26 February 2010

Oceania's 11

This week, the Words & Fixtures cultural excursion was to the theatre, dahlink. We went to see an adaptation of George Orwell's novel 1984; the "world premiere", in fact. It was the preview public performance, which technically isn't really first night, it's more of a last dress rehearsal but in front of "real people". It was well acted and executed (apart from being a tad on the long side), and, as I've come to expect of the Royal Exchange having been a regular visitor over the years, good use was made of the space (it's in the round, y'know), with some inventive set changes and appropriate props. Unfortunately, there was what appeared to the cast and crew to be a major technical hitch in the second half, which flummoxed the stage manager somewhat and stopped the show in its tracks for ten minutes or so, but which really didn't make a jot of difference to the audience, who took the mishap with good humour and a chance to record the problem on Twitter.

Anyway, as my memory's not as it once was, I seemed to have forgotten how the story concluded, which I suppose could be construed as not such a bad thing after all. Perhaps I fell asleep when I watched the film with Hurt and Burton. I certainly haven't got that far with the book, which I must have been reading for about four years and which I now realise I have mislaid. Note to self: maybe it's at my summer residence. Oh, maybe.

The part that always raises a knowing smile from me, however, is when Winston bumps into Syme in the canteen and they discuss the 11th edition of the Newspeak dictionary. The joy and enthusiasm with which Syme explains "the destruction of words" is somehow nicely ironic, given that Orwell is an author and must, ergo, like words. I just thought I'd share that with you. Intellectual, aren't I?

'We’re getting the language into its final shape – the shape it’s going to have when nobody speaks anything else. When we’ve finished with it, people like you will have to learn it all over again. You think, I dare say, that our chief job is inventing new words. But not a bit of it! We’re destroying words – scores of them, hundreds of them, every day ... It’s a beautiful thing, the destruction of words. Of course the great wastage is in the verbs and adjectives, but there are hundreds of nouns that can be got rid of as well. It isn’t only the synonyms; there are also the antonyms. After all, what justification is there for a word which is simply the opposite of some other word?'

Here's a list of Newspeak words. Very efficient.

The cover, by the way, is the British first edition, published by Secker and Warburg in 1949. If my recollection of an English Lit class about Orwell (we studied Animal Farm, but the teacher was contextualising it) is correct, he wrote the book during 1948 and simply transposed the numbers to get a date in the near future. A useful snippet of information that may one day be of assistance in pub quizzes.

22 February 2010

A downwards glance

I've been into maps for a long time; probably since knocking around the great Wirral sprawl where I was brought up. I got a map of the area from an estate agent and carried it about in my bike basket as I cycled around the sweeping streets of the vast 60s estates exploring as far as the edge of alien green fields.

I like the hidden details maps reveal and the fact that they are so quickly rendered out of date by urban development, change of usage or land reclamation. Topography offers a glimpse into the past: OS Explorers often show Iron Age settlements in the remotest of places while urban A-Zs magic up historic rail and road networks.

At sea, maps are called charts: refer to them otherwise and expect to be scowled at. There's stacks of interesting features you get on charts that you don't get on maps, like submerged wrecks and underwater cables and submarine training areas. Nautical charts also show water depths and drying heights, so mariners can work out if they'll be beached when the tide goes out.

Back on dry land, and I'd heartily recommend the fantastic, free Mapping Manchester exhibition at John Rylands Library on Deansgate - it's even been extended until 28 March by popular demand! The show includes plans of the redevelopment of Hulme, sketches of the proposed route of the Ship Canal, diagrams of the Belle Vue Zoological Gardens; even a drinking map of the city. There are photos from a bygone era, artists' impressions of a future transport system, and a Soviet facsimile for possible invasion forces. It's so absorbing, I've been back for seconds.

20 February 2010

Fast food notion

At the risk of sounding obsessed with takeout, I'm sharing this T-shirt with you. It's on Threadless, a cool Chicago-based site where you get the chance to submit tee and hoody design ideas, which the "community" then votes on to decide which ones get made up! Anyway, fast food and fonts is a winning combination, I'm sure you'll agree, and Burgervetica, designed by David Schwen (who is also modelling it), got through to the production stage. Tasty!

19 February 2010

Beware: loose chippings

Appropriately, the end of National Chip Week has fallen on a Friday. The latest in a long list of dates dedicated to random everyday things, National Chip Week has its own website (thanks to the magic of PR) and even a "Chip-tionary" (inward groan) of terminology from around the sceptred isle.

Modern English Language Professor Clive Upton is quoted as saying: “It’s interesting that the word ‘chip’ is almost universal across the country, except where it’s been Americanised as fries, but it is in the language surrounding the chip’s accompaniments and serving methods that regional phrases appear. For example, what they call a chip butty in the south of England will be known as a chip cob in the Midlands and a chip barm in Manchester.”

There used to be a splendid chip shop in Chorlton that had a side room where you could dig in to your supper while enjoying the tropical fish, Coronation Street on loop, Stella on tap and choice of optics for "un petit digestif". Sadly, it's now a fancy antiques shop, but Beech Road Chippy still does a nice line in mushy peas while the newly opened Atlantic Fish Bar on the main drag has haddock the size of whales. My favourite chipshop name has to be The Codfather, out on the other side of Stretford. I also like the moniker Chippery, which I've only ever seen in Lancashire's Longridge.

18 February 2010

The lady doth protest...

The People's History Museum reopened at the weekend, after closing in 2007 for a top-to-toe overhaul and the addition of a completely new structure to the old building. The juxtaposition is intriguing: inside, the red brick, steel girders and green and yellowy tiles, a bit like those lining the walls at the Victoria Baths, contrast pleasingly with the white walls, brushed silver metal detailing and fancy big plate glass windows looking over to the funky new filing cabinet courts. Outside, the oddly bulbous rusted cladding is a strange addition to the original two storeys, but it tones in somehow and at least it's something different in these days of homogeneous architecture.

Unfortunately, the displays themselves are a little less impressive than the place in which they're housed. Despite the bespoke space, the objects on show and information boards seem a bit crammed in and it's also so dark I found myself modelling an unattractive squint most of the time. Nonetheless, downstairs in the Changing Exhibition Gallery, the current show Carried Away is an interesting collection of black and white photographs taken at demos in the 70s and 80s; the Greenham Common protesters held my attention for a while there.

17 February 2010

Ice magic

It would be rude not to mention the Winter Olympics, wouldn't it? Apart from anything else, it has raised the serious issue that I don't know what the term is to describe someone or something from Vancouver: Vancouvian? Vancouverian? Vancouverite? Canadian? I looked up "Vancouver" and "adjective" online and was simply informed that Adjective are a post-punk musical combo from Vancouver. I pursued this line of investigation no further.

Whatever. We're here to talk about figure skating. Figure skating is a secret love of mine, if only one that shows up every four years when the Winter Olympics are in town. You can't deny the glamour of it: all those sparkly skintight rigouts (the men), the blood red talons and American tan tights (the women), the baited breath, the adoration, the furs, the flowers, the fabulous Clare Balding.

So there was I, watching the "free" skating (just like the Clipart image above), when I began to notice how intriguing the crazy names are for all the figure-skating techniques the artistes stack their performance points up with. Triple toe loop, twin triple twist, double axel, salad bowl (well, I may have misheard that last one)... The list goes on, and everything in the list, it turns out, is classified into sub-lists. I am going to be swotting up here, where I may have also inadvertently stumbled across a new true love: synchronized skating. Awesome.

14 February 2010

Tri as you might

Last week, I learnt the word "tripoint", which is the place where three countries or counties meet.

It first cropped up on University Challenge: a starter for ten was to identify the city at the tripoint of France, Germany and Switzerland. The answer was Basel.

Having been slightly obsessed with Cairo, Illinois, since going to the Cartwright and Jordan Cornerhouse exhibition on Thursday, I've been looking at various maps and information on the town, and discovered that it too is located at a tripoint: where Illinois, Missouri and Kentucky come together.

It got me thinking about other tripoints, and I remembered visiting Alfred's Tower some years ago. I like follies and this one sits on the border of Somerset and Wiltshire on the Stourhead estate, with a panorama that takes in the tripoint of Somerset, Wiltshire and Dorset. Check out the aerial photos on the official King Alfred's Tower website: not only is the tower located at a tripoint, it is also triangular in plan.

12 February 2010

Walk like an Egyptian

I'll admit I was a tad reticent about going to see Cairo - The breaking up of the ice at the Cornerhouse. Firstly, I'm not all that into video art, and this show revolves around a short film. Secondly, the exhibition is a collaboration between Jacob Cartwright and Nick Jordan, the latter being someone I know by association. I therefore neither wanted to cause offence if I didn't like what I saw nor did I want to say I loved it, darling, just because I happen to know one of the artists by sight.

I needn't have worried myself. It's actually a fascinating collection. The film of the title takes centre stage, with various artworks, found objects and background information supporting it, and providing emotional depth and historical insight.

Cairo is a ramshackle town in the Deep South, which grew up at the convergence of the rivers Mississippi and Ohio; an important trading point, once. At its zenith, in 1907, paddleboats clogged the waterways and the town boasted 20,000 residents; 100 years later, only 3,000-odd people remained. Extensive flooding, economic recession and social decline had done their work, and Cairo (2009) features various shots of tumbleweed strips not unlike those usually seen in gunslinger movies.

Every year, the Illinois midwinter causes the waters of these mighty rivers to freeze, and it was the tale of the entrapment of French-American savage ornithologist (he shot specimens to draw them for his revered reference book Birds of America) John James Audubon's flat-bottomed "barque" in 1809 that sparked this installation. Cairo follows on from two other Cartwright and Jordan shorts about Audubon, New Madrid and West Point, and completes The Audubon Trilogy.

The back story of Audubon is interesting, but it's the wonderful juxtaposition of Cartwright and Jordan's varied observation of the demise of a civilised world with the triumph of nature that makes the project truly remarkable, and totally original.

The show runs until Sunday 28 February in Gallery 1 of the Cornerhouse. Entry is free.

10 February 2010

Poster boy

Photograph: Albert Exergian

Captioned as "Damn, damn fine" by The Guardian, on whose website it appears alongside a further 14 Albert Exergian offerings, including a pretty natty Battlestar Galactica number.

I found this collection of modernist TV posters by pure chance. I'd actually gone to look at a gallery of John Nettles photos, in tribute to him hanging up his Midsomer Murders gloves. Sob. I'm a sucker for Bergerac; both the detective show set in the Channel Islands and the robust red wine.

05 February 2010

Freaky Friday

I've been farting about with fonts a lot lately. I'm working on an exciting new project that the team is currently building a brand for, and fonts have been at the forefront of our thoughts. I used to know lots and lots and lots about fonts, but I've been noticing a surge in new offerings recently, perhaps due to developments in DTP. I remember when everyone ran screaming from Quark a couple of years ago someone mentioning InDesign has more scope for creativity with this kinda thang.

Anyway, I thought I'd share my current favourite: Mental Freak. It has a great name, and I really dig the hand-drawn cartoony feel. I'm also quite liking Action Jackson (another fab moniker) and 3D Blocky.

Illustration © Rodrigo German, contact: rodrigo_comics@hotmail.com

03 February 2010

Glocal warning

Buzzword of the week is "glocal". It was in that Up In The Air movie I was harping on about yesterday (since announced as a nominee for the Best Picture gong in the upcoming Academy Awards; obviously my glowing review must have swayed the judging panel). The young upstart teaches the old dogs new tricks by informing them that they need to be moving from thinking global to thinking local: in other words, they need to go glocal.

Glocal is also the title of my Chorlton pal Jeff Heie's short film, which had a successful Big Green big-screen premiere on Saturday night. It tells the true tale of an American family's move to Manchester and their attempt to lead a more sustainable existence. Giving up a gas-guzzler for a bunch of bikes, swapping supermarkets for local shops and foregoing fast food in favour of homegrown produce, the Heies show how easy it is to break free from the consumption-obsessed lifestyle so common in the West. We're hoping to show it again at the main day of Chorlton's Big Green Festival on 27 March - come on down and you may even be lucky enough to see some of the stars on the green carpet!

02 February 2010

Not such an airy-fairy idea

I went to see the movie Up In The Air on Sunday. It stars Mr George Clooney; perhaps you've heard of him? I thought it was very good: a few interesting observations, a bundle of laughs, a mean little twist, even a sassy haircut courtesy of Vera Farmiga. Perhaps one of the things I liked best, however, was the opening sequence.

Film credits are very important to setting a scene and style; they shouldn't be underestimated. Miss the start of a film and sometimes you miss the very essence of what it's all about and where the director is coming from. You usually get good opener action with indie flicks. The titles for Up In The Air were shot for director Jason Reitman by Shadowplay, some short film-maker mates of his, who "came up with this idea of vintage moving postcards". They've created a clever montage of lots of bird's-eye views of the good ole US of A; a theme repeated throughout the feature as the characters dart about the continent's major conurbations via American Airlines.

You can check the moving images out here, or, indeed, by going to the cinema and watching the film while it's still on. I found these stills for illustration purpose at a nice little blog called Blueberry English; go visit for more design-related delights.

01 February 2010

Emergency exit

It's February already, so only a month before culture is booted out of the glossy glassy Urbis building by football. It's definitely not worth crying over spilt milk - the petitions have been signed, the letters have been written and even the obligatory Facebook group has been joined - but when I popped into Urbis on Friday, I'm afraid I just wasn't sad enough to shed a tear for anything much.

Maybe it was a nagging headache that made me disinterested in the hip-hop show (even listening to a bit of Ruthless Rap Assassins for old time's sake was dampened by the fact that the footage wasn't in synch with the music). Perhaps it was the slight back-slapping feeling to Urbis Has Left The Building (still a great title, though). Even the Ghosts of Winter Hill did little to exorcise my bad mood, such was the overwhelming sensation that all Mancunian TV amounts to is Coronation Street and what looks more and more like an enforced, bitter relocation of certain BBC departments to a blustery campus stuck out at a tram terminus in Salford Quays. I did like the mock-ups of front rooms through the decades, however, and a wonderfully named episode of World In Action about the Crescents called No Place Like Hulme. See, it's not all negative.

And I have seen plenty of good stuff at Urbis in the past; from potting sheds about sustainable urban gardening to fabulous Matthew Williamson frocks. It's just a shame Urbis is leaving the building seemingly by the back door, but then I suppose being sent off early is never going to be the glamorous way out.