Friday, 23 November 2012

23/11/12 - X Factor: the also-rans

There’s a lot of buzz around X Factor at the moment. (Of course there is, that’s the point of it. But you know what I mean.) The will-they-won’t-they sexual tension between Gary and Rylan, the inevitable victory of James Arthur (probably), the baffling popularity of that cheesy Liverpudlian cackfest Christopher Whatshisname, the relentless use of the phrases ‘you made it your own’ and ‘your whole life has been leading up to this’ and ‘you remind me of a young [x]’ – the drama, the tension, the sheer nailbiting suspense of it all. Which one (or possibly, if they’re phenomenally lucky, two) of the acts will we actually remember this time next year? Which of the acts who have left the competition have we already entirely forgotten? (Carolynne Poole, anyone? No?)

I rather like X Factor, which is strangely at odds with my usual standpoint on reality television, i.e. that it’s all worthless shit. I have no interest in watching a bunch of strangers baking, or dancing, or performing ‘wacky’ tasks on a tropical island, or just sitting around in a house doing nothing at all. No fucking interest whatsoever, bunch of fame-hungry berks, peacocking for the cameras. Waste of time.
I’ll watch The Apprentice with enthusiasm, principally because the contestants are all such mindless, inept cretins that it makes me feel a whole lot better about my own life. (What makes this different to Big Brother or I’m a Celebrity… and the like is that in The Apprentice they’re actually pretending to be real people, rather than just shamelessly showing themselves to be the pricks they are. It’s an important distinction.) I only end up watching about 50% of it though – I miss the other half because I’m holding my hands in front of my eyes in horror, or cringing my face inside out.
But X Factor I’ll happily get on board with. The early auditions where they show a healthy mix of the brilliant and the bloody awful are always entertaining, and the week-on-week ridiculousness of the show, ever more overblown and elaborate, is increasingly compelling.
The most important thing to remember, of course, is that IT’S NOT REAL. Sure, there’s a public vote and a cast of rags-to-riches characters, but it’s basically just a soap opera. I don’t mean this as a criticism, merely that it’s not the ‘we’re doing this because we want to help give a good singer a break’ exercise they like to emphatically repeat. It’s scripted entertainment. And thoroughly entertaining it is too.

So, just for fun, I’ve been doing a little investigating. What does become of the contestants who make it through to the live shows but get knocked out early on? Do their dreams come true? Do they sign extravagant record deals and luxuriate in new-found wealth and glory, or do they just go back to shelf-stacking in the local corner shop and spend the rest of their days cursing Simon Cowell’s name, refusing to talk about what happened? I’ve been lurking, stalking, and buffing my telephoto lens to find the story behind these poor unfortunates. Oh, and Carolynne Poole? She now sells eggs at the side of the road in a layby off the A12, just outside Hatfield Peverel. She seems happy enough.

Diva Fever
Never let it be said that in-your-face campness and excessive use of luminous polyester cannot go hand-in-hand with academic pursuits. 2010’s Diva Fever can today be tracked down under the names of Josef Al-Smadi, MEd, and Dr. Craig Saggers, PhD. Josef is now the headmaster of the historic Charterhouse School in Godalming, where he spends much of his time encouraging pupils to build their education around a solid foundation of the classics and the sciences rather than chasing whimsical dreams of fame and glory. Dr. Craig has written numerous papers on the subject of mass-appeal-versus-substance, and is currently on a lecture tour across Northern Europe offering wise counsel on how to be brainy and yet still have great hair.

Wagner
You may remember Wagner as a sort of mental, sub-Meatloaf lunatic with long hair and a Napoleon complex.
After the broadcast of the 2010 series in which he featured, it came to light that Wagner didn’t have a single mirror in his house, and had never in fact seen his own reflection; an encounter with a Brazilian gypsy in his youth had led him to believe that he was part-vampire, and thus had no reflection, so looking-glasses had never blipped on his home décor radar. Having bought a shiny new television upon which to watch his weekly performances (lovingly committed to VHS by an elderly neighbour), he saw himself for the first time. And he was not pleased. What he’d taken for style and mystique appeared to others as embarrassment and idiocy. He became deeply melancholy, and had a good hard think about his life choices.
You may think that you haven’t seen him since, although it’s entirely possible that you have. He now presents the ITV weather under the pseudonym Becky Mantin. You’d hardly recognise him. Lot of surgery.

Diana Vickers
An interesting fact that emerged after the conclusion of the 2008 series was that Diana Vickers never actually existed. All of that weird behaviour of wringing her hands in front of her face, always appearing on stage barefoot and having exceptionally messy hair should have been a giveaway – she was in fact an animated Disney character, hastily scribbled each week until the animators got to a point where they couldn’t be arsed to draw her any more, and just stopped doing it. So she effectively hasn’t been doing anything at all since X Factor 2008, beyond existing as potential energy in palettes and paintbrushes. It’s not much of a life. Still, at least we don’t have to bloody listen to her any more.

You’ll notice that all of these people so far are in some way notable for their hair. This says much about the substance of the average X Factor contestant.

Aiden Grimshaw
He may not have won X Factor, but I’m pretty sure every single viewer awarded him their own special prize for Most Needlessly Intense Performance.
Those of a hipster bent may have noticed a remarkable similarity between pop poppet Aiden and his radiotwat namesake Nick Grimshaw; in fact, they are one and the same. The Radio 1 DJ successfully hoodwinked the judges via that age-old military tactic of hiding in plain sight (using the same name, looking basically the same, being just as annoying) to pursue X Factor glory – he claims that it was a post-modern attempt to subvert the nuances of the fame machine, although he actually just wanted to sing some songs and have a laugh. (Well, not a laugh, more of a prolonged intense stare.)
He got bored of it all after a while, and went back to his everyday pursuit of being a nauseating arse. His bow has one string. A shit one.

Same Difference
When this brother-and-sister duo hit the screens in 2007, they creeped everyone out with their weird, inappropriate-seeming relationship and touchy-feelyness. Siblings shouldn’t look at each other that way…
There was much ribald speculation about their grubby, incestuous lives behind closed doors, and it all turned out to be true. Of course it did. Sean and Sarah in fact spawned a freaky little child, a baby that looks remarkably like Krusty the Clown, who they keep chained up in their attic. They’re hoping it’ll grow up to be a key part of their future entourage, like Animal from The Muppets.

Cher Lloyd
Oh, who fucking cares?

Frankie Cocozza
Another urchin in the cast of X Factor characters who can’t stop buggering about with their hair, Frankie Cocozza took it one step further and opened up a hair salon in Soho. The thinking was that he’d knobbed everyone in a two mile radius, and would therefore have a steady stream of customers who’d want to come and pay him a nostalgic visit, and at the same time have one of his army of stylists rework their hair into something approximating his own hairstyle; a kind of fibrous, greasy helmet.
Unfortunately, no-one wanted to come to his salon, because he’s such an obnoxious little berk. It’s a cut-throat business, hairdressing. (Not literally. [Well, sometimes.])

Ben Mills
Remember him, from 2006? Of course you do, he’s so memorable. Well, he’s actually achieved something genuinely impressive in the years following his fifteen minutes of warbling: he made it his mission to create the world’s greatest milkshake. You may scoff, but his newly-founded company, Ben’s Mill, is a groundbreaking endeavour – he’s crossbred Guernsey cattle with lithe little goats to create a milk that is both fulsomely creamy and piquantly light, and a tie-in with Innocent will allow each of his splendid milkshakes to provide two of your five-a-day. Imagine that: a tangy raspberry milkshake, or smooth strawberry & banana, or exotic kiwi & pineapple, all rich and creamy but also genuinely good for you. Seriously, the man’s a visionary.
Just don’t point out that milk isn’t milled and thus the company name doesn’t make a lot of sense. Years of excessive calcium intake have given him a fierce temper.

And the remaining X Factor also-rans? What became of them?
I think you know the answer to that. THEY ARE ALL FAMOUS POP STARS.



Dumb Ways To Die

Beautifully done, this. (Click here and here for more.)

Star Wars snowflakes

A comprehensive, downloadable guide to making Star Wars snowflakes. Super. Click here.

Posh Off

A regular sight on the streets of West London.

U OK hun? *hugs*

Urgh. Disgusting. Clicky.

Whatever Happened To The Dire Straits Video Guy?

Fenton redux

EE have remade Fenton. Not sure how I feel about that.

Getting into trouble with a laser pointer

What is Thanksgiving to Brits?

Really, we have no idea.

Friday, 16 November 2012

16/11/12 - QEGS Pantomime 1999

There’s a frisson of festive spirit in the air. I’m not overly keen on the idea of Christmas beginning this early and lasting two whole months, but if my local Tesco decide that November 1st is the appropriate time to put up the holly-encrusted signage then who am I to argue? TV ad breaks are infested with yuletide cheer, there’s a Coca Cola Christmas truck begging for retweets on Twitter, and the mince pies are unashamedly on sale in all good retailers [expiry date: December 1st]. Well, if the tinsel’s everywhere then I guess we’d better try to bloody enjoy it.

One of the key elements of Christmas when I was growing up was the school pantomime. Every year, the week before we broke up for the festive holidays, the upper sixth would perform a pantomime of their own creation – written, acted and staged by members of the sixth form, under the watchful, slightly nervous eye of the English department – which was basically an excuse to make a lot of noise and mess and say racy, scurrilous things about the staff. Each year the benchmark of cheekiness was raised, and there were always rumours (never true) about who’d got into the most trouble afterwards. ‘Umm, I heard that John Jones got expelled for calling Mr Majzlik a bummer.’
Everyone involved in the pantomime was, for one day at least, a campus hero. It was always something to look forward to as it would always be absolute chaos. We couldn’t wait to be the big kids who got to put on the show. It was something everybody wanted to do.

Inevitably, of course, our time came. That’s how time works. Aged seventeen or eighteen, we found ourselves being briefed by the English teachers: no swearing, no violence, nothing unsuitable for an audience of children as young as eleven, no misbehaviour of any kind, for goodness’ sake set a good example. A chorus of ‘yes miss, of course miss’ sang back, but we were already hatching malevolent treasons, stratagems and spoils. We knew what the deal was with the annual Queen Elizabeth’s Grammar School pantomime, and we knew that ours had to be more outrageous, more shocking, more naughty than any that had come before it.
We set about divvying up the responsibilities – what the rough plot would be, who’d play who, who’d design and build the sets, who’d be in charge of costumes, who’d control the music and lighting, who’d write the thing and so on and so on. I had the task of writing one of the scenes, although I cannot now recall a single word of what I wrote. But then, I was staggeringly drunk. We all were.

That was the crux of it, you see. When we were younger, we just assumed that the big kids on stage were being mischievous and daring. It never occurred to us that they were smashed out of their minds on Tesco Value vodka. But cometh the hour, cometh the spirits – we had little choice but to get kidney-pulping shitfaced. How else could we have got up in front of the entire school and faculty and done the things we did…?

The writing process was a brilliantly clandestine one. In fact, we wrote two entirely separate scripts for Austin in Wonderland (for ‘twas the title; as you can imagine, it was a mash-up of Alice in Wonderland and Austin Powers) – one script to submit to the teachers for approval, and another containing the terrible, shocking things we were actually planning to do. Much of it would be lost to the collective memories of a cast who were too jiggered to recall the affair and a staff body who presumably still cringe when they remember what happened that day, but thankfully some bright spark had the wherewithal to video it, and that crackly videotape has now been lovingly transferred onto DVD for the sake of posterity. Lest we forget. When I’m old and grey, I could show my grandchildren the production I was involved with that featured full frontal nudity, a Stephen Hawking impersonator and a live horse. I could do that, but I won’t.

What’s all this, you say? Full frontal nudity? Yes indeed, my good friend Clive (surname deliberately excluded, he’s a teacher himself now, poacher turned gamekeeper [his name isn’t even Clive, it’s Chris]) was playing the role of ‘The Naked Chef’, an entity that Jamie Oliver had recently debuted and we were hilariously lampooning. His role in the play was to bake the Queen of Hearts’ tarts. He was totally naked. Well, he was wearing an apron but it was really very small; when he turned around, the whole school saw his bum. When he crouched down to retrieve the tarts from the cardboard prop oven, his brown eye winked at every one of them. And when he stood up and swished back around to face the audience, the apron juuuuuuust didn’t swing around quick enough. It was magical.

A Stephen Hawking impersonator? Yeah, that happened too. I’m at pains to point out that really we were subverting the expectations of the audience rather than mocking motor neurone disease. It was all very post-modern.
…at least, that’s what I tell myself. The reality of it was that there was a spoddy boy in our year, Peter, who was exceptionally nerdish but also rather a good sport. He was like a walking talking Hawking, all NHS specs and slack jaw. So we put him in a wheelchair and rolled him out onto the stage whilst playing Radiohead’s ‘Fitter Happier’. The audience was, possibly for the only point throughout the pantomime, entirely silent. That is, save for a single child, somewhere deep within the darkness, who quietly breathed this timeless and cutting analysis of the scene: ‘Oh my god. That’s awful.’
I can only hope that their god has forgiven us.

A live horse? Hell yeah, we did that.
Jessica was a friend of the animals, nobody could deny that. She was our very own Doctor Dolittle. So when we hit upon the idea of having some kind of small live creature to bring out onto the stage at a certain point in the narrative, we knew that she would provide. Something like a piglet or small dog, we were thinking, a fuzzy critter that could be carried out, provide a bit of cuteness to the scene in question, then be quietly spirited away so that the play could continue.
She arrived shortly before the pantomime was due to start with a fucking horse. A real, proper, actual horse.
Now, any sensible direction team would have said ‘that’s ridiculous, it’s too big’. But we’d been drinking heavily all morning, and the idea of a horse seemed too hilarious to pass up.
The trouble was that the access to the backstage area was via the sports changing rooms, along numerous corridors and staircases and what-have-you, a route too serpentine and convoluted to lead a whole full-size horse. So we had to sneak it through a side door into the assembly hall itself, lead it among the audience (who were mostly small children, let’s not forget, sitting cross-legged on the floor), up the five or six polished wooden steps at the side of the stage and hope for the best. Brilliantly, the preceding scene had seen two boys dressed in Men In Black get-up drilling the audience with high-powered Super Soakers, so the floor was really quite wet. The sight of a horse trying to climb a wet staircase, scrabbling for grip and nearly tumbling to the ground over and over, sent first-years screaming and running for cover. In hindsight, it’s incredible that the headmaster didn’t call a halt to the whole thing there and then.
After a good few minutes of sodden clippety-clopping, the beast made it onto the stage. But we hadn’t written any stage directions for a horse – it was a fucking horse, why would we? – so Jess then had to lead the befuddled creature back down the stairs, through the terrified audience and out into freedom, leaving a roomful of children bewildered and scared. It was priceless.

There were a number of other exciting features within the panto that, in hindsight, seem ill-advised, but were hilarious in context - the context being that we were drunk teenagers figuratively slapping our teachers in their faces in front of the entire school. There was the Backstreet Boys segue which was basically just a striptease. There was the increasingly inebriated lad playing Austin Powers, who kept forgetting the innuendo-laden insinuations of what he wanted to do to Alice that were in the script, so just resorted to boisterously describing a series of sexual acts in explicit detail, making it up as he went along. Everybody enjoyed the S Club/Steps-style pop routine by our very own home-grown troupe named Oral Fun. (They were originally called ‘Oral Six’ but our English teacher, Miss Williams, saw us rehearsing that bit and told us that under no circumstances were we allowed to use the name ‘Oral Six’. ‘Oral Fun’, however, was apparently fine. [Their routine ended with them simulating fellatio. It was pure class.]) The scene with Hannah from Neighbours – played by a girl in a t-shirt that said ‘Barbie is a slut’ – chatting to Steve Irwin was an innuendo extravaganza: he was wrestling with a vast snake that the props department had knocked up which, if I remember rightly, was called ‘the Enormous Deadly Purple-Headed Trouser Snake’. ‘Oh no,’ cried Hannah, ‘he’s spat his deadly white venom all over my chest. And hair.’
The pièce de résistance, however, was the grand finale. It was a monstrous dance routine involving the entire cast and crew – far too many people to fit on the stage at the same time. It began with the head boy & head girl (who walked out onto the stage to the tune of The Chemical Brothers’ ‘Hey Boy, Hey Girl’ – a masterstroke, that) being introduced by my (now) brother-in-law who was playing the part of Jerry Springer – it was a very confusing plot – who in turn introduced everybody else, until there were over a hundred people crammed onto the stage, most of them pissed out of their brains, trying to dance in sync and failing spectacularly. Then, my friend Sam – who I chose to be my Best Man a couple of years ago, largely because of this very performance – who had finished off the best part of a litre of ropey vodka, just fell off the stage. It’s incredible to watch the footage back; one minute he was gurning and gyrating, having the time of his life at the front of the stage, and the next there’s just a void where he was standing and the sound of screaming. He landed on several kids, I believe.

We fled straight to the pub at that point. It would have been very, very foolish to stick around. The changing rooms were ankle-deep in empty bottles.

And that’s what Christmas is all about.


Cow & Gate Supergroup

Twilight: Abridged!

GOLDaid - Remède contre le rhume

Rollercoaster Chess

An XKCD cartoon sparks a fantastic new trend. Clicky.

The 10 year-old takeover

Grip Limited Presents: The 10-year-old Takeover from Grip Limited on Vimeo.

Windows 95 Tips

This is marvellous.

Social Media Facts

Well, they might be facts. See what you think.



...and here's rather a good parody:

Great British Inventions

...some of which aren't actually that great. This archive from British Pathé is pure gold - click here.

A bookcase designed for FUCKING LUNATICS

Select magazine archive

Mecca for indie nostalgists - Monkeon is archiving his 1990s collection of Select magazine. Click here.

Friday, 9 November 2012

007 Movie Deathmatch

IMDB’s top 250 – condensed

Efficient, this.

Rap Colouring Book

The perfect thing for developing better hand-eye co-ordination in your little gangstas. Click here.

‘Can we make the pig sexier?’

Shitty client feedback, manifested as beautiful posters - and all in a good cause. Click here.

EE, RAC, Brother, John Lewis

Four cool ads that caught the Juicy eye this week.







Adam Buxton’s Obama victory speech

Professional Clicking

Marvellous.

'Are you tired of your viral videos not going viral? With Buyral, you'll get millions of clicks every time. And it looks like real people are watching your videos! Learn more at http://buyral.ca'

Cellphone Crashing

A charmingly harmless prank.

Friday, 2 November 2012

Cassetteboy vs. Obama vs. Romney

'My Celebrity Portraits'

Twitter is marvellous, isn't it? Anyone could draw pictures of random celebs, but now it's easily possible to send said pictures to the celebrities in question and await their nervous responses. Which is exactly what this chap is doing - click here.

#airnzhobbit

A brilliantly odd in-flight safety video from Air New Zealand.

Real Sandy/Fake Sandy

Hurricane Sandy inspired all manner of photo-sharing - some images more legitimate than others. The ever-fastidious Atlantic has been sorting the real from the fake. Click here to see.

The Sixties

'From the creators of Mad Men...'

When He-Man Met Lion-O

It's the high-five that makes it.

OctoberFail

More Darwinian retribution.



...and as a special bonus, here's a demonstration of how money doesn't buy talent.

Symphonic Smells Like Teen Spirit

Nevermind is 21. That means it can drink.

Surveillance Man

A total lack of shame. Marvellous.