not just a pretty face

Max Barry wrote the novels Syrup, Jennifer Government, Company, Machine Man, and Lexicon. He also created the game NationStates and once found a sock full of pennies.


Wed 21

Farewell, my Bedford

Max As you know, I’ve spent most of the last two months in Bedford, England. No, you do. I mentioned it, like, just a few weeks ago. See, right here. Well I don’t care if you do get a lot of e-mail; I thought you’d care enough to remember. Well I guess not. Well maybe you should. Fine. No, I said, fine! Don’t take that; that was a present!

Anyway, I am now back home, but before I left, I decided to take a few snaps of Bedford for you. Now, these aren’t of Bedford’s tourist attractions. That’s because Bedford doesn’t have any. Instead I just walked around the block. That was all I needed to capture the real essence of Bedford, I think you’ll agree.

First, this car was parked outside the house. I took this photo because it’s what every car in Bedford looks like. Actually, that’s not true; some have more flags.

(Click for larger versions.)

Bedford car

The flags are because of the World Cup, by the way. Just in case you were thinking there must be some really rabid nationalism going on in Bedford. I mean, there could be, but the flags don’t prove it.

A few doors down was a youth social center with high walls and barred windows. I’m not totally sure, but I think this is the kind of center where the youths aren’t actually permitted to leave. This was on the walls:

The mysterious Coo-Var

I spent some time trying to work out what “Coo-Var Anti-Climb Paint” actually is. My first guess was that it’s really sticky, so when people try to climb the fence they get stuck halfway up, and dangle there until the police come and hose them off. But I touched the wall and it didn’t seem sticky. It didn’t seem smooth, either, or smelly, or anything else that might discourage climbing. But if I jumped really high I could see a kind of black smear on the top of the wall, so I guessed that was it. And when I touched it, it was sticky. But not that sticky. So I’m still confused about what this product is meant to do.

Around the back of the block, I passed these helpfully labeled bins:

Optimistic Bins

This raised a lot of questions for me. I was tempted to knock on the door and ask the owner a few questions about exactly how he thought this anti-theft protection scheme might work. He seemed to have some insights into the criminal mind that were escaping me. But that probably would have gotten me stabbed, so I didn’t.

Note: After my previous Bedford blog, a friend wrote to tell me that Christopher Reeve used to live in Bedford. This left me confused and bewildered. I kept asking myself: Why? God, why? Then I discovered he lived in Bedford, New York, and the world made sense again.


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Henry T. Monkeypimpenstein (#1212)

Location: Wellington, NZ
Quote: "Monkeypimp: Geeky enough to use his lame NS forum name here too."
Posted: 4899 days ago

Hah crazy people. And they won the ashes anyway! English people are funny.

Dan (#387)

Location: UK
Quote: "I have the energy of a bear that has the energy of two bears!"
Posted: 4899 days ago

I think that paint is just supposed to stay tacky and so gets all over you and stains you clothes if you try to get over the wall meaning the police can limit their investigations to people covered in paint.

Phill Sacre (#1822)

Location: London, UK
Quote: "Computers are like air conditioners. Both stop working, if you open windows."
Posted: 4899 days ago

The wall of the local Tesco has a sign on it saying "Anti-Climb paint" as well, which I find kind of odd because if you wanted to get in you could just walk in through the gate. I've never seen the "Not for stealing" sign on bins before (?!) but it kind of reminds me of the sign they had up in the shop in "Clerks": "if you plan to steal, please let us know. - Thanks"

Hobbie (#1359)

Location: Cornwall, England
Quote: "There was a little man in his hair!"
Posted: 4899 days ago

I honestly cannot comprehend the mentality that tells these rabid World Cup hooligans to cover their cars in ridiculous tiny flags, utterly destroying the aerodynamic profile of the vehicle, whilst at the same time cursing high petrol prices.

Not to mention if they open a window without thinking, the flag detaches and hurtles at speed at the car behind.

The sooner the football finishes the better.

Justin Holt (#147)

Location: Rochester, NY
Quote: ""
Posted: 4899 days ago

I don't understand the extremist fascination with the World Cup at all, or any fascination for that matter. But the flag thing I see a lot: it usually coincides with a mini-van covered in neon colored window painting explaining how and why their school's team is going to beat another school team's ass in whatever local high school event is going, like they think somehow such things as flags and car paint is the type of support that helps a team win, or that that's the best way to make their passion known.

As for the 'This Is Not For Stealing' paint, I do suppose if you go through life and spray paint everything that you don't want someone else to take, it makes the item(s) in question a lot less desireable, or if the person who is going to steal them planned to sell them, a lot less valuable. That is assuming that someone out there doesn't need a spray painted garbage can to complete their vintage trash container graffiti covered collection. With some of the things people collect, I wouldn't be surprised.

Sticky wall paint to prevent from climbing? Is wall climbing a serious problem over there?

Jeffrey (#2286)

Location: Right here
Quote: "Mathematics is a powerful language. Just look at how mathematicians destroyed the housing market."
Posted: 4899 days ago

Yeah I forgot you were in Bedford, but I remembered as soon as you reminded me. Honestly...

Starsong (#756)

Location: Lexington KY USA
Quote: "Knitting while you walk makes exercise seem like fun. Until you stop and realize you're all sweaty and you've screwed up your stitch pattern."
Posted: 4899 days ago

Most likely the paint was just along the top of the wall, not the part you could easily reach. A quick Google search lead to Coo-Var's website, which explains the paint stays slick so crooks can't get a grip, and contains 'invisible markers' (probably UV dyes) to identify them after they fall off.

David (#1848)

Location: Texas
Quote: "Delighted!"
Posted: 4899 days ago

I knew you were in Bedford, but I didn't realize you were STILL in Bedford. And if it has seemed like a long time to ME, I can only imagine how y'all must feel (that's right, "y'all").

As someone who has been handcuffed to his desk lately (nothing kinky, just the normal kind of metaphorical handcuffs...the desk is real, though), I really appreciate your blog entry, Max. It is nice to have a walk around the block, even if it's not me doing the walking, and the block is a few thousand miles away. Maybe because I KNOW it's in England, but your photos make me think of Sean of the Dead. I know, I know, it's not Crouch End, but I wouldn't necessarily know Crouch End from my own, anyway.

Do you steal all the toiletries from your folks' bathroom before you leave, as we Americans always do when traveling/vacationing? Probably not.

Michael (#1299)

Location: Northern California
Quote: "Chugachugachoochoo"
Posted: 4899 days ago

"Not for stealing"

Because we all know that what thieves REALLY want is to keep things tidy and clean.

metalbiteme (#1495)

Location: WALES UK
Quote: "Welcome to nowhere fast. Nothing here ever lasts."
Posted: 4899 days ago

Ah, wonderful British people, they never cease to amaze me.

Yubi Shines (#1664)

Location: Canada
Posted: 4899 days ago

See, we'd write that on our garbage bins, except I'm not convinced that the raccoons that insist on prodding around them and ripping the bags up can read, intelligent little bastards they are.

austin (#2462)

Location: rhode island
Quote: "hmmm...bleh..."
Posted: 4898 days ago

I'll bet those trashcans will be stolen in a day or two anyways...

Debbie (#1006)

Location: ILLINOIS
Quote: ""Get in line,it's free government cheese day!""
Posted: 4898 days ago

In America flags on a car and writing on trash cans would be something you might see in a trailer park. Or as it is sometimes refered to as "red-neck heaven".

Justin (#2009)

Location: Halfmoon, NY
Quote: "Max(x) is awesome!"
Posted: 4898 days ago

I want my very own Anti-Climb paint! Next time you're out, can ya pick me up some? I'll pay for the shipping to the US, don't worry.

Kate (#2426)

Location: London
Quote: "If you're being chased by seventeen horses, an ostrich and a tiny fire engine with a madly-ringing bell - get off the merry-go-round."
Posted: 4898 days ago

The flags make me smile. I live in Dagenham, which is in Essex. But there's an Underground station at the end of the road, so I just say 'London' when people ask where I live.

Dagenham has recently elected several far-right councillors, and during the football, it becomes Flag City. Nasty.

I also saw a lady wearing a Burberry top the other day; her little doggy was also wearing one. I very nearly laughed out loud right in her chavvy face, but managed not to, so am still alive.

Ian (#2483)

Location: Bedford
Posted: 4894 days ago

Hey, I live in Bedford. It's not so bad. Well, okay, I've just got a new flat in London, but truly, I like it here.

Excuse me for being devil's advocate a minute, but I want to challenge you attitude to this working-class town: Perhaps you'd prefer it if that was a shiny silver BMW? Perhaps when you see the flags of some exotic state on an ambassadorial convoy sweep by, you swoon? Perhaps you expect the concierge in the gatehouse to keep the tramps away from the bins? Perhaps you can't understand why the kids round the corner would rather smash the windows on their own community centre than get their exercise from equestrianism? Perhaps the art of Banksy is just so clever in its application of post-modernist irony to the medium of graffiti? Perhaps you're that ordinary kind of a meterosexual guy who just *loves* those Ché Guevara t-shirts? Don't their dumb little ways remind you just how superior you really are?

Go on - show how much you really love those poor fools you're going to save with your books. :-)

<Rant over>

Michael (#1299)

Location: Northern California
Quote: "Chugachugachoochoo"
Posted: 4886 days ago

Hey, I love where I live too- but it doesn't change the fact that there's some particularly local quirks that are funny as hell.

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