Tag Archives: green

Who sees comic Lewis Schaffer’s shows repeatedly? Well, one is a green woman.

Blanche Cameron with Lewis Schaffer last week

Blanche Cameron and Lewis Schaffer this week

“I would definitely say I’m green,” Blanche Cameron told me.

“Like the Incredible Hulk?” I asked.

“Yes,” she replied, “and, on dark nights or under stress, I do get very cross about things.”

My blog yesterday was about the endlessly fascinating – because arguably neurotic – London-based American comedian Lewis Schaffer. But his audience is almost as interesting and varied as his shows are – and he has an unusually large percentage of people repeatedly coming back to see his Free Until Famous show which has been running at least twice weekly since 2009.

Blanche is a recent convert.

“Why bother to come back?” I asked her this week.

“Well,” she explained, “because, very often with stand-up, a lot of people have got a very structured set-up for themselves. It can be so constricting watching it sometimes. You just feel like it’s a tour guide taking you through a bunch of jokes. But, with Lewis, you’re on a cliff-edge the whole time and it could go horribly wrong. He develops a close relationship with each audience. The show is always different. But he also chooses material on the edge of what might be deemed acceptable and provokes a strong response. I love that because feelings, vulnerability, are still a big taboo. Lewis is happy to embrace discomfort and vulnerability and see what happens.”

“But you don’t want to perform yourself?” I asked.

“Oh no, no, no, no, no…” she said.

“So,” I asked, “when you were 14 in school did you just sit there thinking I want to be green?”

The National Theatre - not my favourite London building

The National Theatre – It is not my favourite London building

“No,” replied Blanche, “I thought I want to do theatre. I worked at the National Theatre for a while as a set painter. When I was growing up, I had done a lot of amateur dramatics, but I always wanted to do backstage stuff: set making and set painting. I worked at the Hexagon Theatre in Reading as a ‘follow spot’ (a spotlight operator). I once shone a light on Harry Enfield.

“The first time I did it, when I was about 17, they put me on something not too complicated to try me out. There was a waltz troupe from Austria. I had headphones on and they said they were going left – meaning stage left but my right – so I went the wrong way with the spotlight and the pair doing their waltz fell over in the darkness and I had to try to find them again with the light. They were very pissed-off afterwards.

Bosco Verticale (Vertical Forest) in Milan under construction. It will host 900 trees. Designed by Boeri Studio.

Bosco Verticale (Vertical Forest) under construction in Milan. It will host 900 trees. Designed (and photo by) Boeri Studio

“Then I did a workshop with Forkbeard Fantasy in the 1980s and they told me If you want to get involved in community architecture, you want to talk to Jim Monaghan. He set up the Covent Garden Community Association in the 1970s, so I ended up working there for a year and a half running it aged 18 because, when I turned up, the two women running it went Great! and went off to have babies.

“I had no idea what I was doing, but it was an open door opportunity. Best experience of my life. We ran a newspaper called the Covent Garden Independent News which was a bit Private Eye-ish.

“I loved drawing and making stuff so I thought Maybe I’ll do architecture. So I went to the Charles Rennie Mackintosh School in Glasgow. But I’m not cut out to be an architect. It’s actually quite dull. Well, it is for me. The two guys who ran the school were very modernist. They were into Le Corbusier and big concrete white blocks and I was all greeny and had spent my childhood going out birdwatching. I struggle because I’m not an aesthetic person and maybe that’s why I’m not an architect.”

“So what do you do?” I asked.

The Gherkin  - 30 St Mary Axe, London

The Gherkin – 30 St Mary Axe

“I don’t do anything,” said Blanche. “I’m not an architect, a developer or a planner or anything myself, but I’m involved in green architecture. I advocate for ecological adaptation, I teach environmental design at the Bartlett School of Architecture, University College London, the Centre for Alternative Technology in Machynlleth and a couple of other universities, but I am NOT an architect. I don’t care too much about aesthetics. I do to an extent. I think the Gherkin is a very elegant building; it’s like a Fabergé egg. I’m not an architect, but I’m interested in what buildings do.

“The cities we have built are not fit for purpose. There’s lots of beautiful things about them, but they over-heat, they pollute, they can’t manage storm water. If you get a downpour in the summer, the streets flood. Victoria station closes several times a year because really heavy rain can’t be managed by the Underground system.

“I would like to see us working more with Nature rather than fighting against it. We’ve had this idea that cities are separate from the countryside and we’ve separated them from the benefits we can get from Nature, which could reduce costs, cool a city and make it livable. Last summer, in the heatwave, hospital wards were being evacuated – the top two floors – because of over-heating. That costs a Health Trust millions of pounds.”

“Why do they over-heat?” I asked.

“Because it’s a hot day and their insulation and air conditioning can’t cope with it. But, if you put a green roof on that with a decent depth of substrate…”

“You mean grass?”

“No. People often think it’s grass or a horticultural thing, but what you want is bio-diversity. A low maintenance roof. Something that’s mimicking nature like a chalk grassland, like a wild hillside. You don’t have to go out and compost and maintain it. Not a rocky, bare landscape, but lots of plants and invertebrates on it.”

“What happens when it rains?”

Transport for London's biodiverse green roof on its HQ in Victoria. Designed by Dusty Gedge of GRC (Photo by GRC) 

Transport for London’s biodiverse green roof on its HQ in Victoria. Designed by Dusty Gedge of Green Roof Consultancy

“It absorbs moisture and, when it rains, it re-evaporates 40% of the rain so you’re reducing what goes into the sewer system by almost half and you’re alleviating the burden on the drains. And then you get the cooling effect. It’s cooling the neighbourhood because it’s evaporating. It’s cooling the building. And it can help filter the air, make it less polluted. A green roof does the job and it’s invisible. It’s a multi-functional intelligent solution to a lot of problems.”

“What about people having to mow the grass on the roofs?” I asked.

“You don’t have to. What you want is bio-diversity where the plants manage their own community.”

“I have read Day of The Triffids,” I said. “They might plot against us.”

“There’s no grass,” said Blanche. “If it’s well designed, you shouldn’t have to maintain it more than a couple of times a year: just go up there and see how it’s doing. Water is going to be the issue of the 21st century.”

“Not in Scotland,” I said.

“Nor in Wales,” agreed Blanche. “I’ve worked at the Centre for Alternative Technology in Machynlleth. But, if you look where the wall built by the Israelis between Israel and Palestine actually goes, it follows underground aquifers. It has nothing to do with religion or even territory. That wall is there to protect the water on the Israeli side of the wall, because Israel imports tens of thousands of gallons of water from Turkey every day. Water is going to be a major issue. Water is life.”

“In the 1950s, vegetarians were thought of as loonies,” I said. “but now it’s acceptable. In the 1960s, Chinese medicine was thought of as loony, but now it’s becoming acceptable. Is green architecture still thought of as loony?”

“Not so much,” said Blanche. “One of the problems with the environment movement has been – though it’s less so now – that the Greenies thought We have the Holy Grail. Everyone should come to us. We know the solutions. But, unless you are a vegan living in a cave up a hill, you also participate in the same mainstream society as everybody else. You’re just kidding yourself if you think you’re not.

“I work a lot with two guys – Dusty Gedge who wrote the London policy plan for sustainables and Gary Grant who’s an ecologist who designed the bio-diversity action plan for the 2012 Olympics. They’re doing the green roof on the Tate Modern extension and advising on the green roof for the South Bank re-construction. It is now in the Greater London Authority’s documents that the Mayor expects to see green roofs and walls integrated into buildings and developments wherever possible. Things are changing.”

And how is this relevant to Lewis Schaffer you, my dear reader, might ask?

It isn’t.

Did I say it was?

I worry more about the invertebrates on the roof and the potential plots of the Triffids.

There is a 50 second time-lapse video on Vimeo of greenery being built into the wall of the Rubens Hotel in Victoria, London. (Designed by Gary Grant of the Green Roof Consultancy.)

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Filed under Architecture, Comedy

Forget the Apple iTV – Could the next Apple product be the iGlass or the iCar?

My newly-installed iGlass super- sound system

A couple of weeks ago I went with Greenwich vintage clothing Emporium’s entrepreneurial owners Jacki Cook and Jon Hale to their second home in Whitstable. OK, it’s a beach hut; but it’s a very nice beach hut.

There, John Hale has created a new sound amplification system at a mere fraction of the cost of a top-of-the-range Bang & Olufsen or Sony sound system.

He puts Jacki’s iPhone into a glass. The sound is amplified by the shape of the glass and, depending on the shape, it delivers different sound qualities: bass, tinny, rich-and-golden, whatever.

It was such an impressive piece of lateral thinking that I went home and bought my own new sound system in a local charity shop. My product testing – putting my iPhone in the glass and playing music on it in the shop – did not go un-noticed but was not frowned-on, as the charity shop got £1.99p for the glass.

I laughed in Whitstable that the sound quality was so good and the lateral thinking by Jon & Jacki so impressive that it could almost be a new product from Apple… the iGlass.

This got me thinking about Apple’s rumoured new iTV (although, of course, they could never call it that in the UK because of the existing ITV television network).

At least twice, when they have been developing new products, Apple have created false rumours that they were working on a wind-up computer which would require no battery or, at least, mean you could re-charge the battery without plugging into an electricity socket.

I cannot see what the new Apple iTV would be… there is already an Apple TV box to screen computer output on a TV screen; other companies make devices which are voice-controlled or which react to hand movements. The thing about Apple is that they will suddenly release a new product which is utterly different.

I read last December that they were working on light hydrogen batteries which could last for weeks without re-charging.

This could be a smoke-and-mirrors re-hash of the wind-up computer stories. But creating a new, light, efficient, climate-friendly battery is a very Apple thing to do and it also made me think that large, inefficient batteries have always been one of the drawbacks with electric cars.

What if Apple were working on an electric iCar?

One suggested design for an Apple iCar: part car, part mouse

Powered by electricity not petrol, using a ‘green’ hydrogen battery, controlled by computers and with Siri voice-commanded hands-free links to every piece of information you could possibly want via the internet and iCloud, it would be just the sort of product Apple might suddenly release. No-one foresaw they would start making telephones or become a major music retailer.

Oh, I thought, there’s something I can blog about. If it ever happens, I’ll claim brilliant foresight. If it doesn’t, people will forget I ever mentioned it.

So yesterday, a slow day for anything I could blog about, I thought Oh, I’ll do the Apple blog tomorrow and so I Googled Apple iCar.

And, bugger me, articles have been appearing in the last couple of months guessing that Apple might or might not be working on a iCar. Only yesterday, an article was published on an Emirates website.

Way back in 2007, the late Steve Jobs had meetings with Volkswagen about an unknown project – rumoured only to be the integration of Apple computers into car dashboards. No more was ever heard of this.

But, in February this year, Apple (China) advertised in the LinkedIn automotive section for a “new Product Integration supervisor” with experience in CNC machines and die casting/stamping. Informed online opinion said: “if the job listing is legitimate, the company is once again working on deeper vehicle console/dashboard integration… We wouldn’t be surprised to see the company partner up with auto-makers in the near future to take in-car integration to new heights. Of course, with nearly $100 billion dollars in the bank, Apple could totally be building its own car.”

Apple are not a company known to co-design products. They did not integrate their technology into an existing telephone manufacturer’s telephone; they created their own, new type of telephone.

An iCar now or in the future would make philosophical and economic sense for Apple.

Remember – even if you did not – that you read it here first.

Or maybe the articles which have suddenly appeared about an Apple iCar are an updated equivalent of the Apple are working on a wind-up computer stories of old.

I hope not.

But, then, I always thought the wind-up computer was a good idea.

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Filed under Audio, Automobiles, Computers, Humor, Humour, Technology, Television

The eccentric UK cult of the Kibbo Kift Kindred & the Greenshirts of the 1930s

The Kibbo Kift Kindred were keen on costumes & ceremonies

I was at the Edinburgh Fringe in 1976 (yes, I am that old) but sadly I did not go to see a rock musical called The Kibbo Kift at the Traverse Theatre which was, as far as I can remember, at that time, a rather ramshackle room up some metal stairs.

I am very sad I did not see the musical, written by Judge Smith (his real name) who co-created heavy metal rock group Van der Graaf Generator in 1967.

But last night I went to a Sohemian Society meeting to hear Judge Smith (now bald – aren’t we all) extol the eccentric virtues of the now almost totally forgotten 1930s movement called the Kindred of the Kibbo Kift… and its highly charismatic leader John Hargrave – an illustrator, cartoonist, wood carver, thriller novelist, inventor and psychic healer.

By the age of 17, Hargrave was Chief Cartoonist for the London Evening Times.

After the First World War, he joined the Boy Scouts and, a charismatic outdoor man, he was soon appointed Commissioner for Woodcraft and Camping. In 1919, now calling himself ‘White Fox’, he married the leader of the Merry Campers – part of the Camp Fire Girls movement – called Ruth Clark (her ‘Woodcraft name’ was ‘Minobi’)

John Hargrave started the Kibbo Kift Kindred in 1920 as an anti-war breakaway from Baden-Powell’s more militaristic Boy Scouts. Hargrave’s aim was to encourage “outdoor education, the learning of handicrafts, physical training, the re-introduction of ritual into modern life, the regeneration of urban man and the establishment of a new world civilisation.”

These aims were to be accomplished by hiking and camping. “Picturesque and dramatic public speaking” was also encouraged.

The man sitting next to me in the Sohemian Society meeting last night had come down to London all the way from Leicester just to find out more about this extraordinary group.

During the Kibbo Kindred’s weekend hiking and camping extravaganzas, members were encouraged to make their own tents and wear handmade uniforms – long Saxon-styled hooded cloak , belted tunic and shorts for men; knee-length dress, leather belt and Valkyrie-style leather helmet for women. They liked a bit of elaborate ritual and ceremony, did the Kibbo Kift. At larger ceremonial meetings, the KK’s different Clans, Tribes and Lodges paraded with their tribal totems – everyone was encouraged to carve their own personal totem pole and parade round with it. Their tents were decorated in bright colours and their elaborate robes and regalia embossed with symbolic designs were somewhere between Hiawatha and Art Nouveau.

They used the native American greeting of the outstretched arm and raised open hand (to show you held no weapon) and Hargrave was “somewhat annoyed” when he discovered that the Italian Fascists’ raised arm salute looked exactly the same. Hargrave dropped the hand greeting when too many photos of Nazis in Germany with raised arms “caused confusion”. He did not like Fascists.

The Kibbo Kift sound like a bunch of amiable loonies but, involved in the Kibbo Kift, were suffragette Emmeline Lawrence, photographer Angus McBean, social reformer Havelock Ellis, biologist Julian Huxley and author H.G.Wells.

By 1925, Hargrave had switched his interest from ‘back-to’nature’ to the political Social Credit movement, which aimed to eradicate poverty and unemployment. The Kibbo Kift Kindred split when Hargreaves refused to recognise a new South London Lodge called ‘The Brockleything’. He formed the more political Green Shirts; the ‘back-to-nature’ diehards formed The Woodcraft Folk organisation (which still exists today).

In 1930, Hargrave formed a “Legion of the Unemployed” in Coventry. Wearing green paramilitary uniforms and berets, these political activists became known as the Legion of the Kibbo Kift and, by 1935, were known as The Green Shirt Movement for Social Credit, marching through the streets with their own bands of drummers. In 1935, they put up a Parliamentary candidate under the banner of the Social Credit Party of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, but lost their deposit.

As Judge Smith explained to the very crowded room above a pub last night, the Green Shirts were the largest uniformed paramilitary street-army in 1930s Britain. They supported and promoted the Social Credit movement which, basically, said the Western banking system based on massive debt (the economic system makes money by lending money) is mad and inevitably results in periods of boom and bust. They had more followers than Oswald Mosley’s Blackshirts, yet have been totally forgotten.

They were idealistic and had a particular dislike of ‘fat cat’ financial institutions, Communists, Fascists and the Governor of the Bank of England.

During the Second World War, Hargrave invented an ‘automatic navigator’ for aircraft. The RAF tested it, decided it worked well but, as it required a gyroscope and all the gyroscopes were being used for bomb sights, they never took up the idea.

After the War, Hargrave decided he had the power of psychic healing and dissolved his organisation in 1951, making a living as an author, illustrator and cartoonist for Vanity Fair and the Daily Sketch.

In 1967, he discovered that the new Concorde supersonic airliner had a ‘moving map display’ which sounded remarkably like the ‘automatic navigator’ he had invented during the War; but he had allowed his patent to lapse. Despite this, eventually, in 1967, he forced the British government to hold a full Public Enquiry which, basically, decided that Hargrave’s idea had, indeed, been nicked but he would get no money for it as he had let the patent lapse.

In 1976, now in his eighties, Hargrave went to see Judge Smith’s rock musical The Kibbo Kift in the Traverse Theatre at the Edinburgh Fringe and enjoyed it thoroughly though, Judge Smith said last night, this may have been because he was “pretty deaf by then and this very loud rock music may have been the first  music he’d heard for years”.

Before he died in 1982, Hargrave set up the Foundation of the Kibbo Kift Foundation.

All the paper records are now held by the London School of Economics; the costumes, banners and other physical stuff is held at the Museum of London.

Unjustly forgotten. As Judge Smith said last night, “one of the most unusual things about this very unusual man is just how little-known he and his movement are today. There’s no biography; there’s been no TV documentary. But he is far more interesting, significant and downright entertaining than many personalities of the time who are still famous today.”

On my way home from the Sohemian Society meeting, a girl opposite me in the tube train was making up her eyes with her right hand, using her Apple iPhone 4S in her left hand. She had it switched on to the camera, using it as a video mirror.

Times change. Lateral and creative thinking continues.


Filed under Eccentrics, History, Politics