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Baranovo Character 2: Dennis the Spy

At the start of the summer we put on a big festival outside the Dom Kultury in an effort to win the villagers over with music and face paint. As we all know nothing says community spirit quite like getting pissed around a fire and wearing cardboard hats so the evening was a success, highlight of it all being the arrival of Dennis. Dennis showed up outside the concrete shell that is the Dom somewhere around five o’clock, looking suspiciously well-dressed and having a suspicious number of his own teeth. He introduced himself as Dennis- just Dennis- and told us all that he had been working in a submarine for five years but had now retired and owned a rabbit farm down the road. He then invited us to stay at said rabbit farm as he had a spare room and would be very interested in getting to know us all- we politely declined but accepted his offer of a lift back to camp, and never saw him again.

A favourite game for the following month was constructing elaborate theories as to where Dennis was and what he was up to. A few days after the festival one of the camp dogs came back to the house reeking of death, having rolled around in a rotting carcass somewhere in the forest. We immediately sent a search party out to find mystery carcass but were ultimately unsuccessful, concluding that Dennis had certainly killed one of the village babushkas and was now using her face as a disguise.

Recent reports indicate that Dennis has been back at camp with armfuls of dead rabbits plying Stas (above, left) for information as to where all the foreign volunteers might have taken off to. And their names. And passport numbers.

Good luck Dennis.
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Baranovo Character 1: Vika

For the past two weeks I have been camping out in the teeny tiny village of Baranovo, Pskov, volunteering at the local orphanage and generally enjoying life in the depths of rural Russia. Stupidly idyllic and equally absurd, I wouldn’t know how to back-log the long series of anecdotes that have punctuated the last 14 days, so I thought I’d present a series of character profiles, character number one being my new best friend, Vika.

Vika is five years old and lives in a little wooden house across the road from the abandoned cultural centre which we are currently trying to renovate. Forever covered in an inch-thick layer of grime, she spends most of her time trying to get us to dress her up as a princess, swing her around by the arms or buy her ice cream. She also enjoys pretending to be a dog or some sort of giant that likes eating people in their beds. Boundless enthusiasm and gummy smile make just about anything she does seem pretty awesome, however favourite moment so far has to be when we taught her how to use bucket stilts. After just about mastering her new-found skill Vika wobbled across the uneven terrain of the playing field, paused, turned to us and demanded that we shoot her. We obliged, so she threw herself off her stilts and onto the ground- a dramatic end to the sunshine child.

Brady-Bunch-concert-photo toothpickmag

The Watson Family-

quotes from Christmas

“I just wanted you feel stupid for a bit longer.”

“Wow. You need to get a hat and cover that up.”

“Foi gras just tastes like dirty butter to me.”

“Debs, is this an old lampshade or some sort of cooking utensil?”

“Hey Elly can I dip my cheese in your ice cream sauce?” “Dylan! She’s your sister!”

Lord help us.

This is Jo Pennington. You may find her manning her stall on Greenwich Market most days, and will probably wish you could wear her t-shirts every day. Hand drawn and screen printed, they feature unicorns, humming birds and hybrids that’ll make you wish the RSPCA would just relax a bit and let us do some experimenting. Words with the lovely lady herself.

So Jo how did Pengat come about?

My idea for the clothing line came started after working in a clothes shop after my degree, I had been working on illustrations for tattoo designs for friends and a few people had suggested trying them on t-shirts so I got some iron on transfer paper to try them out. My dad actually was the one that pushed me into trying them out properly to sell either online or at a market. I decided to go with screen printing due to it lending itself to the hand drawn element of my designs, then approached Greenwich Market and it all started there really.

Amazing, and how did you come up with the name?

The name Pengat comes from the penguin-cat hybrid illustration I did and ended up using as the logo. I did some volunteer work with penguins (plus other sea birds) in South Africa a few years ago and also have a black and white cat at home and for some reason started drawing them as a hybrid until I got a natural looking creature.

What do you like most about working at Greenwich Market?

The best part of it are the people you meet plus the face to face opinions you get about your work. You can build up a customer base before starting to sell online, plus you don’t have all of the financial issues that come with opening a shop.

And the worst part?

The worst part is definitely the weather and the long days. I think I was wearing up to ten layers over the winter period! It is a lot more tiring than you might think as well, being up at 5:30-6:00 to get ready and sort out any stock you need to top up (I have storage at the market) and getting there for 8:00 to lift all the storage containers and start setting up the stall. You are then there till 5:30pm when you start to pack up.

I imagine that would take a lot of self-motivation! How do you deal with being self-employed?

The best part of being self-employed is that you have nobody to answer to. You are your own boss and you decide how much work or how little you want to do in a day. I thought this might make me become a little compliant but it has in fact made me push myself more. The worst parts of being self-employed are that you have no set income and that it is hard work whilst you are in the first year and trying to grow as a small business, most of what you earn is put back into the business development so it can be tough financially.

Any tips for young creatives wanting to follow suit?

Tips for those wanting to start a small creative business would be to test your products on friends and family first, get an idea of whether it would work or not. I would definitely recommend a market to start off with after that, as you can get an idea of how popular your ideas are without spending too much, plus you can build up a knowledge of your product before launching online or through other methods.

What is your favourite design from your portfolio so far?

My favourite design so far is the pengat as it took me so long to get it to look natural, plus it has more character than the other prints. I am currently working on another design that should be quite effective too. The most popular design customer wise is the humming birds, which was actually the most expensive to print as well…being a 7 colour image.

Do you draw on any particular influences when coming up with new work? And where did the idea of hybrids come from?

Influences for my work include tattoo design, animals, mythical hybrids, dark creatures, dreams, skulls and print/surface design. I also research a little into trends, although with t-shirt design you are generally free to do whatever you please! My favourite artists and illustrators are Aya Kato, Douglas Kolk, Jane Alexander (South African sculptor and artist-amazingly strange work with a lot of history to it), Kerrie Jane Stritton and Lucy McLaughlan. I have been drawing little hybrid creatures for quite some time now, so I was working on the drawings before the idea to do t-shirts came about. I guess I’ve always liked drawing animals, and to make them a little more fun or sometimes dark/creepy I combined them. I decided to use them on the t-shirts because I knew animal prints were in fashion but I wanted mine to be different to others, something that would stand out a bit more.

Go and have a sneak peak at Jo’s wares yourself at Greenwich Market or click here for her facebook page.

The finest pensmith in the land

- an interview with Stuart Whitton

“In our digitally-dominated world it’s always refreshing to see the work of a true craftsman. Armed with nothing but a humble pencil, Stuart Whitton creates beautiful, evocative images. And on top of that he’s very nice. With lovely hair.”

- Patrick Burgoyne, Editor of Creative Review

While a recent trip to the V&A’s PostModernism exhibition left me with little faith in man’s sense of aesthetic, an hour spent looking through the work of a certain up and coming artist had something of a redemptive effect. Stuart Whitton’s works are realistic but dreamlike, and it seems quite incredible that they came from only pencil and paper. Just as a great novel seems like a natural depiction of the world until it is analysed, Whitton’s drawings are beautiful until you think about how much work went into them. Then they’re just gobsmacking. Words with the artist before he becomes famous and takes up living in a ghost village living off steak and Cherry Coke. Or whatever it is famous artists do.

How would you describe your work? And how would you describe it in 5 words?

I would describe my work as a visual representation of my distinct preference for applying detailed tonal qualities to realistic forms. I try to achieve a high degree of likeness of my subject matter with subtle approaches so that the piece differs slightly and maintains an illustrative feel.
Within five words: Detailed, Realistic, Precise, Ethereal, and Figurative.

You do some awfully clever things with pencil and paper. What is your favourite kind of pencil at the moment?

Why thank you! I have always used Derwent Pencils to create my work, not only a great product but also a company who have been both kind and supportive to me. As for a favourite it would have to be a graphic pencil in the soft range, probably a 2B if you twisted my arm for a specific answer.

It says on your site that you’ve been drawing since you were a child. What did you first start drawing? (Ginny started by drawing pictures of people with flower heads, a promising start in life I think)

When I was a child I remember being particularly fascinated with dinosaurs among other things, judging from my early sketchbooks it seems that I wanted to capture anything that I found interesting at the time, which allows them to serve as quite warming visual diaries. These consist of objects, television characters, and football players.
(Your sister never fails to impress me, a great start! I can’t say I indulged in creating petal headed figures but probably ate a crayon or two in my time)

Your pieces look like they would take a very long time to do and require a lot of patience. What is the longest you can sit down and draw for? And what do you do in the intervals?

If there were one aspect that I could change about how I work it would be the time scale. To create a detailed portrait of considerable size I will find myself working for a number of days on a single piece. I thoroughly enjoy creating the work and I can honestly say I am at my happiest when I am drawing but if I could create work a little quicker that would be a great advantage.
The longest would probably be a couple of hours that is sponsored heavily by continuous music and a cup of tea to reward completing an area of the work every so often. Other than a tea break, sometimes I go for a run or see what iPlayer has to offer before sharpening my weapons of choice and proceeding with the work at hand.

Who would you say are your top five favourite artists?

This is quite a difficult one as I am influenced by a number of creatives both past and present, what is also a big factor is the constant stream of new imagery that finds it’s way into my day that makes it almost impossible to compose a hierarchy of artists when looking at the broad spectrum.
However, if an artist tends to use traditional media with somewhat of a realistic approach I am sure you’ll find me admiring an image or two of theirs.

You draw some pretty incredible textures, do you have one that you especially like (for example I love the texture of mange-tout, the vegetable, but I can’t stand velvet)

Very kind of you to say! I enjoy adding textures to try and add a different approach within my work but feel that I am still far from developing what I would consider to be my voice. I am enjoying experimenting with a formal element such as texture and will hopefully progress to bring my audience something a little special (that’s the idea anyway).
With regards to a preference it would probably be the paper folds for the moment, as the process of folding the paper highlights texture while simultaneously distorting the image on the paper.

What piece of work are you most proud of/satisfied with?

I tend to fall in and out of love with my work, and it always seems to be my most recent piece that I am most proud of. Although, if I was to take a good look over my portfolio I would probably say my Alphabet, I created the individual letters as an experiment and it is the piece of work that has received the greatest amount of attention. I guess I am quite surprised that the concept has been reasonably well received.

And lastly. Do you have any exciting upcoming projects?

I am happy to say that I am looking to really push myself in 2012 and are currently working on album artwork for a promising upcoming Welsh band.

If you would like to have a look at some of Stuart’s work you can check out his website here and if you think you might need a bit of pencil-drawn joy in your life his Alphabet print is on sale (see the Shop). Until then…

Tea and scones with Miranda Foxx

for chats on illustration and inspiration

So Miranda, tell us a bit about yourself!

I’m a student at London College of Communications doing Graphic and Media Design with Illustration. Wow that’s going to take ages to write on cvs…Anyway I’d say I’m not a pencil case illustrator, as in I’m more likely to take some books, cut them up and make you a collage than draw you a pretty picture. Also I hate technology. Photoshop, Illustrator, it just all seems like cop outs for lazy people.

Are there any pieces of technology you do like?

Yeah I love my 1975 Praktica camera but that’s followed pretty closely by this 1950s manual loading slide projector I bought from a guy called Derek.

Could you tell us about what are you’re working on right now, you’re favourite project in general and what you hope to make in the future?

Well at the moment I’m putting together a six slide narrative about a creepy old man who spies on his neighbours and writes stories about them on his 1970s orange typewriter. It ends badly. But my favourite project I’ve done so far is the photograms of dead animals, ‘Capturing Light’. And in the future I think I’d like to do some really large scale projects, like redesign a whole room or do a stop motion film similar to Chris Marker’s La Jetée.

Amazing, and where do you look for inspiration for all these projects?

I’m not sure, old peoples houses and the Stables Markets in Camden? Yeah, I’d say that’s my answer although I also really admire Kate Breckley and Steven Appleby. Oh and really like going to Nobrow on Great Eastern Street. Such a good place to go looking for ideas.

If you like Miranda’s work and think she could be the lady for your creative project do not hesitate to get in contact at pistachio_3@hotmail.com or just have a goosy gander at all her lovely thoughts here.

And just in case you weren’t already convinced of how wonderful Miss Foxx was, a little glimpse at her final product. If only we all owned manual slide projectors…


Q&A with Vitaly Mansky-

the leading Russian documentary film maker talks about his new eye-opener ‘Patria O Muerte’

While I have watched more emerging Russian cinema than I care to remember this week, one film that I would actually endeavour to buy on dvd is Vitaly Mansky’s unforgiving picture of Cuba ‘Patria O Muerte’. Featuring the exhumation of graves, food rations, 15th birthdays and a whole lot of amazing music it’s a reminder that the world isn’t such a small place, and there are things going on beyond the iPhone revolution.

How long did you spend in Cuba to shoot your documentary?

I was there for three months, although I went there for two weeks previously to do research.

Were you greatly restricted by censorship?

The control of journalism in Cuba is so restricting, more than anything I saw during the Soviet Union. It was very difficult to get permission to shoot the documentary, the whole process taking me nine months. However when I got there it wasn’t so much censorship from the government, but people were very careful of what they said, not even in front of the camera, just in front of a third person. There are no strong anti-Fidel movements, nothing that you could compare to the dissident movements at the end of the Soviet Union, people are upset by the social aspects rather than holding any real political resentment.

And what is Cuban television like?

It’s very funny. Cubans love their television. There are two or three channels, all state-owned of course, with many educational and musical programmes. Because of the economical problems though, an educational programme can just consist of a five minute shot of an open textbook, with the camera panning across the pages. Surprisingly American films are also screened, but only ones which criticise the capitalist system, such as Al Gore’s ‘An Inconvenient Truth’. Films are also acquired illegally on the black market but people see it as a sign of protest against the US blockade rather than a criticism of their own government.

Your documentary turned out rather monochromatic although Cuba is a notoriously colourful country. Do you think that’s more a reflection of your own personality than of the country itself?

I worked on the colour in post production and toned it down a lot simply because otherwise you couldn’t see peoples faces properly, you couldn’t see their emotions. However it’s true I also wanted to get away from the bright colours associated with Cuba, you know the ones you always see on the travel posters, because they are part of the Cuban myth.

What impression has Cuba left you with?

Cubans are beautiful people, for whom you feel a strong sympathy. They struggle through terrible living conditions, and you can’t help but feel horror at the standard of living they have to deal with.

At this point a young Russian girl put up her hand an asked what made him want to make a film about poor Cubans.

I didn’t make a film about poor Cubans. None of the people you saw were poor. They were all upper middle-class people. That old man you saw riding around on his bike was the district director, and that man with the handicapped son, his brother is the Cuban Minister of Culture. There was a picture of him shaking hands with Fidel Castro on the wall behind him. I chose to make this film because Cuba is a country on the threshold of a great transformation, similar to the Soviet Union in the late 80s. There is an atmosphere there of being on the eve of a storm, and this seemed like a very interesting thing to capture.

Were there any films that particularly inspired you in the making of your documentary?

‘I Am Cuba’ by Mikhail Kalatozov, ‘Buena Vista Social Club’ by Wim Wenders and a less known film, but equally good, ’5X Favela’ by Cadu Barcelos.

While the Russian Film Festival is now over, and Mr Mansky will be off to join the rest of the festival circuit you can always catch him at next year’s festival, for which he will surely be curating another batch of cutting edge Russian documentaries. Otherwise you can always contact Academia Rossica for any news about the distribution of Patria O Muerte or just check out the trailer here.

Picture taken from cover of Russian Mind, issue 12.

Oh She’s A Lady-

question time with the tattoo world’s own femme fatale, Angelique Houtkamp

What was the first tattoo you ever drew?
The first few things I did was coloring something that one of my co-workers outlined. If I remember it correctly, the first complete tattoo I did was a horseshoe. I had this friend of mine that let me practice on him, under supervision off course. I did quite a few nice old school things on him. If I see them now, I think they aren’t half bad.

You paint a lot of beautiful ladies, do you have any particular muses?
Not one in particular. I do like to look at a lot of old Hollywood glamour photo’s though.

In what way do you think being an Amsterdam-based artist has influenced your work?
A lot. I wanted to learn to tattoo since I was 19. I didn’t succeed then, it took me another ten years. Amsterdam is such a magnet for travelers and young people that I met a whole lot of great international tattooers in the meantime.They taught me a lot about the way things work with tattooing in general. I worked for a number of years at Tattoo Peter in Amsterdam. That shop has been around since the forties. It has a great history, so in that sense it shaped me a lot too.

Seeing as you have such a distinctive style, do you also attract a particular clientele?
Most likely. I’m not really aware of what kind of clientele other tattooers attract, but my clients know the stuff I make petty well, so I aways get asked to do things in my style.

Any advice for aspiring tattoo artists?
Find someone who can give you a proper apprenticeship. someone who has tattooed for over ten years and makes nice work. Preferably in a studio with more good artists.

What a babe. If you fancy owning some of Angelique’s wares but aren’t committed enough for the real deal you can buy loads of her beautiful prints from her website, other goodies include t-shirts and her newly released book, the All-Killer No-Filler Line Drawing Book. Is it too late to be looking for stocking fillers?

ps. That’s her photographed with her circus performer husband, just in case we weren’t all completely sure she’s excellent at life.


Johnny The Bum-

the rainbow-bearded tramp you wished lived near you

Every small town has its token homeless person. Whether they amble along with their shopping trolley full of shit, dance in the square embarrassing unexpecting tourists or just hurl abuse at school children, they’re always there, adding that bit of tobacco-stained eccentricity to our everyday lives. In Newcastle, Australia, this valued member of the community is Johnny. Johnny is not your conventional homeless as he does actually own a house, his ‘Castle of Kindness’ although he spends most of his time busking on the city’s main thoroughfare, Darby Street. While I was unable to interview him, his only responses being either ‘titty lick, finger and a fuck?’ or ‘goldies? You got some goldies? Gimme some goldies’ (as in gold coins) a friend of mine actually bought a zine Johnny had put together a few years ago and I figured this would provide all the insight we could need into this interesting character.

The tome is titled ‘The Real Fiction Autobiography of Bob Dylan’ although he scratched out the ‘auto’ once he realised he wasn’t actually Bob Dylan. As the title suggests it is 40 pages of photocopied paper covering Johnny’s various feelings towards Bob Dylan and what the guy was about, interspersed with random narrative. While I’m sure you’re all feeling the loss of not being able to read its entirety for yourselves, here are a few of my favourite parts. Enjoy.

In the absence of the historical and political context of the early sixties with a clear image How might we suppose the ‘first-generation’ Dylan fan would respond to the piece? Oh sure, I used to eat leaves off those trees in my teenage years, being three days ago said that cat named Zimmerman, being Bob of course, cats and rock and rollers having similar life expectancy and all that.

All I know’s Dylan drank a lot of booze, loved and longed for some girl named suze who said ‘It really changes a person ahen they become well-known by all and sundry’. All I’m thinkin’s lucky that’s not me. But even so I’m still not free from my own suze and booze and ll the other things that have imprisoned thee. oh bob. Poor poor bob. oh bob, poor rich bob. Poet or head of the mob?

Maybe it’s a voice in his head. I know it is for me. I hear poetry. I feel like I don’t write it. My friend the thief just imparted some more vital information for my mental consumption. He said ‘Chi Kung’ I said, “What?” He said “The Chinese they think we’re stupid, mate, because we’re all fucken runnin’ around to get fit mate. Joggin’, exercisin’ but the Chinese are laughin’ their heads off sayin’, “What are they doin’?” “They’re saying, look at all these fucking clowns. Mate, they’re getting fit just standin’ still, sittin’ still”

He joined the folk movement in the early days because he was punk and punk hadn’t been invented yet. Maybe he invented punk.

I didn’t know if I could believe what my eyes did see, Bob Dylan paranoid blues had a hold on me.

Some of them were hardened jailbirds who belonged inside the jail of folk.

My friend even thought it was life threatening. He said ‘Don’t worry one bit about ice or heroin. Don’t think about cigarettes or pot from now on. You’ve got a problem, I’ve got this feelin’. You’re addicted to Bobby Dylan.

Then my stereo stopped working and I couldn’t hear Dylan for a time in my space. Time and space? Human constructs or apriori concepts? Fucking Kantian bullshit! I felt like a catholic skipping church. I felt empty. Then I felt angry, like a catholic suddenly started to count the hours wasted listening to the droning sermons of that all too nice priest. “Not today” says the fat, balding man in my mind as he tears the top off another tinnie, shouting loud on a Sunday morning “I’m cheating Hell!” then, after a pause in the dead silence of Sunday morning suburbia “And Heaven! God and the Devil!” Then to this neighbour, over the fence, watering his garden, “And you!” Scorning the innocent manwith the insane cackle of a kookaburra. “I’m cheating you too! I’m cheating you too!” Then he pointed at his dumb-founded neighbour and laughed for forty minutes or more. One of those uncontrollable laughs that might stop for a second only to leap into his mouth from deep in his throat as if the scorn were escaping from deep within and gripped him so absolutely, so completely that he lost control of his bodily functions. His neighbour turns the hose from the rose bush to his giggling friend. The sopping man begins to cry from beneath his soggy self saying “Why? Why? Why would you do that to me? You…You…You’ve humiliated me in front of my family! My wife and children! The whole community! And God! You’ve broken my spirit, stolen my soul! Why?”

“Why?” says the other with a reserved sarcasm, a timing to his speech that conveyed a non-existent power, a power that was being born in this moment in the minds of these purile men. “Why?” he repeated suddenly aware that this word was a weapon and that the word existed with an absence of reason. “Because you pissed yourself!”

“On my property!”

Yeah, but I can smell it!”

So?”

Well, I like to smell me roses on a Sunday.”

They were exchanging words, insults like blows in a dirty street fight. Then the man with the roses curled up his lip, snorted a long a heavy load of flem and spat it at his rival. But he didn’t get the desired reaction. He laughed. He laughed even louder and harder than he had before. Suddenly the man with the hose was overcome by a heavy sense of confusion. “Why? Why are you laughing” He echoed the existential grief the other had expressed just moments before.

I’m laughing” he said, spitting the words out from beneath yet another giggle, “I’m laughing because…Because….”

Why? Fuck you! Why?”

Because…..I…” then he collapsed with the laughter and as he got up pointed a dirty bare arse at the neighbour his church would have told him to love, saying, “…because I didn’t jut piss myself. I shit myself.” And suddenly the other man noticed the largest amount of human shit he’d ever seen surrounding his ‘mate’ and as the odour rose, he was mocked, the church skipper dancing around his own yard naked with shit hanging all over him.

Now how do you feel about that? I read through the whole thing, you don’t even want to know. There was also a really nice bit where he explained how if we’d paid more explicit attention to the lyrics of ‘Times Are A Changin’ then 9/11 may not have happened, but I’ve lost it and there’s no way I’m trawling back through that literary maze. Johnny Rainbow you are hilarious, but I sincerely hope you’re nobody’s father.

I Heart Rhys Nicholson-

a quick chat with the gayer-than-aids funnyman

So Rhys Nicholson who are you, tell me about yourself

I’m a comedian, that’s a pretty loose term though. I’m a comedian with a day job, because things are going well.

What’s your comedy about?

I don’t know, there’s a lot of anger in my comedy but for no reason, I was brought up quite nicely. I don’t know, a lot of awkward sexual experiences.

Like what?

Fingering a girl, that’s one.

Would you like to tells us about it?

Sure. So this is my only experience with a woman. It was technically rape but I didn’t press charges. We were really drunk at this party right, and this girl, let’s call her Sue because that was her name. She was from Newcastle. Broadmedow Road. House number 67. Anyway she was getting really aggressive  (she drank like a fish) and she pulled me onto the bed and started making out with me and suddenly she didn’t have any underwear on anymore and the lights were on and it was terrifying. By the way girls, never call it ‘my precious lily’ because that’s really not what it is, is it? Made me think of that movie, Predator. You know when he takes off his mask and it’s all like blerghgraaaaaa!!! Anyway, so there it was, the all stinking eye, and she just grabbed me by the hand and flung it onto her vag. And I didn’t know what to do, it was kinda awkward so I just sort of high fived it. And that was that.

That sounds like plenty to be angry about. Is there anything else that grinds your gears?

Religion. Being gay. Being bad at sex.

Are you rubbish?

Yeah. I’m like a 45 year old female divorcee, I’ve seen too much and I don’t bleed anymore so what’s the point?

How is life being a gay man in Australia?

Great, fucking so many rights. I’m kind of bad at being the gay rights advocate though because I really don’t care. I don’t want to get married, I don’t want kids. I’m like one of those old ladies getting pissed on sherry while there’s a war going on. I hear about it, but I don’t really give a shit.

Fair enough. Could you give us a quick snippet from your show?

Sure. I can share my thoughts on fisting if you want? There’s something about fisting that terrifies me. There’s something about sex that terrifies me actually but fisting especially. I mean when do you get to the point in your sexual career (and it is a career, I’ve gone bankrupt several times) where you can’t respect someone unless you can loose a watch inside them. If there’s one person I’d allow to fist me it’d be Jim Henson, inventor of The Muppets. Because he has had his hands inside of cultural icons. I would love to be part of that alumni. It’d be me and Miss Piggy: BFFFs. Best Fisting Friends Forever.

On that classy note any general words of wisdom for the population at large?

Come to my show and if you kiss me afterwards, that’d be great.

You can catch Rhys on the Australian version of Balls of Steel or in person at Sydney’s Comedy Store. Either way it’s not for the sentimental.

Parliament Square Protesters-

a survivor’s tale

Every once in a while you have to do something that you’re afraid of and whether that’s bungee jumping or dumping your boyfriend, you always leave with this colossal sense of achievement, like you are actually pretty good at living. Then you’ve got the survivor’s story, and strangely enough I feel like meeting this week’s featured person falls under that category.
This is how it went.
For a while now I’ve been meaning to have a chat with the hordes of hippies that occupy Parliament Square and this Wednesday I finally manned up and asked them some questions. Now don’t underestimate how intimidating it is to march up to a tight knit group of political extremists, let alone those who’ve been living in tents for the past 10 years, and try to understand how relieved I was to find, right in the middle of this strange ensemble, an old man with bushy eyebrows and a polyester suit.
His name is Bunny, he is 80 years old and you can find him in the Square twice a week sitting in his chair for 4 hours at a time and handing out slips of paper with his website handwritten on it. I sat and chatted with him for an hour or so and while I didn’t have any sort of recording device, here’s the basic jist of the conversation.
So, what are you fighting for?
Well we’d like to remove the troops from Iraq, dissolve the armies and use the money productively to ensure a basic standard of living throughout the world.
*told me a load of statistics about government expenditure through the military, then we went off on a tangent about 9/11 but he was lovely and said he had only read a few books about it and preferred not to comment on conspiracy theories when he wasn’t properly informed*

In a perfect world, how would the government operate?
Well in my perfect world, all resources would be pooled together, and then distributed according to people’s needs, so that people with children, or disabilities or any sort of disadvantage could get the support they need. But everyone would be represented, so I would have a group to represent me as a senior citizen, you would have one as a student and everyone would have their say. I’d also really like it if they had an hour set aside everyday on the telly so that they could screen all sorts of issues, from little ones to really major things and then people could see them, and call in if they had any ideas. Because you don’t realize how much people are capable of. I mean do you think the Wright brothers knew they would invent the airplane? No. People don’t realize how much is inside them. I’m four times your age and I still think there’s a little bit inside me, you must have bags and bags of ideas!

I hope so, well I want to be a writer.
That’s wonderful.
*Looks at ‘horses jump off boats when they see me’ tshirt.*
Well you obviously have a strong effect on people. I like to write. I write on the inside of chocolate bar wrappers, so if it’s rubbish I can just pop it straight into the recycle bin, but if it’s good I can write it on real paper.

What’s your favourite kind of chocolate?
*Bunny pulls out a bar of Green&Blacks milk chocolate and gives me two squares. He also hands me a print out about the havoc caused by Uranium in the Middle East. Heavy shit incidentally and very scary*
Now I’ve given you this information and you have to decide what you want to do with it. It’s up to you. But if you disagree with what’s going on in the world you can just come down here, even just for an hour a week and sit so people know you’re not happy.

We chatted about this and that for a while, then we shook hands and he pointed out all the CCTV cameras and warned me that the government might be keeping an eye on me from now on. Bunny’s been going to Parliament Square every week since 2005. Bryan and Barbara (the big cheeses) have been living there since the 1st of July 2001. They live entirely off donations so if you’re ever in the area you should probably drop by and hand them some tea bags or bread or sugar or whatever and you’re sure to have some pretty interesting conversations in return.

Ahoy hoy- interview with a sailor

I imagine that I’m not the only person to find your job quite a novelty, why did you choose such an exotic career?
Over a girl (ha!) No, well I originally did a degree in IT but then a couple of years ago I met a bunch of people my age who’d just started their training for merchant sailing and it all sounded so exciting and my girlfriend at the time was being…well a woman (no offence taken there, we all know exactly what he means) so I told myself I’f giver her a week to sort herself out and if she didn’t then I’d join the navy. And she didn’t, so I did, and here I am.

Can you give us an outline of your day to day routine?
Well I wake up at 3.30am, grab some food then head to the engine room for 4 am and work there until 8am. Then there’s breakfast and back to work from 8.30 til 12. After that I’ve got 4 hours ‘free’ time during which I have lunch (usually some sort of curry dish because most of the ship’s officers are Indian) and then back to my cabin to read or write or more likely than not, sleep.

Would you say it’s quite a solitary life?
Yeah definitely, I mean there’s this unwritten rule that you do not disturb people while they’re on their break. They’re in their cabin and what they do in there is their own business, it’s the only time that you get any sense of privacy. Because you’re all stuck on a ship together it becomes really quite important. I think I’m quite a solitary person anyway so the lifestyle suits me but there are times where I miss England, because most of the crew are either Indian or Philipino and while they speak English you can only ever get to a certain level of conversation. You just don’t get the same sort of banter as you do at home.

So you sail from Singapore to Cameron through Malaysia, Thailand, China, Korea, South Africa, Nigeria, Togo, Ghana and back again, have you seen any mind blowing sights?
Of course. This one time we were sailing into Cape Town and we could see about 5 whales and all these seals and dolphins having a party. No seriously, it was like this massive aquatic mash up with all of them jumping out of the water together and looking like they were either playing together or having a massive orgy. It was amazing.

That sounds incredible..
Yeah, you get moments like that, or like when our captain organised a basketball court on the deck and you’re sailing along the West coast of Africa playing basketball and drinking beer, and everything’s great. Then you get moments like when we were caught in a storm for 4 days and the ship was constantly at a 20 degree angle and everything’s sliding out of place and you have to hold onto your plate at dinner. Or when you’re down in the engine room and it’s 46 degrees and you’re sweating away in your hard hat and overalls and there’s just no way of refreshing yourself because by the time you climb upstairs to get a drink and back down again, you’ve sweated it all away again.

What about safety-wise, I mean have you come into any scrapes?
Well merchant sailing is actually the second most dangerous job (first being deep sea fishing), because of storms and what not but also because of pirates. Harbour pirates are pretty common. Essentially they target boats that are waiting to come into the docks, sneak up on them in tiny speed boats and steal whatever they can. I was on pirate watch for a few nights along the West coast of Africa and spotted 3 or 4 attempts but you just need to signal the person upstairs and they shine a massive light on the them an they duck down and scamper off. You have to be really careful though, I have a friend who got half his hand cut off by a pirate with a machete. And that’s just harbour pirates, if you get attacked out at sea you’re pretty much fucked. they climb on with guns and stuff, steal the ship and take the crew as hostages, so yeah, dangerous stuff.

Well if you see the year out, what are your plans for the future?
I’ve got a year left of training and after that I’ll be a fully qualified engineer and can start applying to work on whatever ships I want. I’d really like to work on either of the ships that are part of the British Antarctic Survey. You get to sail around Antarctica transporting equipment and supplies and scientists so I think that’d be pretty interesting.

I think it’s fair to say he’s put everyone’s 9 til 5 jobs to shame, so next time you’re queuing up for the photocopy machine or filling in a spreadsheet you can remember: adventure is out there.

Every once in a while you meet someone that just seems to come from nowhere. You know the ones that you can’t imagine them having parents, or a bank account, and would put money on them not actually having a belly button. This week’s featured person is one of those. Allow me to introduce you to Kpete Noeden Howden Brunton-Crunk, 23 year old med student, gambler and substance explorer.
Now if this was a Charles Dickens novel, and people’s names served as an indicator of their character, Kpete’s pretty much sets the pace for his life. Someone bet him that he wouldn’t put a silent ‘k’ infront of his name so he not only proved him wrong but one-upped him by having a renaming party and registering himself as this new double-barreled monstrosity. Kpete Noeden Howden Brunton-Crunk. Amazing.
As you’ve probably guessed by now, Kpete has a penchant for drugs. While we’re chatting he’s whipped out about 10 enormous poppy pods, stuck them in a blender and made tea with the powder. Smells like the skin of a jacket potato but he seems pretty happy with it.
He hands me a 5 page letter from his solicitor giving the details of his arrest and subsequent caution for posession of class A drugs. Here’s an excerpt:

In respect to the LSD, you said that it was your intention to recreate the LSD experiments conducted by the CIA in the 60s.
You indicated that all the drugs found on your person were for personal consumption and that the self seal bags and scales were consistent with that usage.
you gave details of the casinos in which you were gambling and you gave details of your “winning methods”.
[...]
You were interviewed by the police and accepted my advicec to answer questions, you set out your case fully and frankly. You told the officers that you are a heavy user of drugs on occasions you are not studying for higher level qualifications.

He seems pretty unphased about it all and has decided to take a gap year, make some money in casinos with his autistic friend (I’m not even kidding) and go travelling around South-East Asia.
As for long term plans he’s got it all figured out. First up will be his charity ‘The Dangers of Running with your Hands in your Pockets’ aimed at spreading awareness of this extremely dangerous habit (think tshirts, website and a yearly marathon to really make his point) then make millions, buy a fucking massive yacht and write a book.
It’s time to go to bed so we part ways with an invite to take shrooms in Kew Gardens and one last funny story about the time he set his hair on fire in the bath.
I hope he lives to 100.

Favourite things with John Dilnot

This week I am extremely proud to announce that I had an interview with a real live artist. One that has a studio, and exhibitions and manages to sell all his work. Not only that but a man who took the time out to write back to not one but three of my emails and give me some very good advice to boot.This here is John Dilnot, illustrator, collector and god of small things.

What is your daily routine?
Routines are a great idea in theory but they don’t last long with me as I’ll get bored with it. I do like to start work early in the day and then I can relax knowing that I have achieved something, I think that is the nearest I get to a routine.

If you had to make a box to represent your life, what would it look like?
They all represent my life in some way, I’m sure that I would feel that any work that is more personal to me would represent my life in part but it would probably not be obvious to anyone else. I would like to see everything I’ve ever made put in the same room and see what that says.

Which of your pieces are you most proud of?
I hate to choose but I have just made a box called ‘Bad Apples’ that I am very proud of. The box contains rows of apples labelled with names that are largely forgotten old varieties, names such as Harvest Festival and Newton Wonder but each apple has been affected by rot, insects or a disease. It is a piece that I think has a lot of layers to discover and it also means a lot to me personally.

You seem to like collecting things, what is your most prized collection?
I had a very nice collection of milk cartons ( I collected them for the graphics) when I was a student, but despite washing them out they eventually got very smelly and I had to throw them away. I now have a collection of illustrated natural history books, many are often real labours of love and I find them inspiring.

What are you most inspired by: music, films or books? 
I could be inspired by anything, inspiration comes when you are not looking for it. I listen to music or the radio when I’m working and sometimes a line from a song will jump out and hit me with an idea.

Your top 5 favourite artists?
Ed Ruscha, HC Westerman, Paul Nash, Max Ernst, Magritte.

What’s your favourite font?
I wouldn’t think in terms of favourites, I like all fonts and I would use anything that feels appropriate.

There is no way that I could adequately describe John’s works so I suggest you check out his website where you can not only see his beautiful boxes and prints but can also buy some of his postcards (75p), little books (8.50) or kits to make your own accordion books (11.75). Magical.