Great Britain has its fair share of bonkers people. You don’t have to go far before you meet people who are, really, three stops from Dagenham. In the space of a few minutes I can think of that bloke who arrived at the Daily Express in Manchester in a full suit of armour. (He wasn’t publicising something, he wanted to complain to the editor about the cookery column). And then there was that scientist in Cambridge who walked around the town with a tube up his bum so he could record how much he farted. And then there’s the druids, and the Morris Dancers, and that woman I met who sewed herself into a greased vest every autumn. They’re not clinically insane, or dangerous, they’re just, well, nuts.
Still, I was slightly taken aback the other day when, on a whim, I Googled the Flat Earth Society and found it still exists. That is a society for people who believe the earth is flat. In fact Google returned 856,000 hits on the subject.
Truly, I say unto you. There are people alive who believe we are living on a disc, that below us are the fires of hell and that Antartica is a wall of ice surrounding us.
Their forum is well worth a look. Especially the Q&A for ‘newbies’. In it you learn that other planets may be round, but the Earth is different. When the sun isn’t overhead, it’s night-time. The Venerated Official of the High Zetetic Council (that’s the guy who edits the forum) asserts:
the Earth isn’t in the shape of a Mercator map. That would be silly. Magellan and many others simply made a circle around the disk of the Earth.
As for horizons,
apparently large waves will obscure apparently small objects. Therefore, looking out long distances over water you will of course be unable to see land on the other side. In addition, refraction has an effect. Some flat Earthers theorize an electromagnetic acceleration which appears to bend light upward.
The society was formed in Victorian times by an English inventor called Samuel Rowbotham, who wrote a book called Earth not a globe. His followers included the US Consul to China and the superintendent of Baltimore public schools (Because America has bonkers people too, let’s be fair).
After his death, Rowbotham’s work was carried on by Lady Elizabeth Blount, wife of explorer Sir Walter de Sodington Blount. Google does not reveal where Sir Walter went, or what he discovered but I think its worth noting, just for the extraordinary names, that his fellow Blount baronets lived in Tittenhanger, in Hertfordshire.
The Flat Earth website is a joy. I especially like the page on the dangers of moonlight, and the advice that if you are foolish enough to risk getting moonburn by going for a walk in the dark, you and your dog should wear all-over body coverings.
Here are some headlines from the society’s Flat Earth News:
“Whole World Deceived… Except the Very Elect” (Dec. 1977)
“Australia Not Down Under” (May 1978)
“Sun Is a Light 32 Miles Across” (Dec. 1978)
“The Earth Has No Motion” (Jun. 1979)
“Nikita Krushchev Father of NASA” (Mar. 1980)
“Galileo Was a Liar” (Dec. 1980)
“Science Insults Your Intelligence” (Sep. 1980)
“World IS Flat, and That’s That” (Sep. 1980)
“The Earth Is Not a Ball; Gravity Does Not Exist” (Mar. 1981)
So there you have it. Eccentric people are great. They make the world go round. Unless of course, you’re a flat earther.
(Apparently there are still people who believe the earth was created in seven days. Wonder how many hits I’d get on Google for that?)
Pictures via Creative Commons courtesy of
Once upon a time I worked as a media studies teacher at my local college. The course was run by the art department, for some reason, and it was very jolly and bohemian. Some of the lecturers had gone to the Chelsea School of Art or the Slade in the sixties and they all had beards and hippie skirts and smelt vaguely of patchouli. They were truly nice people and excellent teachers and living in revolutionary times had taught them to be open minded about other people’s ideas. Which meant, really, to me, that they were ready to accept any old rubbish if the person producing it was enthusiastic enough.
Take the guy with the vacuum cleaner. He arrived in the staff room one day with a pile of painted stuff on a tray. It looked like that mountain that Richard Dreyfuss sculpts out of mashed potato in Close Encounters of the Third Kind. It was in fact, the contents of a vacuum cleaner dust bag covered in grey gloss paint.
I think, ‘What the fuck is that?’ was my reaction.
But the art lecturers listened to him keenly and nodded in sympathy as he told them how he simply couldn’t get any sponsorship to make more dustbag mounds in order truly to explore his themes of rejection and redemption. I offered to give him the contents of my vacuum cleaner, but I have to say I was thanked gently and then ignored, possibly because it was obvious I was not taking him seriously.
And then, that same year, artist Chris Ofili won the £20,000 Turner Prize for his art, which was splattered with elephant dung. So what do I know?
I began thinking about this again when I went to London’s Tate Britain on Saturday. The gallery, in Pimlico, is a beautiful building with a huge central space. And at the moment it is filled with packing cases and cardboard all nailed together under the name of Dock by sculptor Phyllida Barlow.
The Tate website says:
Suspended, collapsed, stacked, wrapped or folded, the works of Phyllida Barlow spring from an interrogation of some of the most fundamental aspects of sculpture: its physical attributes and its presence in space.
That is the kind of sentence that you need to read if you are having trouble sleeping. It’s a sales pitch. And it makes me feel that if they have to sell it with fancy words, then it can’t sell itself. Why can’t they just say:
Phyllida Barlow’s works are suspended, collapsed, stacked, wrapped or folded. She is inspired by the basic idea of sculpture; what it looks like and how it affects its environment.
Which, when you think about it, means absolutely nothing.
It’s interesting that all the other pictures and sculptures in the gallery, the ones that have been executed with skilled draughtsmanship, and an eye for colour and balance, and that absorb you, have really simple descriptions. There’s no need to package them with cheap snake-oil sentences. They speak for themselves.
It doesn’t matter how smarmily Dock is described, it just reminds me of something I might see done by a sixth former at school.
The problem I have with this kind of art is that it is more an expression of its time, than of any particular artistic skill. If the gallery was (God forbid) set on fire, nobody afterwards could recreate a Turner or a painting by William Blake. However, it would be reasonably easy for anyone, given a hammer and some packing cases and bit of gaffer tape, to recreate Dock.
But why would anyone want to?
Pictures from Wikimedia, via Creative Commons:
London is lovely in autumn. There are just too many people in summer and the pavements are sweaty and the Tube is suffocating, but when the leaves start to fall there’s a kind of quietness, even in the busy parts. And standing at the crossing outside Euston there was a clean laundry smell from the people around me, and I was feeling pretty content, and then I saw the No 10 sailing past, while I was stuck in the middle of the road with the pedestrian lights on red.
Plus ca bloody change, as they say in Walthamstow.
And then the lights changed, and the bus pulled in at the stop up the road, and I ran for it, and some doddery old couple were holding it up wanting to know if it went to Kamchatka or wherever and I made it. And I went upstairs and somebody smoked and I fell into a dream, aahhhh….no, that was John Lennon. And nobody is allowed to smoke upstairs now on a bus. So I just stared out of the window and we turned into Gower Street and there was a girl sitting on a trunk in the middle of the pavement, and an old guy with a big box, walking along as though it weighed nothing, and a young lad, obviously his son, carrying the same kind of box, and hurrying along trying to keep up, and I realised that it’s that time of year, when university is starting again, and then out of the other window I saw a blue plaque saying that this was the place where anaesthetic was used for the very first time. And I realised I was short on ideas for a blog post, so I got my phone out, and started clicking away like a demented tourist.
This is Gower Street. Fascinating, huh?
It’s part of Bloomsbury and, in the past, famous for its intellectuals. Its full of university buildings, and the British Museum is really close. But if you’re going to Kensington, like me, you stay on the bus and at the top, you hang a right past the amazing umbrella shop, which I couldn’t take a picture of, on account of somebody’s head being in the way, and you’re on New Oxford Street, coming up to the junction with the Tottenham Court Road, and the whole place is being torn down and rebuilt and it’s a mess. Makes you think what it might have looked like in the Blitz. But without the bodies.
And then you’re on Oxford Street, and there’s not much to say about it, really. If you manage to look down Argyll Street (unlike me, because the bus was too fast) where the tube station is, you’ll see Liberty’s, which used to be an utterly brilliant department store, where ladies up from the counties came for lunch and to wander about the wondrous fabric department. The carpet section was fantastic. A man there once showed me hand-made rugs from Afghanistan decorated with Kalashnikovs all round the border. Now it’s all been updated, (although the actual building is still worth a look); the carpets are in a cupboard somewhere, the cafe’s gone downhill, and there’s only three things for sale at a million pounds each.
Still, there’s Selfridges right at the bottom. The guy who founded it, Harry Gordon Selfridge, lavished the fortune he made from it on showgirls and ended up destitute but, hey, at least he had a good time, and the shop is thriving.
At the bottom of Oxford Street you turn left on to Park Lane, with its swanky hotels on the left, and Hyde Park on the right. After a while you go past the Hilton, which doesn’t look too swanky at all. And is chiefly memorable to me, for the time a mate of mine went out to report on some twit who had attempted to parachute from one of the balconies and landed rather messily. She found one of his hands on the pavement.
Then you turn right round the bottom end of the park, with the back garden of Buckingham Palace on your left, and get ready to turn on to Knightsbridge.
You go past Knightsbridge barracks on the right, but I didn’t bother taking a picture because it’s just a brick wall really. This is where the guards keep their horses; they exercise them in park early every morning. Years ago, I used to go riding in the park, and I’ll never forget one winter morning a whole troop of soldiers just riding out of the mist by the Serpentine. Spooky.
Nearly there. Glance down to your left as we go past the Brompton Road and you’ll get a glimpse of Harrods, the building with the domed roof, which I like mostly because of its Egyptian themed escalator. Really, it’s like being in the pyramids. Only you can get tea and buns afterwards. And their Food Hall is sublime. But go there only in February, when the tourists are hibernating and Christmas is a dirty word.
After that, you go past Princes Gate, below, where 25 people were taken hostage at the Iranian Embassy (that’s No 16) in 1980. When the attackers killed a man and threw his body out of the embassy the SAS were sent in and they rescued all but one of the remaining hostages, and killed five of the six terrorists. The sixth spent 27 years in jail. The embassy itself was a wreck for years, and didn’t reopen until 1993.
Then it’s the Albert Hall, which the bus just jerked past, so not one of my best.
Anyway, here’s a picture of a green hut in front of Kensington Gardens. You see these huts all over London, and they always look as if they’re trying to pretend they’re not there. They are there. They are private cafes for London’s cab drivers. I’ve often thought Dr Who ought to have one of those instead of a police telephone box. People who try knocking on the doors to ask for a cup of tea, spare change or a lift to Kings Cross, are never seen again.
On to Kensington High Street, and out at the station, which is one of the prettiest stations in London. Piccadilly is the most elegant (it has art deco lamps) but the entrance to Ken High Street is full of light and smells of flowers.
And er, that’s it. Eat your heart out, Henri Cartier Bresson.
We all know about mad inventions. But this is my favourite:
Amazing to think this woman is smiling, even though her skirt’s on fire. Still, not to worry, somebody will be along in a moment, just as soon as they find the bloke who’s got the key.
With kind permission of The Daily Drone, from the collection of Peter Michel
I had a friend once, whose husband took her to a really rough council estate, and said, ‘Without me, this is where you would have ended up.’ Shortly afterwards she left him, and last I saw, she was very happy, and earning more than he was.
So, when the campaign for Scottish independence started, did the marvellously savvy English hot foot it over the border to try to woo the Scots with a box of chocs and a bunch of flowers? No. They sent George Osborne, who stamped about the country threatening that if Scotland left, dire things would happen. The entire nation would probably end up in the workhouse. Nobody in Europe would speak to them. They would have no friends and no money.
Well, that worked.
Imagine the surprise in Westminster, when the polls began to show that, hey, the Scots might really want to move out, buy a nice apartment with their oil-fired trust fund, and start going doon the toon on their own. It was as if Samantha Cameron had threatened to leave No 10 in a fur coat with a leopard on a chain.
In the beginning, politicians down South were so complacent, that they rejected the SNP offer of a third alternative on the ballot paper, of Scotland having greater powers, without actually leaving the union.
It’s only now, when it’s almost too late, that David Cameron is standing in the garden and singing Nessun Dorma up at the Scots window. Only now that he’s saying he loves the union more than his party. I don’t know how true that is. There’s plenty of good arguments for both sides of the debate, and to be frank, if I had a vote, I don’t know how I’d use it. I’m Scottish and, like many people in Scotland, my heart would be for independence, while my head would tell me to stay.
But Westminster attitudes haven’t helped. There is a lot of suspicion in Scotland that Cameron is trying to get them drunk on rhetoric now, just so that he can screw them as usual afterwards.
What is it with the word passionate?
I had an email from a guy yesterday who, get this, is hugely passionate about direct resourcing and offering expertise to a full 360 degree recruitment process in-house.
Everybody’s doing it. I saw a guy on Twitter who is passionately discovering the world, and another who is passionate about gardening. Gardening??? Wtf??
I don’t know what a 360 degree recruitment process is, but maybe I ought to. Especially if it’s going to make me feel [hugely] intense, impassioned, ardent, fervent, zealous, vehement, fiery, heated, feverish, emotional, heartfelt, eager, excited, animated, spirited, vigorous, strong, energetic, messianic, fanatical, frenzied, wild, fierce, consuming, violent, tumultuous, flaming, raging, burning, uncontrollable, ungovernable…(that’s enough definitions, ed).
Frankly, I’m exhausted. I’ve spent all morning on my hands and knees trowelling madly in the wet earth, coping with my hugely tumultuous, flaming, ungovernable desire for spring bulbs, and now I have to face my raging, all consuming, ungovernable feelings for direct resourcing.
According to jobsearch.com it is certain that in a job interview you will be asked what you are passionate about.
Apparently you’re supposed to reply by saying you like helping your mother with household repairs, or possibly attending evening art classes. Do not, I urge you, tell your interviewer that you’re feeling frenzied about a bit of sawing, or that you have erotic feelings over Constable’s Hay Wain. Although, frankly, any twit who wants you to be passionate about direct resourcing deserves everything they get.
Why can’t people just say they like doing something?
picture courtesy of http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Mauch_Passionate_kiss.jpg via Creative Commons
There was a snake at our front door yesterday. I’m tempted here to tell you it was a bloody great python coiled around one of the dogs, and that we had to battle it with an axe and a fire extinguisher. But no. It was black, about ten inches long and as thick as a telephone cable.
You have to know here, that we do not live in the Australian outback or the Nevada desert, where people (apparently) are always tripping over deadly vipers. We live in a shire county, where the deadliest thing I’ve ever seen was the vicar on a motorbike.
I was torn between running to get a camera and watching Steve try to pick it up with a pencil. It was only small, but I kept thinking of all the stories I’ve read about exotic snakes escaping from their owners. Perhaps it was like Krait the dust snake in Rikki Tikki Tavvi, and I would shortly have to rush my soon-to-be fatally twitching husband to A&E (which is now 20 miles away on account, the health trust says, of being more convenient).
But as we watched, the snake began to disappear into a hole, by the threshold, that is so small we’ve never noticed it before. Steve made one or two more attempts to get it, but it slipped through his fingers and completely disappeared. Later research revealed it to be a grass snake (natrix natrix) and completely harmless.
I’m still not very happy about the idea of having a snake, however small and harmless, for a lodger. Random callers here already get the full Hound of the Baskerville treatment from our dogs. What are they going to think, if in the middle of all this, some snake starts crawling out of the woodwork, too?
Picture from Stephen Courtney on http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grass_snake#mediaviewer/File:Grass_snake_head.jpg, via Creative Commons.
They try to be kind to Alice, you know. But she’s an awkward customer. She lived all through the Blitz. Had a stillborn baby the night they hit Wapping.
Her husband was odd though; Tony, he were in one of them Japanese prisoner of war camps. In Burma. When he came home he was as thin as a gipsy’s whippet. You could see right through his hands. He ate a bone, once. At a Rotary dinner. Chomp, chomp, chomp all through the speeches. Like a bloody great dog. Alice just acted as if it were normal.
Tony didn’t live long after that; Alice brought all them children up on her own. They’re all grown up now. Very good jobs; doctors and the like, in Australia. The nurses at the home are lovely. But she’s a difficult one. Never happy unless she’s miserable. And now her family’s here and it’s her birthday dinner. She’s 100. They’ve all come to get her. Her sons have come all that way, and her grandchildren. They’re taking her to a fabulous restaurant.
Alice is at the home watching Bargain Hunt. She watches it every day. ‘Come on, Alice sweetheart. Time to go for your dinner.’
‘Bugger off,’ says Alice.
I was inspired to write this by the short stories on Bruce Goodman’s blog. I like his short, staccato style. I wanted to write it so that the narrator had a specific voice, but to keep him/her separate from the actual story. (If you make the ‘you’ in the third par into an ‘I’ for example, the last par doesn’t work.)
I also wanted to experiment with voice; to break the rules about not using cliche, and to see how far you can write how you speak, without it becoming as confusing as real speech.
Picture courtesy of https://c1.staticflickr.com/3/2744/4398104241_0a5ac81a59_z.jpg via Creative Commons
What is the deal with people shaving their eyebrows and then having them tattooed back on again? Is it me, or is this truly weird?
It seems to me that plenty of people think they’re going to end up looking like this:
When in fact, they end up looking like this:
Or even, God forbid, this.
There is a story in the Daily Mail about a woman who is so distraught after paying £120 for new eyebrows, that she can’t now leave her house. (Bit of a mystery therefore as to why she has agreed to have her photo taken by a national newspaper, but hey, it’s a free country.) The paper says she will have to wait up to six years for the look to fade.
£120???? Here’s an amazing beauty tip, girls. It’s called a pencil. It’ll cost you a fiver and if you don’t like your new brows, you can rub them off in six seconds. Yes, really.
Wish somebody had told this guy:
And as a final plea, will people please stop drawing on their dogs? It may be funny. But it’s not fair, and one day, some canine karma will definitely bite you in the butt.
Then again, you may already have had your eyebrows tattooed.
Pictures via Creative Commons, from:
Something to cheer us up on a Monday morning: