1. Bridges. I don’t even know where to start with my awe of bridges – especially suspension bridges. To span any distance, not to mention over water, with structures that can support immense weights and withstand all weather, safely… and they balance function and structural beauty (I can’t think of a single suspension bridge that isn’t aesthetically remarkable). Surely these things are among man’s greatest achievements. Engineers are a breed unto themselves and the huge undertaking that is bridge construction should not be taken lightly.
2. Bears. The ultimate land mammal. As far as I can tell these things are close to perfection and demonstrate a breath-taking collection of positive attributes: strength, speed, the ability to climb, swim, sharp claws, withstand the cold, look cute, look scary… If they had top trump cards of animals bears would be damn near unbeatable.
3. Stand up comedy. Ok, this is serious. I’m a big fan of stand up comedy but not many stand up comedians make the grade. I’m not a fan of the jobbing comedian who just says a few controversial/ silly/ topical things to raise a laugh from an eager audience. I’m into social commentators and tortured souls who exist to document the world through their own neurosis. There’s something beautiful about watching a man give himself up to the world, controlling and desperate in equal measure.
4. Chefs. Men who cook. Now, I’m not talking brand name celebrity chefs who sell us their personas. I’m talking about those guys you see on ‘The Great British Menu’ – men who are frighteningly skilled at their craft but have no pretension with it. I love the fact that accomplished chefs are often, ostensibly, quite rough and ready. The fact that they are so delicate with presentation and subtle with flavour is a necessity of their craft. They do what they have to produce the required product, not out of flamboyance. Cool.
5. Carpentry. As above, I’m in love with the idea that carpenters are not necessarily the most ornate and fussy group artisans, but they can produce intricate, involved and sturdy products, on demand. A carpenter will make you a table that’ll last forever to whatever spec you want, then carve some delicate flowers into it on your whim. You’ve got to love that.
6. TV gameshows. I’ve only realised this recently, but there is a special kind of alchemy going on in the format of your average television gameshow. In the simple premise of giving Joe Average a chance to win a prize through completing some kind of challenge, these shows create drama and pathos on a fundamental level. Taken to extremes, you can see this in a film like ‘Slumdog Millionaire’, but any gameshow offers the same experience. And, while all this is happening, there’s high level empathy that you just can’t avoid. You root for whoever’s up, are entertained by their adventures (led by a finely tuned ringmaster) and get involved in their narrative. It’s like sport, theatre and mindless diversion rolled into one.
7. A wardrobe. Not the physical, wooden object, but a changing collection of clothes. Let me explain. Wardrobes are almost living entities. They develop, grow and change with their owners, carefully reflecting personal preference, style and wider trends. A wardrobe spans different eras in a visual way, forming a loose narrative about what was, what is and what will be. Also, each individual item tells its own story. That pair of jeans that you wore to death, the coat that’s back in rotation, the tshirt that you stole from a sibling, all tied up in one collection that signifies You. Fascinating.
8. Technics SL-1200 mk2 direct drive turntable. Quick history lesson. The Technics SL-1200 mk2 turntable was first devised in 1972 as a sturdy, hard-wearing, direct drive turntable record player for home and professional use. Now, why put this up there with poetry? Well, this thing is functional beauty at its most impressive. Everything on this piece of equipment is there for a purpose, and designed with the utmost economy and style. The strobe dots tell you what speed the platter is moving, The start/stop button has a cut-out lip for easy pressage. The feet stands have a cut out pattern for grip. The S bend tonearm is balanced perfectly to track a record evenly from outer to inner groove. And so on.
What’s even better is that the 1200 became the impoteus behind hip hop, when enterprising DJs began to use two at once to mix breaks from funk records. Hip hop was born, and it couldn’t have happened without this remarkable piece of machinery. Beauty meets function to create culture. Fantastic.
9. Prose. I used to hold the view that prose, as an artform, was beneath poetry. Simply because prose does less with language than poetry. Prose is more, well, prosaic, simply using words to communicate a narrative. More descriptive than creative perhaps. Obviously, you get prose that is poetic in its construction, which I always took to be ‘good’ prose. But it’s not as simple as this. Prose has its own unique charms. The careful construction of a prosaic narrative can be as beautiful as a well-worked poem. Layers of meaning can be delivered with subtlety and skill, whereby all the silences are filled with detail for a reader to get lost in. Where poetry can leave you in freefall, prose leads you by the hand. You have to respect that.
10. Boxing. A seriously ambivalent sport. Noble and brutal. Skilful and barbaric. Beautiful and grotesque. Honourable and pointless. This sport requires as much focus and dedication as a human can muster, pitting one will against another in the most basic, fundamental, even crudest way possible. And yet it comes down to two men pummelling one another like savages. The dichotomies set up by this are incredible and fascinating and the best boxers seem to embody this conflict – see Muhammad Ali. I’m repulsed by and drawn to boxing all at the same time, beautiful and savage and everything in between. Kind of like poetry.