Friday, 22 February 2013

22/02/13 - Clothes, etc

I don’t think I’ll ever really understand fashion. Trendy clothes are just none of my business. (Do you call them ‘trendy’? I have no idea. That’s how out-of-the-loop I am.) When I was a kid, I tried to keep up, sort of; I had one of those awful Spliffy jackets - bought from Herne Bay market, of course, and worn for about a fortnight before being discarded in shame - and was a bit of a trainer fetishist, always saving up my pennies for the latest Nike Airs. But my heart wasn’t in it. Wearing clothes with Reebok or Adidas written on them in massive letters seemed fraudulent given that I had no interest in sport, and I certainly wasn’t interested in the whole chav designer label thing.
It really amused me that so many kids in my school had jackets that said ‘NAFF’, and jumpers that said ‘B.U.M. Equipment’, and that they didn’t see how hilarious that was. My unsophisticated but necessary remarks about their inherently naff clothing and gags about what ‘bum equipment’ they required fell on deaf ears. For some reason, I was the one in the wrong. Meh. Wasn’t really bothered. I knew they looked stupid.
That said, when I see photos of me in my early teen years, I looked pretty stupid myself; there’s one particularly magical one in which I’m wearing stonewash jeans with a Red Dwarf t-shirt, a brown corduroy waistcoat and a Dallas Cowboys baseball cap. I mean, what’s the thinking behind that random mish-mash? Or what about the school non-uniform day when I was about thirteen, that saw me arrive at school without any apparent shame in a pair of neon green jeans and a bright orange Guns N’ Roses t-shirt? Who can say? I just didn’t really put a lot of thought into it. Still don’t.
Having experimented with a few styles, at around the age of eighteen I hit on the radical formula of hoodie, jeans and skate shoes. And I’ve been wearing exactly the same clothes ever since. (In the case of some garments, you may take this literally.) This removes all decision-making from the process, I just reach into the wardrobe and take whatever’s clean.

It’s very liberating to be so totally removed from something that so many people place such importance in. The fact that I don’t ‘get’ fashion puts me in the wonderfully advantageous position of being able to mercilessly mock, ridicule and guffaw at other people’s clothing without any fear of comeback. I’m unimaginative, yes, but I’m not wearing fucking red trousers. Do your worst.
Of course, I have no right to judge these people for what they choose to wear. Arguing a point that you neither understand nor care about is the preserve of the cretin. But that doesn’t stop me. What amuses me about this arseholery of mine is that the people in question clearly find it all so achingly vital to their existence, which makes my appallingly judgmental behaviour all the more fun. And here are some of the offending items, trends and questionable decisions that particularly tweak my ridicule radar:

Red trousers
OK, now I have to tread a little carefully here, as my wife owns a pair of red trousers. Hers are nice, she’s basically the exception to an otherwise hilarious rule: red trousers are generally worn by two distinct groups of people. Firstly, there’s the sort of people that you’d often find with a pale blue cashmere sweater knotted about their shoulders, wearing loafers and shitting on about their uncle’s yacht or how fabulous their Patek Philippe is. The second is the Shoreditch hipster (or whichever part of London is fashionable these days, Dalston or Stoke Newington or wherever); world-weary, post-modern ecstato-miserablists who think that everything’s either fucking amazing or a total waste of time, depending on how many other people claim to like it. Wearing red trousers makes a real statement about who you are. And, generally speaking, who you are is an arse.

Lens-less glasses
Glasses are, of course, very useful things for those that require them. The inability to see properly must be a real fucker, so a set of practical apparatus that can comfortably sit on the face and correct the issue is eminently sensible, and something that glasses-wearers must be thankful for every day.
However, it seems to be increasingly fashionable for trendy people (there’s that word again, I’m sticking with it) to wear glasses that don’t have any lenses in them for the purposes of coolness. To these people I address two key questions:
- Why are you doing that, you dick?
- How are you going to pick your teeth up with two broken arms?

Chav brands
You know that by wearing anything with Hackett, Paul’s Boutique, McKenzie or Nickelson written on it in huge letters, you look like a total thug? Just don’t do it, it’s proper Jeremy Kyle. And don’t get me started on Umbro…

University jumpers from universities you didn’t go to
Now, this is just silly. And I’m afraid that this is a fashion faux pas I’ve been guilty of in the past; when I was about twelve-ish, we had a student from the University of Indiana living in our house for a bit. She gave me an IU jumper. Although, to be fair, it was quite cool, and there was no way anyone could feasibly mistake me for a Hoosier alumnus at that age, so it was obvious what was going on.
What’s far, far worse than this is wearing a university jumper from a university you didn’t go to when you’re a grown-up. It’s dishonest, and rather pointless. You know those hapless tourists you see on Oxford Street, buying those moody ‘Cambridge University’ sweaters from street traders? That’s exactly what you look like in that ‘University of Los Angeles’ jumper you bought in River Island.

Things with loads of little metal studs on to look a bit like a Damien Hirst skull
These are just shit. And I don’t think Damien Hirst sells £15 handbags.

Band t-shirts featuring bands you clearly never listen to
The ratio of Ramones t-shirts in the world to Ramones albums must be about 1000:1. This irritates me hugely, as I really like the Ramones, but I can’t wear a Ramones t-shirt because you can buy them in fucking Gap. (I did buy my baby daughter a Ramones t-shirt though, actually. She does listen to the Ramones. I make sure of that.)
The number of chavvy girls you see in t-shirts bearing the logos of bands they clearly couldn’t name a single album by is frankly astonishing: AC/DC, The Rolling Stones, Aerosmith, The Grateful Dead, Joy Division, Metallica, The Beatles, Iron Maiden, Guns N’ Roses, Kiss, Nirvana… these are all bands that you see swathed across the racks of H&M and Top Shop, when it would make far more sense to replace them all with Spinal Tap shirts. Although that would probably be lost on the fashiongannets.
Why not wear a t-shirt bearing the name of a band or artist that you do actually listen to, you berks? What’s the matter, won’t Primark sell you one that says Little Mix or fucking David Guetta?

Loads and loads of animal print
I’m sure that a little bit of animal print can work – a handbag, a pair of shoes, whatever. But not on everything at once! It’s not an uncommon thing in London to see women wearing leopard print tights and leopard print shoes with a leopard print skirt, a leopard print top, a leopard print handbag and perhaps a leopard print headband too. Maybe topping it all off with a leopard print jacket. What on earth are you doing, you unstoppable nincompoop? Do you actually think you’re a leopard? You look absurd. (Also, you look like Kat Slater’s sluttier sister.)

Wearing the same clothes as everybody else
I don’t get this at all. Take, for example, those ‘OSAKA’ t-shirts that Superdry make: why would you buy one, given that everyone else in the country clearly also owns one? YOU ALL LOOK THE SAME.

But what does my opinion matter? I know piss all about fashion. I probably look ridiculous to you.



Kittens on the Beat

There are a lot of cats on the internet. These are among the best ones.

Deep Inside

This is some massive data porn about, er, porn. 10,000 porn stars and their careers have been analysed to pick out the trends, patterns and titbits. Click here to see.


Some spectacularly nonchalant road rage

Butterfield Luxury Sportswear

Tweetping

Twitter in real time - bit of a headfuck. Click here.


Darwin Deez - You Can't Be My Girl

A brilliantly odd music video.

Brick's Delicious Lunch

Some digital cityscape geekery

Building a digital New York for The Avengers - impressive.

Friday, 15 February 2013

15/02/13 - Childlike Sense of Wonder

One thing that having a child does for you is make you realise how much you take the minutiae of everyday life for granted. Observing a tiny person who’s exploring all of the random crap in your house for the first time is genuinely fascinating. Of course she’s staring at the TV remote with gobsmacked fascination, she’s never seen one before. What does it do? What sound does it make if I smack it against the ground? Why doesn’t Daddy want me putting it in my mouth?
The much-overused phrase ‘childlike sense of wonder’ is perhaps something we should stop throwing around as a cliché and pay a little more attention to on a day-to-day basis.
My daughter is a busy little scamp, constantly on the move. She’s got ants in her pants, she can’t sit still – there’s always something exciting on the other side of the room that needs to be lunged toward in a frenzy of motion and exploration, poked, chewed, shaken, and analysed for strength, texture, taste, smell and whatever the hell else she’s doing. It’s brilliant.
That old line about the packaging and wrapping paper of Christmas presents being more fun than the toys is wonderfully true. She doesn’t know what’s a toy and what’s just a colourfully decorated piece of paper used to disguise that toy – to her, they’re both new things to chew and shake. And paper is enjoyably tactile. She grabbed hold of a copy of Auto Express the other day and set about systematically destroying it, rolling around, tearing out pages, gumming the cover, having the time of her life. And our coffee table is pretty much the best toy she has, way better than any of the assorted blocks, rattly things, cups and bells. Again, she doesn’t know the difference. Everything’s a toy. Daddy’s face is a toy, to be prodded, kicked and have snot wiped across. We should all hope to rekindle that sense of wonder.

We're too blasé in our everyday lives. Of course we’re used to things and enjoy the convenience of familiarity, and it would be pretty mental if you spent your life openly marvelling at your stationery or your hand and voicing the magic of their origins to anyone nearby, but it couldn’t hurt to pay a little more attention to things. We should stop blindly taking everything for granted and start giving some consideration to the stories behind our stuff. I mean, just look at your desk. (Assuming you’re reading this at your desk, that is. If not, go and find a desk, and look at it.) What have you got, some pens, a phone, a computer, a mug? Consider that pencil – where did it come from? Well, the etymology of the name stems back to the old French ‘pincel’, a name for a small paintbrush, itself derived from the Latin ‘penicillus’, meaning ‘little tail’. (Yes, there is a penicillus/tail/penis link there.) A pincel was a fine-haired brush, used for writing before the advent of more easily manufactured and maintained writing implements; its evolution into the wooden shaft with a graphite core we use today is commemorated in the name.
Did you know that pencil ‘lead’ doesn’t actually contain any lead at all? The term comes from the mid-1500s, when a large deposit of graphite was discovered in Cumbria, which the locals sawed into sticks and employed in the marking of sheep and other livestock. Chemistry wasn’t what it is now, and they just assumed that graphite was a form of lead – the new discovery was named ‘plumbago’ (Latin for ‘lead ore’), and the name has stuck ever since. And not just in English either; the German, Irish and Arabic words for ‘pencil’ – ‘bleistift’, ‘peann luaidhe’ and ‘qalam raṣâṣ’ respectively – all literally mean ‘lead pen’.
And what about the letters on there, denoting hardness or softness – HB, 2B, etc? What’s that all about? Well, modern pencils consist of a wooden casing surrounding a core of ground graphite and clay powders. The mix of these refined elements is key to the pencil’s hardness – pure graphite would be very hard indeed, so the higher the ratio of graphite to clay, the harder the pencil. There are a number of similar but distinct hardness scales and protocols, but in general you can assume a scale from 9H (very soft) to 9B (very hard), with HB being the mid-point; ‘H’ stands for hardness, ‘B’ for blackness. It’s implicit, then, that softer pencils are blacker, but that’s not always the case. It’s all rather complex. For day-to-day use, you’re safest with a regular HB.
Some noted pencil enthusiasts: Roald Dahl, who would only write his books with yellow-cased pencils, requiring six sharpened pencils at the start of each day and only re-sharpening when all six were blunt; Vincent Van Gogh, who insisted on only using Faber pencils as he believed them to be superior to all others; Thomas Edison, who had his chunky, three-inch long pencils custom made by Eagle; Johnny Carson, who fiddles with pencils on his desk on The Tonight Show – they’re specially-made ones with erasers on both ends to avoid on-set accidents; Vladimir Nabokov, who rewrote in pencil everything he ever had published; John Steinbeck, who was obsessed with pencils, and reportedly used 300 of them writing ‘East of Eden’.
Your pencil may have been made in China, Germany, the USA, Brazil, India… it’ll probably say on the side. If you’re lucky enough to have a carpenter’s pencil, you’ll find that it’s oval or rectangular so that it can’t easily roll away. Grease pencils are designed to write on shiny surfaces, like glass or steel. Copy pencils, developed in the 19th century, contain an indelible dye within the graphite. There’s a whole lot to know about pencils. We’ve barely scratched the surface here. But let’s move on to that mug on your desk…
 
Your mug of tea contains myriad questions, stories, mysteries and facts. Has it been sitting there for a while with a splash of tea left in the bottom? What sort of chemical jiggery-pokery do you think is happening there, as the milk multiplies its bacteria, the water begins to stagnate and the tannins set about staining the porcelain?
There are countless elements to question here. Start with the tea itself: an infusion of camellia sinensis in boiling water – after water itself, it’s the most commonly consumed beverage in the world. It dates back to around 1500BC, originating in Yunnan, China during the Shang Dynasty. In the following three-and-a-half millennia we’ve developed very convenient methods of making tea (get tea bag from cupboard, boil water in kettle, combine) which is rather different from the drink’s origins in harvesting and drying leaves from one’s own tea bush, but the principle is the same: leaves in water.
Tea is often cited as a quintessentially British thing, but we’re relative newcomers to the game – it only really took off here in the 17th century. Nevertheless, we introduced it to India, we maintain that it’s refreshing on hot days in the face of all logic, we consume 60.2 billion cups of it a year (as a nation obviously, not each), it’s woven into the fabric of our culture.
Some tea facts: 96% of British tea is made with a tea bag rather than loose-leaf; despite the rise of the coffee house, Britain still drinks more than twice as much tea as it does coffee; 98% of Brits have milk in their tea; despite common myths, tea has less than half the caffeine of coffee; there are over 1,500 varieties of camellia sinensis, meaning that the tea enthusiast is always well catered for.
China is the world’s largest producer of tea, churning out about 1.4m tonnes of it a year, with India running a close-ish second at about 980,000 tonnes.
…and that’s just the tea. What about the milk? If you’re in the 98% who add milk to their brew, do you ever give any thought to the provenance of that milk? Do you prefer whole, semi-skimmed (which turns orange when frozen, fact fans), skimmed (which is fundamentally pointless – if you’re going to have milk, have proper milk)…? Or if not cows’ milk, how about the squeezings of the goat? Or the buffalo, sheep, yak, camel, horse, donkey, reindeer or dolphin? (Drinking tea with dolphin milk is probably pretty rare, but it’s an idea…) Give a thought to Louis Pasteur, and those pioneers who made milk safe for us all. Think about the plasticised cardboard box your milk came in, or the plastic bottle, or if you’re old-school, the classic foil-topped glass bottle. (Remember in the olden days, when you’d rush to be the first to the breakfast table so you could get to the milk bottle before your siblings, to decant that plug of creaminess from the top of a freshly-defoiled bottle? Eh? Eh?)
Think about London in the early 1800s, when raw milk was carried in open pails through the streets, swimming in avian excrement and city dust. Aren’t you lucky to be able to splash some fresh, clean milk into your mug?
Oh, and there’s the sugar… if you use regular white household sugar, what you’ve got there is sucrose: an odourless, crystalline powder composed of the monosaccharides glucose and fructose. Sugarcane has been used to sweeten food and drink since 800BC (again, it was the Chinese who showed everyone the way); it didn’t become popular in Europe until the 12th century AD, and it took until Columbus’s celebrated voyage in 1492 for sugarcane clippings to arrive in the New World.
Sugarcane is a grass, so when you’re making your cup of tea, you’re basically adding the products of a leaf and a grass into a cup and mixing in some fluid squeezed from a cow, again derived principally from grass. However, sugar can also come from sugar beet which, as the name suggest, is sort of like a very sweet beetroot. Either way, their sweet elements are extracted, supersaturated, dried, crystallised, packaged up into little paper bricks and shipped around the world. So your cup of tea could contain, aside from British milk, tea from Guangdong and sugar from Sindh, or tea from Darjeeling and sugar from Guadalajara, or any number of other variants. (Oh, I was blasé about the milk there. Local farm? Blend or pure? Filtered? Nice creamy job from the Channel Isles? There’s incredible variety in the world of milk.)
And the mug itself? Well, interestingly, the standard-ish size for a mug is around twelve fluid ounces, double that of a teacup. So we’re drinking twice as much tea as we think we are, in a way. It’s an informal vessel that we associate with utility as much as comfort; mugs are equally at home in the hands of builders and mechanics as they are in those of a middle-class housewife, curled up in front of the fire with some creamy hot chocolate. They’re not a new thing either – the mug as we know it dates back to 6500BC, and the ancient Greeks (around 4500BC) were particularly fond of them, decorating them extravagantly. Your modern ceramic mug may be earthenware, bone china, porcelain or stoneware, and will have reasonably efficient thermal properties, sufficient for keeping your tea warm for about 10-15 minutes.
Your mug of tea really is magnificent, isn’t it? And we haven’t got into the ins-and-outs of when to add the milk, how long to leave the bag in, and all of that politics.

Be careful though, it's easy to get caught up in this enthusiasm for the childlike sense of wonder. Once you've unleashed it, you’re on a slippery slope. I found myself on the bus the other day transfixed by the handrail - was it formed from a solid length of pipe, cut to size and then bent into that specific shape? But wait, it's a mandrel bend - do they have craftsmen with pipe-benders, or do they just cast the handrails as a solid curved piece?
I nearly missed my stop. It's important to retain a sense of perspective.



Hello Kitty in Space

This is all kinds of wonderful. Particularly when the balloon explodes...

Back to the Future in 60 Seconds

Just Roast It

Handy little guide to let you know how long to cook various kinds of meat for, adjusted for weight and rareness. (No horse option though, sadly.) Clicky.


Kia - Space Babies

Brilliant ad. Just brilliant. But it doesn't make me want a Kia... so maybe not that brilliant.

Things Fitting Perfectly Into Other Things

Rampant OCD? This is the Tumblr for you...



'Yeah, that kind of rich'

A couple of ace new ads for the New York Lottery.



Where The Fuck Should I Go For Drinks?

A handy guide to finding local watering holes. Clicky.


TG Korea - Helicopter Crash

Blimey - Korean Top Gear's a bit gritty.

Victorian photography

An impressive set of photographs from the Victorian era, found by chance on a set of glass slides in a Scottish antique shop. Click here to see.




Speed-painting

Genuinely impressive, this - nice payoff at the end too.

Doc Brown’s Rap 101

This is very handy, and has got me out of many a tight squeeze.

The Butterfield Gymnasium

Friday, 8 February 2013

08/02/13 - Alternative Valentine

St. Valentine’s Day is just around the corner, so the next few days will be filled with red things, fluffy things, wine and roses, people elbowing one another to get to the card rack in WHSmiths, and a harrowing free-for-all in the restaurant business as everybody scrabbles to secure a decent table. Poor old February 14th – it’s doomed to be forever associated with hearts and chocolates and little paintings of Cupid, simply because St. Valentine died on that date in AD 270.

So to make February 14th feel a little less like a one-trick pony, here are some other things that we can celebrate (or at least acknowledge)…

Birthdays
Loads of interesting people were born on February 14th. If you fancy popping to Clintons and grabbing something birthdayish instead of Valentinesish, here are a variety of those folk to whom you can send a card and get your stalk on: Dean Gaffney, Simon Pegg, Stelios from EasyJet, Michael Bloomberg, Teller from Penn & Teller, Kevin Keegan, Slick Rick, and crazy Rhydian from X Factor. Every one of these people will be delighted to see you appear on their doorstep, all smiles and inappropriate hugs. And don’t let their bafflement and/or anger suggest otherwise. Everyone loves to be patted on the back and congratulated for continuing to age.

Arizona & Oregon
February 14th saw two territories officially becoming states within the US – Oregon became the 33rd state in 1859, and Arizona was admitted as the 48th state in 1912. So instead of roses and hearts, why not use their state symbols to mark the day? For Oregon it’s the beaver, the pear and the Douglas fir, while Arizona enthusiasts can enjoy the apache trout, the bolo tie, the ridge-nosed rattlesnake and the Colt 45 Peacemaker. Any of these things will bring a smile to your significant other’s face should you have one delivered to their office. Particularly the beaver. They’re funny, aren’t they? Little toothy faces.

Lawrencium
Your Valentine may be interested in a little ‘hot fusion’ on Feb 14th. In which case, why not tell them all about Lawrencium, a period 7 d-block element that was the last in the actinide series to be produced? On St. Valentine’s Day 1961, scientists at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory of the University of California bombarded a three milligram target made up of three isotopes of californium with boron-10 and boron-11, to create the first atoms of lawrencium. Fancy some hot fusion? How does 248Cm(18O,pxn)265-xLr (x=3,4) grab you? Phwoar.

P.G. Wodehouse’s death
Obviously we’re celebrating his life and work rather than the fact that he died. Wodehouse shuffled off this mortal coil back in 1975, and was having books published right up until then; he’d first been published in 1902, which is a frankly staggering run. And it goes without saying that he’s one of the finest comedy writers that the world has ever known. If you’re a Wodehouse virgin, try ‘Ukridge’, ‘Leave It To Psmith’, ‘Thank You, Jeeves’, ‘Summer Lightning’ and ‘Joy in the Morning’. For ultimate pathos, read ‘Aunts Aren’t Gentlemen’, published in October 1974: the last book he completed, and every bit as magical as his earlier work.

A photograph of James K. Polk
In 1849, James Knox Polk became the first serving President of the United States of America to have his photograph taken. I know what you’re thinking: ‘this is an event of such monumental significance, I’m ashamed that I didn’t already know it.’ Fear not, your embarrassing secret is safe with me. Dumbass.
He kicked off the tradition of Presidents having official portraits recorded while seated in the White House, and his first photo was also the first publically shared image of the inside of the White House, which is kind of interesting. Ish.
So, why not mark February 14th by sitting down and having your photo taken? You can achieve an old-timey sepia effect by getting a mate to snap you with Instagram.
(Also, Polk threatened war with Britain over ownership of the aforementioned Oregon, so perhaps you can use this day to look shiftily at Americans in a non-specific and faintly historically-befuddled manner. [Don’t worry, he later died of cholera, fuck him.])
…and if you want to modernise this whole experience a little, February 14th 1962 saw Jackie Kennedy take viewers on the first ever televised tour of the White House. You could mark this event by, I dunno, watching some TV. Or a film that features the White House – maybe Independence Day (kaboom!). Or you could listen to the song ‘1962’ by Swedish nineties indie band Grass Show, that’s good.

Great Ormond Street
The founding of Great Ormond Street Hospital for Sick Children took place on February 14th 1852. Located near Bloomsbury, it now works with University College London to be what has grown into Europe’s largest centre for research into children’s health.
In 1929, the hospital was gifted the rights to ‘Peter Pan’ by writer J.M. Barrie, which has helped tremendously with their funding over the years. However, research colossi absorb a hell of a lot of cash, and will always need donations. I donate to them every month. Maybe you’d like to too? Poor little nippers, stuck in hospital when they should be out chasing butterflies. http://www.gosh.org/gen/donate/

Spare a thought for February 15th as well. While you’re nursing your hangovers and congratulating yourselves on being such sensitive and accommodating lovers, people across history have been up with the lark and achieving all sorts: British coinage was decimalised on Feb 15th 1971 on the excitingly-named Decimal Day, Canada adopted the maple leaf design as their official flag in 1965, Ferdinand III became the Holy Roman Emperor in 1637, protests against the Iraq war took place in 600 cities across the globe in 2003, Cuba adopted the Socialist Constitution in 1976, and in 2001 the first draft of the complete human genome was published. So the least you could do is get out of bed and stick the kettle on.



Panhandler Party

Stick with this, it has a great payoff!

HistoryPin

This is brilliantly addictive - it's a social network in which users share historical photos, pinned to their correct locations on a searchable world map. You could lose hours playing with this - click here and dive in...

Tampon vs. Mooncup Rap Battle

Great little ad for Mooncup.

Nazi Hunter Alan

Brilliant, brilliant, brilliant. Click here.
(Oh, and follow him on Twitter here!)

Doritos - Goat 4 Sale

Doritos' Superbowl ad. Brilliantly odd.

NES Gatsby

The Great Gatsby, reimagined as an NES-style platform game. Inspired!
Click here.

Armstrong is a Creep

Vaguely Rude Place Names of the World

A very handy map - click here.

Flashmob Surprise

Flashmobs are increasingly getting less funny. That's just a fact, they're stagnating. This one from 2011, however, was a work of absolute comic genius - not because the performers were doing anything particularly impressive, but because of the random bloke who decided to join in...

'Hit By A Bus' Supercut

Well, this is gross.

L.A. Noire outtakes

I love that RockStar bothered to make this. (Incidentally, if you've never played L.A. Noire, go out and buy it now. Trust me. It's incredible.

Friday, 1 February 2013

01/02/13 - Work Experience

Work experience – does it really matter?
Well, obviously the answer is ‘yes, it’s essential’. Or ‘no, it’s a bloody waste of time.’ Definitely one of those two. Yeah.

When I was sixteen, my school announced that we were all off to do a week’s work experience, and we could either use their resources to be allocated a place at some local company, or we could sort out our own placements, pending school approval. I opted to work for a Walthamstow-based firm that sold transfer paper, heat presses, printing supplies and things of that nature, explaining to the school that this would give me a solid grounding in a relatively recession-proof industry, and that the opportunity to observe London as a working, functioning organism from a work-based (rather than tourism-based) perspective would offer valuable insights into the wider world outside of Herne Bay. What I didn’t tell them was that it was my uncle’s company, so I’d basically be treating the thing as a bit of a jolly. I like my uncle, he’s a laugh. It seemed like a fun idea.
So, with the arrangements made, I packed a bag and caught a train up to the excitingly-named E17 post-code (hey, it was the nineties, East Seventeen were still famous then).
What did I learn that week? Lots of things, really. I learnt that my uncle has a cabbie-like knowledge of central London, as we spent rather a lot of time driving from place to place in his Renault Extra. I learnt that if you run your own business, you can also moonlight doing other jobs as you go about your day-to-day work; say, if you used to work for Canon copiers, you can make quite a lot of money fixing people’s photocopiers, then convince them to buy a load of paper and other equipment. ‘You’ll save on delivery costs,’ you can say, ‘because I’m already here. The gear’s outside in the van.’
I learnt that you can fit two grand in £20-notes in the dashtop cubbyhole of a Renault Extra, it’s exactly the right size. I learnt that if you run your own business that’s largely telephone-based – this being 1998, before everyone cottoned on to email – then you don’t actually need to be in the office that much; if you’re watching Trainspotting over breakfast and get really into the film, you can just hang out on the sofa and finish the movie whilst occasionally fielding calls on your portable Motorola telephone (leaning out of the window of the flat to get a better signal). I was introduced to the timeless London delicacy that is pie ‘n’ mash. I learnt that a ‘business lunch’ needn’t always mean lunch – it can be several pints of London Pride and then a taxi home.
I didn’t learn a whole lot about paper or photocopiers or salesmanship – or work, now I come to think of it – but I still reckon that week spent Delboy-ing around London was far more valuable than it would have been to sharpen pencils in some faceless hick town back office like most of my peers did.

There was one kid in my year who spent that work experience week at some sort of medical research facility or veterinary lab, or something – his job for the week was basically to masturbate pigs so that the lab had plenty of semen samples to experiment with. We mocked him mercilessly for this, but he went on to study something sciencey-brainboxy at Oxford, so who’s laughing now?

So, yes, work experience is either fundamentally pointless or incredibly useful, depending on your perspective. And now that the economy’s in the toilet and decent paid work is increasingly hard to come by, perhaps the notion of giving up your time for free in exchange for a little life experience is more logical than ever. With this in mind, here are a few areas of the world of work that are reasonably recession-proof and well worth steering your kids/friends/self towards:

Barista
The lure of fresh coffee seems like something that will never wane. No matter how hard up people are and how much their household budgets are squeezed, there’s only a very small percentage of the nation, it seems, who possess the part of the brain that points out that regularly paying five quid for a pint of coffee is a bit fucking stupid. I guess it helps coffee bean farmers in far-flung places, and captains of supertankers, and has various other knock-on effects, as well as keeping everyone’s colons well cleansed. So why not train as a barista? There’s a seemingly endless demand for decent coffee, so you’ll always find work. Plus, it sounds a bit like ‘barrister’, so your mum won’t be ashamed to bring it up at dinner parties.

Tax accountant
OK, it’s an ambitious one, this. But worth sticking with if you have the tenacity. Have you seen ‘The Pursuit of Happyness’? It’s not about tax accountants, but the principle is similar – Will Smith’s character puts his whole life on the line in order to work as an unpaid entry-level bod in the financial sector. The film has a happy ending. So could your life.
As Benjamin Franklin said, ‘the only things certain in life are death and taxes’. And you’re not legally allowed to kill people (unless you join the army, and even then there’s all sorts of red tape to wade through), so you could do worse than working with taxes. They’re not going anywhere.

Tyre fitter
How many cars are there in the world? Fucking loads, that’s how many. Mechanics will always have full diaries, because cars are so horribly complex that there’s a near-infinite number of things that can unexpectedly break – and most people can’t be arsed to (or don’t know how to) fix them.
There are some things that people will, in times of austerity, teach themselves to do in order to save money; changing your oil is a piece of piss, for example. But changing your own tyres is quite tricky and requires specific machinery – it’s pretty unlikely that many members of the public will attempt that at home.
Get an internship at your local tyre fitters and get that scent of fresh rubber in your nostrils.

Ice cream seller
Owning an ice cream van is a pretty seasonal thing, but for a few weeks of the year you’ll be the most popular person in the world. All you need is a sunny day and enough diesel to get you to the nearest park, people will be queuing up to throw money at you. And in London, posh folk don’t seem to think that £3.50 is an unreasonable price for a ninety-nine, for some reason.
Concerned about the seasonality of it? You could always remodel yourself as a burger-flipper in the winter and park yourself outside nightclubs.
Do some research before you make a commitment, though. Vans aren’t very big. Vans full of ice cream machinery are pretty tight on space. You may struggle to find an ice cream seller that’s willing to take you on as an apprentice, due to the fact that you’ll be standing really, really close to each other all the time. (Ice cream men are like bank tellers – friendly enough if they’ve got a glass wall to hide behind; rather more gazelle-like face-to-face.) But if you do, you can presumably enjoy as many Zooms and Screwballs as you can eat – perks of the job, see?

Gravedigger
People die. And for all the logic and sensibleness of opting for cremation, there will always be people who want to see out eternity under six solid feet of mud and earthworms. It’s that whole ‘death and taxes’ thing again, the demand for personnel in the mortality industry is perennially strong.
Now, the interpersonal side of death is pretty awkward and sad – arranging funerals, helping grieving families to choose flowers and hymns, driving hearses, all of that business is fraught with tearful emotion and gloomy glumness. But if you’re the dude digging the holes, you don’t need to talk to anyone – it’s just you, your spade, and your own timetable. In addition to the inherent nobility of contributing to the final passage of the soul, you also get to adopt a freakish persona, should you choose to do so. You can grow your hair out all straggly, wear a long black leather coat, smoke liquorice rollies and tell tall tales about what goes on in the graveyard after dark. What other job allows this kind of freedom…?

So there you go – five things to bear in mind when that ‘little chat’ with HR happens.



Inauguration 2013: A Bad Lip Reading

These are always good. This one is great.

Your Kickstarter Sucks

Kickstarter is a platform that allows individuals to crowd-fund their creative or business ideas. This, of course, means that it's basically Dragon's Den without any kind of feedback or filtering. So for every great idea, there are a dozen shit ones. Those shit ones are collated for your bemusement here.

Paperman

A gorgeous little short from Disney.

TripAdvisaargh!

All of the most hilarious bits of TripAdvisor, aggregated into one essential blog. Magnificent. Click here.

Baby Discipline

I showed this video to my wife. 'Is this what you're like with our daughter while I'm out?!' she asked. 'Well, yes,' I replied, 'but to be fair, she really shouldn't be driving.' Ah, larks.

Paris, 1914

Some magnificent colour photography of Paris almost a century ago - click here.

Butterfield Bootcamp

I love that Brian Butterfield's CBBC appearances are a regular thing now.

The People vs Fitness