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Thursday, October 06, 2005

About Mister Chappy-Chap


Mister Chappy-Chap is a character from a short animation I created in response to the Routemaster Bus in London. The following paragraphs are excerpts from the explanation I included with my animation, a foreward if you will.

The character of Mister Chappy-Chap comes from the idea that the Routemaster bus is a quintessentially British vehicle, much like the Black Cab or Concorde for example. For the past few years, I have been fascinated with Martin Parr's photography as he captures 'very British scenes' that seem absurd even to the most British viewer. Since moving to London I have seen more of Britain's unique eccentricities than I ever saw in Bath. This may be because I am more used to the West Country way of life, but before moving to Dulwich, I had never seen a public house with two entirely different sides.

The Crystal Palace Tavern, like many other Victorian public houses has a central bar, with a 'lounge side' and 'bar side'. The Crystal Palace Tavern, however, has maintained the lounge side to Victorian standards: the round gas lamps, etchings on the wall, large mirrors and iron-footed tables, while the bar side has been 'upgraded' to suit modern needs: two projected televisions, wood flooring and very 'Ikea' furniture. Stella Artois is only available on the modern bar side.

Liam, a friend of my brother, is now finishing his MA in English at Oxford University. During his interview, he was asked where he lived. When he replied 'Dulwich', the interviewer perked up and informed Liam that he too once lived in Dulwich:

'Where do you drink?' the interviewer then asked, and Liam replied 'the Crystal Palace Tavern'.
'Ah ha, or the 'CPT' as they seem to be calling it these days'.
According to Liam, the next question was the decider in his success on enrolling to the course: 'do tell me... which side do you drink on? The right side or the left side?' Luckily for Liam, he drank on the right side, the Victorian side.

I imagine Mister Chappy-Chap would get along with - if not be slightly frightened by – due to his kind and unassuming nature – the Oxford 'Don' that interviewed Liam, and that he too would drink on the right, as he is stuck somewhat in the past, enjoying the family roast every Sunday, smoking his pipe, 'thinking of England' and chasing that Routemaster bus he so adores. I have it in my mind that Mister Chappy-Chap does not however live in close proximity to the Crystal Palace Tavern. Mister Chappy-Chap is a Dulwich Villager. The Village is a posh enclave at the top of Lordship Lane, housing the Dulwich Picture Gallery and Dulwich College – one of the finest private schools in the country. Maggie Thatcher used to live in Dulwich Village.

Dulwich Village does not feel like London, unlike East Dulwich, which holds some resemblance to surrounding areas such as Brixton, Camberwell and Peckham (the Rye is, after all, just down Barry Road from Dulwich Library).

Mister Chappy-Chap works in a bank in Bank, much like Mr Banks in Mary Poppins. Although he is surrounded by computers at his job, he is only competent in doing with them what he needs to, and prefers doing sums in his WH Smith grid-lined notebook with his Parker fountain pen (one of the more expensive ones, of course). He carries a handkerchief, and one spare – in case a lady needs one – and washes them both by hand every night whether they have been used or not. Mister Chappy-Chap gets his hair cut at Keith's Barbers on Northcross road. Keith, to me, is an amazing piece of Martin Parr's Britain. In a world of Toni & Guy, Aveda and Garnier, Keith does what he's always done and what he knows how to do: a short-back-and-sides. Keith appears to be around sixty years old, but I expect he may be much older. His back is naturally arched from leaning over the head of each and every customer he has had for goodness knows how many decades, but he does an incredible job. I went to Keith's once. For £7 and quarter of an hour of my time, he trimmed my hair with incredible precision and skill – a steady hand like his, at his age, is to be desired. Keith does not require bookings, so pop in if you’re in the area.

I can imagine Mister Chappy-Chap visiting Keith on a weekly basis and he would, of course, get a proper shave on that occasion. Mister Chappy-Chap likes to be tidy and lives by the rule 'only the best men shave twice a day'. He enjoys the sting of after-shave.

While I have described Mister Chappy-Chap as rather posh and a likely hard right-winger, I feel I must make it clear that he is much more soft and innocent a character than that. He appears as he does through sheer naivety – as though he has had is eyes shut for fifty years, perhaps opening them once a fortnight to realize that shillings have disappeared along with outhouses. After all, he is a comedic character in the animation, susceptible to slap-stick mishaps much like the classic early film comedian Charlie Chaplin, born on East Street in Walworth, not far from where I picture Mister Chappy-Chap to reside.

Mister Chappy-Chap is, also, a small part of me – as an American with a British (private school) upbringing and family heritage (my grandfather was from Liverpool), I think I feel ‘Britain’ on a day-to-day basis perhaps more than someone born here. While I take it for granted, having lived here for almost seventeen years, there are still little bits and pieces that surprise me, that remind me I’m in Britain and that this is not my home country.

To conclude, the mixture of my early years in the United States and the upbringing I had in the UK culminates in my interest in what I could call the truly British Britain – the places, people and things you couldn’t find anywhere else in the world – one of which being the Routemaster bus.

5 comments:

Marty said...

Do you have to spend 2 hours or more a day on one of those fuckers though?

Please TfL! Scrap the Routemasters on the 159! Viva bigger seats, easy access and no surly conductors!

Spencer E Holtaway said...

I did indeed take the number 12 bus from Dulwich library to Elephant and Castle every day. Living on the second stop of the route I was able to secure a top deck front seat every day, so I suppose my memories of it are somewhat more glossy than others.

oliver said...

do i a favour and take my surname off your site - cheers!

ernababy said...

hey boy I want new stuff from u

spymum said...

Good post! And thanks btw, for the comments you left on my site ages ago!