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November 2009

My National Disgrace Clown Auction Shame


A few weeks back, I took part in a project called Significant Objects, designed to test the commercial power of story-telling. 100 writers were each given a near-worthless item from a junk shop and asked to write a story about it, thereby investing it with a newfound 'significance'. The object and its story went up on eBay, with a disclaimer explaining the nature of the project. My object was an upside-down ceramic clown.

It's a US-based project and has won widespread support and acclaim over there, so I was both pleased and intimidated to be the only UK writer taking part. For the first time in my life, I was representing Queen and country. And, reader, I failed.

Or at least, I didn't exactly set the world alight. Despite my carefully crafted poem, Kenny came in 87th out of 100, selling for $11.61 compared to an original price of $2.

It gets worse.

During the course of the bidding, I watched as Kenny rose rapidly to $11.11, then stalled for days on end. It was late, we'd had a few drinks, one thing led to another. My wife put in a bid. $11.61. No one else beat it. We won Kenny.

(On arrival at our place, Kenny headed straight for a colour-coordinated Alan Kitching screenprint, demonstrating that he is a clown of great taste.)

So Kenny came 87th and we were the winning bidders.

I apologise to everyone.

Kenny himself is surprisingly upbeat about it. Seeing the world upside-down has its advantages – he thinks we came just outside the top ten.

NB: Despite my inadvertent attempts at sabotage, Significant Objects as a whole has been a resounding success and is now moving on to a new stage: a charity auction with new writers and new objects. Well worth keeping track of developments. There's also some amusing data nerdiness over here.

A Cloudy Language #33 to #41

Cloudy-Language-Spotting can be a subtle sport. It's not just about the obvious non-sequiturs and flights into surrealism, but the almost imperceptible arrival of new words and usages.

Recent months have seen a trend emerging in the guise of using 'fringe' as an intransitive verb:

“Outbreaks of light and patchy rain starting to fringe in...”
Liam Dutton

“Here some of that rain could be fringing along the coasts...”
Simon King

Rob McElwee continues to treat the earth's meteorological system as a slightly wayward school pupil:

“There seems to be a reluctance on the part of the atmosphere to move with any speed.”
Rob McElwee

(I sometimes think Rob McElwee has the air of an old school teacher whom you meet again years later – slightly awkward and exaggerated friendliness in an attempt to acknowledge that you're both equals, but neither of you can quite shake off the sense that he is still your superior.)

He also has a tendency towards hyper-explanation (trying so hard to explain things that he makes them sound more complicated). For example:

“Southern temperatures will be above average by day thanks to the influence of the sun.”
Rob McElwee

Then there is the odd plain weird turn of phrase:

“It’s a jagged translation and rain is still in the story.”
Rob McElwee

“The first few nights this week could grow fog.”
Rob McElwee

The presenters in general continue to show a remarkable facility for generating new metaphors to describe the same old weather conditions:

“Bagloads of showers affecting the whole of the United Kingdom...”
Chris Fawkes

“The rain moving south, that cloud shield up ahead of it.”
Nick Miller

Finally, Alex Deakin is the winner of this month's internal rhyme scheme award:

“This finger of rain lingering across much of northern England.”
Alex Deakin

Full set here

Ye'll tak the A road


Our A-roads poster is continuing to take shape. Managed to take in the A7 and A8 on a recent trip to Scotland. Also experimenting with green and yellow for the bands of text, in keeping with the usual A-road signage.



For the uninitiated, this will eventually be a poster in which each picture corresponds to its equivalent paper size, from A1 to A9.

Still a few hundred miles to go before it's finished.


PS: The post title is taken from the chorus of The Bonnie Banks of Loch Lomond. This version comes with an informative and educational video – the way all videos would be in an ideal world.



This is Diego Monetti


Sit down and be quiet.

This is Diego Monetti's website.

Looking at it is the most important thing you will do today.

(Spotted via OneFloorUp, for which many thanks.)

Circle Line: No longer circular


Disappointed to hear the news this morning that London's Circle Line is to lose its defining feature: its circularity (notionally at least). TfL is planning to turn it into a 'tadpole', with a tail added to the existing loop to extend it to Hammersmith. (Making the line look, erm, nothing like a tadpole.) More momentously, there will no longer be a through service running the entire circuit of the track – you'll have to change at Edgware Road if you want to keep going.

There are no doubt good practical reasons for the change (reducing delays, overcrowding etc), but it will remove an important part of London's 'psychogeography'. The idea that there is one line that you could theoretically stay on all day has always held a great fascination for Londoners. Circle Line parties will presumably be no more, and late-night drunks won't be able to snooze for quite as long.

In 2005, the Circle Line was the inspiration for a book by 26 (the writers' organisation of which we're both members). From Here To Here was a great collection in which writers (including the likes of Simon Armitage and Ian Marchant) were each assigned a different station. One of the earliest 'Asbury & Asbury' projects (before we went by that name) was coming up with an exhibition to promote the book. We're still proud of it.


On a miniscule budget of £500, we managed to source a load of picture frames from various car boot sales, along with some gaffer tape and a tin of yellow paint. The result was a version of the Circle Line in which each station morphed into a distinctive story of its own.


Each frame contained an extract from the writer's chapter, interpreted in a variety of graphic, typographic and illustrative styles.

The book started and ended with chapters on King's Cross, so we decided to put them in a split frame at the entrance to the gallery (in the London College of Communications).


Sawing that frame in half and getting the alignment right was hard work.

In fact, the whole thing was hard work. Trekking across London to buy the frames (in the days before we had a car), applying about five coats of paint to each one, designing the canvases, getting glass cut, hiring a van to transport them, drilling the holes in the wall to mount them. For a few weeks, our house turned into a surreal mini-Circle-Line of its own, with frames snaking their way along the hall and up the stairs. Still remember tiptoeing past them, trying not to get any stray specks of dust on the final coat of gloss paint.

Our only regret is that we spent so much energy getting the thing done, that we didn't give enough thought to documenting it. Most of the pictures are taken on a small compact camera – bit crazy in retrospect. 

That said, we did create a website that records the whole thing for posterity. And we were particularly pleased when the exhibition got into the D&AD Annual 2006, where all the fellow entrants seemed to be working with multi-million budgets. 

Presumably, the equivalent exhibition today would have to be tadpole-shaped.


Here's another very lightweight offering from the collection that will one day become Songs for Animals. This one is about hedgehogs.


Hedgehogs like to hog a hedge –
hence the 'hog' in 'hedgehog'.

Told you it was lightweight.

I'm publishing it now having realised something disturbing, which is that comedian Dan Antopolski won an award for best joke at this year's Edinburgh Fringe for a joke very similar in spirit to the poem:

Hedgehogs – why can't they just share the hedge?

An excellent joke, but mine scans so it's probably better.

Give us a forward slash


GAP's new Christmas 'viral' is objectionable for many reasons, most of which explain themselves when you click on this link. (Be warned, it will take you several hours to recover your equanimity.)

One admittedly minor quibble is the lack of a forward slash between two of the 'chant' names: Good luck with that bird (a chant about cooking your Christmas dinner) and You office party hardied (a chant about embarrassing yourself at the office party).

Run the two phrases together, as this site unfortunately does, and you have a very rude sounding chant.


Give us a P. Give us an R. Give us an O. Give us an O. Give us an F. Give us an R. Give us an E. Give us an A. Give us a D. Give us an I. Give us an N. Give us a G.

UPDATE: A version of this post has since appeared on Creative Review, complete with comments.

Poetry and Music

Manchester design company Music are smart people with great work. The type who get asked to do covers for Creative Review.


They got in touch over the summer asking if I'd like to write a Corpoetics-style poem to fill a guest slot on the home page of their website.

The only text I had to work with was their client list, which at the time looked something like this:

Allermuir Furniture Manufacturers
Bolton Council Carbon Footprint
Chester Performs
Chester Summer Music Festival
Flip Flops
Flowerburger Records
Fruit Tree Books
Joly Good TV
Kevin Boniface
Matthew Beardsell Limited
MCFC Press
MCFC Stadium
Manchester Independent Economic Review
Place Space & Identity
Tamewater Developments
Where Are You? A Postman's Diary

The resulting verse isn't strictly a 'Corpoetic' as I've taken the liberty of adding some words and generally being looser with the whole thing. For some reason, I imagine it being read aloud by Ian McMillan.

15 wishes

I'd like to eat a flowerburger back to front
in a land where flip-flops leave no footprint.
I'd like to head woodward to water a fruit tree.
I'd like to review an identity
for MCFC, appear tame on TV,
and do joly well at D&AD.
I'd like to sell beards to a man named Matthew
and manage an independent economic review
of a girl called Kelly from Bolton Council.
I'd like to press for a postman's festival
to take place in Chester every summer.
I'd like to become part of the furniture
and have a front seat when Kevin performs
a stadium version of his CSR Report.
I'd like to have my own place and space,
change my name to Allermuir Boniface,
and live in Bolton – but then I'd like to shift
Bolton to nearer where Manchester is.
Given one last wish, I'd probably use it
to turn myself into a piece of Music.

Thanks to Craig and Anthony at Music for the invitation.

Copies of Corpoetics are available for £5 plus p&p, with all proceeds going to the National Literacy Trust.

Past posts

This blog is a year old today. We thought we would mark the occasion by dusting down some of our greatest hits (and misses) from the last year.

This poem about lost brands went down well.

Corpoetics has enjoyed its year in the sun.

We can also draw horses. Sort of.

There have been sporadic outbreaks of Cloudy Language bringing mainly unsettled themes.

Could you tell the difference between a Fall song and a tax avoidance scheme?

The A-roads poster is still taking shape.

The search for John Hanna was good fun.

Songs For Animals is hibernating, but will rise again.

And our Failed Jokes seem to have died a death.

Oh, and this photo set the tone early on.


Thanks for reading, if you have been.