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

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

Sunday, 25 September 2011

Autumn Fair 2011 - Home Sweet Home

The first week in September marked my annual trip to Autumn Fair at Birmingham's National Exhibition Centre. As a designer, there's no better way to get a snapshot of all that's at the cutting edge of homeware and gifts for the coming year. Then follows the job of researching all the exciting products I've seen and posting a taste of the show for you on here (or formerly on my Work In Progress).

At every visit a different sector catches my eye and this time it was the furniture. This year, designers are aiming for a traditional, practical feel delivered with lots of creative flair.

So if you want to get your home on-trend for 2012, take a look at these sample products from just a few of my favourite exhibitors.

Go for reproduction antique furniture throughout your house and garden. If you can't afford designer prices, scout around for second-hand goods you can paint and upholster.

T3048T Farmhouse Dining Table from PD Global

PFJ218 Toulouse Heart Backed Chair by PD Global

R1-9125-SL Lacquered Silver Dressing Table with Tri Mirror by Trade Fair International

SUN004 Curlicue Patio Set by PD Global

Dress your rooms up with lots of homely nick-nacks, cosy soft furnishings and Granny's homespun wisdom.

No more lonely mugs for one, brew up a pot for the whole family and hand round those cakes!

Cup Cake Spotty With Candle Teapot by Carter's Ceramic Designs

Allegra Cushion by Malini

Bird Cage Key Holder by Heaven Sends

Distressed Wooden Frame Blue by Heaven Sends

Kitchen Rules Metal Sign by Heaven Sends

Make a statement with big, ornate mirrors. They're not only dramatic and practical but also an eco-friendly way to add extra light to north-facing rooms.

Wooden Carved Mirror by Trade Fair International

Get creative with clocks. This massive 55cm diameter hands-only timepiece can be mounted as-is or you could stencil numbers onto your wall or surround it with 12 little picture frames to make it the centrepiece of your room.

Little Big Time Chain Steel Wall Clock by Karlsson at Present Time

Look out for more Autumn Fair highlights coming soon!

Saturday, 9 July 2011

Welcome to South Sudan

Today the world has a new country. There aren't many days in history when you can say that.

So hello and good luck to South Sudan as they break away from the previously dominant north.

Of course, where there's a new country, there's a new flag. The country have adopted the flag of the former Sudan People's Liberation Movement who fought for independence during more than 20 years of civil war.

Flag colours aren't just chosen because they look pretty. Each one tells a story of that country's history. Wikipedia sum it up like this:
The colours are said to represent the South Sudanese people (black), peace (white), the blood shed for freedom (red), the land (green) and the waters of the Nile (blue); the gold star, the Star of Bethlehem, represents unity of the states of South Sudan.
On that note, I shall leave you with a flag-based pun for all you fans of 80s' floppy-haired pop music.

funny puns - A Flock of Sunnis
see more So Much Pun

Saturday, 2 July 2011

Go the Fuck To Sleep

The world's most realistic bedtime story has been made even more awesome by casting Samuel L. Jackson to narrate it.

The book is available at the usual retailers and this audio book version can be downloaded from iTunes.

There's a whacking great clue in the title as to whether it's actually suitable for children...

Sunday, 19 June 2011

A Friend In Need

UPDATED 23rd June 2011

Please note that I have added a PayPal Donation button to my blogs.  If you've enjoyed anything that you've seen on my Electric Scrapbook or over on my Work In Progress, I hope that you could please give me whatever support you can afford. Unfortunately times are desperately hard for me right now.

Many thanks:

Friday, 10 June 2011

Rude Rainbow

In memory of the late Roy Skelton, the voice of Zippy and George along with the classic Daleks, here's the innuendo-ridden, not-for-broadcast Christmas tape made by the cast of the 1970s' pre-school children's show Rainbow.

I grew up watching these people and look what they've turned me into!

Thursday, 9 June 2011

Alice's Bucket List: A Cautionary Tale

Something a bit different on the Scrapbook today. I call it a scrapbook because I use it to keep together links to favourite bits and pieces I find lying around the Internet. This week a new site has burst onto the scene that looks like it's going to become legendary. Sadly, I can see it becoming legendary for all the wrong reasons. So please spare me a few minutes for this cautionary tale about the power of social media circa 2011 and my hopes that a 15 year old girl doesn't die regretting what she started.

I first spotted the link to Alice's Bucket List in my Twitter timeline early on Tuesday evening. The blog had only been up for a day and it already had around 800 followers and 400 replies to its only post. Even just reading the sub-heading and the About Me paragraph it becomes obvious just what a powerful experience you're letting yourself in for. Alice is 15 and has cancer. It's terminal. She's going to die before too long. She's come to terms with that. What she refuses to accept is that her life is over. Far from it. She has ambitions, lots of them. Some are quite modest, like getting her regrown hair looking presentable. Others are probably unachievable because she's considered too much of a risk to fly abroad. That doesn't stop her dreaming about them, though and her mum persuaded her to start a blog so her friends could have a diary of her adventures to remember her by.

Somehow Alice's blog went viral almost immediately. The comments section quickly filled with offers for almost everything on the list. Small businesses promised their services for free, Take That fans went off to tweet her favourite band to persuade them to meet her, big businesses found their inboxes full of Emails from random nobodies asking them to arrange stuff for some teenager from the Lake District.

Yet Alice asked for none of this. Her second post on Wednesday sounded flattered but embarrassed. So many respondents had asked Alice to place a donation button on her blog but she made it clear she would refuse to do so because she wasn't after anyone's money. In fact she hadn't even asked for anyone to offer her anything. She would have been happy to sort out all her events for herself. There was only one thing she really wanted everyone to do and that was register to become a bone marrow donor. I hope those labs all round the world are prepared for the surge in demand for registration kits they're now getting!

So now, within 3 days, Alice is on the way to fulfil most of her list. She can have as many hairdos, photoshoots and massages as she likes. She can pick and choose where she wants to take her caravan holidays. Top companies like Alton Towers and Cadbury's would hardly turn down the chance for some positive PR with the girl who melted the Internet. I expect you'll see her on every chat show going before the week's out.

As a reader, Alice's Bucket List was a shining example of a young girl's fighting spirit coupled with the generous nature of total strangers. A truly heartwarming tale for those days when you're feeling sorry for yourself and think the planet's full of morons. It's a sad backstory but a joyous read. What should now follow is the fun part as we learn about her adventures, smile at her photos and root for her to kick the Grim Reaper in the gonads.

The only problem is... now Twitter's got involved. Well meaning people are acting without thinking, a truth has been mutated into a lie and there's a real danger a backlash could be on its way.

Within 24 hours the number of blog followers has rocketed from 1000 to 5000 - all this for a site only launched this Monday, don't forget! Twitter-power seems to have led most of them there, as it had done for me. When I came to check my Twitter this morning, #alicebucketlist was the number 2 trending topic worldwide. Fantastic... until you see what's actually being tweeted so much:

For everyone who doesnt know, the #alicebucketlistis for a girl with terminal cancer, who wanted to be a TT for her bucket list
Oh does she? Here's the link for the blog: - read it thoroughly and tell me EXACTLY where she says she wants to be a trending topic. Here's a clue - she doesn't. It's a lie made up on Twitter, probably not even maliciously. Most likely someone who genuinely thought they were helping by raising her profile.

I've removed the name of the person who tweeted that because I don't believe he or she is Tweeter Zero for this lie. It's just the one whose tweet has been picked up the most and has been retweeted so much it comes out at the top of the search. Having read the person's timeline to research this, there's an admission (when questioned by someone else who shares my point of view) he or she got fed false information but then it went out of control as to how much it got retweeted. That's a fair point and I'm glad this person accepts being wrong.

The problem is we're all guilty of having those moments when we just want to latch onto the dramatic headline instead of checking the facts. "15 year old dying of cancer determined to achieve her ambitions" is a truly upsetting thought. We look at the teenagers in our lives and think there but for the grace of whatever higher power we may or may not believe in. We hit the retweet button because that's the easy thing to do. It's harder to actually force yourself to read the story, find out the truth. Maybe because, in this case, it means facing up to your own mortality and that of those around you.

Read the blog again. I'll even repeat the link if you can't be arsed to scroll up for it.

What does Alice REALLY want now? She's got most of her activities sorted, she doesn't want your cash. What she wants is for you to become a bone marrow donor. Go and search #alicebucketlist on Twitter and how many tweets mention this? Virtually none of them. Hardly any even link to the blog. Yet you get hundreds like this which serve absolutely no purpose:
(Again, name removed to protect the guilty.)

I mentioned about the danger of a backlash and Alice regretting starting the blog. That's because I've seen all this before. Back in the 1990s, when those geeks who had that new invention called Internet had to put up with an ear-splitting crackling noise when they wanted to go on it and then could squeeze in a 4 course meal waiting for a photo to load, there was a little boy named Craig Shergold. Craig had a brain tumour, quite a nasty one. In fact he, too, was expected to die. To cheer him up, friends and family started a campaign to get him in the Guinness Book of Records for receiving the most get well cards. This was a fantastic success and not only did he get his record it also caught the attention of a wealthy philanthropist who was able to pay for top of the range surgery which put his seemingly terminal cancer into remission.

Then the Internet got hold of the story. Craig Shergold became Craig Sheppard/Sherwood/Shefford/any other surname beginning with She. Get well cards morphed into business cards/postcards/assorted other tat which not only the Shergold family had to find ways to get rid of, but also wasted the time of the Make A Wish Foundation who had no use of them and no other involvement with Craig. The little boy in the story stayed 9 and terminally ill forever. The real Craig got better, grew up and just wanted to get on with his life.

Here's Craig's story on Urban Legends.

The TT lie shows that Alice Pyne's story has already started to mutate. There are the first rumblings of doubt that it's a con. No doubt the "why is she more deserving than others" spitefulness will follow. Is this hassle what we want for her? Unlike Craig she may well not get that miracle cure. She could only have months left. Do we really want to see her and her family using up that valuable time fending off unwanted attention, no matter how well-meant it started off as?

The main thing that leaps out from Alice's blog is how willing total strangers are to offer their time and services for free when they're inspired to. Despite now having her pick of businesses from much nearer home, people aren't being put off volunteering themselves for whatever they can help with. Genuine offers are coming in from all round the world, even though Alice clearly states she's not fit to fly. She's surely unable to take up every single opportunity which leads to another thought - how many other Alices are out there? Will these kindly people just turn their backs if she says "thanks but no thanks" or will they be inspired to find someone more local to them who would also enjoy their generosity?

Most "Alices" don't write blogs, certainly not ones that take the Internet by storm in 3 days. They might have conditions it's harder to empathise with, like mental illness. They don't even have the confidence to ask for things they'd really love. They just get on with life but that doesn't mean they wouldn't appreciate a random act of kindness like the gutsy Alice Pyne is lucky enough to get.

I'll be cheering Alice on all the way. I hope she sails through her list and adds loads more to it. I hope the excitement boosts her immune system and gives her more precious time with her loved ones. Then when the Grim Reaper finally dares set foot in Alice's house he comes out of it battered, bloody and a whimpering wreck.

Alice is doing more living in her 15+ years than most people would do in 100. Any idiot can die.

There, I've said my bit. I'm not some social media guru. I don't have thousands of people hanging on my every word, so if you've made it this far thanks very much for your time. I've disabled comments as I don't want to have a debate. I've got more important things to do and so have you. Like going to find someone you can give a kind word to. Or doing what Alice wants and clicking this.

Sunday, 22 May 2011


Nitin Sawhney featuring Will Young, BBC Electric Proms, 27.10.2006.

For Colin.

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Goodbye My Sarah Jane

Some things can say what's on your mind much better than you can manage yourself.

Cartoon by John Kovalic

Thursday, 31 March 2011

Torvill & Dean It Ain't

There's nothing that brightens up a dull winter Sunday more than watching vaguely well known people risk breaking limbs learning to skate on Dancing On Ice.  Thrills, spills, dangerous stunts and fit blokes who aren't scared of pink sequins.  It ticks so many of my boxes.

The 2011 series ended this weekend with the most unpredictable final ever and EastEnders actor Sam Attwater hitting his peak at exactly the right time to win over children's TV presenter Laura Hamilton.

In tribute to the final's traditional Bolero skate-off (and to get over the withdrawal symptoms) I've hunted down an animated version directed by Mario Cavalli in 1993.

This uses a repeated clip of Ravel's music and two motion-captured dancers.  As the video progresses it becomes increasingly abstract and starts playing games with your memory.  It's as remarkable as it is beautiful.

Friday, 14 January 2011

Find Of The Day: Springfield Punx

A new feature here on the Scrapbook where I'll link you to anything awesome I've just found online.

Today it's Springfield Punx, a blog by Dean T Fraser where he recreates his favourite cult characters, Simpsons-style. A simple idea but you'll be scrolling through it for ages. It also seems to be the source of the rumour that Matt Smith's being lined up for a Simpsons appearance because Dean's recently done a very authentic range of Doctor Who characters.

Thanks also to Cameron at Blogtor Who for posting the link that got me interested.