COLIN OF ALASKA
Welcome to the blog of Colin dâ€™Alaska. The story began as an experimental art project centred on the blog of the fictitious character Colin d'Alaska. Using the starting point of reject snapshots, I created new narratives to transform these images into the basis for Colin's story. Colin's everyday life is mundane, yet Colin clearly doesn't quite understand the world. Whilst it is frequently comedic, ambiguity and commentary emerge from behind the humour. At once banal, surreal, and tragi-comic, Colinâ€™s blog becomes a commentary on society writ small, voiced by someone who is resolutely but naively optimistic against the background of a burgeoning dystopia. Phil Illingworth
This is what happens when you go away for a long "holiday" and aren't allowed to put your own car in your own garage.
I have been learning semaphore. I thought it might come in handy to save me having to cross our busy road to talk to my neighbours. I don't think it matters if they can't understand semaphore, because people never listen to me anyway. I had hung these on the washing line for one of the tests in my 'Teach Yourself A Semaphore Phrase A Day' book, when the man from next door launched himself over the fence and shouted at me. I only scored 4 out of 80 for the test, too.
This is Mrs d'Alaska doing the washing up. I know it's not the standard method, but we find it suits us nicely as a family.
There were dozens of photographers and autograph hunters outside the house on Friday night, shouting "Colin! Colin! Colin! We want Colin!". I went out to explain that they must have mistaken me for someone else, but they just started screaming and pulling at my clothes and taking photographs. Some of them camped out all weekend, and the crowds are starting to gather again this morning. I hope they leave soon, otherwise I'm going to miss my bus.
This is the cat. We call him 'Ribena' for obvious reasons. I am certain that he is possessed.
I saw this in the grass and it gave me an idea.
We decided that we should have a pond in the garden. We thought that a very small one would be best to start with, in case we didn't like it.
This is our Miniature Great Dane. He is always laughing.
My second cousin Wendy sent me this photograph. She had written on the back: 'This is Colin's girlfriend. Ha Ha'! I thought it was really really really really funny, but my wife has since started to ask questions.
We found these mushrooms growing in the park. I joked to my wife, 'These look like your breasts'. She got all uppity and cooked them in an omelette. I thought that was going a bit far, but at least she didn't pick the mushrooms.
I don't know what this is. It was in the sandwich I bought at the railway station this morning. Unfortunately I had already bitten in to it, which is why a piece is missing.
I can't remember what this photograph is of. It is either (a) where we said the pond should go, (b) where the pond was after we filled it in, or (c) where I buried the cat. I'm tempted to dig a little hole to see, but then the cat might get away.
We haven't had a lot of success in the garden this year. Frankly I find this picture a little bit disturbing, and in any case it was supposed to be a lettuce.
One good thing came out of all that nonsense with the paparazzi: I still think they have me confused with someone else, but I got invited to dinner at some Music Awards ceremony. That's La Toyah on the left, and the lady in the bottom corner calls herself Madge (she is a tiny, funny little thing, barely three feet tall. She looks much bigger on stage). You can just see my arm on the right. The chap sat next to me had icing sugar on his top lip.
As you can see, I decided to dig the hole anyway. There was no sign of the cat, but that doesn't prove anything one way or another.
We just heard some sirens going by, which reminded me about the Word for Windows Club's coach trip to Tolpuddle last October. It all turned out quite well in the end, everything taken into account. Noone was laughing at the time, but a couple of the lads still call it the WWII club! Actually, it's not funny. I'm going to have a word with Geoff.
There was a bit of a hoo-ha coming from one of the gardens over the back on Thursday. It turned out that it was Didier and Rachel's turn to host the players from The Night of The Living Dead re-enactment group, a sort of a Sealed Knot Society for people without the money to buy replica weapons.
We had a power cut yesterday. The whole area was without electricity for hours. When it got dark we went into the garden and laid on the lawn to look at the stars. I got some bird poo on my hand. We could hear the distant screeching of tyres and some big bangs down at the junction because the traffic lights were out too, but that didn't seem to matter. Mrs d'Alaska said she didn't care if the freezer defrosted, it was the most romantic thing we had done for ages.
I want to apologise to everyone for phoning at such an ungodly hour. I have never heard a noise like that before.
These are the stairs I fell down on Tuesday. It is the only part of the house that is blurred.
One of the girls in the Call Centre at work brought in a giant tin of Quality Street today. I was walking along chewing a lovely big golden Toffee Penny, when I stubbed my toe at exactly the same time that I bit my tongue. Apparently I looked so odd that Mrs Whitstable thought that I was having some kind of Epiphany, and immediately dropped to her knees and started praying.
Does this look like chicken consommĂŠ to you?
I had to go to the Post Office today, and I went straight to a window that didn't have a queue! I was stood for quite a while, doing my best to ignore the envious looks from the people in all the other queues, when I suddenly noticed that the window was already closed. I felt a bit silly, so I stood there for another five minutes or so, then pretended that I had accidentally 'left' something at home! That could have been quite embarrassing.
Mrs d'Alaska calls this her shrine to 'Gone With The Wind'. I always say "It doesn't look anything like Clark Gable" and she always gets annoyed. Then I always say "I don't give a damn", then she always slams the door.
Who is saving all this stuff? I don't mean just my blog, but every blog and everything like it. All those inane ramblings, all those tawdry proclamations on MyTwitFace and elsewhere, all those occasional chicken nuggets of genuine wisdom and enlightenment. They are the ultimate in ephemera. Printed stuff has a physical existence and can therefore be kept somewhere, and retrieved. If I wrote in a diary (what else would I have done before a blog?) someone might find it fifty years after I die, and say, "This is interesting." or even "This is stupid, but I learnt something about this person." Every day, thousands of anonymous people bare their souls to anonymous readers. After a few days their writings become 'Older posts', then become just old data. The machines will crash or just get tired, and then they will be replaced. Someone will say "This data is old, it is time we let it go to make room for new data." Yet amongst all that data are stories which are of vital importance to their writers, and often their readers, too. We learn about abuse of all kinds; we find out what it is like for an ordinary person to live within a conflict, we gain an insight into the lives of the marginalised. We can also read about the mundane (although we are likely to skip past that today; we have enough in our own lives), but some of those mundane stories could one day be as enlightening to future generations as all of the stories from our past that we now value so highly. When the data is erased, those stories will be lost forever, won't they?
Sorry about the rant yesterday. I read about that lady that had lain dead in her flat for all those years and nobody noticed.
We often take parcels in for neighbours, but we were a little surprised when a neighbour called round and asked if we would take this in for him. He said that his people would be coming for it in a few days. Some men have been waiting outside his house since Wednesday, so I wonder if it could be them?
One of the children is learning French at school, and found out that the d' in d'Alaska means 'of'. I told her that would make me 'Colin Of Alaska', a bit like Lawrence Of Arabia only without the motorcycle, of course. Or the camel. She wandered off at that point, to play with her Wii. I wouldn't like to ride a camel because they spit, and I don't care to be spat at. It's bad enough when I ride my bike.
They said it was the single biggest hailstone ever recorded. We loved that little house.
We drove down to the coast today. Mrs d'Alaska's mum said we should boil the water before we went swimming.
Mrs d'Alaska wore her red dress today. She does look lovely in red.
We went to Ikea today. I had popped a paper tape measure and one of those little pencils into my trouser pocket. As I bent down to look inside a nice Leksvik cupboard, the pencil stabbed me in the groin. I let out an odd little scream and catapulted myself backwards. When I looked around, everyone had gone silent and was staring at me. As I walked away, I happened to notice that a couple of people had gone over to the cupboard to see what was inside.
I was still awake at four o'clock this morning, thinking about moths.
I was in the garden just now, being bothered by a fly. I didn't want to harm it, so I found myself trying to reason with it. I badly need a holiday. I suggested the Canary Islands to Mrs d'Alaska, but predictably she said she wouldn't like all those birds. I said the islands weren't named after canaries, it is something to do with dogs. Then she said "Well what if one of us gets bitten?" I didn't bother after that. I just don't want to go to Wales again, we've been there every year since we were married. Wales is lovely, but it always involves going to see Mrs d'Alaska's sister and her irritating husband ("I'm an Assistant Regional Sales Executive now, Colin." You always were, in my eyes, Trevor). He starts speaking Welsh the moment I enter the room. I wouldn't mind, but he's from Kyoto.
I was thinking that if the genetic engineers made us all much, much smaller, instead of messing about making longlife strawberries, there would be more food to go round with what we already have, so there would be no more starving people, there would be a lot more space so we wouldn't need to have wars over land, and cars and factories and fridges would be smaller too, they'd use less oil and produce far fewer emissions so global warming wouldn't be such a threat. I'm quite relieved, I have been worrying about that a lot.
That's Emmerdale, pretending to be The Angel Of The North. She said she stepped in something just after that, but she has refused point-blank to say what it was.
Mrs d'Alaska's sister's husband Trevor has been telling us for years that they 'holiday at a sweet little casa in Il lago nero'. I found out today that it's Blackpool. I must look up the translation for 'donkey' and 'beach' for when I next see the pompous little twonk.
I haven't been going down to my allotment as often as I used to. The shed is almost completely overgrown. The reason is that I am still waiting for a reply to my letter to the council. I want to know: if this is what I have been 'allotted', is that really all there is to look forward to?
It was made very clear to me this evening that a radish is not a proper hors d'oeuvre.
The boys at work hid my bicycle a few months ago, for a laugh. It looks as though they hid bits of it all over the place. This is the only part I have found so far.
There's a Noose Loose Aboot this Hoose
I took this picture in the garden and showed it to Mrs d'Alaska's mum, saying what a lovely pattern it was. She said "Well if you like it dear, I'll knit you a nice jumper for your birthday." I was quite touched, and really looking forward to something that isn't beige. She made me a stripy jumper with eight sleeves. The thing is, I'm sure she didn't do it to be nasty.
Ribena sat on the scanner and somehow managed to press the 'Scan' button. You cannot imagine how horrible that image was.
Someone posted this through our letterbox. It is a photograph of our kitchen, and I think it is a CCTV picture. Who would do that, and how did they get it?
We're going to try line dancing on Saturday. I opted for the camouflage hat because I don't like to stand out.
Last night I dreamt that I was a vampire that had to work twice as hard because I had broken a tooth.
I have been asked what Mrs d'Alaska's first name is. It is Una. We once looked at a map of Alaska and found a place called Unalaska, so we sometimes tell people we call her Una for short. Not everyone finds that as funny as we do. She has asked to be referred to as Mrs d'Alaska until she has been properly introduced to people. I explained that she was very unlikely to meet everyone that reads this. I also mentioned that having to type Mrs d'Alaska takes a lot more time than typing Una, but she said it will keep me from getting under her feet a little bit longer. Then she said that besides, she will always be Una, but she may not always be Mrs d'Alaska. I don't know what she meant by that.
I really am quite cross now.
Someone keeps letting an enormous dog do a mess right outside our house. I know exactly who it is. I saw his dog, squatting down, so I shouted through the letterbox "How would you like it if I did that outside your front door!" He shouted back, "You dirty b******, you do and I'll call the police!" I didn't mean me personally, I meant with our dog, but by the time I had thought of a suitable riposte, the moment had passed.
Mrs d'Alaska took this photograph at the last Harvest Festival. Another poor collection, especially now that she has been asked not to take her jams any more. I wonder who took along a quarter of a cabbage?
Sheep are really big, close up, especially when you are in a sleeping bag. We spent the rest of the night holding onto the roof rack. Every time I switched on the torch, you could see their eyes.
The farmer didn't come until almost eleven o'clock in the morning. We hadn't had a wink of sleep, yet both he and his dog just stared at us with exactly the same expression as the sheep. He didn't say a word, just quietly led his sheep away.
The Gas Board engineer said this is not a leak, it's ectoplasm. He suggested leaving a window open to see if it went away, but it is still there. Now there is also a funny smell, because a cat came in through the window and sprayed the back of the TV. The ectoplasm is bright enough to read by, which is handy, what with not being able to use the TV. At least we're saving money on electricity. Every cloud has a silver lining.
After all, the sea is just fishy water.
I had an odd dream last night. I dreamt that everybody else in the whole world had disappeared, then I found them hiding in the cupboard under the stairs. When I woke up they had all gone again.
I spent the night in hospital after fainting and cutting my head on a china Dalmatian. We had been invited along to a get-together at Betty's, to welcome her daughter home from America with her new baby. Mrs d'Alaska was particularly keen to go, being a film-buff, because she had heard rumours that Betty's daughter was seeing a Hollywood actor. Of course, I fainted when I found out she was dating a chap who played a wookie in Star Wars, and Mrs d'Alaska hit me with the china Dalmatian for making a scene.
Mrs d'Alaska has disappeared. So have all her clothes.
I'm often away from my studio for long periods of time. It is a regular thing, three or four months of the year, working in France. I find it a very productive time creatively, mainly because I don't have the usual distractions: I have the opportunity to concentrate on ideas for my notebook, usually in the evening, and develop the concepts once I get back to my studio in England. This particular year I became terribly frustrated at being away from the studio, so I began searching for other ways to realise some ideas using the few resources I had at my disposal. I had joined Facebook a short while before, and I became interested in the viral nature of this network - reminiscent of the theory of six stages of separation. Next, I had also been working with the idea of a work of art existing only on the internet. I had previously created several artworks using only the computer and small sections of internet images, and I was absorbed by the idea that these works had no physical existence unless they were actually output. Lastly, I had been kicking around the vague notion of Colin d'Alaska for a year or more. These threads suddenly converged. Colin d’Alaska was born, and ‘he’ started writing a blog. I saw Colin of Alaska as a discrete new work. I recognised that his blog could give me the opportunity to explore new ideas, new ways of looking at images, new ways of communicating some of the issues that preoccupy me in other areas of my work, new ways of expressing those ideas. I set a few broad parameters: I already had hundreds of photographs on my laptop, and I decided to use only existing snapshots. Amongst these were dozens of rejects - the out-of-focus ones, the under-exposed ones, the justplain-odd ones - and I would select from these. They could be cropped if needed, but otherwise unretouched. Furthermore, images would not be staged or taken specifically for the blog. Secondly, I wanted to introduce the ambiguities and the shades of light and dark that I aim for in other areas of my art practice. I would create a brand new narrative to transform each otherwise useless image into the basis for Colin's story. This reinterpretation - or reinvention - of an image was at the core. As a blog there is an element of entertainment, but there is also a serious side to reflect my other work. I became excited by the potential of this contrast. So, here I was, creating Colin's life. Consequently, I was spending time inside Colin's head. It is a strange place; OK to visit, but I wouldn't want to live there. Colin d'Alaska is part art experiment, part social experiment. He is obviously fictitious, but I wondered how 'real' he and his family and friends could become? How would his character develop as his story progresses? Colin was already someone who doesn't quite understand the world, who lives on the fringes of his own life. At that stage I chose to let him evolve naturally, rather than to predetermine any path, or outcome. Much like real life. Colin’s story built little by little, over several months, with each online blog entry. People began to talk to me as though he were real. I found myself enjoying 'blog' as a medium, with it's own idiosyncracies: the reverse chronology, for example, may have limitations, but I learned to embrace that. When I decided to turn the blog into a book format I simply turned it around and started from the beginning, like a diary. By the way, Colin d'Alaska is French for Alaskan Pollack, or Coley (fish). We have some in the freezer.
COLIN OF ALASKA
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