Category Archives: culture

The Dickhead Song – eight years on

There have always been hipsters.

In late 18th century France, the Incroyables and Merveilleuses scandalised Paris with their outrageous fashions, wearing extreme exaggerated costume-like dress. Some even donned ‘ironic’ bicorne hats, as worn by the military. They really were unbearably pretentious. 

So even though we think of the hipster as a relatively modern phenomenon, that may just be because our use of that word to describe a particular constantly-existing  group of people has only been going on for a few years. (And don’t forget that the word ‘hipster’ itself is originally a 1940s term for certain jazz musicians – and not necessarily a derogatory term).

Back in 2005, Charlie Brooker and Chris Morris were satirising this group of people, and the London media sub-culture they occupied, in their sitcom Nathan Barley. Lacking the term ‘hipster’ in the vocabulary of their time, they instead went simply with ‘idiots’, producing what might be the greatest prophecy since the Book of Isaiah.

(Predicting ‘hand-held twit machines’ a full year before Twitter was created still blows my mind).

And there’s another, more timeless, term often used to regard this group of ‘self-regarding consumer slaves’. Quite simply: dickheads. And nothing summed this group up better than 2010’s ‘The Dickhead Song’.

This came out at that perfect time during university when everyone was just starting to get laptops, and viral youtube videos were just becoming a thing, and that weird mix of synth-poppy songs with crudely-done animations was just getting overdone. (Remember rathergood.com? It’s still going!)

The song itself is a pretty decent inventory of the main complaints against hipsters. So, eight years on (sorry I wasn’t waiting two more years to do some bloody anniversary thing), let’s see how it’s aged. And see how well I – a 28 year old man living in North London – fit the dickhead bill.

Got on the train from Cambridgeshire
Moved down to an East London flat

Was this a big complaint at the time? People from Cambridgeshire specifically? I feel today that hipsters come from all over the place. And they’re not living in East London anymore. SOUTH is the place to be. Looking at you, New Cross and Deptford.

Me? I technically got on the train from Cambridge and moved down to a North-East London flat. So about 90% of the words in the opening lines apply. Not a good start.

Got a moustache and a low cut vest

I feel this went out of date pretty quickly. Beards overcame moustaches pretty fast. And low cut vests? Nope.

Me? I’m growing a moustache literally right now. Please donate.

Some purple leggings
and a sailor tat

Both outdated too. Though presumably the people who got the sailor tattoos still have them?

I dug through some old photos to see what I could find for myself, and I came across this. It’s extremely bad, but I still maintain I was doing it ironically.

Just one gear on my fixie bike

Yeah, fixies are still a thing. But I feel that everyone has a bike now and it’s not so much a hipster thing. Maybe the extreme no-brakes, high-seat, DIY pedal kind of things you see are still a hipster thing. The jury is out.

Me? My fixie bike got stolen. It was too pure for this world.

got a plus one here for my gig tonight

I don’t agree with this. Being a musician doesn’t make you a hipster, or a dickhead. I guess flexing about having ‘plus ones’ and stuff is, but that falls into the wider category of twattish behaviour.

Me? I don’t play gigs.

I play synth…
We all play synth

Synths are out, I feel. There’s probably some new kind of hipster instrument that I haven’t even heard of yet instead. And it seems all the cool kids are ‘soundcloud DJs’ today anyway, whatever one of those is.

Me? I’m happy with an acoustic guitar.

20-20 vision just a pair of empty frames

Are empty frames still a thing? Were they ever? I feel these days, glasses are still ‘geek chic’ cool, but it’s almost cooler to actually need them for vision. Like it implies you’re bookish and books are cool now, I think?

Me? I actually need mine for vision because I’m bookish.

Dressing like a nerd although i never got the grades

See above. Probably cooler to just be smart now.

Me? I have a degree in philosophy. The dressing like a nerd is unintentional.

I remember when the kids at school would call me names
Now were taking over their estates

Yeah, there’s a good point here about gentrification – which is still happening and is still very much bad. The fetishisation of deprived areas as trendy is insensitive to their resident populations and drives out lower-income families when new, wealthier people move in.

Me? I’m probably guilty of it. I live in Stoke Newington, which isn’t a materially impoverished neighbourhood by any means, but I do feel guilty walking past several local greengrocers to pick up my overpriced organic veg at the Whole Foods.

CHORUS

Catchy.

Polaroid app on my iphone
taking pictures on London Fields
up on the blog so everyone knows
were having new age fun, with a vintage feel

I can’t believe Instagram didn’t exist when this song came out. But it just about didn’t. (The song was uploaded to YouTube on September 28th, 2010 – the initial Instagram release was October 6th, 2010). Of course, other polaroid-style apps have existed for as long as smart phones have had cameras. But for some reason I just assume that Instagram has always existed. Like Instagram came first, then light and darkness, then the earth and the heavens, and the sea and the skies, and then plants and animals, and then finally humans. Instagram is eternal, we just logged into it.

But yeah, Instagram is ubiquitous now. Your primary school probably has an Instagram account. So it’s not even cool now. It just is.

Me? I tried to see if I’d taken a picture of London Fields because that would be perfect. I couldn’t find one, but I did come across one I took of Greenwich Park, which is just as cliché. Also LOL at the caption I picked for it.

View this post on Instagram

new age fun with a #vintage feel

A post shared by Richard Cook (@cookywook) on

coolest kids at a warehouse rave
exclusive list look theres my name
I got in…
You couldn’t get in

I might be wrong, but I don’t think warehouse raves are a thing anymore. It seems to be more like ‘poetry night downstairs at the pub’ or something. I don’t know – I’m not cool. I don’t get many Facebook invites these days for those weird club nights with like 100 DJs on that nobody’s ever heard of.

Me? No.

never bought a pack of fags i only roll my own

Yes, hipsters are still very much rolling their own. 

Me? I don’t smoke.

plugging in my laptop at the starbucks down the road

Oh come on, EVERYONE does that. It used to really annoy me that people would set up shop in Starbucks all day and work. But now I’m the kind of person that would do that, I think it’s a very good thing.

Me? I think it’s a very good thing.

say i work in media im really on the dole

Hipsters still dominate media. They’re in your advertising agencies, they’re running the social media accounts for your favourite brands, they’re producing that TV show you really like. Sorry, you have a lot to thank them for.

Me? My job involves social media so guilty as charged I guess.

im the coolest guy you’ll ever know

Obviously this is me.

Loafers with no socks
Electropop meets southern hip hop
Indeterminate sexual preference
Something retro on my necklace

I feel these are very specific references I don’t quite get, and reflect more ephemeral aspects of hipsterness specific to the time. What might they look like today? Ripped jeans? Grime music? Gender fluidity? Each generation of hipsters will have something unique to cling onto.

Me? I tried to think about the most hipster thing I’ve ever done. It was either going to a Neutral Milk Hotel concert in Camden, or seeing a Wes Anderson movie in Shoreditch and going to a hipster fried chicken place afterwards.


And that’s it. That’s the whole song.

It’s stood up pretty well. It’s still describing a somewhat self-absorbed group of people. But we’ve established that these people will always exist. And since they by definition keep themselves to themselves, they’re nothing to worry about.

And me? Most of the things referenced in the song applied to me in one way or another. (Moving from Cambridge to North-East London in particular is a bit spooky). But I’m a product of these times as much as I am a participant in them. Being involved with culture is bound to leave some cultural residue.

But I’m always just doing it ironically, yeah?

Who would win in an all-out battle royale between the Letterland characters?

The Battle Royale format is so hot right now. PUBG, Fortnite, The White House Cabinet – everybody’s at it!

And so, in the interests of relevancy (and GREAT SEO results) here is my contribution. I’ll be ranking the characters of Letterland, according to how likely I think they’d be able to survive in a battle royale situation (aka a fight to the death).

But first up, what’s ‘Letterland’? I don’t know if it was common to lots of schools, but it was definitely a thing where I grew up. It’s like a series of books, videos, and teaching resources to help kids learn the alphabet. It’s a phonics-based approach, teaching children the particular sounds they need to make up words.

In Letterland, each letter of the alphabet is anthropomorphised as a character, roughly based on something to do with how the letter looks or sounds. The names are also alliterative, so you end up with things like “Robber Red” or “Oscar Orange.”

Got it? Ok, let’s make them fight to the death.

Rules:

  • Letterland characters have two distinct ‘forms’ – their upper and lower case versions (this creates some weird situations like the capital H guy just constantly doing this janky handstand) – we’ll just be thinking about the lower case characters, which is how they typically appear.
  • In the case of a conflict between classic and modern Letterland characters (some of them have changed over time), I’ll just pick the more interesting one.
  • The Vowel Men do not get involved. These are human characters that associate with the letters A,E,I,O, and U. I don’t think outside help is allowed, so they are not taking part in this battle royale.
  • No weapons are provided. The characters can only use fighting methods naturally available to them, or equipment already associated with their character.
  • The fighting arena is a typical outdoor ‘Hunger Games’ environment. So natural features only, nothing urban.
  • Characters are eliminated by death. And there can only be one winner.

Let’s begin. I’ll take each character in turn, discuss their strengths and weakness, and predict how I think they’ll do.

1. Annie Apple

Annie Apple is literally just an apple. I can’t see her having any real offensive capabilities.

Likely outcome: Poor. Eaten within the first five minutes.

2. Bouncing Ben

Now Ben I like. He’s characterised by his bounciness, making him an extremely agile opponent. I can’t say the extent to which he’d be able to inflict damage (I guess he could claw and bite people?), but he’d definitely last a while before going out.

Likely outcome: Dies within the second half of the game

3. Clever Cat

Clever Cat always freaked me out. Something ‘Chesire Cat’ about this character. And cats can be extremely viscous. Not someone you want actively trying to kill you.

Likely outcome: Makes it through to the top 5 through cunning and guile.

4. Dippy Duck

Dippy Duck is just a no-hoper. She’s all neck.

Likely outcome: Strangled to death by literally anyone with hands.

5. Eddy Elephant

The elephant in the room! Now, elephants can be deadly. Eddy is definitely gonna be stamping around and crushing smaller opponents (sorry, Annie Apple!). He can also take a lot of damage before falling. One of the bookies’ favourites, for sure.

Likely outcome: Survives to the top 5.

6. Fireman Fred

Nice hose, mate. Lots of fires in Letterland are there? I guess Fireman Fred could spray people with the hose, getting them a bit wet maybe? But it seems like more of a liability to me.

Likely outcome: Strangled to death by his own hose.

7. Golden Girl

This is depressing. Golden Girl is literally a child. She has no place in the theatre of war.

Likely outcome: Just dead.

8. Hairy Hat Man

I don’t trust this guy one bit. Hairy Hat Man (aka TRIPLE H) has definitely done prison time. Look at him! He’s not even wearing shoes, so you know he’s not gonna fight by the rules.

Likely outcome: Goes down fighting, taking at least two others with him.

9. Impy Ink

Lol. What a fun basis for a character. Kids love ink, right? Unfortunately the most Impy can hope for is to stain someone’s fingers or an important document.

Likely outcome: Just tipped over, dying a slow painful death.

10. Jumping Jim

A natural nemesis to Bouncing Ben, Jim has all the hop and more! In Letterland canon he can jump so high that his head becomes obscured by cloud (hence the cap on the capital J!). Not only that, he’s also a mean juggler. Taking this to mean he has Hawkeye levels of skill and accuracy, he’s one of the few characters naturally equipped for combat. A strong contender.

Likely outcome: Top 5 material for sure.

11. Kicking King

A man whose entire existence is defined by his ability to kick? That makes him one to watch.

Likely outcome: Kung-fu’ing his way into the top 5.

12. Lucy Lamp Light

Lucy’s mutant ability is that she can shine light out of her head. In other words, she is more lamp than human. I guess this would be handy in a defensive capacity. But probably not that handy otherwise.

Likely outcome: Savagely beaten to death.

13. Munching Mike

Ok, so Mike is literally a KILLING MACHINE. He’s a mechanical monster with wheels, designed for death. By any estimation, he’s the most fearsome Letterland character. But he has one weakness: uneven terrain. We stated that the skirmish is taking place in a outdoor environment, meaning he’d struggle with things like, I don’t know, TWIGS. Sorry, Mike.

Likely outcome: Pushed onto his back and can’t get back up.

14. Naughty Nick

Look at this cheeky little boy. Nick is a sort of Dennis the Menace kind of character, going around putting nails into things. Of course, he’s allowed to bring his nails to the fight. Watch out for Nick.

Likely outcome: Takes down a few opponents. Eventually just killed by a larger, stronger foe.

15. Oscar Orange

I can see why the vowels needed special men to help them out, they’re all incredible weak. Oscar Orange, happy though he may be, is not a fighter.

Likely outcome: Swallowed whole.

16. Poor Peter

Aw, just look at those puppy dog eyes! That might slow down a weaker-willed opponent, but I don’t think it’ll stop anyone with a genuine bloodlust. Poor Peter…

Likely outcome: Stabbed, possibly by Naughty Nick.

17. Quarrelsome Queen

Quarreling is not an effective fighting technique, unfortunately. So QQ would probably make a lot of noise, but not actually physically injure anyone. And this is a death-fight, not a debate.

Likely outcome: Taken out quite quickly.

18. Robber Red

Now we’ve got an actual criminal in the mix. Robber Red has a record of burglary, so it’s not too much of a stretch to assume he’s comfortable with violence. Plus he’s got a bag of swag, which could include weaponry. I think he could go far.

Likely outcome: Dies just short of making it into the top 5.

19. Sammy Snake

Snakes are famously untrustworthy creatures, and regarded as dangerous by many. I have no intel on whether Letterland’s Sammy Snake is venomous or not, but he’s definitely a slippery character. Nonetheless, he’s at a definite size disadvantage – so in my head he doesn’t having winning potential.

Likely outcome: Trampled to death by Eddy Elephant.

20. Ticking Tess

Another character that relies on the lazy “head in the clouds” explanation for the capital letter version. But that aside, Tess is all about… telecommunications? I seem to recall her being about clocks and things, but in all the pics I can find atm, she’s just got lots of phones for some reason. Oh well, I can’t see anything that’d give her a particular advantage. Though she’d be a strong partnerships in any temporary alliances that formed.

Likely outcome: Unexpectedly betrayed by an ally

21. Uppy Umbrella

Everyone hates umbrellas, right? They’re pointy and annoying and the spokes are always directly at eye-level. However, when an umbrella is actually being wielded by anyone, it’s much less dangerous. So I’d question the amount of damage that Uppy could do by herself.

Likely outcome: Turned inside-out and left for dead.

22. Vase of Violets

What is it with Letterland and extremely weak characters that are vulnerable to tipping? Sorry, VoV, but literally every single other character is stronger than you. RIP

Likely outcome: Destroyed within the first millisecond of the game.

23. Wicked Water Witch

This is an interesting case. According to official Letterland lore, WWW at some point got turned into an animal by a spell and is now known as Walter Walrus. Yup, it’s super weird. But she’s always been a witch to me, and has some kind of hydrological powers to manipulate water. Could be handy if she’s by a river or lake?

Likely outcome: Her strong magic sees her through to the second half of the match, but no further..

24. Max and Maxine

AKA Letterland’s ‘kissing cousins’ (really, look it up). Max and Maxine are unique in that there’s two of them. so they can team up and do things, etc. I wonder if this could be a liability, though?

Likely outcome: Max is injured, Maxine stops to help him. Letting her guard down for a second, she is taken out. Max has to watch her die.

25. Yo Yo Man

Absolutely a stone-cold killer.

Likely outcome: Cruises into the top 5 without a scratch.

26. Zig Zag Zebra

The camouflage of a zebra is well suited to the wavy grass of the African savanna, but not so much the Letterland death forest aka the bone yard. RIP.

Likely outcome: Killed, skinned, and made into a designer hat by the Hairy Hat Man.

So, our Top 5 Letterland Battle Royale characters are:
  1. Clever Cat
  2. Eddy Elephant
  3. Jumping Jim
  4. Kicking King
  5. Yo Yo Man

But who is the ultimate champion? Here’s how I think it goes down:

The top five characters are in an empty clearing. They are each covered in the blood and guts of the other twenty-one dead characters, who up until just now had all been close friends. They’ve come so far, but each of the five knows that the battle isn’t over, and the hardest part is yet to come. 

Eddy Elephant moves first. He charges in, heading right for Clever Cat. The cat performs a deft feint, dodging out of the way of the charging beast at the last minute. Eddy crashes headfirst into a tree, knocking himself unconscious. Clever Cat tears his eyes out, and gets to work on his vital organs.

Jumping Jim and Kicking King both leap fifty feet into the air. They battle as they fly, throwing punches that tear muscles and break bones. Jim reaches for his ammunition but he’s out. The last thing to cross his mind is utter panic, as Kicking King delivers a killing blow, kicking Jim’s brain directly out the back of his head.

Yo Yo Man advances on Clever Cat, still tearing through the body of Eddy. A well-placed yo-yo hits Clever Cat in the rib cage, rupturing an internal organ. Speed beats intellect every time.

Kicking King gently comes to a rest in a pile of a moss behind the Yo Yo Man. “Let’s finish this”, he says. Yo Yos fly like lightning, but the king dodges them all. Finally, Yo Yo Man reaches for his special weapon, a Yo Yo he’s nicknamed ‘The Finisher’ – a reinforced yo yo with steel spikes, long since banned by the yo yo battling league.

He throws The Finisher. It cuts the air as it flies. Kicking King takes in a deep breath, draws a leg back, and exhales into the kick of his life. His foot meets the yo yo in the air. And for a moment time seems to stand still. Neither man knows which way this will go, but they each know it’ll decide the outcome of the match – the winner of the first and last Letterland battle royale.

An eternity later, the yo yo gives way, and begins to fly back towards its sender. His eyes widen, just moments before it tears into his torso. With a furious momentum, it tears through him without resistance, leaving a clean hole at least a foot wide. Yo Yo Man crumples over.

Kicking King sheds a single tear and offers a prayer to the heavens. There’s a reason he’s the king, after all. “But not like this,” he whispers. “Not like this”.

WINNER: KICKING KING

Hope you enjoyed, kids!

This water bottle flip video is a work of art

I wanted to write about something today. But I didn’t want to write about Shrek again. So I thought to myself ‘what can I write about instead?’ What else do I know? Then I rewatched a particular video for like the ten thousandth time and realised…. THIS. This is what I know.

This:

It’s thirty seconds, but very good. Go ahead, watch it a few more times. Really soak it in.

REMEMBER BOTTLE FLIPPING? The hottest craze of 2016? The bane of parents and schoolteachers world wide? Remember the viral talent show clip that started it all?

It’s weird how even a year later this can seem like ancient history. Bottle flipping videos are now cultural relics of historical importance. And the video I shared at the top of this post is just such a relic.

The clip itself is from a longer piece taken from kingvader‘s Instagram page –

But I think the cut-down video in the tweet works better. It feels tighter, cutting right to the chase, and eliminating what you might describe as the unnecessary world-building at the start. I much prefer the bottle flipper as an anonymous stranger, just busting a door down and doing his thing.

Here are my favourite bits of the video:

  1. Just slamming that door right down, or at least trying to. I’m guessing they filmed this in a school or something so didn’t want to damage anything. So his foot doesn’t quite connect with the door fully, but it’s a high kick that looks really badass anyway.
  2. The way the interviewers immediately look shocked and intimidated.
  3. “Do you have any special talents?” just right off the bat, just like in a real interview.
  4. How he goes straight into the bottle flip, as if he was gonna be doing that regardless of what they asked him.
  5. The way they kinda sit up as the bottle is in the air.
  6. Obviously, the bit when the bottle lands and the drop comes in. And how heavy and horrible the bass is there.
  7. The commitment each of the actors puts into their performance for the rest of the video. There’s the guy who just throws himself back in his chair, the guy just chucking his notes, the chap with the keyboard, and of course…
  8. Mr Milkshake Shaker. The true hero. Absolutely drenching himself in the stuff. Immersing himself in the role like some kind of Daniel Day Lewis method actor, with no regard for the mess he’s making.

Just look at the concentration:

I wish I could be that committed to literally anything. The man is an inspiration to us all.

It’s also just really funny and stupid and fun. Basically, it’s a perfect 30 second internet video and I’m glad that it exists.

Aaaand, I think that’s all I had to say about this one.