THIS TRAIN CALLS AT ALL STATIONS TO NOSTALGIA

In the opening to one of my novels (sorry, there is no way to write that phrase in a way that doesn’t sound pretentious) the main character Holly is on the tube, musing to her boyfriend about the voice of the tube announcer.

 

She begins to wonder whether the owner of said voice is still alive, and if they’re not, whether their loved ones might take the tube as a way of being with them again? Getting carried away, she suggests there’s a sense in which the actor has been immortalised by Transport for London… at which point her boyfriend tells her off for being mental.

 

My mum also read it and suggested to me gently that this was a bit far-fetched and I should take it out. But then this happened. The gorgeous story of Margaret McCollum,who used to plan her Tube journeys so that she would hear her late husband’s voice.

It’s funny how you write things that seem ridiculous at the time, and then they go and come true! But what’s even lovelier about the story of Margaret and Oswald is that that the reason they got together in the first place was due to the allure of his dulcet tones:

 

‘She met Mr Laurence in 1992 on a trip to Morocco when he was working as a tour and cruise company guide. She was instantly taken by his “gorgeous voice”. They married in 2003 and were together until his death in 2007.’

 

How lovely. I challenge you to read the last line of this article and NOT get completely choked up. Skip to the bottom of the ‘update’ – the last line is a fiendish tear-jerker.

 

On a similar theme, Nat and I also have a short film called ‘The Voice’ that we wrote years ago which is about something similar. One man, a bowl of spag bol, and his SatNav…

 

 

LONDON AS IT COULD BE NOW

In a second ‘wild swimming’ related post, today I’d like to draw your attention to an exciting new venture being organised by a small group of people connected to London’s ad agencies.

The plan to build a swimming pool in the middle of the Thames.

Of course, everyone’s first thought when you mention being able to swim in the Thames is ‘yuk, it’s poo brown.’

But stay with me a minute.

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As this stunning photo from 1952 shows, swimming in the Thames isn’t a weird or revolting idea at all. It turns out we’ve been at it for centuries. There used to be pontoons all the way along the river, and even a ‘children’s beach’ along Tower Bridge (seen above), where kids who couldn’t afford to get to the seaside could go and learn to swim. As Caitlin Davies (author of a new book called Downstream:a history and celebration of swimming the River Thames) spoke about at the British Library last week, there’s never been any mention of the water being unclean in the history books. Only in 1960 did it formally stop happening, mainly due to safety reasons.

But that’s all about to change, if the Thames Baths – a brilliant wild-swimming venture following the footsteps of the Kings Cross Pond Club – gets off the ground. Its Director is Rainey Kelly’s Strategy Director Matt Bamford-Bowes, and it’s a very well-thought out plan which I think every man and his goldfish should pledge to support.

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The most important thing to mention about this pool is that it will be clean. I know. Thames. Fresh. Water. The mind boggles.

The water will be naturally filtered through an intricate system of reeds.  It will be safe too, with balustrades all around it. It will be warmed naturally, through a heat exchanger. It will be free to visit, and around £5-6 to swim in. You can see more at the Kickstarter campaign here. They have truly thought of everything.

The bath plans first came about as part of an Architecture Foundation and Royal Academy initiative, to find ideas that reconnect Londoners with the river, stirringly entitled London As It Could Be Now.  As well as Matt Rainey Kelly, the Baths vision is being realised by Studio Octopi; an architect firm who have revolutionised the layouts of many of London’s ad agencies. Architect Chris Romer-Lee had just been on holiday in Zurich, swimming in the river, and found himself asking, ‘why is there nowhere similar in London?’ (I couldn’t help thinking the same when I went to the incredible ‘Badis’ all the way along Lake Zurich – they are lovely). Anyway, Chris decided to ‘bring the idea home’, along with his colleague James Lowe. They’re both also now working on the Bring Back Peckham Lido campaign. Basically, what’s not to love.

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And as Guardian writer and swimming blogger Jenny Landreth put it so poignantly at the campaign event at the Royal Academy last week, ‘London is being stripped out from under our feet…swimming outdoors is a place to feel free… We need lidos in London now, more than ever. In the gloom after last Thursday, this is a really bright pocket of positivity.’ More brilliant words from Jenny here.

Here are the very latest designs of the different locations:

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Small point to anyone working in the South Bank area – One of the possible locations is in Blackfriars, very close to the new Bankside Omnicon building. Making it pretty much the perfect place to cool off during Summer lunch times… In 2017, when it opens. Unless they get their funding sooner, that is.

The deadline to pledge is this friday, so please do think about it, if you’re even slightly tempted.

There are a range of lovely incentives for pledging too, from lifetime membership, to a gorgeous limited edition ‘SWIM’ print, designed by Michael C Place:

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The last thing to say is that Kickstarter is only the half of it. The Baths are also open to finding ‘a carefully chosen partner’ to sponsor them. In case you know of any brands that want to “jump in”.

Come to Memory lane, E2

A while ago I (Lol) signed up for an unusual writing project with writer’s collective 26 and the Ministry of Stories.

The gist of it was, you get randomly paired with an artefact from the V & A Museum of Childhood and then you have to write a personal response to it.

The tricky part? You’re only allowed 62 words – what they’re calling a ‘sestude’. “Write whatever you like,’ they said. “Fact or fiction. Poetry or prose. It doesn’t have to be about the object, just inspired by it.”

Everyone’s got their own unique objects that sum up their childhood. In all honesty, if I was asked to sum up my childhood in a few words, three of them would be ‘Caravan’ and ‘Sylvanian Families.’ More on that here.

So it was all a bit bonkers when they told me my object was a Sylvanian Caravan. My first thought was, is this a wind-up? My second was, awesome, this is going to be fun.

I bloody loved those furry little buggers. I still think they’re pretty impressive, to be honest. From their perfectly proportioned  accessories, to their names – from Rocky Babblebrook, Hickory Hawthorn to Mortimer Bramble… names so evocative, they’re like the linguistic equivalent of teleportation.

Also, I don’t know if anyone realises this but the thing about Sylvanians is that they’re actually REAL. They have broadband and everything. Go to the website and see for yourself. The person to email at the ‘contact us’ tab is called Rose Timbertop. Seriously – I have proof. She just emailed me.

Nat once told me the best Sylvanian anecdote I’ve ever heard. Her boyfriend (Loftus) once had go with his sister’s Sylvanians while she was out. When she came back, she discovered he’d installed an intricate plumbing system all over the entire Sylvanian house, from the sinks to the bathrooms, upstairs and down. His equipment? Household straws.

Unsurprisingly the system wasn’t watertight. Water went everywhere, and as every child knows, you must never get a Sylvanian wet. They get chronic alopecia and cease to become cute. Loftus, on the other hand, grew up to be a successful product designer, first hired by James Dyson.

Another reason I loved the Sylvanians was the way they all shrink in incrementally equal sizes, like matroskha dolls. Maybe that’s one reason they’re so popular – the way they represent everything that’s good about this world, only a miniature, safe version of it. Other people who are interested in scale (Will Self and Slinkachu among them) speak of the feeling as being God-like, having control over a tiny world that you can rearrange any which way.

That’s the thing. When you’re a kid, no matter how bleak or discordant the world outside can get, everything looks tidy and harmonious in Sylvania. Even when you can hear your parents arguing through the floorboards, or if it’s pissing with rain outside, everything’s just peachy in Sylvania.

The Sylvanian Families shop in Hackney is situated directly next to a weapons shop. Which I think about sums it up. You’d never see guns in Sylvania.

So I had wanted to write about how there’s no guncrime in Sylvania. I had a line ‘no one gets shanked’ but it seemed a bit too harsh. Plus, there was that bloody word limit.  62 words is a very small canvas when you’re used to writing 90,000 word novels or TV ads.

In the end, my 62 words ended up being an exploration of the promise of childhood, as seen through the prism of adulthood.

The title was an ironic reference to my favourite writer Tom Stoppard, who references the phrase ‘Et in Arcadia ego’ in his play – meaning, even in Arcadia there is death. Suffice to say, they’re not the chirpiest 62 words I’ve ever written!

And yet strangely it’s had the warmest response to anything I’ve ever written. Apparently it’s made grown men cry?!

There’s definitely a lesson there about saying less. It’s like writing a really pithy headline or endline. The real skill is in what you chop out. (she says, fourteen pages in).  But it’s true – Shakespeare was onto something when he said ‘Brevity is the soul of wit’.

And it’s also true what John Simmons (one of the people behind 26) says. Sometimes constraints actually fuel creativity, rather than stifle it. Nat and I try and tell ourselves that when we get told there’s a tiny budget.

Anyway. I’ve rambled on long enough… If you’re so inclined you can see the actual bit of writing here in this Design Week article, along with a lovely piece about Skaletrix by Ian Douglas.

From tonight, all 26 pieces will be on display at the Museum of Childhood/V & A.

Read all about the childhood exhibition here

Or read the nice write-up in the Guardian.

And if you’re anywhere near East London then you can pop along to see it from the 13th October to the 14 April 2013.

It’s just past Bethnal Green tube, down memory lane.