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April Fools 2009

I can’t keep the pretense up any longer, I’m not really a bodybuilder and it’s not really my new web site.  I’ve been redirecting this site to my alter-ego at all day long.  Fooled ya, didn’t I?

Kevin Blake - rumours of my career change have been greatly exagerrated

Rumours of my career change have been greatly exaggerated

Whilst rumours of my career change might have been greatly exagerrated, it’s been another good April Fool’s Day worldwide as individuals and businesses have thrown off any seriousness of the rest of the year by turning to Newsbiscuit-esque stories and ideas everywhere.  April 1st is of particular interest to me as a web developer, as an opportunity to proudly display the more playful side of a company, attract new audiences, and to make people smile.

So here are some of my favourites (apologies if a lot of these links don’t work.  Chances are, it’s not April 1st any more).  If you’ve been following me on Twitter today, you’ll have probably seen a lot of these already.

And lastly, in the papers…

Do you have any favourites I’ve missed?  Don’t forget, it’s never too early to start planning next years pranks 🙂

Super Lamb Bananas and Anthony Gormley’s Another Place

Yellow Superlambanana in a cage

As you might have guessed, I”m a big fan of large, public displays of art. It can be a small piece of graffiti on the wall that makes me chuckle, or it can be street theatre involving a 40ft tall mechanical spider. I try not to ask for much. So this weekend in Liverpool has brought three of them all along at once, and I”ve loved it all.

Super Lamb Bananas. Lots of people have heard the name by now. It was originally a huge 17ft tall sculpture by a Japanese artist named Taro Chiezo. As with a lot of great pieces of art it was originally met with a resounding “huh?” by the local population of Liverpool. However, when art lovers and travellers from all over the UK to visit, they all went “huh?” too. So it”s no great surprise that the 2008 City of Culture created 125 two-metre high versions and put them all over the city.

Everyone is still going “huh?”, but the persistence is making everyone grow to love these little genetically modified beings. Liverpool has painted its spirit onto every single one of the unique animals, and it now sits firmly alongside the Liver bird as a modern-day symbol of the city. And now, the 8th-9th September sees a huge amount of them on display at the front of St. George”s Hall, before they”re auctioned off for charity on Wednesday. The original experience was like the pigs I”ve talked about in Bath, but Liverpool did really beat them to it. And they used genetically modified animals (originally to highlight the dangers of GM crops). You can almost sing along to “Cities just wanna have fun” (to the tune of Girls Just Wanna Have Fun) as you parade madly through the distorted flock. And you probably wouldn”t get any funny looks.

Anthony Gormley's "Another Place", Crosby Beach

Another Place, Crosby Beach

Another Place is much more serene, slightly disturbing and intense. I had no idea it was near Liverpool, but a helpful lady on the train on the way in had mentioned it as a place that would be great to go and see if I could find a bus. It”s 20 minutes from Liverpool Central on the Northern Line to Crosby, or Waterloo. Both an easy 10-minute walk from the beach that stretches for 2 miles, and is full of 100 statues of Anthony Gormley, staring out to sea.

I”m a big fan of Anthony Gormley, and this piece is reminiscent of Event Horizon where 31 statues were placed on rooftops around London. Designed to symbolise the relationship that man has with nature, Crosby beach is such a perfect location, with signs of industry to one side, wind farms in the distance, and a long sandy (often muddy) beach meeting the sea at the horizon. So perfect, that when it came to November 2006 when the exhibit was to be moved to New York, it stayed in what will hopefully a permanent home to these 100 figures.

During particularly high tides all 100 figures are totally submerged, swallowed by the sea to return the next day, slightly greener, a little more worn, but still standing. A lot could be said for this as a metaphor… But having already fallen in love with a spider, genetically modified lambs, and a city running high on enthusiasm and a will to enjoy itself… I think I”ll leave this one up to you….

Farewell La Princesse

La Princesse

La Princesse

Yesterday was the final day of La Machine”s incredible La Princesse. The weather has held out, with only a few light spots of rain whilst the rest of England has been submerged. But we don”t care, we”ve been watching Princess with awe. Even the people who turned up to watch her on the docks on Friday said they didn”t mind they had to do so in the midst of a monsoon.

“Have you seen the spider yet?” I asked the new guy in the hostel. I forgot his name already, sorry, let”s call you Gary. Because it was something like that. “What spider?” He replied. I”d come across the only person within 15 miles of Liverpool that hadn”t heard about this magnificent event. “Right, get your shoes on, you”re coming with me.”

A false start at 3pm had brought everyone out to rival Saturday nights huge crowds. The spider wasn”t doing anything until 7.30pm, but the rumours had been going round and everyone turned up anyway. These had made it to the tourist offices, and all over the city. I think it was originally on the web site, but later removed – so no wonder that everyone was excited. But it wasn”t to be, and La Princesse wouldn”t awaken from her slumber on Concourse tower for another 4.5 hours.

And what an awakening. She walked the path around St. George”s Hall with her huge entourage of drums, harpists, and full brass band. Spraying everyone in the crowd with water, and lowering legs to just slightly skim the crowd as she went. We”d waited hours in the spots we”d all chosen. But everybody was smiling, and everyone was happy that La Princesse had graced the city with her presence.

The finale was spectacular. I write this as I”m on the train back home, and as someone has just attempted to proudly point out – “yeah, but the London one had a narrative, and more of a story”. Well, Liverpool had fireworks, snow, fire and a water ballet (I think that”s the correct terminology)… Not to mention the spider made use of all of its surroundings, including climbing a building!

I don”t say this to downplay anything that the team accomplished with the Sultan”s Elephant, because both events were huge and unforgettable. Both were remarkable feats of engineering, media, and public interaction – and something that I hope we will see much, much more of in the years to come. La Machine have dared you to dream, but I hope that they also inspire each and every one of us that magic can happen in our streets and in the cities we live. Thank you La Machine, and thank you Liverpool.

The Spider That Ate Liverpool

La Princesse on Concourse Tower

La Princesse on Concourse Tower

Back in 2006, a time traveling elephant visited London, on command of an eccentric rich sultan who was seeking to find another similar time traveler in the form of a young girl who was haunting his dreams. Well, you all know the story.

And now, new agents used on a building due to be destroyed in Liverpool has created a creature we all know and love, only just ever so slightly bigger. About, 40ft bigger in fact (although the sizes seem to get larger every time I hear them).

Royal De Luxe, or rather La Machine as they seem to now be called have let a huge 40ft spider loose on the streets, and indeed buildings of Liverpool. And there”s no way I”m going to miss something like that! She goes by the name of Princess (ahhhh), and she started out in a cocoon on the side of Liverpool Lime St. Station last Thursday. And she is definitely magnificent, if, y”know, freaky as hell at night time.

As soon as I left the station though, memories came flooding back of the crack-addled elephant worshipers of 2006. Children and adults alike all filtering out of the station with only one purpose in mind. “Have you seen the spider?” “Where is the spider?” “Hey, dude, like, stop hogging all the Pringles.” Not the last one.

The media has worked its magic, and everyone knows about Princess. Everyone wants to meet her, and we all want to be her friend (through fear of being kept alive in some kind of spider-feeding larder deep underneath Liverpool station before being eventually chewed on by gammy spider-jaws, I”d guess).

And the crowds are huge. They”re expecting over a million people over the three days, and I counted at least 200 today. People line the streets everywhere, and if you’re unfortunate enough to get stuck in front of Princess (as I was) – you will die (I was lucky). I’m not kidding, as we all tried to move out of the way of the incoming spider, and people behind us just wanted to get closer and stand in the way … Someone actually, genuinely, and I”m not lying here, shouted “think of the children!”. And sadly they weren”t joking either, there did seem to be panic brewing among the group of, shall we say “dads”, children were leaving crying, men with pushchairs were looking angry, and apparently some Liverpudlians just need to relax. Still, we made it out alive, the spider didn’t eat us – and I’m actually rather looking forward to collecting other prominent phrases like “we’re all going to die” and “oh, the humanity”.

Speaking of crowds, don”t worry, Liverpool has opened all three of its restaurants for this event, and you will only need to queue out the door and down the street for 30 minutes. I”m sure it”s always like this. Really.

All said, these shows are incredible. There”s a very very good reason that they draw such huge crowds, and they”re a once in a lifetime experience that you”ll never forget and hopefully look back upon fondly, forever. Queues, crowds, and long waiting times mean absolutely nothing as soon as you see the spiders legs appear around the corner. And you”ll probably never hear a huge crowd in the hundreds of thousands cheer for a giant spider again. Unless it”s eaten all the killer bed bugs. Which is quite possible. The final day is tomorrow, and I can”t wait :)

This Little Piggy went to Bath

I’d planned on this being first post being all about the brave new adventures around England I’m embarking on over the new few days. It’s wholly different from any past brave new adventure around England, as for the very first time I have a Rough Guides to Britain. And all real holidays involve a Rough Guide, so this must be one too.

It’s my logic, I’ll do what I like with it.

Bath Abbey

Bath Abbey

I’m hoping to find out if we’ve become the “overweight, binge-drinking reality TV addicts, obsessed with toffs and C-list celebrities” type of race that Rough Guides claim we have. So where better to visit than the origins of British civilisation epicentre that is Bath. I have only tenuous links to make such wild claims but it makes for a great introduction, doesn’t it?

Bath is famous for many things, The mostly preserved ancient Roman baths (60-70AD), The Wife of Bath, Jane Austen’s residence for five years, it’s a World Heritage site, King Bladud… Wait….Who?

You probably all remember the story of late King Bladud of 3,000 years ago. He contracted a disfiguring disease (hit by the ugly stick). It was due to this that he was banned from the royal palace, and eventually travelled to the Avon Valley in his new line of work, “Swineherd”. Unfortunately for the pigs, they all caught “ugly” off of poor old Bladud, and it wasn’t before they went rolling in the hot mud around Bath that they became beautiful Disney pigs again. Seeing the miracle with his own eyes, Bladud joined in with the pigs in what would nowadays be called “mad”. But due credit to the guy, the magical springs did the trick and he returned to retake the throne. When he returned to the palace, he founded the City of Bath and dedicated it’s healing powers to the Celtic goddess Sul.

King Bladud's Pigs - Abi and Emily

King Bladud's Pigs. Abi and Emily

And that’s why 100 pig sculptures have been modelled, painted, decorated, been displayed in the greatest commemoration of Pass The Pigs the world has ever known. Oh, and to get Bladud’s statue out of storage and into Parade Gardens, of course. They’ll all be auctioned on 31st Oct 2008. So get to Bath while you can, or get ready to place those bids. If you don’t make it, hopefully old Bladud will be back on his perch in the gardens, with a brand new pig sculpture made from Bath stone. Let’s hope so.

You can buy a map of all said pigs in the tourist information for the extortionate price of 1 pound. It’s well-worth it though and an excellent way to explore the city, taking you places you’d probably raise an “eh” for, before. I managed to photograph 54 of them in my one day visit. If I had longer, I would certainly go and find the rest – but I still consider this to be a pretty good haul.

My first impressions of Bath is a beautiful city, full of friendly smiling people, grand impressive architecture, sprawling green parks, and well worth the short 90 minute train journey from London Paddington. You won’t regret it. Unless you’re Jane Austen. Or you hate pigs.