Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Grand designs of my own

Lately it’s felt like we’ve been missing a lot at home. From big things like family birthdays and Mother’s Day, to less significant stuff like this hilarious planking craze or TV shows, which we can only really experience vicariously through other people's activities on our Facebook feeds. I ‘like’ Tim Winton on Facebook, and his most famous novel Cloudstreet, which is in both mine and Til’s top five favourite books, has been turned into a series that we won't see. And everyone’s always updating quotes and clips from Chris Lilley’s new show Angry Boys.

It was one of these Angry Boys YouTube clips that brought me to an epiphany, recently. Every time one comes up I click on it, ravenous with curiosity, only to be told I’m not in the right region to view it. Ridiculous. At home I’m forever getting these messages from the US and UK saying I’m not in the right region, and now the ONE time there’s something good to be watched online in the Australian region, I’m outside it. This makes me realise that now I am in the UK region, and I frantically try to recall all those moments of frustration when I couldn’t watch something because it’s from a less antipodean locale than the South Pacific, but only one show comes to mind: Grand Designs.

Grand Designs is one of those shows you stumble across one night when all you want to do is sit in front of the TV, but Ten inconsiderately decides to run a double episode of Glee or something at the same time as the Dancing with the Stars finale on Channel Seven, the Spanish news on SBS, and something equally inane andor incomprehensible on Nine (that's right bitches, I just left the slash out of 'and/or'. It's going to happen eventually anyway; it's a concept we don't have a word for in English - I'm just three-hundred years ahead of my time. Future generations will find in this blog the first ever instance of the use of the word 'andor' outside of Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series or that metal manufacturing company and dedicate a dictionary to me, or worship me as a God. Either one.)

Anyway, cycling through the channels in dismay, you eventually come upon ABC  and images of the verdant British countryside overlaid with Kevin McCloud's dulcet tones, and find yourself gratefully entranced. It nourishes you through the next hour until one of the atrocities on one of the other channels finishes and you can go back to the treacly, advertisement-ridden products of commercial television that for some reason form the bulk of your televisual diet. You probably forget all about that serendipitous encounter, that saviour in your hour of need. You forget which timeslot it was in, and whether it was on ABC or SBS.

Until it happens again a month and a half later. Repeat this process several times and you begin to cultivate a profound love and respect for this niche program and wonder if you can watch it anywhere on the internet, which you can’t, because it’s in the UK region. But then you go to the UK and realise you can watch it and you write a blog post about it and end up narrating what you’re doing as you’re writing the post in a cycle of mise en abyme that destabilises the very foundations of the universe itself.

... So long story short I’ve been watching a lot of the show. Up to the fourth season, in fact. I’m convinced I can finish it before I go home. Basically, dreamy host Kevin McCloud follows rich British people as they build their dream homes. I think the appeal for me is that I so desperately would love to work with an architect to design and build my own dream mansion, and watching other people do so constitutes some kind of architectural, Lacanian gaze process. An English friend tells me he considers the show daytime television crap for housewives, but I don't believe him. It's high architecture, man! It may not be primetime, but that doesn't mean it's low quality. It's niche. In fact, to be primetime in this country is to be low quality, is to be X-Factor, or Sun, Sex and Suspicious Parents, or The Weakest Link. No, Grand Designs is far above that.

 Kevin McCloud: what a dreamboat.
(Image from http://www.smh.com.au/)

The corollary of my Grand Designs obsession was that I ended up spending a lot of time trying to conceptualise my dream home and drawing it and stuff, but it was never quite satisfactory. I wanted more. I wanted a 3D model. I wanted a computer-generated simulation. I wanted The Sims.

Unfortunately, I don’t have a disk drive in my laptop, and I wasn't sure I could buy one here because it might not read Australian-region disks when I get home. It’s been some time since I’ve played a computer game though, which meant it took me ages to realise that of course you could just buy and download the game off the internet. It’s the 21st century for God’s sake.

So I did. And then, I’m ashamed to report, I spent two days solid playing it obsessively. So obsessively that I didn’t eat anything but caramel eggs and milk for the entirety of those two days. Those that know me well know how much of a big deal it is for me to go without food.

But don’t worry; I’m not actually addicted. It was just an initial burst of obsession; just a pressure release of all that pent-up design desire fuelled by all that Grand Designs. What I am addicted to, however, are those caramel eggs. They only have the crappy little ones left over in the UFO (Union Food Outlet) now, but they’re good enough, and cheap because it’s so long after Easter.

 Forget creme eggs, caramel eggs are the bomb.
(Images from http://www.britishcornershop.co.uk and wikipedia)

So I thought I’d post some screenshots from my incredibly productive, two-day The Sims 2 Double Deluxe binge.

My first project was, of course, my dream house. Sims wasn’t as good a program for realising my design as I’d hoped. It’s very restrictive, actually, and I had to make a lot of compromises to fit it into the framework, especially in terms of elevation and colour and the style of specific things. It hasn't helped me visualise what the house would look like in real life very much at all, really, it's just restricted my imagining to the terms of the game world. But it was fun to do, and the basic layout of the home itself, while exaggeratedly palatial, is generally accurate.  It was inspired by the central courtyards of the Roman-style villa and my love of stone homes, although the real thing would be built of prettier stone than that available in the game. Also, even though I spent a looooong time furnishing the house, there’s no furnishing in the pictures below because of an unfortunate technical error I made. But you get the idea:

It's basically, as you can see, a large courtyard surrounded on three sides by a U-shaped structure which is, in places, two storeys. This shot is oriented from the building's rear where, I imagine, the main view would be situated. You can see in the front my attempts to make it look like it sits on a hill, and the ring of a stone wall. The entire right side of the structure is two storeys, with a sunken lounge room, a bathroom, laundry, kitchen and sunken dining room running the length of the lower floor, and an outdoor dining balcony, children's bedrooms and second living space above. On the left side, only the front-most end of the wing is two-storey, with a study and library on the bottom floor featuring a staircase that provides the only access to the second-story master bedroom. Yes, I spent a lot of time on this haha.

A view of the sunken study and the staircase leading to the master bedroom. The colonnaded walkway beyond bridges a small stream leading from the pond in the courtyard to the swimming pool and supports an overhead a balcony, while leading to the opposite wing of the building.

The windows of the right wing of the house. Bottom windows show the split-level dining room with double-height ceiling, and the top ones show the upstairs second living space.

Looking from the outdoor dining area balcony across the courtyard towards the isolated master bedroom.

After employing all the cheats and exhausting unfathomable funds in the pursuit of my Villa de Lucania, I was feeling excessive, and wanted to play the game honestly, without cheats. I wanted to get back to basics and build a cheap little shack and earn money by getting a job for my Sims. But when I tried to think of the most simple design possible, and perhaps this is a little bit of subconscious homesickness, the only thing that came to mind was ‘The Farm’, the one-room bungalow on a south coast property where my group of friends and I would annually celebrate one of our number's birthday during the school holidays at about this time of year, four years running. So I set about constructing that. Once again, concessions had to be made, but I think it's surprisingly accurate:

Of course, the logical extension of building this structure was to habitate it with Sims versions of my group of friends, which I created with great enjoyment:

Charlene and I talking on the lounge while Kennedy's dad Michael, who I included because the game doesn't allow you to have teenaged Sims living on their own, and who, in reality, accompanied us to the farm the first couple of years to very goodnaturedly clean up after us and cook for us, does the dishes.

Charlene still on the lounge and Alexandra lazing on the bed in the distance (somewhat unrealistically, because she was always the one attempting to enervate us). I had to make do with single beds because the game doesn't have bunks, and the pink shelves of bowling balls on the right represent the shelves which, in reality, house quad-bike helmets.

Ken, Brad and Alice lazing on the outside deck, a pair of old newspapers representing the stacks of seventies and eighties magazines to be found under the coffee table.

I found playing these effigies of my (in at least one case, former) friends hilarious for about five minutes until I realised that playing with seven Sims was untenable and, when Alice kept going around giving ‘family kisses’ to everyone, that playing it out might in fact be a bit creepy. So I decided to recreate some iconic farm moments and be done with it:

Here's a closer look at the simulated group; from left to right: Brad, me, Ken, Charlene, Alexandra, Michael and Alice.

Real farm memory: Brad going psycho and running around crazily one morning when we went for a walk, and looking like a midget in this picture.


Real farm memory: Alexandra warming herself in front of the fire.


Real farm memory: Alice crashing out on the lounge.


And a re-creation of a farm memory we sadly don't have a real photo of: me standing 'in' the shower to stop Alexandra being scared while she goes to the toilet in the outhouse at night.

So my attempt to get back to basics failed, and I tried again this time just buying a pre-made house and creating a single cool dude character. I played basically for a while but then got bored and cheated and renovated his house into a Modernist bachelor pad. What do you think of it?:
View down the open-plan kitchen-dining space with bar on the left and dual feature-wall.

Lounge room paying homage to the character's slovenly beginnings with student-style wall hangings and bookshelf (which isn't actually meant to be outside the room) alongside Modernist furniture, high-tech electronics and the red feature-wall.

Cutaway view of minimalist bedroom.

And here's just an in-game shot of my Sim, his girlfriend, friend, and gay love interest dancing 'the Smustle', a hilarious dance. Strangely, you can select hair-colour, body-type, and even olfactory preferences and turn-ons for your Sim, but you can't select a sexual preference ... I suppose it's some kind of pansexual statement.

But enough of computer games and TV shows now, or you’ll think that’s all I do over here. To be honest, I’ve been doing a lot of it lately, but only because this is our last stretch of downtime in Norwich before travelling for two months straight, so we needed a little lazing. Like I said, I'm largely over The Sims already, but I daresay it'll be handy for our impending twenty-five hour bus trip to Prague!

In other news, I have a haircut. When I was like sixteen, I got a haircut that became known as the Missy Higgins haircut for obvious reasons. In my first year of uni, Jess Cooper told me I had hair like Jared Padalecki, of Supernatural fame. Later, at nineteen, I was interviewed for an internship at Hachette Children's Books because I had Zac Efron hair in the photo I included with my resumé, and Theresa Bray has undying love for the Zefron. Well now there's a new chapter in my book of capillary celebrity. Tilly thinks I have a Justin Bieber haircut. I don’t quite agree, but see what you think:

Bieber-esque at most, I'd say.

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