The British electrical plug. A design classic you either ignore, or ridicule depending on where you’re from.

Apple British plug design
The new plug packaged with the Apple Watch in the UK.

Foreign visitors have been known to query the design of the British electrical plug which, compared with that of most countries, seems quite large and – if you accidentally step on one – rather painful.

Well once it’s plugged in it’s not that large at all, and far less easy to accidentally kick out of the socket. You don’t get the sparking and whiff of ozone you do in other countries because the electricity doesn’t start flowing until all contacts are safely behind plastic. And newer designs are a lot slimmer than they used to be. Apple’s patented design (pictured above) has prongs that fold away like synchronised swimmers, a solution so elegant you wonder why no one came up with it before. I hope they make it free to others to use…

But aesthetics aside, there are other reasons why the British plug is so good: it is very, very safe. Tom Scott explains why:

Worktown: The Astonishing Story of the Project that launched Mass Observation, by David Hall

Book cover

An interesting review of Worktown in The Guardian, the beginning of the Mass Observation project in inter-war Britain.

You do not learn about birds by interviewing them, he insisted: you watch them, as closely as you can and without trying to guess in advance what the results might be. As for birds, so for the proletariat. Harrisson duly took himself off to the slums of Bolton – usually known as “Worktown” in MO documents – rented a cheap terrace house and summoned dozens of idealistic young men (a few women came later) to go people-watching. It is mainly Harrisson’s enterprise that David Hall portrays in this highly readable, anecdote-rich history.

Read the full review here

Eureka! UK home to 20% of creative workers in EU, study shows

Nesta Logo

Britain can claim 1 million more creative workers than France, and has more than a fifth of the creative staff in the EU, research shows. But the UK lags behind Sweden, which has won the accolade as the European economy with the highest proportion of creative workers. The report by Nesta, an independent thinktank, shows that Britain has succeeded more than most countries in the EU in developing a creative workforce. These jobs are not just in hi-tech firms or the arts, but cover advertising and marketing, the media, architecture and the design industries

Read the full story here

The other KKK: how the Kindred of the Kibbo Kift tried to craft a new world

Each member was an artwork: living propaganda. None of their paraphernalia was shop-bought. The handicrafts aspect of the Kindred of the Kibbo Kift (kinsmen and kinswomen were supposed to make their own clothes, their own staffs, and their own tents) went hand in hand with the determination to shun many aspects of the modern civilisation that Hargrave called “civil death”. Victorian capitalism had been smashed on the fields of Flanders. Attempts to revive it would only “destroy the human race outright”.

Read the full story here

Britain on film: thousands of pieces of archive footage go online for first time

Anyone who thought the Edwardians stuffy and polite will be relieved to hear researchers found at least four examples of young boys giving the camera V-signs. There are very serious subjects with unexpected humour. The 1970s mother who lives in one of Britain’s worse slums, in Birmingham’s Balsall Heath, being interviewed holding her baby cheerfully playing with a screwdriver in one hand and plug in the other. Many of the films are bewildering to 21st century eyes; for example, a 1967 film called Paper Fashion declaring you can get almost anything in paper – paper shoes, dresses, bikinis, bedsheets, jewellery, plates, cups, underwear – and what a great thing that is. When you’ve used it, just throw it away! The film concludes reassuringly with paper dresses: “As long as the untreated inflammable ones don’t end up in smoke they should end up with the 218,000 tonnes of household tissue alone which was added to our waste heaps last year.”

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In the line of duty: how the British followed fashion during the second world war

Back of a printed rayon dress from Fashion on the Ration, an exhibition at the Imperial War Museum.

I’ve often wondered what “normal” life was like during the war. There was still crime, people still went to work, fell in love, died of natural causes, and worried about fashion.

The women’s auxiliary services were shameless in using clothes to catch recruits. Women’s Royal Naval Service (WRNS) officers were generally reckoned to have the nicest uniform: a stylish navy suit with a generously box-pleated skirt (no skimping on the fabric here), brass buttons and – a huge source of envy – coupons for good-quality black stockings.

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How Kids Company feeds Britain’s hungry children

Kids Company is a rare children’s charity in that the people it feeds and looks after are self-referring. Children come to them by themselves, and later they bring others who are also in need. “Between 2011 and 2012 we saw a 233% increase in these self-referrals,” Guinness says. As a result they launched the Plate Pledge, a fundraising drive built around the £2 cost of a meal. While they get some funding from central government they get none from the boroughs of Lambeth or Southwark whose kids they look after, and still have to raise more than £24m a year to keep services running. The Plate Pledge has meant they have been able to serve another half a million meals.

Read the full story here