Friday, 15 June 2012

15/06/12 - The Seven Basic Plots

Novelist and Nobel Prize laureate Thomas Mann defines a writer as ‘a person for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people’. My secondary school English teacher once came up with a line about poets that has stuck in my mind: ‘They’ll spend a day deciding where to place a comma, then the next day they’ll remove it.’ Pulling out a jumble of words and shuffling them into an order that’s both thematically coherent and pleasing on the eye/ear is like playing chess; you need to understand what all the pieces are for, remember which ones can move diagonally and try not to leave your queen exposed to a penetrative manoeuvre from the rear. (Actually, it’s not like chess at all, is it?)
Here are Hollywood screenwriter William Goldman’s thoughts on the subject: ‘Writing is finally about one thing - going into a room alone and doing it. Putting words on paper that have never been there in quite that way before.’
These are interesting points. We all use common languages; the same words, the same punctuation marks, the same pauses, glottal stops and idiosyncratic idioms. The mark of a good storyteller is to be able to organise these shared resources into something compelling and new that is both engaging for the reader and enduring for the ages.

There has been much discussion and debate over the nature of narratives and storytelling, with the number of basic plot architectures narrowed down to lists of thirty-six, a couple of dozen, or as few as two. However, my own preference is Private Eye founder Christopher Booker’s notion of ‘the seven basic plots’, thus:

Comedy
Chaotic misunderstandings which resolve themselves in a happy ending. (Much Ado About Nothing, Pride and Prejudice, anything by P.G. Wodehouse)

Tragedy
A flawed character demonstrates evil tendencies and ultimately dies or makes something awful happen. (Macbeth, Madame Bovary, Reservoir Dogs)

Rebirth
Hero experiences dark times but is ultimately redeemed, leading to a happy ending. (A Christmas Carol, Snow White, Star Wars)

Overcoming the Monster
Hero confronts and defeats symbol of evil, then comes home victorious. (Beowulf, Dracula, Jaws, any Bond film.)

Rags to Riches
Hero is an everyman, usually downtrodden, who attains something they’ve always desired but felt was unachievable – fame, riches, beauty, what-have-you.
(Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Cinderella, Jane Eyre.)

The Quest
Hero embarks upon a risky mission, studded with danger and peril. (Homer’s Odyssey, Lord of the Rings, Watership Down.)

Voyage and Return
Hero leaves home to explore another world, dramatically escapes some kind of imperilling situation, returns back to reality. (Alice in Wonderland, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, The Wizard of Oz.)

These seven architectures provide the framework for pretty much any story in which anything actually happens. And when I say ‘story’, this doesn’t just refer to books, but poems, songs, shaggy dog stories and anything in which there’s an active protagonist (and, indeed, most things without).

Chaucer’s The Summoner’s Tale gives us something that’s gloriously detached from the world we know:

A Somonour was ther with us in that place,
That hadde a fyr-reed cherubinnes face,
For saucefleem he was, with eyen narwe.
As hoot he was, and lecherous as a sparwe,
With scalled browes blake, and piled berd;
Of his visage children were aferd.
Ther nas quick-silver, litarge, ne brimstoon,
Boras, ceruce, ne oille of tartre noon,
Ne oynement that wolde clense and byte,
That him mighte helpen of his whelkes white,
Ne of the knobbes sittinge on his chekes.
Wel loved he garleek, oynons, and eek lekes,
And for to drinken strong wyn, reed as blood.
Thanne wolde he speke, and crie as he were wood.
And whan that he wel dronken hadde the wyn,
Than wolde he speke no word but Latin.


…but in its detachment, it also remains impressively contemporary. OK, the language itself may seem tricky at first glance, but no more so than a modern txtspk interchange. Dichotomous, huh?
The imagery discussed works along the same lines as that which we enjoy today; ‘fyr-reed cherubinnes face’ is a putdown disguised as a compliment, something that we’re all fond of. His diet of garlic and onions and keenness on blood-red wine makes him sound like some mish-mash of a number of hideous monsters, resplendent as he is in straggly beard and face plastered in ‘whelkes’ and ‘knobbes’. This is just a short extract of course, and The Summoner’s Tale expands into a fierce satire of friarhood. (Preceding it in The Canterbury Tales was The Friar’s Tale, which was very scathing about summoners. Think of it as a diss-laden fourteenth century rap battle.) On the whole, we can place The Canterbury Tales under the ‘comedy’ heading – whilst elements of it include the tragic and much of the concept fits under ‘voyage and return’, it was written as an irony-rich satire of 14th century Britain. The fact that the stories were recorded for posterity and enjoyed through the centuries tells you something compelling about human nature: you can’t beat a good yarn.

On a more tuneful note, the fun thing with music is that we’re often offered a partial story which we can develop to fit one of the seven themes. Take, for example, these [abridged] lyrics from Arctic Monkeys’ When The Sun Goes Down:

Who's that girl there?
I wonder what went wrong
So that she had to roam the streets
She don’t do major credit cards
I doubt she does receipts
It's all not quite legitimate

And what a scummy man
Just give him half a chance
I bet he'll rob you if he can
You can see it in his eyes,
Yeah, that he's got a driving ban
Amongst some other offences…

…Look, here comes a Ford Mondeo
Isn't he Mr Inconspicuous?
And he don't even have to say owt
She's in the stance ready to get picked up

Bet she's delighted when she sees him
Pulling in and giving her the eye
Because she must be fucking freezing
Scantily-clad beneath the clear night sky
It don’t stop in the winter, no


Where would you place that? Rags to riches? Rebirth? Overcoming the monster? Tragedy? Comedy, even? It’s down to your own interpretation, really. We’re provided with a tragedy toolkit there, but the narrative is brimming with potential. Where would you like to take the story?
And what about this one? It’s Johnny Cash’s Folsom Prison Blues.

I hear the train a-comin'
It's rollin’ round the bend
And I ain't seen the sunshine since I don't know when
I'm stuck in Folsom Prison, and time keeps draggin' on
But that train keeps a-rollin' on down to San Antone
When I was just a baby my mama told me, ‘son,
Always be a good boy, don't ever play with guns’
But I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die
When I hear that whistle blowing, I hang my head and cry

I bet there's rich folks eatin’ from a fancy dining car
They're probably drinkin' coffee and smokin’ big cigars
Well I know I had it comin’, I know I can't be free
But those people keep a-movin'
And that's what tortures me

Well if they freed me from this prison,
If that railroad train was mine
I bet I'd move it on a little farther down the line
Far from Folsom prison, that's where I want to stay
And I'd let that lonesome whistle blow my blues away


There’s a stark narrative honesty to the blues, isn’t there? (I know, it’s technically country, but it’s thematically bluesy.) As it stands, this tale is most obviously either the meat of a tragedy or the first half of a rebirth story, but you could hammer it into a quest or voyage-and-return if you so wished. What happens if or when he gets that train? Is it a perennial dangling carrot above the unending bleakness of the protagonist’s situation, or will there be some form of redemption? Will that turn the story around, or will we descend further into unhappiness and despair? (Are we over-analysing this? Possibly.)
Speaking of both the blues and narrative honesty, here’s a poem you’ll probably know – W.H. Auden’s Funeral Blues:

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.

Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message 'He is dead'.
Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.

He was my north, my south, my east and west,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last forever; I was wrong.

The stars are not wanted now; put out every one,
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun,
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood;
For nothing now can ever come to any good.


(If nothing else, you’ll know this from Four Weddings and a Funeral, the film that’s inspired 50% of all people who needed to find an appropriate reading for a funeral ever since.)
Auden generally wrote his poetry with a rhythmic lyrical cadence – this poem’s title is a nod to this – and its heart-on-sleeve honesty of emotion is disarming. But how do we pigeonhole this in terms of the seven basic narratives? The raw humanity of poetry combines the complexity of protracted storytelling with the simple snapshot truth of songwriting; music is a primal, maternal thing that resonates through the ages as something cavewomen used to soothe babies and what-have-you, so does its application to other art forms help to convey a message of comedy or tragedy with a little more ease, or does it in fact detract from these principle narrative constructs, muddying the waters with pesky emotion? (Again, we could be over-analysing.)

What this all comes down to, of course, is the fact that Big Brother is back on TV again. (You saw this coming, right?)
Big Brother offers a fascinating insight into the natural storytelling that occurs when human beings are encouraged to interact with one another without distraction; the thread runs back to Norse mythology and the Egyptian scribes who chiselled out the hieroglyphs, the Aborigine storytelling tradition and the underlying human trait of being the raconteur and conveyer of news: the greatest gift mankind can offer is to pass knowledge on to future generations, and the way we’ve always done this is to recount ribald tales of our adventures.

OK, Big Brother doesn’t actually offer this at all. If anything, it demonstrates little more than how shockingly dimwitted some people are. The first UK series, broadcast in July 2000, was genuinely interesting as a social experiment: a disparate group of people selected to co-exist within a house that had no ties whatsoever to the outside world. When you think about it, this is a massive undertaking; wrenching oneself from family, friends, news and world events, employment, bills – it’s not something to be taken lightly. In that first series the contestants were encouraged to believe that a brief summary of each day would be broadcast, so they were unaware that a live feed was sharing their activity twenty-four hours a day. That lack of self-consciousness was truly fascinating. They weren’t geniuses – they’d applied to live in ‘reality’ TV for an indefinite period, with everything that implies – but they didn’t need to be: watching humans interacting is a fundamentally interesting thing. They did sit down and tell each other stories. Occasionally tragic, usually comic. That’s what humans do.
Of course, the whole formula went downhill from then on; with the knowledge that they would be watched all day every day, applicants for subsequent series were exactly the sort of peacocking cretins that you’d expect. Any possibility of them sitting down together to recount intriguing tales from the outside world was swept away in a maelstrom of bickering over bread, begging for alcohol and masturbating with wine bottles. For a cross-section of early 21st century society, let’s hope that our children’s children don’t spool through the Big Brother tapes for reference. They’ll think that we were a shower of mindless, self-involved catastrophes.

No, obviously I’m not watching the latest series of Big Brother. I don’t imagine many people are. (Honestly, I haven’t even watched a microsecond of it, or done any research whatsoever into who the contestants are or what they’ll be up to. For all I know it could be Mann, Goldman, Booker, Auden, Turner and Cash locking literary horns. I suspect it may not be, though.) We hear enough stories that sit under the ‘tragedy’ heading, we certainly don’t need to watch people chattering in such a manner under the misapprehension that they’re creating ‘comedy’. We’d be far better off enjoying the couple of millennia’s worth of rather more engaging narration we have lying around. Or we can just go to the pub and watch humans interact there – we can tell our own stories…

…although people in the pub are unlikely to be getting cabin fever. Is there a poetic truth in watching people go slowly insane? Possibly. Go on then, watch Big Brother. That tenuous anthropological argument is probably justification enough.

Naptime

PointerPointer & Flitser

Two brilliant (and quite similar) things - click the images below to play.
(n.b. these won't work if you're viewing this on your mobile.)


Vertical Video Syndrome

Museum of Endangered Sounds

Remember things? Things from the past? Yeah, me too. Click here to hear some things.

Galaxia de Pasión

'Watch, and your loins will burn with passion...'
 

Abandoned Islands

I love this kind of thing - brilliantly creepy. Click here.

Jubilee In Focus

Some lovely photos of the Jubilee, courtesy of The Atlantic. Click here.

Grey: DirecTV

Grey have created a series of great ads for DirecTV - click here to see them all.



Postman Pat gets bummed

I don't remember it being this filthy when I was a nipper.

Friday, 8 June 2012

08/06/12 - Fonts, etc

Two fonts that are much maligned and derided in 21st century society are Times New Roman and Comic Sans. The problem with both is that they’re default choices; the former for anyone who’s writing something on a PC and doesn’t seem to care what it looks like, the latter for anybody who wants something to look a bit ‘fun’ or ‘wacky’, and doesn’t realise the massive cultural faux pas that lurks behind Comic Sans usage, like a clown with a custard pie full of gravel and dog dirt. But are we being unfair to these poor, bullied typefaces…?

Times New Roman, contrary to what you may have assumed, wasn’t invented by Bill Gates to be a zero-thought choice for Word documents. Its history in fact dates back to 1931, when the new serif font was commissioned by The Times newspaper. (A serif font is, as the name suggests, a font that uses serifs; that is, the little detail strokes across the ends of letters.) There had been much criticism of the poor quality and general inconsistency of The Times’ typesetting, and the paper’s typographical consultant, Stanley Morison, worked with a chap named Victor Lardent, an artist from the advertising department, along with Monotype, a printing and typesetting development company, to create a fresh new font based on the classic Plantin typeface already in use. After making various tweaks to ensure that the letters would use space economically as well as legibly, and be easy to print without spreading, bleeding or merging, Times New Roman debuted in The Times on October 3rd 1932. After a year, the font was commercially released for all to license, the copyright held by Monotype (whose portfolio also includes a number of others you may be familiar with – Franklin Gothic, Optima, and the hipster’s choice, Helvetica). The Times stuck with their spiffy new typesetting for an impressive forty years before feeling the need to update, and have been through a number of revisions since – all based on the New Roman architecture. The genesis of the font is still inextricably intertwined with its nomenclature of course, although most people don’t make the connection. Or, indeed, give it any thought whatsoever.
Given its status as default MS Word font, the use of Times New Roman in 2012 seems kind of embarrassing. If somebody submits copy or shares a paper that’s presented in this font, it’s safe to assume that they’re not entirely computer-savvy. They haven’t given a lot of consideration to what kind of a statement the use of any particular font may make about either themselves or their content; it may not even have occurred to them that it’s possible to change it at all. Or maybe they just don’t see the point. Or are a bit of a simpleton.
When you receive an email from somebody and spot that their corporate email signature appears in Times New Roman, similar associations are made: can I trust what this person says? They don’t seem to give a tinker’s cuss how they’re perceived by others. Is this a good or a bad thing? Have they even noticed? TNR is one of the most widely-used fonts in the world – does that make its users savvy conformists or drone-like dullards?

The etymology of Comic Sans is simple: it’s a font based on the one traditionally used in American comic books such as Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns, and it doesn’t have any serifs (so ‘Sans’ is short for ‘sans serif’).
Now, to the vintage comic book aficionado there seems to be little connection between Comic Sans and the traditional comic book font, the latter being a rounded mode somewhere between a felt-tip mark and a brushstroke, curved but linear, while CS is rather more haphazard. But the lineage is pretty clear, with the rounded edges and non-connecting nature of it. The problem people have with Comic Sans is that it looks a bit, well, tacky. It’s the only font in the MS Word dropdown that immediately jumps out at the sort of person who’d use the word ‘wacky’ (aside from Wingdings, but they never have the strength of character to make the leap to a symbol-based typeface), so it gets used as the default font for posters advertising school plays, jumble sales and a cornucopia of activities of varying levels of frivolity. And there’s the rub – a whole pithy subculture has grown around the inappropriate use of Comic Sans, with it infamously appearing in such unexpected places as gravestones, police appeals for murder witnesses, a bone marrow transplant clinic, wine bottles, porn DVDs, and a sex offender registration office.
Comic Sans was drawn up by Microsoft designer Vincent Connare in 1994, with the intention of making a playful font for children. That speaks volumes about its users today. And here’s a fun fact: if you select Comic Sans as the message font in Skype, the little emoticon menu icon changes from a happy smiley to a sad smiley.
So Comic Sans is an unforgivable embarrassment then, yes? Well, mostly. But the fact that it’s now eighteen years old suggests that it might be one to watch for the future. Presumably, probably, hopefully, it’ll die out soon and save us all the enforced jollity of its nauseatingly juvenile characters. However, it could well be on the cusp of acquiring some kind of retro chic… will it make a comeback in 2020, unlocking cheery memories of youth among an ageing and cynical population who, by then, could have shifted to an entirely new set of typographical sensibilities? We’ll just have to wait and see.

The font we really have to keep an eye on, though, is Helvetica.
The thing about Helvetica is that it’s cool. And that’s its problem. Designed in 1957 by Max Miedinger and Eduard Hoffmann, it’s a neo-grotesque sans serif font which has a number of arty characteristics that make it distinctive; square dots over lower-case i and j, double-storey lower-case a, dropped horizontal on upper-case A, etc. It’s a feast of piquant rebellion for typography geeks, whilst being sufficiently bold and linear to make anything look simultaneously contemporary and starkly authoritative: the sort of lettering you’d expect to see on medicine labels, art gallery signs and public transport information boards. It’s exactly this manner of form/function cool/conformist disparity that has seen it embraced by the kind of people you find wearing red trousers in Shoreditch or describing their job as ‘social media solutions’ – type ‘Helvetica tattoo’ into Google images, you’ll see. Is its use in documents a hidden act of subversion, a secret code to tell those in the know that they’re on the same side whilst slipping under the radar of The Man? It’s not a standard font in MS Word, which is a statement in itself, so there’s effort implied in its application. You need to make a conscious decision to indulge, it’s not like Comic Sans – at least not yet; its growing popularity is pushing it further and further into the mainstream. You need to be wary of people who show more than a passing interest in Helvetica. Yes, it’s a cool font, but it’s also a slippery slope. Beware, hipsters – you may be inadvertently putting your cross next to the Comic Sans of tomorrow.

Jubilee: Abridged

Didn't get time to watch all of the Jubilee stuff on TV? No problem, here it all is in a nutshell.

Thank You Hater!

The internet is full of pricks, that's just an unfortunate fact of life. So, here's how you deal with them:

Woolly Actors Guild

A noble cause. Essential, even. Click here.


The Golden Gate at 75

The Golden Gate Bridge is 75 years old - click here to see some excellent photos of its history.
 

Some ads.

Well, there's an inspiring blog post title.
Here are three ads that piqued the Juicy interest this week - the first is funny, the second is utterly shameless, the third is somewhere in between.



The Wisdom of Chick-Lit

For 'tis very wisdomous. Clicky.
 

Bennie Railplane

This could have changed the world - a propeller-driven monorail to speed people not just across Britain, but from from country to country. And it was called Bennie. But sadly 'twas ne'er to be - click the image to find out more...

 

Countdown Funetics

lol, etc

Friday, 1 June 2012

01/06/12 - JubileePips

My, aren’t there a lot of flags everywhere? Draped between lampposts, in people’s windows, adorning every toilet roll packet in every supermarket… brings a tear to the eye, doesn’t it? And there’s no better way to celebrate the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee than having a couple of days off work. Let’s just hope the sun shines!
The only other British monarch to celebrate a Diamond Jubilee was Queen Victoria back in 1897, and there are all sorts of things going on for QE2 over the weekend. The Pageant on the Thames will see a thousand or so boats sailing up the river together, Union Jacks rippling in the summer breeze. The Queen will be attending the Epsom Derby on Saturday because, well, she likes horses, and she should get to do what she wants. The Big Lunch project will fill streets across the nation with people having picnics with their neighbours. (Do you know your neighbours? I don’t. [I don’t know my neighbours I mean, it’d be a massive coincidence if I knew yours…]) The Jubilee Concert will take a totally random selection of acts – Elton John, Jessie J, Madness, JLS, Cliff Richard, Kylie Minogue etc – and somehow attempt to make it seem normal that they’re all on the same bill. Thousands of Jubilee beacons will be lit across the country, because we like the all-consuming primal urgency of fire. What’ll you be up to – Jubilee Pimm’s in the park, perhaps? Visiting relatives that you don’t see often enough? Listening to your old Sex Pistols records and sneering? Watching the whole shebang on TV? Whatever you end up doing, be sure to raise a glass of gin to Her Maj – she’s a lovely old stick, and will appreciate the juniper salute. (I’ll be doing my patriotic duty by indulging in the great and traditional British pursuit of the stag do, carrying out my best man duties to make my friend Sam drink everything in Albion. There will of course, be a heavy focus on gin there too.)
But before the celebrations begin, let’s take a nostalgic look at a few things that make ol’ Blighty great, shall we?

Building cars
Well, as a petrolhead I was duty-bound to bring this up first.
People often decry the wonky state of the British auto industry these days, somewhat unfairly; OK, many quintessentially British names went to the wall long ago, but there are plenty of cars being built in the UK today – BMW Minis in Oxford, Honda Civics in Swindon, Nissan Micras in Sunderland, Vauxhall Astras at Ellesmere Port – they may not all be home-designed and built by domestic companies but damn it, they’re bolted together with pride by Brits. And don’t forget the Rolls-Royces built at Goodwood, the Lotuses of Norfolk (on shaky ground at the moment, but when has Lotus ever been secure?), Bentleys in Crewe, Aston Martins in Gaydon, Jaguars in Coventry, McLarens in Woking, Morgans in Malvern, Bristols in Bristol and Caterhams in Caterham. Formula One, of course, has its spiritual roots in the UK too – the F1 teams of McLaren, Mercedes, Renault, Force India, Red Bull, Lotus and Williams all call Britain home.
And what about the icons of motoring? Arguably two of the greatest cars ever built, the Mini and the E-Type Jaguar, were home-grown projects built, in their own ways, to mobilise the masses. The Mini, brainchild of Alec Issigonis, was created to fit four people in a compact package that was simple and cheap to run and maintain. Its wheels-at-the-corners design, and transversely-mounted engine with the gearbox in the sump, created a uniquely versatile package that coincidentally also happened to be brilliant for motorsport. The E-Type was a showcase for all that was great about British design and manufacture, offering high performance and gorgeous looks for a fraction of the price of its Italian contemporaries. On its release in 1961, Enzo Ferrari called it ‘the most beautiful car ever made’, and there simply is no higher praise than that. And it was nailed together by burly chaps from the West Midlands, sold for a price that meant it wasn’t that staggeringly out of reach of the average Brit. We should all be very proud of that.
One more automotive image to take home with you: the Bentley Boys of the 1920s and ’30s – Frank Clement, Bernard Rubin, Sir Henry ‘Tim’ Birkin, Dr. J. Dudley Benjafield and the rest, hammering their Blower Bentleys around Brooklands with their scarves blowing in the breeze. Woolf Barnato raced his Bentley against a train in 1930, just for a bet: he set off from the Carlton Bar in Cannes at the same time as Le Train Bleu departed – he was sipping a gin & tonic in London’s RAC Club bar as the train reached Calais. And why the hell not, eh?

Cuisine

We Brits love our scran. Not that lovely-jubbly Jamie Oliver nosh or the let’s-make-a-pudding-out-of-a-dildo-and-some-gelignite Blumenthal weirdness, but the proper heartiness of good ol’ British grub. It’s a cliché to bring it up, but fish ‘n’ chips is something we’re world champions at; forget your Belgian frites or your anaemic American fries – proper chunky chips, preferably deep-fried in fat that hasn’t been changed in a month, swathed in lashings of malt vinegar and enough salt to stymie a horse. That’s what you want. And a chunky hulk of cod, or perhaps a huge battered sausage and a saveloy of questionable provenance. Mushy peas too, if that’s your bag. That’s how to round off your week – Friday night chips and a beer. (We’ll come onto beer shortly.)
You’ll be needing to soak that beer up when the morning comes, of course. And what better way than with a full English breakfast? While the French make do with pastries and the Yanks are, for some unfathomable reason, busy pouring maple syrup on their sausage patties, the Brits can proudly set themselves up for the day with bacon, sausages, beans, hash browns, eggs (fried, poached & scrambled), grilled tomato, fried slice, black pudding and, of course, a steaming mug of sweet tea. Go on then, throw on some chips and bubble & squeak too, that’ll see us through the morning. And a few rounds of buttered white toast.
You’ll have worked all of that off by Sunday lunchtime, what with all of the robust British activities you’ll have indulged in over the weekend (sculling, queueing, procrastinating, gentle strolls in the park, worrying), so it’ll be time for a traditional Sunday roast. You’ve got endless choices; the meat can be anything from lamb to chicken, beef to pork or pretty much any other beast or bird you can think of, while accompaniments will range from a bewildering array of vegetables to sauces made from unlikely things like apple, cranberry or mint. What you’ll definitely be needing, though, are roast potatoes (and plenty of them!), and thick, luxurious gravy. The stockier the better.

Beer
Oh my goodness, do the Brits know how to make beer!
Yes, the Germans are very accomplished at this – I’m particularly partial to a Warsteiner on a summer’s day – and the French and Belgians aren’t bad either (work through the Leffe catalogue, then move onto the Jenlain if you can still stand), but us Brits are the undisputed winners at making excellent beer.
As anyone who’s ever been to a CAMRA festival will know, the sweet smell of pipe tobacco and old motheaten jumpers perfectly complements the aroma of malted hops; there is no greater way to pass an afternoon than picking the twigs out of a series of robust and comically-named beers. (And if you haven’t ever been to a CAMRA festival, bloody go to one now, you idiot. Honestly.)
I grew up very near to the Shepherd Neame brewery, so their excellent output has a special place in my heart: Spitfire, Master Brew, Bishop’s Finger (known to the aficionado as ‘Nun’s Delight’), Whitstable Bay, the seasonal Late Red… they know their way around a hop, and no mistake. But Sheps is just one of hundreds upon hundreds of breweries in Britain.
If you’re the sort of person who thinks beer begins and ends with drinking generic fizzy lager in pubs, do yourself a favour and think your options through before automatically just asking for a Fosters/Carling/whatever, and embrace the rich brewing heritage of your countryfolk. Every pub sells decent ale – see what they’ve got local on draught, or take a peek at their bottled ales. (Make sure they’re not in the fridge though – proper beer is drunk at room temperature…)
A handy hint for the beginner: go to a supermarket and buy one of each of the Badger ales. You can ease yourself in with a nice light Fursty Ferret or Tanglefoot. Move on to the Golden Glory (tastes like peaches), then the rather more robust Blandford Flyer, which has a hint of ginger. A Hopping Hare will lighten the mood, before you go hardcore and dive into the Poacher’s Choice, resplendent in damson and liquorice notes. Then raise a glass of England’s Own to Her Maj…
And again, that’s just one brewery in a cornucopia of ales. Hell, if you’ve only got time for one beer, why not make it a Brewdog Punk IPA? Those angry Scots have brewed up something there that will make you ashamed you ever considered ordering a Beck’s.

Monty Python’s Flying Circus
We basically taught the rest of the world how to be funny, and they’re still trying to catch up.
Now, Monty Python’s Flying Circus was broadcast between 1969-74, so I can’t pretend that I fully appreciated the cultural significance of it when I was young, having been born in 1982 – it was just something funny to watch. But I grew up on Python, soaking up the TV series, the films, recordings of the live shows, the spectacularly silly books… with the ubiquity of sketch-based comedy in 2012, it’s difficult to imagine just how revolutionary and mould-breaking the Flying Circus was in 1969. Here was a show created by a band of comedians, satirists and animators that had no discernible plot, was fiercely aesthetically self-aware, constantly challenged the viewer, and single-handedly invented the notion of the comedy catchphrase. Britons from all walks of life share a little moment of private glee when they hear the phrase ‘I wish to register a complaint!’. Even now, forty-three years later, it feels contemporary to use ‘and now for something completely different’ as a segue. Their WWI pilots informed those of Armstrong & Miller. A Bit of Fry and Laurie was basically Monty Python’s Flying Circus with fewer actors. The Pythons set the blueprint for British character comedy, and it stands up to repeated viewing even in this cynical age. You know the term ‘spam’, to indicate unwanted or unsolicited messages? That comes from the ‘Spam’ sketch. Even the solo contraction ‘It’s…’ is a catchphrase. (If you know, you know.) The Pythons changed everything, and their influence is everywhere to this day.
‘With a melon?!’

Tea
Tea, eh? That’s good, isn’t it?
There are all kinds of tea available in the supermarket nowadays – fruity herbal blends, South African rooibos, Lady Grey with cornflowers floating in it - but the true Brit will always plump for a good ol’ mug of builder’s. Pouring boiled water onto the cured leaves of the Camellia sinensis is one of the most soothing, calming and reassuring endeavours of mankind’s evolution. Debate rages over the ideal methods of tea preparation: the issue of scalding the milk and thus whether to add it first or last (or even omit it altogether), whether the addition of sugar is essential or sacrilegious, whether it’s OK to make it in the mug or if you should really be brewing it up in a teapot… whatever your preference, everything’s always better with a nice infusion of Rosy Lee.
After water, tea is the most widely drunk beverage in the world, although in Britain it’s pretty closely-run. And we’re not just being indulgent either – tea offers antioxidant properties, as well as containing flavanols, flavonoids and polyphenols, whatever they are. I’d love to harp on for ages about the history of tea, the East India Company and the cultural significance of hot leafy beverages, but that’s a whole separate JuicyPips in itself. Suffice it to say, Britain would not be Britain without cups of tea. They are, without a hint of hyperbole, the foundation of the British Empire.

Seaside holidays
Britain has over 11,000 miles of coastline, and on every single one of those miles can be found at least one ice cream van, a handful of beach huts and a liberal sprinkling of stripey deckchairs. We bloody love a beach holiday, even if there’s no sand and we end up sitting on shingle. One of the all-time great symbols of Britishness is the windbreak – a barrier invented to stop you getting blown to bits when you’re sitting by the seaside. In any other country they’d just go somewhere else if the weather was that bad, but we’re a tenacious bunch. The history and splendour of our seaside resorts are testament to this; Blackpool, Brighton, Margate, Grimsby, Rhyl, Skegness, Bournemouth… wherever the land meets the sea, you’ll be sure to find lavishly-appointed hotels, donkey rides, postcard stands and people with handkerchiefs knotted on their heads. Not that anybody stays in the posh hotels, of course – it’s a very British behaviour to seek out a cheap boarding house, expect the worst and not complain about it when it comes true; the famous austerity of our seaside lodgings means that the most you can hope for is a scratchy bedspread on a lumpy mattress (and, if you’re very lucky, a starched counterpane), a shared toilet (dimly-lit), and a front door that’s locked at 10pm sharp. Which, of course, is all part of the experience.
A stroll on the pier whilst licking a 99? Life simply does not get better than that. Find yourself a stick of rock to take home with you and you need never want for anything more.

It’s not a bad old country, is it? And with a darned loveable Queen to boot. Be sure to raise a chipped teacup of gin to the old girl, won’t you? If we all do this together, it might in some way pickle her so that we can keep her forever.

Royal Issues

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Fancy the idea of a North Korean funfair? No, neither does anybody else. Click here to see it in all its terrifying glory, courtesy of Vice.

MaKey MaKey

The greatest thing to happen to computers since, well, anything.

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Footielols

JuicyPips has little to no interest in football. That said, these two videos are brilliant.



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There's a lot of shit out there for dumb people with money to waste. See that picture below? Yep, that's a hot dog toaster.
Click here for plenty more random rubbish.

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