Friday, 20 December 2013

20/12/13 - Pantomime

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 few 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.

'I gave my kids a terrible present'

Brilliantly cruel. In a sweet way.

How to write a Christmas card

Boats & wind

Two interesting map-based thingies here. Firstly, a real-time view of all of the boats that are bobbing about out there - click here.

...and secondly, a look at the way the wind's blowing right now. You don't need a weatherman... etc. Clicky.

Phone crashing

Dad colouring

A dad colours in his kids' drawings. Cuteness follows. Behold.

Life-size Scalextric

This is such a great idea. I wonder when they did it...?

The brilliantly weird island of Socotra

I know what you're thinking: 'I really wish someone would show me some photos of a place that's as unusual as the Galapagos Islands'. Well, you're in luck... click here.

Scientifically accurate Santa

Well, that's ruined Christmas.

Friday, 13 December 2013

13/12/13 - Religion, revisited

I ran out of time to write JuicyPips this week, but rather than leaving you hanging I thought we could revisit this one from January 2011 – it attempts to answer a rather significant question: which of the major religions is actually right?

I know, it’s a biggie. But bear with me, I’ve given it a game stab.
I’ve never really been a fan of organised religion; when I was young and had fire in my belly, I used to proudly proclaim that I found the entire concept ‘ridiculous’. I’ve stopped doing that now, having realised how enormously and unnecessarily offensive it is. In part, at least, it also made me a massive hypocrite. How so? Well, as a white middle-class boy born in 20th century Britain, all of my reference points for day-to-day life exist within a Christian society. Phrases like ‘oh my God’ or ‘Jesus Christ’ immediately leap to the tongue when I hit my thumb with a hammer or see a particularly cringeworthy X Factor audition.
Growing up under the Church of England, it’s natural to celebrate Christmas and Easter. At school, it didn’t seem odd to unthinkingly bring in old cans of beans for harvest festival. Singing hymns or carols didn’t create a logical pathway in the brain toward any particular religious sentiment, it was just something people did.

My dad was the headmaster of a C of E school. This meant that I had to go to church a fair bit as a child. In hindsight, I suspect that this is largely what has put me off organised religion, rather than any cynicism toward the specific beliefs and principles; I resented having to get out of bed on a Sunday morning in order to go and hang out with a bunch of mental pensioners and sing about how much I loved (yet was scared of) a fictional wizard. I’d far rather have been watching Red Dwarf and eating a sausage sandwich, or whatever else I used to get up to at that age. What did make itself constantly apparent, however, was the lack of logic in the tangled mass of contradictions, unpleasant pronouncements, intolerance, vindictiveness and plain nonsense that made up this holy book. Are we really supposed to believe that this tome, created quite a long time after the claimed events happened, can in any way be accurate? (If you were to write a book about something you’d heard might have happened in the seventeenth century [and didn’t have the benefit of the internet to check your facts as you went], how true to life do you think your story might be?) And furthermore, is it not just phenomenally arrogant for the champions of these storytellers to say ‘OK, all this happened, this man is your messiah, now you have to live your lives by the principles laid out in this book or you will be condemned as a bad person for eternity’? That’s just fucking mean. Surely a far more pleasant pronouncement would be ‘you only live once, the world is a pretty spectacular place, just bloody enjoy yourselves and stop worrying about what a speculative deity may or may not be judging you for’, no?
Therein lies my fundamental problem with religion: it’s about power. And to a lesser extent, money and property. But largely power. People blindly believe what they’re told, and it can ruin lives.

Now, this might seem like a nasty viewpoint and I’m not some kind of unpleasantly dictatorial atheist. If I were to say to you ‘you shouldn’t believe in any kind of god, it’s all nonsense’, that would make me just as morally reprehensible as somebody who said ‘you should believe in this, because… etc’. In many ways, I think religion is rather a beautiful and helpful thing. People who are dying of horrifying incurable diseases, or whose families have been wiped out in genocide, or whose homes have been swept away by tsunamis… they might turn to a higher power as a way of making sense of the world. And that’s brilliant. If such a concept can make people happier with their lives, or feel safer or more loved, then that can only be a good thing. It’s just that for me (and I can only speak for myself here), I find the crutch/fiction ratio a little too skewed away from plausibility for me to happily embrace.

But look at me waffling on. You’re busy, you just want to know which religion is the right one so you can get on with your lives, yes? OK, here goes…

It’s interesting how the Church of England has evolved from a blood-and-retribution revolt by a tyrant king into something altogether more about woolly cardigans and nice cups of tea.
For the sake of simplicity, it’s easiest to say here that Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox interpretations of Christianity - as diverse and complex as they may be - are basically different shades of the same thing. (Although I wouldn’t say that to the UVF.)
Followers are told to live their lives by learning from the thoughts and actions of a carpenter’s son who was killed by Romans for saying subversive things. A rich and bloody history of slaughtering non-believers and stealing land suggests that behaving yourself and doing unto others that which you’d have done unto you can only go so far before the greed and powerlust take over. But at least they have a strong moral code – harsh punishments are fully justified for doing things that the Lord would consider to be a bit naughty; y’know, like buggering choirboys.
Also, wasn’t Jesus a Jew? Shouldn’t that mean that, by default, all Christians should, er, practise what they preach and convert to Judaism?

If Jews were around before the whole Jesus thing kicked off, it makes sense that their beliefs have a greater claim for being true, right? I’m being flippant and simplistic, but it makes chronological sense.
The militancy of blindly sticking to the text can be side-stepped by steering clear of Orthodox Judaism and easing yourself in with a bit of Conservative or Reform Judaism, which make day-to-day life in the modern world a bit easier, saying that the tenets of Jewish Law are really more a set of guidelines than anything. Although that’s a slippery slope; Henry VIII had the same feelings about Christianity, and look at the mad shit he got up to.

There are some nice ideas in this one, not least that which is perennially annexed by Hollywood: karma. That’s the concept that every other religion wishes they had a simple word for. Too late now.
Hinduism pulls together a history of diverse Eastern beliefs and philosophies, so it doesn’t really have one notable forefather or central text; furthermore it encourages absolute freedom of belief and worship. There’s no such thing as blasphemy or heresy with Hindus, as their beliefs encompass all other beliefs, if that makes sense, making the human race one lovely whole. Their concept of ‘god’ is a little confusing, bordering the notions of henotheism (worshipping one god while accepting the existence of others), monotheism, polytheism and pantheism, but basically you just believe what you want to believe on the understanding that everyone is, to a degree, right. There’s a load of stuff about devas and yogis too, and lots of nice bright colours.

Ha. There’s no way I’m publishing any kind of commentary on Islam. I’ve seen what can happen.

Buddhism is basically about being nice to each other, which knocks Christianity into a cocked hat. It’s largely based on the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama – a.k.a. Buddha – who said some pretty sensible things: the Four Noble Truths state (in abbreviated form) that 1) life is suffering, 2) suffering is caused by craving, 3) suffering ends when craving ends, 4) you can end craving by doing what Buddha suggests. And what does he suggest? Being nice to people, telling the truth, not hurting anyone and having a clear awareness of reality. That all sounds pretty good to me.
I’m not too sure about some of their ideas though, like the concept of being reincarnated as animals, and the claimed existence of various ‘Narakas’. These are a variety of hells, one of which is Arbuda, a frozen plain swept by blizzards in which one must exist naked and alone ‘for the amount of time it would take to empty a barrel of sesame seeds if one were to remove a single seed every hundred years’. Sod that.

No religion in the world has cooler buildings, outfits or beards than Shinto. The indigenous faith of Japan, it’s basically a set of lifestyle guidelines to link modern Japan to its past. A lot of Shintoists are also Buddhist, which is jolly accepting of them. (It’s pretty common that life is dealt with by Shinto and death/afterlife is picked up by Buddhism.)
Purity is an important concept – you always need to be showing that you’re grateful for the gift of life, as dying without gratitude will see you damned forever – daily purification rituals are commonplace. Shamanic dances and protective amulets give it all an interestingly cartoonish feel, and there’s a lot of living on a knife-edge of respect for fear of accidentally condemning your soul. Shinto, happy and respectful as it is, can be bloody hard work.

Sikhism is one of the fastest-growing religions in the world, so it could be a good bandwagon to jump on if you want to make friends.
It’s a monotheistic faith with quite a sensible framework, its teachings coming from ten gurus who, as the name suggests, have a lot of knowledge to work with, each one reinforcing and adding to the thoughts of the last. The eleventh guru, the Guru Granth Sahib, is the final and perpetual guru in that it wasn’t a person, but rather a kind of conceptual embodiment of the Sikh faith. There’s a lot of communal meals and no-one’s really judging each other, and they’re discouraged from fasting, going on pilgrimages or worshipping idols, which all sounds pretty sensible. However, there are a lot of rituals, with morning and evening prayers taking up about two hours of your day. If you want to convert to Sikhism, you’ve got to really mean it or you’ll miss out on a lot of lie-ins.

This is an Indian religion based on a central belief in non-violence, which is a strong start. It does go a little downhill from there though. Jain doctrine states that Jainism has always existed and will always exist, although historians pinpoint its beginnings to somewhere between the 9th and 6th centuries BC. (Although Jains wouldn’t say ‘BC’, of course.)
Further core beliefs are that everything has a soul (every one of which is potentially divine), excessive possessions are unholy, followers should ‘enjoy the company of the holy and better qualified’ and ‘tolerate the perversely inclined’, and celibacy is positively encouraged. Sounds a bit iffy in principle – largely elitist, and without a real future if no-one’s allowed to have any of that dirty procreative intercourse.

Chinese folk religions

Shenism is largely grounded in Chinese mythology, and relies on the worship of ‘shens’ (deities, spirits, awareness, consciousness…) including cultural heroes, ‘city deities’ and, er, dragons. It’s pretty similar to Shinto in everyday life. Taoism is the form of Shenism that is most popular in the West, and champions the Three Jewels of the Tao: compassion, moderation and humility. A common Western metaphor for Taoist principles is Winnie the Pooh (seriously).
These folk religions are very traditional yet are constantly evolving, and have a huge number of gods and goddesses. It all gets a bit complicated. But hey, there are a lot of people in China, maybe they’re right.

…is ridiculous, and that’s the one ‘religion’ I’m happy to say that about. L. Ron Hubbard is some kind of evil genius in convincing his followers that a) they’re all immortal beings from space and b) they should give him all of their money. Bonkers. The Church of Scientology encourages followers to cut off all contact with friends and family who don’t believe, which is a pretty appalling way to behave. Have you seen that episode of The Simpsons where they join the Movementarians? Yeah, it’s basically that. Pseudo-spiritual bullshit for crazy people.

This is a Neopagan religion, and a form of modern witchcraft. It’s not as mental as it sounds: Wiccans ‘regard the cosmos as alive, both as a whole and in all of its parts’, which, on an atomic level at least, is pretty much scientifically accurate. However, there’s a lot of arguing about whether their core views should be fundamentally mono-, duo- or pantheistic, and you kind of get the feeling that any other Wiccans you meet will be either angsty teenagers or batty middle-aged women who just want to draw pentagrams in the dark and experience the heady thrill of buying a pig’s heart from the butcher’s. If that sounds rude and intolerant, please feel free to find a Wiccan to correct me.

Rastafari movement
Quite a new one, this – it only dates back as far as the 1930s. Followers worship Haile Selassie I, former emperor of Ethiopia, believing him to be the second coming of Jesus Christ. So they’re kind of like traditional Christians, but much happier as they have a sense of catharsis. They proclaim Zion (Africa) as the birthplace of all humanity, which you can’t really argue with, and vehemently encourage the spiritual use of cannabis.
Whatever you do, don’t refer to it as ‘Rastafarianism’ – Rastas find this pretty offensive, as they don’t like being pigeonholed as an -ism. A lot of Rastas would actually argue that it isn’t a religion at all, but a way of life. And that’s fair enough.
(If I was a devout Christian, I’d definitely consider converting – Rastas can get on with life and enjoy themselves knowing that they’re not going to be hanging around indefinitely waiting for their saviour to rise again. Takes a lot of the pressure off.)

In spite of all my Christianity-bashing, I guess I’d technically call myself a Christian (which is what gives me carte blanche to be so rude about it). Not that I particularly believe in or agree with anything that it has to say, just that growing up in a Christian society has made it so. I celebrate Christmas with great enthusiasm. I got married in a C of E church and I meant every word of what I said. I enjoy the iconography and architecture of the Christian faith, and the comfort it seems to give people.
I always used to tell people I was an atheist, but that does imply a certain effort on my part, when it’s actually the case that I rarely bother giving religion any thought at all. I’ve also always said that life’s busy and complicated enough without having to worry about religion as well, but I can certainly see the benefits of belief.
So what of the original question? Which religion is actually right after all? Well, somewhat predictably, none of them seems to be totally right (or wrong, depending which way you look at it), but if you feel the need to live by a set of unusual historical guidelines, I’d suggest a combination of Buddhism, Rastafaria and Hinduism. The mixture of friendly behaviour, relaxation and comfort with oneself and general acceptance of one another sounds like a winner to me.

There we go, that was patronising and offensive. But hopefully a little informative too.

English Markets

Santa Brand Book

Essential yuletide guidelines - clicky.

Drink-drive prank

Interesting idea, nicely done. Let's hope it works.

'Get that toilet seat off of your head'

A father illustrates some of the more unusual things he finds himself saying to his kids. Rather lovely. Click here.

2013 in pictures

Some amazing shots here. Clicky.

Awkward Compliments

Astonishing Yugoslavian monuments

I really love that stuff like this exists. Look.

Take that, ants

A beautiful sculpture, and no more than the ants deserve. The little bastards.

Nirvana on Ross

I hadn't seen this little nugget before. It is ace.


Friday, 6 December 2013

06/12/13 - Krampus

Christmas is brilliantly evil isn’t it? The snide snub of being given a deliberately shit gift, the brimming resentment between young siblings over who’s got the better presents, the inevitable animosity over who decides the festive TV viewing schedule, the bitter violence resulting from seemingly innocent board games - there’s a lot of ill will entangled within the glitter of yuletide.

…but none of it gets more sinister than Krampus.
Now, you will presumably be familiar with Santa’s naughty-and-nice lists. All the good kids get exciting treats as a reward for being such little sweethearts, while the naughty scamps get coal and depressed. But this sort of downheartedness isn’t enough for the cruel, heartless parents of Central Europe. The threat of no toys isn’t deemed sufficient to curtail the naughtiness of their offspring, so they go to extreme lengths to ensure that Christmas is inextricably linked with a culture of extreme fear, terror and dread. And horror. And gore. And so they tell tales of Krampus.

Krampus is a sort of malevolent beast who exists solely to punish the children on the naughty list. All across Hungary, Austria, Slovenia, Croatia, southern Bavaria and the Czech Republic, little children live in fear of being royally fucked up by an evil Christmas tyrant.
He has cloven hooves and the horns of a goat. He carries rusty chains and sinister bells. He swats indiscriminately at passing children with bundles of birch branches. He carries a sack, in which the naughty kids are placed for drowning, or transportation to hell. He’s a bit of a shit, really.

The tradition of Krampuskarten offers an alternative to the usual festive Christmas cards of holly, robins and cartoon snowmen. Krampuskarten demonstrate the variety of things that Krampus is willing to do in order to punish the children of the naughty list. It’s not enough for him to carry out his task with the ruthless efficiency of an abattoir worker with a bolt-gun; no, he likes to get creative, the sick fuck. He’ll chain hundreds of little ’uns together and march them to hell, like some kind of Nazi commandant loading a train bound for Dachau. He’ll pick a child up by the ears, then pull them apart until their head splits in two like a Mortal Kombat death move. He’ll pull kids’ hearts out and barbecue them on a spit. He’ll kick a crying child to the ground and strangle them with a chain. He’ll load babies onto a broomstick and fly them into a mighty inferno. Merry fucking Christmas.

Of course, the scariest element that lies inescapably within all of this is that Krampus is not the thing to fear most. He may spread a terrifying swathe of child-ruining destruction, but he’s just part of the system. He needs to exist to fulfil his supposedly necessary evil. No, the real fear figure here is Santa. He makes the lists. He knows that every child on the naughty list is going to suffer some kind of despicable end. He’s not just complicit in the genocide, he’s actively participating – nay, controlling. He could save every one of those children by turning a blind eye to their misbehaviour and just sticking them on the nice list (hey, only he would know, he could just give them a crap present and hope they take the hint), but no. He, and he alone, is condemning those children to excruciating torture and unimaginably agonising deaths. What a bastard.


The latest episode. Always entertaining.

Rap trends

This is interesting - trends in the usage of various phrases in rap lyrics over the years. Clicky.

The incredible memory man

That's 'incredible' as in 'not at all credible'.

Blues Brothers mall chase... in Lego

This is so well done.

...and just to show how accurate it is, here's a side-by-side:

Abandoned Tube stations

If unused public transport is your bag, you should check out this freaky business.

National Geographic Photo Contest 2013

Wanna see some amazing photos? Click here for highlights from the National Geographic photo competition. (And here for more.)

Friday, 29 November 2013

29/11/13 - LOUD NOISES!

I miss loud music.
When I was a kid there was loud music everywhere, and never any fear of irritating anyone with it. Quite often I’d be woken up on a Saturday morning by the sound of the Stones or Graham Parker booming up from the living room - my dad loves to crank the tunes up, it’s entwined in his DNA. His heart is a bass driver. If he was cooking dinner, the kitchen would be blasting out a bit of Dr Feelgood, or if he was out working on his kit car there’d be some choice Elvis Costello coming from the garage. It instilled within us, my sister and I, a culture of enjoying music at a decent volume. Family trips in the car would involve a bit of ‘you ask him,’ ‘no, you ask him’ back-and-forth in the back seat to get dad to turn the stereo up yet further, but he never needed asking twice. And so we listened to loud music in our bedrooms too. Music is better loud, that’s just a fact. And ‘loud’ was the default music setting for us – you’d only have something on quietly if there was a damn good reason. What’s the point of having something on anonymously in the background? Don’t you actually want to listen to your music, rather than just vaguely hearing it? It’s thanks to that sort of attitude that everyone in Coldplay has a bigger house than you. Pay more attention.

When I was fourteen, I saved up all my pennies and bought a pair of massive speakers for my room. I couldn’t afford the disco-spec Jamo floorstanders that I really wanted, so I got a pair of Tandy’s own-brand replicas. (I can remember very clearly that the CD I took to the shop to test their various speakers was The Wildhearts’ ‘Don’t Be Happy… Just Worry’. The elderly shoppers of Herne Bay High Street seemed nonplussed by ‘Splattermania’, although I think ‘Nothing Ever Changes But The Shoes’ went down OK...)
Say what you like about the now-defunct Tandy, they knew how to hammer together a good speaker – I’ve still got them now, and they still sound ace. They’ve got louvred, ferrofluid-cooled tweeters, perky mid-range units, and 12” woofers. When I was a noisy teenager with a bedroom full of Guns N’ Roses records, this sort of extraordinary punch was necessary. But I live in London now, and I honestly couldn’t tell you the last time I turned my volume dial above about 25%. And that’s kinda sad.

You see, everyone lives on top of each other in London. I don’t want to annoy my neighbours – they irritate the piss out of me sometimes, so I don’t want to give them any ammo – and we’ve got people below, people either side, and also a shop below at the front. My bassbins lie fallow, yearning for those halcyon days of irresponsible, ear-violating volume. The only times I ever get to listen to loud music are in the car and on the bus. And they’re both flawed options. If I’m alone in the car then yes, loud music happens, but I don’t find myself driving around solo that often – there’s usually a little person in the back. And it’s not really fair to kick out the jams when she’s trying to have a nap.
And yes, I can max the volume on the bus, but only if there’s no-one else around (people with no awareness of how everyone can hear the tinny beats seeping out of their headphones are, well, twats), and even then it’s hardly the last word in high fidelity. An iPod, playing through cheap Sony headphones. There’s only so much bass and clarity you can get from a 40mm driver unit.

So what’s the answer? Well, you tell me. Ideally I’d live in a detached house (unlikely, unless my EuroMillions numbers come in) and drive to work every day (again, unlikely – I’ve been here seven and a half years and there’s still no sign of them giving me a fucking parking space), but assuming my life isn’t going to radically change any time soon, what are the alternatives?

Extreme soundproofing

Louder music would be a possibility at home if I were to put some thought into hardcore soundproofing. But this’d have to go some way beyond mere egg-crates stuck to walls and suchlike. It’d probably involve building a sort of cage of false interior walls, padding the cavities between them and the outside ones with glassfibre and expanding foam, and nailing a load of pillows to the floor and ceiling. Although, on a practical level (ha!), this would result in a room so small that it would be ear-bleedingly painful to twiddle the volume dial further than 25% anyway. Might be a waste of effort.

Hiring out a room somewhere
An events venue or conference room would be a good place to go and get noisy. No-one would object to me playing loud music in a room above a pub.
But no, it’s not just the loud music I miss, it’s the ability to easily integrate it into daily life on a whim. Having to go somewhere specifically to do so would be a bit pointless. I’d just be sitting in a noisy room on my own, and that sounds like an Irvine Welsh breakdown fantasy.

Being obnoxious
I could just stop giving a shit about annoying my neighbours (or fellow bus travellers) and listen to music as loudly as I damn well please. Stop pussy-footing around and get the retaliation in first before they’ve got the chance to somehow annoy me. Yeah?
Unfortunately, Britishness stops me from even contemplating this option. Imagine if one of them looks me in the eye and challenges me. I might just shudder and cringe myself to death.

[4th option]
No, that’s all I can think of.

None of that seems to work. Maybe I’ll just have to sit closer to the speakers.

Thursday, 28 November 2013

MusicVille couch gag


Slightly Wrong Quotes

This is utterly magical. Clicky.

Dramatic YouTube comments

How to fight a baby

The kid's finishing move is unbeatable.

Top 200 Reddit posts...

...presented interactively. Interesting. Clicky.

Mad Men, without the smoking

Waiting in Line 3D

The most gripping game you'll play today. Clicky.

The internet: a warning from history

Abandoned places

Abandoned buildings fascinate me. They clearly fascinate this guy too; check out his constantly gobsmacking Flickr stream - click here.
(All rights reserved by odins_raven)


Agreed. In the Night Garden makes no bloody sense. It's this generation's Magic Roundabout.

Status Update

Lovely little short, this - Facebook status updates coming true.

WINNER SPECIAL JURY PRIZE - STATUS UPDATE - a facebook fairytale from Director DANIEL REISINGER on Vimeo.

Friday, 22 November 2013

22/11/13 - Student fritters

About a year ago, the theme of JuicyPips was ‘what I spent my student loan on’. Look:
Well, dear reader, you’ll be thrilled to learn that a mere ten years and five months after graduating, I have indeed paid the whole thing off. All of that snakebite-and-black I bought is finally my own legal property and nobody can say otherwise. If only I hadn’t pissed it all out and flushed it away. I should have retained it all in some sort of vast rubber bladder, I could have something to show for it all.
The crux of that post last year, if you can’t be arsed to click the link and see for yourself, is that I principally spent the money on four things: cars, CDs, shit clothes, and booze. But now, since I can finally draw a line under the whole thing, and the Student Loans Company can’t cast any aspersions over my character for frittering away the cash they lent me in good faith on stupid things, I can now reveal the other things I blew my student loan on…

MiniDisc player
Don’t laugh. At the time, MiniDisc was the Next Big Thing. I was (and still am) an enthusiastic record collector, and much of my time as a teenager was spent happily crafting mixtapes. MiniDisc seemed like an almost magical way to evolve the mixtape format – not only could you splice together all of your favourite songs, but they were all in proper digital quality (even if you recorded over them a hundred times), there’s was no click-thump between tracks from where you’d pressed the pause button, you could easily swap tracks around if you fancied, you could label them digitally, it was all very clever.
At the time, though, I had a midi system, and bought the MiniDisc deck as a hi-fi separate that I plugged into it. This wouldn’t do at all. So it wasn’t just the MiniDisc deck that I bought with my loan, but a new amp too. And a new CD player. And so on.
To be fair, I’ve still got the separates, and they all still work. This was by no means a waste of money, and it was worth living on Super Noodles in order to have a decent stereo. No regrets.

I went to a lot of gigs as a student. Portsmouth, for all its many, many faults, is at least rather well served for concert venues. There was the Wedgewood Rooms for small, intimate (and very, very sweaty) gigs, the Pyramids on the seafront for bigger bands, and the Guildhall in the town centre for big-hitters. And all my favourite bands of the era were keen to come to town – Mansun, The Wildhearts, A, Supergrass, Muse, Idlewild, Vex Red, Placebo, The Cooper Temple Clause, Reef, The Jeevas, The Electric Soft Parade, Sum 41, 3 Colours Red, Soulwax, The Datsuns, Terrorvision… you name it, I was there, drunkenly leaping around. It was a weird badge of honour to go to the Student Union straight from a gig, wearing your freshly-acquired bootleg band t-shirt (that you bought from a street vendor for a fiver as the official ones were twenty quid), all sticky and reeking of sweat. I don’t go to a lot of gigs these days, so I’m glad I did it loads when I was younger. Happy memories.

Playing pool
I’m not very good at pool. I don’t even like it that much. But in my first year at uni there was a grotty little pub at the end of our street that never had anybody in it aside from a smattering of aged regulars, so we spent a lot of time playing pool and listening to Blur on the jukebox. (I don’t remember why it was always Blur – maybe we didn’t like any of the other records in there.) I got to be quite good at it for a while, but it’s a skill I rapidly lose. To be honest, pool is something that I get better at the more I’ve had to drink. Like darts. Or perhaps it’s just that the more drunk I am, the better I think I am (and/or the less I care about winning). There were pool tables in the union too. We even went to an actual pool hall a couple of times, by choice, for whole evenings. Seems like a massive waste of time now. The kind of people you meet in pool halls are not, by and large, the kind of people I want to hang out with. I’m not interested in fighting, spitting, racism or tracksuits.

Imperial Leather Foamburst
For some reason I thought this aerosol-propelled shower gel was brilliant. I used to buy it all the time. In hindsight, that was a massive waste of money for a student. An absurd extravagance. What’s wrong with a bar of soap, you fancy sod?

Going to Plymouth

One of my housemates was from Plymouth, and he convinced us all to go on a road trip down there for a night out. The memories of it are hazy, and somehow in my mind they’ve melded with that road trip they take to Warwick in The Inbetweeners. But in short, Plymouth is a dump.
Well, maybe that’s unfair. We didn’t see much of it. We arrived at his parents’ house on the outskirts after it had gone dark, got a bus full of shouty yobs into town, went to two of the bleakest and stickiest nightclubs I’ve ever encountered, then all went back to his house and slept on his floor. It was pretty awful. The next day, before heading back to Portsmouth, we were all paraded into town in order to visit the shiny new branch of TK Maxx, which is apparently something that the people of Plymouth are very proud of.
On the whole, it’s probably one of the most expensive nights out I’ve ever had. And I still can’t really work out what the point of it was.

So, a bit of a mixed bag all in all. I think the positives outweigh the negatives though, and hey – I actually properly own my ten year-old MiniDisc deck now. Hooray!

GTA V - Prostitute Division

Hey, digital whores don't just happen.


History depicted as Instagrams. Simple. Clever. Very well observed. Clicky.

Foot Locker's Week of Greatness

Tyson returns Holyfield's ear. Brilliant.

Real-life Instagram

Nice idea, this. Clicky.

Ladies of HR

The horrifying truth about those annoying office birthday collections.

Streetview maze

Fancy finding your way through a corn maze on Google Streetview? OK, here you go...

Princess Machine

This is ace. The fluffy pinkness of girls' toys really irritates me.

Friday, 15 November 2013

15/11/13 - Neon

Neon signs are one of those modern(ish) miracles that we take completely for granted, but they really are clever little things. Well, not always little. Massive, sometimes. Piccadilly Circus or Times Square would be anonymous junctions without their vast swathes of shiny coloured lights, and the ubiquity of the neon light over the decades demonstrates just how versatile and well-liked they are.

The way they work is this: neon is an inert gas, a chemical element that exists within the Earth’s atmosphere, and when neon is sealed in a glass tube with a metal electrode at either end, you can chuck a handful of volts at the electrodes to ionize the gas, causing it to emit light by fluorescence. Now, the natural colour of a neon light is red. So why do we so often see them in other colours? Painted glass? Clever tinting? No, it’s because other gases can be used to create different colours – mercury for blue, helium for yellow, carbon dioxide for white – when we talk about ‘neon lights’, it’s actually a pretty non-specific (and frequently inaccurate) term.

Neon itself was discovered in 1898 and, impressively, was pressed into the duty of creating light almost immediately - William Ramsay and Morris W. Travers, the discoverers, tested its properties in an electrical gas-discharge tube and were mesmerised by the crimson glow. By 1902, a chap named Georges Claude – often dubbed ‘the Edison of France’ – was experimenting with neon lighting at his Air Liquide facility, with the company producing industrial quantities of purified neon. In 1910, Claude erected two mighty red neon tubes at the Paris Motor Show and immediately had the world’s attention: people could suddenly see the commercial possibilities. He was quick to patent the tech in the US, and basically monopolised the industry over there through to the 1930s.
In 1913, Claude and his associate Jacques Fonseque developed a huge sign for Cinzano in Paris, which caused a few jaws to drop, but it was the US that really embraced the new tech with gusto…

In 1923, businessman Earle C. Anthony ordered two custom neon signs for his Packard dealership in Los Angeles. The Angelenos were so astonished by this heavenly glowing vision that the signs literally stopped traffic; indeed, police had to be drafted in to control the hysterical crowds. Presumably Anthony shifted a few extra Packards off the back of it too…
By 1931, the neon sign business in the US was worth $16.9m, in large part still controlled by Claude Neon Lights, Inc. However, Claude’s patent expired in ’32, opening the door to all manner of manufacturers and distributors – the 1930s really were the golden age of neon, with companies and advertisers experimenting with countless styles of signs – movement, fog, sound effects and scents were all tried with varying levels of success.

The US may be the spiritual home of the neon light, but the rest of the world have had their fun with it too. France will always be its true home, of course; one notable early example is that in 1925, André Citroën rented the Eiffel Tower and had it emblazoned from top to bottom with the ‘Citroën’ name in glorious neon. It proved so popular that he kept doing it until 1934. And naturally there are the incredibly long-running signs of Piccadilly Circus – Coca Cola have been advertising there since 1954, McDonald’s replaced BASF in 1987, and TDK’s sign, installed in 1990, remained unchanged for twenty years before someone saw fit to remove the bit that said ‘audio & video tape’ and ‘floppy disks’ beneath the logo. (Incidentally, the site currently occupied by TDK was owned by Schweppes from 1920-61, then BP, followed by Cinzano, Fujifilm and Kodak.) There even used to be a huge moving Guinness clock, artfully crafted from neon tubes.

My favourite neon sign, however, is altogether more subtle. Forget Vegas Vic, the 40-foot high cowboy on the Pioneer Club in Las Vegas, or the Coppertone girl in Miami – I like the Lucozade sign on the M4. It’s on the side of a building in Brentford, visible to traffic travelling towards London. It was installed as a sort of ‘kinetic sculpture’ in 1954, and remained there until 2004 when it was given to the Gunnersbury Museum. Local residents were miffed at losing such an important icon of local history, so an identical sign was made up to replace it, and there it remains to this day. (See here.)

Neon lights are quite retro now, of course. The enthusiasm for bending glass tubes into weird shapes really began to wane in the 1970s when it became more popular to employ fluorescent-lit plastic tubes, and the old signs are increasingly being replaced by LEDs today, which are considered less wasteful in terms of energy. All of which means, naturally, that vintage neon signs are true collectors’ items, reminiscent of a more excitable age. So if you want to liven up your padded leather bar in the corner of your living room, you’d better go and pinch the Guinness lights from your local dive bar’s window, before the things die out entirely…

The Tea Song

Very, very Britishy.

Ads of the Wrong

Simple and effective. Nice. Clicky.

Gymkhana Six

Ken Block's latest viral. Plenty to enjoy even if you're not into cars.

'The Hare with Amber Eyes and the Bear Called Pooh'

Waterstones' take on the John Lewis Christmas ad.

Say it with sea otters

Motivational stuff. Click here.