Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Signs I Have Loved

Every time I drive to Huddersfield, I see a sign that reads: 'This Is A Sign'.

Isn't that great? It's permanently placed outside a signmaker's shop, and as an advert for their services it's actually a bit dull - too small, and unobtrusive. I'd like to see it being used in a more surreal manner, posted on giant boards about the countryside, briefly visible from the motorway as you flash past in your car. 'Oh my God', you'd think, 'that was a sign...'

We saw something like this in France some years ago, billboards that loomed over hedges, saying 'BUT...'

'But... what?' we wondered. But... this is all a mirage?
But... the state is watching us and knows that we're not carrying one of those breakdown triangles like we're supposed to?
It was an advert of course, for some French beverage, 'but' being the imperative of 'boire', to drink. We knew that really, BUT...

A musician friend and I saw some great signs on a road trip in the States:
'Antiques 'n' Stuff'
'Chooky Chicken Steaks - over Three Dozen Sold!'
'Welcome to Hicksville, Home of Lyndon B. Johnson and the Weeny-burger!'
We think we saw a sign outside a funeral parlour that read 'Stiffs 'n' Stuff', but by that time we may have been hallucinating from lack of vegetables. Or too much tequila.

My brother in law says that he remembers there being a metal sign close to where he lived as a boy. It said 'Do Not Throw Stones At This Sign.' I mean, what are you going to do? Actually, this may well have been the brainchild of a local council with an unusually strong grasp of psychology. There's an argument for erecting such signs in every park, street, shopping mall and playground in the country. A stone being thrown at a metal sign is a stone not being thrown at some old lady's head, I say.

There's a sign on the M6, just outside of Birmingham, that I love. 'Floors To Go'. Probably the most redundant slogan ever. One of these days I'm going to pull over and visit that store.
'Good morning, Sir. Can I help?'
'Yes. I'd like forty square metres of parquet flooring, please. The antiqued birch.'
'Certainly Sir! And would that be to go?'
'Um...tell you what - no. Let's just lay it right here, shall we?' Feckwits.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Things once common, now extinct. No. 6: Wire coat hangers

This is quite scary. It can't be much more than a year ago that I was saying something about the breeding habits of wire coat hangers, and how if you put two of them together in a dark and confined space - a wardrobe for example - then the next time you opened the door there would be twenty of them.

And now they've gone. The entire species has been wiped out. I've been over the whole estate with the ghillie, and there isn't a single wire coat hanger to be found. I can only think that some terrible plague has descended upon the poor creatures when we weren't looking. Iron pyrites - is that a disease? Tin-worm is, for sure. I've owned several cars that were stricken with tin-worm, and it can be very nasty. But even tin-worm isn't that rapacious - I mean you don't get whole fleets of cars disappearing overnight because of it. (Though I must say I haven't noticed many Hertz adverts lately.)

I'm wondering if maybe the demise of the wire coat hanger isn't due to over-culling. They're easy game after all, very trusting, and every bit of them can be put to good use. Broken lavatory cistern? Wire coat-hanger. Makeshift hook for your Black and Decker hedge trimmer? Wire coat hanger.

Indoor TV aerial...haloes for the Nativity Play...blocked U bend....sculpture armature...Glastonbury bracelets...the wire coat hanger is the solution every time. Or rather it used to be. We've hunted them to extinction it seems, and now we must live with the consequences. Our own fault, as usual.

An alternative explanation, I suppose, is simply that the ubiquitous plastic coat hanger has driven our native species from its natural habitat. Maybe there's still an isolated colony of them on Brownsea Island, or somewhere. If anyone should happen to know of a breeding pair, I'd be grateful. I've got a loose exhaust pipe that needs wiring up. Also, I'm still not quite finished with Mr. Tibbs, our giraffe-necked cat.

Thursday, May 01, 2008


I'm driving up to Scotland next week, to Aberdeen and then Edinburgh, in order to give a series of talks and workshops. I think of myself as living in the 'north' already, and so was amazed to see from the map of Britain that I'm barely in the middle. In fact it's actually further from here to Aberdeen than it is to Cornwall. More of this later...

...which it now is. Yes, I'm off to Aberdeen Unversity for the run-up to the Word festival on Wed 7th and Thurs 8th May. I shall be holding two paper-engineering workshops for younger children, and offering my usual cast-iron guarantee that every child's little pop-up card, made by themselves, will work perfectly! Never had a failure yet. I shall also be giving a talk to older children about The Touchstone Trilogy. The festival proper doesn't begin until the weekend (9th May).

On the evening of Thursday 8th I shall be in Edinburgh, visiting Fidra Books.

Fidra Books, if you haven't already heard about it, is both an independent children's bookshop, and an independent publisher. Fidra is under the management of Vanessa Robertson, protector and promoter of all that's worthwhile and wonderful in children's publishing. (And scourge of all that is not, I suspect). For those interested in writing for children, I shall be giving a talk on the subject, advising on how best to get your work in front of an agent or publisher. 7.30 kick off. Don't be late.

Fidra Books


Back from those cities of granite and light, Aberdeen and Edinburgh respectively. Not enough time to do much more than scratch the surface of what each has to offer, but a successful trip nevertheless. Thanks to all for looking after me - Karen and Fiona and Kay in Aberdeen, and Malcolm and Vanessa in Edinburgh. I'll be back, or so they tell me, and that can't be bad.