An extinct car in Schiphol airport!


I hurry through Amsterdam’s crowded Schiphol airport late for my flight connection. Whooaaaaa! What’s that? I snap a photo. Others do the same. I assume the airport authorities have commissioned some contemporary sculpter to lighten the mood of stressed travellers. But, no! This is an advertisement for Sixt Car Rentals. Well…. they certainly caught my eye. The wooden board reads: “Thanks to Sixt, expensive car rentals are extinct.” Bravo, Sixt! Nice idea!

It works. I love the skeletal dinosaur theme implying extinction. Yet it’s clearly based on a reasonably modern car. And it makes me laugh. I particularly like the spoiler and the little boney rear-view mirror. But of course, it’s basic appeal (for me at least) is because of it’s immediate association with The Flintstones. Talking of whom…. I understand that a recent survey of Middle Eastern countries about American television reveals that the people in Kuwait don’t like Fred Flintstone, but the people in AbuDhabidoooooooo!

Those Swiss cows!

And poster of the week is……. Les Fêtes de Genève!

Cows 1

Most effective posters carry strong subliminal messages. One of the most frequently used visual tricks in poster design is the inclusion of images of beautiful people – usually female. Buy this product and you will become as beautiful as this! Go on holiday to this island and you will meet beautiful people like this! etc. etc. Shallow stuff! Here in Switzerland, the designers of posters dig deep into the national psyche. There is a kind of comfortable, traditional-rustic-alpine and non-threatening feel about the common Swiss identity. The visual key is…. yes….. cows! Images of the female bovine are everywhere. But it kind of makes sense. Milk! Swiss cheese! Swiss chocolate! However, I really don’t understand how invoking the cow theme can attract people to the Geneva Festival which is more about music, fireworks, fairgrounds and parades. I’ve lived in Geneva for twenty years and never seen a pat on a pavement. There must be a sublimimnal message here but I just don’t get it. Let’s look elsewhere!

Cows 2

Hi everybody! Swatch! Possible subliminal message: “Buy our cow-bell version and you will become Swiss in spirit because your new purchase will transport you back in time to an era of happy mountain peasants blowing alpine horns in high pastures thick with eidelweiss!” Don’t you love the chunks of holeful cheese flying out of those long horns? And what about the steely stare of the lying cow defying the viewer to walk away without a new Swatch! The traditional mountaineer’s hat on the back of the prozac-free cow is just so photoshopped. The whole thing makes me chuckle. But I figure they’ve done their market research. The real subliminal message may be as simple as: “Buy a Swatch because we all just love cows and laugh about it!” I’ve found that Swiss people really do have a sense of humour. In addition, they are bafflingly law-abiding…..

Cows 3

OK… it’s not a poster. But, I rest my case. Somewhere, an official decided that this radar speed trap on the rue de Lausanne heading out of Geneva should be painted like a cow. Camouflage? Unlikely. Or does it mean: “Breaking the speed limit risks cracking the very foundations of our culture.”? Would it be more effective to cover the device with an image of a pouting glossy-lipped beauty promising a kiss and/or good looks to anyone driving less than 50kph? In this town, I think not.

Disclaimer: No Swiss cows were harmed in the writing of this article. Any link to real Swiss cows is purely coincidental. Talking Beautiful Stuff apologises to Swiss cows for any unintended offense.

Is this beautiful?

Accelerator 1

Talking Beautiful Stuff has written about how an object’s beauty may be derived directly from its function. “That’s a really beautiful car!” “What a fabulous knife!” In other words, one thing we take into account when considering the aesthetic appeal of a particular output of the human creative spirit is what the object in question does. Yesterday, I came across this stunning construction on display in a theme park. I just stopped and stared in fascination. I had no idea what it was but I found it intriguing, intimidating and, yes, beautiful. Could it be – and I can hardly bring myself to say the word – “art”?

So, what do you think? Is it:

  • a prop from a 1960’s sci-fi film?
  • the winner of the Steampunk Festival 2014?
  • a work by a major contemporary metallic sculptor entitled “Devoid of humanity (with head) VII”?
  • a particle accelerator from the European Centre for Nuclear Research (CERN)?

While you consider these options, take a look at the gorgeous, burnished and exquisitely crafted copper exterior. It hasn’t dulled with exposure to the wind and rain.

Accelerator 2

The answer: this is one of the original particle accelerators built at CERN in 1983. It and 127 others like it (limited edition!) were placed around the famous 27km circular tunnel under the French-Swiss border. The acceleration around the tunnel of both electrons and positrons up to the speed of light was achieved by making them “surf” on electromagnetic waves of 352 MHz. A physicist friend tells me with great enthusiasm that the cylindrical lower part of each accelerator generated the waves whilst the spherical upper part served as a heat-reducing microwave energy store. I nod politely.

Accelerator 3

Photocopyright: CERN 1983

Here it is! With all the bells and whistles all wired up and ready for work!

Isn’t this fabulous? The designers cannot have given thought to the aesthetic appeal of a particle accelerator. This must be design for function only. This is the technical stuff of pure science. This is one hound in the hunt for Higg’s Boson. This is the sort of thing commemorated by the work of Gayle Hermick. But an aesthetic appeal it definitely does have even though I – like most others – have little comprehension of its function and will never see it actually working. However, it stopped me in my tracks and when I told my physicist friend that I wanted to photograph one of the objects  in CERN’s Léon Van Hove Square, he immediately knew which one it would be.

Accelerator 4

Another object on display in the Square and only 30 metres from the accelerator is an electrical staircase that multiplies the voltage of a transformer. Invented in 1932 in Cambridge (UK), this was used to generate the required 500,000 volts for particle acceleration. It’s looks really whacky and has the sci-fi look but, somehow, it just isn’t …. well…. beautiful.

Does my lifetime exposure to wondrous contemporary sculptures, old sci-fi films, steampunk and the world of Heath Robinson ultimately influence whether I perceive an object such as the particle accelerator as beautiful? Am I influenced because the object is part of the glamour of this cutting edge of science? Why is it easily imaginable that this really is a work by a major contemporary sculptor? If it was put up for sale and CERN asked the price of $1million, does this make it “art”?

Ian Poulter’s Trousers

Ian Poulter 1

Photo: Daily Mail

“We shall not be asking Ian to change his trousers.” – Peter Dawson, Chief Executive, Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews.

Talking Beautiful Stuff is about the people, ideas and means behind anything creative. The quaint story of Old Tom’s Old Course at St Andrews, Scotland is a narrative that proved popular with golfers and non-golfers alike. We might be stretching it just a bit in expecting our readers to be interested in a man’s trousers even when sported by of one of the world’s more talented and flamboyant golfers. But, believe it or not, Ian Poulter’s trousers are the stuff of a feel-good design story. Where does that story come together? You guessed… St Andrews, the home of golf.

This year The Open, one of the oldest competitions in sport, is on the Old Course at St Andrews. The golfing elite will compete for one of the oldest trophies in sport: the famous Claret Jug. “The Golf Champion Trophy” was designed and crafted by Mackay Cunningham and Co. in 1872 for the grand sum of £30. It now has a permanent home in the club house of the sport’s governing body, the Royal and Ancient Golf Club. No stapleford points for guessing whose troos featured the Claret Jug when the Open was held in St Andrew’s in 2005!

Ian Poulter 3

Photo: Daily Mail / AFP / Getty

On the first day of the Open at Royal Birkdale in 2004, Poulter strutted onto the first tee wearing his extraordinary Union Flag trousers. Jaws of the tweed-clad dropped to the sound of a hundred cameras clicking. The R&A saw no breech of either rules or professional dress code. At the time, Poulter claimed “I honestly didn’t do it to get noticed. I did it because I thought it would be really cool…. The attention was nuts, wasn’t it? You’re not expecting to hit every paper around the world because of a pair of trousers.” He went on to say – as a warning to any club golfer tempted to make a dressy statement for the monthly medal – “But I had to back it up, because if I’d played like a total idiot, I would have been absolutely slaughtered by everyone.” The episode sowed the seeds of an idea.

A competition to design his trousers for the 2005 Open drew 2000 entries. The winning pair, designed by Gavin Adams, featured the Claret Jug on the left leg and the names of past winners on the right leg. Poulter, tongue-in-cheek, said “I wanted to do something a bit more subtle than last year!” Along with a replica of the Claret Jug, these trousers now feature in the British Museum of Golf ….. at St Andrews.

Poulter’s public persona portrays a lion-hearted, all-round good bloke with drive, attention to detail and attitude by the truckload. In his own words he’s “got more front than Brighton beach.” His recently published and totally readable autobiography “No limits” gives a fascinating insight into the persona, the life of a determined professional golfer, the road from Ford Fiesta to fleet of Ferraris, his Ryder Cup heroics and his admirable support for Dreamflight. “No Limits” also tells of a young English boy with a Saturday job on a clothing stall in the local market place. He loved the display and the sell. He now admits to a fastidious, even obsessive, attention to what he wears for work. No surprise then that he has created his own distinctive brand of golfing attire that hunts where smart and tasteful meets out there.

And the trousers? Forward to St Andrews, 16-19 July 2015. Two media-photo-frenzies are predictable. Obviously, one focuses on the happy winner holding the Claret Jug aloft at the end of the last day. The other is when Ian Poulter’s trousers walk onto the first tee on the first day. The man wearing them will lap up the attention and calmly biff his first shot straight down that vast expanse of green over Granny Clark’s Wynd toward the Swilcan Burn. Go Poults!

The 2015 Geneva International Motor Show and Bentley’s work in progress

Geneva International Motor Show 1

Cars are not really my thing. In nearly twenty years of living in Switzerland, I have never been to the Geneva International Motor Show. Well….. it’s my first week of retirement and, by chance, I receive a complimentary ticket. Feeling not terribly automotive, I hop on a crowded number 5 bus to Palexpo.

Geneva International Motor Show 2

First observation: I never knew this show happens on such an enormous scale. Thousands upon thousands of car enthusiasts gather around hundreds and hundreds of next year’s models. Second observation: this is fun! As far as the eye can see, there is sumptuous, extravagant, shiney and very beautiful stuff. Third observation: when it comes to design and function, nothing can match the automobile industry. These lustrous vehicles generate fantasy; they ooze influence, chic life-styles, seduction, virility and power. I love it! I move with the crowd. I listen to the comments. I follow their interest. I join the buzz as much as I can. And I find lots and lots of beautiful stuff to photograph and to talk about here.

Geneva International Motor Show 3

Just look at the sleek lines of the new Nissan S Way. What really catches my eye is the addition of warm tones with the bronze highlights. Without them, the whole would appear cold. Who does this appeal to? A sporty-chic young lady? A young man in the pre-ferrari stage of his petro-development?

Geneva International Motor Show 4

This is the interior of the GEA G Giugiaro. Anonymity, masculinity and comfort. If you want to go for something at the top-end of the chauffeur-driven range, here it is. Well, that’s what I think until I come across…..

Geneva International Motor Show 5

…. the RR stand. O… M… G…!! Would you really take this to the shops? Or to the beach? I adore those little peek-a-boo curtains!

Geneva International Motor Show 6

Fourth observation: a recurrent feature of the show is that the most exclusive cars are surrounded by modest little glass barriers. I think they are to prevent people like me from getting too close. But I did sneak up to snap the superb front wing of the new Quantino. Another recurrent feature is how people patiently queue to pass through those little barriers for the privilege of sitting in the sort of vehicle that I’ve only ever associated with James Bond or the Pink Panther. I couldn’t help noticing that most are men. Most are beyond their first week of retirement. Many need a little bit of help from the amiable hosts and hostesses to get in and out of their would-be purchases.

Geneva International Motor Show 7

Talking of men, cars, hosts and especially hostesses, I fully expected to find the displays draped about with slinkily-clad super models. That seems to be a thing of the past except of course for Pirelli. The calender-happy Italians simply laugh in the face of political correctness. But then what is politically correct may not be biologically correct. Images of beautiful women sell things. Even tyres!

Geneva International Motor Show 8

I come across the Bentley stand. It is difficult to get close to the little barrier such is the excitement . “Magnifique!” the admirers gasp.

Geneva International Motor Show 9

What has drawn the crowd, revolving slowly on her display, is the most elegant car of the whole show. She purrs British Racing Green.  She soaks up the attention.

Geneva International Motor Show 10

This is the new Bentley…. but I find no sign indicating model or series. I ask a helpful young man sporting a Bentley lapel pin for specifications. “That, Sir, is a Speed 6. It’s a car in its design stage. It may not be out for another five or six years. It’s just a concept for the moment.” I’m stunned. The most beautiful car here today is not yet a car! “You mean it’s kind of work in progress?” I ask him. “You could say that, Sir. Yes.” This is so cool! I ask if I could sit inside it for a moment. He smiles politely, “I regret, Sir, that is not possible.”