Friday, June 18, 2010

Postcard from the poppy field

There are very few sights which make me genuinely gasp with astonishment, but this was one of them.  When driving through Worcestershire you pass plenty of perfectly lovely views - as green and pleasant as you could wish for.  But red is not a common colour in the English countryside, and it's the first time I've seen an entire field washed red as if by an Impressionist's watercolours.

I had a tip off it was there and managed to visit while the poppies were at their peak, on a quiet day and in glorious sunshine.  A warm breeze made the glossy, tissue paper-thin, pleated petals bend and flip so they seemed alive.  Bees were trying to find a foothold on the moving flowers to pick up some of the dusty, dark pollen.  The uniformity of colour made the whole thing more astounding.

The field is on a farm recently acquired by the Worcestershire Wildlife Trust who had ploughed the sandy soil, then left it fallow.  Which was obviously the cue for the dormant poppy seeds to burst into life.  They'd normally be considered a weed on arable land.  Here though, they're magnificent and are providing a home for nesting skylarks.  The birds were quiet, but the Severn Valley Railway passes nearby and provided a steam-driven soundtrack of hoots and chugging.

There were plenty of photographers hunched over tripods beetling about the place, but of course poppies aren't just picturesque.  I didn't have a Wizard of Oz moment and fall asleep in the field; but I do wonder what will happen when all that remains is the seedheads.  In Tasmania recently (the world's biggest legal grower of opiates - who knew?), there were reports of wallabies breaking into the fields to gorge on seeds, get high and dash about destroying the place.  I can only hope the skylarks behave better.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Postcard from the Design Museum

In every day life good design goes unnoticed.  Only when an item's not quite right is it detected, cursed and improvements desired.  The Designs of the Year exhibition at the Design Museum in London has selected a collection of items and concepts which make significant or radical improvements to life, or will once they are translated into products.

You'll be wondering how a tank full of plastic pandas fits into this.  They're old style WWF collection boxes - the type which used to gather dust on shop counters.  Largely ignored.  Well, this installation of them can't be passed by.  The pandas are mounted on sensors which know where you are.  They detect the presence of an observer and swivel to look you in the eye.  The photo shows them in the process of turning to look at someone approaching from my left.  The iconic logo of the WWF interacts with you and demands your attention.  Forget charity collections by students with clipboards on the street, the pandas' stare cannot be ignored.  Charity donations - as improved by design.

The range of items on display was surprising.  From commodes to concept cars, there is no aspect of life which escapes the designers' attention.  The winning design was for a folding plug - as slimline and lightweight as the laptop it's carried with.  That wasn't my favourite though.  I liked the political commentary such as the Cafe of Equivalent Cost, where a bowl of soup which would cost a farm worker in Mozambique twenty cents was sold to London bankers for £111.  Trouble is that while that cost shocked me, the city boys probably lapped it up; literally.  What I really loved though was Sugru.  It's a fabulous new material which you use to adjust, amend, fix and generally make the products you have better suit you.  It's cheap, it works on everything and it could change your life.  If you're the sort of person who's always swearing at your tin opener, that is.