Friday, 4 October 2013

Yarnbombing And Other Pastimes

I have been looking increasingly at the bizarre side of life recently, probably because the normal world is so depressingly violent, petty and lacking in any sort of vision. I mean really, if the best we can get is David Cameron’s ‘Big Society’ (which won’t last a minute after his premiership ends), or President Obama’s wordy flights of rhetoric (on everything from race, genocide and gun control), but which often, doesn’t amount to a hill of beans (he too will be soon forgotten – apart from as a footnote in history as the first black US President), then we live in a shabby age.

So if we want some excitement, or just some plain old weirdness, we have to look outside of the public arena, and to the private one … the things people do when they think no one is looking, or that they consider normal at some level.  So how about these strange past times ....

Yarnbombing (aka guerrilla knitting): the practice of knitting clothing for otherwise unclothed statues, then secretly clothing said statues with the clothing.  Strange results ensue, but apart from the cost of council workers removing it, no harm is done. Particularly popular in the US, but not seen in the UK much (Traffic Bollards for hats seems to be our limits).  

Yarnbombing - Can Have Funny Results

But if you think really big, then there's almost no limits e.g. The 'Mengshan Buddha' on Meng Mountain near Taiyuan has been clothed in gold, he's 216ft high (66m) and was feeling the effects of being 1,500 yrs old, so the local villagers decided to 'Yarnbomb' him,

'Mengshan Buddha' Meng Mountain near Taiyuan
Competitive Dog Grooming: making up strange design,s and then cutting them into a dog’s coat – sort of 'pimping your bitch' so to speak. Again more US than us, but no doubt a fringe ‘Crofts’ event very soon.

‘EI’ or Extreme Ironing: as if ironing isn’t bad enough, even with the TV or radio on, some idiots like to perform ironing of clothing in different, usually extreme, situations like while rock climbing, surfing, or on a kayak. There’s even a World Championship team event …first held in Germany (See the film documentary  “Extreme Ironing: Pressing for Victory” … you can tell it’s a British film!!

Toy Voyaging: first made popular with British Garden Gnomes – disappearing and then apparently sending postcards or photo’s of themselves in foreign climes, until eventually just reappearing in their original gardens (sometimes with a tan). It's now expanded to a website where different toys makes trips – with or without their owners. See

Postcrossing: getting real (not electronic) postcards from around the world. Apparently performed by almost 375,000 members from 213 countries, you simply sign up at the website, to get an address and Postcard ID. You then mail a postcard to the address and wait for someone to mail one to you. Once you receive a postcard, you register its Postcard ID to receive another address and another postcard – Hmm, I seem to recall that the old ‘threatening’ chain mail letters with curses and money requests did much the same thing, and with the slight off chance some idiot would send you money!

News raiding (or Photo Bombing): usually at outside newscasts: the king of this is Paul Yarrow, from the UK.  It’s solely for the unemployed, or retired, and usually a resident of the capital, as no one else has both the time and will get the number of opportunities to compete.     

Cos-play or Role-play: This is not historical re-enactors, but actually a sub genre more often seen at Sci-Fi conventions where you dress as the favourite character or characters from a TV or film – in this particular version you try to get a number of people to play different characters (can’t have too many Hans Solo’s), and then go out and about in a town (or more usually to a film or comic book convention).

World Pooh Sticks: not exactly a hobby but an event nonetheless. I shouldn’t have to explain to any English speaker about this game, but such is the degradation of the language and the culture that I will. Its derived from the Winnie the Pooh stories by AA Milne. Its simplicity itself, one simply requires a small bridge over a river and a stick of a length about a foot or so.  You just drop the stick into the river where the water goes under the bridge, and then race across to watch it emerge from under the bridge. In the competitive version there are two of more pooh sticks of different coloured sticks dropped and the winner is the one whose stick emerges on the other side first.
Pea Shooting: which even has its own World Pea Shooting Championships in Witcham, Cambridgeshire UK. This was a still a game we played when I was a boy, but seems to have died out amongst the UK’s boys these days.  The world championships annual competition brings contestants from as far as New Zealand and the USA , come to try their hand at shooting a pea 12 feet, through a 12-inch tube, towards a 12-inch target. ‘Whacko’, as I might have said as a young boy.

Conkers: again a sport that was both seasonal and very competitive in every school when I was a lad … I had a 32’er – not quite a record champ but much feared by my opponents. Again, it seems to have stopped (curse computer games and non stop quality TV ... as Homer might say). There is still a World Conker Championships, in Ashton, Peterborough, Northamptonshire – its more adults than anything else, but is a global competition and charity event, by Ashton Conker Club, and has been held annually since 1965. Competitors play on eight white podiums on the village green and go through various rounds until the winner is led to the 'conker throne' and crowned with conkers.

Finally there is the vocation known as Beard & Moustache growing – this is actually a competitive sport, where very ornate facial hair is grown for months or years or decades and then entered into local and international competition (actually I don’t know that for sure, but there is a world championship, that I am sure off. 

If you want examples of the strange interests of the past, then we need look no further than the tyrants of yesteryear.

Apparently, Adolf Hitler loved dogs and Disney cartoons – he was particularly smitten with ‘Snow White’, which given his views on the Aryan race is perhaps no surprise. Also given ‘Uncle Walts’ alleged views on the Jews, it may have not been a one way affair.

Saddam Hussein wrote romantic fiction (or claimed to have) … his epic was "Zabibah and the King." … a romantic allegory in which he wrote  "Rape is the most serious of crimes, whether it is a man raping a woman or invading armies raping the homeland or the usurpation of rights." …. neatly ignoring the fact that he and his boys were serial rapists, and that he later invaded both Iran and Kuwait.

Attila the Hun, for whom rape was not a morality issue, apparently wanted immortality via the oral epic poems of his peoples … this was a problem as they had no written script, but enough of his exploits survived that he appears in Swedish and German epics that were written down long after his death, and which were possibly influenced by the poems written about him in his lifetime. These sagas and epics eventually fed through into high German art when Attila featured as 'King Etzel of the Huns' who proposes to 'Kriemhild', in the epic high middle ages poem ‘The Nibelungenlied’ which includes oral traditions and reports based on historic events and individuals of the 5th and 6th centuries. 

And Napoleon Bonaparte had a hobby (and a similar mission to Attila – they both wanted to conquer Europe, and both wanted immortality) - he requested (or was that demanded), that all of France's greatest artists paint his portrait for posterity …. One can’t take chances on this kinda thing you know.

I guess, I'm just celebrating how diverse human interests are in societies not tied to the dead hand of the extremist cultures .... no other point for the post really.


  1. Thanks for that list of fun and not-so-fun, mischievous pass-times. I particularly like the Toy Voyaging, although like any prank there are victims. Personally I'd be amused to get a postcard from my gnome in sunnier climbs; it provides a reason for having one in a garden.

    1. I believe that there's some sort of world records for most travelled gnome and longest disappearance etc


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