Near Human Features
A Belt & Braces Analog-Andy alarm clock is placed high-atop a bedside, then wound, set, and anxiously double checked. In accordance with ritual the bedside is then cleared of all else, and a crash mat of clothing is laid across floor beside the bedside, for reasons not yet apparent.
The clock, you see. It looks like a face. And the face is smiling and looks happy. But contrary to the enthusiastic marketing material released, along with the clock, at the turn of the millennium, the clock doesn’t, in fact, always look happy. Analog-Andy’s fully articulated mouth simply widens to varying effect, and it doesn’t, as many have claimed, reciprocate your own smile. Whether you gurn into the eye-mounted cameras or not.
It is only in low light in fact, that Analog-Andy will unfurl his bandolier of ivory whites for you. That he will pry those lips fully ajar and reveal his true capacity for exuberance. That said, amateur night vision tests have revealed that in true lightlessness Analog-Andy’s face wipes blank, in way of expression. Turn the lights out and he will simply stand frozen — his rubberised face still, and hidden, until morning.
Other than the face though, one could say that Analog-Andy is conventional, in his own small ways. His bells and whistles, they’re silver like they should be — chrome-shiny like you’d want them to be. His red-metal shell even snaps front to back like a clip-top. Analog-Andy, you see, seems to exude the phrase; suitably mechanical. His design basics, you could say; just scream 50s.
He is also, unmistakably, a clock, with a convex saucer of temperature treated glass his visor — under which two hands tick and then tock, in that order. He’s even got a stainless steel backplate — removable — where you can prod fingers at his innards, and a couple of Phillips-head screws — so narrow as to be almost pins — shot through where his wrists should be. That’s right — where his wrists should be. Because it’s around here that his hand-arms abruptly collapse. Around here that they disappear into gill-like slits, cut with buzz-saws into the side of his perfectly circular,glass-glazed face. And it’s beyond this that two good-old-fashioned rotaries lie partially occluded, wrapped in belts. Both of them ready to execute 07_jazz_hands.exe, at the flick of a binary switch.
Analog-Andy’s head is also adorned with two tried-and-traditional circular bells, but these come with the twist that they’re set on platforms. Each in turn — or in tandem — afforded an almost frictionless 360-degrees of spin, when 09_party_time comes.
Yet these things, all of them — save the innards — are illuminated by only a single source of light. A plug tethered desk lamp — feminine in neck — that was moved to the floor as the bedside was cleared, nuzzles shy and upward against the plastered brickwork. It fires an acute cone of white that radiates in concentric, darkening circles up, and around, the wall — the light so bleak as it lays
fingers on Analog-Andy that it touches only his more prominent features — the tips, the whites, the metal — the shiniest and sharpest of him piercing, his expression extreme. Those peaked cheeks. Those pearly teeth. Those hungry, pupil-filled eyes. Those bells of his, kissed and glistening, like metal ears. And the towering shadow, cast high, wide and monstrous above the headboard is that of Mickey Mouse. And unless someone switches that lamp off, he just won’t stop smiling.
You’ve just got to make concessions.
Compromise, for God’s sake.
Must I remind you that the colossal weight of engineering required to anthropomorphise an alarm clock cannot be overestimated. Unless, of course, you’re going to be a dick about it, and really try to. The précised problems of Dr Gary Grabber, of engineering fame, hung hot and stale in the recycled air. These mock-ups, especially around the eyes and brow, he’d said. They’re too much.
He prodded heavy rims up a square nose and adopted an eyebrows raised who? me? posture.
I’m not dicking around here.
The word dick used to follow Grabber everywhere — bold as it was, and underlined and rife in the doctor’s everyday lexicon. He dropped a hand on the leaning tower of design documents — earlier characterised as being physically heavy. He cocked a hip and leant like a teapot, short and stout.
These mock-ups are, in two words, Not OK, you understand.
His left mitt slapped repeatedly on the top of the pile. Each thud timed precisely, to emphasise every full stop. We can’t continue like this. I tell you what is possible. I tell you where the boundaries of creativity lie. And you, no matter how much you think you know, are in no place to cross them.
Grabber, suddenly self-conscious in his shortness, straightened up as his outpourings started to visibly corrode the listening Harry O’Hanarahan, whose skin dried and reddened, as it used to in the presence of engineers. O’Hanarahan was a tall man — slightly hunched — and his lithe, matchstick fingers had clicked and sparked in deep pockets, in a concerted effort to remain restrained.
The lanky legs Harry. You want fully posable eyebrows, you’re going to have to give up the lanky legs.
And that’s an end of it.
Head of Aesthetics — Harry O’Hanarahan.
Newly appointed — newly anointed.
He kicked a foot in the door and hit the ground pummelling.
After just three days he dropped his seminal intra-web classic Skeuomorphism and Minoan Pottery: A Tentative Interpretative Approach to Mind, Agency, Object and Novelty Alarm Clocks.
After just four days he was being variously described as both a designloose-cannon and a force to be wrestled with.
And after just a week — including a hard-worked weekend — the force to be wrestled with phrase found its way onto the minutes of The Bi-Monthly Meet, due to it being repeated — as if an Ellison Original — by CEO Julio “Hella” Ellison.
O’Hanarahan’s weapon of choice? — A pencil.
His order? Un espresso Macchiato, per favore.
At least, these are the questions and — verbatim — answers that rounded out his compulsory
Meet the Team profile. The top-corner replete with arms-folded photograph. His weapon of choice stowed and angled behind a somehow affected, elfin, ear.
It’s not all glamour.
Peter Grub hamster-cheeked a gobs-worth of Gentleman’s Effluent — a local brew — and then held it in hand with a jutting, invasive elbow. He was sitting, posture all shoulders and sponge, across from two lager-toting Junior Designers who, he said, had much to learn. The interns periodically rested their heads on their hands — and their hands on the table — and Grub was buying.
He’s a man of few — spoken — words, cocky-quipped Grub, after steering the conversational dreadnought onto his new boss. He lunged at his beer and lunged at it again. He’s a man you see — another lunge — of fierce, emotional, un, intelligence.
He manoeuvred his head to hover, like a pudding-faced falcon, above the Nibbles Menu, and with a face of sudden and genuine dissatisfaction, tipped the bottom fifth of his pint into himself.
The email account of then-Deputy Aesthete Peter Grub had borne a declarative footer — not that he’d mince around when it came to its usage. He saw fit to emblazon it you see — loud, and Comic Sans proud — across everything. This, in spite of the fact that it explicitly contravened article 156b of the Belt & Braces Compliance Code — which was a Big Belt & Braces Compliance No-No,according to the literature.
The footer though, it wasn’t offensive on the face of it. It simply read:
Peter Grub: Structural Mimetic and Jedi Master
Yet this turned out to be a real thrown fist of a sentence, if O’Hanarahan’s facial bruising was to be believed.
If there’s one thing I can’t get it up for Peter, it’s structural mimesis. All of it.
O’Hanarahan’s expression was still in spasm after receiving his first email from the man. His anger, both visible and faintly audible, filled the air around him, thickening it somehow.
Grub sat face-on to O’Hanarahan — within literal spitting distance — yet the email was nevertheless written, left in Drafts, reconsidered, re-drafted, then sent, and Grub had to tighten up all his perceptibles so as to not betray his true response — so that he may more properly plot, and scheme.
A shotgun fires painterly bands of light, blade thin, and straight-edge white through the blinded boardroom windows.
Peter Grub’s face was in tatters.
He flung his arms around. His fingers were rigid. His nails were suddenly ragged andclaw-like. He looked as if he were verbally convulsing.
It was owing to the strange manner of his delivery in fact, that the moving lips of his mouth never once touched. Which was strange, because his enunciation was usually so measured and fricative before 9pm. Yet here stood an adult man, emitting a jowelly, spittle-laden mush, as he hysterically decried the O’Hanarahan-approved digital retrofitting of the old analog clocks held in stock as a barbaric perversion of even the most basic tenets of desaaaa. His moving mouth — jaw and maw — then configured to call his boss a techno-twaa. All this, with considerable volume, in moist earshot of the CEO and gathered CXXs — all of them huddled and attentive and richer than him, in the Bi-Monthly HR Huddle.
Grub stormed out of yet another room.
The room had yet more white walls. It had a white ceiling. He was wailing something about placation and how this this time it was all over. He called the O’Hanarahan sympathising lackeys he’d been assigned a pair of co-path-dependent Hutt-spawn. He pointed toward an elderly receptionist and shouted the words, see, shit, as she sat there minding her own business. Her wizened finger absently poking at the rotary dial of her — quite digital — landline.
If there was a motto shared all-for-one amongst Belt & Braces Design circa 1999 it would have been something rather socially inept. Something like: if we design it, you better build it. Not that this deterred engineering’s Dr Grabber who soon fired off an email summarising his teams concerns and the Action Points — or APs — he’d like adhered to in relation to the Lanky Legs.
To this though, O’Hanarahan simply pressed Reply and then Send with body text untouched.
To: Gary Grabber
Subject: Re: Lanky Legs!
Harry O’Hanarahan, Head of Aesthetics and Borgian Fiend +44 (0)117 922 2000
Unit 3, The Henry Stoke Memorial Estate, Bristol, BS34 8QQ
“If we design it, you better build it”
O’Hanarahan’s footer always says it all, so he’d have told you — although this particular one only found its way onto internal emails. His external footer read “Great minds don’t think alike”, and this raised a lazy smile from time to time.
Where the Cult of Done goes to die.
The spate of efficiency related graffiti had clearly found its way to double door entrance of The Workshop.
The letters had yet to dry, and upon discovery tiny tears slid with variable speed down the glass. Grabber stood forlorn and watched, as the workshop beyond slowly turned red. As each trail obscured the shapes and shadows of the men who shook heads, and the men who grumbled in assorted deep tones, while all around them various humanoid clocks, each with long, lanky legs, winged their way under arched eyebrows. Every single lanky one of them collapsing under their own weight, or crashing into dustbins like flaming planes into a field.
By this point unpleasant email correspondence was the primary — often only — means of interdepartmental communication. Notable attachments such as hello.jpg and swap.avisoon found their marks — and their children.
Tech-intern Mr Kingsley Smalls just wanted to make tech. He accepted an invitation to a Lemon Party while in the throes of his 4–5pm crunch. He leapt for the mains.
Kingsley Smalls and his leap for the mains were discussed over drinks. Kingsley laughed along, yet was unsure whether or not he had them.
There were a thousand faces.
Mr Aaron Sorenstam, Secondary Concept Artist, spent an hour in the gents doing God knows what Helen. I really worry about that boy sometimes.
Mr Floyd Frott, Assistant Gearing Enthusiast, disappeared for an hour or two, and upon his return no one noticed the new trousers.
Mr Samuel Hoggard took an impromptu afternoon, and returned the next day a little quieter than the last.
Miss Daisy Hammond went home sick, two days before a personal best in the Cheddar Valley Ironman.
Mrs Francine Howard though. She worked in Compliance yet had wandered upstairs toEngineering — with all the downstairs cubicles full, as they were.
Hours passed, and it was she who famously returned to file FCA reports carrying a bag of bunting and a birthday cake — and all this, most importantly, while wearing an entirely new pantsuit.
It was without delay that she launched into a highly implausible, and clearly rehearsed story about having to take a three-hour-long late lunch — during the pivotal end of month crunch — to shop for a party, a house party — a house party to which everyone was promptly invited, and to which she was, mercifully, spared any takers.
No one talked about the disappearances after that. Come summer there were only two Junior Programmers left still scratching their heads. Looking on as they did with confusion, and concern, as people brought Emergency Clothing to work — many of them doubling up on their Emergency Skirts and Emergency Trousers. These things stashed under desks until a disciplinary committee arrived from Headquarters with some strongly worded declarative statements and a fumigator.
Mr Sorenstam was fired in unprecedented circumstances, pending charges.
DESIGN IS HARMONY he bellowed. His anger directed toward a black, dusty hole — fresh and steaming. His fist coated in powder and paint from the nearest bright, white wall.
The legs cap’n…
They can’ne take it!
Grabber flexed the back of his chair. He steepled his fingers and smiled villainously and Harry O’Hanarahan, unimpressed as ever, rose. His pencil-rugged hands binned more freshly minted blueprints with a scrunch and a thud, and with a quiet nod he ushered his cohort out of yet another meeting room.
It was in light of this meeting that he finally admitted defeat. That he shed the now unbearable burden that had clambered tooth and claw to his shoulders and rooted itself so very far inside his soul. That he and his team — before him, pens in hands — started to look for alternatives.
O’Hanarahan cycled home in his lycras to see Hannah and little Ben. Arriving, before realising that he’d forgotten again, as he had been a lot lately.
Belt & Braces — Founded 1981, was facing hard times from which it wouldn’t recover. Since the end of fashionable Thatcherism Belt & Braces’ signature money-maker, its Big Bag O’ Braces, had faded into unprofitability. It was an understandable decline of course, but one compounded almost terminally by 1997’s ill-fated Brace Yourself campaign, which many thought flew in the face of progress — progress manifest as Tony Blair, whose face was featured prominently on the first day of advertising. This terrible piece of judgement — replete with its Thatcherite implications, and grievous compliance oversights — had given the Quarterly bottom-line a ragged fisting. The likes of which we’ve never seen, Blue. But all that Head of Public Perception and Integrity Daniel D. Blue could find to say in response to Founder/CEO Mr Julio Ellison was that it wasn’t at all political sir. Just witty. That’s all. Whatever it was it was, it was certainly a PR disaster for one of their flagship products, and so — with 1996’s disastrous Belt a Loved One campaign looming over his reputation like an abusive husband — Mr Blue may as well have rested his voice. After fifteen years atop the prow shouting into the wind, Daniel “Dan” Blue lost his last leg to stand on.
It was 1997, and he was finally commanded to abandon ship with three months full pay — in lieu of a leaving party.
It was another beautiful morning. Your birds tweeting in trees. Your dogs sniffing up and down your everyday bushels. The summer sunlight bounding off of your city’s excellently maintained system of roadside, pre-cast, concrete flagging. It was while running full pelt on some of the best paving that the city had to offer, in fact, that Mr Blue caught his toes, however briefly, in such a way as to trip across across a T-junction, which left him under the wheels of a Grobelaar & Daughters thirty- tonne in-transit concrete mixer.
Which sealed his deal pretty much instantly.
So there had lain poor Daniel D. Blue — dead without a head — while Harry O’Hanarahan searched through old newspaper postings for the most lurid description of that day he could find — not knowing the man personally.
Whiskey in hand, his eyes scrolling through archived copies of thenewsofthewesternworld.com and allthatsfittoprint.com’s The Splatter Report. His head nodding, as he noted the repeated image of toothpaste and the odd way that The Splatter Report insisted on comparing everything to everyday foodstuffs — a pulped tomato, a sledgehammer to a watermelon, like a nuclear criticality in a ketchup factory, etcetera. In fact it wasn’t until deep in the comment bowels of Splat! — Man’s Skull Crushed and Mangled Body Twitches for Minutes as Pedestrians Look on Horrified that O’Hanarahan finally stopped and said oh shit, that’s it — Oh shit, that’s it, ripe to be Harry O’Hanarahan’s Eureka! if anyone had bothered to buy the rights to 2005’s self-penned Andy and Me: The Memoirs of an Aesthete.
So there his cursor hung, bloated and heavy, as he scrolled through an eyewitness testimony ominously entitled Stumps.
Though rich in imagery, Stumps was a relatively brief affair that began by detailing the final resting state of Daniel D. Blue’s lifeless — near legless — mass, and ended by drawing a humorous comparison with his Why Midgets and Brand Go Hand in Hand. A blog post, apparently, from Daniel D. Blue’s hitherto unknown blog, and one that had a lot to say about midgets, and brand and how the two — as he repeats multiples times — go hand in hand. There was even a rather literal illustration, with the copy covering historical examples of stunted brand talismans from Disney’s Mickey to the Taco Bell Chihuahua.
Diminutive Design: The Art of Taking the Mickey was a water-cooler smash. The product of three nights, two days and one pulped keyboard, the essay-cum-manifesto was emailed around the Monday office at 6:23am by a red-eyed O’Hanarahan.
He slept for fourteen hours that day — with his endocrine system bedraggled as it was, and panting, after a weekend of brutal and sustained stimulation. So he’d simply lay motionless, emitting intermittent snoring sounds from on the Big Blue beanbag in the Victor Myers Meditation Space, as his Nemesi, like none he had ever encountered, consumed his missive whole.
The room with Engineering written proud across the door was abuzz, as they would later have had you have it.
Gary Grabber had been duel-wielding coffee and croissant when he first cast his eyes over the largest text-only file he’d ever receive. It was a long and breathless read. An act of intellectual ballet that had the man sweating profusely from the armpits. The static electricity of pins-and-needles adrenaline, as he had said, coursed body and mind through him. He shook all over. His hand had gripped the mouse with such ferocity as he scrolled, that the plastic casing gave out under him. As it did, he said, he stood, hand bleeding and in the air. And he had screamed.
Restricted Envelope Space! Restricted Envelope Space! His voice as booming as God’s.
Restricted Envelope Space! he had bellowed with all the world rising around him.
The Psuedoinverse! The Psuedoinverse! He had chanted, until all of himself was spent. This outburst swiftly followed by rapturous applause from his men, as flakes of one further — celebratory — croissant rained like feathers, into the near-inundated spaces between his keys.
The squat, more midget-esque, Analog-Andy that skipped off of the production line on two-fat-feet,four months later, was a revelation. Tech journalists marvelled at the leaps forward in facial robotics achieved by such a small operation, and the creative press hailed the already timeless design of the thing. It also flew off of the shelves after an ad-campaign coup lead to the then Secretary for Trade and Industry Stephen Byers allowing his animated likeness to appear rising nude from a nights sleep, laughing along with his alarm clock as it danced and serenaded him into consciousness — a move so politically bizarre it later had to be justified during Prime Minister’s Questions where Blair cited the nation’s increasing reliance on alarm clocks and alarm clock technology to effectively conduct business, as justification for his cabinet member’s decision. When questioned about why he was allowing Labour cabinet members to, nakedly, endorse a company who had, in the past, asked the nation to brace themselves for the incoming Labour government, Blair was at a loss. He only managed the words I know it’s all a little far-fetched, but none of this is impossible, right? Before sitting down to receive a thorough ear beating from an unusually bombastic William Hague.
But how the teams got where they were was all squashed tomatoes as far as the company was concerned. And where they were going, well, that was out of their hands as Belt & Braces was soon to fold after paying millions in belated settlements to the families of three victims, each killed in the so-called Belt a Loved One Killings that littered the blood-spattered summer of ’96. But for just one glorious night mutual success brought the company, including Gary Grabber and Harry O’Hanarahan, together. The two finally allowing themselves to be photographed side by side at the country club post-drinks of the 4th Annual Innovaté Awards — where each was honoured for their leaps forward in cranio-facial-robotics and damn good design respectively.
Later that night word was also received that Diminutive Design was courting significant interest from a number of upscale industry publishers and O’Hanarahan was asked multiple times whether he could whittle out a 40,000 word version. Harry O’Hanarahan, giving enthusiastic, affirmative answers to all questions that night, ended up signing, on the spot, with first-comers Wordswordswords & Co, before wandering off with their attractive, young and glamorous PR intern Bella Bodrum, to go see the stars.
Yet all is lost, as the Dead Black blackout blinds pinwheel back into their roof mounted sockets and the 6am summer-sunlight blows the bedroom to bits. Analog-Andy, after a night cloaked, with eyes dead in the corner, now explodes into simulated life. As 01_open_eyes opens eyes, dust — settled and hefty — is sent cartwheeling in brittle ribbons toward the ceiling. As 02_tits_and_teeth initiates his top lip begins to peel back, revealing teeth, and eventually a black, mechanical throat as 03_morning smile sends his cheekbones slithering upward — along with his jaw. And all of this sequentially executes with such subtlety as to almost give credence to the overblown marketing material that had Analog-Andy as so much more than just a sequentially executed succession of 1s and 0s. So much so that when 04_raised_brow raises brow, it is as if you are seeing something that makes the marketing term Near Human Features hold some descriptive water.
It’s when 05_hip_hop_hooray initialises, however, that the bell finally tolls. That the un-signed off schematic, erroneously scanned and sent to Yang & Chang’s ChineseCut-Price Manufacture Co & Co. for production, makes itself felt. That the flaws of Iteration 121 — in fact a copy of Iteration 120 that had overwritten the real Iteration 121 during a late piece of absent- minded hard-drivery from Gary Grabber — finally ruins everything.
Iteration 121 was missing a cross bracing. One that inhibited the horizontal movement offat-foot #2 when it was about to exceed the acceptable stress levels of it’s ball and socket joint. As such, on this specific morning, in this specific room, after years of absolutely unacceptable stress, the joint holding fat-foot #2 fractures — the first of many such fractures across the country — as 06_crip_walk gets into full swing. The fracture releases a sharp piece of plastic into Cable Corridor #4 that ruptures the copper wiring controlling the secondary y-axis movement of Analog-Andy’s left eyelid — which leaves the eyelid clattering through a half-cocked winking animation — which makes the clock’s morning smile look even less welcoming, and rather more like a come-on — which is then compounded as the mechanism that starts 07_jazz_hands jostles the plastic in further, severing the wires entirely and leaving the eyelid dangling at half mast. This leaves the clock looking less like it’s affecting a come-on, and more like it’s suffered a stroke. Then, as Analog-Andy begins to stomp, the sharp fragment of plastic plunges into the wiring that controls his light sensors or, as they are also known, eyes. But it doesn’t rupture them completely. It merely leaves the sensors blinking on and off in rapid succession. This leaves his expression — controlled by the light sensors — rising, and falling, rising and falling and so on — Analog-Andy flitting from full-faced beaming to dead emotionless nothing in half-second splits. 08_shout_the_date and 09_air_raid go off without a hitch, loudly. Yet by the time 10_morning_frenzy makes its presence felt, it’s all over. The fat-feet begin to leap around — ever more to the left. The left foot finally failing entirely, as it dislocates from the joint. A bag of guts and wiring are left trailing from this lame left foot — while the fully- functioning right causes the clock to donut about itself. Twin-ears spinning like weather-cocks in a hurricane.
So picture Harry O’Hanarahan scrambling through the bedroom door, and leaping from the foot of the bed — arms groping for an off-switch.
Yet as he finds himself short he’ll find no off-switch.
All he’ll be able to do as he falls into the ground is listen, as this specific Analog-Andy, amongst thousands, sings his own faltering song for one last time. He’ll belt it out loud and true, until the sound of a good slap to the chops with a hard, flat hand signals the single, climactic cymbal crash before the silence.