Thursday, 24 July 2014

Which country has the best flag?

Flags are important and powerful things. They represent a whole nation's personality, history and identity. That is a lot of responsibility for anyone to take on, so it's little wonder that so many flags try to keep it as simple as possible.

But simple, formulaic flags are boring. Someone from France, Ireland or Romania might be moved by the sight of their tricolour, but it hardly sets the pulses racing from a purely aesthetic point of view. The majority of the world's flags fit in to these same-old, same-old templates.

This is not the case for this fly twenty-five. Unique design elements, unusual patterns and unexpected colours are their calling card. Imagine being from one of these countries and seeing your flag fluttering up its pole. "Hell yeah!", you'd scream, probably fit to punch a horse. Maybe you are. If so, rest assured that you are very lucky and leave those horses alone.

(NB: This list is 100% accurate and non-negotiable. Only flags from sovereign nations have been considered. Sorry Wales.)

25 Zimbabwe
A bird hat on your flag is worth two in the bush

24 Brazil
"Ordem e Progresso" is Portuguese for "check THIS flag out"

23 Qatar
Almost unique in design, completely unique in proportions and in colour. Score.

22 Vietnam
It's not a unique design (Somalia has the same one but with a white star on a sky blue background),
but something about this flag just screams "I AM VIETNAM". You'd probably guess it was the
Vietnamese flag even if you didn't know. It is almost unimaginably beautiful as a piece of design.

21 Switzerland
It's one of only two square flags in the world (Vatican City has the other) but this one wins.
The subtlety and crisp accuracy of this flag gives me the horn and puts holes in me cheese.

20 Cyprus
Cyprus go for the map flag. An over-literal approach, perhaps? Like hell it is.

19 Panama
Oh HELLS yeah

18 Brunei
There's all manner of things going on here. Keeps you entertained for hours.

17 Swaziland
This flag wails "don't mess with us, we've got old time African tribal weapons up in this gaff"

16 Eritrea
Like someone shot a tricolour through a prism, then folded it up wrong. Plus hand tree!

15 Comoros
"What elements shall we put on our flag?" "All".

14 Uganda
"Double Belgium sideways with a stork, please"

13 Papua New Guinea
Stars. Bird. Diagonals.

12 Saint Lucia

11 Central African Republic

10 Seychelles
"Because fuck you, that's why"

9 Bhutan
Diagonals. Dragons. Didragonals.

8 Guyana
Bitchin' flag, this way >>>

7 Kiribati
Come on

6 Nepal
Because rectangles are for wimps

5 FYR Macedonia

4 Mozambique
Star. Book. Hoe. And...AND... A MOTHER FUCKING AK-47.

3 Sri Lanka
Every single thing about this flag rules.

2 Grenada
Like playing the world's funnest board game, in the world's best circus, in space. On fire.

1 Antigua and Barbuda
Look at the way the blue band seems to bend to form a horizon. More flags need optical illusions, please.

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

The almost completely inexplicable artwork choices of The Beach Boys

I love The Beach Boys. I always think more of people who say the same thing. But we seem to be an increasingly skulking, cowed band of largely silent disciples. We all consider that of all the groups in the history of popular music, The Beach Boys are the one who deserve more credit and critical recognition than they generally receive. But on the whole we keep it to ourselves.

There are a few reasons why they have generally been last in the queue when retrospective accolades of greatness are being distributed. Perhaps a lot of them have been identical to the reasons why their fans generally don't try and push their music onto anybody else.

First is that there was a fundamental break in their creative output at the height of their powers in the mid-1960s. Creative differences within the group and Brian Wilson's increasingly parlous mental health - exacerbated, no doubt, by the truckloads of drugs he was taking on a daily basis - caused the Smile album project to dissolve into a series of half-worked tracks and afterthoughts which gradually peppered all of the band's future releases. Shorn of their proper context, they were never as potent as they might have been.

Then there are people who consider them to be an itsy-ditsy band of one-trick ponies. Simple pedlars of surf music or lovey-dovey hippy peaceniks. These people could probably be shown that this isn't the case with a little education, but you'll probably find that they are spectacularly resistant to submitting themselves to such.

And I think that this might be because of a third reason, one which has increasingly been vexing me lately. Specifically, it is the fact that The Beach Boys had a troubling tendency to give some of their most important record releases peculiarly awful, strange and unsuitable cover artwork.

Pet Sounds (1966) - pioneering, epoch-making, pop masterpiece. So, you know, obviously goaty.

Why did they do this? It's hard to say, especially considering that early in their contractual negotiations with Capitol Records the group managed to gain a more autonomous approach to recording at their own expense in exchange for a greater share of the sales royalties. In other words, they needed their records to sell more than most of their contemporaries did. And this was all OK when they were being acclaimed as superstars and Brian Wilson as the Mozart of popular music. People would have bought those records even if the cover had been a splayed anus. However, an album of the half-baked songs spat out by a failed concept album, performed by drug casualties and the worst kind of late 1960s hippy, is a rather harder sell. Putting the record in a paper bag with a $1 bill stapled to the front was probably the wisest course of action, and one which of course the band did not take.

Friends (1968) - low key,  understated and quietly beautiful post-Pet Sounds hidden gem. Best depicted
by a dazzlingly terrifying glimpse into the shattered, disembodied astral plane of an alternate dimension.

Maybe they were making a broader philosophical point about the nature of perception? Of appearances and realities? The records were, for the most part, still great after all. As I clearly implied in the opening sentence. It's possible, albeit a slim possibility. But The Beach Boys were never a band who dealt in slim possibilities. They were all about telling you that you should meditate, growing big beards and imagining that they were a tree.

Surf's Up (1971) - perhaps the last great collection of original material released by the group in
their classic era. So a dismal, unsettling image of a man and horse being impaled in a storm, then.

No, the likely scenario is also the conclusion that I'd hoped I'd not have to draw. But here it is: they were fannies. The sort of fannies whose fannydom did nothing to impair their ear for music, but in any sphere outside of that, all bets were off. Oh well.

Endless Summer (1974) - huge-selling mid-1970s compilation of all of the group's biggest hits,
by extension virtually perfect. Coupled with a picture which could be distributed to every school
in a successful campaign to warn children about the dangers of almost anything. Especially
approaching strange middle-aged men who skulk in bushes. During a tsunami.

Thursday, 17 July 2014

Elephants and testicles

I think that it is now universally accepted that cancer can do one, so it's always good to see anyone stepping up to facilitate this process. The doing of one. CheckOneTwo are raising awareness of a cancer which predominantly strikes men. Women may well also be affected by testicular cancer but largely their own testicles remain unfettered.

Testicular cancer is the most likely cancer to afflict young adult men but it is also one of the most curable and survivable. The five year survival rate of sufferers in the UK is over 97%. As with all cancers, to give yourself the best chance it is best to catch it early. That's where CheckOneTwo's #FEELINGNUTS campaign comes in.

So, the next time your partner, spouse or mother tell you to stop playing with your goolies "because we're in the Harvester", stand up and be proud. For you are taking care of business and responsibility for your own health. For once, wrangling your knackers is the sensible, grown-up thing to do. As it ever was.

For more information on CheckOneTwo's #FEELINGNUTS campaign, you can visit their website, follow them on Twitter or Facebook, or watch their YouTube channel.

Monday, 9 June 2014

Rik Mayall 1958-2014

Other people have died before, of course. And unless we've been horribly lied to, they will again. I might, even. But I suppose I'll cross that bridge when I get to it. Rik Mayall crossed that bridge today, numbingly, crushingly, horribly early. It's perhaps the only thing he has ever done to the British public that has not made them laugh riotously and made them feel glad to be alive.

Because that's what Rik Mayall was. A lightning bolt of energy, a distillation of every good thing about this existence, a cocked thumb at all the shitty things that grind people down. Those shitty things are boring. Rik Mayall was never boring a day in his life.

I was too young to have been affected by The Young Ones but the general opinion - and it's not just an opinion that has been made as a snap judgement before today's tears have dried - is that it was comedy's equivalent of the atomic bomb. A programme that was cutting edge, thrilling, visceral, terrifying; a moment in time after which nothing could ever be the same, even if we decided we wanted it to.

Being too young for The Young Ones had its own benefits, mind you. Most of the people who were so altered by it would probably have been off at university or starting out in their working lives when I was watching Rik present Grim Tales, one of the most dazzling, anarchic and brilliant storytelling exercises ever committed to television, let alone children's television. There was never anyone better on children's television than Rik Mayall. He made all the new things seem scary and impossibly exciting all at once.

There was Bottom, too, of course. For the Oppenheimer of alternative comedy to make such an oddly broad, childish and knockabout exercise in smut and toilet humour should have seemed anachronistic. It never did, though. There's no point in trying to analyse why that was. It just was. Rik Mayall understood what was, understood the absurdity of what was, and made us all shit our pants laughing about it.

In the last part of his life, post quad-bike accident (but I refuse to refer to it as "in his later years", he was only 56 years old, for god's sake) his appearances on TV became more sporadic but no less effective or exceptional. The only difference was that they were an even bigger treat. Last year he played in Greg Davies' excellent Channel 4 sitcom Man Down, a programme which I have only just this last month caught up on. He stole the show, of course, without it ever being to the detriment of the overall piece. Like everything else, it seems inconceivable that he won't be back in the second series.

It seems inconceivable that he won't be back, full stop. Rik Mayall and comedy were indivisible in my mind. People have died before, of course, and we've always found some way to recover enough to laugh again. It feels different this time. Peculiar.

We will all laugh again, of course. Rik Mayall won't be there to hear it, but I like to think that there'll be a small part of every titter, chuckle or guffaw which is a tribute to him, his life and his work. Thank you, Rik.

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

World Cup Red Card Cards

If I'm honest, I think I only watch the World Cup for the dismissals. International football's biggest tournament has a way of elevating everything it touches. There have been countless better goals than Diego Maradona's second against England, but the combination of place, time and significance means that it looks set to remain as THE goal. Likewise, there's no indisipline quite like World Cup indiscipline. People rightly argue that it is a shame that George Best or Ryan Giggs never got the opportunity to grace the World Cup stage, but I feel just as much of a sense of loss for Pat Van den Hauwe or Vinny Jones. Paul Scholes played at two World Cups, but I always got the impression that he never meant to be that bad at tackling. He was never a true artist in the same way as Julian Dicks or Vinny Samways.

To celebrate this finest of the fine football arts, in association with Twohundredpercent I have designed a range of 25 collectible World Cup Red Card Cards, available as greetings cards or postcards. Now other fans of ill-discipline can assemble their very own treasury of the most notable World Cup moments and relive their very favourite wild fouls and outrageous pieces of referee-deceiving fakery. It's sure to bring football into disrepute and the first batch off the shelf will be no doubt heading to FIFA headquarters and the office of Mr. J. Blatter.

FIFA, of course, are continually trying to clamp down on such foul play, potty mouth and various other monkeyshines. However, for the committed fan of the red card, these efforts are nothing but good news. Their chosen method to bring transgressors back into line is to encourage the referees to pop the cards out until they learn, as though they are misbehaving dogs. The only worry red card connoisseurs have is that one day they might, along similar lines, try to reverse the trend and instead reward players who toe the line. Referees taking to the field with a string of sausages or a pocket full of Haribo instead of a notebook and pencil remains my worst nightmare.

159 players have been dismissed in the nineteen World Cup Finals tournaments so far, to 157 different miscreants. Cameroon's Rigobert Song and France's kung-fu master Zinedine Zidane are the only repeat offenders, while Argentina's Leandro Cufré is the only player to be given his marching orders without having set foot on the field of play. 159 in 772 matches equates to a rather meek-looking 0.21 dismissals per match. However, it is a rather misleading statistic, because it is becoming far more prevalent. In the first nine World Cups, just 22 players were invited to leave the field early. In both 1950 and 1970, no-one was sent off at all. The latter of those tournaments was significant as it was also the first World Cup since yellow and red cards were introduced to international football and although the red card didn't make an appearance until four years later, it has since been shown 137 times.

This equates to a rate of 0.25 red cards per World Cup match, or one every four games. In the last three tournaments, this has risen to one every three. Since three games is the minimum number that any team who qualifies for the Finals can play, you are now statistically more likely to have a player sent off than not. If you go further than the group stage and still don't have any players dismissed, you're simply not trying. Days like 18th June 1998, where five players were sent off in a single round of group matches (Denmark v. South Africa and France v. Saudi Arabia) or 25th June 2006, the day of the second round match between the Netherlands and Portugal in which 16 players were booked and 4 sent off are starting to look less like aberrations and more like the norm.

All of which is great news for me, until you remember that whilst dismissals are trending unrelentingly upward, goals-per-game are falling fast. Just as fast as dismissals are rising, in fact, or moreso. At the current rate, by the 2142 World Cup at the very latest we can expect more red cards than goals in each and every World Cup game. I drew a graph and everything, so this is definitely going to happen.

I mentioned my rigorous researches on Twitter and Terry Duffelen, Fußball correspondent on Twohundredpercent and eminent football podcaster, remarked, "red card coefficients are the future of football", a thought which was the perfect combination of funny and bottom-clenchingly terrifying. Because if red cards are to become the game's new currency, we can expect teams going through elaborate simulation in order to prevent their opponents getting sent for an early bath. And while their own tackling would reach new heights of ferocious overkill, the players on the receiving end would react with such Gandhi-like equanimity and calmness that the referee won't know what to think. No-one would get sent off at all. Combine that with there being no goals either and every World Cup game would essentially be like watching Brighton and Hove Albion: you're slightly drunk, it's raining, nothing is happening on the pitch and you don't know where you're supposed to sit.

The only way to prevent this ludicrous situation from occurring is to send everybody off before the game has even started. This is something I'm sure we can all get behind.

It's not just Red Card Cards that are available via my Redbubble, there are loads of other cards, prints and items of clothing to be had. Or you can just go and look at the silly pictures: dotmund on Redbubble

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

My mates were on the telly

My mates were on the telly last night. This shouldn't be exciting any more. It's 2014, for a start. Nowadays, anyone can be famous if they want to be, and entirely on their own terms. Beauty and lifestyle vloggers from YouTube are now so pulsatingly popular that a public appearance has been known to bring Covent Garden to a standstill. Being on the telly shouldn't still be such a big deal.

My mates, who were on the telly last night

Another reason why my mates being on the telly shouldn't excite me any more is because it's 2014 and this means that I should be old enough to know better. The day before my mates were on the telly (which was last night) was my 34th birthday. I am old. And wizened. Bits of me hurt and other parts smell and I can never quite guarantee which bits are going to fall into which category. I am older now, in fact, than Pete was when I first met him. Pete is one of my mates (who were on the telly last night).

But guess what? Your mates being on the telly is still exciting. Thrillingly so.

We decamped to their local boozer in Hove for the hottest premiere that Sussex has seen since the Norman Invasion to watch. Any locals hoping to watch the Arsenal -West Ham Premier League match were squirrelled away in a room upstairs so as not to bother the people who were watching a televised gardening contest. But no matter, the atmosphere we all created was just as giddy as any communal pub football-watching experience of my life and far more good-natured. Opposing contestants were booed like pantomime villains, and when our heroes prevailed and won the preserves making test at the end, the roof came off. All told, having the gardening on instead of the football may appear to be a bold shift in conventional pub dynamics, but it was an unreservedly successful one. If nothing else, there was a buffet.

Next week my mates will be on the telly again. I'm not sure how I'll cope not watching it in a pub. For a start I won't know when to cheer. I'll probably have to make up all my own chants, too.

Your mates being on the telly is still exciting. However, it's not quite the same as it would have been in the past, because Tim Berners-Lee invented the internet and the internet has allowed the invention of Twitter. Twitter is an instant feedback sluice, a ceaselessly-flowing pipe of data and opinions, thoughts and feelings. Put another way, it's a shitfunnel, and this shitfunnel is going off in your face. Trepidatiously, I began to explore what other people were making of my mates being on the telly last night.

As I have mentioned before, I am now old. Old enough, at least, to not be surprised by people. And I've been on and around the internet for over a decade, so pretty much nothing shocks or offends me any more. So imagine my surprise when this was the very first tweet I saw on the subject:

hashtag: ponces

I wasn't surprised that people didn't like them per se, as we all know that not everyone is going to like you or like your friends. Also, television programmes are by their very nature never the whole picture. They are edited and re-ordered to fit a third party's view of what the narrative should be, with one eye always squarely on entertainment. Someone who doesn't like what they see of you on TV may be pleasantly surprised if they had to deal with you in real time.

I also wasn't surprised that someone who didn't like something had said so on Twitter. It is, after all, a shitfunnel and it's going off in your face. No, what surprised me is that I actually bristled. I bristled! How dare someone I don't know not like my mates (who were on the telly last night). He doesn't even know them! How can you dismiss someone without knowing all the facts?

Oh god, what was I doing?

Against my better judgement, I took another handful of blood pressure tablets and yomped in yet further. Predictably, there were just as many nice comments as nasty ones. Naturally, I found myself agreeing with these and growing increasingly convinced that the people tweeting them and I could grow to be firm friends.

This is, as far as I am concerned, the only rational response any human being could have had

Meanwhile, Lincoln WI approve. Summer Fetes in Spalding may have special guest jam judges this year

I think the positive comments very much outweighed the negatives in the end and so my researches were, on balance, a nice thing to do. My mates were on the telly last night but now they also represent many things to many people. They are everyman heroes, tweed-wearers of the year, nascent gay icons and the beards that just won't quit.

The only one of these things which started to niggle me, in fact, was the use of the word "hipster". "Hipster gardeners", "fashionably-bearded" and "hipster ponces" are all terms I have seen used. As I see it, "hipster" is just the fashionable term for people who try and be fashionable. Being fashionable is a reactive process, whereas Gary and Pete are proactive people. They don't look or dress like they do out of any notion of kowtowing to current trends. They are bringing sexy back on their own terms. Or, to put it another way, they're both too old to be hipsters. A hipster in their 40s would be a pathetic sight, and I think it's impossible to argue that either of our heroes is a pathetic individual. If nothing else, they kicked all your arses up and down that jam tent. Their bouquet was under-rated, too. Renaissance men. Upstanding men. Real men. There's no artifice or pretension there. So bloody shut up with the "hipster" thing, you idiots.


I mean, I might be biased. Next week I will probably be watching the show on my own with Twitter open and I can't guarantee that I won't wade in to any number of futile internet arguments. If this experience has taught me anything, it's that I've learnt nothing and can't be trusted to be rational when there are Feelings floating about. Now, disclaimers out of the way, I'm off to find some more proper, constructive appraisals of last night's show.

It's possible, but they'd only be their own bits that they'd severed by mistake

This is the sort of unnerved feeling you get just before you realise it is, in fact, lust

If you would like to know or see more (and by the way, you definitely do and should) then you can follow my mates (who were on telly last night) on Twitter here: @vegetablismuk, like their Facebook page here: Vegetablism or read their website here: You can also watch them being on TV thanks to the wise owls at the BBC who invented the iPlayer: The Big Allotment Challenge episode 1


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