City as Material: Norwich

Tim Wright joined Giles and I for our second City As Material outside of London on Tuesday, as we took a trip to Norwich, where Tim spent his early years.

The train from London seemed distinctly commuter-free compared to our journey to Bristol, with only a handful of people in our carriage. We bagged table seats, and sat down to some much needed coffee, battling against the dreary weather outside. Mucky, sepia-tinted windows gave the landscape outside a grainy, nostalgic vibe, the perfect accompaniment to tales of Tim’s childhood in Norwich.

Arriving there, after setting up the GPS tracker and sound recorder Tim had brought, we walked down the main stretch of tacky nightclubs and kebab joints, possibly not the best introduction to the city. However, we soon spied Norwich castle, a curious structure, almost too uniform and perfect considering it dates from the 11th century. Tim said it looked like a fairy-tale castle, a manifestation of the first thing you’d see when you heard the word “castle”. Next to it, a space-age cylindrical lift ferried visitors to and from the lower levels – a bizarre combination.

We descended to the city centre, passing the market, towards Elm Hill, a historic cobbled lane with houses and shops dating from the Tudor period. This amazing street is home to the Strangers Club, set up to entertain those from outside Norwich, and where Tim’s father regularly took him to lunch. I couldn’t resist a peek through a lofty window, and was greeted with the sight of a woman carrying flagons from the kitchen, hastily ducking before she noticed. Further up, the window of an antique and curiosity shop in a side court displayed Crowley-esque goat horns and all manner of surreal exhibits.

After passing through the beautiful cathedral and it’s ornate cloisters (and a hilarious sign outside which read “We apologise for the untidy appearance of these ruins”), we popped into the Writer’s Centre, recruiting Chris Gribble briefly as our tour guide. He mentioned that Norwich was barely affected by the industrial revolution, apparent in the structures pre-dating it which are so common. We cut through the shopping centre, past the cinema where Tim first saw Star Wars, and arrived by a huge derelict building adorned with a giant graffiti mural; originally zoned for development, but now a victim of the property crash. A dystopian counterpart to the medieval niches of the city.

Before departing, Chris recommended The Window, the “world’s smallest coffee shop” (appropriately next to the “UK’s best pizza and kebab” shop – a dubious claim). After lunch in the refreshingly different Cinema City dining rooms (housed in a building where parts date back the the 14th century, yet the courtyard is sheltered by a modern glass roof), we stopped by. It resembles a tiny kitchen, with only a small bench and a chair or two to perch on, but has a great atmosphere. We chatted with the owner and several locals, and left with the after-glow of a dynamic and friendly venture trailing behind. Tim’s previous statement that nothing much had changed since he left, and that the pulse of the city was definitely on the slow side, had a small, yet charming, contender.

All day we had noticed plaques underneath various street signs, some with slightly vague origins; the phrases “may have been named because” and “could be” were used an awful lot. Paired with peculiar names, such as “Rampant Horse Street” and “Tombland”, these gave us the idea of perhaps creating some Storycubes with street-sign images, and fictional explanations on the other side, which could be fun. We were also interested in using GPS data and sound recordings from the day for an eBook output, particularly Tim’s childhood memories, and the peaks and lulls in conversations when passing through certain areas, so that we could contrast the physical experiences with raw data, examining the correlations and disparities. We’ll be starting work on those soon, so keep an eye out on Diffusion.

View our photos from the day on the City As Material Flickr page.


City As Material: Bristol

Yesterday, Giles and I took a trip to Bristol to meet Andrew Hunter from Dodolab, for our first City As Material event outside of London.

Rising early to jostle with commuters, gazing out the windows as London slipped away, we found ourselves wishing the grey clouds starting to form would soon depart. Giles recounted some of Bristol’s trading history as a major seaport – first cloth and food, then tobacco and plantation goods, and most recently motor vehicles and other industrial goods.  The diverse influences these commodities have had, and the industries that grew from them, were apparent as soon as we stepped out from Bristol Temple Meads station. Classical architecture nestles alongside warehouses and work yards, the skyline an eclectic mix with multiple layers and contrasting shapes. We headed towards the city centre, past absurdly named company headquarters and a block of ultra-modern flats being developed, the new exterior half grafted on to a former electrical station. Deeper in, the surroundings became rundown and slightly seedy, with plenty of covertly named “massage” parlours. The intensifying rain only added to a faint sense of melancholy. This was soon replaced by the overwhelming juxtaposition of Broadmead shopping centre, its multitude of intersecting walkways and floors giving off a definite M.C Escher vibe.

Andrew met us outside a great little cafe in Stokes Croft,  Zazu’s Kitchen, which we soon entrenched ourselves in and planned our next steps. He was interested in exploring Harbourside and the water, having already spent some time in Stokes Croft, a burgeoning counter culture hub, and an area with complex issues commonly cross-examined.

Along the river we passed some quirky houseboats and a cafe named after Brunel – a name with plenty of homages in this city. The tranquil water, with the cultural and community identity of the people who live and work on it, was a marked contrast from our first footsteps into Bristol. We worked our way towards the Clifton suspension bridge, past crumbling piers, their supports stuck firm in glossy silt, and amazing houses that resembled Spanish villas, ornate features at odds with the hectic road on their doorsteps. Clifton Rocks Railway, a former underground train system set into the cliffs, peeked out from behind bricked up windows and sheer walls.

We clambered up a steep path cutting into the cliffs, through a temporary haven of greenery sheltering the first bees of spring – pleasantly disorientating after the industrial harbour. Exhausted, we arrived by the Clifton bridge, and were rewarded with a staggering view of all we had just passed through. Giles pondered the design of the towers, looking almost Egyptian rather than Victorian. The banal toll houses seemed out of place as well, a mix between a bungalow and a bus shelter. After discovering the observatory nearby was closed, Andrew passed a fitting summary of our experience in the city: “Visiting Bristol is hard a get a grasp on. You get little peeks of contrasting areas and senses, and when you finally get to the top and get a chance to put it all together, you’re denied.” Our take on Bristol is as seen by the curious tourist, perhaps one that benefits from only glimpsing portions of it. After all, whats left to do and wonder after putting the puzzle together?

We’re currently brewing ideas for the publication. Look out for it soon.

Take a peek at the City As Material: Bristol photos here.


Pitch Up & Publish 2011 – Book a place now

Giles posted about our upcoming Pitch Up & Publish workshops for 2011 last week – we’ve just confirmed the dates, and the Eventbrite page is now live. The sessions are taking place on:

Tuesday 22nd March 2011, 12.00 pm – 2.00 pm

Tuesday 12th April 2011, 12.00 pm – 2.00 pm

Tuesday 26th April 2011, 12.00 pm – 2.00 pm


Proboscis Studio
4th Floor 101 Turnmill Street
EC1M 5QP London
United Kingdom

Event Details

A series of workshops to help you make the most of bookleteer : guiding you from concept to publication and beyond. The 2 hour workshops will be held at our studio every 2-3 weeks and will have a maximum of 6 places. We will help beginners get started and offer more advanced users a collaborative space in which to explore new uses and ideas, sharing our knowledge and experiences.

The sessions will cover everything from basic level introduction to specific topics – such as designing project notebooks, embedding multimedia links via QR codes and preparing books for printing via our Short Run Printing Service. We also plan to run specific themed workshops to share our experiences and methods of using bookleteer to work with kids in schools, with community groups and in other more specialist settings.

Participants will become Alpha Club members, getting early access to new and exclusive features (such as the bookleteer API) as well as benefitting from discounts on Short Run Printing service and a free pack of medium size StoryCubes.

Book A Ticket

Tickets will cost £20 plus booking fee and are available from

View photos from previous Pitch Up & Publish sessions below, read about them here.





events pitch up & publish

Pitch Up & Publish 2011

We’re starting a new regular series of Pitch Up & Publish workshops to help people get started and make the most use out of bookleteer as possible : guiding them from concept to publication and beyond. The 2 hour workshops will be held at our studio, will have a maximum of around 6 places and will probably be held every 2-3 weeks.

We’d like to hear what sort of things you’d like help with: from basic level introduction to specific topics – such as designing project notebooks, embedding multimedia links via QR codes and preparing books for printing via our Short Run Printing Service. If there’s interest we can run specific workshops aimed at transferring our experiences of working with kids in schools to use bookleteer, or with other community groups.

Each workshop place will cost about £20 (UKP) and will include complimentary Alpha Club membership, discount on Short Run Printing Service orders and a free pack of new Medium size StoryCubes. You’ll be able to book places online via eventbrite.

We’d also like to hear whether people would prefer the sessions to be run during the day or evening – we may alternate if it helps more people take part.

Please contribute with your suggestions and requests – we’d like these sessions to be as useful and focused on your needs as possible. You can post comments here, or add them to the discussion on Facebook.


Observational sketches – Field report

The other week I mentioned an impromptu City As Material expedition with Mandy and Radhika, to Victoria and Waterloo stations. Despite it being FREEZING, we captured some interesting moments (fingers glove-bound) from the trip. I found just being still and observing whilst people whizzed about, quite relaxing, and it inspired a completely different way of seeing and thinking that is neglected when we’re commuting. It also a chance to watch people who were waiting for trains, their quirky mannerisms and subtle interactions with others becoming more apparent as time went by.

In the studio the day after, I assembled a quick eBook from Mandy’s sketches, Radhika’s photographs, and my writing. Designed to showcase a selection of the material created on the day, it’ll be hosted on Diffusion soon with our other efforts.

Tomorrow we’re journeying to the British Museum for more observations, comparing the contrasting locations and further developing what form these trips will take. I’ll probably be Tweeting some snippets of stuff as we’re doing it, so follow bookleteer on Twitter for a peek.


Guerilla City As Material

Tomorrow, myself and some of my fellow Probsocis team, Mandy and Radhika, will be venturing on a mini City As Material expedition, hopefully the first of many. We’re aiming to draw sketches and write observations of people and interactions in a variety of public places – places that shape, and are in turn shaped, by the people in them – almost People As Material, if you will. Rather than having a theme or any set ambitions, we’re just going to try and capture the essence of random people and actions, perhaps inventing some fictional narratives and backstories along the way, and see how this format might inspire future City As Material events. Tomorrow we’ll be scouting out a few busy rail stations – places that reveal an interesting insight of the human character when bored or stressed, which should be prime fodder for some amusing drawings and writing. We’ll probably create some eBooks with the results, once we’ve done a few of these, so keep posted.

events news

Commission a local City As Material event

Reflecting back on the 5 City As Material events of last Autumn, we’re really pleased both with the reception of the events themselves by participants and that of the resulting publications with friends and colleagues. Over the next few weeks we’ll be publishing the personal contributions of the guests (Tim Wright, Ben Eastop and Simon Pope – Alex Deschamps-Sonsino’s is already available) and an overview eBook of our own. And we will print a special limited slipcase edition of all 10 eBooks using bookleteer’s PPOD service and launch them in the Spring.

Future Plans in 2011
This year we hope to take our Pitch in & Publish series of City As Material events outside of London to other towns and cities in the UK (or abroad). We’d love to hear from people or organisations interested in commissioning us to devise and run a one-day (or possibly longer) collaborative urban exploration and publishing event in their own town or city.

A typical event…
We’ll work with the local hosts to devise a topic, plan the exploration route and design customised notebooks. At the end of each walk we’ll need a space (with WiFi access and ideally a printer) to sit down with the participants as a group and work on planning/drafting the collaborative eBook that will be the record of the day. As before we’ll be using a range of online and social media to post up photos, audio, video etc taken during each event by all taking part – and we’ll be encouraging all the participants to sign up with bookleteer to create their own personal eBooks (and/or StoryCubes).

How to book an event
Please get in touch with us to plan an event in your town or city. Our basic fee for each event (payable by the host) will be £600 + VAT and travel expenses (and accommodation where needed). This fee covers pre-planning, facilitation by 2 members of Proboscis on the day and post-event coordination of the collaborative eBook (+ publication on, as well as printing of a limited edition run (50 copies) of the eBook.
Local hosts will be responsible for recruiting the participants to each event. Proboscis will also help promote each event across our own networks to engage as broad a group of participants as possible.

education events publishing on demand

First day at Soho Parish Primary School

When I heard I was going to be working on creative projects that combine art and publishing with year 5 and 6’s in a primary school is Soho, I was definitely excited about working with children on a project that sounded different, creative, and fun (both for the kids and adults involved!) However, hearing that I’d be working in a school in Soho, I thought I may have mis-heard – I had no idea that there were any primary schools in Soho! The school itself is small Church of England primary school tucked away on a narrow street just a stone’s throw away from Piccadilly Circus. Going into the school I was greeted warmly by staff and noticed how colourful the corridors were – adorned with bright paintings by the children and proud reminders of previous work. Soho Parish definitely had a welcoming ‘family feel’ about it. Walking around the school and peeking into the small classrooms, it was obvious that Soho Parish had a positive learning atmosphere.

After I was introduced to some of the teachers, a class of year 5 children quietly walked into the classroom where Giles would talk to them about how bookleteer and eBooks worked, and also how this would tie into their current project, a project based on Antarctica and the effects global warming. The children were curious about who we were and what we had to say, and as Giles began to explain that we were going to help publish their school project by turning them into eBooks, some of the children shouted ‘yay!’ and everyone seemed to became even more interested. After Giles demonstrated how eBooks were made, the children were more than ready to get going and make their own.

We then began to upload the children’s work onto bookleteer, with the children standing close-by, often asking us about how bookleteer worked and what they thought about their Antarctica project. After a few near glitches with the schools computers, we began to finish uploading and naming the year 5 eBooks. Almost immediately after we waved the children goodbye, year 6’s entered the classroom with the same amount of wonder as to why me and Giles were standing at the front of the classroom. This time around, however, uploading the children’s eBooks was much faster and easier to do after having uploaded year 5’s eBooks moments before. Then came the task of printing off and making up the children’s eBooks – (a skill that Giles was clearly much faster than me at!) After proudly handing all 32 eBooks to the children’s teachers, Claudia and Matt, our work at Soho Parish was done for the day.

some of the 32 eBooks created by Years 5 & 6, Soho Parish Primary

Following our work with with the children (and lots of help from the staff!) Giles and I had lunch with the head teacher, Rachel Earnshaw, discussing possible projects and ideas for the new term ahead. After how promising my first day was at the school, I can confidently say that I am looking forward to going back to the school after the Christmas holiday and collaborating on other creative projects with the children – and also exploring bookleteer in a school setting.


City As Material: Sonic Geographies

Our final Pitch In & Publish: City As Material event, Sonic Geographies, was held last Friday. A shortage of participants (probably due to the icy weather and weekday timing) meant that myself and Giles were alone in our wander though London, resulting in a slightly different walk then usual. Equipped with Audioboo, we set off to record the different sound properties of the city, in a far more leisurely and exploratory mode then previous events.

We had decided that rather than strain to produce a typical eBook with original work and concepts, which would be limited under the circumstances, we would instead purely document the day’s trip and link to audio recordings made during it. After capturing some of the ambient and wildlife sounds in Hyde Park (mingled with the hum of construction work and a talking animatronic tree), we entered the bustle of Mayfair and Soho. Surprisingly, in this sprawl the sound landscape was remarkably similar, and sometimes indistinguishable, when we were in enclosed courtyards and winding alleys, the geography creating immersive sound bubbles. Lastly, we managed to record the faint notes of a church organ, in the undercroft of the chapel at Lincoln’s Inn.

Back at the studio we created the eBook, lifting the images and GPS located maps of the recordings from Audioboo, and using a QR code to easily link to the relevant page. For the last few pages, we used images from “The Cries Of London” and “The Beggar’s Opera” playing cards sets, then a page consisting purely of a visualisation of white noise, to illustrate the change of the sound landscape in recent years – the cries of market traders promoting their wares has given way to a homogenised hubbub of engines and vehicles.

You can listen to the recordings made on Audioboo, and download the Sonic Geographies eBook on Diffusion here. Keep track of the discussion online with the #cityasmaterial hash tag on Twitter.


City As Material: Underside

Our fourth Pitch In & Publish: City As Material event was held last Friday, around the theme of “Underside”. Participating was our special guest, Alexandra Deschamps – Sonsino, alongside Giles Lane, Mandy Tang, Radhika Patel and myself. We met at Poppies Diner in Whitechapel, a cafe decked out in Americana, quotes from Hollywood films adorning the walls (though some a bit off the mark) and the most glamorous of culinary staples …. fried chicken and builders tea. This caff / diner hybrid proved a fitting start for Underside, a theme more ambiguous than our previous events.

Alexandra had suggested visiting the 4D Model Shop round the corner, to pick up some materials to work with along the walk. After acquiring  some unusual knick knacks, including miniature models of Barack Obama and the first lady, and a polystyrene egg (clearly novelty triumphs over practicality every time), we set off.

We were particularly interested in hidden flows in the city, and the alternative uses of the networks that these travel within. Alexandra speculated over what would become of BT’s phone lines in the future, once technology had outgrown their capability. Giles explained the history behind manhole and coal covers, and the abandoned infrastructures London rests upon. Our walk took us through side streets some of us had never traveled through, and the slow pace highlighted quirky features dotted around the city that are ignored in frantic daily routines.

During lunch, we fiddled around with our bounty from 4D, and after Alexandra experimented with using different props she had made against the backdrop of the Barbican, a place containing vast expanses, though also riddled with unusual nooks and crannies.

Once at the studio, we started to form the eBook, sketching the layout and deciding how the materials we had gathered during the day could work within our theme. We are in the process of creating it, so look out for the Underside eBook on Diffusion soon, and keep track of the discussion online with the #cityasmaterial hash tag on Twitter. You can view all our photos from the event on the City As Material Flickr page.

Our final Pitch In & Publish: City As Material event, “Sonic Geographies” is on the 10th of December. Book a place here.