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.

Goodbye Sherlock, Hello Shard

I’ve just been for a run along the beach in my lunch hour. No, we haven’t moved to LA. Just to the South Bank, to AMV’s lovely new beach-side offices.*

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AMV BBDO moved house last month, from where they’ve lived in Marylebone, NW1 for fifteen years, to a shiny new place in SE1 with a swanksville terrace. Here is the swanksville view from the terrace.

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Because we’re lucky enough to be working here, we were lucky enough to move with them. It’s a brilliantly creative new area to work in. Sometimes, down by the Tate Modern there is even a man with a typewriter, bashing out literature while you wait, which is always nice.

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*You might say the phrase ‘beach-side’ is a bit of an over-claim. Not so, if the amazing architects Octopi get their way and the Blackfriars Baths open at the end of 2016…unnamed (2)

I couldn’t help but wonder…what the f**k were they thinking?!

I went to a funeral on Saturday night. A memorial service for my old friends Charlotte, Samantha, Miranda and Carrie.

I saw Sex and the City 2.

Now, before I go any further, I have to say that (unlike Nat) I love love loved the series (which I realise will eliminate our male readership in one fell swoop). But this isn’t a diatribe against the show or the characters, it’s simply a lament that they couldn’t just stick a fork in it after the mediocre last feature film, and have done with it.

Instead, the UAE Tourist Board gave the four girls a substantial sum of money to star in a very long TV commercial for Abu Dhabi. Well, that can be the only explanation, for there is certainly no real plot to speak of. If it was a sun headline it would be Sex and the Shitty.

Aside from being a tedious cinema ad for the UAE, SATC2 is a carnival of vulgarity, with the girls prancing about like they’re royalty, servants waiting on them while they cackle about the oddity of burqas. I know there was a glimpse of this in the last film, but I was struck by how the girls are now so hideously materialistic and wealth obsessed. When did it become necessary for the girls to be these rich bitches? That’s not what we bought into in the series. We bought into four honest, down to earth girls making their way in the big apple, and riding roughshod through the dating jungle. We did not subscribe to these charmless, whiney, spoiled brats. This film gives the whole thing a bad name, and presents the whole SATC enterprise as the thing most men misconstrue it as – shallow, crude… and worst of all, desperate.

I remember saying to my friends before seeing it – ‘well, it looks crap
from the trailer, but hey, it’s all about just spending another two
hours in the company of the girls, isn’t it?’ Wrong.

Other oddities:

– Towards the opening, reflecting on when she first came to New York, Carrie utters the words ‘I like to think of it as B.C. ‘Before Carrie.’ She was never this arrogant before, surely? But this line is forgivable because it is then followed up with four funny fashion flashbacks of the girls dressed head to toe in Eightees. These four seconds are the film’s highlight. It is downhill from there.

– Charlotte can’t cope being a full time mum, even with a nanny. I need this explained. I know being a parent looks really hard, but she doesn’t have a full time job, so why does she have a nanny? From this, there follows the singular funny line in the whole film. When Carrie says ‘yes, there should be a law against having fit nannies. The Jude Law.’

– Elsewhere, the dialogue as a whole is so limp and anaemic that you wonder if the writer was asleep when he wrote it. Also, the acting is so self-conscious that at times you think the cast may as well have not bothered to be off-book; it’s so clear that they are reading lines from a script.

– At times, during the trailer for Abu Dhabi – we see glimpses that Michael Patrick King fancies himself as a documentary maker. He seems to want to make a feminist point about life under the veil, and how oppressed women in the middle east are. This may be true, but it’s delivered in such a heavy-handed way that it just winds up utterly offensive, crass and simplistic. These scenes are more Horror than Rom Com. I was covering my eyes through some of it – especially when Sam starts throwing condoms everywhere.

As for Samantha, you just want to scream at her – grow old gracefully, won’t you! The line ‘Lawrence of my labia’ should have been funny, were it not that I wanted to stab her in the face by then, puncturing her pillow face and squirting botox everywhere.

Redeeming feature? It’s good, in places, on the notion of how no two marriages are the same – and that these days, people can make up their own rules regarding fidelity, children and co-habitation. There is one line which holds true and is something I’ve sometimes thought – that as much as friends can comment, you can never really look at a relationship and profess to have a clue what it’s like inside that inner circle. That’s the only insight worth taking away. But that could have taken twenty minutes to get across. Remove the entire Middle (east) section, and you might end up with one almost mediocre episode. But as it is, it’s just like watching a horrible car crash in really slow motion. I would have walked out, were I not glued to my seat with morbid fascination.

If you’re a fan of the series and it’s not too late for you, I say don’t go. If you want to remember the girls with some dignity, just sit down and watch 2 1/2 hours of boxset instead. If you don’t believe me, read this. I read it before but wanted to judge for myself. Big mistake.

Apologies for the harshness, but I just can’t help thinking Michael Patrick Bling had a responsibility to the squillions of women who grew up with these girls and hung on their every word, and he’s just catastrophically let them all down.

Ironically, towards the end of the film, Carrie waxes lyrical about ‘the terrible twos’ – in reference to
marriage and babies. Did they not take heed of this when writing the
sequel?

In answer to Miranda’s awful pun-joke ‘Abu Dhabi Do!’,  ABU DHABI DON’T.

RIP, Carrie et.al.