There’s a spectrum
of satire from bitter and twisted to gentle and silly. I live on the silly
end of the spectrum but I hope my machines re-enforce our lack of respect
for society’s villains in a gleeful way. Bankers, politicians and
overpaid CEOs certainly know we don’t respect them. It hasn’t changed
their behavior in the short term, but its good to let off steam and
shifting public attitudes can have long term effects.
This machine started
from the crazy tales told to me by my employees at Novelty Automation
about finding places to live in London, so I got interested in the
politics of house building.
For years the UK
government has set a target of building 200,000 homes a year, but never
manages more than half the number. The house building companies claim they
need less planning regulation and more ‘greenfield’ sites. But
obviously the number of homes built is actually set by the number of
people who can afford the enormous prices. House building companies are
never going to build more than they can sell, and certainly not encourage
any reduction in prices.
From BDO, the house builders' lobbyist
House building is
very profitable. The price of a home is considerably higher than the price
of the land plus construction. Most of the recent entrants in the FT 100
index are house building companies.Large
developments are supposed to include a proportion of ‘affordable’
homes. Not only are the ‘affordable’ homes still unaffordable, but
developers frequently mange to reduce the proportion on appeal.
Entire London squares are now dark at night because no one
lives there. London property has become a magnet for money laundering. No
disclosure is needed and the ‘investment’ increases in value every few
years. Saville’s, the estate agent, reports that 32% of London homes
sold in 2015 were to non-doms.
the only problem. The press is curiously quiet about second homes, maybe
because so many journalists own one. I live near a posh seaside town (Southwold)
where second home owners have priced locals out of the market. In winter
the town is nearly as dark as the dark London squares – there are fewer
than 1000 full time residents. St Ives in Cornwall recently banned people
from buying second homes.
Housing is a problem
in many countries. There are more and more people, and more and more
people living alone, and more and more people buying homes as investments
or second homes. The government claims to be trying to solve the problem,
but the politicians are constantly lobbied and entertained by the house
building companies (which we know from the rules of MPs disclosure of
interests). Career politicians seem totally unaware of the extent that
power corrupts. No wonder there’s such a rebellion against them.
My Housing Ladder
won’t solve the problem, but I’m sure most people will enjoy cursing
the villains. Most of the second home owners in Southwold realize the
ridiculousness of the situation.
Although I'd become
interested in housing crisis, I hadn’t thought of the subject as an
arcade machine. One day I was in my Southwold arcade ‘The Under The Pier
Show’ struggling with CELEB, the arcade machine I'd just installed. A
confident older man, wearing rust coloured corduroy trousers, told me he
didn’t like the machines like CELEB with joystick control, he preferred
the more physical ones. I was so fed up with it at the time, it was such a
pig to get it to work reliably, I rather agreed with him. Leaving the pier
I saw the exercise machines in the park opposite in a new light. All their
simple mechanisms could be the basis of arcade machines. A housing ladder
suited the step exercise machine perfectly.
I spent a week making
a prototype to try out on my grandchildren. I found a satisfying mechanism
to make the little man climb as you step up and down on the big ladder.
The simplest game I could think of was a version of ‘Grandmother’s
footsteps’. When a villain appears the man goes down instead of up the
ladder. Even the prototype needed a PLC to
make the game work. They seemed to enjoy the game so I started
making the final machine.
Real ladder, sawn in
Rope linkage between halves of ladder
I enjoyed carving the
figures. I use Jelutong, a soft, straight grained wood, using a
combination of bandsaw, palm chisels, power file and sandpaper (I'm no
purist woodcarver). People have such different body shapes and they are so
expressive. I’m not interested in life drawing, clothes add so much to
peoples' character.I paused
to photograph the figures before painting them. In raw wood they look
sculptural, it showed off their shapes but they were ‘works of art’.
When I painted them, their characters lept out, they become the instant
‘cartoons’ I had in my mind when I started. Artists today admire
ancient Greek statues but they were all originally painted, I’m sure for
I dithered about the
style of the house and the exterior of the machine. I was bored of making
little houses, I’d recently made one for Divorce. But when I put the
bare plywood house on top of the machine I realised it had to be gold (or
at least gold leaf) – houses are now so ridiculously valuable. Then the
concrete on the rest of the machine became the foundations. The font for
the lettering reminded me of the Finsbury Health centre in London, a
revered idealistic post war architectural icon. A more idealistic period
of house building.
The house didn't look
as valuable than I had hoped, the gold leaf just looked like cheap gold
paint. To make it look expensive I had to copy Damien Hurst and cover it
in diamonds. I didn't bother with real ones, just a product called crystal
ribbon (£7.99) from Ebay.