Wednesday, 29 June 2016

No Thanks To EU - Part 1

On Thursday, June 23rd 2016, I voted for the United Kingdom to leave the European Union.


If you look down on me for writing that sentence, please do yourself a favour and don't read any further. Seriously. I'd rather you did something happy and constructive like dig the garden or bake a pie.

I've dusted the 4 year old cobwebs off this blog to try and sort out my feelings on what's happened in the past few months, the current chaos and the future potential for our country. I'm here to vent, not debate. There's so much to say it'll take a few chapters.

I've had to cut down on Twitter and Facebook because I'm finding all the sore losers very tiresome and I've lost a lot of respect for people I thought I liked. As much as I empathise with the disappointment the Remain supporters must be feeling, it disturbs me that they are aiming their anger at Leave supporters instead of the one person who got us into this mess in the first place - Prime Minister David Cameron. So I'll start with some background which may fill in the gaps for those living outside the UK who have no context for what is currently being reported.

Why Was There a Referendum?


Mr Cameron's Conservatives won the May 2015 General Election by a larger majority than was predicted. Pollsters had been caught by surprise with a second successive coalition government expected to be elected. His manifesto pledge to renegotiate the UK's terms of membership of the European Union and then hold an In/Out referendum was the one policy that stood out against Labour and the smaller opposition parties. With the rise in support of the anti-EU UK Independence Party (UKIP) over the last decade, it would be easy to conclude that the referendum was nothing but a sop to bring voters to the Tories instead of UKIP. Although UKIP are a right wing party they have taken a lot of working class voters from Labour who have been criticised for abandoning their grass roots supporters since Tony Blair tried to reinvent the party in the mid 90s.

The price of another five years of Conservative power ended up being a dangerous gamble with the future of the United Kingdom.

In February 2016 the 28 EU members' heads of state met to thrash out Mr Cameron's new deal for Britain. Here is a guide to what he asked for and what he actually got. More tinkering round the edges than massive reform. The UK has always been the awkward child of Europe, with a long history of refunds, opt-outs and vetoes. We didn't adopt the Euro, we stayed out of the Schengen border-free zone and we have always rejected the EU policy of becoming an ever closer union. In 1993 the British government (then led by John Major who in recent weeks has been damning of the Leave campaign) faced a massive rebellion to ratify the Maastricht Treaty which enshrined the freedom of movement across the EU and the single currency in most member countries.

If you want to join a club, such as a golf club or a social club, you get given a list of rules you agree to abide by. If you don't like the rules, you don't join the club. So how can the UK ever be a wholehearted member of the EU "club" when we reject a lot of its rules and want others specially rewritten just for us?

One fact omitted from the recent campaign is that Britain is far from alone in our Euroscepticism. Anti-EU parties are on the rise right across the continent. The Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Italy and even France are reported to have a strong groundswell in favour of either leaving or holding a referendum. Should the far right Front National gain power in France's general election next year, their policy is to hold a referendum and that will make the UK's current upheaval seem like a walk in the park!

As part of the EU-wide tactic of scaring the British into voting remain (or in other words holding onto their own vested interests) French finance minister Emmanuel Macron said Brexit would make Britain "as significant as Guernsey". That's Guernsey with a GDP per capita of International$52,300 compared to France's INT$41,400 & the UK's INT$41,200, by the way. During that speech, M. Macron declared that Europe should "act fast to avoid other countries starting a similar process... There must be no question of Denmark, the Netherlands, Poland, deciding they want the same status." Now imagine the old USSR saying that about Ukraine or one of its other old territories. But because it's the EU we're supposed to accept it's benign. I don't agree with that logic so that's the first of my reasons for voting Leave. I'll discuss those in more depth in the next chapter.

Monday, 5 March 2012

Meet The Crochet Cow

There’s nothing like some hand-crafted woolies to greet a new baby into the world. If crochet skills weren’t passed down from mother to daughter in your family, thankfully Sharon Traynor of CrochetCow & Designs by Sharon is there to kit out your little bundle of joy. Sharon often works to her own designs but always keeps that classic timeless style which is guaranteed to look adorable. Whether it’s a hat, a blanket, a dress, bootees, a complete outfit or anything else that could be crocheted, you’ll find Sharon very accommodating, tailoring her work to suit your needs at a very reasonable price.

Baby girl's set in lilac with pink trim, from a design by shiflo.co.uk

• Sharon has received this promotion as a thank you for voting for me on Enterprise Nation. If you'd like me to give you a write up like this, please find out how by visiting this link to my new Facebook page

Friday, 16 December 2011

Dress Your Doll

Here's another unique creative toy I first saw at this year's Autumn Fair. This one's aimed at the budding little fashion designer in your life.

Barbie (and her other 12" rivals) may not be every woman's idea of a feminist icon. But what if you could use her to develop your child's creative skills, along with encouraging recycling and the lost art of Make Do And Mend? That's the thinking behind Roos Productions, 3 Belgian women who have combined their love of designing textile graphics, creating fashion patterns and exhibiting historical girls' toys.

The result is Dress Your Doll, an innovative set of craft kits suitable for anyone 7 years old and upwards (supervision recommended for young children). Each kit has everything you need to create an outfit for the most popular size of fashion doll, along with accessories from a bag to a bedspread. Everything is printed on non-fraying fabric which just needs to be cut out and sewn together along the dotted lines. Any child who can cut neatly and sew a straight line will soon be creating a wardrobe of mix and match outfits she can be proud of and have hours of fun playing with.

The doll used here is also available as part of the Dress Your Doll range, supplied separately.

The print details are in perfect tiny proportion. The doll on the right is sporting a photo-quality robin on her top and bag.

Patterns are also available that can be used on your own choice of fabric, which is a great way to make use of those old scraps that would otherwise have gone in the bin. They also sell greetings cards that can be cut up and sewn into a doll's T-shirt! They're even willing to design bespoke kits for you, which would be perfect to get your logo out there for advertising campaigns or charity fundraising.

Collecting a few official Barbie outfits can soon start to cost a fortune so making your own not only makes economic sense but also helps teach children valuable life skills and trains their hand-eye co-ordination.

Unfortunately in researching this blog I'm struggling to find any retailers for Dress Your Doll. There are certainly none listed in the UK. I'm sure if you contacted the team at Roos Productions directly and show them some love, they'd be happy to help supply you with their ingenious little product.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Brickwork: Lego v Nanoblocks

Ahh, Lego. The one toy it's perfectly acceptable never to grow out of. Especially if you end up with the skills to create masterpieces like these:


There are people out there paid good money to be professional Lego sculptors. Guys such as Nathan Sawaya and Sean Kenney. I want their lives.

However you might not know that Lego has a pretender to its crown. A very small, very tough and very awe-inspiring little rival. Nanoblocks were invented in 2008 in Japan (those masters of miniaturisation) and are distributed in Britain by Nanoblocks UK. That company's founder Ashley Yeates recently promoted the product by making this tribute to the X Factor!


I first saw Nanoblocks at this year's Autumn Fair and my jaw nearly hit the ground. Photos really can't do justice to how intricate these bricks are, but this pig will give you a clue.


The smallest single peg bricks are an incredible 4 mm square so you might need a magnifying glass to work on some of the fiddlier details! Other differences to Lego are that all the blocks are one height, 5 mm, and they have a different interlocking mechanism which makes it easier to place them diagonally, as you can see with the pig's ears.

At the moment you can buy them as kits to build specific models, ranging from an 80-piece cockatiel to a nerve-wracking 6000-piece castle (complete with LED lights). Here's a 550-piece International Space Station from the Sights To See range:


The miniature kits such as the pig come with a 4 cm x 4 cm base plate and Sights To See are 8 cm x 8 cm. With prices starting at less than £8.00, they're a very affordable stocking filler for anyone over 12 that would pass away the duller hours after Christmas. So you could easily collect all the kits, solve the puzzle of how to put them together (instructions are included but the website encourages you to also come up with your own ideas) and still have lots of room left on your shelves!

Hopefully in the future Nanoblocks will release basic starter kits so you can create whatever you want. If they could get artists as talented as Nathan Sawaya and Sean Kenney behind them, the mind boggles at what they could achieve!


•UK retailers for Nanoblocks include Firebox, Dinkybox, FireStar and Clockwork Mouse.

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Red Hot + Blue

For World Aids Day 2011 I'm commemorating the 21st anniversary of one of my favourite albums which has now largely been forgotten here in the UK although its legacy is still alive and well in America.

The Red Hot Organisation formed in New York in 1989 to fight AIDS through popular culture, following the devastating effects the virus had on the city's artistic community.

The big idea was to get the top names in pop music around the world to record songs by Cole Porter for a fundraising album, taking on the name Red Hot + Blue after one of Porter's musicals. Cole Porter was chosen not only for the beauty and popularity of his music but also because his life and the impact of his message still resonated with the society of the late 20th century.

He was a gay man in an age when such things were illegal (spending much of his life in a happy platonic marriage) and he also spent much of his life in pain following a serious horse riding accident. His lyrics didn't shy away from strong social comment (Anything Goes, Love For Sale), the agony and ecstasy of love (Every Time We Say Goodbye, I've Got You Under My Skin) or downright cheekiness (Let's Do It, Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?) His music combined sophistication, wit and debauchery but did it in a way that appealed to the general public.

Cole Porter and his contemporaries epitomised the spirit of the Roaring Twenties, banishing the Victorian prudishness of their parents' generation and living life to the full after the horrors of World War 1. Likewise the New York art scene of the late 1980s fought to prevent a Victorian-style backlash against the AIDS outbreak which risked the gay community, in particular, losing the steps towards acceptance and equality for which they had fought so hard. The way to stem the tide of AIDS was not to pretend it wasn't happening but to face it head on and talk about some uncomfortable truths.

So in that spirit of defiance, King Cole Inc (later renamed the Red Hot Organisation) was born. 22 world-class acts answered the call to record the album and teamed up with some top film makers to record video clips compiled into a 90 minute TV special aired in America on World Aids Day 1990.

Albums are still being released under the Red Hot banner although their activities are now more confined to the USA. Their 15 albums to date, along with related TV and media work, have raised over $10 million for HIV/AIDS awareness and relief projects around the world. Red Hot + Blue was rereleased as a CD and Region 1 DVD 2-disc set in 2006 (and so unsuitable for most machines outside of North America).

Most of the performances from the TV special are available on YouTube. I've picked out some samples that show the wide range of interpretations these timeless classics inspired and the daring, thought provoking visuals that accompany them.











• For more about the work of the Red Hot Organisation, visit http://www.redhot.org

Sunday, 20 November 2011

He's Terrific, He's Magnific

At the risk of turning this scrapbook into an obituary column, today I'm celebrating the life of yet another of my childhood heroes who died this week. I've lost far too many of them in 2011.

Mark Hall was the co-founder of Cosgrove Hall Studios who were responsible for some of the most successful and memorable British animation from the 1970s up until their recent absorption into ITV Productions. He and partner Brian Cosgrove came out of retirement this year and teamed up with children's TV creator Francis Fitzpatrick to reform their company, now called Cosgrove Hall Fitzpatrick Entertainment, but sadly Mark died of cancer on Friday aged 75.

Hopefully this new team will keep his legacy alive and entertain many generations to come. For now, grab a bag of sweets and enjoy some of Cosgrove Hall's greatest hits.


Their first big hit, the surreal and inventive Chorlton And The Wheelies (1976-1979).

Anarchic and silly, that great British superhero Dangermouse (1981-1992) appealed to kids and adults alike.



Recurring Dangermouse villain Count Duckula got his own series (1988-1993)


Probably their most charming creation, based on the novel The Wind In The Willows (1983-1990)

Sunday, 9 October 2011

The Future Tastes Like Apples

It's been 20 years since I began my love affair with Apple Macs. To mark the very sad passing of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, here's some Mac nostalgia.

   
The first Macintosh launch, 1984.
  The classic 1984/Big Brother Macintosh launch advertisement, directed by Ridley Scott.

   
A quick look behind the scenes of the advert.

   
The exciting possibilities of Photoshop 1.0!

"Thanks, Steve" by Jonathan Mak-Long

Steve Jobs, 1955-2011