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Showing posts from August, 2016

ON A PIECE OF PAPER I CAN SHOW IT TO YOU

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Don’t worry, I will explain what these five symbols mean later. Last Saturday, I returned from a trip to Winchester, ready to write about semi-detached houses, still overwhelmed by the surprise I came across there, while walking to the shops. From 2005 to 2007, I worked at the Portsmouth branch of Mail Boxes Etc., a business offering mailing, shipping and printing services, where I also designed business cards, menus, posters, and anything that needed a bit of design. Surrounded by university buildings, there was a brisk trade in printing end-of-year essays, and sending belongings back home. In 2006, to make our student shipping prices clear and simple, I designed a colour-coded map of Europe, with prices listed by colour. The colours I used – red, green, pink and amber - where to avoid confusion as much as possible, not because they were the nicest choices. After changing the top of the design, posters and flyers were printed up, and the word was spread. I remember we us

MY PINK HALF OF THE DRAINPIPE

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H ere is all I knew about semi-detached houses: I live in one; they are a quintessentially British way to build a place to live; and they are less desirable than a detached house, but more than a terraced house or flat. The last of these made me wonder what kind of question semis are trying to solve, and why the answer means they make up about a third of all the housing stock in the UK. The desirability factor can be seen on the map of any town, from as early as the nineteenth century – semis became a compromise between the rows of terraces found in the centre, and the larger detached houses found on the outskirts, where land was cheaper. This distinction has been muddied due to the spread of new semi-filled suburbs and estates, and the houses themselves being built at a lower cost, or lower standard. This is where I lose the point on why we build semis. If you look at one of the most important early examples, the Grade II-listed 3-5 Porchester Terrace, London W2,

IT'S TOO LATE TO BE LATE AGAIN

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Based on two song lyrics used as titles, and a quote about his tempestuous relationship with the saxophone, “David Bowie” is currently the third most searched term on this site. For someone whose work speaks to everyone, even a little of it goes a very long way. I switched on to Bowie very late – I don’t remember his albums in my parents’ record collection; my choice of listening when growing up in the 1990s was eclectic, but not yet wide enough; and when studying later, I buried myself in books on philosophy, psychology, art and postmodernism, along with William Burroughs and the other Beat Generation writers. However, when I did come around, mostly through Jonathan Ross rationing himself to one track per week on his old BBC Radio 2 show, I was primed to pick up on what Bowie wrote into his songs. Far from singing about more than just love, I was listening to an artist making sense of his world, his place in it, and ours, with one eye fixed firmly on what was coming over the h

WHAT SEEMS TO BE IS ALWAYS BETTER THAN NOTHING

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It is too easy to take the piss out of conspiracy theories, but before I do, I have a theory of my own: a proper conspiracy theory should always point to where the truth will be found. Most conspiracy theories inevitably come from the United States, but only because of the number of conspiracies that have been uncovered. Repeated claims the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) use mind control techniques on people comes from “Project MKUltra,” an illegal program of experiments that included drugs, hypnosis and torture. The program ran over twenty years from 1953, until panic over the Watergate scandal, which brought down President Richard Nixon, led the CIA to destroy all trace of the paperwork… until a Freedom of Information Act request led to 20,000 documents being discovered in 1977, having been stored in the wrong place. Watergate itself began as a conspiracy theory, the name coming from the office complex – in an area of Washington DC apparently named “Foggy Bottom” -  

I AIN’T GONNA STAND FOR IT

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For my own sake, I once had to check that “ain’t” was a proper word, thinking I discovered a blind spot in my ability to speak and write. I’m still not sure - even when typing that last sentence, Microsoft Word thought I wanted to say “isn’t,” “aren’t,” or “am not” instead. “Ain’t” first appeared in the mid-eighteenth century as a development of “an’t,” itself a contraction of “am not,” or “is not,” with the original “amn’t,” having appeared in around 1610. It is a simple case of words blending over time, with “aren’t” also popping up in about 1675, before “ain’t” became an alternative for that word too. Like the verb “to be not,” “ain’t” can also mean “to have not,” but it took until the nineteenth century for “han’t” to become “an’t,” before the vowel was rounded out in different parts of the country. Having asked around, there appears to be an active dislike of the “aaaaaiiiiiinnnnn’” sound of “ain’t,” with one person reacting like I had threatened to hit them. With the idea