I was at a local shopping centre with some depressingly decked halls this week and came across a perplexing animatronic nativity scene. One of the wise men was hip thrusting and beating his clunky crotch with an urn full of frankincense while Mary was making an odd ice cream licking motion with her left hand. A donkey shook his head in the corner.
Not sure what was going on in this interpretation of J-zizzles' birth but whatever it was didn't look any better when sped up and looped a few times.
It's not clear what was going through mind of the shop elf that made this though he probably shouldn't be allowed near the old mannequins again.
I like to listen to the radio a lot while I work (tuned into Radio One) and have found myself wondering lately about the exact point pop music got so horny. And I'm not talking about the over sexualisation of the artists and the songs they produce but the increasing use of Adam West-era Batman sound effects in their backing tracks.
It's a fad that fades in from pop's recent sax addiction and to my ears gathered momentum somewhere around Jason Derulo's 'Talk Dirty to Me', peaked with Cheryl Cole's crazy 'Crazy Stupid Love', and settled down with Taylor Swift's 'Shake it Off'.
However it seems it was one fella with some hella good hair who anticipated the trend and started things off, taking horns to a whole new level over 40 years ago.
If Swifty had been around in the '70s, or likewise if Elvis had been around today, it's not hard to imagine The King covering the infectious guilty pleasure 'Patch it up' style. Though maybe not the rap.
P.S. If you play Taylor and Elvis at the same time, then mute the Elvis video, they kinda sorta synch up in places.
Out of the two gorges I've been to (the other being a famously cheesy one) Lydford is definitely my favourite. Visiting Lydford Gorge and the nearby village this weekend felt like a real discovery, somewhere genuinely exciting to explore without being bombarded by constant reminders that you're at a tourist attraction.
The gorge's walk started out like any other Dartmoor valley walk but soon developed its own character once it wound closer to the water. With various kinds of stone dramatically shaped by the River Lyd over thousands of years there were some impressively curved channels in the gorge's walls of rock.
Numbers that appeared on posts along the path, with a telephone icon, turned out to be markers in case of emergencies as it soon became apparent that in places the gorge got precarious, and the narrow stone walkways slippery. And this is one of the things that made it exciting – in places it felt like if you weren't careful you could slip and fall into the river. A reminder that a little bit of danger is always fun in a world of tourist destinations bubblewrapped in health and safety precautions.
The circular walk around the gorge reached its climax in Devil's Cauldron. It was hard to capture how impressive it was in photos or video but its high rocky walls formed a circular pit where the river burst through into a turbulent pool and created a fantastic and deafening roaring sound. The cauldron was only accessible by a narrow walkway and once inside it was easy to understand how it got its name.
After the gorge Lydford village turned out to be a great place to wander around outside of normal opening times, on a perfect summer's day when there's still plenty of exploring time after 5pm before the sun sets. A small castle, a church and the remains of a Normal hill fort were all next door to each other making for an interesting and easy walk. The church's graveyard is host to "The Watchmaker's Tomb" which sounds more exciting and mysterious than it was but certainly got the imagination ticking in a place that appeared largely unaffected by the passage of time.
As a bonus on the drive back I passed one of my favourite spots on the Moors – Brentor Church, after taking a wrong turn. A place understandably surrounded by legend the church looks like it erupted out of the craggy summit, flipping the bird to the Devil (who, one legend has it, tried to destroy it) and the world below. And the view from the top is pretty spectacular.
As was the view of the tor on the road home, from far away with the sun setting behind it.
Five years ago I was planning on going back to university to study for a Master's degree in Professional Writing at Falmouth. As part of the application process potential students were asked to write a profile of someone who was famous or that they admired, based on an interview. I ended up scoring an email interview with the hands behind a knitted hero of mine – Nigel Plaskitt aka Monkey of ITV Digital and PG Tips fame.
It turned out Falmouth University never asked to see the carefully crafted profile I created, and I never ended up doing the course. The profile and interview remained covered in digital dust until a recent conversation that involved Muppets and Master's degrees jogged my memory, leading to a surprisingly fruitful Outlook search which yielded the original emails and their attachments. I felt the interview was worth sharing so here it is five years later with Monkey still going strong:
When did you decide you wanted to be a puppeteer, what inspired you?
I started out as an actor. I had done some puppeteering at The Little Angel Theatre in Islington at weekends and school holidays and a contact made then approached me after I'd been working as an actor for about 18 months. She was making puppets for a new pre school programme - Pipkins - could I do character voices. No actor says 'no' so I said yes and then they asked me if I'd puppeteer as well. So I did. That show ran nine years. Voices then became my 'thing'.
What's your favourite puppet you've had to operate?
Monkey has got to be a favourite. Simple character. Like Kermit. In fact originally designed and built by The Jim Henson Co for ITV Digital. The current PG Tips version is made by ex-Henson builder Paul Jomain.
You worked for Jim Henson's workshop, do you have a favourite memory or favourite story from working with him?
Only worked twice with Jim - once on Labyrinth and second on Bunny Picnic though I had the chance to watch them often shoot The Muppet Show as they were working on the next stage to Pipkins at Elstree. Can't give you an anecdote. Suffice it to say that in the following years I worked closely with Jerry Nelson, Dave Goelz and Louise Gold. They all loved him.
Does Monkey's kind of uniqueness come by accident or by design?
I like to think by design. It takes many years to develop a character like him. Sue Beattie (the right hand and sometimes both) Ben Miller (the voice) and I have been together on it since the beginning. Nine years now I think.
Are you still in touch with your inner child, I'd imagine this must be an important part of working on children's television?
In touch with it? I'm still living it. Where else could I spend my life playing characters such as a crazy Hare, a Monkey and Bad Lil Bunny. Seem to be a lot of animals!!!
Is working for children's television a rewarding experience?
Greatly. Though I didn't really appreciate this until recently when I started getting emails from twenty/thirtysomethings who had been in my original audience back in the 1970's.
Has the puppeteering business changed much in recent years, is there more technology involved now?
Going back the other way - look at Monkey - couldn't be more simple.
Is there still as much of a demand for traditional puppets, or are computer generated alternatives more popular?
See above and look at Hitchhiker's Guide. Garth Jennings wanted it to look real. He directed the latest Monkey ad.
Monkey man and Muppeteer Nigel I thank you, I still get excited every time I see a new PG tips ad on the TV and am still disappointed that the Monkey chat show never got made. For more information about Nigel's work check out his website and his IMDb profile.
Mark is a freelancer who specialises in creative copywriting. He's experienced at putting his writing skills to work on a variety of subjects and can easily turn his hand to different styles. In addition to being a wordsmith Mark had also forged other forms of content for the web and print including photography, video and illustrations.
Based in Devon Mark lives within questing distance of the UK's Middle Earth aka Dartmoor. He likes his detectives hard-boiled, his eggs runny, and his time travel non-paradoxical.
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