Yes, there's your Bond and your Bourne and your Harry Palmer. But if you really want action taken you need your Albert Campion.
This interview with Bill Drummond often pops into my mind. I like the strategies he tries out to deal with the musical abundance we live with these days, such as spending a year only listening to music beginning with B. I find that unless I trick myself into paying attention to music that I either just revert to tried and trusted favourites or let all sorts of new stuff drift by me an in ambient haze. Not really listening.
So I thought I'd try a 26 week experiment; listening to a new letter every week. Just to see what I notice. This is week A.
Projects for paying attention to attention. Those seem interesting now.
Being anxious middle-class parents we're always trying to find ways to trick Arthur into learning. Arithmetic has been a bit of a focus recently, school want him to be better at doing stuff in his head. There's not really a good way to practice that. If you throw random sums at him, or encourage him to count change or add-up number plates in the way you're supposed to (you know, 'make a game of it') he knows exactly what you're up to and refuses to play along.
Without really thinking about it I bought a dartboard on Saturday morning, just because it was cold and I knew we'd be stuck inside all day. And it turns out to be the perfect mental arithmetic tutor. Arthur loves darts (I think it's the magic combination of throwing, danger and the possibility of televisual fame). And he's doing maths in his head without even knowing he's learning. Ha! Next - the campaign for darts in schools.
Dave twittered this, the other day. Which got me wondering what the origin of the term was, what was the original thing with bells and whistles on it. Wondering aloud, that is, on twitter. Which led James to send me this link, which initially suggests it's a US train reference (as Meg had suspected) but then veers away at the last minute and plumps for:
"However, it’s more probable the slang sense of the term comes from that close musical relative of the calliope, the theatre organ. Extraordinary instruments such as the Mighty Wurlitzer augmented their basic repertoire by all sorts of sound effects to help the organist accompany silent films, among them car horns, sirens, and bird whistles. These effects were called toys, and organs often had toy counters with 20 or more noisemakers on them, including various bells and whistles."
A bit later in the day, however, another James was kind enough to consult some actual books - his OED and his Oxford Idiom Dictionary both of which suggest it originated "in allusion to the various bells and whistles of old fairground organs".
Which is right? Who knows?
A bit later, while deliciousing the worldwidewords link I realised I'd already tagged a couple of things with whistles. Including a lovely little post from the now sadly defunct MusicThing. Which led me to discover the parade of marvels you get when you type 'Acme Whistle' into ebay. I want all of them.
And it made me think of a thing I'd like to build. And I might actually be capable of doing. An instrument built only of bells and whistles. Anything else would be superfluous.
And then, a bit later, Dave twittered this:
I'm not saying this means anything much. Just that people are nice for sharing. And that when an idle thought gets sprayed round the web it can be more interesting than just keeping it in your head.
(And my silly headline has me fondly remembering the APT)
A powerpoint sketch for my Lyddle End house. If Archigram had had powerpoint, maybe they'd have actually got something built.
For some reason I've been paying more attention to building sites recently. Three in particular.
Noho Square has been of interest for a while because it's right next to our school and I walk past it almost every day. It's where the Middlesex Hospital used to be. It's been controversial, mostly because lots of the residents like to think they live in Fitzrovia rather than Noho. (Although we're embarrased by both and tend to say "just off the Euston Road".) We really paid attention when the demolition work started, because it really disrupted life at the school. And we were imagining what the subsequent building work was going to do. And then, just as the thing had been knocked down the credit crunch struck and the whole project ground to a halt.
I'm not quite clear who owns it now, and if anyone's got the money to develop it. Reports are confusing. But we're rather pleased that it's not dispruting the life of the school much. The joyful thing has been the way the lack of a hospital lets you see so much more of the sky. It's rather nice around there at the moment. And makes you realise, if you live your life in the middle of the city how deprived of long sight-lines you can be.
The shame that always strikes me though is what a waste this flat bit of nothingness is. Couldn't there be something better that could be done with it while the real estate people wait for the economy to get stupid again? It'd make a brilliant little park if you could quickly turf it over. Or stick some temporary astroturf on it or something. Someone needs to invent some sort of Temporary Playful Zone technology that can be deployed over bricks and rubble.
The other two sites are sort of related:
One's called Central St Giles. I walk past this a lot too. Again, I was excited for a while because the destruction of the previous thing opened up the sightlines to the back of Centrepoint - which has always been my favourite London building. (And which I keep writing about in the hope that I'll get an invite to become a member of Paramount)
St Giles and St Giles' Circus are the best sign-posted, least known places in London. There are roadsigns for St Giles' Circus all over Central London (at least I think there are, there used to be, but I don't drive enough to know any more) but if you ask most Londoners where St Giles' Circus is they won't know. I guess most people would call it Tottenham Court Road. The station below has usurped the identity of the land above.
I bet this'll get even more pronounced as Tottenham Court Road gets rebuilt and expands. (That's the other third one.) Seeing the Astoria shut and the shops close down along Oxford Street brings home how extensive it's going to be. I hope they don't close the snooker club.
Central St Giles is sort of interesting because it's a developer really flying in the face of psychogeography. That little bit of London seems to have a history of being a bit disastorous. It was once known The Rookery, and was one of Victorian London's worse slums. And the Centre Point bus station is a bit of a blight to this day.
Be nice to see if it really can breath new life into St Giles or if it'll just be more shops.
I've restarted the steady flow of tiny buildings into the postal system, so if you've not had yours yet, just hang on. Or, if you want to get your own, as Dom and gang have done, that'd be great. It's been a bit tricky to find overseas Hornby stores so participants outside the UK are going to get really small buildings in the post from me. I hope that'll be OK.
Obviously it's no longer realistic to expect everyone to be done by the end of January. So let's now say the deadline is the end of Feb. But, in the mean time, it'd be nice if everyone who's got a building would record it on flickr, perhaps write a note about their plans, or show their early thinking as Keiran has done. That we way can see who's playing and what progress is being made. Tag it lyddleend2050 and it should show up on the blog.
And, I think I should say that's it for new entrants. At least for buildings supplied by me. If you've emailled to date then you're in. After now, not so much. Though if you want to get your own then welcome aboard, hurrah.
Howies have been talking about this for a while now. And now they've done it. They've launched a range of stuff that is designed to be very long-lasting. They guarantee it for 10 years. So they've made very high quality stuff. Which is correspondingly expensive. But, as Matt points out, its sort of in-line with Bruce Sterling's last Viridian note:
"It's not bad to own fine things that you like. What you need are things that you GENUINELY like. Things that you cherish, that enhance your existence in the world. The rest is dross.
Do not "economize." Please. That is not the point. The economy is clearly insane. Even its champions are terrified by it now. It's melting the North Pole. So "economization" is not your friend. Cheapness can be value-less. Voluntary simplicity is, furthermore, boring. Less can become too much work.
The items that you use incessantly, the items you employ every day, the normal, boring goods that don't seem luxurious or romantic: these are the critical ones. They are truly central. The everyday object is the monarch of all objects. It's in your time most, it's in your space most. It is "where it is at," and it is "what is going on."
And I bought one of their backpacks and it arrived on Monday.
I've been a backpack junky for years. I must average about 3 a year. Looking for the perfect thing. Which is silly. So I'm going to stop and commit to this one bag. And I'm going to get rid of the others that are sitting under the stairs, in the garage, in storage at the moment.
(picture stolen from the Howies blog, hope that's OK)
Now, of course, Howies are not the first to make high-quality stuff, nor the first to guarantee it for a long-time, many things are guaranteed for longer, but what I like is the ceremony and expectation they're wrapping around the Hand-Me-Down range. Like this certificate of ownership thing in the jacket. (Though there doesn't seem to be one with the bag, which is a shame. Howies - is there one and I've just missed it?) This kind of pre-experience design creates expectations around the ownership experience; turns it from a product to a project. And I like the way they've not just abdicated responsibility for their stuff once they've sold it to you. You get a sense that there's a conversation integrated into the product. (Ah-ha).
So I've been thinking about how I can continue to projectise this product. And how this bag can have a 10-year + story. So I'm trying to add spimeiness to it and to use internet stuff as a memory aid for this thing. So, I've created a unique URL for it at thinglink, in the spirit of the skuwiki idea. And I've built a tumblblog for it at HMDbag.tumblr.com. That tumblr extracts things from flickr and delicious that I've tagged appropriately, so it's sort of self-generating. I imagine telling the story of the life of the bag that way, keeping it as a project not a product.
But what would be really nice would be if it could tell its own story more. Generate its own data. I could attach an RFID tag, but I'm not quite sure what would ever read it. I guess ideally it would have it's own GPS logging stick sewn in. Or something. The good thing though, about a 10-year + project is that you don't have to have it all sorted at the begining. When GPS tracking chips are cheap, robust and powered by eating lint I can just chuck one on.