Idiots in England Hold Annual Stinging Nettle Eating Contest
Over the course of one hour on the Saturday before the 2002 summer solstice, Simon Sleigh, an organic vegetable farmer from the village of Hawkchurch in Devon, England, crammed 76 feet of stinging nettles down his ravenous maw. The notion of ingesting nettles in some form isn’t odd, given the ubiquity and touted health benefits of teas, infusions, and even beers made from the weed. But eating the plant straight is another matter. Spiny stalks aside, each nettle leaf is tipped with thousands of microscopic hairs that, when brushed, detach as needles and inject a cocktail of irritating chemicals into whatever flesh tries to disturb them. The tongue and throat are abraded. The mouth turns black. And sometimes the nettles start to ferment in the gut with an audible gargling noise.
Sleigh wasn’t alone. He embarked on this test of endurance alongside several dozen others and a crowd of hundreds who’d turned up for one of southern England’s numerous bizarre spring traditions: Dorset’s own World Nettle Eating Championship, in the town of Marshwood.
How Sad Young Douchebags Took Over Modern Britain
Venture out into the towns and cities of the UK on any weekend and you’ll find it hard to avoid the conclusion that young British men are in the midst of a crisis. A crisis of time and role, of maturity and masculinity. A crisis that, in their search for purpose, has driven many of them to become completely contradictory lifeforms. The sort of people who wear face masks to bed but will happily neck a pint of piss for a dare. People who train all year round for Ibiza’s party season, only to suck up legal highs they bought off strangers on the internet. Their heads are too small for their bodies, their shoulders are wider than a pub television, and they have shit Robbie Williams tattoos. They look dreadful and bizarre; they are the modern British douchebag—pumped, primed, terrifyingly sexualized high-street gigolos. They have no concept of subtlety and they don’t care.
You probably know this already, especially if you’ve seen the TV shows The Only Way Is Essex and Geordie Shore,and any other primary documents of life in the UK. We all know that a lot of young British men now look like Ken dolls dipped in tea and covered in biro. What we don’t really know is how and why it happened. It’s easy to dismiss them as just a more extreme strand of lad culture—the Rancid to the lads’ Green Day. But there are some vital differences between these two cultural types.
Most notably, douchebags don’t have friends—they have wingmen. And while the lad might have to be cajoled by those mates into approaching a girl after a few beers, the modern British douchebag already knows every line he’ll be using to snare his prey before he leaves the house for another evening of Monster cocktails and creatine. He has a far more cynical view of a night out. He’s in it for the posturing, the posing, and the pussy, and he’ll stalk the light-paneled dancefloors of the UK’s shittiest nightclubs until he’s proved it.
This Guy Is Mapping London’s Drug Use with a Discarded Baggie Map
What do you do with your leftover drug paraphernalia? Unless you’re one of those ambitious stoner hoarders who insists on keeping stems for pots of weed tea you’ll never brew, chances are you throw everything away. And if you’re homeless—or someone who enjoys getting high around strangers, or in parks—it’s likely you chuck your empty baggies on the floor or into a bush, kindly leaving them for 10-year-olds to bring into school and use as props in stories about their fictional weekend exploits.
Since January of this year, photographer Dan Giannopoulos has been taking photos of all the discarded baggies he finds throughout south-east London. He’s also been jotting down their geographic coordinates with the aim of eventually mapping out all the bags he’s found and working out whether any patterns emerge. I had a quick chat with Dan about his project.
A map we made out of the baggie coordinates that Dan has gathered so far (Click to enlarge)
VICE: Hey Dan. So far, what has the project taught you about Londoners’ drug use?
Dan Giannopoulos: I’ve been working on it since about January this year, and I haven’t had a chance to map everything fully yet, so at the moment it’s isolated to south-east London. But I tend to find more bags in more of the working-class areas I’ve been to—the kind of areas that have a reputation for drug use. But then I’ve had bags show up in places like Blackheath, which is quite a posh area. It’s quite random at the moment, but I was going to carry on working on it for a year or so and map any patterns that show up.
Is there a variation of drugs between those areas?
It tends to be more weed around the well-to-do areas.
Epicly Later’d – Geoff Rowley, Part 1
For part one of the Geoff Rowley episode we checked out his hometown of Liverpool, England, and also went to London and Southbank to meet with some well known names in British skateboarding.
The Disabled Englishman Who’s Opened His Home to Teenage Drug Dealers
Recent cuts in government funding have made it increasingly hard for Britain’s disabled population to get by, with many of those with psychiatric or physical problems often struggling to escape the confines of their own homes. Often they have to rely on their friends and familes, who unfortunately might not be available to help.
One victim of the Conservatives’ plan to cut Britain’s debt is Barry, a 60-year-old from Watford who spent his early childhood in care and was diagnosed as manic depressive as a teenager. His vulnerable mental state eventually led to alcoholism and addiction, and—after the death of his child—residential psychiatric care. Finally, he wound up in prison. For the past ten years, Barry has been suffering from a degenerative muscle condition that has left him mostly housebound, and his condition has only worsened since the cuts have set it.
Barry’s existence is far from solitary, however—almost every night of the week he’s joined by a bunch of local teenage boys. Since the 1990s, his apartment has become a venue for their gatherings, each generation passing through before leaving it for the next. In the 90s, Barry allowed the kids to hang out because he enjoyed their company, providing for them a place where they could hang out and get high away from their parents’ homes; later, in the 2000s, as Barry’s personal and financial situation worsened, he started to allow them to store and deal drugs out of his apartment. He hoped that they would contribute to some of his bills with the money they made.
Si Barber Photographs Britain’s ‘Big Society’
Is the UK’s austerity program really such a terrible thing? Sure, in times of crisis people do tend to smash each other in the head more often, underestimate the value of their own lives, and end up cast adrift in a hellish world of drugs, mental illness, and homelessness. Then again—and sorry to pull rank here, but I’m from fucking Greece, so I know—austerity also helps strip the pointless bullshit from people’s lives. No more taxis. No more expensive hangover pizzas. No more white peacocks for your garden. No more diamond slippers… these things don’t seem quite so important when you’re preoccupied with figuring out where tonight’s dinner is going to come from.
Si Barber is a Norfolk-based photographer who, for the past six or so years, has been sensitive enough to the hilarity of life in credit crunched Britain to photograph it honestly. I don’t know if that means anything coming from a foreigner, but browsing through his The Big Society project I’m met with images of the Britain I dreamed of as a kid and came to love as an adult—the wonderfully fucked-up loner of Europe.
I spoke to Si about his work.
VICE: Hi, Si. So you’ve been working on your Big Society project for a while now, right?
I am always working on The Big Society. When I started it in 2007, I could just spend a couple of hundred dollars on diesel, accommodation, and food, and run off to Scotland for the weekend—it would all just be absorbed within my business, which is commission-based photography. Now that times have gotten a bit harder, I try to get as much out of a shoot as possible. I’ll go off and do two or three things at the same time.
Do you ever get involved in a project you absolutely hate?
I don’t hate any of them, but I do find the imagination of some of the people who commission work fairly limited. I also work quite a lot for broadsheet newspapers, and they have a limited view on what constitutes a good picture. They might ask for a bit of side-lighting, for example, which is a little bit old hat.
What I like about your pictures is their simplicity. It seems like you just point your camera at something interesting and take a picture that makes sense.
Is there a particular image that stands out to you?
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The Truth Behind London’s Housing Crisis
Last week, UK police and bailiffs descended on Brixton to evict a community of squatters. However, when they arrived on Rushcroft Road and poured through the six buildings owned by Lambeth Local Authority, they found the properties empty and abandoned. “Most of the people left over the weekend,” explained one resident, hurriedly loading their belongings into a van a few hours before the eviction teams arrived. “They were scared they might have a another ‘Clifton Mansions’ on their hands.”
Located on nearby Coldharbour Lane, Clifton Mansions used to be one of London’s most famous squats. Once derelict council property, squatters first occupied its 22 flats in the 1990s, turning them into a de-facto cultural center that apparently provided the artist Jeremy Deller and Pogues frontman Shane MacGowan with temporary shelter. Condemned by the council for “anti-social behavior” and sold off to a private company, ten van-loads of police assisted in evicting its residents in July 2011. The building was converted into luxury apartments, some of which are currently fetching rents of $820 per week.
Today, the memory of this—as well as the chaos of Clifton Mansions’ “leaving party”—has ostensibly driven out many of Rushcroft’s residents before the death knell. Clifton Mansions’ final bash had been intended as a swansong to its legacy. What unfolded, however, was an over-attended party that descended into gate-crashers urinating from the roof and others attempting to strip the building of valuable copper piping. One man was also assaulted and robbed by strangers.
The Clifton Mansions leaving party. Photo via urban75.com/brixtonbuzz.com.
In a written press release, Lambeth’s cabinet for housing councillor Peter Robbins was unapologetic about evicting the residents of Ruschcroft Road.
“We are taking this action because it is unfair on the thousands of residents in need of housing in Lambeth that a small minority are unlawfully squatting in six mansion blocks on Rushcroft Road and not paying any rent or council tax,” he said.