I’ve mentioned before that I’m not exactly a massive fan of Coca Cola. Now, having read this, I’m put off even more:
Awww! Cute cuddly cuddling avocado!
More wonderful woollen creations can be found here: http://annadovgan.tumblr.com/ and here: https://www.etsy.com/shop/Wooolsculpture?ref=l2-shopheader-name
Last Saturday was an annual event that I look forward to but which is pure torture for my wife, and which she falls asleep during most years. I’m talking about the camp kitsch-fest, the Eurovision* Song Contest. This year, it was hosted in Austria, and to celebrate the bearded lady who won last year, new traffic lights have been installed around Vienna that celebrate diversity and LGBT couples. There has been some controversy surrounding the cost of installing these new lights around the city, but they have been embraced by locals and are going to be rolled out to other cities across Austria. Personally, I think that they are a great idea, and wish that such things could be found here in the UK. I fear though that here there would be too much backlash, or they would be vandalised by individuals with too much testosterone and too much prejudice in their system to think straight (or in this case, think too straight). Despite the image that this country tries to maintain, we will never be comfortable enough and inclusive enough to institutionalise such views without falling foul of someone who can’t see past the stigma and who does not understand humanity in all of its many possibilities.
* Yes, I know that it was the 60th Contest, but how does that validate the inclusion of Australia? And since when have Azerbaijan and Israel been part of Europe?
I’ve just done a test on the BBC website to see where in the UK I should live, based on my personality, and the results were rather interesting. Firstly, here are my personality results:
…I don’t know whether to be happy with those results or not. Here’s how suited I am to Stoke:
The best place locally for me would be:
I can’t complain- Newcastle-under-Lyme is a nice place. Nationally, the worst place would be:
I’ve never been to Carlisle, so I couldn’t possibly comment on this one. However, based on my dubious personality, the best place in the country for me to live in order to be happiest would be (drum-roll please…..)
Can I really complain at that? It’s true!
If you want to have a go at the test, here’s the link:
You may have noticed over my blog posts that I quite like Lego. I left it when I hit teenage years, but have now slowly fell in love with it again, partly thanks to my children being old enough to have Lego (which my two eldest did at Christmas). Well, last month I bought these off eBay:
The Lego Book traces the history of the company from its origins making wooden toys, up until 2009, and covers the major themes and sets over the years, as well as other milestones in its history. This allowed me to indulge in a little nostalgia, as I was able to remind myself of all of the sets I used to have, as well as surprising myself with just how old some sets that I had were. It also reminded me of what was my favourite* minifigure from my childhood**:
The other book, Standing Small: A Celebration of 30 Years of the LEGO Minifigure is pretty much what it says, and as such is an entertaining if information-lite (and error-strewn) volume. The section detailing the evolution of the minifigure is something of interest, however.
It’s a shame that the new ‘Minifigures’ weren’t out when the books were published, as these would have made a nice section, and indeed will warrant a blogpost to themselves at some point in the near future. If I had the money to indulge myself, I’d invest in all of the historic figures that have been done over the course of the 13 series. I also quite like the palaeontologist figure that is part of the most recent run:
It is also nice to see that this is a woman, following on from the female palaeontologist in the Lego Ideas set of female scientists. Happily, our eldest managed to get this in his blind bag the other week, so I get to play with- I mean admire- the figure when he’s in bed.
Lastly, I’m quite excited by this image that appeared on Lego’s Facebook page recently:
* I suppose that it is joint favourite with the original Lego Star Wars Boba Fett figure from the early ’00s, but I had one of the robot minifigures years before the Star Wars range brightened up all our lives.
** As I Googled for an image of the Spyrius robot, I case across the ultimate nerdgasm and the ultimate in COOL:
You may be forgiven for thinking that that is a pile of rubbish piled in a heap. To be fair, you wouldn’t be far wrong. However, you may be surprised to find out that that is in fact the Christmas tree provided for our end of the city. I’m not sure how much it set our wonderful Council back, but I’m sure that it is probably more than it would cost to repair some of the listed buildings around the city that are falling apart, and more than I earn a year.
After a quick Google search, it turns out that Durham had a ‘tree’ like it a few years back, and here you can see that at least it looks better at night when it’s lit up:
However, at the end of the day it’s still a pile of carrier bags. It looks like someone’s had some fun with a few wheelie bins on a night out. Any thoughts?
Happy Halloween! I’ve always thought that that is rather odd, wishing people a happy Halloween, considering that the day is all about death and fear. Not really very happy, is it?
However, I did think it as good a time as any to quickly say that I recently learnt about the past fashion of memento mori rings such as this one, dated 1740:
Such rings, with a skeleton around the band, as well as the hourglass motif and hearts first came in in the mid-17th century (the earliest dated piece is from 1659), and were designed as a constant reminder of the wearer’s mortality. It was more common for such items to contain a crystal or piece of glass, under which may have been a piece of hair or a small skull design, and such examples as the one above or this nice piece from 1714 (below) that depict such a bold design are relatively rare.
I suppose that the modern skull ring is the closest that we have now, and a quick Google image search can throw up hundreds of varying designs and styles of these. However, all of these look as though they could be used to inflict a large amount of pain on someone else, whereas these historical examples are simple yet elegant and rather pretty in their design and execution. I’d quite like one, to be honest, even if they are a constant reminder that the end for all of us is nigh at some point or other, and looking on Etsy, it seems that modern examples in the style of those shown above are available. All very Halloween-like!
I also came across this the other day (in the same internet browsing session as the neckless duck I posted a few moments ago), and thought it worth sharing:
They look like quite interesting and animated clay faces, don’t they? Wrong. They aren’t clay at all. They’re intriguingly made from mangled and contorted origami-inflicted loo rolls by a man named Junior Fritz Jacquet, and more of his work can be found here.
I came across this the other day, and thought that I’d share it. Why? Well- why not?
More Lego, but this time- made of chocolate! WOW!!!
Well- today is my 1st anniversary on WordPress, and to be honest I never thought that I’d stick with it for a few months, Let alone a whole year! I can’t say that my reach has been that far, but I’m happy, as this blog has been something I’ve wanted to do for quite a while, as it provides me with the opportunity to just share things I find of interest, and to get things off my chest at occasional intervals. Also, I no longer keep a diary, and so it’s nice to be able to look back over it to see my first thoughts on various texts and to keep a track of my intermittent ‘Life Updates’. I’ll come back to this point at the end of this post, but for now will steal a bit from my New Year post, where I referred you to the best of Electric Puppet in 2013, and add some of 2014:
I think that’s enough links to my other posts to be getting on with for now. Anyway- check some of these out if you haven’t already, or have a browse of the blog and see what you come across. Also, you can follow Electric Puppet on Facebook here: https://www.facebook.com/electricpuppetblog
Lastly, I’ve got quite a few more book reviews and posts to get up on here over the next few weeks, but am toying with the idea of doing slightly more regular random life-post blogs, a bit like a daily blog. Feel free to comment if you think that this would be a good idea or not.
Hello there. Always on the look-out for interesting selfies and selfie-related stories, I came across this the other day. It’s a rather charming selfie taken by a crested black macaque, and has been (along with 100-or-so other similar and less focused images) at the centre of a row between a wildlife photographer, David Slater, and Wikimedia Commons. They have been using this image and not credited the photographer, which understandably irritated him. However, they would not remove the image, as they claim that he doesn’t own the copyright. Right. So who does? The monkey, apparently, because it took the image. Well, yes, technically it did. But come on. What a ridiculously stupid argument to make. Is someone from Wikimedia going to track the macaque down to give it its royalty cheque? Are they going to demand that Mr Slater buys the copyright off the monkey? I’m all for animals being treated fairly, humanely and as we would like to be treated (one of the reasons behind my recent move to becoming a vegetarian, but that’s for another post), but come on. This can be taken a bit too far, and has been here to be honest. Now come on, Wikimedia- give that man back the money he deserves. You’ve had your joke.
That’s something I’ve thought for a while, to be honest, and I know that I’m in no way the only one. I suppose a product that revolves around the use of bricks and involves building things would inevitably be geared more towards males due to our cultural association of construction with males, but it does seem somewhat unduly male-centric, especially considering that when Lego began there was nothing particularly gender-specific about any of the sets that they produced. They did produce a range with the rather dated title of ‘Homemaker’ between 1971 and 1982, and I remember playing as a child with this set that my Mum had:
I can’t say that I ever saw this as particularly feminine, and even now can’t help but see it as still quite gender neutral. However, I remember growing up in the 1990s and seeing these rather gender-specific sets:
They look incredibly crap now, but the thing to note from them is that Lego decided to make the people look like dolls rather than the standard yellow cubey people we all know and love. All of the sets were horribly stereotyped in their focus, looking very much like a pathetic attempt at Barbie rip-offs, and I was almost glad to not have to look at them any more when they vanished from our shelves. However, in a much-publicised move, Lego resurrected their female-friendly lines with Lego ‘Friends’ in 2012, which even though it is less shitty-looking, is still just as stereotyped, and seems to suggest that girls both don’t like to build a lot in their sets, and that all females do is swim and lounge on beaches, go to nail bars and cafes, or groom pets.
So, it has come as an enormous surprise to see one of Lego’s most recent sets in their ‘Ideas’ range:
This range is made up of designs submitted by and voted for by members of the public, and the set shows a female astronomer, palaeontologist and chemist. The set has won praise from many quarters, and personally I think that it’s fantastic not only for the profile of women in science and in scientific professions, but also for the professions depicted, too. However, I can’t help but think that really we shouldn’t be getting excited over this set. Does it not just depict three scientists? Do we need to specify that they are female? I don’t mean this in a dismissive way, but more that it should be something that we don’t need to comment on because it isn’t anything that we wouldn’t expect. Of course women can be astronomers, palaeontologists and chemists- what’s all the fuss about? Going back to the cartoon at the top, perhaps the whole idea of Lego producing this set shows that indeed it was and still is sexist in the way it operates.
Well I didn’t know that. This is Fordite, or Motor Agate, an entirely man-made material, formed in car factories from layers of old automobile paint that dripped onto the metal racks which transported cars through the paint shop and into the oven. The paint was hardened to a rock-like state by the intense heat, with some paint undergoing over 100 bakings, and eventually became too thick, requiring removal. The following images show just what beautiful patterns some of the layers of paint formed, and pieces are now polished like gemstones to produce stunning art objects and jewellery. Some of this can be found over at:
It is also possible to date pieces of Fordite through the grouping and appearance of colours in the material, with some pieces having taken many decades to form.
Another example of a selfie here that’s recently popped up in the news- the Duke of York was hosting an event for start-up technology businesses at St James’s Palace when he decided to take this:
I love the fact that the Duke has managed to almost chop himself out of the picture, but even better than this is a quote off MSN regarding the image:
“The Duke of York has torn up hundreds of years of protocol after he became the first member of the Royal Household to take a selfie in a Palace.”
Since when has there been “…hundreds of years of protocol” regarding the taking of selfies in palaces?
You may have realised that I am quite fond of strange selfies, and so I thought I’d post these two images I came across the other day:
These are two images taken by Bekily, a 12-year-old ring-tailed lemur at London Zoo. ‘Nuff said really.
Regular readers of this blog will know by now that I have two children, and like many 2 and 3 year-olds, one of their favourite television programmes is the BBC’s ‘In the Night Garden‘. Personally, I really dislike it and find Iggle Piggle- the blue idiot in the centre of the above image- incredibly irritating, but they seem to find it facinating. However, I have not realised until now that there are perhaps deeper meanings to this programme. I can’t really paraphrase this, and so will post the whole article. It’s taken from the New Statesman website, posted on 11th September 2013.
By Amy Licence
On weekdays at 6.20pm, CBeebies, the BBC’s channel for the under-4s, screens the popular show In the Night Garden. Toddlers across the UK watch Iggle Piggle, Upsy Daisy and their friends having adventures in fairy-tale woodlands filled with sunshine and flowers. Described by the BBC as representing a “magical place that exists between waking and sleeping in a child’s imagination,” the programme is both enjoyable and educational. The explanatory webpage emphasises its playfulness and confidence-building repetition, plus its use of words, rhyme and music, which create a “happy world” of “loveable characters” and “nursery rhyme nonsense.” Pre-schoolers love to sing along with the characters and add to their collection of the show’s merchandise, from talking toys to clothing, play-doh sets and lunch boxes. Parents can be reassured by the BBC’s admission that the “tone of the programme is deliberately literary” although it is perhaps more literary than they realise. What these tots are actually getting is a dose of the conventions of medieval poetry. Specifically, Chaucer’s dream visions.
Chaucer is best remembered today for his unfinished collection of stories The Canterbury Tales, written at the end of the fifteenth century. It is vibrant with humour, irony and brilliant characters. But this is only a portion of his work. He also made a translation of the French dream vision The Romance of the Rose and wrote several of his own versions of the genre. In these, characterisation takes a back seat in favour of more early forms of allegory, where figures were less individuals, than representations of abstract virtues and vices. Chaucer’s poems, The Parliament of Fowls, The Legend of Good Women, The Book of the Duchess and The House of Fame, follow strict conventions, like a tick-list, of details relating to structure, setting and characters. And, funnily enough, CBeebies’ In the Night Garden contains many of them too.
The programme begins with a sleepy-eyed toddler, lying in bed, having the palm of their hand stroked soothingly. “The night is black and the stars are bright and the sea is dark and deep” begins the song, almost hypnotically. Just as the toddler drifts off, so dream poetry often begin with the narrator lying down restlessly and hoping for the onset of sleep. As “the day began to fail and the dark night” arrives, as in The Parliament of Fowls, the boundaries blur between the conscious and waking worlds. Here, Chaucer’s narrator often meets a guide, who helps him navigate through this dream world. For CBeebies’ sleepy toddlers, there is the blue, fluffy figure of Iggle Piggle, perhaps child-speak for “Little Pickle.” Presented like a toddler’s drawing of a man, with his little shock of red hair and matching blanket, he is the “everyman” bridge between the worlds.
Iggle Piggle journeys to the realm of dreams in a boat. He drifts away on the dark waves, with a little light at the top of his mast showing the way through the gloom. This is timeless literary convention, a common metaphor for the process of sleep, and puts distance between the real world and the imagined. We recognise it as a journey, a temporary measure before we enter the dream proper. Iggle Piggle’s boat never lands. We don’t see him beach it on a distant shore and climb out. This is where the magic begins. Chaucer might supply us with a sudden capsize: “the steering oar did suddenly drag him overboard in his sleep” but the BBC’s explanation is far more toddler-friendly. As we watch, the stars turn into white flowers, which bud and open, like unfolding dreams. A symbolic barrier has been crossed, like falling asleep or dying, passing mysteriously into another realm. This is the world of the Night Garden.
Iggle Piggle finds himself in a landscape of bright colours. Friends await him in an idealised garden where the sun always shines, large stylised flowers bloom and others cluster in bright balls, like gems. It is an eternal, temperate summer, as the dream convention demands; the sun is “clad all new again,” almost in an inversion of the winter of Narnia. Chaucer’s gardens have “no awkwardness of hot or cold” in their “summer sunlight” and “blue, bright, clear” air. His woodland is lush and green, with trees “fresh and green as emerald” and sweet grass “embroidered” with flowers. The BBC’s landscape is reminiscent of this, with “blossoming boughs beside a river” and “ flowers white, blue, yellow and red,” peopled by a cast of unusual imaginary figures. Yet it is Upsy Daisy whom Iggle Piggle most wants to see: “of all the flowers in the mead, love I the white and red I see, such as men call daisies.” There is no doubt in the children’s minds that she is his BFF, his best friend forever.
Iggle Piggle and Upsy Daisy’s love affair is a chaste one. They hold hands and even sometimes give each other cloth-mouthed kisses but theirs is a courtly love in the best of medieval traditions. In appearance Upsy Daisy is very feminine, the opposite to Iggle Piggle, with her pink and orange hair and clothes contrasting with his blueness, the epitomic symbols of masculinity and femininity. She is aptly named. Chaucer reverences the humble flower as “the eye of day, the empress and flower of flowers all,” “a daisy is crowned with white petals light,” suggestive of the character’s sticking up coronet of hair. Chaucer’s idealised women, often the Goddess Flora, are the “flower of flowers,” colourful, bright and full of life. Upsy Daisy is also accomplished and affectionate; she sings, dances and kisses flowers, causing them to grow, as Chaucer’s Flora does. The narrator of The Book of the Duchess watches “her dance so gracefully, carol and sing so sweetly.”
Upsy Daisy looks like, and is, a child’s doll. The heroines of Chaucer’s dreams are also similarly mannequinesque, with “golden hair and wide bright eyes.” One is even strangely boneless and unreal; her neck is “smooth and flat without hollow or collarbone” and “every limb rounded, fleshy and not over-thin,” while another is “a feminine creature, that never formed by nature, was such another seen.” They are as animate as the toys that people the Night Garden. Iggle Piggle’s little fabric heart, however, has been won. Quick to swoon in situations of intense emotion, such as a sneeze, he recalls the guide of The Book of the Duchess, eager “to worship her and serve as best I then could,” who declares his love but “she never gave a straw for all my tale.” The toys play with the ball, symbolic of the to and fro of romance. They are the lovers of medieval legend, forever enclosed within their perfect garden but childlike, safe and innocent. And, just as in The Parliament of Fowls, they have their own Cupid, the dumpy brown Makka Pakka, reminiscent of a little Renaissance putto.
Upsy Daisy’s bed is a potent symbol. Seemingly with a life of its own, it is always rushing through the landscape to music, coming to rest among the daisies. A bright yellow, it recalls Venus’s “bed of gold” as described by Chaucer. Unsurprisingly, it is an entirely chaste bed, given over to sleep alone, although its playful trickery reminds us of the illusion and deception of dreams. Only Upsy Daisy is allowed to occupy this bed, as her sleeping and waking, in fact her existence as a dream-woman, are functions of Iggle Piggle’s subconscious.
Just like the dream visions, In the Night Garden never deviates from its structure. The beginning of the end is signalled by the BBC’s own parliament of fowls, a multi-coloured collection of birds signing in harmony. These are a common symbol for Chaucer, ranging from a “sweet” or “angelic” chorus in most poems, to gathering on St Valentine’s day in order to select a mate. The “lays of love” they sing in The Legend of Good Women “upon the branches full of blossom soft” could describe their serenading of the toys in the sunshine as well as signalling the approach of bedtime to their young audience. After this, all the characters come together to sing. As in Chaucer’s poems, the landscape is peopled with other gods and goddesses, mysterious and allegorical figures. From the giant Haahoos to the tiny Pontipines, to the train-like Ninky Nonk and flying Pinky Ponk, we are reminded of dream-like discrepancies in perspective and alternative, child-like ways of viewing the world.
Together, the toys sing and dance under a gazebo, decorated with their images and flashing with coloured lights. It’s a bit of a love-in. As the BBC’s website declares, all characters “interact and love each other… unconditionally.” Chaucer’s poems contain descriptions of various temples to Venus, made of glass, with long pillars and ornamented with images. Women, in The Parliament of Fowls “danced they there, that was their duty, year on year.” It is a happy, utopian vision, attractive and inclusive to children, who sing or sway along with the familiar moves.
After the song, the vision is ended by sleep. The characters stop playing, say good night and close their eyes. Only Iggle Piggle is left awake, although ironically, as the narrator, he is actually asleep in the external “reality” of the structure. He still clutches his red blanket, a constant reminder throughout of his dormant state and imminent return home. The cessation of the dream world signals to the audience that he is about to awake and that the program will end. The credits roll over the image of him in the boat again and the watching toddlers, symbolised by the child falling asleep at the start, “wake” again from its spell. That is when the real bedtime arrives and the hard work for the parents begins. With any luck, someone they “know is safe and snug and drifting off to sleep.”
As you may know if you have been reading my blog for any length of time, I originate from Stoke-on-Trent, and have moved back here with my partner and children following three years studying in Oxford (which I now consider to be home). Well, before going to uni, I was aware of a local artist working in Stoke named Rob Pointon, whose artwork I greatly admire for its skill, Impressionist style, and fantastic distortion of images to create effects akin to a fish-eye lens. However, it seems that in these three years, his career has really taken off, with exhibitions being hosted in many cities across the UK and abroad, his artwork being displayed all around Burslem (my hometown within the City of Stoke-on-Trent), and canvases owned by HRH The Prince of Wales and the Her Grace Deborah, Duchess of Devonshire. Well, I recently came across an image that he produced at the top of the Saxon church tower of St. Michael at the North Gate in Oxford, and a few days ago another, painted inside the Divinity School of the Bodleian Library.
I just thought that I’d share these, because I think they are wonderful images, and blend nicely the two places that have made my family who we are. You can follow Rob’s most recent projects here: www.robpointon.co.uk
It can’t have escaped the attention of many people that the XXII Winter Olympics have begun in Sotchi, Russia, and that there has been a large amount of tension due to the ridiculous, barbaric and utterly repulsive anti-homosexuality laws that their ruling dictatorship has put in place. So yesterday I was impressed and warmed by the actions of Google, who in their usual fashion produced a ‘Google Doodle’ to celebrate the opening of the games, but which looked like this:
In an incredibly bold move, they used the colours of the LGBT flag as the background to the Doodle, blatently showing their support for all athletes, irrespective of their sexuality. Similarly, the broadcaster of the Winter Games in the UK, Channel 4, have had a rebrand for all of their coverage:
Indeed, Channel 4 have gone even further, placing an advert at the beginning of all of their coverage with a cabaret singer performing a song that celebrates diversity and wishes the athletes of any orientation good luck in the games. It is insanely camp, but a rather disturbing and yet joyful two-fingers to those who have a problem with other people on shallow and prejudiced grounds.
However, the biggest thumbs up has to go to the German athletes, who entered the Winter Olympic stadium like this:
They are not following the LGBT flag exactly, but you can see where they are going with this, and it seems that the rest of the world was clear on the message that the team were giving.
In 2014, there is little room for such intolerance, prejudice, small-mindedness and simple hatred of our fellow human beings. Hopefully through such bold acts as these, certain individuals and groups may open their eyes to the reality of our present world, where people and nations are valued for who they are and who they can be, rather than judged on baseless propaganda and hatred for not conforming and being different. We all know where it got us in WWII, when prejudice and irrationality took hold over common sense, compassion, decency and morality.
To end, a quote from the Olympic Charter, which accompanied the Google Doodle on Google’s homepage yesterday:
The word ‘caul’ means ‘helmeted head’ or ‘veil’, and is used to refer to the piece of amniotic sack that can occasionally stay attached to a baby’s head upon delivery. In the mediaeval period, being born ‘with the caul’ was seen as an indicator of good luck and a sign that the child was destined for greatness, and it may have also been believed to protect the child from evil. More recently, the caul was preserved (if present) by pressing a piece of paper against the membrane, and saved as an heirloom. It is thought that any birth involving the caul occurs once in every 80,000 births, but in some extremely rare cases, a child may be born ‘en caul’. This is where a baby is delivered entirely encased in the amniotic sack due to the waters not breaking, and the baby acts as though it is still inside the womb, being totally unaware that it has been born.
A case of this occurred during a Caesarian Section recently in Greece, and the obstetrician Dr Aris Tsigris posted this image on Facebook:
Having witnessed birth first-hand, this is an intense, emotional and exquisite moment, and I cannot begin to imagine what it must be like to witness this- just to see your child as they are in the womb with your own eyes and without the aid of a camera or scan must be utterly breathtaking. I’m sure that for one parent, this is a moment that will stay with them forever and a day. It will definitely stay with me.
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