24 July 2010

Hope 'n' toad vandals

Take a look at this.

Image strictly copyrighted to Dennis Low/Larkin25

Yes, it's a decorated toad. We've got loads of these in different images around the city of Hull at the moment, unveiled to commemorate the 25th anniversary of Philip Larkin, one of the city's favourite adopted sons.

They are made from fibreglass and they look great. You can view them all here. However, you can probably guess what happened once they were unveiled to grand acclaim a couple of Saturdays ago.

Local toerags have daubed graffiti on them, punched holes in them or ripped off accessory features, such as the mohican on a punk-styled toad. On the local television news, we were greeted with the message 'NAT 4 JOHN' on one toad.

Some of them are indoors and therefore not in danger as they are only accessible during daylight hours and these places have wandering security people keeping a close eye. But for those placed outside, they are the mercy of a city's lowlife.

It's sad that as soon as I saw these things my first thought was that they would be damaged in some way. Given that some of these were designed by local schoolkids, it is a particularly scummy thing to do. In the grand scheme of things, there are worse crimes to commit but it'd be fantastic if the unscrupulous little sods are collared by CCTV and plastered all over the local press. Judging by the furious, tearful reaction of residents interviewed by the local media after the damage was found, it wouldn't actually be too harsh on them.

Larkin was librarian at Hull University for the last 30 years of his life and toads provided an image of work for two of his best-known verses. The toads will eventually be sold off for the benefit of local charities and environmental and Larkin will be commemorated more permanently via a statue at the railway station.

21 July 2010

It's that time again...

Well, it will be in three weeks. But this acquisition today has given me the bug to go through it all again...

20 July 2010

Caffeine content: 34 mg/12 fl oz

"You may as well buy a bag of sugar!" said my college colleague Jim Leffman, sometime in 1992. I have him to thank for not buying a can or bottle of Coca Cola ever since.

The stuff still sells well, of course, but there has been an element of "danger" for a while now about purchasing Coke rather than its white-canned, dietary alternative, and I'm assuming that it's kids who still prefer the Capstan full-strength version. Certainly most adults I have seen quaffing this most recognisable of vegetable extracted drinks choose the Silk Cut alternative. And none of them are ever on a diet. I always laugh when, having been forced into a branch of McDonalds, I see teenage girls ordering Diet Coke for health reasons - while also eating a Big Mac and large fries.

I can't say, of course, that I've never drunk it since Jim's words of wisdom, which were uttered in the Darlington sunshine as I and two other pals returned with a bit of lunch to a patch of grass where Jim was reclined, awaiting us. I went through a phase of drinking Bacardi and Coke (as the option for when the belly was saying "no more beer, ta") on nights out, and not once did I ask for the diet option. The taste of Bacardi tends to obliterate any evidence of saccharin, anyway.

The strength of the brand (and the fact that all rival colas, including Pepsi, have always tasted appalling by comparison) means that Coke will always survive, irrespective of its lack of conduciveness to a healthy lifestyle. All things in moderation, and so on. But that brand strength has always been maintained by some truly memorable advertising campaigns.

There was the I'd Like To Teach The World To Sing effort from the 1970s, the first of quite a few ads designed to show that Coke transcends political struggles and international grievances, and can be enjoyed by anyone, anywhere. My particular school era recalls First Time rather well, with that slightly sick-making school dance cobblers advert set to the warbles of Robin Beck who promptly took the de-Coked version to No.1 in loads of places and then disappeared. That advert irks me still now, as no teenage girl ever just goes all quivery and giggly and says "yes" when a suspiciously-ginger bloke in a white jacket asks her to dance. They laugh at you, swear profusely in your direction and then dance with someone taller who can illegally access an uninsured moped at a moment's notice.

I did like the 1990s ad of the bloke singing along to his Walkman (a la Eddie Murphy doing Roxanne, only more tunefully) and ended with the line "always Coca Cola" as he spots the girl in a nearby seat swigging from a bottle. And I have faint memories of an ad from the late 1970s of a young boy carrying one of those glass two-litre bottles (15p return) and offering it to a boxer (?) who, after initially declining, drinks the whole thing in one (which is impossible, frankly). I'm sure Cadbury's ripped off that ad for a Mini Roll commercial a few years later.

Diet Coke brings to mind three ads; Elton John's pointless roustabout on the piano (around the same time he did identical ads for Cadbury's chocolate); the one-fortnight-per-summer "Just for the of it" for Wimbledon, even though the BBC's stranglehold on coverage meant that these ads were essentially reminding viewers what was on the other side; and that one where the attractive woman has her "Diet Coke break" and peels off her T-shirt in broad daylight to reveal just a skimpy bra while undersexed men leer at her from a window. And yes, I know such an ad would be regarded as sexist. Thank goodness we live in an equal world. Bill Hicks had, a few years earlier, suggested an ad for Coke that wasn't a million miles away from this. Someone should make that ad for a laugh.

Diet Coke did, at first, taste really peculiar when it was released. All that Nutrasweet promotion was going on, as if the logo for this more healthy sweetening option was a bolted-down guarantee that you wouldn't suffer from gum disease, obesity or brain damage if you used this instead of shameless sugar. But they did alter it eventually and for a long time after Jim's comments, I drank no other soft drink at all. Indeed, it's only in the last couple of years or so that I've restricted my intake and switched to dilute fruit drinks (having been a C-Vit addict in my schooldays, complete with post-luncheon blackcurrant moustache that my mate Vinny still reminds me about to this day). But I had some in France recently, where it is labelled Coca Cola Light, of course, and thought it tasted vile. I've never had Coke Zero. Is it any good? Or is it going to last as long as those caffeine-free and cherry versions did?

One other random memory of Coke as a kid; the "Enjoy Coca Cola" and "Enjoy Coke" slogans did produce a spoof T-shirt, written in black lettering on white material, which had the words "Enjoy Cocaine" thereon, in as close to the swishing, circular Coca Cola font as they could manage. I didn't know what cocaine was.

And under no circumstances does Coca Cola turn you into an axe-wielding, homicidal maniac...