Monday, 20 June 2011

AREA Magazine, latest gadgets and technology

AGA Total Control
We all want to be able to blend the traditional with new, time-saving technology. This new AGA does just that – producing rustic home cooking, but with an in-built touch screen panel. Gone are the days of the unpredictable AGA and wasted energy on using two hotplates instead of just one – you can now control each hotplate and oven independently. The timers allow the AGA to work around your schedule, so it can be preheated when you come down for breakfast and when the kids come home from school.
Available from AGA (01225 335 237) 12 Widcombe Parade, Bath BA2, price on application

SmartSwipe Credit Card Reader
Allowing peace of mind and easy online shopping, this brilliant product helps make shopping more convenient and adds an extra layer of security. The SmartSwipe reader protects your personal information before it enters your computer, preventing any risk from software attacks. Easy to use, the reader automatically fills in those tedious information forms on your favourite shopping sites, making shopping quicker and easier. As the shopping sites update, so does your card reader, meaning it will never be behind the technological times.
Available from Firebox,, priced at £80 

Portable DVD Player
Brilliant for keeping children and adults occupied on tedious journeys, these lightweight seven-inch LCD screens give crystal-clear picture quality on the go. Suitable for all DVD’s and CD’s, they also have easy car mounts. Attach the players to the seat in front of you for hands-free viewing, without the risk of damaging your eyes or neck as a result of having the screen too close. With two hours of battery life it’s perfect for watching films, and with headphones included you can watch without disturbing anyone else in the car.
Available from Philips,, priced at £200 for two.

Film 2 SD Negative Scanner
It’s time to transform those boxes of tiny, indistinguishable photo negatives into pristine digital images. With this lightweight and portable scanner it is easy to upload them onto the in-built LCD screen, allowing you to keep any treasured memories, and discard evidence of the long-forgotten Mohawk! With no need for a computer screen to view the images, your photos can be shown to the most technology-repellent relatives, and the SD card can be easily transferred onto a computer for safe keeping. It takes mere moments to save an image.
Available from Firebox, www.firebox,com, priced at £110

Rolltop Concept
The Rolltop concept offers a unique blend of functionality and convenience. Wrapped around a portable and handy tube, this lightweight, flexible computer screen can be transformed into a traditional laptop, a large touch screen tablet, or a screen for viewing your favourite films. The core tube acts as both transport and power device, with hidden USB cords for battery-only use, and a mains attachment for home use. Discreetly located around the device are traditional accessories, such as a webcam, loudspeaker and touch pen. The concept is making waves as it gets ever closer to reality.
More details at

Stonebake Home Pizza Oven
Now you can finally achieve the perfect home-cooked pizza, avoiding burnt crusts, charred toppings and undercooked centres. With a grill above and a spinning stone plate below, this oven achieves pizza perfection after just ten minutes. If freshly made pizzas are out of your culinary league then this is ideal for giving a pre-bought frozen pizza that delicious Italian stone-baked flavour. With the viewing panel on the lid keeping an eye on your meal is simple, and the delicious smell of stone-baked dough will fill your home: you’ll never order takeaway again.
Available from Giles and Posner,, priced at £60

Printed in AREA Magazine Summer Special edition, June 2011.

AREA Magazine, the eternal appeal of the VW Campervan

                With its instantly recognisable curves, coloured panels, split windshield and sleepy-looking headlamps, the VW Campervan is the ultimate iconic motoring symbol for youth and freedom. It debuted over 60 years ago in 1950, the second car model ever released by German company Volkswagen. One of the first cargo and passenger vans, the Volkswagen T1 Type Two (as it is officially entitled) was revolutionary in its ability to serve more purpose than a faster mode of transport. Undergoing many transformations and spawning dozens of variants for different purposes, the VW Campervan (otherwise known as a microbus or a bulli) rapidly became an all-purpose vehicle. Volkswagen quickly capitalised on the Campervans’ multi-purpose capabilities, producing versions with or without side doors, windows, cloth and metal sunroofs, removable rear seats, skylights, camping beds, refrigerators, even transforming the classic model into flatbed pick-up trucks, ambulances, fire engines, police vans and milk floats.
                  The microbus phenomenon rapidly spread across Europe and into the U.S., becoming one of the most popular vehicles on the market. However, in the early 1960s in a tax battle between Europe and the U.S. known as the ‘Chicken War’, the campervan became an unlikely victim. France and West Germany had placed tariffs on imports of U.S. chicken, and in retaliation President Johnson imposed a 25% tax on various items to balance out the economic value of the exported chicken. Included in these items were imported potato starch, brandy and light trucks – and under this vague title came the Volkswagen van. Volkswagen’s rapidly decreased from the American market until 1971 when they had all but disappeared. Even today VW microbuses are exceedingly rare in America, as the Chicken Tax still stands.
                  In the 1970s Volkswagen released the ‘breadloaf’ T2, which lost the distinctive split windshield, increased the size of the van and upgraded the engine, but retained almost all other features of the original microbus. Right until the 1980’s the classic T1 and T2 campervan was a common sight throughout Europe, until the T3 was introduced. The T3 completely reinvented the van, losing the rounded charm of the T1 and becoming much larger, heavier and boxier – the precursor to modern vans. Fans of the VW campervan often spend thousands of pounds and hundreds of hours converting newer, more readily available, T3, T4, and T5 versions into the classic T1 and T2 format that is beloved world over. It seems the power of the original campervan is not to be replaced by a cheap and easy route.
               Associated with the hippie counterculture movement of the 1960s and 70s, the campervan seems to recall a laidback lifestyle where all problems and responsibilities simply melt away. In reality, however, a classic campervan can set you back over £60,000, and requires hour after hour of loving care, with infamous bad breaks, electrics and underpowered engines. Even so, the concept of being able to pack your entire life or career into a single van and leave everything else behind as you drive into the setting sun is one that never seems to lose its appeal to VW enthusiasts of all ages. With a dedicated fan base that spans the globe, this international classic convincingly illustrates that historic cars are not just a heap of old metal. The allure of being in the simultaneously exclusive and collective campervan club connects people all over the world. Long-term owner Adrian Ward, 45, says to the BBC; “They force you to take it easy, force you to slow down, if you're in a hurry then forget it,” he explains. “There's a driving position you develop - this slouch with your elbows resting on the wheel and you leant over it. All of a sudden you can take it easy and watch everyone fly past you. There's a well known phrase, 'it's not about the destination, it's about the journey' - that's very apt when you're in a camper.”
                   Today the VW campervans are still a popular choice for long camping journeys or ‘road trips’ and can sleep four or five (with a squeeze!) people. They are readily available for hire across Europe, and travel companies have mostly upgraded the interior with up-to-date fabrics, appliances and curtains. Modern versions come with standard equipment including a sink, electrical and water hook-ups, tables, sleeping arrangements and an ice-box. Extras can include awnings, tents, portable toilets, camping stoves, child cots and storage spaces. The vans are often taken on surfing trips or marathon journeys, which often gain the attention of the press by attempting to regain that iconic status of VW freedom. One such story was of an American couple who in 2000 gave up their corporate jobs and drove 60,000 miles over three years touring Mexico, Central America, South America and Africa in their 1978 van.

              The campervan is now inescapably integrated with the celebrity culture of ‘rock and roll’, used as transport vehicles for countless music and theatre tours for groups over the decades, and with celebrity owners such as The Who stars Townsend and Daltry, actor Martin Clunes, F1 driver Jenson Button and chef Jamie Oliver. This combined with a sudden media and commercial obsession with all things vintage, the VW campervan has once again become inexplicably, and unmistakably cool. 

Printed in AREA Magazine Summer Special edition, June 2011.

AREA Magazine, IMF back coalition cuts

              In the midst of the coalition government there has been much focus on its economic plan. Political opposition has claimed that a new strategy is needed, due to the current lack of economic growth and the rise in inflation. However the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has recently backed the government, agreeing that the economic failure is temporary, and that the government’s plans will bring the UK to economic safety; “This [the UK’s current economic status] raises the question of whether it is time to adjust macro-economic policies. The answer is no as the deviations are largely temporary. Strong fiscal consolidation is under way and remains essential to achieve a more sustainable budgetary position, thus reducing fiscal risks.” 

            The IMF have downgraded their growth estimates by 0.5% since November 2010, but remain positive about the UK’s economic future, claiming that the UK is in a similar position to many other large economies due to rising oil prices. John Lipsky from the IMF agreed that unemployment was still too high but that it is stable, and in fact “encouraging that employment growth has picked up recently”. Mr Osborne has responded thus: “I welcome the IMF's continued support for our overall macro-economic policy mix, including our deficit reduction strategy.”

             This gives the coalition government a major political windfall - the IMF has essentially rejected the Labour Party’s calls for increased public sector spending. Undeterred, Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls has since argued again that the UK economy is on the “wrong path” and leading to “slower growth and higher unemployment”. Talking at the London School of Economics he called again for an immediate temporary VAT cut to 15%, claiming that it would boost spending and create jobs.

              Should the UK economy continue to decline, the IMF has recommended a temporary tax cut for the poor, rather than increased spending. There is also the chance of an increase in interest rates if inflation continues to rise. According to financial experts the biggest danger is if the unemployment rates rise, as spending will then decrease. This would result in drying up the private companies in the public sector and eroding spending power, making it even harder to shift the deficit. 

Printed in AREA Magazine Summer Special edition, June 2011.

AREA Magazine, Damien Hirst brings controversy to Bristol

An internationally recognised artist, adored and loathed in equal measure, Bristol-born Damien Hirst seems to attract controversy. Reportedly the wealthiest artist in the country, the forty-six year olds’ work has now returned to the Bristol public, in the form of the statue Charity on the Royal West of England Academy building on Whiteladies Road. The twenty-two foot high, 3.5 tonne, painted bronze statue shows a blonde girl with her leg in callipers, clutching a teddy bear and a broken and empty charity donation box. Based on the 1970s collection boxes for The Spastics Society (now known as Scope), Hirst has scuffed the girl’s appearance and damaged her charity box in an effort to 'highlight the erosion of society’s values'. A spokesperson for the RWA said, “Charity subverts the celebration of nobility and the monarchs who began the age of charity, its towering wretchedness standing as a massive reproach, the scale of our refusal to acknowledge a failure in charity.” The RWA added that it was “thrilled to host this landmark” that had originally been erected outside London’s White Cube gallery in 2003.
'Charity' on the RWA

                  Whether you admire Hirst’s attempts to force the British public to face up to our failures in improving life for disadvantaged people, or whether you think it is merely a vulgar, brightly coloured stain on Bristol’s architecture, you cannot fail to comment one way or another. That is the true beauty of Hirst’s work: it forces opinions from a public that are all too often apathetic with regards to the future of art. One of the most heatedly debated topics surrounding Hirst’s art is his seemingly lax philosophy with regards to work. Once an idea has been chosen upon, Hirst delegates the physical construction of his artwork to a large team of artists, often having almost no physical contact with the piece. Most famously his spot paintings were almost entirely painted by artist Rachel Howard because Hirst “couldn't be fucking arsed doing it”. Hirst described Howard as, “Absolutely fucking brilliant. The best spot painting you can have by me is one painted by Rachel.” Hirst sees the real creative act as being the conception, not the execution, and that, as the progenitor of the idea, he is therefore the artist: “Art goes on in your head,” he says. “Art comes from everywhere. It's your response to your surroundings. There are on-going ideas I've been working out for years”

                With public opinion ranging from the ecstatic - with Virginia Bottomley describing Hirst as, “a pioneer of the British art movement” and fellow artist Tracey Emin comparing him to Andy Warhol - to the despairing - with art groups describing Hirst’s work as “barbaric”, “insane” and “absurd” – the only thing that anyone can be sure about is the guarantee that Charity will attract plenty of attention.

Charity will remain on public display outside the RWA until the end of May 2012. For more information visit

Printed in AREA Magazine Summer Special edition, June 2011.