Tuesday, November 30, 2010

A Serge for all seasons

I had a go at doing my first caricature the other week. I decided to do it digitally as I'm not confident enough with the paints yet. And I decided that my subject would be the late French singer, actor, musician and womaniser Serge Gainsbourg. Why? To demonstrate a point.

The Draw Serge blog is a splendid archive of Gainsbourg portraits curated by artist Jonathan Edwards. The fascination for me is seeing how different artists - all with unique vision and using a range of media - interpret the same subject. I've been trying to make the point in previous blogposts (notably here) that there is no such thing as a bad artist. There is no benchmark against which all other art is measured.

There is no good art. There is no bad art. There is only difference and personal taste.

Among this ... what would be the collective noun for Gainsbourgs? A louche perhaps? Among this louche of Gainsbourgs I can absolutely guarantee that you'll find ones that you love and others that you dislike or just 'don't get'. That's fine. If I were to take 25 readers of this blog at random, I'd put money on them all liking different pieces. That's the nature of art. It's personal. How we relate to a piece is unique to each and every one of us. Consequently, when we create art we shouldn't be thinking in terms of 'Will people like it?' (unless of course it's for a paying client with specific needs and tastes). We shouldn't be comparing our work against the work of others. There's only one you and there's no benchmark of you-ness. How can you compare unlike with unlike? Instead you should be thinking, 'Do I like it? am I proud of what I've done'.

Once you learn to love what you do and to Hell with everyone else, you'll be an artist.

Sunday, November 28, 2010


Well done to Jenette Passmore for winning the 1000th Blogpost challenge. The correct answers were:

(1) Charlie got my allocation of wine.
(2) Trina.
(3) A tragedy by Theophile Marzials.

The prize will be in the post tomorrow.

This edition of Joined-Up Thinking differs from the published version in that it has a different back cover and a strapline on the front cover. Also it boasts of a foreword by my good friend John Lloyd - the quiet genius behind Not the Nine O'Clock News, Spitting Image, Blackadder and, of course, QI. Sadly, due to other pressures, John couldn't do a foreword in the end so the only proof that it nearly happened is this cover.

And, as I mentioned before, the book has a bookplate by me inside plus some original artwork.

Congrats again to Jenette.

I've quite enjoyed this. I may do more competitions.


Friday, November 26, 2010

New painting: The Owl and the Pussycat

Here's my latest painting; my take on the Edward Lear poem (Click to see a larger version).

It's been an interesting piece and I've learned some new techniques and experimented with different media. In the main it was painted onto a prepared box canvas using a mix of acrylics by Boldmere, Crawford and Black, and Daler Rowney. Some of the finer detail was then picked out using Winsor and Newton inks and Posca pens.

The poem is three verses long and I chose to illustrate the first:

The Owl and the Pussy-Cat went to sea
In a beautiful pea-green boat:
They took some honey,
and plenty of money
Wrapped up in a five-pound note.
The Owl looked up to the stars above,
And sang to a small guitar,
"O lovely Pussy, O Pussy, my love,
What a beautiful Pussy you are,
You are,
You are!
What a beautiful Pussy you are

I decided, for originality's sake, to have the pussycat feel seasick. After all, cats and water rarely mix well. And then I wondered what to do in terms of sex ...
Have you noticed that in almost every visual interpretation of The Owl and the Pussycat, the owl is male and the cat female? On what evidence is that assumption based?

The poem never uses he or she, his or her. The only evidence seems to be the use of the words 'beautiful' and 'elegant', both of which could be applied equally to male or female owls or cats if they have splendid coats or wonderful plumage. I also can't help but note that 'How charmingly sweet you sing' doesn't sound like a lady talking to a bloke does it?

Then there's the fact they get married - so the assumption is that they're one of each sex (this was the late 1800s after all). However, you'll note that it's the cat who proposes to the owl and not the other, more traditional, way round. Perhaps it was February 29th? And it's not made clear who gets the ring from the piggy. In the end I plumped for 'sexually ambiguous'.
You can see a series of pics showing the development of the painting here. I've created a new blog called The Runcible Spoon and would invite any anyone and everyone to submit a piece of art based upon the work of Edward Lear. Nothing will be turned away. Everything is valid; it's a celebration of the man after all. I want to see drawings, paintings, sculptures and collages, digital art, knitted art and anything else you can think of.
It's endlessly fascinating to see how different people approach similar subjects.
Get submitting!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Artist of the Week: Bobby Chiu

I've been a fan of Bobby Chiu for several years and was delighted to meet him in 2008 at the San Diego Comicon. I bought a couple of his prints, bagged myself an original sketch and generally acted like a rather pathetic little fan boy. It's quite humbling to meet someone so damned talented who's half your age.

There's a playful sense of humour in everything that Chiu does, no matter how serious (there are few of them) the subject. I'm particularly fond of his pictures that depict a kind of evolutionary arms war between different imaginary creatures. It's cutesy but not too Disney cutesy.

If his style looks a little familiar it's because he was one of the concept artists on Tim Burton's recent re-imagining of Alice in Wonderland. The frumious bandersnatch in particular is pure Chiu.

Chiu is part of Imaginism Studios, an excellent cooperative that not only publishes prints and sketchbooks but runs tutorials too. Check it out here.

The 1000 Blogposts Competition

Okay. This is my 1000th blogpost and to mark the occasion, here's a little competition. What follows are three questions, the answers to which can be found somewhere in the previous 999 blogposts. They shouldn't be too hard to find if you use the search box (top left of page) or even Google.

Question 1: Why was Charlie Brooker smiling at the Viz 30th birthday party?

Question 2: In the Twitter musical or Shoperetta, who sang the line: 'On to Aisle Five where some brat's done a pee ...'?

Question 3: What is my favourite worst poem of all time?

The winner gets a rather special signed copy of my book Joined Up Thinking. It's the hardback edition and one of only two in the world with a variant cover (I have the other). It was printed before the design was finalised. The book also has a bookplate designed by me on the first page. I'll also throw in some original artwork.
Email me the correct answers at Stevyncolgan@mac.com. I'll pick a winner at random from a fez on Sunday 28th November.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Brace yourselves ...

No, this isn't some oblique reference to my previous occupation as a flatfoot, rozzer or bizzy. This is my 999th blogpost ... and that's an occasion worth marking.

I started this blog back in 2006 to share some thoughts, promote my artwork and writing, to bring other people's work to public notice and to share the kinds of stories and facts that I find interesting. Four years on and I'm still blogging along and have no intention of stopping as long as people continue to pop in, have a read and leave a comment or two to let me know they've stopped by. The comments aren't as numerous as they used to be - I guess those young upstarts at Facebook and Twitter have taken some of that away - but I still have some readers. And, to reward them for their much-appreciated interest, the next post - NUMBER 1000 - will feature a competition with a very personal prize.

Keep a look out in the next few days ... And thanks for reading.


Some great design

Scary advert for the Maximum Ride series of kids' books by James Patterson, which features kids who are part human and part bird.

Brilliant use of a billboard by Amelie.

TV remote cushion by Brookstone.

Great Clearex spot cream commercial by Shalmor Avnon Amichay/Y&R Interactive in Tel Aviv.

Music Balloon speaker by Poketo.

Thanks to Szymon Blaszczyk for making me aware of them.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

New Painting - Stripes are so Slimming

Why is it that all of the fattest foods come in striped packaging? Quite pleased with this one.

Late night/ Early morning funny stuff

Feeling insomniac and in need of a laugh I thought I'd share these - some of the worst pirate DVD covers ever. For loads more, click the link here.

Or how about some of the worst Russian wedding photos ever? More here.

And, finally, an assortment of funny pics I've been sent by email or picked up somewhere along the way. Enjoy.

Four more posts until I hit my 1000th blogpost. Expect a competition!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Painting update

As some of you who've been popping in on occasions know I've been teaching myself to paint. It's a bit of an uphill struggle as it doesn't come naturally to me but I'm really enjoying the challenge. Today it's two months since I started in earnest so I thought I'd take an inventory (click on image for larger version).

There are five finished pieces so far and four WIPs. The first one I completed back in September was (1) which I called Norf and Sahf. It was inspired by seeing two almost identical blokes verbally abusing each other simply for supporting different football teams. But for an accident of birth they could have been born on the same side of the river Thames and may even have been friends. I was unhappy with the finished piece because I ended up using black outlines which was a cheat. I can already do illustration work. I want to be able to paint.

So I then started painting (7) Stripes are so slimming. This came about when I happened to see a large gent eating a KFC from a striped box, drinking milkshake from a striped cup and with a striped Tesco carrier bag full of cakes and goodies. I was very pleased with the face but then put it aside as I was afraid I'd bugger it up before I'd learned a bit more about shading to give depth and volume to the body. Instead, I worked on (4) The cat who got the cream and (2) Stop crime! simultaneously. Both pictures were the result of watching TV; firstly an episode of Masterchef Australia when a judge described a chef's smugness, and then a repeat of the Father Ted episode called Old Grey Whistle Theft. I finished Cat first, which I'm quite pleased with, and then Crime which I'm not too keen on at all. I may go back to it or even start from scratch.

(3) came next and I called it Wicked thoughts. It was a cannibalised canvas that already had all of that red and orange and gold all over it. It had some weird textures too as if molten plastic had been run down the canvas. It's okay but started veering towards an illustration again. The outlines are too black.

I started (9) Two tourists a week or so ago and they are caricatures of two blokes I saw in a pub in London. The two red boots pictures (6) Puddles and (8) Fetch were both started in 2006 during a previous attempt to learn to paint. I've resurrected both and am hard at work on them.

Finally we come to the bleak and rather scary canvas that is (5). I painted it last night in about half an hour having drunk too much after a genuinely rotten day. I assume my subconscious wanted to nail my dark thoughts to the canvas. Who knows? All I'll promise is that I'll try not to have too many days like that in the future!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Artist of the Week: Walter Langley

I agonised over my choice of artist this week. I had five or six I'd shortlisted. Then friends on Twitter suggested some excellent candidates including Gillian Wearing and the extraordinary 3D drawings of 17 year old Chilean artist Fredo. In the end I plumped for an artist whose work means a great deal to me and yet you probably haven't heard of him.

It was impossible to grow up in Cornwall with an artistic dad and passionate art teachers and not be aware of the Newlyn and St Ives schools of painting. 'Schools' is maybe too strong a word as there was no real physical grouping of individuals. Rather, they were like-minded artists who formed colonies at around the same time. We use the term 'schools' because what they did wasn't as grand as a movement like cubism or modernism. They didn't change the direction of art. What they did do was demonstrate how different artists can be inspired by and represent the same subject matter in a myriad of different ways. The St Ives school is most famous and featured the likes of sculptor Dame Barbara Hepworth, potters Bernard Leach and Shoji Amada, painters Alfred Wallis and Patrick Heron and many others. They came to notice in the late 1930s and achieved great success in the 1950s and 60s. Much of their work is now on display in Hepworth's house and the stunning purpose built Tate Gallery St Ives.
Meanwhile, over near Penzance, the Newlyn school (and the nearby Lamorna group that included Laura Knight, 'Lamorna' Birch and Alfred Munnings) had been working steadily since the 1880s with a stream of artists all drawn to the area for the quality of the natural light. Among their numbers you'll find such people as Stanhope and Elizabeth Forbes, Harold Harvey, Norman Garstin and the wonderfully named Albert Chevallier Tayler. They also had Walter Langley.

Walter Langley (1852 – 1922) was born in Birmingham and at 15 was apprenticed to a lithographer. At 21 he won a scholarship to South Kensington and he studied design there for two years. The sometimes highly ornate work is mainly in gold and silver and in a Renaissance style. He returned to Birmingham but took up painting full time, and in 1881 was elected an Associate of the Royal Birmingham Society of Artists. In the same year he was offered £500 for a year's work by a Mr Thrupp (a Birmingham photographer). With this money he and his family moved to Newlyn where he was one of the first artists to settle.

Politically left wing for his era, he was noted for his social realist portrayals of working class figures, particularly fishermen and their families. He was a supporter of Charles Bradlaugh a radical socialist politician. Many of his paintings reflect his sympathy with the working class fisher-folk amongst whom he lived. One of the best known is his 1883 For Men Must Work and Women Must Weep (see next picture) based on Charles Kingsley's poem The Three Fishers (1851).

Although one of the first to settle in the Newlyn artists' colony, Langley initially benefited little from its growing fame, partly because of his working class origins and partly because until 1892 he painted largely in watercolour rather than the more prestigious medium of oils. But his early training in lithography gives his paintings a detail and texture that show his technical skills.

Later in his career his reputation grew. One of Langley's paintings was singled out as 'a beautiful and true work of art' by Leo Tolstoy in his book What is Art? while in 1895 Langley was invited by the Uffizi to contribute a self portrait to hang alongside those of Raphael, Rubens and Rembrandt in their collection of portraits of great artists.Today his work is considered vital to the image of the Newlyn School and, alongside Stanhope Forbes, the most consistent in style and substantial in output.

There are several reasons why I love Walter Langley's work so much. Firstly, it's watercolour for the most part. I could never get the hang of oils as a kid - I'm only just coming to grips with them now - but I could use watercolour. What Langley showed me was that watercolours weren't all wishy washy pastel shades and indistinct outlines. His paintings, while muted in colour due to the transparency of the paint, are nonetheless superbly detailed and beautiful. The second reason I love his work is that I could see it every day. I lived in Penzance for a few years and the walk from my house to my best friend's house took me through Penlee Park. There you'll find Penlee House Gallery & Museum and many of his, and other Newlyn School artists', work is on display. It was free and I popped in there all the time. There was, and still is, another gallery in Newlyn itself and that was just a short bicycle ride away. Thirdly, and most importantly, I suppose, the people in his paintings are just so damned real. Yes, there is a degree of romanticising in all paintings but Langley's work doesn't lay it on with a trowel. The people he painted look completely grounded in the visceral realities of working class life in a fishing village. They're so real that I can almost hear them and the locations are all familiar to me; Langley painted in the towns and villages I grew up in.

I have two excellent books about Langley. One is The Shining Sands by Tom Cross which looks at both the Newlyn and St Ives schools in detail. The other - my favourite - is Walter Langley: Pioneer of the Newlyn Art Colony by Walter's grandson Roger. The latter is a superb catalogue of his work and really quite hard to find. BBC4 has been showing some excellent art programmes in its Thursday 9pm slot for the past few weeks and I understand that soon there will be a show about the Newlyn School. I'll be glued to the set.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Your starter for 10 ... The Answers

And here, as promised, are the answers to Wednesday's quiz ... plus a few interesting snippets:

Round 1 – Animal Vegetable Mineral

Q1. Rosemary (from Ros-marinus). Rosemary (Rosmarinus Officinalis) evergreen needle-like leaves related to mint.

Q2. Answers vary but the most commonly cited figure is (d) 95% (Note: In this week's episode of First Life, David Attenborough said it was 80%. If this is more correct, answer (d) is still closest). There are approximately 10 quintillion (10, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000) individual insects alive on this planet at this exact moment. 10% of the total biomass of life on Earth is made up just of ants. That's more than the total biomass of all the humans that have ever existed (approximately 90 billion). There are more insects in one square mile of empty field than there are people in the world. By comparison, we humans make up just 0.33% of the animal biomass - and there are six billion of us. We don’t even know how many species of insect exist; new beetles are discovered at a rate of one an hour. There are 350,000 named beetles, plus perhaps eight million more as yet unnamed; if you lined up all the animal and plant species in a row, every fifth one would be a beetle.

Q3. Approximately two million. Or one if the flower and the bee are both immortal! However, the bee would still need to make two million trips to that flower

Q4. (c) Cranberry - In botany, a berry is defined as a single fruit with seeds inside, not a composite of lots of smaller fruits. All of which means that, technically, a lot of the things we call berries – like strawberries, blackberries and raspberries - aren’t berries at all. True berries include grapes, blackcurrants, gooseberries, cranberries, lychees, guavas, aubergines, tomatoes, peppers and avocados.

Q5. Pearls and amber. Pearls are made by certain shellfish by covering foreign objects in mother of pearl or nacre. Amber is fossilised evergreen tree sap.

Q6. A cat or a dog as food for the lions. The menagerie boasted lions, leopards, lynxes and camels and a tiger that probably inspired William Blake to write his poem ‘Tiger tiger burning bright'.

Q7. It goes through the digestive system of an animal before it gets to you. The Asian Palm Civet (Paradoxurus hermaphroditus) eats coffee cherries from the coffee plant and the enzymes in its stomach digest the outer fruit. They then break down the protein in the seed (the coffee bean), which reduces the bitterness of the flavour. The civet then excretes the beans and they are harvested from the animal’s droppings to be made into coffee.

Q8. (a) A grapefruit - A Blue Whale’s throat is small because it eats only Krill and other very small animals. It’s tongue is the same weight as an elephant and 50 people could fit on it. Its heart is the size of a Mini and its aorta is large enough for a small child to crawl through. A Blue Whale can live for 110 years. The sound of a blue whale may reach 188 decibels, making it louder than a jet, which is 140 decibels.

Q9. (a) a drift of ... quail, (b) an intrusion of ... cockroaches, (c) an unkindness or conspiracy of ... ravens

Q10. The Pinta Island (Galapagos) tortoise - There is only one left alive called ‘Lonesome George’. The species was considered extinct until 1971, when George was found. Since then, the Charles Darwin Research Station, Santa Cruz, has been searching for a female tortoise, even posting a reward of $10,000 for anyone who can find one. It's possible that they're out there as, historically, many tortoises were taken from the island for meat or as curiosities. If they do find a female, it may be possible to save the species. Even if George isn't up to it (he is aged between 60 and 100), they have his sperm on ice. Very recently a male tortoise from Prague Zoo called Tony has been identified as a possible second male survivor of the species. Work is ongoing to confirm the genotype. Meanwhile, there is some suggestion that a viable female may exist on the neighbouring island of Isabella as cross-breeds between the local tortoises and the Pinta islnad tortoise have been discovered.

Round 2 - Victoriana

Q1. Sir Edward Elgar – He was a huge fan of Wolves and would often cycle 40 miles from his home in Malvern to watch the team play.

Q2. William Henry Smith (1825-1891) – The younger W H Smith became the Conservative MP for Westminster 1868. He swiftly rose to become Treasury Minister in Benjamin Disraeli’s parliament and, in 1877, First Lord of the Admiralty despite having no military or seafaring experience. It is firmly believed that he was the model for Sir Joseph Porter, the ‘Ruler of the Queen’s Navy’ in Gilbert and Sullivan’s comic opera HMS Pinafore. W H Smith also created the world’s first chain store when he opened newsstands at railways stations. The store still has the railway franchise to this day. He also commissioned the creation of the ISBN code for cataloguing books.

Q3. The creation of a new sewer uncovered a charnel house beneath the chapel. It was estimated that around 12,000 corpses rested in a space just 59’ by 12’ and covered with just a sprinkling of earth. Apparently, the smell was so bad at times that parishioners frequently passed out. The place was run by a Baptist minister Mr Howse who charged just 15 shillings per burial – other churches nearby charged over a pound (St Clement Danes £1 17s 2d adults and £1 10s 2d for children). Sixty loads of dirt and human remains were thrown into the Thames in 1842. Some was used as landfill at Waterloo Bridge. In 1847, four cartloads of bones were removed and reburied at Norwood cemetery. The discovery of Enon Chapel was a major influence in reforming the burial laws.

Q4. McLean’s attempted assassination of the Queen at Windsor Railway Station on 2nd March 1882 resulted in a change in sentence for those found to be criminal lunatics, from being ‘not guilty by reason of insanity’, to becoming ‘guilty, but insane’. The motivation for the law change came from Victoria’s response to McLean’s not guilty verdict: ‘Insane he may have been, but not guilty he most certainly was not, as I saw him fire the pistol myself.’ Queen Victoria suffered several assassination attempts during her reign – three times in 1842 alone - mostly from subjects who, if not legally insane, were certainly considered to be so. McLean was sent to Broadmoor after his trial and remained there until his death in 1921.

Q5. As an anaesthetist during childbirth. Snow was a leading exponent of the use of chloroform and personally administered to the Queen when she gave birth to the last two of her nine children, Leopold in 1853 and Beatrice in 1857. At the time, the church was oposed to pain relief during childbirth on the grounds that God told Eve in Genesis that: ‘In sorrow and pain shalt thou bring forth children.’ Victoria was prescribed Cannabis for menstrual cramps by her personal physician, Sir Russell Reynolds.

Q6. Technically, in 1966. Under the Treaty of Perpetual Peace between Henry VII of England and James IV of Scotland in 1502, Berwick Upon Tweed was given a special status as being ‘of’ the Kingdom of England but not ‘in’ it. As a result the town thereafter needed special mention in royal proclamations. Consequently, when Queen Victoria signed the declaration of war on Russia in 1853, she did so in the name of ‘Victoria, Queen of Great Britain, Ireland, Berwick-upon-Tweed and the British Dominions beyond the sea.’ But Berwick was not mentioned in the Treaty of Paris that concluded the Crimean War in 1856, leaving the town technically still at war with Russia until a peace treaty was signed by a Russian diplomat and the Mayor of Berwick in 1966.

Q7. Hawker’s Hut is on the cliffs near Morwenstow, Cornwall and is just a little smaller than a bus shelter. It was buily mainly of timber and driftwood is partially built into the hillside (earth sheltered) with a turf roof. Parson Hawker spent many hours in the Hut writing poems and smoking opium. Visitors to the Hut during Hawker's time there included Alfred Tennyson in 1848 and Charles Kingsley. Hawker was a noted eccentric who dressed in a yellow poncho, pretended to be a mermaid to freak out visitors, had a giant pig as a pet and who excommunicated a cat for mousing on a Sunday.

Q8. For being lost most of his professional career. During his expedition of 1812 his colleagues had to light beacons in the evening to guide him back to camp. One night he failed to return and a search party was sent out. As it approached Nuttall assumed they were Indians and ran away. The annoyed rescuers pursued him for three days through bush and river until he accidentally wandered back to camp. Another time Nuttall was so tired he lay down, he looked so pathetic that a passing Indian picked him up, carried him to the river and paddled him home in a canoe.

Q9. Le Petomane, which translates as ‘Farting Maniac’. He was famous for his remarkable control of the abdominal muscles, which enabled him to fart at will. He could play tunes, imitate animal noises and blow out a candle from several yards away. The climax of his act was an anal impression of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. It is said that Prince Albert hired him to hide under the table while Queen Victoria was having dinner and fart ‘Rule Britannia’ at an appropriate moment.

Q10. In his autobiographical dictations, Mark Twain boasted that ‘I was the first person in the world to apply the typemachine to literature.’ He started typing occasional letters on an early Remington machine in 1874, and by all accounts was the first author ever to have a manuscript typed. He remembered it as the manuscript of Tom Sawyer (1874), but according to typewriter historian Darryl Rehr, the book was Life on the Mississippi (1882), and the machine was a Remington No. 2. (One point for either answer).

Round 3 - Wordsmithery

Only one definition of the following obscure English words is true. Tick the one you think is correct.

Q1. Abligurition - (D) Spending a huge amount of money on food.

Q2. Anglewitch - (B) A worm used as fishing bait.

Q3. Bloviate - (B) To speak in a pompous or overbearing way.

Q4. Festuceous - (A) Straw-like.

Q5. Impignorate - (A) To pawn or mortgage something.

Q6. Mulligrubs - (B) The blues, a state of misery.

Q7. Nudiustertian - (C) Relating to the day before yesterday.

Q8. Pilliver - (C) A pillowcase.

Q9. Tittynope - (B) A morsel left on a plate.

Q10. Umquhile - (D) Former or previous.

Round 4 - Picture this …

Q 1-4. (A) Luciano Pavarotti, (B) Paris Hilton, (C) Amy Winehouse, (D) Johnny Cash, (E) Sarah Jessica Parker, (F) Kurt Cobain, (G) Brian Warner (Marilyn Manson), and (H) Pamela Anderson.
Q5-6. The first picture is of the fairy chimneys at Goreme, Capadocia, Turkey. The formations are called ‘Hoodoos’ and are created when soft sedimentary rock is capped by harder rock. The second picture is the Crooked House at Bohaterów Monte Cassino Street, Sopot, Poland. It was constructed in 2003 based on drawings from Jan Marcin Szancer and Per Dahlberg.

Q 7-8. (A) A fly’s foot, (B) A human hair follicle, (C) Velcro, and (D) Pollen.

Q9. William Patrick Hitler. William Patrick was the son of Adolf’s half-brother, Alois, and his Irish wife Bridget Dowling. They had met in Dublin in 1909 and eloped to Liverpool where William was born in 1911. Anecdotal stories tell of the young boy being known as Billy or Paddy Hitler. After the outbreak of World War II, the Hitlers moved to America where William served in the US Navy and the Naval Medical Corps. He was used in several US propaganda films where he was seen berating and taunting his uncle. After the war, and with the Hitler name forever stained with the blood of millions, William became William Stuart-Houston. He married, had four sons and moved to Long Island, New York, where he set up a business analysing blood samples for hospitals. He died in 1987 and is buried alongside his mother, Bridget, at Holy Sepulchre Cemetery in Coram, New York. A Broadway show called ‘Little Willy’ tells his life story.

Q10. Thunderbirds. (Sir Walter SCOTT, TRACEY Emin, Dorothy PARKER, Robin HOOD, VIRGIL, TIN TIN.)

Round 5 - Not So General Knowledge

Q1. The doctor gave me two tablets for my head/face.

Q2. 893 is the literal translation of Yakuza – the name of the so-called ‘Japanese Mafia’. The name ‘Yakuza’ comes from a card game called Oichu-Kabu and literally translates (in old Japanese) as eight nine three (Ya Ku Sa). This is the worst hand of cards you can have during the game. Therefore, it is the hand that requires the least luck to win and, if you get it, needs the most skill to outmanoeuvre the opponent. Yakuza see themselves in the same way. The hand is sometimes called ‘good for nothing’.

Q3. (b) 1868 - Interestingly, capital punishment was abolished in the UK in 1964 but it did still exist for certain military and treasonable offences until the Human Rights Act of 1998 abolished it completely. The gallows were only dismantled and removed from Wandsworth Prison that year.

Q4. ‘Set’. It has 58 uses as a noun, 126 as a verb and 10 as an adjective. It takes the OED 60,000 words to explain it.

Q5. Adolf Hitler, as the man who ‘for better or worse’ (as Time founder Henry Luce expressed it) had most influenced events of the preceding year. The cover featured Hitler playing a ‘hymn of hate in a desecrated cathedral while victims dangle on a St. Catherine's wheel and the Nazi hierarchy looks on.’ This picture was drawn by Baron Rudolph Charles von Ripper, a German Catholic who had fled Hitler's Germany.

Q6. Vengeance (Vergeltung).

Q7. Do you want to know a secret? What goes on? Why don’t we do it in the road? (No points for How do you do it? as that was written by Murray and Faith).

Q8. Your wife. If you killed your husband it would be mariticide. Other interesting ones include: Neonaticide (killing of an infant less than a month old), Parricide (killing your father, mother, or other close relative or a person whose role resembles that of a father), and Prolicide (killing offspring either before or soon after birth). Stephen Fry once said that ‘countrycide’ was killing Piers Morgan.

Q9. Idaho is probably just a made-up word created as a practical joke. In the early 1860s, when the United States Congress was considering organising a new territory in the Rocky Mountains, eccentric lobbyist George M Willing suggested the name ‘Idaho’, which he claimed was derived from a Shoshone phrase meaning ‘the sun comes from the mountains’ or ‘gem of the mountains’. However, this later proved to be untrue and Willing admitted that he had made up the name himself. But by then the name was in common usage and had stuck. Real examples include Michigan, which comes from the Ojibwe term mishigami, meaning ‘large water’ or ‘large lake’ and Texas is named after the Hasinai word táysha which means ‘friends’ or ‘allies’.

Q10. The Bell family. Adrian Bell invented The Times cryptic crossword. His daughter Anthea Bell and Derek Hockridge) are the translators who turn the original French humour of Asterix the Gaul into English humour. They invented many of the brilliant puns in the names. Anthea’s brother (and Adrian’s son) is Martin Bell, former war correspondent, independent MP and UNICEF ambassador.


The male psyche - a seven year old boy explains

Via Justin McElroy on Plixi.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

My mention on QI

Here's the moment in the recent QI H Series episode Humans when Steve Colgan was on Stephen Fry's lips. Oo-er. The question begins around 5 minutes 20 seconds in.

The story behind the artwork is here. And you can see the artwork again on this panel (below) from the Horsefeathers spread (page 87) in the new QI H Annual.

My thanks to Waynesayonara to posting it to YouTube.

End of the Attenboroughnian Era

I've just watched the second and final part of David Attenborough's final original series First Life. It's a shame the series was so short but I suppose that there's only so much enthusing a man can do over protozoans, bacteria and sponges. But two episodes are better than none so kudos to the great safari suit wearing national treasure. Those first dramatic several billion years in the history of life are so often sidelined by more charismatic mega-vertebrates like the dinosaurs.

I was especially delighted by episode two and the CGI reconstructions of the bizarre creatures of the Burgess Shale fossil bed (If you've never heard of them, have a quick squint at my previous blog post here). If you ever wanted a better example to support an argument against Intelligent Design (ID), the Burgess Shale is perfect. What we have here (and supported by similar fossils from other shale beds) is undeniable evidence recorded in solid rock of a vast, sudden evolutionary explosion. Why would an intelligent designer create so many different variations of body plan and form and then consign nearly all of them to the dustbin? Every vertebrate on this planet, every creature with a backbone - mammals, reptiles, birds, amphibians, fish, monotremes - are all descended from a flat, worm-like, ribbon of a creature called pikaea; the first chordate that we know of. But pikaea is just one of hundreds of species represented in the Burgess Shale; creatures like opabinia with its five eyes and grasping Hoover extension-like claw. Opabinia was an evolutionary dead end like 99% of the creatures represented in the Burgess Shale. The trilobites were, at one time, the most sucssful creatures on the planet; we know of over 17,000 species of them and yet the fossil record is probably just scratching the surface of the true number. And yet there isn't a single trilobite left alive today. In fact, they'd been extinct for 250 million years before we even evolved. Why would an intelligent designer waste so much time and energy? Or was it just that Noah couldn't fit them all on the Ark? (If you want to read my debunking of that whole story, see here.) Want some great trilobite websites? Then click here.

While we're talking about ID, I came across another particularly shiny nail in its coffin this week when proofreading a relative's dissertation for their degree course. She's a midwife and her essay was about the mostly preventable problem of thromboembolism during pregnancy and immediately after childbirth. I was fascinated to read that, 'Initially it is the production of progesterone which causes changes to the blood vessels and in later pregnancy, it is the gravid uterus that obstructs venous return, especially on the left side where the left iliac vein, the right iliac artery and ovarian artery cross over each other. This compression only happens on the left side, supporting the propensity for a deep vein thrombosis to occur in the left leg.' In case the jargon got in the way there, what she's saying is that an occupied womb can constrict certain blood vessels causing, in rare circumstances, a blood clot that can be fatal. Would an intelligent designer have made such a fundamental error? The fact is, we were shaped by evolution from creatures that used to run about on all fours with our organs suspended from our spines. With the move to upright posture, those same organs now hang in positions they weren't designed to and, regrettably, this sometimes results in medical problems.

David Attenborough may be retiring from our screens but he has done much to promote the public understanding of science. For that he should be applauded (Why isn't he a lord yet?). Meanwhile, it's left to us - those of us who have grown up watching his shows - to carry the message on into the future. Evidence not belief. Science not pseudo science and mumbo jumbo. Critical thinking and scepticism not blind, unquestioning indoctrination.

That's his legacy.

One picture tells the whole story

Oh alright ... a few more London arty pics

Two of three panels in cast iron set into the railings outside Guy's Hospital. Created by blacksmiths George James and Sons, the triptych is a memorial to Sir Thomas Guy, founder.

'Visions of theh canal' created by Stephen Lewis and children from Primrose Hill Primary School and set into the wall on the towpath of Regents Canal between Camden Lock and Regents Park.
Artwork by an unknown artist on the river Thames, Wapping Stairs.

The very curious giant tortoise sundial in Holland Park (photos by my friend Joel Meadows as mine were dark and horrid). Oddly ignored on the Sundials on the Internet website.

The Chiswell Street clock, City of London. Isn't it ghastly?

The Camel Corps Memorial by Cecil Brown, Victoria Embankment Gardens. Isn't it wonderful? It looks huge but the camel is only about 18 inches high. The plinth is five feet ten inches high. Weird perspective effects when you photograph it. Want to know more about our war memorials and where they all are? The official inventory is here.

Figure above the Black Friar pub, Queen Victoria Street near Blackfriars Bridge.

'The Flowering of the English Baroque', a splendidly mad bronze memorial to the composer Henry Purcell by Glynn Williams. Christchurch Gardens, just off Victoria Street, Westminster.

More soon.

Art hidden in plain view

After all of the anger and frustration of Friday's idiotic verdict in the Twitter Joke Trial, I thought we might have a bit of whimsy today. London is city where you can't walk more than ten yards without spotting some form of art. Over the years I've captured a lot of them on camera and here's a small selection of some you may not have seen before.

Horse and rider, Norwich Union Building, Croydon (artist unknown).

Alan Sly's 'the Window Cleaner', Edgware Road.

Royal Mint Street carpark boundary railings. Portraits of 72 local people by Hillary Cartmel.

The Michelin Building, Chelsea. Designed in 1910 by Francoise Espinasse. Is now the top notch restaurant Bibendum, named after the Michelin man logo himself. Did you know he had a name?

Giant leaf opposite the rear exit of Harrow On The Hill tube station. Artist unknown.

Bizarre and highly decorative Cannon, Horseguards Parade. It's actually the Cádiz Memorial, a French mortar mounted on a cast-iron Chinese dragon which commemorates the lifting of the siege of Cádiz in Spain in 1812.

Rudy Weller's 'Three gilded divers' high above people's heads on the corner of Coventry Street and Whitcomb Street, Leicester Square. See what you miss if you don't look up?

An air conditioning unit for Pimlico tube station in Bessborough Street. Cunningly disguised and turned into an artwork by Eduardo Paolozzi (the guy who did all the mosaics at Tottenham Court Road tube station).

Wonderful Art Deco shop front at the Royal Bank of Scotland, Cockspur Street (just off Trafalgar Square).

Arthur Sullivan's (of Gilbert and Sullivan fame) completely over-the-top memorial in Victoria Embankment Gardens. By W Goscombe Young.

A delicious little art deco hardware shop I spotted in Gloucester Road, SW1.

So there you go. Just a taster of what's on offer if you keep your eyes open. I have hundreds of shots like these. I may put some more up soon. Meanwhile, there are some great websites you can look at. One of my favourites is Chris Partridge's Ornamental Passions. Visit it here.