Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Hefty tome

Well, it's been a long time since I looked at this blog, hasn't it. I have rather sadly been very preoccupied with my dreaded PhD.

However... I handed in my final draft last week (hehe!!) and have now been challenged by TheCatsMother to immediately start 'diverse and original blogging' again.....

Not sure I can manage that yet, but I'll give it a go. This last month's work has really drained me mentally and physically, I'm afraid. I feel like a manky old wrung out dish cloth, but I don't think it's permanent. *phew*

Firstly, a PhD Final Draft fact: I weighed it on my kitchen scales, and it's a whopping 3 and a half pounds. That's about 1.58 kilos apparently, according to some online conversion chart. Quite heavy, you know. A hefty tome indeed. I had it bound, even though it's not the final version for submission, just a cheapo plastic spine thing, but it looked fairly impressive, if I say so myself. A LOT of paper and dare I say it, a hell of a lot of work has gone into it. Does that sound like I'm blowing my own trumpet a little?? Aah well, so be it!!!!

So now I am waiting for the feedback from my supervisors, wondering what sort of workload it will bestow on me for the festive season. Until then, I've been sleeping a lot and pottering about catching up with domestic things, a bit of clothes shopping and spending my birthday gift vouchers. Guilt-free TV watching is also proving very pleasant, the current run of Diagnosis Murder repeats are becoming a nice little habit. Unfortunately, I also seem to be dreaming about this imminent feedback, which isn't very nice, but I guess a bit of stress goes with the territory. Ah well, not long to go until it's over....

It would be too boring to post a pic of my thesis in all its weighty glory, so here's one of some 1970s Osmonds Letraset transfers that the lovely Dr Helen McCookerybook sent me a while ago. Some imaginative ideas for how to use your Popstar Watchits given in the packet include sticking them on your makeup mirror, on your favourite shirt buttons and on the toes of your platform shoes. Perhaps most spookily, it pre-empts today's grown-up nail art trend by several decades by suggesting you stick the small ones on your fingernails.

PS The Osmonds transfers aren't just a random bit of ephemera to fill up a blog post, you know. There is logic buried in there... today happens to be Donny Osmond's birthday.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Microbes and becoming a troglodyte

My recent interest in microbes was a result of going to an event linked to an exhibition at the Royal Institution. It was a science/art crossover thing that consisted of various artists exploring themes in collaboration with scientists from different fields. It was interesting to hear scientists extolling the virtues of bacteria, as I'd never thought about them before, other than in relation to obsessive modern health / disease prevention / sanitary product adverts on the TV / potential OCD scenarios.

I went because there were various people connected with my workplace in the exhibition, but I liked Anne Brodie's work best, although we didn't get to see the whole project. She created photographic portraits by illuminating the faces of her sitters in a darkened photobooth with containers of specially cultivated bioluminsecent bacteria placed near their faces. The bacteria emitted enough light to enable slightly eerie photographs to be taken. These portraits were projected onto the wall of the old lecture theatre when we went to the event, as the photobooth had been dismantled by then. I was disappointed that we couldn't get to see the actual containers of glowing bacteria which sounded fascinating. It was interesting to see something like bacteria used as a tool to create something both commonplace and beautiful like portraits, considering all the really negative connotations popularly attached to microbes. I'd really have liked to have seen stills or film of the interior of the photobooth with the containers of bacteria during her presentation, but maybe they'll appear in a piece of work at a later date.

Other than that, and being in an exhibition for PhD work, having assorted colds and viruses, a few other arty outings and a birthday, I've become a sort of part-time troglodyte for the past few months - defined as someone living in seclusion and unacquainted with the affairs of the world. I think hermit life goes with the territory for PhDs when you get to a certain point.... nearing The End. That rather scary Ultimate Deadline in February 2009 when I have to submit. But hopefully I won't leave the blog so long next time....

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Cuddly giant microbes

These cute little cuddly toys are all based on the shape of real microbes that you've probably come across (or not). The best sellers from GiantMicrobes include: "The Common Cold, The Flu, Sore Throat, Stomach Ache, Brain Cell, E. coli, Kissing Disease, Ulcer, Martian Life, Beer & Bread, Black Death, Ebola, Flesh Eating, Sleeping Sickness, Dust Mite, Bed Bug, Bookworm, and many more!" The categories for each type of microbe are enticing too... choose from calamities, exotics, infirmaries and maladies, to name a few.

I like the way they all look so cute with their little beady eyes, almost pleading to be taken home. They're supposed to be educational too, so what more could you want? It's a purely personal opinion of course, but I think I would prefer to see these toys in someone's home than a large collection of dolls or teddy bears, which I find slightly twee when adults have them.

Friday, September 26, 2008

fed up

I haven't posted for ages (again). I think it'll be like this for the next few months probably, as my thesis is rolling on towards the end and it makes me feel physically sick when I realise how much work I've still got to do - it scares me in case I can't get it done in time, because that will be it - all those year's work down the drain. So I just seem to work all the time, either on that, or else I go to work. Long hours, so I'm always tired, but I can't think of how else to stop myself worrying about it. If I don't actually do something tangible, then I dream about it and feel knackered the next day. I know it's normal, as other Phders say exactly the same things so you feel a bit better but it's a very weird way of life at the moment. My tolerance for prats seems to be much lower than it used to be, I've been really irritable lately, not nasty or rude, I don't think, but people and things just get on my nerves faster than they usually do. But then you see something horrible, like the aftermath of a bad road accident on the way to work, and it puts things into perspective.

Anyway, sorry to moan, I'll get off to sleep now and try to do a happy post next time.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Another blogging gap, another excuse

It's only been a few weeks since I last logged into Blogger and so many changes... such a cluttered-looking screen when you login, rather ugly and so beige-brown. And I tried to leave a comment on Sandancer's detective blog and got a weird error message saying someone else was performing the same action (I don't think so.)

Oh well, I'll fiddle around today and see how it goes.

It's a bit like bringing in a sick note to say why you've been off for a while, but my reason for lengthy absence was hideous work loads, both in job and the PhD. Stressful and time-consuming, but I've got a couple of weeks leave now, so can catch up with being human and get on with my academic work with slightly less juggling of responsibilities. Feel a bit bad admitting this, but I didn't even remember I had a blog while I was caught up with work, but then I started thinking of the blogs I read as real people instead of anonymous things on the internet so I did miss it in the end. Thanks for popping over and leaving the odd comment btw.

Will potter around a bit now and be back later.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Sherlock Holmes' imaginary home

I was curious to see what a museum about an imaginary Victorian detective might be like, which is what the Sherlock Holmes Museum is really. Museums are usually about real things, not fictional characters in novels. Holmes lived at 221b Baker Street in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's stories, so naturally the museum should be there too. That address doesn't actually exist, so the owners of the museum made it up, but it's more or less in the right place in Baker Street.

I was a bit surprised at how many people were queuing up to go in, all tourists. All avid readers of classic detective stories, maybe?? Well, no. Some of the girls near us said they came because Sherlock Holmes was a really famous Englishman and they wanted to see where he lived.

I was slightly shocked that people thought Holmes was a real person. Maybe it's a testament to Conan Doyle's writing, but more likely because the character has slipped into some strange myth of Victorian England, where the line between fiction and history has become completely blurred. There was a display of letters sent to that address from people who also thought it was all real - the Inland Revenue wanted money from whoever lived at 221b (they should know better). Someone else wrote to warn Holmes that he'd seen Professor Moriarty (Holmes' evil nemesis) on the number 254 bus in Sutton, while others offered their help in solving mysteries, or for advice in finding out why their cat kept disappearing.

The museum is set up to look like a Victorian town house, based on details from the stories. It's a bit scruffy and dusty (it made me sneeze). It wasn't decay from authentic Victorian wear and tear, but because visitors are positively encouraged to have their photograph taken everywhere, including on the exhibits - in Holmes' study, at his desk, sitting in his chair, standing next to a 'Victorian policeman' or 'domestic maid' (both real people dressed in appropriate costume.) Some people were posing for their photos in tweed deerstalker hats, bought from the gift shop (pipes available too, if you want them). The top floor was my favourite, crowded with life-sized models of criminals or other dodgy characters from the books, such as the Man with the Twisted Lip.

I got a good book of reprints from the Illustrated Police News from the shop, sort of like a lurid, tabloid-journalism style of reporting real-life Victorian criminal court cases (you'd have to go to Colindale library to read them otherwise). I thought the plastic syringe pens filled with red 'blood' were a peculiar choice for a souvenir, were they meant to be a reference to his drug use? Or something from Dr Watson's medical kit? I got one of the pens where a horse-drawn carriage moves up and down inside it when you tip it up, I like things like that. One day I'll actually read the stories, as I've seen all the films.

In the absence of any pictures of malformed waxwork 'criminals' to illustrate this, Jeremy Brett as Holmes will do very nicely for now. I wish I'd taken my camera, but I'll go back for another visit, as it was so unexpectedly strange.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Back from another blogging gap

Another blogging gap, and another explanation I suppose, though it's funny the way you feel the need to say why you've been invisible, when you're effectively talking to yourself, as Sanddancer put it recently. It's just been work really (job and doctorate). Time-consuming and tiring, nothing very exciting.

My knee is almost completely better, thanks to good NHS doctors and a physiotherapist. It's brilliant to be walking normally again after months of hobbling around. I'm not quite a 'bubble of finesse' again yet, if I ever was and whatever it is... a student called me it at work once, still not sure what they meant, but it sounds quite elegant. So that's why I've indulged myself in wandering around museums recently.

Also met up with Hottie at the V&A, which was very nice. She thought I would be tall and blonde, which I found quite amusing, as I am neither. I tried a blonde wig on once, out of curiosity, and it looked completely vile. I suppose that's one of the strange things about the internet, you get an impression of what someone will look like in real life from their writing - I wonder how you form these pictures in your head. Interesting though.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Manly Combs

I bet you thought a comb was just a comb, didn't you? Think again, before you make a terrible social blunder that flushes your 'street cred' straight down the drain.

In the 1950s, you could get a nice manly comb from a lovely display card, like this one from the Hair Archives. That rather space-age illustration of 'Don-Q' lets you know you're not buying any old comb, but a man's comb. Heaven forbid you might accidentally buy a women's one by mistake!

Totally different period and genre, but it reminded me of that brilliant Japanese zombie rock 'n' roll B movie 'Wild Zero' we watched at work for Ed's leaving do, when no-one else was around in the holidays. The wannabe hero accidentally got out the wrong sort of comb out to do his quiff, but the hip be-quiffed boys in the band thought it was like a comb his mum would use. It didn't do much for his image (shockingly uncool) and I've never looked at a comb in the same way since.

Anyway, I'd better get back to my writing, which also happens to be about manly things (aka gender theory) today. I've got work tomorrow and I'm being 'appraised'. Someone said it was a 'necessary evil' of having a salaried post, which is probably right. And we're discussing the outcomes of that research review we had recently, so at least I'll have a better idea of what job-stuff is looming on the horizon.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Whining little insect

It probably sounds like a public schoolboy insult from Ripping Yarns, but I mean mosquitoes. It's only tea-time, but I'm starting to feel the effects of a very disturbed night's sleep, thanks to the high-pitched whining of a mosquito flying around my head. I've got loads of reading and writing to do at the moment, plus a dodgy knee still feeling the effects of being vigorously wiggled in all directions by a physiotherapist, and then a flipping mosquito kept me awake for hours when I really needed my sleep. Pesky blighter.

Moan moan... oh no, I'm doing human whining, like the mosquito but I don't bite...

I kept thinking mosquito-related things, in my half-asleep state... anopheles mosquitoes... malaria carrying ones, I remember from my schooldays in Zambia... you can spot them by their sticking-out bottoms when they land on the wall... or is when their bodies point downwards... no malaria here, global warming's not that bad yet... I could draw a bilharzia fluke if someone asked me... and a tapeworm.... like a segmented worm with a wig on... hhm that would have been useful decades ago on a different continent...didn't Link Wray do a song called The Mosquito... oh no, it was a Hornet... did he like insects then... can't tell from instrumentals because no lyrics...

... and then it was morning, and the postman arrived with my new recipe books. Not a very productive day PhD-wise, but ho hum, that's life. The rambling hallucinations of a sleepy mind are very strange though, remembering snippets from early school lessons. There's a whining insect noise on the Biting Insects website... ugh, that's enough for today.

You've probably guessed that the image is not an annoying mosquito, it's a rather nice looking plastic 3D anatomic stag beetle puzzle (via Boing Boing).

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Slightly scary people

There were some slightly scary people around in college last week. It's always different in the summer anyway, as the usual students and staff are off and there is a succession of students and unfamiliar tutors on short courses. You also get used to having conversations with odd people who seem to think you're interesting because you're a member of staff.

I don't know exactly what the fine line is between someone being an over-enthusiastic student and something being not quite right. I got cornered in the ladies toilets by someone who gabbled for ages, asking me loads of questions, constantly changing what she said she wanted to do, asking me for my contact details and writing it all down. I suppose it was that she seemed slightly manic and wild-eyed, while I was being slowly backed into the corner and there was no-one else around, but the encounter slightly disturbed me.

She reminded me, rightly or wrongly, of a druggy and rather deluded woman I had the misfortune to meet years ago, who managed to convince the mother of my boyfriend-in-a-coma that she was his fiancée and was having his baby, while I was just someone from social services. Eventually, the truth emerged and she was banned from the intensive care unit. It's surprising how many versions of someone's life emerge when they're in a coma and can't join in, and also it's quite difficult to convince people you've never met that you're the one telling the truth and other versions of events are pure fantasy. Maybe that was why the lady in the loo bothered me, although it turned out that other staff were also concerned and several students on that course had complained about her, then she just vanished.

Another member of staff found a note on her computer from someone who is currently stalking her. They had managed to find out where she worked, got into the building and into her office, despite having no legitimate connections with the college and the actual buildings being like a maze. I'm not sure of the details, but it's very worrying indeed.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Daleks and a quick catch up

This story about the BBC pursuing a Doctor Who fan who created knitting patterns for making your own cuddly alien creatures is a bit old now, but I'll mention it as I like them. As cuddly toys go, I find them infinitely preferable to the mis-shapen knitted bear I had as a child.

To summarise, Mazzmatazz, a Doctor Who fan and knitter, created patterns for aliens that have featured in the current series, the squid-faced Oods, and Adipose fat monsters, and posted them on her website for other fans to download. The BBC contacted her for infringement of their copyright and she took the patterns down. There is an excellent post covering it from a legal perspective on Technollama, along with updates to the story.

Other Doctor Who-related knits and patterns are still available elsewhere, if you fancy picking up the knitting needles.... a Tardis, Dalek socks, and Extermaknit Daleks!

I'm interested in this from a design and craft point of view. Fan-dom frequently involves individuals creating their own items (objects, clothes, accessories) as a tribute to their particular subject of interest. Part of this activity which makes it meaningful for the fan is the time and effort spent on making the item. One frequently sees fans wearing home-made badges using other people's photographs, customised jackets painted with images copied from photographs, or other garments embroidered with representations of the object of their passion, whether graphic or textual (for example, autographed signatures transcribed onto fabric and embellished). None of this type of activity seems any different to the knitting patterns, which were not commercial ventures either, but products of 'fan-dom'.

Actually, I find this type of story quite depressing, when harmless non-profit-making individual creativity collides with money-making activities from big organisations.

The catching-up bit...

The long blogging gap was due to a heavy PhD workload and being really busy at work. We've just been audited and reviewed, as part of an internal university-wide review of research, which has been a bit time-consuming and stressful. Someone remarked during a committee meeting a while ago that a particular part of the university was like the evil heart of the Dalek, which I found rather amusing at the time (though no-one else did.) Not sure yet what the recommendations of the review will mean for us as a department and as a college, but I think we have done ok, compared to the 'Dalek's evil heart'.

Also, I'm quite excited about an exhibition of current PhD work planned for the autumn. It will be an interesting challenge for me to make object-based theory look interesting to a non-traditional academic audience, and hopefully avoid being too wordy, flat and corporate-looking, like 'poster' exhibitions can be. I like the idea of making a video at the moment, but I'll see how it develops.... It's a nice thing to think about, and a reminder of why it was a great choice for me to do a PhD at an art college, rather than a more conventional university. It's a bit tiring as I seem to be working all the time, but they are good reasons for being knackered, I think.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Thong bandits??

Would anyone with a modicum of common sense look at a ladies thong and think "Ooh yes, great disguise! No-one will ever recognise me while I rob that shop if I've got a thong on my head!"

In Colorado, two men used skimpy women's underwear to disguise their faces while robbing a shop. One wore a green thong pulled over his face, and one wore a blue one, while they stuffed their stolen items into a pink rucksack. They turned themselves in after being caught on CCTV. If you were intent on pursuing some dodgy activity and wanted to hide your face, I can understand you would get a bit more coverage from a hoodie or a balaclava as there's obviously more fabric in them, but thongs???

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Knitted pop-star outfit

Most women's magazines these days feature outfits worn by celebrities and pop stars, replacing high-end designer brand garments with high street copies, so fans can 'get the look'. It's not difficult to dress like Kate, Jordan or Posh (should you want to) even if you're on a tight budget.

Trying to dress like your favourite star isn't a new phenomenon. Devoted fans of The Tornados (of Telstar fame) in the early '60s could re-create exactly the same woolly jumpers (sweaters) worn by the band on their record covers, from this knitting pattern.

Did anyone actually knit one? I'd quite like to know. Or maybe got their grannies, mums or girlfriends to knit one for them, as I'm guessing that it wouldn't have been seen as very 'manly' to take up knitting back then.

The band were apparently sponsored by the knitting pattern company. I've been trying to think of an equally domesticated contemporary comparison, where a pop group is sponsored by a company as homely as this, but I can't. Maybe pop stars just aren't very wholesome these days.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Nice Bank Hol..?

Just wondering how other people's Bank Holiday Weekends went... ?? I bet you've all had a nice relaxing weekend... a fun-packed weekend getaway, ... or a lovely sunny Saturday afternoon, before the wind and rain started, maybe?

Well, I've been a bit of a work-obsessed saddo, I suppose, though I do like it at the moment, perverse though it may sound. I've been working solidly for days on this chapter to send off to my supervisor tomorrow. I was allowed out to get a bit of shopping, but printed out my draft to read on the bus, so as to save extra time doing corrections on my scrotty wad of paper stuffed in my bag. Time well spent, too! The highlight of today (apart from the wordcount creeping upwards, which is a delight to see... ) was a little Blue Tit hopping along my balcony wall (it was very sweet, actually). I'll miss the end of year student fashion shows tomorrow at the rate I'm going, but there'll be another one next year.... oh blimey, I dream of having my life back, I really do.... money... time...social life.... TV detective shows whenever I like... drool... sigh... whimper... ooh it all sounds SO tempting at the moment.... one day it will all be mine again... well, more than it is now, anyway. PLUS some seriously hefty 'outputs' as we call them (articles, book, odd projects and what have you).

(Oh, I'd better mention that it's just a career-changing thing, I haven't chosen a weird life for the sake of it. I'd better finish the damn doctorate ASAP, otherwise what's the point in giving up 3 days per week of a job years ago to do it? )

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Swinging London newsreels

I've just watched a brilliant DVD compilation of British newsreel items about Swinging London, from 1959-1967. It's great, much better than I thought it would be, and all in glorious technicolour. I ordered it for an item about 50s Soho coffee bars, it's excellent footage and exactly what I have been looking for. There's one feature about scooter culture (Scooter Commuter) for any mods out there, and also a good fashion one (In Gear), with clips of Biba, Granny Takes a Trip and various other shops from the 60s. I'm afraid I fell asleep during the "stunning display of the crown jewels" in the Tower of London feature, but I've been up and writing since 6.00am and it was my only break in a day of hideous oncoming-deadline stress.

I'm a bit surprised that the easiest and cheapest way for me to watch old British newsreels is to get them from America. The BFI National Film and TV Archive database only has the title of the series and the years, with absolutely no mention of the content. And to view it, I would have had to pay a viewing fee per hour, assuming I could find what I wanted (and I couldn't, because I've already looked). It's the same for a lot of old music programmes from late 1950s/early 60s British television - you might be able to find them in the BFI archive and book an appointment to view them, as they're not widely available over here on DVD. But once again, it's easier and cheaper to get them from the US.

I think it's rather shocking that we can get better access to some of our own cultural heritage via other countries, rather than here in the UK, the actual place of origin. Does that mean some people here are still lingering under the influence of a rather outdated, elitist idea of popular music and television and what its cultural value is? Or maybe just not very entrepreneurial, or don't actually care anyway?

(I got the DVD from The Videobeat, which specialises in 1950s/60s films, rock 'n' roll, teen delinquents, youth culture stuff, that sort of thing. And it played ok on my not-very-sophisticated DVD player. My parents and Auntie Ig will like it too!)

Monday, May 19, 2008

Paranoia unintended, but a bit worrying

I'm not intending to induce paranoia in anyone with a blog, but do you ever think about what it might mean for you personally if your blog content surreptitiously ended up elsewhere, without your permission? Or was used in a way you never intended it to be when you posted it?

There is an interesting post on Zinnia Cyclamen's blog about the problems a number of UK bloggers have had recently with national newspapers publishing their work. She draws attention to several cases. Rachel of North London reports how the Daily Mail misrepresented a blogger by publishing part of a blog post to illustrate an article about women using blogs to take "E-venge" on ex-partners, without her permission. Apart from printing 26 inaccuracies, the paper took the work they published completely out of context by using part of one post the blogger had written, ignoring four years worth of other blogposts, thus effectively portraying her unfairly as a "cyber-bunny boiler". Worrying if you're not an anonymous blogger and an occasional rant ends up in a national paper, only finding out when your neighbour tells you he's read it.

On the Guardian website, Zoe Margolis (of Girl with a One Track Mind blog) discusses the problems of copyright emerging from a a recent case where The Mail on Sunday printed whole posts from one blog, without critical comment from the paper or as part of a review, with no permission sought and no fee offered to the blogger, due to the assumption that bloggers are "amateur writers" and the blog was "in the public domain." The invention of the blog must have been a wonderful event for lazy journalists.

I find this a bit problematic, as I'm supposed to be persuading students to start blogs about their research. It is difficult to be enthusiastic when you know there are various pitfalls to negotiate first - try to be interesting and actually enjoy doing it, but don't reveal stuff that you might regret at a later date; use it to help create a web profile to make your work known, but at the same time, protect your intellectual property by keeping your core ideas to yourself in case someone pinches them. Difficult to get a balance between just being a noticeboard and doing something a bit more interesting or creative with it. And avoiding full-blown paranoia too!

Depends partly on their work - whether it is text-based (writing), digital arts or traditional 3D media, and the stage the work has reached. Ok to put a jpg of your completed large stone sculpture on your blog, but not very sensible to work through your intellectual ideas for a written thesis as work in progress.

A colleague remarked once that ideas are your currency in Higher Education in today's competitive, research-orientated market, so be careful what you do with them. Copyright issues aside, if newspapers start publishing parts of people's blogs out of context, it can only restrict even further what people choose to write and how they use their blogs in the future. A bit depressing really.

(And I've just realised that I really dislike the term 'blogger'. I don't know what the difference is between being a person who happens to have a blog, and being a 'blogger', but it matters, for some reason.)

Friday, May 16, 2008

Bad choice of typeface?

Someone at work yesterday thought it was a bit politically dodgy to use an Arabic-style font for the graphic design of this poster for a film festival, given this year's theme (crime, clothes and violence). Was she being over-analytical....?

The actual programme of film and events is great though - more details on their website. I am really annoyed that I will miss things I would love to see, due to my ridiculous workload... sigh...

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

A strange trust in technology...

I don't understand why some people seem to have a completely unquestioning faith in certain kinds of technology and appear to stop using their brains, to their own detriment. The weirdest recent example is a taxi driver who drove into a river because his sat-nav system told him to. Pat Bowles, from Streamline Taxis, said: "Normal people would stop and back out, but because his sat-nav told him to keep going, that's what he did. I don't think he did think until he couldn't go any further."

That is not an isolated incident either, as there are an increasing number of examples where people have been lured into dodgy situations by unwittingly trusting their sat-navs a bit too much. One lorry driver was "trapped in a country lane for four days" after his sat-nav sent him down a road that was too narrow to pass. Unable to leave his lorry, he slept in the cab for days, living off sandwiches and coffee brought for him by locals who took pity on him. Other sorry tales include motorists regularly getting stuck on a dirt track on Saddleworth Moor in Yorkshire, frequently ending up "in tears" according to bemused locals, as well as ending up on railways lines, in rivers and in too-narrow roads.

There are lots more of these incidents, once you start looking. I'm afraid it made me laugh (is that cruel, or does it just prove I'm a techno-sceptic who doesn't drive?). What I don't understand is how you could end up in a river- you must see it in the distance, mustn't you...?

It reminded me of the current Doctor Who story on TV, the Sontaran Stratagem, where all cars worldwide are equipped with a sat-nav-type system that ultimately guides human drivers to their own destruction, as the system is secretly controlled by evil alien forces. I'm not veering into conspiracy theory territory involving GPS systems or aliens here, but suggesting that maybe a completely unquestioning faith in a gadget, while simultaneously putting one's brain on hold, is not a great idea. Unless I would think differently if I was a driver....?

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Interacting with Statues

I notice tourists a lot, as there's obviously a fair number about in London, and I do find it quite interesting to watch how people interact with statues. It often seems to be in a way probably not anticipated by the original artists.

I go past Trafalgar Square on the bus regularly, and regardless of the weather, there are generally people clambering onto the huge bronze lions surrounding Nelson's Column (like this one, though not my pic). Sometimes it's for a photo sitting on the lion's back, or they sit between the giant paws to eat their lunch, or just stroke the bronze mane.

I wonder if Landseer, an artist known for his animal paintings, who was commissioned to produce the lions in the mid-19th century, ever imagined how people would interact with them years ahead in the future. Maybe the prospect of climbing onto public monuments would have been seen as horribly disrespectful for the Victorians, and not very practical with their clothes either.

I was also wondering how far back in time people started posing with the lions or climbing onto them. If you delved into photographic archives and looked through personal photo albums, maybe you'd uncover a history of London tourism and popular photography, illustrated through generations of people posing with the lions and going back decades.

I saw a statue in some white-ish stone (marble?) at a stately home a few years ago that showed how people interacted with statues in a way that was presumably considered 'wrong'. It was a classical figure of a partially naked woman, draped in (sculpted) diaphanous fabric, almost life-size. It must have been positioned somewhere previously that made one of her breasts particularly enticing for passing visitors to touch as they walked past, as one was worn and rather grimy with years of hand-prints, while the other was as pristine as the rest of the statue. When we saw it, it had been moved out of arm's reach to beyond a rope barrier, but the traces of people's constant touching hadn't been cleaned off yet.

It's the same with other statues in museums, where the tactile nature of the sculpture and the location of the piece seems to invite people to touch it over a long period of time, shown by grubby marks and worn sections on some parts of the statue, but not others. I'm sure all contemporary artists think about how their work will be viewed by others, including being handled, and whether or not they want 'Do Not Touch' notices and barriers surrounding their work. I find the possibly unintentional interaction with sculptures rather more interesting, particularly when it's frequently by a non-gallery going public.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Pigging technology.

I swear technical things all go wrong in phases, or maybe I just notice it more when they break down en masse.

1. Intermittent broadband connection at home.
2. I've accessed my email for approximately ONE WHOLE MINUTE since Friday before I got chucked out again earlier.
3. My Freeview box is completely dead.
4. The rubbery buttons on the TV remote control have gone all soft since I left it by the radiator, so instead of letting me tune in terrestrial channels, I got black fingers as the buttons disintegrated and then it stopped working. So I've got blurry ITV and Channel 5 and that's it. Only blurry CSI and The Bill to look forward to for light relief from marking.... sigh. Now I'm superstitiously nervous of touching the DVD player in case that blows up too.

Maybe it's a sign that I should be marking dissertations solidly for a while, but it's put me in a really bad mood.

Tuesday: Feeling slightly smug, though it's not a very nice attribute really, is it! I am gratified to find the email problem is a university network one and not me or my kit, so I don't have to do anything to fix it and I was the first one to report it. I was vaguely suspicious when the new techie temp said as no-one else had rung in the problem to the helpdesk, it couldn't exist. Also, he seemed to think as he could log in to a pc within the uni network, it meant there couldn't be a problem for anyone accessing it from home. I was too polite to pursue that, and anyway, I'm not very technical these days. The only thing worse than a know-it-all user is a rude one, and I try not to be either. Being smug from a distance is ok occasionally though! Now, I'd better get on with that marking, I suppose...

Sunday, February 17, 2008

A nosey question

Probably absolutely none of my business, but as I'm feeling curious (AKA nosey) I will ask anyway. I glance at my blog statistics occasionally and have been wondering why so many people end up here so frequently from Brazil through searching for DDD8 in Google? Just curious, as it was an academic conference held in Sept '07 so I can't imagine it being still newsworthy now, either in personal blogs or elsewhere. Unless there is something specific going on in Brazil...? I mentioned the conference in a post last year, even though I knew I wasn't going, as one of my PhD supervisors was one of the organisers and I was probably feeling informative at the time. It would be interesting to hear from others doing research or work in that area, so if anyone's passing through again and if you feel like leaving a comment, it would be great to hear from you.

What mothers want (allegedly)

There's an article in Music Week about the unique sales opportunity that Mother's Day presents for the music industry, providing one of its "biggest sales spikes" outside Christmas as people go on a spending spree to spoil their mothers. I noticed the increased marketing for this occasion last year, as TV adverts started being screened for CDs with slightly mawkish titles, of obscure artists I'd never heard of, pitched at viewers as the perfect gift for Mother's Day. I remember it because it seemed that any old dross could be designated as 'appropriate for Mum' if it had a suitably sentimental theme, and I felt vaguely sorry for any mothers of more discerning taste who received one of those CDs.

A "Mother's Day-type product" seems to be based on curious assumptions about the musical taste of mothers, as if you can lump all mothers into one category. A deluxe edition of Simply Red's best selling album is to be re-issued and "aimed firmly at the Mother's Day market". Another company, Pinnacle, will be promoting Katie Melua throughout this period, as “Mother’s Day always presents good sales for Katie Melua albums." Yet another company is producing a collection called 'Just for You' (in case anyone is unable to write this in a card...?), with various assorted artists in the Melua vein. Other industry-driven suggestions are music by female singers or collections of 'oldies', including Billy Fury.

I don't quite understand the assumptions behind these proposed marketing campaigns, although I'm quite sure they're all based on solid statistics. If I gave my mother a Simply Red deluxe CD, she'd think I'd completely lost the plot. A musician friend of mine, who is also a mother, once described Katie Melua's output as 'male wank music', so I'm guessing she wouldn't be too pleased if her kids gave her that on Mother's Day. Should mums have a particular fondness for female singers, just because they're women? Did all women automatically like Margaret Thatcher, just because she was a woman? Did they hell.

The 'oldies' thing is slightly puzzling, as it seems to be based on several assumptions, one being that mums are a certain age or old enough to be nostalgic about music they grew up with, presumably during the 50's and 60's, since popular hits from those decades are usually featured on 'oldies' compilations. That can't be the case in reality, as many are a lot younger and probably weren't even born in those decades. The other assumption seems to be that everyone automatically likes 'oldies', and if you didn't when you were younger, there may be a point when you come of age and change your musical tastes to include these artists. Or maybe it's just a 'safe choice' for a gift that isn't likely to offend anyone, as the music is familiar now, distanced by time and no longer likely to shock or surprise, even if it did once when it was new.

I'd be interested to know if people's tastes do change as they get older, or if they continue to like whatever music they listened to when they were young. My grandmother used to be quite fond of wearing dresses made of pastel-coloured crimplene, a man-made, synthetic, slightly spongy fabric, as it was easy to look after (drip dry, no ironing needed). I wondered whether my mum would ditch her usual style of dress and switch to crimplene when she reached a certain age, but she never did. It proved to me at the time that certain tastes at specific stages of life aren't necessarily innate or inevitable. Maybe it's the same for music too, and these marketing campaigns for Mother's Day products are more for people who don't take the time to actually think about the tastes of whoever they are buying for. I think my own mother would really prefer a Led Zeppelin DVD, and I'll be keeping the Billy Fury CDs for myself. That doesn't fit the marketing demographics in the article, but at least I'll have thought about it.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

When people think art is rubbish

I don't mean that in a critical sense, when an artist's work might be considered conceptually weak or badly executed. I don't mean it in a British tabloid headlines manner either, in the way Tracy Emin's bed or Damien Hirst's pickled animals might have been regarded as pretentious crap or 'just not art'.

I mean that ghastly real-life incident when a piece of artwork in a gallery really is mistaken for a pile of old rubbish, and the cleaners are instructed to get rid of it quickly, before the guests arrive for the private view.

Well, thank goodness for a none too speedy disposal of the rubbish into the incinerator, and the trusty Hoover... at least that gave a chance to empty out the vacuum cleaner contents and retrieve the artwork from amongst the 'real' rubbish. Then it was quickly replaced in the gallery before any lasting damage was done and no-one was any the wiser. A helpful new addition to the piece since then was a carefully delineated rectangle of white tape around the work, so everyone knows it's art and not rubbish this time. It's all a question of interpretation, isn't it!!

I'm back at work now and the 'rubbish' tale doing the rounds was the highlight of the day. And thank you for all your nice comments, I'm feeling much better at last, which will hopefully continue until I'm back to normal again. I do wish I'd washed my coffee stuff up before I was ill though, as it's sprouted a healthy greenish-grey mould culture since I've been off, but that's life. I liked that mug too.....

Monday, January 28, 2008

Back soon...

I'm not dead and haven't given up the blog or anything, I've just been ill, having tests and that sort of stuff. I'll be back when I feel less crap and have something to write about.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Slightly antique body armour

I read quite a few of the British police blogs, and I admit I like the odd post where they complain about their uniforms. These usually attract a fair amount of comments from other officers too. I find it interesting because it's a load of men talking about their clothes in great detail. Looking at this invention, maybe it could have been a bit worse if they'd lived in 1950's Detroit.

This design for police riot kit featured in Mechanix Illustrated (September 1956). It was intended to protect Detroit 'men in blue' against rioters and gunmen. The police were supposed to fire through the portholes, which were made from bulletproof glass. Other handy features were the spotlight on the top and the 'leggings'. As it's made of steel and weighed 65-lbs, a version with wheels attached was designed for anyone wanting a bit of extra help.

It reminds me of a cross between a Dalek and a Cyberman. One of the commenters on BoingBoing pointed out that Ned Kelly had similar body armour in 1880. Nothing's new, is it, the same needs exist but the kit is just modified according to the technology and the materials available.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Beats and Bongos

I've been quite enjoying the current Pop season on BBC TV over the past few weeks. It's a mixture of new documentaries, archive programmes and classic films about British pop music.

The films screened so far have been a strange treat, about music and teenage rebellion - Expresso Bongo (1959) and last night's Beat Girl (1960). They both featured contemporary young pop stars, Cliff Richard and Adam Faith, as well as aspects of the London music scene during that period. I found them interesting partly as they were set in London's Soho, where my parents used to go to coffee bars and jazz clubs around that time. I found the unexpected range of surprisingly sleazy themes quite interesting too, as for some reason I wouldn't have associated them with popular films from that period.

I liked Expresso Bongo for it's strange, rather quaint dialogue and slightly grimy night-time sleaziness, though it was really about the rising career of an unknown singer/bongo player. I vaguely remember reading somewhere that Sir Cliff Richard's fans don't like it. I'm assuming that's because the main themes of the film are commercial and personal exploitation, with seedy rented rooms, greedy music business people, strippers and prostitutes. There was also a rather ambiguous liaison between a young, naive Bongo (Cliff) and an older female singer. It's presumably not an ideal film to be associated with, given Cliff's subsequent clean-living Christian 'bachelor boy' image as the Peter Pan of Pop, but I think it's curious enough to warrant another viewing.

Beat Girl was a tale of teenage rebellion in the post-war years, focussing on a slightly odd group of 'beatniks' in Soho coffee bars and basement jazz clubs. Great slang (squares and daddy-o etc), though rather stilted in retrospect, or just badly acted maybe? Christopher Lee makes a convincing sleazy club owner, though being fatally stabbed is an interesting precursor to all the times he gets impaled with a wooden stake as Dracula in his future career in Hammer Horror films. The unpleasantly surly teenage female character was supposed to be at art school, while she wasn't 'hanging out' in bars and strip clubs. She mentioned that she was at St Martins (art college) to her stepmum, who said - Oh, that's supposed to be one of the best, isn't it?' to which the ill-mannered 'beat girl' replied 'so it's rumoured...' The Charing Cross Road college entrance featured briefly, though I'm not sure if was real or a part of a studio set. Still, it's nice to get a name check in a vintage B movie about deviant youth!

In case I'm beginning to sound like I'm obsessed with sleaze (which I'm not, actually), I'd better point out that I just happen to like B movies from that period, when it sometimes features as a strand in a storyline. Justification over!

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

7 random things

Maybe this is a bit lazy of me, but I did that '7 random things about yourself' meme last night on the Random Reality blog and thought I'd stick an amended version on here, minus the obvious ones (I might have already mentioned I was doing a Phd....)

1. I knew moth balls didn't work when one ate a hole in the middle of my favourite Black Watch tartan wool and cashmere mix pencil skirt, while hanging right next to a moth ball. Cheeky little sod. Moth balls stink anyway, so another reason not to use them.

2. I tried to run away from a nun on my first day at school when we lived in Aden, but she shut the VERY LARGE iron gate so I couldn't. Tiny child... strange woman in flapping black clothes and a weird headdress... utterly terrifying situation!! Not bad instincts for a kid, though....

3. I had pink hair when I was young. I don't now, but still think the natural look is highly over-rated.

4. I sat opposite Michael Howard in an NHS waiting room once and I smiled at him, as he looked small and harmless. I still feel vaguely guilty about that. (He is a Tory politician, ex-Home Secretary from the Thatcher years, described by one of his colleagues as having 'something of the night' about him. He is usually portrayed in tabloids crawling out of a coffin like a vampire).

5. Sounds a bit revolting now, but I used to eat Marmite by the spoonful when I was a child. I'm not dead and I don't have high blood pressure, so no harm done, eh!

6. I think the very beautiful Billy Fury has just replaced Elvis as my favourite singer from that era. It's a pity I was born much too late to ever see them in real life and in their prime, but records, photos and films are a good reminder of why they were (and still are) popular.

7. I complained about my neighbour's hideous late night Sunday sing-song in my dressing gown once, then found out afterwards it was his birthday party. Maybe I'm a partypooper, but they were singing The Lion Sleeps Tonight by Tight Fit. It sounded like this X-Factor reject's version. I'm sure anyone else would have done the same thing, whether they were getting up for work the next day or not.

It's been quite interesting to read other people's 7 random things on their blogs, so feel free to do your own, unless you have already and I'll pop over and have a look.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Wild Zero - Trash and Chaossss!!!!!

That's the blurb on the DVD cover we watched the other day at work. It was a Japanese trashy zombie sci-fi rock 'n' roll B movie called 'Wild Zero', a title that I keep forgetting as it's completely meaningless.

It was destined for one of the film club screenings we've started, but as it was the Christmas holidays and it was someone's last day at work, just 4 of us watched it in the empty seminar room. It was a bit like being in someone's living room, with the comfy chairs and their beer, cackling in unison at appropriate moments.The others reckoned it was the best zombie film ever, and I think I might agree, although I'm not a zombie connoisseur like them. It's definitely one of the strangest films I've seen for ages (possibly weirder than Expresso Bongo...?).

It was surprisingly brilliant, a surreal 'story' based around a real life Japanese 'punk/rock n roll' band, Guitar Wolf, who ended up saving the world from a zombie alien invasion through the 'power of rock'. They did it by zapping grey faced, limb-chewing, shoe-holding zombies with magical spinning glowing plectrums and a guitar neck that transformed into a sword to zap yet more alien flying saucers. And large guns, of course, to blow those zombie heads off.

It had something for everyone. 'Rock 'n' roll'... a bit of a musical mish-mash, strangely derivative of the Ramones, Johnny Thunders and Motorhead.

Memorable fashion moments, in a chunky, sleazy music biz man's pudding-basin haircut that changed colour, and VERY skimpy tight shorts, in various colours, with lace-up sides... very eyecatching. Lots of classic leather bike jackets, and mustn't forget the the gun-slinging woman in the tight-fitting check leotard with matching stilettos, as it was a vile outfit and very unsuitable for tackling an undead invasion. Pristine care of the hairdos... Guitar Wolf carefully combed their quiffs after each zombie-killing spree, as you might, if you do these things regularly. I never thought of a red comb with a handle as 'uncool' before, but apparently it is.

And finally, for all the romantics... a bit of undead zombie love, and love that knows no boundaries, crossing gender, nationality and race (or something equally commendable). That last sentiment was a recurring slogan in the film. The moral of the story was that the hero, Ace, shouldn't squeal with horror when he falls in love with someone of uncertain gender and they get their kit off for the first time. I think F**********KKKKK!!!!!! was his exact response (not very polite really...). Then he remembered that the power of rock 'n' roll would conquer all. And so it did, with lots of exploding buildings, zombie heads and flying saucers, and a lovely heart-shaped happy ending.

This clip
has most of the highlights. Warning to the delicate viewer: there's swearing in the subtitles and lots of zombie blood.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

A bit of drama at the V&A

I went to the V&A today to try out my new membership (a Christmas present from my mum, great for legitimate queue jumping) at the Golden Age of Couture exhibition, just before it ends. I thought I'd be writing about fashion drama, as some of it's quite theatrical, but it turned into a rather scary human drama instead.

I wish I'd not left it to the last few days to go, as it was literally packed and we had to creep around really slowly, but I loved it. It's a fantasy world, amazing clothes, fabrics and workmanship. Some of the outfits you'd love to wear now and would look really contemporary. I liked the film clips of fashion shows, the showreels and the clips from 'Maytime in Mayfair' and 'Funny Face'. I like the photography from that period, quite a lot of old favourites there and I'd forgotten about Erwin Blumenfeld's saturated colours and slightly surreal work. It's good to see outfits in 'real life' that you've seen in photos loads of times, like seeing an original piece of artwork after loads of reproductions.

Snippets of conversation overheard from other older women were interesting, 'oh yes, roll on girdles, I remember them....', 'aaah, Anna Neagle...Audrey Hepburn...lovely...', 'ooh look at that tailoring, I wish we could see the underside...'. Some of the hems caused a stir amongst the ladies near us, as they were quite lumpy and looked as if they had been really badly altered...'tsk tsk, what were they thinking of when they pressed that?' Absolutely.

Then we went to the shop and my mum collapsed in a heap while I was queuing up at the till. It was really scary, as she was unconscious for what seemed ages, 20 minutes maybe... I thought she was dying, as she'd gone a strange colour and her breathing was really shallow. Everyone was staring, as it was the middle of the shop, though some people were quite helpful. Except one man who was just gawping at her unconscious body propped up in the chair, though I was obviously worried. Ill mannered prat. I asked him whether he had anything helpful to say, and if not, could he go away, which he did. The ambulance people were really nice and decided she didn't need to go straight to hospital, thank goodness. They decided it was probably a mixture of wandering round the hot gallery, not taking her blood pressure tablets for a few days and the aftermath of a bad chest infection, so hopefully it won't happen again.

A strange and dramatic start to the new year, lovely clothes followed by an unconscious mum on the V&A floor and the rest of the afternoon in an ambulance. It puts things into sharp perspective.