivative. In Ireland they call it an Allied Irish, after the well-known bank of that name.
I’m always surprised to find myself surprised at the goings on, not simply in parliament but in local government, corporations and governing bodies. Just when you think no one could make a bigger mess of things, they make a bigger mess of things. As far as I’m concerned they’re a bunch of amadáns, utter eejits. To use an expression that comes from Waterford, my own neck of the woods, I’ve seen better heads in a field of grass. I mean what are they up to? They don’t seem to have the sense they were born with. As much use as lighthouse on a bog, or a chocolate teapot. They won’t stop till the whole economy is banjaxed, even more than it is already. It’s enough to have you reach for the black stuff and drink yourself stocious.
* Image: www.notthesamestream.blogspot.com
I once met a girl who was frightened of bananas. She was the sort of girl that makes you clench your teeth being tiny, perfectly proportioned, exceedingly pretty and clever too. To add insult to injury – she was extremely nice. It was in our advanced French class. The third term. Most of us had followed the course for two terms and were getting there. Some spoke beautifully but were not too good at the grammar. Some had terrible accents but could express themselves like natives. Miss Perfect of course spoke and wrote like a Frenchwoman.
I can’t exactly remember why or how the subject of phobias came up. One day during an exercise, the point of which I no longer remember, we had to go round the class in turn and tell everyone about things we were frightened of. Miss P, I’ll call her Annie, had us all open mouthed with astonishment when she said she was frightened of bananas. I found that so endearing I completely changed my mind about her.
She was very convincing but I’m not sure everyone believed her. They should have done for there is indeed a known phobia. It’s called – you guessed it – bananaphobia. Bit disappointing really. You’d think they could have come up with a better name. I don’t usually spend a lot of time thinking about phobias – but recently a fellow member of Toastmasters introduced the subject into his highly entertaining speech. Among the phobias he mentioned was – wait for it -anatidaephobia – a fear that somewhere, somehow, a duck is watching you.
I love it. It conjures up wonderful images of ducks lurking behind curtains or peering out from behind trees. Ducks in raincoats with the collars turned up. Or ducking (sorry) behind the wet fish counter in Sainsburys to avoid detection. I trawled the Internet. I found plenty of sites that listed anatidaephobia, many as if it were a real phobia. Sadly it isn’t – it comes from the talented Gary Larson’s cartoon series – The Far Side. I wish it had been real but I’m not surprised it’s made up. It’s rather reminiscent of the late, lamented James Thurber in its quirky humour.
For all the funny made-up phobias – anoraknophobia, for instance, of Wallace and Grommet fame – there are plenty of real phobias that strike most of us as amusing though I’m sure they are no joke to people who suffer from them. Imagine having ablutophobia and being scared to wash. Or unable to go to a party because of your globophobia, your fear of balloons. Or risking scurvy because lachanophobia stopped you eating vegetables. With a summer like ours pity the poor people who fear rain, a condition known as ombrophobia. And I for one would be very sad indeed if my phobia was ailurophobia – because I love cats.
While there are plenty of real phobias, many of them extremely strange like fear of string or rooms or hands, it’s the made up ones that are the most hilarious. And they have the added advantage of not risking running the risk of upsetting genuine sufferers. Luposlipaphobia is another from the wonderful Gary Larson. –fear of being pursued by timber wolves around a kitchen table while wearing socks on a newly waxed floor. But my favourite has to be the ducks. And for some unaccountable reason, the string.
We should have seen it coming. Back in the days of Driving School, Blind Date and Survivor there were plenty of prophets of doom declaring the end of the world, as we knew it. Trouble is on that occasion they were right. Sometimes it seems as if today’s TV is wall-to-wall reality shows. While I’m the first to plead for more drama, more documentaries, more everything that’s not cheap-to-make reality, I’m not among those who believe these programmes are all bad. Some really are the pits of course and others just plain sad. However, there are plenty of uplifting ones. Shows where people develop and learn something. And programmes that are just good honest entertainment.
Over the years the predictable, and popular, gardening, property, cookery, dating and talent shows have been joined by a raft of unlikely productions. There’s not a topic that isn’t covered – from Wife Swap to Extreme Makeover, where the subject is, of all things, cosmetic surgery. Nothing’s sacred, and there’s no accounting for taste. If Four Weddings has me reaching for the Prozac, while wondering why people would turn their wedding into a circus, there thousands even millions who enjoy watching this strange and rather depressing freak show. Conversely, while I will watch anything with an animal in it, plenty of folks believe that I’m the strange one. But there you go. If there’s a kitten stuck in a conduit pipe, the sad inhabitants of a puppy farm to be rescued or a poor mangy creature neglected in a field, that’s me hooked.
One great virtue animals have over humans is that, when they’re happy, they wag their tails or give grateful licks and maybe even whinny, trumpet, roar or even bark a bit. The one thing they don’t do is scream. And they don’t follow the herd, like sheep. Unless of course they are sheep, in which case it’s perfectly acceptable. Screaming is ruining the shows I once loved. I used to enjoy X-Factor but now I can barely watch it, and if I do switch it on I’m more than likely to switch it off pretty swiftly. It’s that or shout obscenities at the screen and startle the cat. The same goes for Britain’s Got Talent and Over the Rainbow and others too numerous to mention.
One of my guilty pleasures is American’s Next Top Model and its spin-offs in Australia, Britain and Canada. Set in the unreal and beautifully strange and inspiring world of fashion, this programme is among the worst offenders. It’s only my love of the fascinating transformations, the extreme make up and extraordinary garments that has kept me watching. In spite of the bitching and the egos and the nastiness. But it’s the screaming that will finally make me reach for the remote.
These girls – what are they like! They scream every time Tyra Banks appears. They scream whenever they see Jay Manuel, the creative director. They scream when they get their makeovers. They scream when they’re introduced to their photographer or find that they’ll be working with male models. They scream when they discover the location of their photo shoot and when they get the key to their apartment and again when they actually see the accommodation. I’m amazed they have any voice left to bitch with.
Now I don’t know who started all this screaming but it’s become an epidemic. You didn’t find Alan Titchmarsh or Tommy Walsh screaming in the good old days of Ground Force. They didn’t scream on Changing Rooms. In fact, until fairly recently, screaming seemed to be confined to the good old US of A, like death row and peanut butter with jelly. But what America does, we inevitably follow. Pop Idol, Fame Academy, X Factor, Britain’s got Talent and others too numerous, and annoying, to mention – all got in on the act.
The families wait backstage, and when the darling appears – I don’t need to say it, do I? The same goes for those highly manipulated and manufactured ‘visits home’ with everyone, from Mum and Dad to silly Sid from across the road and next door’s dog, assembled in the front room. All ready to scream at the sight of the singer, dancer, contortionist who’s made it through to the boot camp (where you can be sure there will be even more screaming.)
We’ve turned into a nation of hysterics. Mad as cheese and given to emotional outbursts. Our stalwart and ramrod forefathers would have deemed such behaviour unbefitting for an Englishman, though just what you’d expect from excitable ‘Johnny Foreigner’. Now I’m not against a bit of emotion. In my opinion the stiff upper lip is well past its sell by date – leaving who knows how many emotional cripples in its wake. But you can have too much of a good thing. The worst thing of all is that this frenzy of misplaced hysteria has become the norm – goodness, they’ll be doing it parliament next. Come to think of it, screaming might even be preferable to braying.
Admittedly the tin’s made of 24-carat gold. Even without the gold, a smaller tin will set you back £800. However, It’s not just posh foods that are graced with the ‘most expensive’ label. Hot dogs, bagels, baked potatoes, sandwiches, pizza, frittata – they’ve all qualified. Usually because of the addition of something glamorous like gold dust or truffles. A bit like sticking jewels onto your trainers. As PG tips did – not of course with their trainers but with the world’s most expensive tea bag. Created to celebrate the company’s 75th anniversary it was decorated with 280 diamonds and is worth £7,500.
Unbelievably extravagant? It’s almost insignificant compared to the world’s most expensive water. A 1.25 ml bottle of Acqua di Cristallo Tributo a Modigliani went for $60,000. Designed by Fernando Altamirano, it’s coated with 24-carat gold. If you missed the charity auction, and have $3.3 million lying around in your sock drawer, there’s a ‘dummy’ version in various precious metals studded with 6,000 diamonds.
This ‘world’s most expensive’ label is not easy to establish. There are claims and counter claims. It’s not a level playing field either. One thing’s priced by the bottle, something else by the ounce and so on. The only real benchmark is the Guinness Book of World Records and even those entries are constantly changing. In it or not, there are some wonderful finds, like these two exceptional cheeses. It’s not their rarity or price tags that make them so fascinating, though at around $500 and $616 per pound respectively they’re hardly cheap. No the real joy lies in the fact that Sweden’s Moose House Farm cheese contains the milk from three unusually tame moose. They answer to the names of Gullan, Haelga and Juna! Can’t say that about your average cheddar! As for Pule, it’s produced from the milk of 100 Serbian donkeys. And costs 1,000 Euros a kilo.
Not all highly priced foods are exotic and rare. Saffron, derived from the crocus, is reasonably common. Yet it takes up to 75,000 flowers to make one pound, accounting for the price of up to $5,000 dollars. The most expensive potato, La Bonnotte is grown uniquely on one French island, Noirmoutier. Melons are commonplace in Europe, rare in Japan. Which accounts for the $6,100 paid for a 17 lb. black Densuke watermelon. A pair of Yubari cantaloupes, auctioned in 2008, slaughtered that record fetching a mighty $22,872. And this September, Sotheby’s Manhattan showroom held an auction not of Old Masters, but of vegetables! Some expected to reach $1,000 a case.
Incidentally some ‘ordinary’ foods do make the Guinness Book of World Records. There’s Chef Blunos’ £111 cheese sandwich and the $69 hot dog from Manhattan’s Serendipity 3 restaurant. Domenico Crolla’s Pizza Royale 007 is a contender too, at $4,200. Serendipity’s Frrrozen Haute Chocolate Sundae definitely made it with its £15,730 price tag. From $1000 bagels and frittatas to beer at £500 a bottle, the world of gourmet eating seems in fine shape to me. Did someone say credit crunch!
Some people have made vast fortunes playing with money. Others have let them do so – by turning a blind eye, either to maintain the status quo, line their pockets, keep their parliamentary seat or preserve the possibility of honours. Although relatively few in numbers, the damage these people have done has had brought countries to their knees. It has affected and is affecting thousands, millions of people.
The story I’m about to tell is just one among these millions. It may appear insignificant in the great scheme of things. But for one man and his old dog, their world has shattered. Their story is not unique. Similar scenes are being played out all over Europe.
Spain, like many other places, has been badly hit by the recession. People have lost their jobs, their houses. Families have been broken up. One of the consequences is that people are no longer able to keep their pets. So they bring them to the killing stations, abandon them, or in some few cases try to find them a place in rescue centres.
The organisation I’m involved with is called ACE – Animal Care Espana, in Southern Spain. The rescue centre itself is called El Refugio, founded by Fabienne Paques nearly fourteen years ago. Like all the others it’s full to bursting now, with ever more dogs arriving or being dumped at the gates daily.
He came to the gate in tears. A young man of about 35. He’d lost his job. As a result his marriage had broken up. His wife had thrown him out with just a backpack and his dog, his Joyma. He had no car. No family he could call on. He’d been trudging from refuge to refuge to ask them to take Joyma. He loved him too much to even think of bringing him to a killing station or to simply abandon him. All the centres were full, besides nobody was willing to take in an old dog.
El Refugio is full, over full. But Fabienne couldn’t turn him away. She couldn’t find the young man a home or a job, but she could take his dog. She’d make room. She would give him the only thing she could – the assurance that his Joyma would be well taken care of. It was distressing for everyone, so emotional. Heartbreaking. The dog was drooling in fear – clinging to his master. Don’t leave me.
The young man left, weeping. His Joyma is safe and will be found another loving home, but that’s of no interest to the old Cocker Spaniel. For he is grieving, pining for his best friend whom he lost today. As to the young man he too has lost his best friend. He’s lost everything. Tonight he’ll sleep on the street. Alone.
This is the human cost of the recession.
This Crazy World We Live In
No 2 Four floors of madness
I could have subtitled this post ‘people with too much money to spend’ except that that would be neither accurate nor fair. But you do have to wonder. I certainly did when I stumbled across M&M World last Sunday. Now this is not an emporium I had visited before, indeed I was not even aware of its existence. All I knew about M&Ms was that they are sugar coated chocolate or peanut sweets that resemble Smarties.
I was also familiar with their somewhat grotesque ‘Red’ and ‘Yellow’ characters since they pop up every time I go to the movies. I’ve never been quite sure what they are advertising. I thought they were warning us to turn off our mobile phones but a quick Google tells me they are promoting film. Hence FTRC – From The Red Carpet. I’m all for anything that gets people into cinemas but please, why does everything have to be reduced to initials?
That was the extent of my knowledge of M&Ms. Until last Sunday when I was on my way to a cinema in Leicester Square. I was far too early. It was pouring with rain. I could have sheltered in a cafe but I didn’t really want a coffee and on principle I balk at buying the stuff at inflated tourist prices. Most of the shops were shut. And then I noticed that an enormous glass clad building near one corner of the square appeared to be open and doing a brisk trade.
Welcome to M&M World! How, I wondered, as I stepped inside, could you fill a shop with M&Ms? Let alone a whole building? I soon found out and should have guessed. Because of course it’s not just the little sweets they are selling. It’s merchandise. What stupefies me is not simply the four floors of stuff all branded with the M&M logo, but that people are actually buying it.
The toys and shopping bags, t-shirts and sweatshirts came as no great surprise. But boxers, baby-grows, bibs, wellies, pyjamas? Mugs for home or office and even mouse mats – if you really have to. But measuring cups, bowls, place mats, even salad servers? Dispensers are fun. I could even imagine why someone might buy one, though for my part I would never have enough M&Ms to fill one. It would be emptied so quickly there’d be no need for anything but hands. But I can’t see myself ever, ever wanting M&M earings. Or an M&M on a motorbike. Yikes!
Four floors of M&M branded merchandise! Call me naïve if you like, but I’m still reeling. (I will not use that horrible word that starts with gob and ends with smacked, though it does rather fit my reaction.) I’m surprised that I should be surprised, really. After all we have Disney and Warner Bros. merchandise. The Leicester Tigers and ManU all have shops. Everyone has shops. But they seem different somehow – based on much loved characters or sport or something. Not just candies, to use the American term, which is I suppose appropriate.
I have nothing against shops or merchandise. And I absolutely love sweets. My favourite bits of M&M were the floors lined with giant tubes filled with sweets in every colour imaginable, tastefully graded so that they changed from yellow to lime green to pea green to forest green to blues of every hue, then mauve, purple, red, orange, pink. I don’t know how I restrained myself. Maybe it was the anticipation of the popcorn that would inevitably accompany the film.
All around me people were filling little bags with the delectable colours and flavours. Which have gone way beyond chocolate and peanuts – there’s peanut butter, coconut, almond, ice cream cookie and much more. And that I could understand. What I don’t understand is how people can spend good money on this rubbish. Still I’m not the arbiter of taste and I’m sure some of the stuff I buy would raise a snigger or four. I must admit that the murals and framed ‘art’ around the place was so dreadful it was very nearly kitsch. But only very nearly.
This Crazy World We Live In
No. 1 People with too much time on their hands
Last week while demonstrating ways to find information on the Internet I came across a quite extraordinary blog – indeed the blog with the longest domain name in the world. There you can find the longest everything – the longest abbreviation, the longest running Academy Awards ceremony, the longest bridge, the longest time anyone has been buried alive (presumably they were still alive when disinterred!) The longest commute, the longest dog – dog! – and so on through the alphabet until you get to the longest wave ever surfed, the longest word and the longest zucchini (that vegetable beloved of scrabble devotees and people who compile lists. Oh, and people who like zucchini.)
I’m going to start with the longest abbreviation because it’s a contradiction in terms. Utterly, completely weird and bonkers. It contains no less than fifty-six letters far, far longer than even the longest of words. So here it comes …and yes I did notice that the letters do not correspond to the English translation. But it’s a Russian abbreviation. Enough said.
What does it stand for? Take a deep breath. It stands for the –
Laboratory for Shuttering, Reinforcement, Concrete and Ferroconcrete Operations for Composite-monolithic and Monolithic Constructions of the Department of Technology of Building Assembly Operations of the Scientific Research Institute of the Organization for Building Mechanization and Technical Aid of the Academy of Building and Architecture of the USSR.
Yay! I wonder what they called it for short? Any suggestions?
If you had to say all that every time you wanted to call them up on the phone or explain where you worked you’d probably have lost the will to live. Which brings me to Geoff Smith. Maybe he thought his name was just a bit ordinary so was prompted to do something a little different. Or maybe it was because of his mother. Whatever it was, it’s our Geoff who holds the record for the longest time being buried alive.
His ordeal began on 29th August in 1998 and ended 150 days later. While I question whether anything self-inflicted can be called an ordeal I can’t dispute the facts. Nor would I want to. Geoff it seems spent 150 days buried in a coffin 6 feet under the garden of the Railway Inn in Mansfield, England. Breaking the old record of 141 days and the European record of 101 days, which had been set by his mother 30 years earlier. I’m not sure why his coffin was painted to resemble a tiger – it will probably remain forever a mystery. Like why anyone would want to break the world record for being buried alive.
If I delved any deeper into this crazy blog I’d be here all day. So – you’ve got the link. Have an explore. If you have any time to spare that is – but I must say it is addictive. So don’t say I didn’t warn you.