Friday, December 11, 2009

Charmless garments: 3

Strictly speaking this next item is not a garment, but since it completes the charmless outfit when teamed with items 1 and 2 below, and it is a particularly loathsome thing altogether, it seems only (ill-)fitting to write about it.

My dad was always hopeless at picking clothes as gifts and every year of the 1970s, Christmas was marked, or marred, by whatever hideous gift he'd dreamed up to give to my mum, with a constant absence of success. Probably the most egregious excess, though, on an income that could ill afford frivolity, was a pair of handmade leather and wood lace-up clogs. They looked awful and uncomfortable, and wearing them (which I'm not sure my mum ever did) must have felt as though she were carrying around her own small, but burdensome, wooden cargo on each foot.

The word "clog" is appropriate because the sight and thought of them thoroughly clogs the pathways of the brain. And to add to the ignominy, clogs have gone boldly on to spawn one of the worst inventions in recent footwear history: the Croc.

Yes, the clog richly deserves all the opprobrium that can be heaped upon it: for it is clumpy, lumpy and frumpy all at the same time.

95 reasons

For years my family always owned the same car, in different iterations: a Saab 95. It was never a new car; often rusty, sometimes featuring rustproof paint along the side in a different colour; usually in an an unlovely hue of orange or green. At the school gates or pulling up alongside a satirical queue of couples outside the ABC Cinema in Lothian Road (yes, that's a real memory), it was an embarrassment; shamefully, in conversation with a school friend I once made it (by a slip of the tongue, of course) into a Saab 99; but on journeys it was our car, and there was a peculiar warmth and cameraderie about it. Saab 95 owners would wave to each other: acknowledging, perhaps, the joy and suffering associated with owning a car prone to rust and impossible breakdowns.

Its peculiar design meant that you could sit in the back seat facing backwards, and as a child I used to love being in the back, until I began to develop chronic travel sickness and a directly connected and instinctive loathing of watching the road running away behind me.

I clearly remember travelling along Ferry Road in Edinburgh, having just crossed the Forth Road Bridge on the way back from, possibly, a trip to Fife to pick up clay for the pottery. We were waving at the car behind. The woman in the passenger's seat (and in the 1970s that's where they almost always were) stared stonily back. "Superfluous Doris" we immediately nicknamed her in retaliation (with the emphasis on the "flu" - as a reader, I never had any idea how to pronounce anything, but the word must have stuck in my mind), and we howled with laughter and stuck our tongues out like the little urchins we were. Good memories of this car, then. I still remember the registrations of two of those cars: KNU 459J and GGB 886N. And in the picture above, it now looks like a surprisingly attractive, homely but shapely car.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Fin to finning

The Shark Savers organisation has a simple but effective idea to combat the revolting practice of shark finning for the ever-popular, though tasteless, shark's fin soup. The shark fin trade, which by the kilo can be more lucrative than selling cocaine, exists to service the demand; changing people's minds is the only way to tackle the demand, which is perpetuated at the moment by the sick cycle of "it's expensive therefore it's desirable/It's desirable therefore it's getting more scarce/It's getting more scarce therefore it's more expensive/It's desirable therefore it's expensive".

Yao Ming, who's a hero in mainland China, is appearing in a Shark Savers campaign against eating shark's fin. For US$100, you can sponsor a billboard advert featuring Yao at a bus stop in Beijing or Shanghai - this includes production, installation, maintenance, and lighting for a year. There are incredible statistics on the site showing that these billboards do actually change people's minds about eating shark's fin. Sadly, Hong Kong's billboards are nothing like as inexpensive as this, although as the hub of the shark's fin trade (and Hong Kong diners consume 3 million kilos of shark's fin a year), such a campaign is sorely needed here too.

If you sign up now, one of Shark Savers' sponsors has pledged to provide another billboard to match yours. What are you waiting for?