1. Localvores

    I don’t know if Cardigan is becoming the new California, but something is happening.

    Take fforest, they grow all their own salad. They have over a dozen raised beds. They have their own polytunnel. They even raise their own pigs. Our pub, The 25 Mile, sources its main ingredients from within a 25-mile radius. Not always easy. But, always worth it.

    But maybe the most significant thing is the local community getting together to buy a building to hold the local growers and producers market. They all bought shares. They all have a stake in its success. And they all go there to buy the best of local. And it’s really taken off.

    I don’t know what all this means, but something is happening down here.

  2. Collaborate

    Iittala have worked out the importance of collaboration. They seek out the best, and work with them.

    This frying pan made from solid cast iron was designed for them by Björn Dahlström in 1998. Like all good design, it goes beyond just looking good. It will outlast its owners.

    Iittala’s philosophy is to favour sustainability over consumption. To create timeless objects for everyday use. And to understand the importance of another collaboration – between the planet and us humans.

    So have one rule: work with the best. Expensive works out cheap in the end.

  3. Switch off

    Want to do more. Then do more switching off. Take your mind elsewhere. Let it wander. Take breaks. Have naps. Just don’t sit there waiting for inspiration. Sometimes the further you get from a problem, the clearer it becomes.

    And by all means work hard. But don’t work dumb. An experiment in the 1940s measured men loading pig iron onto train freight cars at The Bethlehem Steel Company. Each man didn’t stop until they managed 121⁄2 tonnes. By noon, they were exhausted and could do no more.

    The next day, they were told to load the pig iron for 26 minutes. Then rest for 34 minutes. They rested more than they worked. At the end of the day, they had loaded 47 tonnes. That’s almost four times as much as working flat out.

    It feels counter intuitive, but if you want to do more, head for the hills as often as you can.

  4. Love

    Great products have an essence to them, a purpose for which they were made that goes beyond just their function. The essence of a toy is to be played with. To provide fun, entertainment and joy. It’s little wonder we get feelings for them. They become our favourite things. And we don’t grow out of that feeling. Once we love, we love. Yes, we can always buy another toy. But some things cannot be replaced.

  5. Family

    In the 1980s the World Wide Web didn’t exist so computer users formed clubs to share knowledge. There wasn’t a computer club in my area so I started one. It was called the Carshalton Independent Atari Computer Club. Every Wednesday after school I would pack my Atari 400 and a tape recorder into the back of my Mum’s car, and go to the village hall to meet other Atari owners.

    I can’t recall anything we said on those evenings whilst we waited for computer programs to load from cassette tapes to 16K memory chips. But I do remember that at the age of 12 it felt normal to be running an organisation that adults wanted to join. My parents never told me that I was too young or inexperienced. They just got stuck in with photocopying newsletters and driving me around.

    When I was 17 I proposed an expedition to clean–up 35 years of mountaineering rubbish that had accumulated at Everest Base Camp. Mum and Dad didn’t tell me to forget the idea and concentrate on passing my A-levels. They didn’t say that if I failed my exams, “my life would be over” or some of the other guff that you hear parents telling their children when they start panicking (the parent, not the child). And they didn’t point out that I had no expedition experience. Instead, they quietly helped me with what became a juggernaut of an expedition.

    After the clean-up I led a hand-to-mouth existence, earning money from a job in an outdoor store to finance my next expedition. I would disappear for months at a time to Alaska, South America and the Himalayas. Back then there was no cellular or satellite telephone coverage. Day after day, week after week, my parents had to get on with their lives, not knowing when the ‘phone would ring and whether the news would be good or bad.

    One evening, after returning from a harrowing expedition, I was watching a television programme with my Mum. Suddenly she said, “I know if you die you’ll have seen and done more in your short life than most people twice your age.” Then we went back to watching the TV.

    I’ve never been one for long goodbyes at airports. But at the start of my third attempt to reach the summit of Everest my parents wanted to see me off at Heathrow so I said OK. As they walked away from the security gate they reached out to hold each other’s hand. I’d never noticed them hold hands before.

    My Mum and Dad don’t know this but on all my expeditions my priority has been to return home safely so they don’t have to go to my funeral. It’s been my way of thanking them for the gift they have given me. The gift to choose my own path in life. I think it is one of the greatest gifts that a parent can give a child. And one of the hardest.

  6. Always be Shipping

    Here are a few questions I’d like to answer:

    • Why is it so hard to brainstorm a good idea?
    • Why do committees usually wreck a project?
    • Is it true that the more people work on something, the longer it takes?
    • Why are most products below average (and the rest… meh)?
    • Why is it so difficult to ship on time?
    • Why does time pressure and an urgent deadline allow you to get more done and sometimes (if you’re lucky) improve the product itself?

    The answer to all six is the same thing: The resistance.

    These bad behaviors are the work of the lizard brain, your prehistoric brain stem, the part of your brain that is responsible for revenge, fear, and anger. The lizard brain is eternally vigilant, trying to keep people from noticing you (which is dangerous). The lizard brain hates failure, and thus it hates creativity or the launch of anything that might make a fuss (which can lead to failure).

    The lizard brain creates the resistance, a term first coined by Steven Pressfield. The resistance
    is the name for all that seemingly rational stuff that we do in the name of the devil (“just to play devil’s advocate for a minute…”). The devil is doing fine on his own, he doesn’t need an advocate.

    The resistance is behind all those seemingly benign suggestions you might hear at the conference table when you present to the committee. The resistance leads people to make suggestions that slow you down, suggestions that water down your idea, suggestions that lead to compromises that lead to design death.

    The resistance has a name, and once you call it by name, you have a shot at defeating it.

    Everyone deals with the resistance differently, which is why groups of people will slaughter a great idea, each protecting themselves from the lizard brain in their own way. The resistance loves the status quo, because the status quo is safe, it’s here, it’s now, it’s known, and it won’t hurt us, not as much as the unknown future might hurt us.

    The resistance leads people to make suggestions that slow you down, suggestions that water down your idea, suggestions that lead to compromises.

    You – everyone in fact – have all it takes to be a brilliant designer, creator, or author. All that’s holding you back is the lizard. It’s that little voice in the back of your head, the “but” or the “what if” that speaks up at the crucial moment and defeats the joy and insight you brought to the project in the first place. It’s the lizard that ruins your career, stunts your projects, and hinders your organization.

    The reason that you need tricks, distractions, graph paper, desk toys, retreats, conferences, and a coach is that the resistance will do whatever it can to slow you down and average you out.

    So fight it.

    Defeat the resistance.

    Keep your team small. Smaller than that. No team at all if you can help it.

    Ship often. Ship lousy stuff, but ship. Ship constantly.

  7. There is a horse in the Apple Store

    There is a horse in the Apple Store and no one sees it but me.

    I think, “Why?” What is the villain here that blinds all of these people to this situation? Am I nuts for thinking this is exceptional? Does anyone else see this? Did I accidentally drop acid and not realize? I must take a photo. I must verify later, when I’m not potentially tripping balls.

    I think, “Would they notice if it were a tiger?” Or a lamb? Or an anaconda? What would it take to shake the haze from around their eyes? A sale sign? A new iPod Touch? Would they notice a new iPod Touch?

    Are they just divinely focused? Are they meditating in a retail environment? Are they distracted by something shiny? There is so much shiny in the Apple Store. Is it enough to distract everyone from the little tiny horse that is at the Genius Bar?

    Can horses type? Probably not. But, you know, that clip-clop sound that their hooves make sounds an awful lot like the clip-clop sound my fingers make when I’m writing. I like that sound: it denotes progress. I wish we would still ride horses, because then we could have a sound we associate with progress and getting closer to somewhere we want to be. I didn’t know where I wanted to be, but I was glad I was here. Because there is a horse in the Apple Store.

    I made a lame joke in my mind about how the horse is there, but it’s not the one wearing the blinders. And
    then I pictured what would happen if the horse pooped in the middle of the floor of the Apple Store, because I am nine. I laugh to myself. The woman next to me looks up from the 17″ laptop in a judgmental fashion, probably because she could feel the immaturity radiate out of my body. She looks back down and Facebook looks back at her. “Great, the one thing she notices is me being a moron.”

    Play it cool, Frank. Play it cool.

    THERE IS A LITTLE PONY IN THE APPLE STORE. What the hell? A beautiful little pony, with a flowing mane, the likes of which my sister would have killed to get for Christmas when she was 7 or 8. And, NO ONE is looking at this thing. I wondered: if there were kids in the Apple Store, would they notice? “Yes,” I say. “Yes, they would.” Kids have a magnetic connection to animals. But there are no children in the Apple Store, for the same reason you would not see a child in a jewelery store: things are small and fragile and expensive and shiny. And if you have a child, you probably can not afford Apple products.

    But, if a child were here, they would see the pony, because when you’re a kid, you notice everything, because everything is new. My niece is like this. “Did you see that that dog loves that other dog because they got their leashes tangled up outside and then they laid down beside one another?” Or, “Once you have a baby, you can’t put it back, can you?” Or, “When I play hide and seek with my friends I have to hide, but if I don’t want to be seen by grown-ups I just have to be quiet.”

    And maybe that’s what the horse is doing. Not a sound. But, there it is.

    An employee comes over to help me. I’m buying a new laptop today. I ask him questions about the differences between the 15″ and the 17″. Could I get a matte screen? I hate the shininess. He shoots me down. “Okay, about the processing speed, is the…”

    “OH MY GOD, THE LITTLE TINY PONY,” I think to myself. He says that the processing speed matters, but it’d probably be wiser for me to invest in buying more RAM.

    Is John seeing this? He came with me. I wonder. I mean, we walked here together. Surely he’s not as blind as everyone else? No, he’s distracted by a 30″ monitor. It pretty much wraps around him. He mumbles to himself, “I can see forever.”

    “Okay, one last question, Jason,” I say to the acne-smacked employee. He looks sharp in that t-shirt.


    “Do you realize there is a little tiny pony behind you?”

    He sighs at me and says, “Yes, she’s in here all the time.”

    And then John sees it too. “Oh my God!” he yelps in delight. “Why?

    What? Huh?” He says he can’t decide which is more unbelievable, the fact that there was a horse in the Apple Store, or that he didn’t notice it.

    Since then, John and I have a term called a “tiny pony”. It is a thing that is exceptional that no one, for whatever reason, notices. Or, conversely, it is an exceptional thing that everyone notices, but quickly grows acclimated to despite the brilliance of it all.

    Cell phones and the ability to make a phone call to anyone from anywhere is a tiny pony. The instant gratification provided by being able to have almost any question answered immediately is a tiny pony. Airplanes are tiny ponies. A black president, whose father is from Kenya and mother is from Kansas, being elected President of the United States is a tiny pony.

    When does the magic of a situation fade? When do we get acclimated to the exceptional? Is this how we get by? Would anything get done if we were constantly gobsmacked? Is this how we survive, how we stay sane? We define a pattern, no matter how exceptional, and acclimate ourselves to it?

    No. I don’t want to believe that. Because there is a horse in the Apple Store.

    This originally appeared on Frank’s blog in 2010

  8. Forever in Blue Jeans


    In Almost Famous, Cameron Crowe’s tender cinematic homage to mid-Seventies rock, the film’s fictional band Stillwater bond with their entourage in a tour bus sing-along.

    After the disorientation of a night’s heavy partying, all the tensions and permanently altered consciousness of life on the road are redeemed by a communal run through of Elton John’s Tiny Dancer. For a film rich in rock’n’roll mythology the use of an Elton John song is considered by the experts – the kind of people who like to think the film is actually about them – to be something of an anomaly.

    The thought of the Allman Brothers Band, The Doobie Brothers, or whichever hairy and self-consciously authentic band Crowe had in mind for Stillwater, allowing Elton John, rather than Aretha Franklin, Al Green or Etta James onto the tape deck is rock’n’roll heresy. Putting the more trenchant views of the musicologists aside, the film certainly gets one period detail meticulously right: denim. There is hardly a single frame in Almost Famous without a denim jacket, a denim shirt or an artfully and tenderly patched up pair of blue jeans. If you were playing music in the 1970s you were wearing denim.

    On the inner gatefold sleeve of Neil Young’s After The Goldrush (1970) is a picture of Neil looking typically self-absorbed in a remarkable pair of jeans. The strides (I think it’s a pretty safe bet that Neil, at the time, would have called them strides) have been patched up and mended with a motley selection of fabrics that feature paisley, rustic and Latin American patterns and designs. On the record’s back cover is a rear view of Neil’s jeans in close up; there are more centimetres of carefully stitched patches than denim. So much care had gone into the on-going repair of the jeans that their tailor is credited on the record sleeve. Next to ‘HARMONICA AND VIBES: Neil Young’ the cast list reads ‘PATCHES: Susan Young.’ Jeans then and now were about identity.

    Although very much his own man, Neil Young was representative of the seventies rockers’ love of denim. Blue jeans held a collective folk memory of cowboys, rustlers and frontiersmen. For a rock star at the time, identifying yourself with such a lineage projected an outlaw image. As the decade progressed it was an image that became synonymous with the hippyish emphasis on flared jeans and unbuttoned cowboy shirts, with flaccid over-indulgence and loose thinking, something that the next generation wanted to put a stop to. In 1976 as well as stripping rock’n’roll back to its two-and-a-half minute basics, The Ramones stripped back its trouser width. On their debut album the band are wearing ripped denim drainpipes that, along with their leather jackets, present the group as a gang of streetwise hustlers – a gang that stood around on corners and didn’t have any time to think about care and repair and patches.

    In America, putting on a pair of jeans might have made you feel like James Dean, but in Britain things were a little more mundane. In the same year as The Ramones debut Status Quo released their sixth album, Blue For You (1976), a record that might technically be called a denim-based concept album. The band were the UK’s leading denim ambassadors and Levi’s sponsored Blue For You’s accompanying tour. Even though this was a period when brand awareness was in its infancy, you’d have to say that The Quo Army, the band’s loyal denim wearing fans, for all their purchase power, were a demograph unto themselves. It’s perhaps unsurprising that Levi’s started having a rethink a few years later.

    By the early 80s denim, along with everything else, was streamlined and effortlessly stylised for the
    video age. In America GAP sold the baby-boomers jeans to feel good in at the weekend, while in the UK the red stitching in authentic American 501s became a hallmark of the photo shoots in new style magazines like i-D and The Face. Denim also underwent a more street level renaissance. The youth cults of Perry Boys and Casuals, with their tribal eye for detail, meant that terrace dress codes were informed by small shifts in jeans styling. Denim giants like Levi’s and Wrangler were passed over for the more idiosyncratic cuts and dyes of Lois, Fiorucci, FU’s and Inega, which all found themselves in favour for a season, before being replaced by a different style, or even, (whisper it) a pair of cords.

    In 80s Manchester, the heritage of Cottonopolis ensured that small clothing companies co-existed and often co-habited with the city’s musical trends. Two small Northern companies in particular had a symbiotic relationship with the city’s bands. The Smiths first appeared on Top Of The Pops in Crazyface jeans. As well as wearing them on stage and in their photo shoots, the band rehearsed on the top floor of the Crazyface warehouse. The band’s first manger Joe Moss was the company’s proprietor, someone with an inherent understanding of the relationship between popular culture and a pair of jeans.

    A few years later Manchester became Madchester and trouser lengths ballooned once more. Joe Bloggs, a local jeans company, cut their trousers wide, which meant the city’s baggy sounds could be replicated sartorially. Madchester was associated with loose fitting styles, appropriately ventilated for raving. Purists would always maintain that the trousers were not flares but parallels; whose inspiration had come from the fashion for football firms to unpick the seams of their jeans and insert a few centimetres of fabric, ensuring a voluminous cut for the whole trouser, not just the bottom leg. The 90s were something of a low for the relationship between music and denim. Before the renewed interest in selvedge, looms and long form dying processes, all that the New Lad required from their jeans was that they were anonymous, lager-spillage absorbent and ignored the sweatshop economics of globalised brands.

    Today we value detail, craftsmanship, history and a sense of ethical know- how in almost anything we buy. When David and Clare told me about their plans for Hiut denim, I started thinking about Cardigan and summer holidays spent near there as a child, when the town produced nearly every pair of jeans worn in Wales and the post offices and pubs of the villages nearby all sold seconds. The Welsh language movement was at its height and there were doubtless many pairs of jeans that walked, sang, fought and loved in Welsh. Welsh music certainly had a relationship with denim. Heather Jones, Geraint Jarman and Meic Stevens revitalised Welsh language music with their legendary trio Bara Menyn, which celebrated the country’s poetic sense of history while trying to ensure the survival of its mother tongue. This was Welsh language folk music sung in Welsh jeans. On her solo album Jiawl (Devil), Heather Jones sings about The White Peninsular, Penhryn Gwyn and of “Walking to the shore in blue denim.” On the album’s sleeve she is clothed head to toe in the fabric. While it’s difficult to prove, the romantic in me is convinced her clothes had all been made in Cardigan. Meic Stevens, her colleague in Bara Menyn is certainly a jeans man, and I can vouch for the fact he was (and still is) a customer in the pubs that sold seconds.

    Now denim is being made again in Cardigan I wonder which will be the first pair of Hiut jeans to sing Elton John on a tour bus? Which will be the first pair to play Glastonbury or Green Man? And which one will be the first to write a song that will be sung in years to come, in the pubs along the Teifi or out on the road, where a band, real or imagined, are always playing music and feeling the eternal connection between denim and rock’n’roll.