Big Mother, no housing

The artist Stik has painted the tallest mural in the UK. Big Mother might seem simple, but that’s what makes the image so immediately arresting: a mother and child, painted on the side of a condemned block of council apartments.

By Claude Crommelin and Joye Division


Council housing is what British people call projects. They’re properties owned by the local government (called councils) that can be rented at affordable rates. Under laws passed by Thatcher’s government, council housing took a hit and has been on the decline ever since.

Stik, the formerly homeless street artist who painted the mural said: “Affordable housing in Britain is under threat, this piece is to remind the world that all people need homes”. Charles Hocking House was built for low income families in 1967 and is earmarked to be torn down in 2016.

Like a lot of things in the UK, public perception of council housing is tied to class issues. Council estates (especially apartment blocks) are generally thought to be crime-ridden and full of stabbings (remember, it’s very tough to get guns here!), drug deals, low-class people, and whatever other horrors one can think up. The reality is different, and there are good and bad council properties just like there are good and bad areas everywhere.

A really excellent movie that’s set on a council estate is Attack the Block. Obviously it focuses on an alien invasion and not normal day-to-day life, but you should watch it anyway. Plus it takes place on Bonfire Night, so that’s buy one get one free for your British culture quotient. And it’s deeply hilarious.


Adele is living her life (no thanks to Bob)

Adele’s been getting a lot of flak recently for not joining a bunch of lesser mortals to ask a pointless question. Then it came out that she’d just donated her money to charity like everyone else (everyone who isn’t a celebrity, anyway) and people were slightly mollified.

The genius that is Radi-Aid is also starting to get more recognition. There’s not a Brit alive who doesn’t appreciate a good piss-take, and Africa for Norway takes the wind out of Band Aid’s sails beautifully:

Brits are realizing that it’s a cold, harsh world without Adele. Until she’s finished raising a child, the best the British people can do right now is Sam Smith, and he’s adequate only if you’ve forgotten what Adele sounds like.

Abu Dhabi, Race Weekend, and you

Deadspin published an essay yesterday claiming to explain How Formula One Actually Works: A Guide For Confused Americans. It did not, and it wasn’t, although it did explain how Formula One isn’t really a sport, and the guy who runs it is an actual comic book villain. Why The Abu Dhabi Grand Prix Is This Year’s Must-Watch Formula One Race does a better job, although it assumes you know what Formula One is in the first place.

I’m not from a NASCAR family, I don’t really care about baseball or basketball, and my team is the Eagles, but I won’t fight you if you trash talk ’em (although inside my head might be a different story). So I was pretty surprised to discover that after a few years in the UK, I do enjoy Formula One.

Formula One is all about the strategy. A lot of it’s not even on the track, although there’s plenty of good driving to watch. The teams have to build their own cars’ chassis (each team must have two cars in each race) and comply with a very specific set of rules when they do so, which is hugely expensive (hundreds of millions of dollars, not even counting the fifty million to register your team). On the track, a lot of it is about deciding which tires to change when (you only get a certain number to use over the course of the season, and are penalized for going over).

Oh, and there’s also a fair amount of racing.

But I will admit that Formula One is ridiculous. Just to give you an example, it’s the last race of the season and the stakes are super high: we know that one of two drivers is going to win the Drivers Championship, and they’re both from the same team. Each race gets a driver points as long as they place in the top ten (with more points depending on how high they finish), but for this final race the powers that be decided to award double points (there’s a lot of money tied up in this), so it could go either way.

If you want to know more, Discovery Channel has a good documentary about F1:

Or you could just watch the race on Sunday.

Hooray for Bowies

Last summer I was lucky enough to see David Bowie is, a sprawling retrospective exhibition of everything David Bowie.

Earlier this month, a film of the exhibition was screened worldwide for everyone who didn’t get a chance to see it. The exhibition is also touring the globe, and is in Chicago right now.

And this week, Nothing Has Changed was released. It’s an excellent 3-CD box set of Bowie, and though it is a compilation album it’s a really good one. It starts with the new stuff and works its way backward, ending with Liza Jane, Bowie’s very first single.

How new is the new stuff? There’s one brand new track, which is all about that jazz:

For all that he’s in a museum, David Bowie is determined to keep creating and changing. Hopefully he’ll keep on delighting us for many years to come.

Small or far away

One of the best things about living in the UK is the comedy. As long as you’re on board with sarcasm and a certain pessimistic (or realistic, depending who you ask) outlook on things, British comedy is the best. No matter what kind of TV you like, there’s a comedy show for you, from awkward school sitcoms like Bad Education to the character-driven ridiculousness of Fawlty Towers to sci-fi/horror spoofs like Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace. Despite the huge amount of choice, most people can agree that one of the best comedy sitcoms is about three priests living on a rural island off the coast of Ireland.

Despite having first aired almost ten years ago, Father Ted is still hilarious. The eponymous Father Ted is the only relatively sane character; he lives with Father Dougal, who is incredibly dim, and Father Jack, a dirty old man who is constantly drunk on whatever he can find.

They also have a housekeeper, Mrs. Doyle, whose mission in life is to make as much tea for as many people as possible. The three priests are pretty much the worst priests anywhere, and were exiled to Craggy Island so as not to further embarrass the church. They still manage to get into scrapes, of course, and there are lots of jokes at the expense of the Catholic Church, rural living, and the British way of life.

Even if you don’t get all the cultural references, the show is definitely worth watching.

Say it right

Places in Great Britain have weird names. Everyone knows this. It’s hard to escape if you’ve ever taken the Piccadilly Line tube, final destination: Cockfosters, or have been to Splott or Pratt’s Bottom (or, god forbid, Shitterton).

To make things even more confusing, very few place names are pronounced the way they appear on paper. Deceptively easy: Worcestershire, famous for the sauce.

The correct pronunciation is WUSS-tur-shear. I have no idea why, but my working theory is that Brits don’t want to waste precious minutes pronouncing the full name of anything. They could be talking about the weather instead.