Category Archives: humour

Personalised car number plates. Fun – Flash – or just plain Naff

Last November the father of autonumerology, Noel Woodall died at the age of 82. Noel is credited with creating the market for personalised car number plates in the UK, worth more than £2bn to the Treasury since 1989.

Noel WoodallHis interest in what grew into a multi-million pound business began in 1960 when he noticed a car driving past with the plate BB 4. He discovered it belonged to a local Blackpool Bookmaker. Thinking other people might also be interested in memorable number plates, he started the first cherished number plate business in the country.

As this was in a time before the Internet, Noel went on a research mission to his local public library, and was surprised not to find a single book on the subject. So, being the entrepreneurial type he put an advert in the RAF’s Air Mail magazine, asking for information about distinctive number plates. He received so much information in response, he decided to compile and publish it in a small book entitled Car Number Galaxy – Celebrities. It cost him £250 to produce, which was 6 months’ wages at that time.

He went on to publish more than 20 books, including Veterans, More Celebrities, Cartoons and a series called Car Numbers, written with Brian Heaton and described by its publishers as “one of the longest running, and most popular publications about vehicle registrations”.

Car Number Galaxy 1963

As for me, I grew up with a strong prejudice against preening drivers who paraded around the streets with vanity plates adorning their shiny cars, like some kind of automotive bling jewellery. I couldn’t think of a more idiotic way to waste money than to ‘invest’ in an ‘IAM GR8’ plate.

So, I was glad to read that even people involved in the industry recognise its controversial nature. Piers England an auctioneer from the DVLA’s auction company admitted, “We call them marmite products – you either love them or hate them.” To quote one contributor to an online discussion “When I see a vanity plate, I think only one thing: ID 10T”.

List of the 10 most expensive plates sold by the DVLA

  1. 1 D – £352,000
  2. 51 NGH – £254,000
  3. 1 RH – £247,000
  4. K1 NGS – £231,000
  5. 1 O – £210,000
  6. 1 A – £200,000
  7. 1 OO – £197,000
  8. 2 O -  £142,000
  9. 6 B – £130,000
  10. 1 HRH – £113,000

So how then can I even start to justify my recent purchase of N11 1NFO for my humble Skoda Octavia? The answer is a combination of my failing memory and local car park rules. Until recently there was an opportunity to end a shopping trip in town with a good deed by handing over my parking ticket to a new arrival. The grateful recipient could then benefit from whatever time remained.

The local council became aware of this ‘good Samaritan’ behaviour and decided they were losing valuable income. The solution was to introduce shiny new ‘intelligent’ ticket machines which required your car registration number in addition to payment. This was printed on the ticket to prevent it being transferred to another car. So no more ‘random acts of kindness’ in the council owned car parks thank you very much.

As well as being frustrated by this meanness of spirit, this change led to a challenge for me. Sadly I have never managed to memorise any of the number plates of any of the various cars and motorbikes I have owned since passing my driving test back in 1976. So I would either have to park with my bumper in view of the ticket machine or keep a note of my number to hand. A third and unexpected solution was to buy a new plate with a memorable number.

After much internet research and even more soul-searching I was finally ready to go ahead and join this group I had enjoyed despising for so many years. The change in my thinking came about when I realised a personalised plate was just about the only way to express personality and even humour on a product that is standardised and factory produced. If you own a Ford Mondeo it looks just a like any other Ford Mondeo apart from a limited range of colours. Although I did see a chrome-plated car the other day which was so bright it actually hurt my eyes.

chrome-mercedes

But just having an initial or two, combined with a number seemed to be a wasted opportunity. And I began to take notice of properly memorable numbers I came across in my travels. Whilst cycling through the East End of London on a ‘Boris bike’ I spotted SK1NT on the back of a brand new Rolls Royce. A nice example of four wheeled irony. I also saw a rather surprising DARR0N on an Audie A4 queuing to get out of Legoland.

Mazda car MX55-NOB

My challenge was to see if I could find a memorable plate amongst those listed at the DVLA  starting price of £250. Needless to say, there wasn’t anything close to ‘librarian’ at that price. I compromised on a combination of my initials and info (my chosen profession), with an additional redundant ‘I’ stuck in the middle.

The irony of this story is that by the time I had deliberated, purchased the number, had the plates made up, sent in the forms, and finally got out my screwdriver and physically replaced them, the council had changed their parking policy. Outraged shoppers had bombarded the local council with complaints and the local newspaper had picked up on the issue. After initially robustly defending their new ‘fairer’ policy, the politicians realised they were on a losing wicket and eventually caved in. So now when I go shopping I no longer need to enter my number plate into the ticket machine, undermining the original reason for personalising my car’s identity.

 

Getting in touch with my inner Geek thanks to Geek Magazine

I’ve talked quite a bit over the years about geek related topics, but  have never considered myself a proper geek. However in June this year, on my way to the SLA annual conference in San Diego, I chanced across a copy of Geek Magazine in an airport newsagent. Geek Magazine coverMaybe it was the catchy headline ‘Star Wars – yes it’s cool again’, or perhaps the iconic cover image of Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia, which took me back to my teenage years. However, once beyond the cover I was soon hooked on the combination of interview and reviews of a wide range of topics ranging from technology, music, video-games, movies and of course comics (not forgetting comic book heroes). The writing combined nerdy enthusiasm for the wide range of topics covered, along with a surprisingly intelligent style and dry sense of humour. Even more impressive was their knowledge of and appreciation of the British contribution to Geekness. In the current issue, six whole pages are devoted to the record breaking, classic science fiction television series Dr Who. As you can probably tell by now, I was so impressed I decided to subscribe, and after filling in the appropriate form back in July I awaited eagerly awaited its arrival. After three months I was beginning to think the subscriptions department might have mislaid my request. But then one morning, just when I had given up hope, a rectangular package popped through my door. I  recognise there is something of an irony, in this day of electronic publishing that I had to wait over three months for the issue to arrive. But since having read it from cover to cover I’ve decided it was definitely worth the wait. Geek Magazine

Anorak – now a cool brand and a Success Story

anorak_logo I have blogged in the past about the importance of using a ‘made-up’ name for your trademark, but there are other ways to establish a distinctive but protected presence in the market place.

I was recently helping a couple of customers in the Centre find some useful market research reports on home wares. In conversation I discovered they were the founders of Anorak, a company who make and sell ‘functional products inspired by the great outdoors’. I also learned that we had helped them along their journey to success over the last four years, so they qualify as one of our Success Stories.

For me, the story here is the ingenuity of taking a widely used slang term with negative connotations, and subverted it into something cool and trendy.

trainspotter

Source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Mattbuck

According to Wikipedia the term anorak came from the Observer newspaper’s description of UK trainspotters, based on their preferred form of clothing. Allegedly members of this group often wore, the by then very unfashionable anorak jackets, when standing for hours on chilly railway station platforms noting down details of passing trains.

However according to the Guardian Newspaper’s Notes and Queries column, the term was was originally created by Radio Caroline Disk Jockey Andy Archer in the early 70′. He used the word anoraks on air, to describe the boatloads of fans who came out to visit the pirate radio ships anchored off the Dutch coast.

During the 1980′s it became a general derogatory term for a someone with an obsessive interest in unfashionable and largely solitary interests. 1980’s UK rock group Marillion called one of their albums Anoraknophobia, referring to the long running in-joke that Marillion fans were sometimes called freaks or anoraks.

isle of wight computer geek iow

www.theisleofwightcomputergeek.co.uk

In the United States the term geek or nerd is often used instead, but is not associated with a particular item of clothing as far as I am aware. The exception might be the wearing of large unfashionable glasses. The US based company GeekSquad have also attempted to exploit the label to their own advantage.

The word anorak is derived from Greenland Eskimo ‘anoraq’, used to describe a waterproof jacket, typically with a hood, of a kind originally used in polar regions.

I am aware that this post may be in danger of straying into anorak territory itself with this level of obsessive detail, so I will stop here.

 

Anorak_fox_mugAbout Us

Introducing Anorak. A British brand with its heart planted firmly in the great outdoors. Inspired by childhood camping adventures (in a bright orange campervan), Anorak’s founder and Creative Director Laurie Robertson uses striking silhouettes to bring a touch of fun and whimsy to homewares and outdoor lifestyle accessories.

From Kissing Rabbits to Proud Foxes, Anorak’s animal designs are bold, bright and a good deal less timid than their real life relatives. But looks aren’t everything, so the entire Anorak product range has function at its heart. The wash bags are wipe clean, the sleeping bags have leg room a plenty, the picnic blankets are light enough to carry on the longest of country strolls. So if you’re a fan of the great outdoors (even when you’re indoors) and think fun should follow function, remember to pack your Anorak.

Royal Diamond Jubilee, Olympic and Paralympic souvenirs

diamond_jubilee_rain_050612-matt-web_2239104aIt has been quite a summer in Britain this year, and I’m not just talking about the weather.

First we had lots of celebrations and events to mark the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. The biggest was the rain lashed Thames Diamond Jubilee Pageant, with 1,000 boats assembled from across the world. Once again the Telegraph cartoonist Matt (left) summed it up perfectly.

Then we had the London 2012 Olympic games, closely followed by the Paralympic games (not ParaOlympics as some thought).

In keeping with the business nature of this blog, I’ve been keeping an eye out for memorable memorabilia for these three ‘once in a life-time’ events.

maamiteI think my favourite has to be the Ma’amite jar adapted from the long-standing Marmite brand. It’s a bit cheeky, but not too disrespectful of the Queen. And it seemed to find favour with supermarket buyers, as it seemed to appear in everywhere during June. In case you bump into her Majesty, you will need to remember it’s pronounced Mam as in Jam, not Ma’am as in arm.

A rather less respectful, but also best selling product was the Diamond Jubilee Sick Bag. This was a natural follow up to graphic artist Lydia Leith’s unusual souvenir to mark the royal wedding between Prince William and Catherine Middleton in 2011. There is a strong tradition of not taking those in power too seriously in the UK, so it was not such a surprise to see this novelty item become something of a best-seller.

Diamond_Jubilee_sick_bag

Waving_QueenI actually prefer the Waving Queen toy, whose solar power handbag meant she would give a proper royal wave whenever the sun came out. I was given one as a present, so took her on holiday to France where she made a great impression on the local gendarmes. We were even given a formal salute, and a french accented ‘God bless her Majesty’, as we drove through a police road block in Normandy.

We spent the holiday trying to perfect the energy saving royal wave twist of the hand.

Waving_Queen_in_Normandy

Waving Queen on tour in Normandy

I think my least favourite item has to be from the Royal Mint in the shape of these specially produced five pound coins. For some strange reason they have chosen a particularly grumpy looking Queen to go on the back (or is it the front). By the way, how do you call heads or tails, when the coin has only heads?

Queen_Diamond_Jubilee_five_pound_coin

Moving on to the London 2012 Olympics we have a rather motley set of  memorabilia.

Anything that is encumbered by the dreaded 2012 logo is damaged goods as far as I am concerned, even if I have not been taken in by the ridiculous Zionist conspiracy theory.

Olympics_logo

Thanks to the post games sales, I managed to pick up a Wenlock for a knockdown price, so am now in possession of this slightly scary cyclops.

Wenlock

You can read the background to Wenlock and Mandeville on Wikipedia. I tend to agree with the critic claiming that the pair were the product of a “drunken one-night stand between a Teletubby and a Dalek”.

I have to admit I haven’t seen any of these for sale, but the Olympic Condoms story is too good to miss.

Apparently 150,000 free condoms were given to athletes participating at the London Olympics, which is 50% more than at the Beijing Games in 2008. That works out to 15 condoms for each of the 10,500 competitors who stayed in the Olympic Village.

olympic_condom

olympic_condom_advert

At the other end of the cost spectrum are signed framed photo montages of previous Olympic champions. For example one signed by Kelly Holmes, Daley Thompson, Steve Redgrave, Seb Coe and Chris Hoy is a snip at £1,000.

If you fancy an umpire’s chair or other more practical souvenir of the games such as a super-long bed, just visit Remains of the Games website.

Adam_Hill_GamesmakerI have really struggled to find any specific Paralympic souvenirs, so I think I will have to go with the knitted Adam Hill. Adam was the host of The Last Leg, the surprise hit TV show of the Paralympics.

A fan of the show decided to create a knitted Adam Gamesmaker and to auction it on eBay for charity. Thanks to extensive use of Twitter on the show, the auction went viral and when last heard the bid price had exceeded £30,000.

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Postcript:

It seems as though I wasn’t the only one to be worried by Mandeville and Wenlock. Although on the positive side perhaps my £2 purchase above will be a collectors item in the future. How Mandeville and Wenlock derailed Hornby.

Mad Jack Fuller of Brightling and his Follies

Jack_Fuller_pyramidOn a recent walk in the Sussex country-side I was rather surprised to come across a 25 foot high pyramid in the corner of a traditional village church graveyard.

Wandering around the area near the village revealed a range of further follies ranging from a fake castle tower to a false church spire.

Jack_FullerIt turns out they were all the creation of John Fuller the squire of Brightling village, better known as ‘Mad Jack Fuller‘.

Fuller’s pyramid mausoleum was built in 1811, twenty-three years before his death, and local legend had it that Fuller was entombed in the pyramid in full dress and top hat seated at a table set with a roast chicken and a bottle of wine. This was discovered to be untrue during renovations in 1982. My theory is that Fuller might have read about the mythological preservative powers of pyramids.

Mad Jack inherited the family fortune in 1777, at the tender age of 20. Their wealth had been built on the manufacture of iron goods, such as cannons, as well as a substantial income from sugar plantations in Jamaica.

The family was heavily involved in politics, both nationally and locally, and  John served several terms as Member of Parliament during his life.

He seems to have fostered an image of eccentricity, and never married, but enjoyed supporting good causes, including funding the first lifeboat at Eastbourne, and helping the building of the Belle Tout Lighthouse on the cliffs near Beachy Head.

Fullers Follies:

Brightling Needle, an obelisk over 65 feet (20m) high was built on the second highest point in East Sussex and was erected around 1810

The Sugar Loaf, which is sometimes known as Fuller’s Point, is in a meadow and stands 35 feet (10.7m. The name comes from the conical shaped loaf that sugar was sold in at that time. It was apparently built to win a bet that Mad Jack made whilst in London. He claimed he could see Dallington Church (a nearby village) from his house in Brightling. When he returned he discovered that he couldn’t as a hill blocked his view, so the Sugar Loaf was hastily erected to win the bet.

The Tower or Watch Tower built by Fuller in the middle of a field, stands 35 feet (10.6m) high and 12 feet (3.7m) in diameter.

The Temple or Rotunda was built in the grounds of Brightling Park perhaps to add a classical element to the gardens.

The Observatory, now a private residence was completed in 1810. It was equipped with all the equipment of the time including a Camera Obscura.

More information and photos of Fullers Follies.

An Aga Saga blog – to write home about

aga-ladyI last blogged about Aga cookers way back in June 2008 (Aga goes Web 2.0). Well, they have finally seen the social media light (Blogging for fun and profit) and started a blog.

Rather painfully it is called The World According to Lady Aga, I’m guessing Lady Gaga is unlikely to take action, as she has against Moshi Monsters (Lady Gaga wins injunction against Lady Goo Goo) and the Icecreamists (Milking a story for all it’s worth). After all the AGA brand is nearly 60 years older than Lady G.

On the positive side, it does publish some interesting facts about the expensive cookers (AGA inventor was a Nobel Prize winner), as well as some tasty recipes. And, more importantly, it has a sense of humour, with AGA Characters: Retired Rock Chick, and AGA Characters: Yummy Mummy just two examples.

So the occasional post about new product launches or expansion into new territories can be easily forgiven.

Reinventing Shakespeare with Lenny Henry

Lenny_HenryI have just returned from a trip to the National Theatre in London to see Lenny Henry in The Comedy of Errors.

This is not going to be my attempt at a theatre review, as many others are far better qualified to do that than me.

Also, I had better get my confession to not being a great fan of Shakespeare out of the way early on too. However, I should point out that Lenny Henry himself was also in this camp until relatively recently as he revealed in his Radio 4 series, What’s So Great About…

In fact that show led to an invitation to appear as Othello at the West Yorkshire Playhouse in Leeds directed by Barrie Rutter. The Daily Telegraph reviewer described his performance as “This is one of the most astonishing débuts in Shakespeare I have ever seen.” And resulted in Henry winning the best newcomer award at the age of 51.

The point I want to make is how this very contemporary version of the play creates an unexpected new angle on something dating from 1594. Who would have expected to be presented with a helicopter rescue with winch-men descending from above within the first few minutes.

The play was set in its original location of Ephesus, but updated to a rather sleazy present day by Director Dominic Cooke, with gangster bosses, pool halls, throbbing night clubs and racy prostitutes.

It felt really quite strange to listen to Shakespeare’s words coming out of the mouths of Essex bleached blonds with estuary accents. Or watching an ambulance with flashing lights swerve onto the stage and a gang of white-coated men emerge and begin pursuing our heroes Antipholus and Dromo around the stage in a Keystone Cops style chase.

From a comment I heard on the way out of the theatre, “soooo disappointing wasn’t it, none of the gentle charm of Shakespeare”, not everyone was happy with this interpretation. But, for me it not only made for an, at times, breath-taking spectacle, it also made the sometimes impenetrable Shakespearean language alive and vivid. Once again the Bard has been re-invented for another generation to enjoy.

Comedy_of_Errors

Archiving video games – the search for the impossible

gameCity_logoOn Monday we had a presentation from James Newman and Iain Simons, co-authors of 100 Video Games, co-founders of Game City, and co-founders of the UK National Videogame Archive. And what an entertaining pair they made, switching seamlessly from slide to slide and from one to the other. They handled the great many enthusiastic interruptions from the very knowledgeable audience with patience and politeness.

They were at the British Library to talk about why the archive was created in 2008 and progress it has made since then. In practice much of the talk was explaining why it is impossible to archive vidoe games, due to their very temporary nature. Even the plastic of the early consoles is starting to degrade, ending eventually in a pile of fine grey dust.

With my background in computer science, I was expecting to hear about all the clever ways programmers are preserving the games so that they are playable on current hardware. They did talk about emulators and the good work fan programmers are doing, but ultimately their efforts are doomed to failure.

It will never be possible to exactly replicate the way the games played back on cathode ray tube (CRT) screens and 16 bit processors. And even if you could, the cultural context will have been lost. Consequently they are concentrating on preserving the experience of game-playing rather than the games themselves.

They do this by capturing live game playing at events like GameCity, and preserving written material relating to games such as Walkthroughs, also known as cheats.

They ended their fascinating and stimulating presentation with a wonderfully rude example of the challenges of completing a Super Mario Brothers level. This has had an amazing 20 million views on YouTube, but comes with a health warning as it is fully of swearing in response to the frustrations of playing the game.

As something of a failed gamer, it certainly make me laugh.

The Deeley Bopper rises again for Sport Relief 2012

Deeley BopperThis evening I stumbled across a Deeley Bopper in a Sainsbury’s supermarket on my way home from work. In its current incarnation it is being used to raise money for Sport Relief 2012.

The Deeley Bopper or Deeley Bobber is one of my all time favourite ‘inventions’. I’ve used quotes because this multi-million selling innovation from the creative mind of Stephen Askin in 1981, is not actually registered as either a patent or even a trade mark.

Although I am definitely not a fan of the object itself, and you are unlikely to catch me wearing one out in the street (or in the house come to that), I use it as a great example in my business innovation work.

One of the strict rules we apply when we meet clients for our confidential Information Advice Clinics, is never to give an opinion on their business idea or invention. And the main reason for this, is however many years one might have in business, it is impossible to tell what will be successful – and vice versa.

The Deeley Bopper provides the perfect illustration. I just ask my colleagues to imagine how they would have reacted if Stephen Askin had come in for an advice session, and asked for their opinion on his latest business wheeze. I can imagine my response would have been something along the lines of; “You have to be joking. No one will buy those”.

And yet they sold in their millions in the 1980′s and appear almost as popular in their revised ‘Red Nose’ guise today. So, however stupid an idea might appear, it can still make a fortune for its creator.

A refreshing cup of coffee half-way down the piste

I’m off to the Alps in a few weeks time for a bit of ‘piste-bashing’, so this story caught my attention.
Starbucks have opened the world’s first ski-in ski-out coffee shop on the side of a mountain.

Today 10 February 2012, Squaw Valley is officially opening the world’s first ski-in/ski-out Starbucks location.

On the mountain at elevation 8,000 feet, Squaw Valley’s new mountaintop Starbucks boasts spectacular mountain views and the unique ability for guests to keep their skis or board on while they order their Starbucks® beverage of choice.

“We worked closely with the design team at Starbucks to create a one-of-a-kind experience that we know our guests will truly enjoy,” said Andy Wirth, Squaw Valley’s president and CEO. “Nowhere else in the world can skiers and riders enjoy a delicious Starbucks coffee without missing a beat on the slopes.”

Now, you can can me an old stick in the mud, but I think the idea of whizzing down the mountain with a cup of steaming Java in my hand is taking the idea of ‘coffee on the go’ a little bit too far.