This week, for various reasons, I spent two nights in a liminal small town/large village in Thurrock.
My reason for visiting was a short meeting on one of the many industrial estates – hardly befitting such a long stay –
and there’s only so much psychogeographic walking past margarine factories one can do,
so I spent some of a day in London, where I rode on one of Lime’s electric bicycles – much recommended – and
some buses – very on-brand.
Later, back in my lodgings in Thurrock, I realised I’d squandered a golden opportunity to experience Hammersmith
Bridge – which is closed to motor vehicles – and to rebel against extinction. Oh well.
In the latest Adam Buxton Podcast episode
(recorded last year but released this week), David Mitchell suggests that one obstacle to environmental
campaigners being taken seriously is that some of the campaigners are luddites who would be opposed to private transport,
etc even if they weren’t environmentally damaging. I feel like that’s just the sort of opinion columnists like Mitchell
have to make up to a deadline for an amusing column in the Observer,
but let’s pretend to make it seriously for a moment.
In a typical article, the purple-faced Telegraph writes: “But while [ace exponent of the Extinction Rebellion movement]
Mr Boardman-Pattinson rallies against climate change, he has taken at least three skiing holidays in recent years, and has posed for photographs in front of the leaning tower of Pisa. He was unavailable for comment.”
If David Mitchell is correct, the fact that Boardman-Pattinson has been an enthusiast of air travel means his concern about imminent disaster should be taken more seriously: he’d love to be on another aeroplane to Pisa, but instead he’s campaigning, just because he’s rightly alarmed that we’re doomed and governments aren’t doing much about it.
On the way home, I enjoyed an episode of 99% Invisible – which,
foolishly, I’ve not listened to much before – which reminded me a bit of
something I covered here once. Apparently the episode was a “crossover” with the critically acclaimed Reply All, which evidently is another podcast I ought to enjoy.
I’ve been avoiding the ongoing news shitshow to a some extent.
To be precise, to such an extent that it took me until this week to start worrying that my hair might look a bit
like a mixture of that of some dishonourable scrotes – Martin or Hoey, I’m thinking of.
This week, the penny dropped, so I cut my hair – my own hair, myself, using an electric thingie.
Now my head is more aerodynamic.
Maybe there are some tufts around the back, but it would be impossible to tell without rigging up a system of mirrors,
and “out of sight, out of mind”.
None of the people who’ve stood behind me have mentioned any tufts, and I’m sure they weren’t just being polite.
I did some bits of work. One of the bits was trying to draw more accurately wiggly maps of bus routes,
after some surly complaints about the current jaggedy ones.
There’s a handy tool I started to use to match thinly dispersed coordinates to roads,
but it smartassedly avoids bus lanes – with only law-abiding motor cars in mind – which is the opposite of what I want to do.
So I’ll have to try something else.
I appear to be writing these week notes every eight days. And why not? By the way, the events of “this week so far” are off limits, and from now on by “this week” I mean what most people would call “last week”. It’s definitely a solid idea, and definitely not going to end with me struggling to remember the events of increasingly long-ago weeks.
Like a microcosm of the “review of the year” content content producers produce around the ends of years – most of which is necessarily finished before the end of the year being reviewed – a lot of online people publish their week notes before the end of the week. I confess that I was among them two weeks ago. It irks me slightly – what if something important happens just before the end of the period of time? But people act as if it doesn’t really matter.
My other concern is that reviews of the year or week might focus unfairly on the most recent portion of the year or week, as its events are fresher in the memory. A solution to that would be to write notes gradually, over the course of the year or week. I would rather act as if it doesn’t really matter.
The most compelling notes of any week are bound to involve the rubbish I’ve found dumped at the side of the road. This week, I made the unprecedented find of a discarded bottle of Huel (“hipster gruel”), the nutritional powdered food some are calling the British Soylent. I suppose it follows that a consumer attracted to the convenience of Huel is also too busy to locate a bin. But does the product’s appearance on my local grass verge indicate a mainstreamification of meal replacement dust, a gentrification of the neighbourhood, or both?
I mustn’t be the first to observe that “Huel” sounds a bit like the sound of being sick. Soylent, meanwhile, really is named after the fictional Soylent Green, which was made out of fictional people. I remember enjoying the theory that Soylent was part of an unconventional marketing campaign for an upcoming Soylent Green film remake, but that theory has been discredited and there’s no sign of that film.
I did some work. There were some nice tweets about my work. I’m sure I’ll do some more work next week (this week).
Last week, the process of reflection made me realise I’d managed to do a pleasing amount of work – a valuable process.
This week, I appear to have done less – which is healthy too. I have done some other things.
I took some photographs. They were better than last week’s. Great!
I picked up some rubbish from off of the sides of some roads.
Like, I’m fond of saying, a pound shop David Sedaris, or Ian McMillan.
Those BBC radio stalwarts use special equipment – “grabbers” – but I’m not that serious yet.
I do recommend rubber gloves1, and a basket to which is attached a bicycle, and a plastic bag clipped on with clothes pegs.
Sunday was a particular purple patch: the strangest item for a few days (a ¾ full box of croissants) dumped near a ford, and then I finally captured my white whale (a lager tin that had taunted me for weeks, embedded in a hedge) using a large twig.
It reminds me a bit of the postmodern Stone Clearing With Richard Herring,
which is not my cultural highlight of the week, but remains a podcast in the list of podcasts I listen to.
Gathering litter is only slightly more worthwhile than Herring’s hobby of the ancient art of moving stones from a field to its perimeter.
Rampant capitalism and air pollution are more serious than fly-tipped food and drink packaging.
I wouldn’t want anyone to think I’ve been encouraged by the Daily Mail–backed “Great British Spring Clean” campaign,
which is at least not as bad as 2016’s “Clean for The Queen” (ugh).
Disappointingly, the Co-op’s fairly traded rubber gloves are much worse than the Marigold brand. ↩
This week, it has been mostly windy. Still, I managed a to ride on a bicycle two decent distances without being blown into a hedge. Maybe it’s at times like this that the memory of sailing lessons – tacking and jibing, etc – comes in useful.
Photographing buses and coaches in rural places is an endless source of fun, but the results were all rubbish this week. Oh well. My excuse is that it’s hard to stand up and hold a camera straight in high winds.
I managed to do some work. Here’s a bug I thought would be intereresting to write about here, but quickly realised wouldn’t. Sometimes I need to make the computer calculate the bearing/heading/direction of a bus, to make the little arrow on the big map point in that direction. I do so with some trigonometry I copied and pasted from somewhere, and it works – but recently sometimes it hasn’t been. In a half-awake state this morning, it dawned on me why not: sometimes it’s calculating the angle between two identical pairs of coordinates, because somewhere I’m making the computer compare a string representation of a datetime with a datetime, and they’re never equal. A classic mistake. Cool story, bro.
My cultural highlight of the week is the stylish thriller Deutschland 86. So far, it is stylish and thrilling. It reminds me I can’t remember much of Deutschland 83 now, but does that matter? I don’t think it matters.
Some years ago, I went to Italy.
I saw some nice sculptures, and some tremendous frescoes –
hey, why wait for plaster to dry before painting on it? –
but what really stuck with me was some paper towels.
You must understand that paper towels are often emblazoned with patterns.
Toilet paper is often embossed –
with little pictures of dogs, for example, which is quite a strange thing to wipe one’s bum with, isn’t it? –
and so are paper towels (also known as “kitchen paper”), sometimes with the added use of ink.
The Italian paper towels that really stuck with me were decorated with pictures of elephants holding watering cans.
I’m uncertain about a couple of things:
whether the elephants were holding the watering cans with their trunks or their forelegs,
and whether they were decorating the actual paper towels or the plastic packaging.
As you might expect, I’ve done some research:
I think the towels were purchased from Conad, a Bolognese cooperative which isn’t, as you might expect, a conflation of “Conan” and “gonad”.
I’ve found evidence of two paper towel brands in Italy who’ve depicted elephants on their packaging:
Lucart’s Tenderly brand – which also does facial tissues and toilet paper – has an elephant wearing a chef’s toque on some of its kitchen roll packaging:
Kimberly-Clark’s Scottex brand is used for toilet paper –
it’s a cousin of the Cottonelle and Andrex used in other countries, even using the same picture of a labrador –
but there’s also Scottex kitchen paper, whose mascot is an even less realistic picture of an elephant:
Scottex’s elephant is much more versatile, a true polymath – seen here in a Spanish graphic standing on its hind legs, wearing a chef’s toque, holding a wooden spoon with a foreleg:
…here holding a paintbrush:
…and here standing on one leg, using an excessive amount of paper:
But there’s no evidence of either elephant mascot having brandished a watering can.
And if it’s been scrubbed from the web, then I’m not surprised, because what message is an elephant using a watering can supposed to send out?
Elephants are renowned for their trunks, proboscises that can suck up water – a bit like what a paper towel can – and squirt it out – a bit like what a watering can can.
Showing an elephant using a watering can, as if human-made technology is somehow superior to an elephant’s trunk, seems like some kind of imperialism. 12
Which makes me think of flypaper.
Now, it’s taken me so long to finish writing this that the unpopular winged insects have faded into obscurity for the winter.
But earlier, they would swarm all over any unattended biscotti, strudel, etc at a moment’s notice, so catching them seemed like the right thing to do.
Nature has some fine ways of catching flies: there are the Venus flytrap and other carnivorous plants, and there are spiders’ webs.
But we think we have to improve on that by covering strips of paper with invidiously sticky glue, and dangling them from the ceiling.
As you might expect, I’ve done some research, and found that the satirist Craig Brown wrote a frivolous piece for his column in the wretched Daily Mail: “Why I get a real buzz out of fly-paper”.
Brown observes that flypaper is an effective means of stopping flies defecating on your custard slice, strawberry tart, etc, but that it’s unfashionable compared to alternatives such as electric flyswatters.
Sure enough, most shops don’t sell flypaper. My local convenience store, which has room for five kinds of hummus, sells fly spray but not flypaper.
Like the perverse selection of pasta shapes – sometimes the only option is fusilli, the worst pasta shape – the availability of fly spray baffles me, because I don’t understand the appeal of spraying poison into the air. Brown writes:
Fly-sprays are always an option, of course, though whenever I use them they trap me in their fall-out: I look up towards the ceiling to check how many flies are spiralling to their deaths, and a great nuclear cloud of lavender-scented mist descends on my eyes, to a chorus of malicious chuckles from all the surviving flies.
Eventually, I found a retailer that retailed flypaper, and noticed that the most prominent language on the box was not English but German:
We’re so used to having special anglophone packaging, with foreign languages confined to small writing on the back – but apparently the English-speaking market for flypaper is too small.
Meanwhile, German-speaking people seem to have more correct tastes in fly-extinction merchandise. (The Wikipedia article about fliegenfänger is a bit more detailed than the flypaper one.)
Isn’t it interesting how different countries are different? Another difference being the use of elephant mascots by the paper towel industry.
Anyway, one of the readers’ comments on Brown’s article reads:
What a dull non story. 5 minutes of my life I’ll never get back.
Unless the elephant has a disability, and the watering can is an assistive technology that lets it enjoy the same activities as able-trunked elephants.
In which case we should celebrate this large mammal cyborg. ↩
The depiction of the elephant standing on its hind legs, holding tools with its front foot, is also disquieting.
A true elephant would walk on all four legs, and use his or her trunk to hold stuff.
But the illustrators of the paper towel show it behaving like a human, as if it’s better and aspirational – two legs good, four legs bad. ↩