THINK TANK | Bah Humbug! Scrooging along this Xmas

WELL CHRISTMAS is coming and the goose is getting decidedly edgy. The stockings and decorations are being dragged out of the loft and Cliff Richard is back on the radio.

I’ve got to say I am really excited as I always am around this time of year. I love Christmas and think its fantastic simply because it stops us all going mad in midwinter and provides us with an amiable time of year to eat, drink and be merry. However there are those amongst you who don’t like Christmas and amid the merry sleigh bells there is always a scrooge to be found, and it is these mean hearted, soulless wretches I wish to talk to you about today.
There are those who object for religious reasons bleating on about how they have no desire to celebrate the birth of some made up hippy who didn’t exist 2000 years ago and to them I simply say ‘well neither does anyone else.’ I’m fairly accurate that in saying for most people Christmas failed to be about ‘you know who’ a few hundred years ago around the same time that Easter became about chocolate eggs and this trend will continue slowly until good old Jebus is nothing more than an unfunny joke that we’re all ashamed of but importantly Christmas itself wont stop and its key meaning of friendship and family will remain cast in iron. Now those of you who know me well will probably know I’m about as anti religion as its possible to be without actually planning to napalm Vatican City or kidnap the archbishop of Canterbury, seriously this is the only time ever I have written the word ’Christmas’ on anything… I’m not kidding, since I was about 15 I have always referred to it as ‘Xmas’ wherever possible in some strained attempt to get the named changed to remove religious significance but of course I respect everyone’s rights and what works me doesn’t work for others and that’s all good.
Then there are those of you who insist on repeating the same borrowed argument every year in which they state (usually in monotone) that they hate Xmas because its all about money and advertising and forcing you to spend more and more in order to gain a feeling of adequacy and avoid a feeling of guilt at the inexpensive gift that you choose to be this years token of love to your girlfriend/mother/sibling or whatever. The important thing is the thought not the price and I really cannot stress this enough to you. If you find the perfect present for someone for a pound then that is worth the same as buying that present for a thousand pounds, in fact in some ways its better.
My entire family are poor as Concorde pilots and dodo farmers which means I never get very much for Xmas but I still love it dearly and relish any chance to be in the same room as my family for the day and cannot stand anyone whose whinging would take any of the shine off this. The people who spout these Ebernezian drudgeries about crass commercialism are often the type of people who mistakenly believe apathy is the height of fashion. I know that to the world at large being happy and open hasn’t been in vogue since the 1970’s and the hippy movement but its Christmas for God’s sake! Are you telling me you’re ‘over’ Christmas?! Obviously it’s not Christmas you object to but shopping and crass commercialism then isn’t it? Well bah humbug to you my friend because everyone hates feeling like they’re stuck between the pages of an Argos catalogue whenever they turn on their TV or set foot out of their door but they don’t let it get them down.
If you hate something the worst thing you can do is to let it get to you, rise above the raging torrent of shite aimed at you by the advertising companies and make Christmas your own. What really infuriates me is that these ‘haters’ of commercialism are would probably be quite happy to spout this nonsense whilst chugging down handfuls of big Mac washed down with a Starbucks coffee but they don’t see any need to complain at any other time of the year! Are they serious! Have you been on the London underground or turned on a television at any point this year?* but I digress.
*I dislike blanket advertising intensely preferring that my mind was my own but I understand that advertising itself is a fantastic idea gotten totally out of hand.
Think of all those people forced to spend Christmas alone or in nursing homes, or be ridden in hospitals. Seriously think about it for a minute because every time I try to imagine Christmas without my family I get a huge mental and emotional block and it simply feels like I’ve stepped off the edge of the world! Really think about it for a minute and maybe you’ll gain a new appreciation for a day spent with your daft old aunt who smells like cabbages and still gets your name wrong. Misery may love company but no one should be alone on Christmas day.
A couple of years back I took a 28 year old Chinese undergraduate student I was living with to Christmas with my family because I could not stand the idea of him being alone in our flat on that day. I know it’s not like he’d ever celebrated Christmas before and therefore not likely to miss it and he did spend a fair portion of it ogling my cousin’s breasts but I think that if you’re over here to experience this country then you deserve to have a Christmas and by the end of the day he was in tears of pure joy as he was accepted into the family and showered with presents, an event that made us closer as a family and allowed a 28 year old man one of the most crazy and memorable days of his life. If that’s not worth celebrating then I don’t know what is. In fact in order to bring a little extra cheer to the holidays this year I am going to have Xmas day with my family and then another Xmas with my friends and their friends a few days later simply because I don’t think that you can ever have enough good times and at this time of year my cup runneth over with good tidings to my fellow man – unless of course they happen to dislike Christmas.
So by all means celebrate in your own way whether it’s grandiose or as simple as seeing the family for a day but do celebrate in some way and don’t let what is supposed to be a happy time pass idle. Above all don’t let it be just another day.

Although this might be taking things just a little too far.

words by Matt


THINK TANK | The Moaning of Life

“Just before a baby is born,
an angel shows it everything there is to know
and learn
on Earth.
Then at the moment of birth,
the angel touches the infant’s upper lip,
and the child forgets everything.
We spend the rest of our lives

Or so the story goes according to

THERE ARE MANY views about life’s apparent purpose and just as much conjecture concerning it’s origins. The more religiously forthright of you may scathe my seemingly dismissive use of the word “conjecture” when that highly regarded belief rooted at the seat of your soul kicks, like a knee-jerk, urging you to rain holy water down on my quarter – but hopefully you’ve developed beyond the realm of the subjective, mastered your emotions and possess the capacity for forgiveness, as your god would indeed see fit.

But which god? Does he command you to spread the word of his love and bestow grace and light unto the world? Or is he (or even she) one who instils fear in your heart along with an abundance of nuclear weapons in order to protect his or her good name against the ‘enemy’, or even ‘one who believes differently to you for no other reason than that of geographical location’? This be a god of simple ‘fundamental’ pleasures: death to the nay-sayers! Surely this is the devil among the tailors?

And therein lies the first of many issues which render me reticent when it comes to getting off the flippin’ fence: choice. Freedom of choice and free will may well be the work of the devil too – as I might lead on to prove, myself as a case in point – and many a Christian who might come across this article will probably nod their head in agreement now and subsequently pray for my soul – and I mean that in earnest. Thanks! But, and this is by no means a new notion: you cannot all be right?

This is where I sit, somewhere between here and the vantage point of that very famous photo of ‘Earth Rising’ with my arms folded watching the massacre ensue. My feet are cold and I can’t breathe. The backs of my eyeballs itch as the vacuum of space teases them out of my skull like a Hoover to a jar of pickled onions. This time I choose to pass willingly for all the vicarious pain and suffering evoked; for and on behalf of a humanity as lost as a child in a Milton Keynes shopping complex. But will I return, as the Buddhists will have me believe? One notch down on the food chain perhaps, having failed to grasp life’s true purpose? Maybe I’ll ascend to a place of godly proportions, having nailed it right here, and inherit my own universe with its own set of physical laws and parameters?

Earth Rising

Most likely – and in true Where’s Wally fashion – the one true god will reveal himself with a pointy-wiggly finger of sorts and strike me down for having thought these very thoughts I now write, ending my soul’s journey forever more – but hold on a minute! that seems all too unfair; I wasn’t to know. You gave me this brain and these inquisitive faculties, who are you to smite me so? Oh wait, of course, you are God.

Now, I consider myself a thinker rather than a believer and thoughts form part of that mutable process known as thinking. In terms of theistic musings such as this, bringing one of these myriad thoughts to the fore by way of focus only works to make me all too aware of the still lingering thoughts I’ve omitted in the process, and, having no true objective frame of reference, confined to this body, these eyes, etc. it’s certainly not my place to arrive at a suitable conclusion deemed correct. I guess what I’m getting at is that I understand all too well that there are no absolutes, and if there are we lack the capacity to comprehend them, in this dimension at least.

Well, if I were god, I might be a little miffed to see these children of mine assume ideas above their station to be absolute! “Just look around you,” I’d say “Isn’t life itself amazing? This place I’ve given you is teeming with life in all varieties and colours for your very wonderment! Heck, colours alone are amazing – red, green, brown, and there’s even more than that – take mauve for instance: fantastic! An entire spectrum derived of the one true white-light as it hits your atmosphere and is splayed and arrayed for all to see. I’m very proud of you but you’re just ruining it for yourselves!” Due to some anomaly, these words never make it to the collective human ear and, without guidance, we are compelled to fill in the gaps ourselves.

Which leads me to purport that perhaps God is a graduate of The Infinite Being’s Academy of Planetary Design and Evolution (The IBAPDE) in some parallel dimension where time moves slower, people (gods as we know them) are bigger and more beardy, and we are but a relative microcosmic dance of painted light and matter. So here is our god, merely a student of an inter-dimensional fine arts college, and we are his Show and Tell, only, we are the technical equivalent of an heinous GCSE science experiment gone wrong. We have thus been quarantined, bereft of any contact with our creator. Furthermore, given our trajectory towards total mass annihilation, we have become quite the amusing subject, left open for study, and, given that we are destined to destroy ourselves, we help curtail the spending of the IBAPDE’s extermination budget when the term is over – It would appear that the recession is trans-dimensional.

As above, so below.

I am no prophet, and I do not claim to have the answers. So please, send me no money. Unless you really want to fund a mentalist!

Words by Dan

To Be Continued…

THINK TANK | The Writing on The Wall

COMING FROM the Italian word for ‘scratch’ graffiti is one of the oldest forms of human expression dating back to the first cave paintings carried out on walls in animal blood. Before language was invented we were putting our thoughts and stories on cave walls so that others may learn from them.

You only have to walk around Brick Lane near the Old Street tube station in London to see the wealth and variety of street art on offer and thanks to the anonymity of the artists involved it has become a way of making the art more important than the artist, something I have always agreed with and yet the top guns such as the infamous Banksy have their work commercially available, sold from basement shops in Soho to art galleries in Los Angeles and his new guerilla show which was set up under cover and recently ran for free in the Bristol museum.

Is this not a brilliant thing where undiscovered artists can clearly make a name for themselves even if they choose not to show a face? I’m sympathetic to people who don’t want their wall’s daubed with slogans and well aware that graffiti and vandalism is illegal in this and most other countries but my simply reply is that art is not illegal and not subject to these laws. I think that as long as the pieces can be considered artistic they have as much right to stay on the walls as the occupants have to live in their own homes and if those living there don’t like or deem it offensive it they can’t paint over it can’t they? Surely this is a matter of common sense and not of the courts in any circumstances? I understand that some slogans may be interpreted differently and disagreed with so if it’s on your wall and you don’t like it then you can happily do something about it. I’m sure most artists will get the message and paint somewhere else rather than lose all of their time and effort. This system works much better than trying to set out rules and regulations for what is acceptable and what isn’t – its art and that means you don’t have to like it and it doesn’t have to play by the rules.

Maybe graffiti has finally found its time and place, with the standard being raised from unsightly ‘tags’ to bigger and better pieces that can be considered art in its own right, popular opinion towards street art is changing and as long as it looks good and brightens up an otherwise dull wall who can really complain? In fact when one of Banksy’s pieces – stencilled on a wall in Bristol came under threat, a public vote showed that 97 per cent wanted it to be kept. Still there’s always someone out to ruin the fun isn’t there?

A famous sociological theory simply named ‘Broken window theory’ dictates that run down areas containing graffiti as a sign of the degradation of the area are only going to attract a higher crime rate because people assume no one ‘cares’ about these areas whereas a lot of the new style artwork in areas like shore-ditch is actually leading to a boom in people who want to live and travel there owing to the perception of the area as fun and vibrant with expression. Isn’t it about time England was put back on the map for artwork? Times are changing and town councils and art critics alike need to move with the times or simply stand aside because it’s not going to stop now, graffiti thrives as a much needed way of expression and the social commentary contained in many pieces is now the painted voice of those who have no other means than a spray can and a blank wall to show what’s on their mind.

Graffiti and street are constantly evolving and changing aspects of social commentary and art itself masterpieces are no longer only confined to canvas and graffiti has come a long way since the back of the toilet door and this is what makes it so exciting, you can walk past a stencil on a wall of the Mona Lisa and marvel at its place here brightening up a dirty alley but by the time you’ve run home and gotten your camera it’s been changed to a picture of Osama bin laden with a rocket launcher! There is no need to stifle this kind of creativity as it will run itself and simply by looking at the walls around you in a different way you can learn to appreciate not only art but the place in which you live.

I truly believe that making things illegal gives them an air of mystique (just look at drugs) and the tale of Banksy creeping around in the night and playing an ever more daring game of cat and mouse with the powers that be calls out and inspires the part of us that loves the outlaw, the Robin Hood’s and Batman’s of this world but this is just a man with a ladder, some stencils and an idea. The only difference between most people and Robert Banks is that he goes out there and does it and because of this he has become the stuff of legend and by keeping his identity hidden (to paraphrase Batman crudely) he has become ‘more than a man.’ These are interesting times we live in now that what he does has become accepted and in interesting times the doors are opened for hundreds of others who always wanted to do something like this but were always just looking for that extra push.

Looking at the unification of the art world and the way that those who paint on walls instead of canvas are now considered ‘artists’ instead of merely ‘vandals’ is a sign of the exciting times we live in. I don’t understand how anyone could object to the rise in beautiful outlandish paintings popping up in front of you as you walk around town, I cannot stand bad graffiti, mispelt and indecipherable tags on fading walls do not appeal to anyone except the narcissism of those who painted it. Our only hope is to separate graffiti and art and let those with talent reclaim the writing on our walls.

Life should be an art gallery and the streets are ours to do as we please.

Please feel free to comment, your feedback is appreciated and it’s always going to be about getting involved. If you’ve seen any fantastic pictures or clever ideas then please leave the link for us all to enjoy.

words by Matt Turner

THINK TANK | People Watching

YOU KNOW the times you spend just looking at people in the street or on trains and busses and wondering who they are? I’m talking about the times you find yourself sat on the fountain in Stevenage or using the underground at King’s Cross and you look up at a stranger and find yourself wondering what their story is or where they are going? and how come they ended up crossing your path as they do now? Do you ever end up wondering about the millions of people around you and how they come to interact and who they are?

Relax if you think this a little strange, just like masturbation everyone does this but only the confident talk about it, it’s a healthy extension of our own wonderment and imagination, it’s given the moniker of ‘people watching’ and different people do it differently, some watch others in a detective style trying to work out by their clothes and demeanour who they are and what they do, they use clues such the subject’s briefcase and choice of vocabulary or even the expense of their wristwatch to try and gauge what they do for a living or where they are from and they delight in the knowledge they can garner from even the smallest of clues.

But this is tediously boring and even slightly creepy in my humble opinion and whilst it is fascinating how much information you can gain about someone if you really look at them the real pleasure in people watching comes from making up stories and inventing the histories and missions of those strangers who cross your path.

I’m guessing that there’s a few of you who read that last sentence who know exactly what I’m talking about.

Without exception everyone I have spoken to about this has fantasized, actually that’s too strong a word, has conjured up stories about a stranger in their imagination to while away the time and the most common themes tend to be about those strangers really being spies and secret assassins, ninjas or other secret sections of society their humble briefcases containing much more than office stationary and a packed lunch, instead these mild mannered middle class commuters on public transport or passing you as you gaze out of the window of some bland coffee shop or eatery are actually carrying everything from unstable plutonium stolen to make nuclear missiles to silenced pistols and lethal poisons as they headed towards downing street.

Sounds far fetched and ridiculous now I come to read it on paper but that’s what I love about it. I know so many people who do this and the ridiculousness of their testimonials as they tell me what they think about in those private moments makes me so happy and it turn it pleases them to have the release of knowing ‘its not just me.’

If you have ever seen Ocean’s 12 or 13 where they steal the Faberge egg from a bland looking backpacker taking public transport whilst a convoy of impressive looking black cars distracts the attention of any would be thief then you will be able to understand that we never know what people have in their bags or who they really are or what they are doing. We can’t ever really know but it is a human tendency to wonder. I actually saw a guy stopped at King’s Cross and forced to empty his bag that was just full of different hats!

Where was he going? what kind’ve vital mission was he on with his bag full of hats? I’m infinitely glad it was hat man stopped instead of me on that fateful day though as I was carrying a mexican wrestler mask, a spray can and stencil, a number of small plastic army men, a cookie cutter in the shape of a ghost, superglue, furry handcuffs, some fantastic trousers and a purple silk bondage rope (all of which there is a perfectly reasonable explanation for and it ties into halloween nicely which starts to make more sense but I would just rather not have to have that conversation with the police)

We all know why we people watch, even if you’ve never really thought about it – because its our imagination drifting out into our surroundings and it takes the tedium out of everyday life helping to pass the time when we’re doing something mundane and are surrounded by others doing the same. In fact I can’t help but wonder about the lives I have lead in other people’s imaginations without ever knowing it – I wonder what they saw in me and where I was going in their imaginations?

If you have any running themes that you tend to imagine when you people watch or anything you do when in these situations or thoughts on what I’ve written then please share them as its always good to know that even the odd little things we do we ALL do together.

People watching in Picadilly

Words by Matt Turner