Wednesday, 28 December 2011

World's Strongest Man Final 1983

The World's Strongest Man (WSM) was the premier event in strength athletics for 20 years up until the late 1990's. Men from four corners of the earth were invited to compete against each other in a series of unique events designed to test each individual to the fullest. The events had a foundation in Powerlifting, Highland Games and others were created based on mythological feats of strength.

It was at the end of a long day that we came across the televised final of WSM 1983. We'd found TV gold. It had the constituent parts of: a British underdog, early 80s hair styles and fashion, a brilliant referee and a crowd who were a bit too close to the athletes. We were instantly hooked.

A final to beat all finals. A truck full of tension, a barrel load of theatrics and the first time the event had been held outside the USA since its inception in 1977. Christchurch - New Zealand, I bring you, GB's finest, the 2 time Commonwealth Shot Put Champion and Budgie Breeding Behemoth...Geoff Capes.
There were 8 strangely named events which sorted the wheat from the chaff, the men from the boys and the sheep from the goats. Farmers Walk, Bar Bending, Silver Dollar Deadlift, Truck Pull, Rock Lift, Weight for Height, Wool Hoist and Lorry Loading.

All were designed to sap energy, test physical and mental endurance and brutalise any muscle in the human body. There were other characters alongside Mr Capes and much of the focus fell on a young pretender from Iceland, Jón Páll Sigmarsson, with a series of one liners designed to psyche out his fellow athletes ("This is no problem for Jón Páll", "There is no reason to be alive if you can't do deadlift" and "I am not an Eskimo, I am a Viking!"). Jón Páll proved a fearsome competitor in 1983 and would go on to win the WSM 4 times in the future as well going down in history as Iceland's greatest athlete of the 20th Century.

However, 1983 was all about Geoff. Coming first in the Truck Pull and Weight for Height and finishing in the top 3 for all the other events meant Capes was leading with only the final event (Lorry Loading) left. It was captivating to watch as these 12 huge sacks of flour, weighing at least 12 stones each had to launched on to the back of a lorry. The fine flour kept seeping through the porous bags and it got into some of the athletes lungs, including poor Tom Magee who nearly died after he inhaled too much flour and could barely complete the task.

However, Capes knew that he'd done enough and gave a little leap of joy as the final sack landed on the back of the lorry and in his final interview, he declared many pints and drinks were going to be spilled in Christchurch that night in celebration of a little man from Lincolnshire being crowned the World's Strongest Man with a total score of 49.5.

Friday, 23 December 2011

Newark upon Trent - A Glory Town

Our inter-nation travelogue continues...It's like Cheltenham, but prettier. It's like Cirencester, but cheaper. It's Newark upon Trent, home of some of the finest set of independent shops and eateries in our fair country.

Sitting atop of the festive shopping pile is Vintage Vixen (run by the lovely Clare Parker) on Cartergate. A ladies only step back into the 1950s. T got two wonderful pieces (Christmas Day and New Years Eve outfits), a flattering aubergine dress and a knitted straw leopard jumper. Both absolute bargains and I got us a huge piece of maori wall art with a corny story on each corner in a wonderful type face and artistic styling.

Two's Company on Kirkgate is a gift shop doing so well, they've opened up two other shops across the country on the back of the shops success in Newark. Our purchase was a wonderfully decorative key plate which has a retro driving licence embedded beneath the glazed surface.

With some splendid architecture including a 16th Century castle (loaded with history and playing an important part in the Civil War), the Gilstrap historical centre, heritage trails, two musuems and Mr glorious River Trent winding it's way through the town, it's a truly picturesque and vibrant market town which also hosts Europe's largest antique fair at the mighty Newark Showground.

Home to the Railway Club, a charming ode to working men's clubs and histories through the ages it still has a 50p pool table. We've not seen those prices since our glory days back at University in Scarborough (oh those long nights in the cavernous Olympia arcade complete with the best ever bandit - Crazy Fruits). Home also to the famous Tolney Lane which brings an incredible richness and diversity into the population with the traveller community (who I went to Primary School with) who're directly responsible for much of the wonderful famed Newark slang words including: Chavvy, Peeve, Teggys and Yocks.

Just 80mins from London on the train and 20mins from Nottingham and Lincoln and sat proudly astride the ancient Great North Road (known more locally as the A1) and bisecting it east to west is the recently improved A46 aiding all four wheel journeys in the area. Tis very close to Sherwood Forest, home of the Major Oak and Robin Hood himself. There's no earthly reason not to come and share in the delights of this historic market marvel.

Saturday, 10 December 2011

Brief Bus Encounters

It would seem that we were destined to meet.

Without my car, I had to get to Radio HQ to record the latest two broadcast specials of Sound Tracks (a Bollywood followed by a Video Game focussed hour of entertainment). So off I trotted on the wonderful public transport of Wilts and Dorset buses and in particular the service no.36 which runs from Bournemouth to Verwood and departed at 8.26am.

There was a gentleman on the bus already and a lady boarded at the same time as I to join our friendly driver en route to Verwood. The gentleman alighted at Ringwood and the driver announced to us both that he needed to go and get some more change as he was running out.

It was at this moment that a conversation was struck up between myself and the lady who was sat behind me. Playing with her new iPhone (sold to her by her son) she began telling me that her son has recently started playing Assassin's Creed Revelations and that she's suitably impressed with its graphics but as she's got an addictive personality, she can't play computers because she'd waste her time on them.

I also discovered en route that she was off to Moors Valley Country Park and was learning to cycle with her friend June. This lady was in her late 50s and respect was due as she's trying something new on this cold December morn.

We offered polite goodbyes, she disappeared into the park and I carried on my journey to Radio HQ. All went well, both shows sounding brilliant and I got on the 36 again retracing the bussy tracks through Three Legged Cross and Ashley Heath. Who then gets on the bus outside Moors Valley Country Park, the same lady with her cycle helmet and friend June waving her off.

She came and sat down next to me and started where we left off 200 minutes earlier like we were old friends. She'd be talking to June about the "lovely person" she met on the bus on the way here, but also shared with me she'd fallen off her bike today (it's normally June who falls off) and the last time she fell off was during "The Jewish Incident". Her son was teaching her to cycle and she actually ploughed into a whole family of three generations of a Jewish cycling family and fell off and slightly hurt herself earlier on in the summer. I told her about the radio and she told me that she worked at the Inland Revenue and her time in South Africa. We got off at the same stop, exchanged names and as we parted at the fork of Knyveton Road - Anne hugged me, smiled and strolled on and said she'd listen to the show tomorrow.

Saturday, 19 November 2011

It's Chi-Chi-Chichester!

Our inter-nation travelogue continues and this time we landed at the West Sussex gem - Chichester! A swift 70 minutes transit from our BH HQ, we parked up and look what faced us; only a cotton picking, cowboy themed, eatery of the highest order, aka Smith and Western.

Genuine country music spilling out the speakers, Cowgirl Charlie serving our every need, cactus and boot wall paper, ribs, loaded skins, wings, corn and ranch beans - check, check, check! We were a happy pair of yahoo's foot tappin and a'stomping all day after this brilliant culinary experience.

Steeped in history and dripping with fine architecture, including the Cathedral (complete with a Knight's tomb) and the 16th Century Chichester Cross. Every place of note must have a Butter Market and Corn Exchange and Chichester does not disappoint. History alert - like many places in England, the name derived from "caester" meaning Roman settlement. In this case the Saxons who arrived following the Roman withdrawal were led by a man called Cissa, hence Cissa's Caester which became become Chichester.

Not only does it fulfil our culinary and architectural desires, Cissa's Caester also helps us empty our pockets with a selection of wonderful shops. Alongside some of the regular high street players like Clarks (incredible customer service - so friendly and managed to persuade us, somehow, to purchase a Christmas present - and made us feel lovely about it as well) and Moss Bros there's a wealth of charming and fine pieces of independent shoppery including:

The upcycling Number 43 and the best vintage shop in the country, One Legged Jockey. Tracey got an original Ladybird, part cape/part extra long body warmer in green and it is a large piece of awesome.

With our guides to Northampton, Southport and now Chichester, we're highlighting some alternative places on our fair isle which deserve a little time and exploration outside of the classic visitor-laden places. Up the Chichester!

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Game City 6

Twas an adventure in authenticity, a place where a genuine community of interest came together alongside inquisitive residents to share the realm of videogames and all that sails in her.

Over 4 days, the festival is the self styled “biggest and best-loved videogame culture festival in Europe!” and runs over multiple sites in the East Midlands city of Nottingham, during the day time, the night time and inbetween time (with the wonderful addition of Covernomics - a real life, real surveillance, covert mission piece of spy heaven). I wanted to share some of my experiences, some of the panels and debates attended, the people and developers I met and let this act as a guide to my experiences.

My first stop was a conversation between Richard Lemarchand, lead game designer on the forthcoming triple AAA PS3 exclusive, Uncharted 3 and Tale of Tales' founders Auriea Harvey and Michaël Samyn.

Hearing from Auriea and Michaël, who are a pair of Belgian art game developers and how they offered insights into their approach and creative journey from net art experimenters in the late 90s, to developing an impressive stable of alternative videogame experiences including: the fantastical MMO (minimal multiplayer online) The Endless Forest (an online environment where you appear as a deer, with no rules or goals to achieve), The Path (a short horror game inspired by Little Red Riding Hood offering an experience of exploration, discovery and introspection with all activities in the game entirely optional) and The Graveyard (a micro computer game where you play an old woman who visits a graveyard. You walk around, sit on a bench and listen to a song. It's more like an explorable painting, but there’s a huge difference between the paid version and free version of the game).

Richard also offered an insight into how a certain scene in Uncharted 2 was inspired by Tale of Tales and it was a section where the lead character Nathan Drake came across a small mountain village with a community and the game did not let you shoot or attack its population, in fact if you pressed the attack button, it made you shake hands or wave at the village members. Richard was trying to build this narrative and emotional connection between the lead character of Drake and the villagers because later on it the game (spoiler alert) the village gets burnt down.

Auriea and Michaël were fascinating, charming and achingly articulate throughout and with their creations offer a genuine alternative to the big time computer game behemoths which I’d heartily recommend that you engage with. Head over to Tale of Tales to find out more.

Later in the evening, we experienced Renga from Wall Four, which was the world’s first 100 player laser-controlled video game. It combined strategic conquest elements from games such as Civilisation with action phases inspired by old-school arcade classics such as Defender. It rewarded coordinated movement but allowed formations to emerge without advance planning as players observe other lasers and join emergent groups, sort of like an improvisational dance. As a collective experience, it was exhilarating, something akin to the feeling at a sports stadium when the crowd become one, we were a hive, a pack all working the greater good. A totally unique experience.

The next day was all about the Zombies, one of the large successes of Game City 6 and previous incarnations is that they often theme days and today was all about those beloved half –dead henry’s.

Each day began with a breakfast debate at the wonderful Broadway Cinema chaired by the Guardian Games’s Keith Stuart, today was: Love, Rage and Horror – are games emotional enough? There was a stellar panel including Simon Parkin (Eurogamer), Phil Fish (Fez Dez Rez), Richard LeMarchand (Naughty Dog), Mike Bithell (Thomas Was Alone), Andrew Smith (Spilt Milk Studios) and Rob Yescombe (formerly Free Radical and Crytek).

Richard offered us “games elicit certain kinds of emotions, competitive games elicit triumph, success and frustration”, and Phil replied with “Silent Hill 1&2 are the finest piece of horror on any media and we worked with fear specialists who said turning left down corridors is scary and different ceiling heights in different rooms is also scary”. The next topic was sadness with the videogame Heavy Rain appearing heavily and Keith cited the greatest fear if you’re a parent is the loss of your child and that was why Heavy Rain was so successful, Simon replied us “games are great at revenge stories, but not redemption”. Finally the 7 men on the panel spoke about love with The Sims and Ico leading the discussion. Simon “The Sims tries to mechanise love in a dry way, it’s an economy. Whereas in Ico, you have to lead this small waif through different lands and you have to look after her or she’ll be sacrificed.” Keith shared: “if you come to a standstill after you’ve run around with her, you can feel her heartbeat through the controller”. The debates were genuinely interesting, covered a range of topics and brought us insight from a diversity of panellists who wouldn’t normally talk about these sorts of things.

Later in the day there was a Scare Tactics panel with James Moran (Severance and Doctor Who), Gerard Jones (DC, Marvel, Dark Horse) and Rob Yescombe again. James and Gerard provided great content and bounced off each other really well. Gerard spoke about “how cat scares (the quick startle) are not really interesting and a good scare for adults is based on suspense, anxiety and something being unsettled”. James offered us a piece of classic Hitchcock “where it’s scarier to show a bomb and then create a 10min scene about what might happen rather than show the bomb explode.” He also mentioned the film Threads (a documentary-style account of a nuclear war and its effects on the city of Sheffield) as being quite scary as well. Gerard also said that “what’s scary to a 3 or 4 year old child is adult scowling face looking scary. Suspense is unbearable to young children, kids can watch heads being chopped off, but being glared at is really scary.” For me there was a significant amount of information which was being recycled by Rob who was re-telling horror content from his previous session and the breakfast earlier on in the day. I feel that this should have considered by Game City or it may be that Rob doesn’t have a lot to say.

My final encounter with the zombies, apart from the fabulously made up green shirted volunteers around the city square, was an insight into the funding, conception and development of a hotly anticipated running game and audio adventure called Zombies, Run! created by Six to Start. It will be available on your iphone and smartphone by the middle of next year and I know it’s going to get a lot more people active and exercising who might not have gone for a run before, but now they’re running from zombies, collecting items and building your base back at HQ, a genius idea!

My final musings are linked to encounters which I was actively involved in; Covernomics and Several Amazing Things About Tetris (1984).
SATAT 1984 was a seven hour performance lecture all about the mid 80s tetronomic gaming masterpiece Tetris. However, this lecture by Pat Ashe lasted as long as you stayed alive in the game and the blocks didn’t fill the screen. A brilliant concept, fascinating factoids learnt and a charming performer. PS I’m sure I also got the highest score of the day. From Russia With Fun!

Covernomics was another durational experience but this time over 4 days. Through email, phone calls and illegal rendezvous it instructed you to go undercover, decipher codes, assemble electronic devices, accrue assets and survey other agents in the field whilst avoiding detection. Agents were assigned daily tasks (I’m not revealing too much detail as they want to return next year) and I’m pleased to report that I completed Operation GC6 and was one of the top ten of agents.

For me, Game City 6 captured the true spirit of a festival with oodles of positivity oozing from the staff, volunteer teams and exhibitors which in turn infected us, the participants to be generous, encouraging and enter into the essence of debate and inquiry which the festival fostered so well. I only encountered a small percentage of the festival, but what I experience I was left sated and elated and will no doubt return to future iterations of the wonderful and valuable experience that is Game City.

Images courtesy of Game City, Tale of Tales, Nintendo, Six to Start

Saturday, 29 October 2011

Player vs Character

BAFTA Games Writers Panel supported by The Writers’ Guild of Great Britain

Welcome to BAFTA, it’s all nipples and grenades.

A fascinating 90 minute panel debate between four of this countries finest video games writers; Jim Swallow (Deus Ex Human Revolution), Rhianna Pratchett (Heavenly Sword), Ed Stern (Wolfenstein) and chair for the night was Andrew S Walsh (Prince of Persia) who between them have shipped over 80 titles into our lives and tonight explored the huge question of Players vs Characters. Structure for the night, there were three anchor questions posed to each panel member alongside a smattering of questions from the floor. First up…

What is a games character?
Jim and Rhianna made the differentiation between character types with Jim going for the “characters are empty vessels that you fill” (in Deus Ex, he tried to create a backstory and narrative for the character Adam Jensen before empowering the player to let them choose one of the four possible pathways and approaches through the game) and Rhi coming back with “but I like to play games with full characters like Max Payne or Alan Wake as you get a certain agency over them”. Ed popped in with the crucial addition “the best character in most games in the environment”. This sparked a bit of gush fest over the Bioshock and the environment of Rapture.
For me, the success of Bioshock is how it looks and sounds, how the NPCs and audio diaries help you construct the back story and aid you in a process of information discovery, it’s not spoon fed to you in a dirty little cut scene, like the recent barrel of bilge The Cursed Crusade. Round two.

Player vs character
Jim came in with the ultimate writers’ aim of immersion: “It’s the holy grail, trying to suck you in. We want to bring a story to you and offer you a beginning, middle and end.” For me the crucial word in that was offer, the choices that a player can or cannot make enhance their own personal experience. He also pointed a finger at overly long cut scenes “I’m looking at you Metal Gear Solid” which Rhi added to “If you see your character doing something brilliant in a cut scene but then can’t do it in game, that creates a gulf between player and character and breaks the invisible link”.
There was a consistency of opinion that writers are often brought into the process too late, never get the chance to work with actors when the lines are recorded and so a line that could have been laced with comedy at the very beginning because of the intricacies of pauses, intentions and inflexions are often lost in translation. In a startling revelation, Ed stated that “most actor scripts are written in excel”. Imagine having to read 100,000 lines of text from a spreadsheet, it certainly cannot aid the content and context of the game.

What else shapes and defines a character?
Ed came straight off the bat with “genre expectations are usually tough and conservative”. Rhi added that platform has something to do with it, she created Overlord 1&2 on the Xbox and PS3, but it also had different iterations on the Wii and DS, so the world of Overlord existed on all those planes, but the restrictions of age groups for the Wii and DS versions meant that some of the characterisations of the minions having to be altered. A vital point made by Ed was you should be able to give the 5 second, 30 second and 2 minute pitch to different audiences, because “someone else will be making your character move, someone else will be giving him a physical dialogue”, the implementation is being given to different teams. Jim answered one of the floor questions about “would a writer ever have a great idea and pitch that to a studio?”, the answer was a resounding no, it’s about what will sell, not what’s the idea? Andrew added with great timing, what sells is nipples and grenades. Film/game tie ins were mentioned and some brutal truths exposed again where studios spend all their money on acquiring the licence and so have less money on the game, other times including Blade 2, where the games developers were given absolutely no access to the script, artwork, scenery or even the crumbs from their dinner, yet still had to create a game which launched on release of the film.

It was a very stimulating night with 4 very different personalities, all thoroughly warranting their place and each adding something to the debate in their own unique style. Coming next at BAFTA Games is an evening with Bioware in November, Mass Effect 3 anyone?

Friday, 14 October 2011


The B3063, aka Charminster Road in Bournemouth, is home to many a good eatery and restaurant (Nippon Inn and Starz Bar are well worth a visit), but the culinary highlight for me is a small, independent, no nonsense Turkish bakery called Pasha.

Bread is often at the forefront of my mind, it being my favourite foodstuff by a country mile; it has such variety in shape, taste and texture. There is nothing better than a hollow sounding, soft centred warm crusty cob which fills your nose and belly with doughy happiness. We don’t need any butter here, just dry and crusty bread.

Pasha make the best Pide ever – a deliciously day fresh stone baked Turkish flat bread, often consumed within 10 minutes from time of purchase. It’s a rare day if Mr Pide makes it off the B3063 complete because he is just so irresistible.

I offer a small insight into my devotion to this delightful foodstuff. It was a Christmas day, in the last year of the 1980s and I asked my Auntie for a fresh crusty 800g bloomer for my present. Opening up my bready package, I was so happy to have a whole loaf to myself to tear and carve up in giant doorsteps; the joy I felt was unbridled. A recent personal surprise for me was the introduction into the market of the 1kg Tiger loaf, an absolute monster, fun for all the family and costing less than for 152 pennies.

Along with fishes, if it’s good enough for Jesus and can feed the 5000, it’s good enough for me. Bread – I wanna make it with you.

Thursday, 29 September 2011

…and the Lord said, let there be D A N C E

Over the past 7 days I have seen over 10 pieces of dance, performance and staged spectacle. This is my outlet for sharing some of the ubertasticness of these physical offerings.

It all started quite beautifully with the exquisitely economical Jane Mason who performed her new work Singer, a 30 minute ode to all the things interesting to her like ambiguity, weight, light, song and construction. A refreshingly simple presentation yet rich with emotion and connections, it left room for the audience to absorb and process the environments that Jane presented. She also presented her awarding film Andout with some wonderful soundscape by Jules Maxwell.

It was then ramped up in scale to a complete polar opposite. The four story temporary glass fronted Electric Hotel was constructed outside in Bournemouth and the audience witnessed and heard (through a delightfully composed soundtrack played to the audience individually over pairs of headphones) a mysterious incident, which shall remained unnamed. Twas an adventure in repetition, with slight glitches in the movement presented again and again, filmic in its construction and how the audience could follow multiple narratives of the hotel residents over and over and over again.

Next stop was the launch of a new dance space, South East Dance Studios, in Kent with 7 different pieces for the audience to watch and take part in. The delightful Mayakaras (a Kent based youth dance group under the watchful eye of Lila Dance) entranced the audience with a performance full of attack and authenticity missing in many “professional” works. Tony Adigun created (with students from Hextable School) a processional site specific work moving the audience in and out of corridors, studios, shower rooms and foyers, Billy Cowie's 3D film Tango de Soledad and Rosemary Butcher kicked the night off with architecture/roof/aerial dance framed by a slowly fading dusk light with some luminescent wings. Swanley have never had it so good.

Finally a brutal and ferocious presentation of a new work by La La La Human Steps, choreographed by the ever pioneering Edouard Lock from Montreal. Ballet like you have never seen. Timed to the nano second, met with precision on both the musicality and physicality, the dancers ooze panache yet create exquisite shapes with such swiftness, you begin to question whether they are indeed human. A relentless 90 mins, with no break, a new score by Gavin Bryars and some of the finest lighting design, dancing and choreography you’re likely to see.

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Who Loves Northampton?

...well we sure do, after landing in the county town of fair Northamptonshire yesterday.

A brilliant market town with oodles of interesting architecture and history. We embarked on a town trail, following a map of over 20 highlighted venues and points of interest and had a jolly time doing so.

Our first major port of call was this little beauty, the Guildhall. Home to all sorts of local authority activity, the interior was simply divine, lots of detail in the brick work and even the stained glass had been in situ so long, it had sunk to the bottom and thickened. It had the look of a mini St Pancras hotel about it.

We only made our way around the town because we found Oliver Adams, "150 years in the baking" who aided us with their tasty bakery offerings. I encountered a pineapple cake, which we were informed by the pastry operative had its origins in Scotland where there's a larger dome. Tracey had a large bun complete with fruit and all sorts of other filling.

There's a large cultural and artistic heritage to be found as well including the only house that Charles Renee Mackintosh created in England, a gold award winning historic house chocked full with Mack attacks, the Royal and Derngate theatre which is an impressive building (though the programme is a trifle safe) and the art gallery has an internationally renowned collection of shoes (the local football team is known as the cobblers due to the main historic industry in the town).

The market square was also a little stunner and here's an old postcard view, though it hasn't changed a jot. A conker also fell on my head in the local graveyard, so I won't forget that in a hurry.

Thanks for having us Northampton, you were wonderful!

Monday, 5 September 2011

The Chain Gang

Beaming with pride, we head up to my (Ian) home town this Sunday at the invitation of my Auntie Irene with Tracey and my mum. Not just an Auntie - but a Councillor, not just a Councillor but the Deputy Mayor of Newark upon Trent.

A feisty widow who lives on Yorke Drive (think Beirut roads, poor sink estate reputation and plenty of odd and colourful characters) Irene has served her community as both a Cllr and community elder for many years, trying to right local wrongs and make sure the voices of her wards are heard and acted upon by the powers that be.

The invitation in question is at the Parish Church for the Annual Battle of Britain Commemorative Service, followed by a reception at the Town Hall afterwards in the presence of the the Mayor himself Cllr Bryan Richardson. I loved receiving said formal invitation with the coat of arms of Newark emblazoned across the top in gold leaf.

A little bit of history for you. The wavy water, otter and beaver all reference the importance of the River Trent that runs through the heart of the town and the arms were granted in 1561 with the motto "Deo Fretus Erumpe" (translating as Trust God and Sally Forth) added in 1912.

Thursday, 25 August 2011

Hair Battle Spectacular

There's a brand new TV channel on Freeview here in the UK called Really. It has lots of wonderful, high quality programmes like Extraordinary Breastfeeding, Farm Of Fussy Eaters and Spa of Embarrassing Illnesses.

However, the greatest hour on the small screen for the next 4 weeks on Thursday 8pm is the loudest, the most monstrous, introducing the première series of Hair Battle Spectacular.

Part sculpture and part pop art, fantasy hair has been inspired by pop culture leaders like Lady Gaga and Nikki Minaj with each challenge requiring contestants to create outrageous coifs and mops.

There was 10 contestants to start and each week they enter a boxing ring and are whittled down one by one. They present their hair creations in a high octane and stylized performance with a truly awful rap/poem overlayed as a bad soundtrack when their models enter the arena. After each challenge, the judges, lead by award-winning fantasy hair designer Derek J (he has the most fabulous kitten heels), and 2 others - critique the stylists on creativity, execution and overall presentation. It's just been commissioned and starting screening a second series in the US, so we should hopefully get a large piece of hairy action when series two lands.

One man has created the biggest impression on me, Mr Tsunami (real name Nate). He created this for the wedding themed week and transformed the model into a table with a cake on top. It looked like a warped Cousin It.

Hair pieces have dropped off en route on some weeks and I've seen exquisite hair do's and plenty of horrendous hair don'ts. Be careful though Hair Battle Spectacular is quite addictive and I'd encourage readers to take least two steps towards the world of fantasy hair the next time you visit the barbers!

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

The Writings and Emily Speed

In November 2008 I exhibited at the Artists' Book Fair in Liverpool and met Emily Speed, who coordinated the event, commissioned some new book works and created a jolly nice environment and atmosphere for both sellers and buyers.

As an exchange for selling my wares during the event, Emily took a copy of two of my books, The Writings of Ian Abbott Volume 1&2 and The Writings of Ian Abbott Volume 3&4.

They were both small, square, hand made, concertina books with 10 miniature performances encased in them. 1&2 had a cover made from cardboard and 3&4 had a cover made from polystyrene. They were exhibited at quite a few galleries including the beautiful Chapel Gallery in Ormskirk.

Emily currently has an exhibition at Yorkshire Sculpture Park and I love her new limited edition Egg Plaster Casts, but she got in touch again recently for another purpose. She's been asked to put together a present of artists' books for four departing members of a-n's board. a-n's mission is to stimulate and support contemporary visual arts practice and affirm the value of artists in society.

So four copies of both Vol 1&2 and 3&4 (original editions) will be making their way to various departing artistic board members over the coming weeks and that's good news all round. I'm currently creating some delicate space travel themed books which will be highlighted here and for sale very shortly.

Saturday, 30 July 2011


We love Dirt.
We love the filthy reality of everyday life.
We love the Wellcome Collection's exhibition on this grimy little topic as it looks at our relationship with muck, how we ignore it, how it affects us and how it has been represented by artists and social commentators.

There's over 200 extremely well chosen objects on show from 5 key periods in the last 450 years (from Joseph Lister's pioneering Carbolic Spray instrument to an original John Snow map charting the Cholera outbreak from the Broad Street pump in the 19th Century), the layout of the objects and the path you take through the gallery also enhances the exhibition experience, an act of foul minded curational brilliance.

As munchers of good information design (thank you Mr Tufte), it was great to see the work of John Snow alongside the Report on the Mortality of Cholera in England by William Farr as well as brilliant pictorial insights into the first and second International Hygiene Exhibition held in Dresden, Germany in 1911 and 1930.

The older work fascinated us, some of the engravings of Geertruid Roghman depicting domestic servitude are beautiful in their virtuosity but challenge the viewer by having the subject face away from us.

We couldn't help but love this scathing illustration, Monster Soup commonly called Thames Water, from William Heath as The Thames became more polluted in 1815 in an effort to relieve the bulging cesspools of London.

The idea that 'cleanliness is next to godliness' strikes through most of the work, but the Wellcome Collection must be in purgatory because although they had so much dirt on display, it was a very well ordered and crisp environment and it would have been nice to feel a bit grubby, maybe get a little dirt under our fingernails, as we went round.

However, we heartily recommend that you leave those dirty pots to fester for one more afternoon and do not break out your feather duster because you should head to London so see this wonderful exhibition before it finishes at the end of August 2011.

You should really go and see it, you filthy buggers!

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Garigari-kun and Puzzling Mallorca

Whilst on our travels to Mallorca, we ventured out to the capital, Palma, to see what we could see, see, see. Twas a small and walkable city, full of buzzy Spanish lanes, with interesting and independent shops, adorned with beautiful architecture and we had some cracking tapas for luncheon.

However, one stop on our exploration proved more fruitful than any other and it was to the Mallorca Puzzle Shop to which we ended up in and purchased a Garigari-kun puzzle lolly, which Tracey is holding in her hand.

The man of the shop was a multi-lingual puzzle mentalist, he had strange contraptions on and under the counter for all to see and play with. There was a spinning disc complete with enlarging mushroom, some classic Destiny Wasgij and ring holograms, but the thing which caught all of our eyes was little Garigari.

Garigari-kun history lesson.
Introduced in 1981, Garigari-kun was one of the first bar-type ice treats. The target demographic was “active” school-age boys who needed at least one hand free to play whatever game they were playing while munching. The ice that makes up the bar is filled with very small and separate ice particles that make a characteristic crunchy “garigari” sound when bitten.

The big-mouthed character adorning the package is part of the appeal and is representative of gaki-daisho, or the big kid in your gang who, despite his size, is the most warmhearted member. He’s also assumed to be the poorest.

The product’s very low price is thus tied directly to the image that Akagi wanted to promote. In 2008 they sold 255 million Garigari-kun bars in Japan. History lesson over.

We fell in love the Japanese typography and style of the packaging, but most of all the 3D puzzle lolly which was inside the wrapper. You have 16 pieces to assemble on the stick, comprising of an inner and outer layer with fiendishly difficult jigsaw edge tessellation.

We love the shop, we love the man in the shop (who wouldn't let us purchase our desired item until I completed a metal ring remover - which took at least 15 minutes), we love Garigari-kun.

Sunday, 26 June 2011

Just One More Thing - Peter Falk

Dear Peter,

This is a note to say thank you. Thank you for the pleasure, entertainment and smiles you have induced in us over the years. You had a rare skill to create and absorb characters that connected with an audience through the big and small screens, as well as an effortless charm with which you delivered your numerous roles.

It is with great sadness that we hear of your passing, but we wanted to share your history with others and the impact it has had on us.

Your most iconic role has been our regular weekend fixture, the yardstick that any detective series should measure itself against, created by Levinson and Link, the inimitable Colombo. You made him your own by using your own raincoat and picking out the battered old Peugeot.

The inverted detective story, showing the murder and the perpetrator at the top of the show was a brilliant device to highlight how you then unpicked the story, exposed the usually affluent murderers and proved that the "ordinary" cop can outsmart anyone who comes onto his radar, thus providing immense satisfaction for us, your audience. It is this satisfaction and familiarity with the set pieces, foibles and quirks that you delivered which continues to provide the Colombo audience with delight week after week and retains their affection for your character.

We know you're going to be pesky and keep dogging the murderer, coming back to them again and again at the tennis club or mansion, wearing them down and exposing their flimsy alibi's.
We know you'll keep chewing on your stogie's as the cogs chug round your head - you appear to see nothing, but actually see everything.
We know that the unfailing wisdom of Mrs Columbo (we like this beautiful picture of you and the real Mrs Falk) or the variety of relatives and acquaintances that we never see provide insight into the particular crime on hand, be it bagpipe playing Uncle or nephew at UCLA specialising in dermatology.
We also know that catchphrase and we perform it along with you, as you head towards the door - pause - turn around, scratch your head, point and say "Just One More Thing..."

You had many, many other successful roles throughout your half century career; a fistful of Emmy awards, a double Academy Award nomination and a particularly iconic role in the Wim Wenders 1987 art house film Wings of Desire where you played yourself and in the end titles was credited as "Der Filmstar". No further tribute needed.

There was a luminous relationship with the director John Cassavettes in which you delivered two more outstanding performances on film, A Woman Under The Influence (1974) and Husbands (1970) as well as The Great Race and The Princess Bride.

But you came to acting surprisingly late, at the ripe old age of 29, after an interesting journey that included a Masters in Public Administration and degree in political science as well as working on the railroad for six months in the former Yugoslavia and a United States Merchant Marine. Last year we saw Dirk Benedict of "The A-Team" fame, in a stage version of Columbo: Prescription Murder at a local theatre in Poole. Although he had the raincoat and a healthy cigar habit there was something missing, something which only you could ever bring to the role.

As you spent many hours on the Colombo set, your honed your skills in charcoal and watercolour whiling away the time and as a result had many gallery shows. This one, with your finger pointing to the sky is the image that will stay with us, when Columbo has stopped being shown on TV (may this never happen), as the ultimate aide memoir of your work as a fine, fine actor who delivered a diversity of roles and emotions which endeared you to your public at large. Peter Falk, we salute you.

Yours Sincerely
Ian & Tracey

Friday, 10 June 2011

E3 2011 - The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

The Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) is the annual mecca/trade show for the computer and video game industry, where developers show off their biggest games and bestest hardware. The three top dogs (Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo) set out their stalls with a clearly defined offer of Kinect, 3D/Vita and next generation Nintendo. As a consumer this choice is wonderful, it feels like the industry has never been richer, so get ready for an uber digest as there’s a lot to get through.

Microsoft kicked off proceedings flaunting their forthcoming Kinect titles; Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Future Soldier (allowing for major gun/weapon customisation), Kinect Star Wars (you are the light sabre) and Rise of Nightmares (Japanese horror with you punching oodles of zombies), however, Mass Effect 3 was the title that the people wanted and it did not disappoint.

With ME3, you’re able to use your voice to progress the story, as well as calling your fighting squad to “move up” and support you or retreat into cover and cower away. Sounds good? I'm not so sure. I understand the concept of Kinect in ME3 as it attempts to create a deeper immersion in the narrative with you “calling the shots” as Commander Shepard trying to save the galaxy from the Reapers, but I think  it will interrupt the flow and rhythm of proceedings.

As a player using the dialogue wheel in the ME and ME2, you read the choices on offer internally, decide which one you want and hit a button to determine your choice. With the addition of Kinect, you still have to read all the choices, make your decision and then speak your choice out loud, but this speaking out loud will add at least 2 or 3 seconds per dialogue sequence and there’s an awful lot of dialogue in ME3. Accumulated over the whole game and it may make it a rather stuttery experience. Kinect + ME3 will not be good; however, ME3 with a normal controller will be spectacular and rightly claims its place as the most anticipated title for Xbox360. It’s also got Mr Clint Mansell in charge of the soundtrack which will ensure audio brilliance. ME3 is slated for a March 2012 release.

Sony swiftly followed with a rather confused message, though it was a good confusion to have. Not only did they have numerous AAA and exclusive titles pouring out of the stable like Uncharted 3, they launched a brand new a brand new portable console, the PS Vita, pushed the adoption of 3D TV and gaming with a new “all in one bundle” of PS3, 3D TV, 3D glasses and Resistance 3 for under $500 and highlighted  Move titles like Starhawk and Dust 514. Four messages are not clear and it felt like they were trying to out-do their Xbox and Nintendo counterparts but ended up with little consistency to their conference.

The PS Vita was the major talking point and they’ll launch it at a very fair price point - $249 for the basic wifi model and $299 for 3G model. Some of the techno features include a 5-inch OLED touchscreen, 6-axis motion sensor, front and rear touch panels and front and rear cameras for augmented reality games. However, it seems to have been peeping over at the super socially successful Nintendo 3DS because the Vita is launching “Party” and “Near” modes. Party let’s you voice chat with other Vita gamers in the same game room no matter where they are and Near lets you connect and play with other Vita gamers around you. It had some surprise titles including Street Fighter X Tekken and Uncharted: Golden Abyss as well as Little Big Planet and ModNation Racers, all of which will be coming to some hands near you. But the most VitaL and exciting news came from Ken Levine from Irrational Games said they're working on a Vita exclusive Bioshock game. Things to look forward to me thinks.

...and so to Mr Ninty, oh how I’ve been waiting for official words from Messrs Miyamoto and Iwata after all the rumours flying around about “Project Cafe/Wii2/Stream”. They started their conference with news about not one, but four new Zelda titles coming out this year, including Skyward Sword on the Wii, as well as a series of worldwide Zelda symphony concerts and two CDs all celebrating the 25th anniversary of our little Link. Fans happy with multiple Zelda announcements? Tick.

A flurry of big Nintendo first party titles were announced for the 3DS including Super Mario 3DS (looking like a mini Super Mario Galaxy complete with Tanooki suit!), Mario Kart 3DS (the coins are back on track as well as in-air and underwater racetrack sections) and something we didn’t see coming at all, Luigi’s Mansion 2 (the Gamecube classic looks right at home on the 3DS). Alongside these there was a montage, and Nintendo love a montage, of a whole host of third party titles which are mostly coming out this year including: Resident Evil: The Mercenaries 3D, Ace Combat 3D, Tekken, Tetris, Cave Story 3D, Resident Evil: Revelations, Pac-Man and Galaga Dimensions and Metal Gear Solid: Snake Eater 3D. Gamers happy with first and third party quality titles? Tick.

What came next? It was a game changer, a fountain of innovation and a glimpse into the future. It was Wii U. Our man Reggie, President of Nintendo USA introduced the concept of Wii U and it’s incredible new 6 inch touch screen controller through another montage. Through the magical controller you can flip the footage from the TV screen to your controller and carry on playing the game (freeing up the TV to watch Ironside or Russia Today). You can draw on the touch screen and the image appears on the TV. You can put the controller on the floor, see your golf ball and swing at it like it’s really there. You can flick ninja stars from the controller onto the screen and chop down trees. It was an impressive demonstration of what is possible.

The two major flaws which have badgered Nintendo for years have also been answered, online and big third party titles. Darksiders 2, Batman Arkham City, Dirt, Metro Last Light, Ninja Gaiden 3, Ghost Recon with online multi player and Tekken are all coming to Wii U.

It’s slated for a July 2012 release and just when the crowd had died down they dropped in that Super Smash Bros will come to the 3DS and Wii U. Sony and Microsoft wondering what to do next? Tick.

E3 was spectacular, with surprises and revelations which we hadn’t seen coming. Sony faired well with mixed messages, Microsoft flogged their Kinect system to death and Nintendo stole the show with Wii U. I admire the vision and consistency of Nintendo, as a company it strives for innovation and puts the player experience genuinely at the centre. One screen bad, two screens good!