Category Archives: Whimsy

Now that’s what I call a bus trip, baby

Psychedelic Routemaster, from The Day-Glo Designer’s Guide, 1969.

All aboard the Boris Bus!

Boris Johnson’s much touted new bus launched in London on Monday, and I managed to take a trip on it. It wasn’t easy: the bus left Victoria two hours late after breaking down twice and being slipstreamed by a Routemaster filled with anti-Boris protesters, but the public cared not a jot. Read my piece for Time Out here.

The bus is a classic example of how far bluster and bullshit can carry you, if the public are even half-interested in your vision. This is not a Routemaster, it carries fewer passengers than the bus it is replacing, has cost a fortune to develop, it doesn’t stop fare dodgers, the back platform closes in the evenings and the conductors aren’t allowed to take fares – but it’s still, in my view, a guaranteed vote winner because people like the look of it and aren’t going to look at the downsides too deeply. And maybe they are right, because when all is said and done, a fleet of these on London streets in a few years won’t look too shabby, and all the complaints – accurate as they may be – will look like so much narrow-minded nitpicking.

New Bus for London

My favourite thing in London

The other day, I saw this board outside the Big Red Bus tourist shop near the British Museum and decided straight away that it might be my favourite thing in London. It was so striking, with such a warped sense of perspective and bizarre mishmash of London stereotypes.

I wanted it.

I decided that I would go inside and ask how much it would cost to buy it, but first I stopped and looked at it awhile. Questions entered my head.

What is a Grenadier Guard doing outside Downing Street? If he’s not on duty, why is he wearing his uniform and if he is on duty, which he shouldn’t be, why is he holding the hand of a small foreign bear? What is Paddington Bear doing so far from his comfort zone of Paddington without Mr Brown or any of the Brown family? Why is Paddington Bear standing behind the Grenadier Guard in that curious position? Are Paddington Bear and a Grenadier Guard even particularly relevant symbols of London life in 2012? And is it just me, or does the whole ensemble look rather like a surreal take on something you might see on Crimewatch featuring a stranger caught on CCTV camera leading a small child away from a shopping centre?

I still wanted it though, maybe now more than ever.

While I was plucking up the courage to go inside an ask, two Italian tourists came strolling down the road. They saw the board, giggled, then handed me their camera and asked if I could take their picture. After arguing over who would be the bear and who would be the guard, they poked their heads through the holes. I took a photograph, they thanked my fulsomely and moved on, laughing and chatting, relishing this rare free moment of childish fun in the sterling-sapping city.

I realised then that the need of London’s tourists was greater than mine. I could always come back, but they would only ever have their photographs. I went home, contented.

My Fair Lady: the pun that nobody noticed

It has come to my attention that a substantial number of people do not realise that the title of My Fair Lady is a pun. It’s a play on the way a Lisson Grove-raised flower girl like Eliza Doolittle might pronounce Mayfair, if she wasn’t really a cockney at all but merely a Hollywood actor pretending to be one. Mayfair/Myfair – the drooping, elongated ‘y’ is a classic, if exaggerated,  symptom of the cockney mode of speaking,

Say it yourself in your best, daftest, Eliza Doolittle accent – Mwyyyy Fair. Sounds a bit like Mayfair, doesn’t it? If you don’t believe me, here’s Alan Franks saying the same thing, eventually.

So there you are. Here’s a scene from the film with Audrey showing off her accent at its very worst.

Terrible illustrations of the Royal Wedding outside London venues

Prince William as a zombie? Kate Middleton with a dislocated arm? Still, they’ve captured his receding headline and at least he has his father’s ears.

Check out Kate’s adams apple and Cruella De Vil grey streak.

I’m sure there are more out there. Enjoy the big day. I’ll be doing the gardening.

We need to talk about Martin Brennan

Every fortnight, at the back of Private Eye, there’s a big advert for the Brennan JB7 and an introduction to its founder Martin Brennan, ‘the man who re-invented the hi-fi’.

The advert is invariably accompanied by a photograph of Martin Brennan.


I worry about Martin. For a man who has re-invented the hi-fi, he doesn’t look very happy.

Then again, what do I know? Maybe this is what men who re-invent stuff look like. Perhaps he’s too busy to smile because he’s thinking about how he’s going to re-invent the video recorder. Or maybe he’s genuinely sad because he’s realised that Sony have seen his idea and will make far more money out of it than he will.

Or perhaps the pic is meant to guilt-trip us into buying the Brennan JB7. Martin is re-inventing the advert. Instead of TV commercials of Jamie Oliver and all his friends running around looking happy, implying that if we shop at Sainsbury’s we will also be able to run around looking happy with friends, Sainsbury’s will just use a picture of Jamie looking sad or pensive, implying that if we don’t shop there an ennui-overcome Jamie will top himself.

Actually, that would probably backfire, wouldn’t it?

Whatever the reason, I’m tempted to buy a Brennan JB7 if only to see if in the advert for the next issue Martin is smiling a little bit, with his eyes if not his actual mouth. But instead I stick Private Eye in the recycling and start thinking about ways to re-invent the sandwich maker.

Rebranding Britain

When I first saw this advert, my initial thought was that the cretin rebranding various parts of London was at it again. As I’ve written before, we not only have we got Holborn as ‘Midtown’ and Fitzrovia as ‘Noho’, but also the bizarre decision to call a Pimlico development ‘Westrovia’. (My preference is to rename areas in the manner of American towns with their pragmatic Business District and Meatpacking Quarter, so you’d have  Comic Strip for the comic shops around the British Museum and a Ukulele Quarter for the bit of Brick Lane where the Duke of Uke shop can be found. It hasn’t caught on.)

But on reflection and as a proud London snob I rather like this idea of rebranding Northampton as North Londonshire and see no reason why it can’t be expanded to the rest of the country. Most of Britain, after all, really wishes it was in London and hides its jealousy of our superior ways in various silly ways, such as pretending that nobody in London talks to anybody else. In truth, the only people Londoners don’t talk to is northerners, and that’s just a magnanimous gesture intended to help them stop feeling guilty about abandoning their oldest friends and frail, elderly parents in a frankly selfish attempt to find work and a decent cup of coffee.

So, to that end, here are some ideas I had for other parts of the UK that could be renamed after bits of London. Some, like Stoke, clearly modelled on Stoke Newingston, are already doing this themselves.

Wales – West West Acton

Cornwall – Surbiton-on-sea

Brighton – Cheamier

Birmingham – Very very Brent

Ireland – Greater Kilburn

France – Waterloo South

Then I went to have my tea.