Friday, 25 May 2012

25/05/12 - Car wash punk

Three years of university, reading books, writing essays, acting like an irritating smartarse – you can imagine the look of pride on my parents’ faces when I got my first job after graduating with a just-scraped 2:2 from the upgraded polytechnic that is the University of Portsmouth: washing cars on the forecourt of Perrys Vauxhall, Canterbury. Oh, frabjous day.

Finding jobs, of course, is not easy, unless you’re either rich enough to be well connected or have a special and unique skill-set that carves its own logical career trajectory (e.g. being a doctor or an architect or something else where you’ve given it some thought and said ‘I want to be this – now, how do I go about achieving it?). It’s much tougher now than when I graduated back in ’03, but it was still pretty tricky then. I spent about six weeks on the dole, taking any interview I could get, while spending all day every day Googling for jobs and sending my CV to pretty much everyone in the country. It’s worth noting for posterity, as otherwise history will surely forget, that the Herne Bay Times - esteemed and worthy publication that it is - would only offer an £8,000pa sub-editor role to somebody who had ‘attended a credible university and achieved a respectable grade’. Well, that told me. (Incidentally, I checked their website just now, such as it is, and cut-and-pasted the opening paragraph of the first story on the page: ‘Pier Trust bosses have assured members that they are committed to rebuilding the pier. They moved to reassure trust members after the city council reiterated that there were no plans to rebuild – and said comparing the pier with the funds ploughed into Canterbury's Marlowe Theatre was like comparing "apples with caviare".’ Ha! Fuck ‘em.)

But, joy of joys, Perrys Vauxhall wanted someone to wash their cars. The summer of 2003 was a scorcher, so I was more than happy to spend the days buffing, foaming, waxing and polishing. I like washing cars, it’s a methodical task; whenever I buy a car, the first thing I do is give it a thorough wash (well, I did until I moved to London – it’s rather harder to achieve when you have to park two streets from your house, nobody makes hoses that long) because it’s the best way to get to know your car; each of the blemishes and stonechips and infinitesimal imperfections, but also the form and flow of the car – how the wings meet the bumpers, the shape and depth of the window apertures, the strength of the wiper springs. Washing new cars is equally interesting, as you get to learn about these machines that are soon to be somebody’s pride and joy in intimate detail. Well, it’s interesting for a car geek like me, anyway.

I threw myself into the work. In an alley behind the showroom was a little shed, in which could be found all manner of car care products ranging from the humble bucket and sponge to chamois leathers, polishes, clay bars, mopping attachments, T-Cut, colour-matched lotions reflecting the entire Vauxhall paint palette and much more besides. The forecourt was next to a busy A-road which created a lot of dust and filth, and was also studded with large trees, so the entire stock constantly needed washing. Resplendent in my Perrys branded polo shirt, I’d start with the swankier cars at the entrance to the lot and work my way along to the vans around the side, then move into the showroom to polish everything in there. To clean the entire inventory of new cars generally took about three days, and when that was done I’d start the whole process over again. Once a week I’d take a few hours out to give the used cars a quick rinse too; my job was to clean the new ones, but they didn’t employ anyone to do the second-hand stock and I enjoyed the consistency. It may not have been a glamorous job, but I took pride in it. The way an Astra cabrio’s roof absorbed the waterproof fabric protector, the little pools of water that collected at the base of a Corsa’s tailgate, the need to pop the hood of a VX220 and put a sheet under the bonnet vents before hosing it down, the little log I used to stand on to reach to the middle of the roof on a Zafira – I remember it all pretty clearly. I was content in my work.

I used that summer to teach myself about punk. As I lovingly polished, I always had my MiniDisc player in my pocket (yes, they were a good idea then – they still are now, I’m amazed they never took off) and each day I’d immerse myself in another album or two that, as a fully-fledged indie kid, I’d hitherto failed to totally absorb. Thanks in part to that glorious summer, I maintain a lifelong love for Ian Dury, Buzzcocks, The Rezillos, The Adverts, The Clash, Blondie, Elvis Costello, Magazine, The Stooges, X-Ray Spex, The Ramones, Stiff Little Fingers et al. Punk is good car washing music, on the whole; gritty, earthy, playful, rhythmically insistent. Every time I hear The Undertones’ ‘You Got My Number’, it takes me back to being stung in the arm by a wasp as I Back-To-Blacked the rubstrip of a Movano.

And then one day Perrys Vauxhall betrayed me. I turned up for work to find the door of my little shed swinging in the breeze, my hose unfurled and my bucket demonstrably absent. There was somebody else on the forecourt washing the cars. Two other people, in fact. I went into the showroom to see what was happening, and was told ‘We’ve hired this Iraqi fella [don’t know why his ethnicity came into it] to wash the used cars. He’s cheaper than you [that seemed iffy – I’m pretty sure I was on minimum wage] and it’ll take the pressure off you, make your job a bit easier.’ ‘But my job isn’t especially hard,’ I said, ‘and anyway, there are two of them out there, and one of them’s washing the new cars. This isn’t a three man job. There’s only one hose, for starters...’
‘Well yeah, he brought his mate along to help,’ I was told, ‘and he’s doing it for free. Can’t you share the hose and stuff?’
I was affronted. I’d made that job my own. I’d developed a number of systems and methods that helped it all run smoothly; the coloured polishes in the shed were categorised according to the order of the cars on display, my chamois leathers were strategically hidden around the grounds in sturdy waterproof bags – under rocks, in bushes, tied to tree branches – so that they were always within reach. These guys had only been there for a couple of hours and had already moved everything. I saw one of them drop his sponge in the dirt, then continue washing a Meriva without even rinsing. I couldn’t put my name to this endeavour.
‘You know what?’ I said, ‘It’s been a good summer, but I think I’m done here.’ And that was that. With a Michelin chirrup, I effected my egress.

I don’t especially begrudge Perrys unceremoniously devaluing my effort and hard work like that, because of the Corsa I accidentally brutalised. I have no idea how it happened - I must have somehow got a bit of grit on my sponge or not thoroughly cleaned some muck off the paint or something - but I managed to completely destroy the paintwork on the roof of a brand new, unregistered, Space Green-coloured 1.2-litre Corsa. As I rinsed away the suds, I was horrified to find a succession of deep swirls scored into the fresh new paint, some exposing the bare metal beneath. (‘Babylon’s Burning’ by The Ruts was playing at the time, I seem to remember.) It wasn’t so much that I was horrified at the prospect of having to pay for the damage, more that I was proud of my little niche within the business and the quality of work that I maintained. This would be a serious blot on my copybook. But – aha! – there was a shed full of lotions and potions to deal with such crises! I ran to the alley behind the showroom, my headphones trailing behind me, to see what we had in the way of T-Cut and Space Green polish. Thankfully it was well stocked and, armed with my bottled salvation, I set about repairing the damage as best I could.
Now, T-Cut isn’t something you should really use on new paint. It’s a harsh and abrasive formula that effectively melts the paint slightly, allowing you to smear it around and cover up scratches. On an old car, that’s exactly what you need. On a new car, it’s pretty obvious what you’ve done. But, after the relentless and obsessive application of a dozen or so coats of Space Green polish, I had it looking alright. Relieved, I moved onto the next Corsa in the line and carried on as normal. No need to crucify myself, it was OK.
The next day when I came into work the manager had had a bit of a stock reshuffle. That Space Green Corsa 1.2 was now in the showroom. Under the bright lights. Right by the entrance, an ambassador for the franchise to everybody who walked in through the door. Now, nobody else mentioned that Corsa’s roof, or even seemed to notice. To me, however, it stuck out like a horse in a gerbil-only swimming class. I could see that bare steel glinting through the waxy sheen, mocking me, the polish barely concealing its horrible, horrible lies.
That Corsa must be sitting on somebody’s driveway right now, its owner increasingly baffled as to why the roof is so very rusty when the rest of the car is fine and solid.

If Perrys Vauxhall had treated me with a more nurturing attitude, I might still be there, having worked my way up to some sort of senior sales position. I have a friend who sells Vauxhalls for a living and he loves it – the commission is certainly juicy enough to keep things exciting. But then again, despite my care, fastidiousness and pride in the task, who knows how many Corsas I’d have inadvertently ruined before I reached those lofty heights…?

[n.b. In case Perrys Vauxhall Google themselves and find this, let’s pretend that I made the whole thing up.]

Tea etiquette

The foundation of the British empire.

Growing Up Heroes

Did you ever dress up as a superhero when you were a kid? Of course you did. And so did all of these people.

Rémi Gaillard: Foot 2012

French prankster Rémi Gaillard has ball skillz. Who knew…?

BJ portraits

Marvellous idea - take photos of people whilst blasting them with air. Click here.

Ba'noodle

Keep Calm Must Stop

This ubiquitous Keep Calm & Carry On nonsense has got way out of hand. Click here.

Baby talk

I often worry that my daughter is judging me like this.

Skyfall & Anchorman 2

Two exciting new movie trailers this week...


'You just don't get it, do you?'

Always, always delivered with the same inflection.

A hilarious arsehole

This man likes hitting people. But he likes demeaning people even more.

Friday, 18 May 2012

18/05/12 - Old folk

Youth, as the old aphorism goes, is wasted on the young. (If you were a shitty cruise ship compère you might follow this with ‘the youth get wasted because they’re young’. Ha! Thangyouvermuch leddezengennelmen, mine’s a pint of Watney’s Red Barrel.) The one thing that truly separates us from the sentient robots that will undoubtedly enslave us in the near future is our capacity to constantly degrade and crumble; to be a mammal is to age and, while we all may feel as mentally sprightly as we did when we were young and fresh and could drink ten pints in one sitting, the truth is that every day when we look in the mirror, we see a wrinkling and greying hulk before us. You are a parody of your former self. You think and say the same things, but it all comes from a much more age-advanced shell, seeming all the more ridiculous with each passing year. Indeed, our perception of old people in modern society is pretty shameful. When I think of my departed grandfather, now working his way through eternity on the Winchester breeze, I think of a life well lived, rich in experiences and with so many stories to tell; a vital role in Britain’s war effort, a successful career, raising a happy and loving family. But to anyone who’d seen him shuffling down the street in his later years, they’d probably have paid his kaleidoscope of experience as much heed as you and I do to every pensioner we see out in public: ‘old person’, we think. And that’s it. They’re all the same, just old, slow, possibly batty, probably ill, usually grumpy. Opinions invalid. This is exactly what people will think of you when you’re old.

But don’t be downhearted! Getting old is actually a brilliant thing. You can play on these stereotypes and this general sense of ignorance to have a rare old time at the expense of those pesky young greenhorns. Here are some things I’m looking forward to when I’m old and stinking…

Paying for things with pennies
There are a lot of half-truths and rumours around what you can and can’t buy with coppers and shrapnel. When I was at school, the figure of twenty pounds was bandied around as the maximum you could take into a shop for a purchase before they threw your fiddling small change back in your face, although this was probably just a number that some kid plucked from the air. Some banks can get a bit pissy about changing up your bagged pennies, saying that they’ll only exchange ten quid’s worth and the rest will be dealt with by the Post Office, although nobody’s quite sure why this is. However, two key factors will ensure that once you’re retired, you can pay for whatever you like with hundreds of tiny coins; firstly, only a complete arsehole would refuse the money of a sweet old buffer who keeps saying ‘what’s that, sonny…?’ and who took a good ten minutes to shuffle from one end of the store to the other, and secondly, well, sod it, it’s all legal tender. Best get the old bastard out of the shop pronto before he pisses himself, eh? (…is what the shiny-suited young salesman is thinking.)
So, when the time comes to make a major new purchase – let’s say it’s a television – the tactic for the cantankerous fogey should be to take their £500-odd out of the bank in pennies – insist on it in a shaky voice, they’ll eventually relent – then wheel the loot into Currys in one of those bags on wheels that old people seem to believe are practical for shopping, and hand it over. Currys doesn’t have coin-weighing machines like banks do, so that shiny-suited chap will have to count all of the pennies out individually. This activity can probably fill an entire day, with the salesman all the while worrying about the state of the carpet and whether or not he’ll need to call an ambulance.

Writing letters
People don’t write letters any more, do they? A combination of the ubiquity and ease of digital communication, a general social shift toward being more impersonal and less traditional, and the rising cost of stamps means that we just can’t be arsed to put pen to paper any more.
Rail against this. Use your wizened old hands to baffle the editor of the Radio Times with your misguided ranting. You may have retained a full complement of marbles, but you can pretend to be barking mental just for the sheer hell of it. Write in and tell them how shameful you found the latest episode of The Only Way is Essex, offering as it did very little practical information on the creation of the new Essex superhighway which, now you think of it, you might have imagined. It’ll definitely get printed. Write a letter to Watchdog telling them that you’re positively disgusted with the excellent treatment you always receive at Tesco, and that you yearn for the halcyon days of indifference and standoffishness. They’ll probably spin it into a story. Write to your MP with a list of mad suggestions for making the borough better – moving walkways on all pavements, free holiday cruises for the elderly, pubs that only cater for the over-seventies, etc. Send a letter to Crimewatch, telling them that you haven’t seen anything suspicious recently but will remain vigilant. Write to your kids and include the notes you made during your last telephone conversation with them. Write to yourself at home, then scribble ‘return to sender’ on the envelope when it arrives and pop it back in the postbox, just to see how many journeys you can force the postman to make on one stamp. You mischievous old sod. 

Living like a student
I don’t know about you, but when I was a student this was a typical day: enormous lie-in, lunch, TV, dinner, go out drinking. You can only really get away with this when you’re a student, because you have to be responsible and sensible after you graduate, pretending to be mature and grown-up whilst secretly resenting having to go to bloody work; you’ve got to pay bills and taxes, be a helpful member of society, perhaps raise a family or focus on being successful in business, or whatever. But when you’ve put all of that sensibleness behind you, you’re free to once again live the disgusting, carefree lifestyle of the student. There’s no point getting up early if you have nowhere to be, so you may as well languish in bed until midday. Get up and boil some Super Noodles (the consistency will be perfect for your toothless gums), then veg in front of the telly for a while. This will give you something to talk about in the bingo hall later. After some soup (again, a cheap meal with minimal chewing), head out to the bingo in an ironic manner – I’m old, this is what old people are meant to do, so fuck it… - and sneak in a bottle of Lamb’s Navy in a brown paper bag, to prove that you’re still young at heart. Your wayward, pissed-up drive home afterwards will pass unnoticed on the police radar, as they’ll see how very old you are and assume that the dangerous swerving is down to arthritis.

Watching all of the sport
Well, someone’s got to. My nan and grandad spent their final years fixated upon their 40” Bravia, avidly consuming any sport that was available to watch; football, tennis, cricket, snooker, diving, horse-racing, motocross, rugby, they drank it all in. Aside from my friend Lucy (who’s thirty, and a veritable telly aficionado), I don’t know anyone below retirement age who can demonstrate such an encyclopaedic knowledge of all sports. To return to the previous point about not having anything to do all day, you might as well get interested in sport, mightn’t you? I have no particular keenness to watch sport on TV at present - aside from motorsport, obvs - but I’ll relish the opportunity to swoop in at the age of seventy and learn everything there is to know about all of these things that had been thus far absent from my consciousness. The offside rule, the importance of an elliptical spin for the hammer throw, the reason snooker balls get plucked from pockets and returned to the table, why the horses don’t drown in water polo, all of this will give me something to think about, to keep my mind active. It’ll make my grandkids think I’m cool too, probably, spending all day watching football. (I don’t know, is that how it works? Football’s a mystery to me.)

Surprising people
Assuming you’ve not gone mad, you can have great fun pretending you are completely senile by indulging in various age-inappropriate activities that put people on edge, thinking ‘poor old git, should we help him…?’.
When I was a teenager, I used to quite often see a very, very old woman driving incredibly slowly and questionably around Whitstable in an Escort RS Turbo, resplendent in chrome 18” wheels, panscraping ride-height, rude-boy bodykit and neons. Some boy racer had spent thousands on that car, it was baffling how this decrepit old duffer had ended up with it. Unless, of course, she was playing the I’m-mad-honest game – she could well have been perfectly able to drive like a normal person, but preferred to give everyone something to think about. If this was the case, she was some kind of genius. We should all do things like that. Build a streetracer and then cruise haphazardly around your town centre in it, squinting through your cataracts. Wear a shell suit and a bumbag, combined with a pair of Wayfarers. Get tickets to see One Direction, then stand right at the front. Talk in great detail to shop assistants about your sex life in your youth. Watch teen rom-coms at the cinema. Take dance lessons at your local gym, and bring your walking-frame along. Buy the most expensive Nike Airs in the shop and wear them with your Harris tweed. Take a Thermos of Bovril to the trendiest bar on the high street.

Being old is going to be ace.



Red Fang - Wires

Now, that's how you make a music video.

Depressed Copywriter

This is either a work of dark genius or a protracted suicide note. Either way, it's thoroughly entertaining. Click here.

Vinyl trick shots

Probably fake, certainly disrespectful. But entertaining nonetheless.

Oh, the humanity!

It's 75 years since the Hindenburg crashed in a deadly fireball in New Jersey - click here to see some excellent photos courtesy of The Atlantic.

Jimmy Carr vs. hecklers

Some toys from the eighties

An absolutely superb music video. (Unfortunately the music itself is shite...)

Mascots Gone Wild

Well Stratford, there goes the neighbourhood. Clicky.

Pisa high-five trolling

This is such a good idea. People seem to take it in good cheer too...

Radar

Some lovely mischief from Rémi Gaillard.

How to wake a kid

Sleep-drumming is for winners.

Halfords - 'The Trip'

Halfords in quite-good-advert shocker!

Friday, 11 May 2012

11/05/12 - Seven wonders of the modern world

The modern world is a wonderful place, jam-packed with clever, useful and fascinating things that we often take for granted. Yes, it’s easy (and fun, and cathartic) to complain about the weather, the government, the economy, the subtly diminishing size of chocolate bars and so forth, but that’s hardly the JuicyPips way, is it? A stream of negativity and bile?
Er, well, yes. Yes it is. But not this week – today we’re celebrating the everyday things that we should probably pay a little more attention and respect to. Feel free to dive in with your own additions to the list. (I won’t listen, but it’ll give you something to do.)

Wireless broadband
This is just fucking witchcraft, basically. Kids these days – Jesus, I sound old – don’t appreciate how lucky they are to have fast internet on demand, wherever they may be. I remember very clearly what the internet situation was when I was a teenager (and when I say ‘teenager’, I’m talking 17 or 18, as there weren’t any internets before the late nineties, apart from the top secret ones kept in high-security filing cabinets at CERN and NASA); we had mindnumbingly slow dial-up, with a long cable coming out of the phone socket, up the stairs, into the spare room and plugged in the back of the computer. When you’d finished with the internet, you’d wind the cable up and store it under the computer desk so that you weren’t tripping over it the whole time. And, obviously, you couldn’t use the phone if you were online, because they used the same socket.
Dial-up was really annoying to use, wasn’t it? All of that ssshhhhhKRRREEEEEE-shabong-bong-SQUEEEEEEEEEEEEEE business to establish a connection that may or may not immediately drop, like you were having to tease the internet out of a bloody ZX Spectrum. And Christ, it was slow. If you opened an image-heavy page, you’d have time to go and get a cup of tea while it loaded. Streaming video? Forget it. Your phone line would probably have caught fire.
The fact that we can use the internet as quickly as we like these days without having to monkey around with wires and stuff is close to miraculous, frankly. I’m grateful for it every day. Thank you Prof. Stephen Hawking, or whoever’s Crown Prince of the Internet these days.

Cillit Bang
People often cite the Barry Scott adverts as a classic example of bad advertising, but everybody remembers them. They’re actually brilliant. I rather like the (clearly deliberately) amateurish cheesiness of them. They’re a masterpiece of modern marketing; aesthetically self-aware, and so tongue-in-cheek that you almost can’t tell.
But Cillit Bang sells itself, really. It’s amazing. For generations we’ve scrubbed and sweated and rubbed the skin off the end of our fingers trying to keep our bathrooms and kitchens clean, yet here’s a product that effortlessly grabs all of the disgusting grime that your life leaves behind and transmutes it into harmless vapour before your very eyes. It’s not as if you pay through the nose for the privilege either; you can buy it in Poundland. Seriously, Barry Scott makes Mister Muscle look like a little bitch.

Marmite
Not so much the product itself – although Marmite is delicious, and anybody who says otherwise is a fool – but rather the ubiquity of its brand identity. In less wanky terms, I’m talking about the all-pervading nature of the phrase ‘love it or hate it’. It’s such a simple idea, but the notion of applying it to a product that’s known to polarise opinion, to acknowledge rather than ignore the fact that some people can’t stand Marmite, is clearly an idea that tapped into something primal in the public consciousness, because we’ve all happily fallen into the routine of saying that something is ‘a bit Marmite’ without thinking about it. What we’re really appreciating here is the simplicity of far-reaching ideas: at some point, in an office somewhere, somebody thought ‘Marmite: you either love it or hate it’; that one spark of creativity, that fusing and crackling of synapses, yielded a concept that the nation and beyond has latched onto. (See also Ronseal – ‘it does exactly what it says on the tin’. Timeless.)

Airbag suspension
…will hitherto have been of little interest to many of you, but bear with me.
Even if you have no interest in cars and modifying culture, you’ll probably be aware of hydraulic suspension, having seen it on lowriders in rap videos and what-have-you – this kind of thing: http://youtu.be/Xj4HQwpJRA4
Hydraulics have been around for decades, but their forte is really showboating rather than all-round usability; if you’ve got hydraulics (in the traditional sense) fitted, you’re sacrificing your car’s ability to deal with potholes, bumps, cornering at any speed – driveability, basically. But nowadays we have airbag suspension, which is clever.
’Bags use a standard damper-and-spring setup, but have an inflatable bladder attached to one end of the assembly. The spring and shock absorber take care of the car’s handling in the usual manner, but inflating or deflating the airbags on each corner allows you to remotely adjust the car’s ride-height, just like with hydraulics. Like this: http://youtu.be/WitrdIji3Uo So it’s the best of both worlds.
Now, there’s heated debate in the modifying world between two camps: ’bags and static. That is, people who get their car low on airbags but raise it for general driving, versus people who lower their car on coilovers (or just cut springs) and run it that low all the time – the general rule being that coilovers might not get your car quite as low, but it’s more hardcore to be risking your sump 24/7 in pursuit of lows. Fuelling this debate is KW Suspension’s DDC range, which consists of coilovers with remotely adjustable settings, so you can wind the ride-height up and down using an app on your phone.
I think I may have lost some of you here. I just find it interesting that there’s such a phenomenal level of detailed development that goes into just one niche area of this hobby. But let’s move on, shall we?

Decent comedy
There’s a lot more comedy on TV than there used to be. This is good. But what we should really be thankful for is the quality of it. I mean, there have always been good and bad comedians, but TV comedy generally used to focus on what was mainstream-popular rather than progressive or clever, i.e. generic, lowest common denominator dross like Jim Davidson, Freddy Starr and Bernard Manning. There are still shit comedians around today that are inexplicably popular (Michael McIntyre, for instance), but the popularity of such shows as Live at the Apollo allows younger or less well-known acts to have a wider forum. This, in turn, lets TV-branded entertainment spill out into real-life; for example, Dave sponsor a series of comedy showcases in venues across the country – the lifeblood of comedy is getting bums on seats, and if a recognised media name gets people to turn up, then that’s great.
There’s a world of excellent comedy out there, all the time, just waiting to enrich your lives - you should get out there and see some. If you’re between thirty and forty-ish, you may remember seeing Lee & Herring on TV, in Fist of Fun and TMWRNJ. You’re probably aware that Stewart Lee has developed into the comedian’s comedian, a kind of elder statesman of quality comedy, and his recent stuff – acerbic, cutting, disappointed in the world - is well worth checking out. But it’s Richard Herring that you should be paying close attention to; possibly the hardest-working man in comedy, he performs a new show at the Edinburgh Fringe every year (and then tours it relentlessly) as well as creating a raft of regular podcasts (As It Occurs To Me, Warming Up), a daily blog, radio shows, a column in Metro, he’s everywhere. Go here - http://bit.ly/12tasks - and buy ‘The Twelve Tasks of Hercules Terrace’, it’s probably the greatest comedy routine ever written. Then buy all his other DVDs. Then see him live, ‘cos that’s best.
Sanderson Jones is another inspired modern comic. He performed a show last year called ‘Comedy Sale’ - he promoted the gig through Twitter and sold all of the tickets personally; I met him in a pub in Soho to collect my tickets, had a couple of pints with him and he scampered off to sell some more. His internet-themed show demonstrates the true comedy potential of Powerpoint, while the notion of playing Chatroulette on a big screen, revealing to the masturbating creeps that they’re actually ‘performing’ to several hundred people in a church, is little short of genius.
…and of course there’s Tim Minchin, Kevin Eldon, Greg Davies, Russell Kane, Carl Donnelly and countless others – these people will make you laugh. And that will make your life better. Good comedy is good, that’s pretty much the message here.

Print media
Having banged on about how great it is to have fast broadband these days, I’m still very keen to espouse the virtues of the offline. The internet offers unprecedented opportunities for sharing information, learning new things, keeping at the bleeding edge of any given subject, but there really is no substitute for the printed word. Kindles and e-books are wonderful things and I’m very glad that they exist, but you can’t beat the ceremony of choosing a specific book, turning the pages manually, using a bookmark – this tactility stretches back through countless generations of mankind’s history, and it’s something that cannot be replicated by Amazon’s download service.
Similarly, the humble magazine is an irreplaceable thing. Sure, you can get up-to-date articles on any given subject every day, more than you could possibly ever have time to read, but there’s something special about having a publication that you can hold in your hands, fold into your knapsack, store on a shelf for future reference, read on the toilet… I have a lot of time for magazines. That sales are dropping across the board is an indisputable fact, but there will always be a place for magazines in the modern world – the anticipation of an imminent new issue of your favourite mag, the idiosyncrasies of the writers, the care lavished upon the layout. Evo magazine recently had a problem with a feature of theirs on the new Subaru BRZ; a subscriber had scanned and uploaded the full 12-page feature onto an American car forum several days before the magazine hit the newsstands, offering the double-whammy of a) massive copyright violation and b) sharing something that wasn’t yet even available for purchase. The positive spin they applied to the debacle was that Evo’s print media clearly offers something that can’t be found in the digital sphere.
Ditto newspapers; you can read it all for free online, you can scan through it on your phone, you can have it pinged to your desktop or your various readers and aggregators, but people still buy actual newspapers. The reason for this is the same as why people still buy CDs and DVDs – for all the simplicity, cleverness and speed of digital assistance, it’s nice to have something to hold as your own.
I love print media. Long may it thrive. (Or, at least, limp along to some degree.)

The sun and the moon
To entirely misquote Blur, modern life is complicated. We’re constantly bombarded by distractions, we’re always on the way to do something, meet someone, buy something… every day is bristling with activities, each seemingly more vital and pressing than the last. We have bills to pay, TV shows to catch up on, meals to cook, relatives to Skype, clients to appease, projects to manage, emails to answer, holidays to research, everything’s busy, busy, busy. But every now and then, as you travel down the street, rushing from one place to the next, you glance up to the sky and see the sun or the moon. Or both. And for a fleeting instant a sense of cosmic rightness floods through your mind. You feel a link to these aged celestial bodies; they’ve been up there for longer than your sense of time can cope with, and they’ll still be there long after you’re gone. Just casually hanging there, getting on with the business of being in space. Everything that’s ever happened in the history of mankind occurred beneath those twin watchmen; your conception, the building of your house, the Black Death, the Battle of Gettysburg, the invention of the paperclip, the death of the last T-Rex, the evolution of the stromatolite, the last pencil you sharpened, the discovery of penicillin, the recording of Let It Be, your first kiss, the last pair of pants you bought, Shakespeare penning Troilus & Cressida, the day you learned how to change a light bulb, it all happened under the same sun and the same moon. When you look up into the sky, don’t the troubles and stresses of your life seem somehow less important…?
Don’t think about it for too long, though – your coffee’ll get cold, you’ll forget to reply to that email, and you might miss the latest challenge in Draw Something.

How to survive the hosepipe ban

Ignore Hitler

An absolutely inspired concept - sneaking Hitler into every image on Pictionary-alike app Draw Something. Magical. Click here.

What Siri was really developed for

Siri: she's like a female KITT.

This is punk, apparently

Who knew?

Heartwarming photos of kids


The grandmother of these two girls was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma back in 2006. Due to the girls' coughs and colds, as all kids have, they weren't often able to visit grandma, so their father (a wedding photographer) began to take brilliantly creative pictures of the girls, so that grandma could see what they were up to. You can see more here.

Cute kids review Paranoid Android

Travolta vs. masseur

This is exactly how it happened.

#RIPMCA

A little JuicyPips mini-tribute to Adam Yauch. First up, my favourite Beastie Boys cover:



Next, a rather sweet thing that Coldplay did:



...and finally, one of the best music videos ever made: Intergalactic.

Pixar - 'Lifted'

Venice in a Day

A beautiful representation of a beautiful place.

The incredible dancing of Keith Apicary

[insert obvious Napoleon Dynamite comparison]

The impossible texting & driving test

Friday, 4 May 2012

04/05/12 - Words, &c

The Japanese word ‘ao’ (あお) is the name for a colour which, in its original form, spanned both green and blue. This is a linguistic quirk that confuses native English-speakers, because we have a very linear system of labelling colour; while we perceive and name different shades of colours, we really only have one name for each group. If we see a colour that seems simultaneously green and blue, the best we can come up with as a description is ‘a sort of greeny-blue’. This isn’t because we’re unimaginative or that our language lacks versatility, it’s just the way that language and perception intertwine in diverse manners within different cultures.
The international convention for traffic lights is to have red, amber and green for the various instructions, but there are no guidelines for specific shades of these colours. In the 1930s when traffic lights were introduced to Japan, the shade of green that was used for ‘go’ was called ‘ao shingô’ (青信号). However, in the following decades it became common in Japanese speech for ‘ao’ to mean ‘blue’, with ‘midori’ (みどり) becoming the more widely accepted word for ‘green’. This caused some difficulty, as they were now saying that their green traffic lights were blue. So what’s the solution here? Rename the traffic light shade to ‘midori’? That’d seem to be the obvious thing, wouldn’t it?
But no. In 1973, the Japanese highways authorities changed all of the green traffic lights to a sort of greeny-blue shade, thereby remaining roughly within the international colour parameters while also retaining the traditional name that everybody had got used to. The Japanese are rather keen on tradition, you see, and there’s nowt more traditional than language.

I like language. I enjoy fiddling around with it. I studied English at university, although I decided on the English Literature route rather than studying the mechanics of the language itself; I was more interested in the creative avenues that could be opened by the offbeat and unexpected implementations of the written word. We studied some impressively odd stuff – have you read The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman? Written in 1759, it was revolutionary for its time, simply for its wilful textual misbehaviour; Tristram is a whimsically serpentine narrator, never using ten words when a hundred will do, and some pages of the text are just blocks of black, or squiggly lines.
The Modernist poetry of William Carlos Williams was equally surprising to a young student of wordsmithery. Take The Red Wheelbarrow, for example – here it is in its entirety:

so much depends
upon

a red wheel
barrow

glazed with rain
water

beside the white
chickens.


…the key point being, of course, that it’s as much about what’s not being said – a jarring concept for a blabbermouth kid who vocalised his every thought in rather too much detail for all and sundry to hear/ignore.
But anyway, all of this is leading to an unpleasant admission: I was shit at writing. I spent my childhood devouring books (not literally, that’d be awful), yet had no particular flair when it came to stringing words together for the amusement of others. I recently attempted to re-read my final year dissertation and couldn’t make it past the second page, as it was making me cringe so hard that I was in danger of ingesting my own face. Thirteen years of school and three years of university and I still couldn’t confidently patch a narrative together. Shameful. I live in fear that someone will one day discover that appalling document in the University of Portsmouth library and reveal that I’m a total charlatan. Seriously, please don’t try, it’s terrible.

All of this is thrown into sharp focus when I speak to people who are actually good with words an’ that. A friend of mine, Sam, keenly reads JuicyPips every week so that he can point out when I’ve incorrectly written ‘license’ instead of ‘licence’ and what-have-you – this isn’t malicious behaviour, he just knows what an anal and obsessive proofreader I am, and likes to keep me grounded in reality by pointing out that staring at one’s own words for two hours, trying to pick the bugs out and becoming increasingly snowblind, is a waste of time. (Doesn’t stop me doing it, though.)
My wife is a properly qualified linguist, and her dad is a double-PhD lecturer in linguistics. This puts an enormous weight of pressure on all of this meaningless shit that I churn out every week; each time I enthusiastically split an infinitive, or overuse the Oxford comma, I’m very aware that I’m being a naughty boy with my words and marks. I luxuriate in ellipses, brackets, semi-colons and commas, I’m prone to effusive hyperbole, and I frequently begin sentences with ‘but’. And ‘and’.

It’s quite a needy endeavour, isn’t it? Writing down all of your thoughts and sending them to people, saying ‘This is what I think, isn’t it interesting?’
I did start writing a novel a couple of years ago, but it’s such an OCD-heavy undertaking, constantly re-reading and editing, that it faltered and died; the first chapter languishes in a hidden folder on my hard drive, never to be read. In hindsight, it was shite anyway. So I write JuicyPips every week, on the basis that a) it’s technically part of my job, so I can get away with doing it in work time, and b) it’s such a frivolous and thematically vapid concept, I don’t have to tie it together week-on-week with any sort of effort or consistency. I email it to around 200 people, and roughly another hundred or so read it on the blog. In theory. The difference between idly flicking through JuicyPips as a freebie email/blog and actually paying for it was highlighted when I published the JuicyPips book about a year ago (current sales: 24 copies, I think, largely to family members who felt guilty and awkward because I kept mentioning it [oh, and my friend Bruce, who might just be JuicyPips’ biggest fan - hi Bruce! {and Darren, a colleague, who happily told me that he reads the book on the toilet}]), but I’m not overly bothered by that. There’s so little interaction from JuicyPips’ readers (apart from JJ White, who replies every week - buy his band's new album, it's great, they're called Et Tu Brucé) that I just assume no-one’s actually reading it at all, thereby affording me the gloriously self-indulgent license (or is it licence? Sam, email me…) to pick a topic at random each week and waffle on for a bit. Which is brilliant.

I bloody love writing, you see. It’s one of my favourite things. I may not be that good at it, but the fact that so few people actually write things simply for pleasure these days means that anyone who bothers is, by default, pigeonholed as ‘a good writer’, no matter how many unnecessary commas they sprinkle over the text. This pleases me.
To illustrate this point, scan back up this week’s JuicyPips and see what we’ve experienced so far: we began with an obscure anecdote, passed into arty-farty historical references (what kind of a ponce emails a couple of hundred people to say ‘Oh yah, I’ve read Tristram Shandy, and I know all about Modernist poetry…’ – yep, that just happened. Boom.), then (oh, hang on, there was a full-stop, then a closed bracket, followed by a comma – that’s not right, is it? And now [ooh, sentence beginning with ‘and’ again] we’re discussing it within brackets [that contain two sets of sub-brackets now {repetition of ‘now’}] inside another sentence. Where were we? I wonder what sort of punctuation catastrophe will end this bracketed diatribe? I really should have used an asterisk…) into some pseudo-heartfelt woe-is-me musing and a little self-deprecation, before piling into a rather messy paragraph that features a sentence that is now 154 words long. Following this will be another anecdote with which the narrative will close, preceded by an audience observation and a crude attempt at involving you, the reader, in proceedings by thanking you for playing your passive role, and then a bit in brackets that points out when it’s happened.
And yet you’re still reading. I love you for that, it validates what I do. (See, that was the observation/involvement bit, and this is the bit that points it out.)

The biblical explanation for why we all speak such diverse languages recounts the drama of the Tower of Babel; that a united humanity drew together the generations after the great flood to build a tower in the land of Shinar that had ‘its top in the heavens...lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the Earth’. God didn’t like the idea of everyone living in one place and speaking the same language, because no-one would be able to keep secrets from one another, so he encouraged them in his traditional way – by terrible force – to scatter across the Earth and develop separate tongues. The thinking behind this is unclear, unless he was just really into secrecy. (Or wanted to hand Douglas Adams a conveniently clever name for a translating fish. Perhaps all of creation was ultimately intended just to bring us the works of Douglas Adams? I’ve heard worse arguments...)
Now, slapping God in the face is the concept of PIE: Proto-Indo-European. Basically, all of the current 6,000-odd languages in the world can trace their roots back to around ten language families, the largest of these being PIE, which fathered all of the European languages as well as a variety of Indian and Asian ones. The theory is that Proto-Indo-European was spoken as a common tongue around 5,000 years ago in southern Russia, and the migration of tribes saw it split into all of the dialects and languages we enjoy today. Makes sense, really. (I mean, these people could have come from Babel, but let’s not muddy the waters with fairy tales. Or nonsensical mixed metaphors. [‘Muddy the waters with fairy tales’? Are fairy tales known for dissipating dirt when diluted?]) So all of the linguistic arguments we have today – that American English is an unsavoury bastardisation of ‘proper’ English (or, conversely, that it follows a purer and more traditional set of rules), that French, Spanish and Italian Catalan dialects are worth going to war over, that abbreviations in the OED are acceptable but text-speak isn’t, that misusing an apostrophe is a sign of a severe mental enfeeblement, and so forth – are basically just poppycock and tommyrot, because languages evolve and develop according to how they are used and who happens to be using them at the time. Such is life.
So, er, thanks for the opportunity to perpetuate this ongoing crusade of poppycock to such extravagant extremes. I shall endeavour to keep you moderately nourished with quasi-palatable tommyrot ad nauseum.

[Insincere closing platitude.]

iPhone magic

This man is clearly a witch. Don't try to burn him though, he'll eat your soul.

 

John Peel's record collection

Cataloguing John Peel's record collection - that's got to be a life's work, right? Well, this project will get us part of the way there. Once a week from May to October 2012, the first 100 records for each letter of the alphabet will be listed interactively on this site. Keep an eye on it - there'll be all sorts of discoveries to make.

Say yes to roller skating

Chip Shop Awards 2012

The Chip Shop Awards allow advertising creatives to make the ads they want to make without wading through the red tape that clients and agency convention are always throwing up. Categories include 'best use of plagiarism', 'best use of shocking copy', 'best work for any brand you haven't a hope of winning', 'best work for a brand you have but haven't a hope of running' and 'best use of Blu Tac in a shop window postcard space', among others. Click here to see the 2012 nominations.

Paddy Power - Goal-Line Technology

Ooh, they're so subversive.

Filthy Art Attacks

Some excellent street art - I particularly like the tentacles. Click here.