The Taxi Driver Who Couldn’t Drive

Well, that’s not strictly true. He could drive, just not terribly well it would seem. He didn’t appear to quite know how a manual engine was used for starters.

Now that I’ve begun to talk about cars, I suspect a certain large percentage of you will switch off, taking your like-giving fingertips elsewhere. And for those of you who do remain, I’ll do my best to make my shop talk brief in any case.

So, as I was saying, manual engines … In a manual engine powered car, you as the driver are responsible for changing from one gear in the car’s engine to another. This is usually quite simple, and done with the help of an aptly named “gear stick” as well as another thing called a “clutch pedal”. The engine has something called a “rev counter”, which shows you how quickly a vital component within it is spinning. Usually, when in a certain gear the engine revs up to a certain speed, and then you sir the clutch and the gear stick to change gears for a higher number. This is also done in reverse when the speed of the revving is decreased …
Now, when gearing up or gearing down, there is a particular range of the engine revving which is ideal to change gears. This is most commonly shown by the sound of the engine. It makes a rather unpleasant and loud noise when it really want you to change gears, and one normally changes gears before this symphony hits ones ears. However, the taxi driver I spoke about previously didn’t quite seem to comprehend this process. He allowed the engine to howl in complaint for lengthy periods of time, those in the car left looking sideways at each other as he merely spoke louder and louder to reach above the engine’s wailing.

Aside from this, he had to turn back around to look at street signs he’d missed the first time around, took more than the allowable (or what I thought even possible) amount of turns in a roundabout and more than once had to ask the front passenger where on earth he was going …

To make a short end to a short story made long – I got to where I was going and made it through my first evening back in Europe … In short, really short, the world was saying “welcome to Poland, your stay is going to be an intriguing one” … S.H.

Dear Mr Gains

This is a fictional approach email I wrote as part of a job proposal … 

Dear Mr Gains,

What can I say? You’ve done what you do for a long time, and you’re good at it. Really good. People don’t make a living out of keeping the English rain off of people’s heads if they don’t know what they’re doing. And to keep it in the family over all that time too? Well, as I mentioned – what can I say?

Right now you’re keeping the good people of London dry through those pelting onslaughts of falling H2O. But what if you could keep dry not only the discerning English gent or regal lady about London Town, but also the stylish New York businessman? Or the french artist? Or Norwegian banker? And even the Russian diplomat? This is what I can say to you, and it’s got to do specifically with those little electronic boxes of glass and microchips we all seem to need to carry in our pockets today.

So, to best explain what I’m talking about and exercise my point, let’s look at an all too feasible scenario …

A less than dry character, let’s say a young German designer from Hamburg, rushes through a crowded part of London. It’s not only hailing down cats and dogs, it’s raining sheep and cows too! This is his first trip to London, and although he’s heard about the fickle and sometimes vindictive nature of the British weather, he has no umbrella in hand. A sodden mess in next to no time, he casts his eyes around for a sign of reprieve and is suddenly struck by a awe inspiring sight.

He sees the most beautiful woman he has ever seen in his life.

But not only is she the most beautiful woman he has seen in his mere twenty six years on this planet, but she’s also the most dry he has seen all day. However, despite her attractiveness, it is the beauty of another thing which really makes this lad stop still and take notice – he sees the most regal looking and well built umbrella keeping her dry. One of your umbrellas, Mr Gains.

What if he sparks the courage to approach this girl, his dark hair plastered to the side of his face like melting licorice, and uses the comeliness of your umbrella to strike up a conversation? He likes the girl, but he loves the umbrella. He asks her about it and she tells him the name, along with her own, and the pair steal a few wonderful moments in the pouring rain.

But all too fleetingly she has to leave, and leave she does. Desperate to retain the experience, this young man abruptly wrenches his mobile phone out of his pocket and types the umbrella name into the search engine. The girl was one thing, but what holds his heart truly sway is the brilliance of the umbrella, the sheer perfect way it did what it did. The man’s phone loads, the web page for your umbrellas comes up – but all he gets is a static page. It has text, a few pictures, and looks nice enough, but he quickly loses interest in the umbrella and the thought of that girl creeps back into his mind.

For a strong moment that man wanted nothing more but to know more, and know more quickly. He wanted to know about your umbrellas. But all too soon he glances at the time, resets his mind for that important meeting he was dashing through the wet streets of London for in the first place, and all ideas of that special umbrella are gone. His interest is lost, because it wasn’t kept as quickly as it was first attained. But more importantly to the whole scenario, you, Mr Gains, miss the opportunity of his business. He heads home to Germany the next day and soon forgets all about the girl with the amazing umbrella.

Because of how the majority of people now absorb information, mobile viewing of all content, including advertisements and promotion for products has increased at remarkable rates in recent years, four times as much, and is set to grow even further. This means, therefore, that the lack of video content on any business website will mean loss of interest and a lack of retention from potential customers. If the basic goal is to show a wider range of people how great your umbrellas are, and continue that family tradition of providing quality and excellence to those who are inspired to seek it, then video is the simplest and most rewarding way to do this. The potential is so high, in fact, that a short and effective video, or a series of videos, about your umbrellas and how well they keep good heads dry could put you on the international business map, and it would even be possible to triple the turnover of your business just by using online videos as a tool.

Buses for the Poor(ish)

Frost encrusted countryside whizzes by the window. The warming tide of morning sun leans against the hillsides and tree branches and rooftops, stirring them all awake from a soft pre-winter slumber. White puffed clouds on the horizon look like anime style mountains through the surrounding city haze.
The bus is overly warm. But not too warm, not yet anyway. Apart from a stray cough, and the occasional trumpet-playing-nose-blower, the annoyance level is minimal … But even as I write these words I can feel a jinx coming on. The chatter level is growing.

In most western/first world countries, if you don’t have a car, you’re forced to seek an alternative means of transportation.  This is when buses and trains most commonly come into play. A train, for me, is always better. You’ve got more space, can get up and walk about if you want, and the ride is usually quicker and smoother. But if that option isn’t available, then comes the dreaded bus journey …

A bus journey, I’m talking longer than a city bus to town here, is my idea of the low point of travel. It’s true, sometimes they can be good, but often they are not. You’re too close to the person behind you, who keeps jabbing their knee into the back of your seat, and by extension the back of your back. The lady seated in front of you keeps turning around disapprovingly whenever you do something so offensive as breathing. And the rest of the bus seem to all have flu, Ebola, and a weird near-fatal desease passed on by the noise of them coughing. By the end of the journey you’re convinced you have whatever they have.

It’s not that bad, though. It sure beats walking in the snow. S.H.

Who is Jewellery for, Really?

An article I wrote for the Eiger Gallery website …

I guess what I’ve personally spent on Jewellery over the years doesn’t equate to a dizzying amount of money. But I know what I like, and depending on the person it’s intended for, I don’t usually need much time to make up my mind and secure that purchase. 

But what makes me, or any of us for that matter, buy jewellery in the first place? 

I don’t wear any jewellery myself, so any time I’ve bought a piece of bodily adornment, it’s been for another. In this instance, the act of giving is a strong motivator towards handing over my cash. And in any case, what is the real appeal of jewellery? Is it to look prettier? To show one’s status? Or a simple way to raise our self esteem? Maybe the procurement and possession of jewellery is like any other desire to accumulate and own things, a material whim which governs so many people, and more so, it seems, today than at any other time before. 

To try and decipher who jewellery is really for, my thoughts invariably lead to design and aesthetics. For me, the cost of an object has no real bearing on its significance – ten pounds or ten thousand, the price tag on a piece of jewellery isn’t going to make me like it any more or less – but it is its appearance which strikes that little tuning fork inside and tells me what I like the look of, but more importantly, the feel of. It could be argued that jewellery is essentially just for looks. 

Clothes, indeed, can also be chosen for looks alone, but most all of them end up serving the end purpose of covering our bodies.Shoes are in the exact same boat. No matter how impractical a six inch pair of heels may be, they still complete the task of keeping the feet of whichever brave (or foolish) person who decides to wear them from touching the harsh ground. Any other common accessory provides a function too. A belt holds up your trousers, a scarf keeps your neck warm – what does jewellery do to fill our practical needs and make us more comfortable? The answer is that a piece of jewellery is not an essential item prettied up to look nicer, but a pure work of art. It is there to be there, to represent our expression of what art we like and enjoy. And maybe what it shows most importantly is a feeling we chose to evoke, a message which is exchanged by using jewellery as a vehicle of this message, this feeling, this intention. 

But how does an inanimate object makes us feel anything at all? And how does the person wearing the jewellery feel, versus the person observing the jewellery on the wearer? The design of a piece of jewellery is what sets it apart from every other piece. And while they all have similarities – for example, rings, necklaces, earrings – each design seems to be singing out towards the ones who would hear it most clearly, striving to make that personal connection, to be the one which reaches out and touches the human being who may be moved by its beauty or form or individualism.

Works of true art are individual, and a crafted piece of jewellery is just that, a work of art.
Could it be that by buying a work of art such as this, we seek to please not only others but ourselves as well? And the mere seeking of this pleasure, no matter its form or intended party, is reason enough to do the looking, do the liking, and then the buying. What happens after is out of the art’s hands, and left purely to the emotion of the people around it. SH

(article written for eigergallery.com)

The Performance

Sometimes it feels like I’m in a Michael Palin documentary series … I hope I’ve got the right hat on?!

Under the guise of a cultural experience, I was invited to a friend of a friend’s kid’s dance performance. I happily accepted this invitation, as I liked all the people involved, and lamented that I hadn’t quite seen enough of children’s theatre so far this year.

The venue was a square building lost within the walls of not unattractive apparments, most not too high and with cute adornments on each small balcony. Double doors pushed open, and suitably sweltering heating conditions encountered within, we stood in wait for some form of organisation to arise.

The main lobby of the place was as regular as you could expect, with child and parent alike darting here and there like a flock of starlings in a tree. However, as the number of flitting blonde haired kids increased, the room grew smaller, the salmon pink walls now dangerously close to doing my eyes some permanent damage. Soon the pressure was almost too intense, as personal space became a palpable joke, and theoretical at best. The crescendo of this was the decent down a nearby staircase of a plump and jovially mannered lady. It was quickly clear she was a dance teacher, as the previously whizzing action of children fell into a regimental two-by-two line At her feet. We took our seats, in baited breath, and looked towards the stage … But it wasn’t really a stage at all.

As far as I could tell it was an elaborate version of duck duck goose, complete with Honkey Tonk piano player and a room full of camera opporators. The performance ended in a rousing call to arms, imploring the new youth of today to brush their teeth less, always ask for more sweets and above all, poke your tongue out at as many relatives as was possible. After a rousing applause, Facebook feeds were checked, videos on phones rewatched, and the crowd dispersed. This was the start of the Xmas season, and there was more, oh much more, to come … S.H.

Shoes

SKIPPING, STEPPING, RUSHING PACKS OF CLOTH AND RUBBER AND LEATHER AND PLASTIC. SHOES ARE EVERYWHERE, AND ALL AT ONCE.

I mean, seriously … How often do you really look at a man’s shoes?

It’s the famous quote from the cinematic masterpiece The Shawshank Redemption. As part of a cunning plot to escape a maximum security prison, a man who has been entrusted to shine the Warden’s shoes, ends up walking out of the prison wearing them.

In the film, it’s a clever line which makes you think — would you have noticed the shoes? If you were one of the hundreds of prisoners or tens of prison guards that saw Andy Dufresne walk along those claustrophobic corridors that day, would you have seen it? Would you have spotted he was wearing shinny black dress shoes instead of his usual dull and worn prison regulation brown kick abouts?

I like the quote. I really do. But when I first heard it, and first though about it, my answer was quite different to those which were expected to come from, and most likely indeed did go on in, the heads of most audience members when watching that great film.

How often do I really look at a man’s shoes? All the time, I replied to myself. All the bloody time.

I suppose I don’t so much as look at them, but notice them. Shoes, for me, are an eye to a human being’s personality. Shoes aren’t like shirts, which you change each day. No siree Bob. Trousers, sure, can last a little longer, but still I’m sure most people have a certain rotation they live by. A simple system that sees most of the bottoms to their outfits never go on show for too long in a row. The same, and even more so, can be said for dresses or skirts or shorts.

Of course, a lot of this is situation dependent, and some shoes are only ever worn when the blue moon doth rise, and then seldom ever again. But the shoes which we chose to wear on these sparse occasions never represent the jangling keys to our soul. Our ‘good shoes’ aren’t exactly our ‘favourite shoes’. No, the ones we love the best are the ones we wear the most.

Not everyone takes their time to select a shoe that will serve them in multiple categories, however. For firstly there are the ascetics to be considered. The look of a shoe is the most important aspect for most of us, and indeed is what first draws us towards a particular type of footwear. Then there is comfort and reliability to be considered — will this shoe survive a muddy day out in the countryside, followed by a less muddy but no less messy night out in the city? Then there is the cost. Some people shop purely with price alone as their guide, and as long as the shoe fits their budget and their foot, then that’s the shoe for them.

But here is where my main point lays. The reasons we chose a shoe are not all generic. The priorities we assign to the purchase of a pair of shoes are often the priorities we assign to how we live our lives. Does it not serve to reason that those who buy a shoe based on practicality and overall thriftiness do too infuse those principals into their daily life? A person who is taken by the pure outlandishness of an explosion of colour which graces a pair of trainers, and then buys said footwear without beguilement of price or functionality, do they also live their lives as impulsively and devastatingly as their shoe buying habits suggest?

The answer is — who really knows. The warden nor the other prisoners in The Shawshank Redemption certainly didn’t. And unless you take the time to notice other people’s shoes yourself, neither will you. SH

City Hum

The fluorescent light hummed away its merry monotone tune, but still the cafe remained a little sullen. The early winters evening had wrapped its cold colourless hands around the place with greedy revere. A deep fryer sizzled in the back, the cook’s shuffled feet another instrument added to the soundtrack. The kids were eating happily but making little noise, their cheery red cheeks slowly warming and returning to their original pale rose pigment. A few shadows passed by the tall cafe front windows, mostly black blurs of indistinguishable age or sex. The smell of salt and vinegar and hot fried potato was strong to the point of intoxication. The night rumbled on for miles around, the city was happy. And for the most part, so were its people. SH