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[July 27, 2014]
G2: The weekend's TV The inventor who built a beer cannon out of a toilet-brush holder: AND ANOTHER THING
(Guardian (UK) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Tom Lawton is an inventor, and a father. He has already fathered two children - Barney and Rufus. And he has already invented a few inventions, like a recordable alarm clock, a 360-degree lens for a smartphone camera, and honking handlebars ("handlebars that honk", he explains) for a child's scooter.
Now he's inventing a boat. Well, boats have been invented obviously. He gets that. But then he's making some modifications, turning it into a houseboat/floating experimental test bed . . . I'm not sure what the hell it is, to be honest. Tom's head, turned inside out, floating on the water, something like that? They're calling it Tom's Fantastic Floating Home (Sunday, Channel 4).
Barney, six, is helping, as he does with a lot of Tom's projects. "Barney's got such a different perspective on things," says his father, proudly.
"It's such a wonderful perspective to welcome into your world." Perspective is one of Tom's favourite things, I'd say, judging by how often he mentions it. "Sometimes it's just nice to change your situation so that you can see you life in a different perspective." First thing is to sort out some security. What, put a padlock on the door, something like that? Pah! That's not the way Tom and Barney do things. "I love the idea of being able to capture an all-seeing, kind of like out-of-body perspective of where you live," says Tom, somewhat predictably. So security is going to be a helium balloon, with a 360-degree spy camera that looks down from above. CCTV, where CC stands for Cloud Cuckoo."The perspective would be amazing," says Tom.
"It flies in the face of your usual home-security device, but just how to get this idea off the ground," says the narrator, about Tom's pie-in-the-sky eye-in-the-sky idea. He's puntastic to and beyond the point of irritation, this narrator. Landlubber Tom was "well out of his depth" when it came to boats, needed "someone with practical nous to float his ideas past". Shut up! That person, with nous, is Tom's engineer pal Hadrian, who generally finds Tom's ideas a bit off-the-wall. Ha! You missed one there, Mr Narrator. Hadrian is called Hadrian Spooner by the way. Or is it Spadrian Hooner . . . Agh! Anyway, Tom and young Barney build a prototype security system - one of Barney's teddy bears attached to a couple of helium balloons. And they immediately lose teddy, to the sky. Tethering seems to have been overlooked. Undeterred, they send a camera and a photo of themselves to the edge of space with the help of a man who has a meteorological balloon. I'm not sure what it has to do with security, but they have a lovely time doing it and chasing the balloon - and it almost certainly provides new perspectives. Oh, and then the final completed version, Balloon Cam 3.0, becomes untethered from the boat, and floats away too. Suddenly my padlock's beginning to look quite smart, if a little boring. I'm wondering if Tom's inability to tie things down is in any way symptomatic of wider aspects of his character. Mrs Lawton looks like she knows. It must be hard having a baby and (essentially) two six-year-olds, one of whom is actually six and the other she is married to.
To hell with security. Shelter is important too. They build a retractable roof structure for their boat, inspired by an armadillo, and by an amazing sliding house in Suffolk, and by a drawing Barney did of a house with chairs on the roof. Inside-outside, that's what they're thinking - living inside-outside the house, or the boat, thinking inside-outside the box, turning Tom's head inside-outside and floating away in it. And they end up with this big gold tent, maybe a little bit like armadillo, or an ammonite, but also like something Jennifer Lopez might wear on a cold day. I'd like to see what happens when the breeze gets up; I'm thinking it could end up with the security system, and the teddy bear, in the sky.
They build a beer cannon out of a toilet-brush holder, because who wants a beer that doesn't explode when you open it? And a self-contained hydroponic garden, complete with goldfish, that could be quite clever if it works.
I think I'm now less clear about what Tom and Barney are actually doing than I was at the beginning. I suspect they may be too. It doesn't really matter; they're having a nice time doing it, whatever it is. And, despite the annoying voiceover, I'm having a nice time watching too.
If you're at Camp Bestival this coming weekend, come to my World Famous TV Quiz, at the Guardian literary tent, 6.30pm, Saturday Captions: Hadrian, Barney and Tom in Tom's Fantastic Floating Home (c) 2014 Guardian Newspapers Limited.
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