It's not every day you cross a windswept patch of Manchester Astroturf to find an encampment of caravans packed with enough high tech gear to give Google Maps a run for its money. Or one that offers you free beers. Or one that'll mix you up something to sprinkle over your paella. But hey, it's always good to get in out of the rain.
Mobile Republic : Digital Caravans was part of the Abandon Normal Devices festival in Manchester at the end of August, and formed an entertaining little diversion to city life by inviting the public into a series of caravans that 'explored the possibilities of the digital future' – or, if you like, mucked around with cool stuff. But in an entertaining way. First stop was Hellicar and Lewis, offering 'blue screen karaoke' tweeted live over the web, so that my rendition of House of the Rising Sun appeared to be taking place somewhere west of Neptune. Nothing could improve my karaoke, but at least it was a distraction. The Boarder Bumping caravan made a gigantic live map of mobile phone blind spots across the world, which was interesting to watch but possibly a lot more interesting, you couldn't help feeling, to financial fraudsters and international criminals.
Most memorable of all was the Spice Mix Supercomputer, an entertaining bit of pantomime where, for a quid, you could use a punch-card to select a concoction of rare spices, have them mixed up for you by the 'computer', then down the lot in a glass of refreshing home-made lemonade. I'd sort of expected a friendly bleeping machine of the kind you get in sixties sci-fi, but instead my card disappeared suspiciously round the back where I suspected the high tech 'computations' were being executed by a festival volunteer crouching unceremoniously in the grass. And probably shivering and cursing in the drizzle. Still, you could take the spices home with you, so who am I to complain? It livened up my paella no end. Entertaining stuff.