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Monday, September 15th, 2014
10:46 pm - Various emotions
I have received academic correspondence!

Two German psychology students emailed me because they wish to use a photo I took as part of their diploma theses. But why? What place have photographs in a thesis, which should be just words of four or more syllables, and maybe a scattergraph?

Well, these intrepid students believe the photo I took may be capable of "triggering various emotions". I've had emotions, and I didn't like them, so to be honest, these students seem like reckless meddlers. But then, they are asking my persmission for using a photo which is already Creative Commons-licensed, so they also seem over-cautious. So I'm thinking they'll probably trigger the various emotions safely, into a jar.

Godspeed, German under-graduates! This is the photo they will be using:

It is definitely going to help humankind "better to understand human emotions and in the long run contribute to research into certain mental illnesses".

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Thursday, May 29th, 2014
11:08 pm - VANDRING RAV
This is Ikea's Vandring Räv children's quilt cover:

Doesn't it look all woodlandy and idyllic? Doesn't it look conducive to a restful and refreshing sleep, such as you might expect if an elf were to chloroform you with an extract of moss?

But look closer and you'll see that no one is getting to sleep here:

No one:

Why? Could it be the casual reminder of the unpleasantness of predation?

Not really. I'm not sure kids really think of flies as being alive anyway so they probably don't care how many hours it takes them to die, pumped full of spider poo poo, and even the artist hasn't bothered to give them any eyes.

What about this cute little frog, though?

Aw, is it going to be friends with the hedgehog?


How about this happy family scene?

Those chicks absolutely look like their parent, don't they? Not like vampire cuckoos or anything.

I wonder if this is why our daughter nudged all our other babies out of the window?

Worst of all are these marching ants:

Marching ants! Such an obvious design to put on something you cover your body with while you sleep. I'm not sure it's popular with this fox.

I do hope if my daughter ever has to go through Calpol withdrawl, she does so when this marching ants duvet is in the wash. And we have the Nick Cotton one on instead.

And just look at the state of this owl:

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Thursday, March 6th, 2014
11:05 pm - Ready. And steady. And get set go.
The other day, my daughter lined up her entourage of toy companions in a row and told me, "They are watching television, daddy."

"What are they watching?" I asked, hoping it wasn't True Detective. I don't need some cuddly corduroy robot telling me how it transcends its tropes.

"Um... Magazine and Poo Poo," she said.

Magazine and Poo Poo? Where did that come from?. It must be something she watches with her mum. I thought I'd check it out on iPlayer:


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Tuesday, July 16th, 2013
11:08 pm - Brand disintegrity turns the milk chocolatey
I can't decide whether Sainsbury's are being incredibly lazy or incredibly ballsy with their own-brand cereal mascot. His* name is... Captain Cereal. That's either a will-this-do? concept shrugged out by whatever low-bidding agency** handles Sainsbury's own-brand portfolio, or a massive flag on a spike planted through the eye of Cornelius the Kellogg's Corn Flakes hen, claiming all cereal throughout space and time for Sainsbury's.

Here is Captain Cereal standing on the back of a packet of Sainsbury's Shreddies analog:

Oh... oh, god, we've come across Sainsbury's own-brand's mindfucking messaging before... According to the conventions of cartoons, Captain Cereal is thinking that Captain Cereal is saying that reading is really cool. But Captain Cereal is not actually saying that reading is cool, he's just thinking that he's (weirdly, in the third person) saying reading is cool.

I don't know what is going on here. Captain Cereal is, one imagines from his attire, meant to be some kind of superhero. But the only superpower he seems to have is supershyness! He's too timid to even assert a liking for his hobby. Maybe he's worried Tony the Tiger will overhear and give him a wedgie? WHAT KIND OF A SUPERHERO CEREAL MASCOT IS THAT???

*Of course it's a he - the world of cereal mascotry is terribly patriarchal, although apparently Crackle identifies as two-spirit.

**An agency that probably doesn't even supply its creative executives with free cereal - and I have it on good authority that creative executives' brains can't even pump interstitial fluid from one lobe to the other unless fuelled by all nine varieties of Krave.

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Thursday, July 4th, 2013
11:30 pm - I can lock all my doors
I learned* Illustrator the other week. You can use Illustrator to draw anything. Anything! But mainly, according to the tutor, cars.

Most of his examples were based around drawing cars.
Circle tool. "Imagine you're drawing the wheel of a car..." Pen tool. "Imagine you're drawing a sinuous curve... like on a car." Exporting to print. "Imagine you want to print a pdf of your image, to look at in your car."

It wasn't a problem, this quirk,** really, as you have to practice drawing something, and cars are made of up of basic shapes and need colouring in etc. So very quickly we learned to do something like this:

And then over the last week or so I've got quite into practising. It's great fun - I can't draw with my actual hands but by cybercheating, astonishing photorealism is within my grasp, look:

I was trying to do a bowl of fruit, but I think that's a lot more impactful, don't you? I'm going to send it to Richard Hammond so he can use it as his screensaver.

*Did a two-day course and got a certificate in.
** I was a bit more nonplussed when at the end of the course he said, to the woman who had been wearing PVC platfrom Docs and skull earrings the whole time, "So, would you call yourself a goth?"

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Tuesday, May 21st, 2013
9:54 pm - Aquarium Review Corner
Whenever we go on holiday, we try and visit an aquarium. I can't really swim, so aside from prawn cocktail crisps, these Embassies of Neptune's Realm are really the only way I am going to find out about the fascinating sea animals, sea creatures, sea beings etc. that live - scientists believe - in the sea.

So last week while in Dorset we naturally took the chance to visit Lyme Regis Marine Aquarium in Lyme Regis, Dorset.

The first thing you notice about Lyme Regis Marine Aquarium is it's a pretty small aquarium. If you printed out the website of the Lyme Regis Marine Aquarium and laid the pages out on the floor, they would cover a greater area than the actual aquarium they advertise. If you then got some felt tips and drew a bunch of fish on the pages, you would have a better and less harrowing aquarium than the Lyme Regis Marina Aquarium.

The aquarium's USP is they have some mullets in a sort of trough (the website calls it a 'lagoon') and you can feed them. I don't know if you have ever seen a mullet? If you haven't, picture a normal fish. Just a normal fish, the kind that you find in shoals, grey, no glowing bits, pretty much THE MOST STANDARD FISH YOU CAN IMAGINE.

But now... picture a mullet eating.

That's right, they just use their mouths.

'It takes about eight years to train them,' said the aquarium man as he stuck his hand, full of planktons, into the trough and a bunch of mullets came and ate them. 'No other aquariums bother to do it.'

The remainder of the aquarium is a bunch of tanks, no bigger and a bit filthier than you might get in a pet shop, in which languish various other sad-looking fish and crustaceans. Philosophically speaking, it's debateable what level of consciousness and capacity for feeling cooped up the delicious brains of these kind of creatures have, but I don't know, if you're running an aquarium you should probably make sure a crayfish has space to stretch its antennae out without touching the sides of its tank. It helps to avoid an overall ambience which makes a toddler whose favourite book is Tip Tap Went The Crab (A Counting Story) shake her head and say 'No, no, no, no.'

The Lyme Regis Marine Aquarium is about five yards from the end of the Cobb off of which Meryl Streep threw herself and I don't think that can be a coincidence.

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Saturday, December 29th, 2012
11:55 pm - Fashion: A Personal Journey in Four Snapshots (Unillustrated)
1. Denim jacket (c. 1981)
The first item of clothing I can remember expressly asking for, as opposed to just passively receiving, was a denim jacket. I wanted a denim jacket so I could be more like Welsh communist Shakin' Stevens. I was Shakin' Stevens' biggest fan! I didn't have any of his records as such, but I did have a poster of him. I say poster, it was half a page cut out of Look-In showing the lyrics to 'Green Door' with a photo of Shakin' Stevens sitting inside a concrete pipe. Did Shakin' Stevens live in a concrete pipe? His Wikipedia page doesn't say. Maybe he lived in a concrete pipe while his house was being renovated.

I really wanted to look like Shakin' Stevens.

A year or so later, I still wore (and presumably fit into) the denim jacket, but I was less concerned about resembling Shakin' Stevens. I decided I'd make the look more my own by pinning all the badges I owned* onto the back of it in the shape of an 'R' (my initial). I'd guess there were 30 or 40 badges. All different kinds - a Close Encounters of the Third Kind badge, a Darth Vader badge, a badge in the shape of one of the butter golems from the Country Life adverts, a furry Gnasher badge with googly eyes - it didn't matter what they were, it was the overall form of the constellation that was important.

You might be imagining what this jacket looked like and mocking olden days me but remember this: before the end of the decade, grown adults were wearing jeans with massive transfers of Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble on the front.

Even though I was only about ten at the time, I knew the best fashions are practical as well as stylish, and I remember thinking the 'R' made out of badges (which made the jacket uncomfortably heavy to wear) would make good armour against anyone shooting or stabbing me from behind.**

Shakin' Stevens was convicted of drink-driving in 2002 and banned from driving for two years.

Reactions: I don't remember anyone directly commenting on my denim jacket, either with the 'R' of badges or without. But when I wore it, every 20 seconds or so, I would do that move Shakin' Stevens did of sort of going up on my toes, jamming my knees together and putting one hand behind my head, causing my grandad to ask, 'Is there something wrong with that boys legs?'

*Apart from the cloth Snowdonia National Park patch I'd got my mum to sew onto the denim jacket's arm - that would have been too much of a hassle to move.

**I just tried to work out what armour class an 'R' made of badges would give you in Dungeons & Dragons, but it looks like they've changed the system between editions and I got confused.

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Wednesday, August 22nd, 2012
10:57 pm - In The Night Garden - a guide (part 7)
With its treacly pace and reassuringly consistent structure, In The Night Garden is perfect for winding its young audience down; indeed, it's currently shown in CBeebies' Bedtime Hour. What this means is most parents won't get to the end of each 30-minute episode - they'll be putting their child to bed by the third time the Tombliboos' trousers fall down.

If you do get to the end of an episode of In The Night Garden, you'll get to meet Shunka Warak'in:

'Who's here? Oh Jesus fuck - it's Shunka Warak'in!

When Shunka Warak'in appears, Derek Jacobi sings reverentially:

Yes, I'm Shunka Warak'in
Shunka, chunka, chanka-chin
My jaws will rend you limb from limb
Hungry Shunka Warak'in!

Then the puppet wolf makes its reassuring, regular rounds of the Night Garden, hunting down, killing and eating Igglepiggle and all of his friends (aside from one of the Pontipine children, who it leaves alive as a witness).

Here it is stalking Makka Pakka:

There's no escaping Shunka Warak'in, not even on the Pinky Ponk:

If you do end up watching to the end of an episode, why not play a game with your child where you both guess who Shunka Warak'in will leave alive the longest, so it can toy with their body and fling their steaming string innards all over the Night Garden as the credits roll?

Read part 1 - Igglepiggle
Read part 2 - Makka Pakka and Upsy Daisy
Read part 3 - the Tombliboos
Read part 4 - the Ninky Nonk and the Pinky Ponk
Read part 5 - Jacobi's special list
Read part 6 - The Pontipines and the Wottingers

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Thursday, August 16th, 2012
11:38 pm - In The Night Garden - a guide (part 6)
Who's here?

Inevitably, it's the Pontipines.

Derek Jacobi always introduces the Pontipines thus:

The Pontipines are friends of mine
Although they're only small
And even when there's 10 of them
They're hardly there at all
[My emphasis and existential horror]

In fact, aside from angstrom goats, the Pontipines are the smallest known living organisms:

They are so small, they can only be filmed using an electron microscope:

A runner prepares a slide of Pontipines for a scene with Makka Pakka.

As evidenced by their unusual costumes, headgear, and reckless number of offspring, the Pontipines are members of the New Birtzentruber sect of Pentecostal Christians. They are forbidden from using any technology invented after 1607,* which is why whenever the large electric bell attached to their house goes off they perform a ritual dance of cleansing.

Next door to the Pontipines live the Wottingers:

Equally tiny, the Wottingers belong to the Old Birtzentruber sect of Pentecostal Christians, forbidden from using any technology invented before 1607.** Most episodes featuring both Pontipines and Wottingers focus on extremely tetchy and detailed arguments on the precise Biblical definition of a lawnmower, and when Mr Wottinger will get his back.

*With the exception of Mrs Pontipine's binoculars, a gift from Bill Oddie.
**With the exception of clothes, a gift from Bill Oddie.

Read part 1 - Igglepiggle
Read part 2 - Makka Pakka and Upsy Daisy
Read part 3 - the Tombliboos
Read part 4 - the Ninky Nonk and the Pinky Ponk
Read part 5 - Jacobi's special list
Read part 7 - Shunka Warak'in

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Monday, August 6th, 2012
10:31 pm - In The Night Garden - a guide (part 5)
Acclaimed actor Derek Jacobi is the narrator of In The Night Garden. As such, he enjoys full access to the set and a close relationship with its stars, as this chart, discovered in his dressing room, reveals...

Derek Jacobi holds two knighthoods, one Danish, one British.

Read part 1 - Igglepiggle
Read part 2 - Makka Pakka and Upsy Daisy
Read part 3 - the Tombliboos
Read part 4 - the Ninky Nonk and the Pinky Ponk
Read part 6 - the Pontipines and the Wottingers
Read part 7 - Shunka Warak'in

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Thursday, August 2nd, 2012
10:55 pm - In The Night Garden - a guide (part 4)
There are two means of transportation in the Night Garden: the Ninky Nonk and the Pinky Ponk. These very similar names often confuse tourists.

The Ninky Nonk is a sort of semi-runaway train:

The Ninky Nonk doesn't run on rails - it has free rein in the Night Garden, and indeed careens up tree trunks, along branches etc, with scant regard for the safety of its passengers. It is the main issue holding back the Night Garden's application for full membership of the European Union (see 'José Manuel Barroso Makes Igglepiggle Sad').

Repetition is a big part of In The Night Garden - and while this can be trying for parents, Ragdoll Productions explain they repeat elements because it is reassuring for their target audience of toddlers. Accordingly, the Ninky Nonk is a touchstone in the structure of the programme. Most episodes begin with the Ninky Nonk rushing through a hedge, and all end with Makka Pakka singing his song while sponging the remains of unlucky Pontypines from its wheels.

The Pinky Ponk is an airship:

Its livery and varied aeronautical accessories are colourful and charming, but this wasn't always the case. The Pinky Ponk began life in the Third Reich as the Graf Zeppelin II, plying the airways between Berlin and New York. In 1938, it was hijacked by the Wottingers who brought it through time to the Night Garden, where it was refitted by the Haahoos (see 'Have You Had A Lovely Holiday, Mr Wottinger?').

The Wottingers pose for a snap before overpowering a squad of SS guards, stealing their uniforms, infiltrating the Friedrichshafen hangar and making off with the Graf Zeppelin II.

Read part 1 - Igglepiggle
Read part 2 - Makka Pakka and Upsy Daisy
Read part 3 - the Tombliboos
Read part 5 - Derek Jacobi
Read part 6 - the Pontipines and the Wottingers
Read part 7 - Shunka Warak'in

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Monday, July 30th, 2012
10:51 pm - In The Night Garden - a guide (part 3)
The Tombliboos are a trio of stripy idiots:

They live in a large green mound-like nest which they built themselves by chewing up the covers of Penguin crime books to form a sort of papier-mâché:

While the Tombliboos are intelligent enough to appreciate Dorothy L Sayers at some rudimentary level, they have not been able to construct a doorway through which they can comfortably fit. Within, the nest is a squalid midden of stale pretzels:

Even though the Tombliboos built their own nest and the Night Garden has no functioning economy or legal system, Mr Pontipine has managed to convince them that he is their landlord. Many episodes cover their disputes (see 'The Tombliboos Pretend To Be Out', 'Mr Pontipine's Angry Mustache' and 'Tombliboo Eee Smacks A Bailiff').

The Tombliboos set about Mr Pontipine after he refuses to fix their boiler in the controversial climax to 'Jello Biafra Comes To Stay'.

Here is the Tombliboos' greeting ritual:

Ragdoll Productions claims the striking similarities to the secret customs of the Freemasons are entirely coincidental.

Read part 1 - Igglepiggle
Read part 2 - Makka Pakka and Upsy Daisy

Read part 4 - the Ninky Nonk and the Pinky Ponk
Read part 5 - Derek Jacobi
Read part 6 - the Pontipines and the Wottingers
Read part 7 - Shunka Warak'in

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Thursday, July 26th, 2012
12:17 am - In The Night Garden - a guide (part 2)
Who's here?

Look, it's Makka Pakka.

Makka Pakka, usually about half the size of Igglepiggle, is a cowed figure, skulking around the Night Garden with his pathetic trolley or 'Og-Pog', washing stones and the faces of the other Night Garden denizens with his sponge or 'Agga Pang', compulsively stacking rocks. While outwardly presenting a stoical bearing, Makka Pakka is clearly riddled with feelings of inferiority and unworthiness. He occasionally toots on his trumpet or 'Hum Dum', but his heart is not in it. He lives in a dank cave.

What horrific spirits haunt Makka Pakka's that so compel him to appease them with towers of stones?

What visions of foul pollution drive him to wash everything in sight?

What have these eyes seen?

What have these eyes seen?


The answer comes in episode 113, 'Makka Pakka's Visitation':*

This is Upsy Daisy:

I don't like Upsy Daisy.

*An episode unusual in having no music or Derek Jacobi narration. The only sound in the entire 29 minutes is a deep tolling bell.

Read part 1 - Igglepiggle
Read part 3 - the Tombliboos
Read part 4 - the Ninky Nonk and the Pinky Ponk
Read part 5 - Derek Jacobi
Read part 6 - the Pontipines and the Wottingers
Read part 7 - Shunka Warak'in

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Monday, July 23rd, 2012
10:47 pm - In The Night Garden - a guide (part 1)
In The Night Garden is a series first broadcast in 2007 on CBeebies, aimed at those jaded, old-before-their-time babies whose televisual palates have grown weary with traditional conventions of plot, narrative dynamics, physics and consistent scale.

The programme stars an unemployed matador, Igglepiggle -

- who lives in a wood, like a bear or a tramp.

Why did Igglepiggle lose his job? In The Night Garden isn't big on backstory, but we can guess it has something to do with his terrible brain condition. Note his characteristic 'bean-shaped' head:

The damage is clear on this MRI image:

We can see how both the frontal and temporal lobes on the right-hand side of the brain are 'squished' inwards, putting enormous pressure on the amygdala. Igglepiggle is a textbook case of 'Stoved-in Syndrome', and exhibits typical symptoms: cheerfulness, forgetfulness, repetitive behaviour, arithmomania, and auditory hallucinations of the voice of Derek Jacobi questioning his every action. None of these qualities are welcome in the demanding workplace of the modern bullring.

In The Night Garden is produced by Ragdoll Productions and written by the ghost of Dennis Potter.

Read part 2 - Makka Pakka and Upsy Daisy
Read part 3 - the Tombliboos
Read part 4 - the Ninky Nonk and the Pinky Ponk
Read part 5 - Derek Jacobi
Read part 6 - the Pontipines and the Wottingers
Read part 7 - Shunka Warak'in

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Sunday, July 22nd, 2012
11:23 pm - Rationing Facts #1
Did you know? From 1940-47, more than a million babies in the UK were conceived using powdered ant semen.*

Precious human semen was gathered and used as an emulsifier for pig feed. This famous poster encouraged men to 'do their bit' for the war effort:

*From May 1944, the Ministry of Health could boast 'less than 30 antennae per 1,000 live births'.

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Thursday, July 19th, 2012
11:46 pm - The Minotaur Malfeasance
I quite enjoyed Robert Harris's The Fear Index by professional thriller writer Robert Harris.

What if computers go wrong? It doesn't bear thinking about, does it? Wires everywhere.

But I was especially pleased to see that professional thriller writer Robert Harris chose to end The Fear Index with the exact same highbrow classical allusion that we used to end our spoof thriller, A Shot Rang Out. Well, professional thriller writer Robert Harris didn't put any quadruple agent ballerinas at the end of The Fear Index, but it's basically the same.

I'm very glad we were thinking along the right professionally thrilling lines. And I've made professional thriller writer Robert Harris a more appropriate cover for The Fear Index.

Hope he likes it!

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Thursday, June 21st, 2012
9:50 am - I can only apologise

Really, the language she picks up at Monday Munchkins.

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Thursday, June 14th, 2012
11:11 pm - This Vienetta is simply divine
How come everyone seems to think country suppers are somehow a signifier for posh?

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Sunday, June 10th, 2012
10:46 pm - This may look like a game...

...but if her concentration lapses for even a second, all the nuclear reactors in Britain will go into meltdown.

There isn't even a box-out on this in What To Expect When You're Expecting.

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Wednesday, May 23rd, 2012
10:56 pm - Delectable pellets
I reckoned Internetsbaby probably knows enough about what kind of noises animals make by now, so I thought I'd start her on vehicles. After all, she's coming up to Piaget's third stage of development (HGV licence).

Beep! Beep! looked like a good primer:

It's got all the vehicles - cars, lorries, steam trains humanely transporting circus elephants in special padded carriages etc. etc.

Now, as a parent, I expected it would be some years before my daughter was learning about stuff I didn't know. But on page five of Beep! Beep! what should I be confronted by but an owl driving a steamroller:

I thought I knew quite a lot about owls - they have exceptionally rotational heads, they sometimes have tufts, they only go either 'too wit' OR 'too woo', NOT BOTH* - but I had literally no idea they sometimes drive steamrollers.

Of course, now I think about it, it makes a lot of sense. It's easy to imagine an owl crashing silently through a forest at night on enormous iron wheels as silent as two dandelion spores colliding, manic, silent cackles echoing silently round the cab, before parking silently in a barn and silently scraping crushed mammal carcasses from the merciless metal cylinders of silent death with its beak and tongue.

I don't know why I hadn't thought of it before, to be honest, I mean, look, its skeleton is perfectly adapted to such behaviour:

I wonder what that owl is thinking?

*If you hear 'too wit, too woo' that is TWO OWLS.

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