Tuesday 27 October 2015

Reinventions, Inventions, Disinventions 8

Say goodbye to wobbly tables

city squares with central gardens
grid plans for cities

round windows

moon gate
(circular door) between rooms

French-style house or flat layout:
rooms that open off each other with a big glass door (no space wasted on dark, cramped corridors)

obvious entrances "Any public building that has to tell you where the entrance is has failed immediately." (Tom Dyckhoff quoting manchesterconfidential.co.uk)

arbours and bowers in gardens (seats surrounded and shaded by shrubs)
cosy corners in sitting rooms – the same idea, but with a comfy sofa and curtains

nurses’ hostels, on the hospital site
hostels for people who can't afford flats of their own (They used to exist as private clubs.)
farm cottages, estate cottages, factory towns (Want workers? Build them somewhere to live.)
houses right on the street (Thanks to quiet, clean electric cars they will become desirable again.)
little parades of shops (build them in – flats over shops, shops under flats)

stay-at-home mums
loos and cafés at tube stations

WI free cooking classes

staff canteens

canteens that cooked basic British food on the spot. They’ve been replaced by franchises that sell plastic-wrapped stale sandwiches and baguettes; or over-expensive, over-grand restaurants.

cows or sheep in parks to nosh the grass
Indian step wells
Grow Food, Not Lawns
Humphrey Repton
(to create picturesque gardens for the rich)
kitchen tables (rescue them from hipster cafes and put them back in kitchens)
dining cars on trains
blinds and curtains in trains
(They were really useful, even if they were made of orange nylon.)

threading and message numbers
for Facebook (like usenet in the 80s)

ergonomics (After all the fuss about repetitive strain injury, workers are now hunched over a tiny screen, a tinny keyboard and a slow, slow, slow trackpad.)

women’s magazines that are all recipes and patterns (cooking and craft really are back)

banquettes lining the walls of cafés

barefoot doctors BBC Breakfast says barbers, bookies, barmaids may pass on public-health messages. (They could put up posters saying Coughs and Sneezes Spread Diseases too.)

Dalcroze eurythmy (to replace Morris dancing)

the Italian passeggiata (On a warm night, everybody wanders the streets, buying stuff at the shops which stay open late.)

plate rails above your sink

Help pages and manuals. FAQs and forums are just not the same.

In the days of tape recording, playback/transcription machines rewound the tape slightly every time you pressed the pedal, so that you knew you were in the right place and hadn’t missed anything. You can’t do that with mp3s. But why not?

In Japan’s ubiquitous konbini, or convenience stores, you can pay your gas bill, buy concert tickets and have your suitcase sent ahead to the airport while stocking up on everything from bananas and batteries to pink Pepsi. (Times Dec 2014)

What to do with beautiful old brooches you never wear (because it’s hard to pin them on today’s stretchy clothes – they’re designed for layers of tailoring, or a corset)? Pin one onto a wide velvet ribbon and wear it as a choker.
If Milton Keynes’ experimental houses wouldn’t look out of place today, why not just build copies? Weren’t they intended to be templates?


Anything designed by men for men: microphones (the power pack clips onto your trousers at the back. Toilets: we need twice as many as you do. CDs: they’re JUST too big for our hands. Aircon: you like a colder temperature, and you want to be able to keep your jackets on; we freeze. Unexpected item in bagging area: I need to put my handbag down somewhere while I get my money out. Ringtones: I need to be able to hear my phone which is in my handbag in another room, not in my jacket pocket because I’m not wearing a jacket, so I can’t feel it vibrate. And by the time I answer it, it’s gone to voicemail. (Oh, and take the tax off tampons.)


nap pods have been introduced at the Uni of Michigan library

badges reading I’M PREGNANT AND I NEED TO SIT DOWN are available (This is the best – most of the others are either twee or crude. Sometimes I wish I was French.)

Someone’s invented a slipper with a clip-on rubber sole.

Rivers are being returned to their original meanders after 19th century straightening, to fight floods.

There’s a charity turning Victorian drinking fountains – back into drinking fountains. (We could even build modern versions.)

They're going to abandon London's sealed-bus experiment and put opening windows in the New Routemasters. Like everyone told them to, including the designer. (Hugh Pearman)

Gordon Cullen was right: what the South Bank needed was bustle and awnings. #Better64YearsLateThanNever (Barnabas Calder ‏@BrutalConcrete) (I remember reading in the 80s that 60s shopping precincts needed market stalls. For a long time, all they got was Victorian “style” lamp posts.)

sons, as well as daughters, of the great and good to be invited to the Queen’s Garden Parties – oh, they are! When did that happen? Between 19 and 26, unmarried.

volunteer gleaners to pick crops not pretty enough for supermarket, and give to poor

glass-domed railway carriages on scenic routes (on Indian Railways)

Royal Mail to deliver parcels on Sundays, parcel offices to open on Sunday afternoons.

turn redundant phone boxes into solar powered phone-charging stations and cash machines

apprenticeships (Moves to revive them were around for 40 years, but apparently they're being misused, and apprentices are being made to sweep floors and make tea without being taught anything.)

Moats are being dug to protect buildings against flash floods.

Liverpool architects notice that people use front gardens for parking cars and storing bins – so they build new houses with a parking space and bin shed out front.

pressure group for single people
tax on empty homes
lipstick that matches an orange face

double-sided curtains
self-cleaning floor/pavements

fizzy drinks with half the sugar
spider-legged all-terrain “wheel” chairs
a “no work without pay” act
that fit energy saving bulbs

sprinkler drones to clean pavements (combined with industrial quality Roombas)

sun reflectors (they reflect light into your room) – as good as enlarging windows, says ad. (If the windows had been large enough in the first place... And why not enlarge the windows?)

subtitles for radio (and pictures) And if you had a picture/radio channel you could have a real-time signer for the deaf as well.

pod capsule dwellings and studio flats designed by the people who design motorhomes – stop wasting space on useless halls, or full-size kitchens a single person doesn't need. (Thanks to Don Constance.)

hose down
the West End every night
pave all “paths of desire”

Tell closed groups about each other. So you think you have a monopoly on the truth and that everybody hates you? Meet Fred – you have a lot in common.

Oblige the staff and students of universities in the Southern States of America to have dinner together once a week, at circular tables. You must sit next to someone you’ve never met before. Have a speaker, or a discussion topic, or an activity – or conversation cards!

Open Buckingham Palace to the public year round to pay for its restoration.

Why has nobody yet invented GPS chips for children's clothes? (Sam Leith ‏@questingvole)

Turn redundant fireplaces into bookcases.

Let grass in graveyards grow to encourage wildflowers and wildlife.

We can put a man on the moon but we haven’t got a proofreading machine (that could at least compare two pieces of text).

Organise a mass trespass of first class carriages on trains.

Find a huge redundant church in London and lend it to the Russian Orthodox (who can’t build a cathedral to fit all their community because of some silly quarrel between different monasteries, or something).

tiny windows
window frames below a certain size
tiny type
giant books
circular beds
corner baths 

instant gambling machines
(and oboe practice)

large wine glasses
(At the same time, water the workers’ beer as in WWI, bring down alcohol content of wine, ban high-alcohol Buckfast, Special Brew etc.)

the acid used in acid attacks, and those stoves that “accidentally” burn brides to death. And dowries. Oh, and the caste system.

(Well done, Catalonia.)

wobbly tables, latte glasses that don’t fit the saucers, teaspoons that don’t reach the bottom of the glass, glasses with tiny handles

modernist cladding on Victorian buildings, pomo claddings on modernist buildings (except where it’s an improvement), 70s cladding on 30s buildings, faux brick cladding for your computer-generated eyesore (Now comes in "antique", with different coloured bricks. We are not fooled.)

Tesco coupons (Some just earn you more points when you buy Tesco’s finest something-or-other. You can use the points to earn more points.) A Tesco card should work like a Boots card, where the points are money.

They can put a man on the moon but we still send each other Xmas cards “from Brian and Sue”, with no surname, address or email.

With something like the "streets in the sky" concept, the aim was to keep the "solidarity of the street and face-to-face interaction", says Prof Michael Hebbert, professor of town planning at UCL. "It didn't work, but you can understand the underlying logic of it." BBC online (They were designed to be wide enough for milk floats.)

More here, and links to the rest.

Thursday 22 October 2015

The Eighties Again

From the Condition of Postmodernity by David Harvey

Modernism on the left, postmodernism on the right.
romanticism/Symbolism:           paraphysics/Dadaism
form (conjunctive, closed):        antiform (disjunctive, open)
purpose:                                      play
design:                                        chance
hierarchy:                                   anarchy
mastery/logos:                            exhaustion/silence
art object/finished work:            process/performance/happening
distance:                                     participation
creation/totalisation/synthesis:  decreation/deconstruction/antithesis
presence:                                    absence
centring:                                     dispersal
genre/boundary:                         text/intertext
semantics:                                  rhetoric
paradigm:                                   syntagm
hypotaxis:                                   parataxis
metaphor:                                   metonymy
selection:                                    combination
root/depth:                                  rhizome/surface
interpretation/reading:               against interpretation/isreading
signified:                                    signifier
lisible (readerly):                       scriptible (writerly)
narrative/grande histoire:           anti-narrative/petite histoire
master code:                               idiolect
symptom:                                   desire
type:                                           mutant
genital/phallic:                           polymorphous/androgynous
paranoia:                                    schizophrenia
origin/cause:                              difference-difference/trace
God the Father:                         the Holy Ghost
metaphysics:                              irony
determinacy:                              indeterminacy
transcendence:                           immanence

We tried so hard to be post-modern in the 80s, avoiding list A and embracing list B. But it is quite difficult to pursue an activity while carefully avoiding anything like an end-point. I found myself collaborating with people who had apparently never worked on a project that produced anything. It was exhausting.

Column A doesn't just represent "modernism", it represents the Establishment and right-wing politics. And isn't it defining what appears in Column B? So that post-modernism couldn't exist without modernism?

Read about the middle classes in the 80s here.

More about the 80s here, and links to the rest.

Sunday 18 October 2015

Haiku 11

is as useless
as the rustling of leaves.
Karl Sharro ‏@KarlreMarks

Trying to tell him
about my yearning to see
oil distilleries and funicular railways
and shabby motorway services
and ferry terminals.

Fog-enveloped radio mast in Carlisle
is one of the eeriest, coolest things
I've ever seen.
Ah the M6.
We are together again
at last my sweet.
Thy yellow orange lamps
bathe me in baleful light
as the miles slide by.
I think I must have dreamt
that very nice bunshop
in Highgate
that didn't exist
this afternoon.
Polly ‏@IntervalThinks

So windy.
Blowing the crows around
Like angry ash.
Paul Western-Pittard ‏@Cerullean

There must be more to life
than trying to reach the next level
on Candy Crush...
but I can't think of anything
off the top of my head.

Hopefully one day
Hollywood platitudes of overcoming adversity
will be replaced with grinding reality
and the laughter of the damned.
Imaginary Cities ‏@Oniropolis 

The zoo with the bear
also has a sauna
with a panoramic window
into the wolf enclosure.
Andrew Brown ‏@seatrout 

In the Edgelands at night,
no humans remain.
The environment is ruled
by mutant junkyard dogs.
Simon Sellars ‏@ballardian

On the Hubble photo
Like a leopard clinging
to what remains
of the trunk of a burned tree,
possibly mourning it.
Claire Siegely ‏@SiegeFeathers

Airplant – a present.
I didn’t notice when it died.
It looked just the same.

Sterilised milk, yams.
Fly specks on the pink iced buns.
Scent of incense, dogs.

More here, and links to the rest.

Amphiboly 4

A celebration of the ascent of Christ to Heaven on the fortieth day after the Resurrection from Trafalgar Square, London. (Times radio listings)

On a train, non-smoking compartment.

Lady: You don’t mind if I smoke?
Gent: Then you won’t mind if I’m sick.
Lady: I am one of the directors’ wives!
Gent: If you were the director’s only wife, I should still be sick.

Muchelney Abbey: the only polling station in use today to feature a thatched monks' lavatory. (@EnglishHeritage)

A low-ceilinged, two-storey, timber-framed building with a thatched roof in East Sussex.

We are still having to boil water if we want to drink it in Lancashire.

Expert on the Minoans who ran off with JB Priestley. (Times)

A skeletal horse with no rider and an oversized thumb. (Times)

Applicants must not own a property and be of good character.


Slow plant crossing

Refuse to be shot here

Refuse to be put in the skip

Aspiration: “giving every single person the dream of a better life”. (Andy Burnham Thanks, Andy. At least we single people can dream.)

Tender baby leaves with peppery rocket
This Dad Has Been Tattooing His Son’s Drawings On His Own Arm Since He Was 5

People in the UK eat more bananas than monkeys.

Otter talks, 1.30 and 3.30 (poster)

Residents stunned by phallic sculpture
(Sculptor says: "Hopefully the opinion will change through time when the sculpture is installed and they'll embrace the work.")

Row over noisy dog ends in court

What are we, animals?
There aren’t too many jobs for Old Stone Age people. (Lars Tharp, Antiques Roadshow)

Letters may be in capitals. (DEAR SIR!)

You must read Tory tabloids.

The maid Anna had saved the netsuke for her, hidden in a mattress.

Tiny studio flat tenants complain about constant Heavy Metal playing next door. Their landlords evict them.

For every 14 approximately white police officers there is only one black police officer. (BBC News)

How to survive a zombie attack by Margaret Atwood

Who was upset about teenage girls getting pregnant on Facebook? (There’s an FB page.)

I’m looking to speak to people finding it hard to afford to heat their home for a BBC programme.

A representative for the Million Dollar Arm actress confirmed that the 35-year-old delivered a baby girl to US Weekly.

Consoled myself after spending five hours in Ashford council chamber with a large piece of Marks and Spencer's lemon Swiss roll. (Sarah Linney ‏@thedailysarah)


My random act of kindness will be... walk the dog instead of my parents.

Police shoot man with machete

What's your ideal woman's website? (jezebel.com)

Feathered dinosaur scientist hadn't reckoned with John Humphrys: "Well, hair and feathers - they're basically the same I guess." (David Wilson ‏@omnivorist)

Archaeologists from Durham University have revealed what was on the menu at Durham Cathedral after excavating the kitchen.

NYS considers moving Tesla statue

In the 1920s Gurdjieff founded his Institute for the Harmonious Development of Man in France.

Was there really an RSPCA shop in Bury called Helping Bury Animals?

More here, and links to the rest.

Saturday 17 October 2015

Dangling Modifiers III

Drab and unloved
The first subordinate clause in a sentence refers to the subject of the sentence. If it refers to the object, or to a possessive, you get a dangling modifier.

Drab and unloved, Simon has done wonders to turn it into the family dining room. (Restoration Man, July 2014)

A contemporary of Isaac Newton,
Robert Hooke’s slides are being exhibited at the Royal Society’s Big Draw... (Times October 2015)

Made up of shell and V stitches, you will be warm and feel wonderful in this shawl.

Built over centuries, medieval masons never saw their cathedrals finished. (@greg_jenner)

Gauche and engaging, we see the country “set” through her bedazzled eyes... mysterycenter.com

With distinctive shields on one side of the tower, businesses were said to be queuing up to move in, but it has stood empty since 1996. (Evening News, Norwich)

Flying across our garden at high speed, I could swear that I saw what looked like either a House Martin or a Swallow.

Buffeted by falling prices, will the Chancellor come to the aid of the oil industry? (BBC News)

Set in 1595, all tickets for the first three shows are $15.95. (John O'Farrell ‏@mrjohnofarrell)

Abandoned since 1962, the locals have given Piney Fork Tunnel another nickname. (huffpost)

Sated by suet crust, feeling more virtuous than Paul McCartney, the bucket dinner is a moment to marvel.

Like Nutella, I'm finding that homemade sweet chestnut puree can be spread on anything...literally anything...

Hidden away deep behind the Tower's age-old walls, the princes’ royal blood made them dangerous claimants to the throne... (New Statesman)

After ten years in the doldrums, the Hotel Inspector is determined to release the potential of the West Usk Lighthouse.

Charged with murdering her husband, her friends and family stood right behind her. (Paula Zahn)

Used for cutting, scraping, killing and piercing, both Neanderthals and modern humans depended on their tools for survival. (Natural History Museum)

Opened in August 1977, the first pupils at the Diesterweg Secondary School (originally the Ranke Grammar School) will now be 49 - and hopefully looking as good as their old alma mater. (thetempestmayhowl.blogspot.de)

Now facing a $95 million renovation, some city commissioners are calling for [the building’s] demolition. (theatlanticcities.com)

Formerly the great chamber of Jacobean Blickling, Charles II was entertained here in 1671. (James Thorne)

Now a ruined, ransacked shell, lottery money has given the modernist masterpiece of St Peter's seminary the hope of a new start. (Guardian Dec 2013)

More here, and links to the rest.

Tuesday 13 October 2015

The Demon Drink 4

If we want people to drink less, couldn't we stop this kind of thing?

Social media is going crazy, ladies. I have to ask – where do you keep the wine?
Nowhere – it’s a dry boat.

(News item on team of 40-ish women ("ordinary mums") aiming to row to Tenerife for charity.)

At 10.30 she drinks a Guinness with a packet of salt and vinegar crisps. Isn’t that wonderful?
(About a 100-year-old woman)

Old lady: I don’t like tea – I like gin. (Aldi advert)

Here are some tips on drinking less from the Times:

1. Go cold turkey.
Go somewhere where alcohol isn't an option.

2. Don't tell people you have given up.
I usually nurse a glass of champagne. Nondrinkers make drinkers uncomfortable – better to practise some deception. (Maybe drinkers will grow up one day.)

3. Don't be purist.
Drink a toast at a wedding, eat a sherry trifle. (But not if you're a recovering alcoholic.)

4. Invent a fabulous nonalcoholic drink that goes with food –
iced tea... soda with a dash of Angostura. (What happened to non-alcoholic wine and beer, Amé and Aqua Libra? Cranberry or lime juice and soda is good too.)

You can call Alcoholics Anonymous on 0800 9177650, or email them at help@aamail.org.

More tips here from Dry July.

More here, and links to the rest.

Sunday 11 October 2015

Mixed Metaphors and Garbled Clichés 14

Injecting a new lease of life

If this movie is a success, she could hitch her star to it! (Monumental Mysteries It’s “hitch your wagon to a star”.)

How tough this tightrope is that the EU has to walk. (BBC News A tough tightrope might be thicker, and easier to walk, than the normal kind. Walking a tightrope is always difficult – there’s no need to qualify it.)

Probe on Cliff widens (Sun headline Probes have to be long and narrow – think of a humming-bird’s beak, an anteater’s nose.)

We can’t be complacent and sit back on our laurels. (BBC Breakfast You rest on your laurels – the laurel crown given to an Olympic champion – when you think you don't have to compete any more.)

Very disappointing that sweatshop labour used to make those feminist T-shirts. But David Cameron didn't know that. He has no high ground. (@greg_jenner See “high moral ground” for “moral high ground”.)

The theft of half a dozen show-winning [guineapigs] from a breeder in Devon has cast a spotlight on the cutthroat underbelly of this seemingly genteel pursuit. (Telegraph)

The Conservative victory could inject a fresh lease of life into London's prime housing market. ITV (How are you going to get the document into the syringe?)

This whole world runs on 4 pillars 1-Religion 2-Money 3-Politics 4-Prostitution (Twitter Stands on pillars, runs on wheels.)

[Greeks should] support their country and swallow the bullet. (You bite on a bullet while your leg is being amputated without anaesthetic on an 18th century battlefield. The bullet is lead, so your teeth sink into it.)

"With all the debate brewing [...] the biggest bombshell turned out to be an explosive plot twist that no one saw coming." (NYT via Sam Leith ‏@questingvole)

And, today, in books received, "a hard-hitting rollercoaster of a debut thriller". (Sam Leith ‏@questingvole)

Londoners have to suffer views of this bloated carbuncle. (BBC Online The Walkie Talkie has won the Carbuncle Cup.)

My hand is still on the tiller, but only in a safety valve sort of way. (Lord Bath Sept 2015)

Is he the man to steer the ship over the road? (BBC sports commentator)

BBC says Brian Sewell had “currant-bun eyes”. (His face was the bun, his eyes were the currants.)

He wants to add another dinosaur to the collection, and cement his own name in the history books. (Canadian Dino Hunt)

She didn’t bat an eyebrow! (You bat your eyelashes.)

The bloom is off the rose. (The bloom is off the grape – it’s that dewy, velvety surface. A rose IS a bloom.)

From galleries to grass level projects.... (It’s “grass-roots” level – but why?)

Simmering tensions threaten to erupt.
(If tensions could simmer they would threaten to boil over.)

nail your colours to the mask, tie your colours to the mask (It’s “mast”. The “colours” are your country’s flag; you run them up the mast and then nail them there so that nobody can make you lower them in defeat.)

forge a niche, forge a path (You carve, or carve out, a niche. You beat a path. You forge horseshoes, or cast-iron gates, or swords.)

denting her coffers by... (denting her profit)

beloved of the rose-rimmed spectacle wearers (Those spex are rose-tinted – giving everything an optimistic pink glow.)

It will suit him down to a tee! (Suit him to a tee, suit him down to the ground.)

More here, and links to the rest.

Saturday 10 October 2015

Euphemisms about Alcohol (in Quotes)

Here’s some straight talking about alcohol:
Their reckless bravado, bad judgment, sly conceit, aggression, dishonesty, viciousness all came from the bottle. They lurched into spying with all the character flaws of lifelong dipsos. (Richard Davenport-Hines in the Times on Guy Burgess and Kim Philby, September 2015)

And here are some euphemisms:
The antics of the Who’s Keith Moon have amused generations. (The Guardian, June 28 2006 We are not amused.)

His views on life were always a source of rich discussion. (Obit speak on Donovan Winter, alcoholic film director)

Supermodel Kate Moss was reportedly escorted off an easyJet flight from Turkey to London for “being disruptive”.

I always wonder what “fast-paced lives” are. Here’s a clue: “They say when you get older your Saturdays become slower paced.” (You don’t go out and get drunk.)

It’s troubling to read about Winehouse’s high jinks in recent months. Despite her enormous gifts, she has inner demons and struggles. (Letter to Time, Feb 2008)

Inevitably, Fergie adds: “I was not in my right place.” What she meant was, she’d been drinking. (Melanie McDonagh, The Evening Standard, 2 June 2010)

Innumerable though crime dramas are these days, it’s rare to see a true whodunit, one that deftly slots together a jigsaw of clues and motives, rather than relying on gore, car chases or “personal demons” (aka alcoholism). (The Times 2009 on whodunits and Miss Marple)

Boy George: he used to be a wild man, but now he’s a calmer chameleon. (Andrew Marr, February 16 2014)

You ought to be able to relax and enjoy your achievements. (Robert Crampton, paraphrase, March 24, 2012, explaining why he didn’t drink “much” when he was younger, just vodka in graveyards and stuff, but he says he’s kicked it now.)

More here, and links to the rest, and lots more in my book Boo & Hooray – see link on the right.