RetroProgressive – Christmas kitsch?

I’m simultaneously horrified, intrigued and amused by the burgeoning number of gaudy Christmas light displays in Britain – a trend which, surely, must have originated in America?

The less accessible the location, the more rampant the urge to decorate seems to be. The season of goodwill becomes something of a battle competition between neighbours to produce the most sensational lighting effect.

By far the biggest outcrop of Christmas lights I’ve seen is in Cornwall, where whole villages are festooned with coloured lanterns – and individual houses sport all manner of Santas with trademark trappings – reindeer, sleighs, giant bells and the like.

Anyway, in view of this column’s retro telephone box logo, I felt it only appropriate to share some photographs from last Christmas with you. Driving through a deserted Cornish village almost exactly a year ago, I spotted Santa on a unicycle, incongruously perched atop a now defunct old telephone box.

Inside was a rather bemused looking fellow wearing an LED noose.

And lying in the road was a curious disembodied hand.

One year on, and I’m still not quite sure what to make of this: Who created the strangely surreal sculpture – and what is its significance, if any?

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About Author Profile: Susan Muncey

Trend consultant Susan Muncey, is Editor of Visuology Magazine. In 2008, she founded online curiosity shop, She writes on style and trends for several blogs, including, and The Dabbler. She previously owned cult West London boutique, Fashion Gallery, one of the first concept stores in the world. Susan graduated in geography from Cambridge University and is also an Associate Member of the CFA Institute. She lives in London with her husband.

9 thoughts on “RetroProgressive – Christmas kitsch?

    December 18, 2010 at 09:52

    A well timed post Susan, old telephone boxes are the new Banksy.
    As for the Xmas decs, joining in with the BBC and C4 news blame game, lets look for culprits, scapegoats, perpetrators, the guilty ones. We could blame Woolworths but they have gone to that great high street in the sky. Argos are next in line but who amongst us admits shopping there, Poundstretcher ditto. Santa possibly but rumour has it….
    It could be the internet shopping mall, last resort of the tacky naffsters, one in every street requiring 15% of the National grids output. the display showing up on Google Earth and NASA World wind.

    However, as we all know it’s that Mr Julian shagaSwede Assange, it couldn’t possibly be anyone else, beloved by the newscasters practising their French accents and friend of the famous, it’s him I tell you, him!

    Toby Ash
    December 18, 2010 at 11:14

    Yes, Christmas lights are a big thing down here in the far west of Cornwall. There is a huge competitive spirit (some would say hate) between villages, so as soon as one puts on a display another reckons they can do better and the whole thing escalates. Hats off to the fishing village of Mousehole who do a wonderful display each year, carefully thought out and including lights on boats in the harbour and on the hillside above the village. The worst I have seen so far are in Angarrack – a visual shocker of B&Q santas and reindeers. They also have the cheek to knock on your car window and ask for a donation towards towards the whole hellish kitsch fest, so everyone is driving through there at top speed at the moment.

    December 18, 2010 at 15:25

    Malty, then new Banksy must be Nick Relph who was sponsored by none other than Cartier to tart up an old phone box and call it a Donation box – all proceeds (as well as the box) to go to the Tate to ‘increase public knowledge, understanding and enjoyment of British, modern and contemporary art.’

    Meantime, the phone booth (though not as we know it) has been ‘reinvented for today’s needs’: Pearson Lloyd have designed an
    ‘architectonic device for forming and gently directing communication and the flow of people’
    aka a partially enclosed area where poeple can conduct their calls without being overheard.

    Thanks for your contribution malty – as brilliantly mad as ever. And Christmas greetings to you in Cornwall, Toby. As for the corns, can you believe that someone has actually made a 10 minute long video of the Christmas lights in St Austell?! Sadder still, is that I am one of only 7 people to have watched it. Anyway, I think the pictures above were taken in, or around, the wonderfully named village of Bugle. I was obviously driving too slowly…

    December 18, 2010 at 15:42

    PS The pace of the progressive digital age is obviously getting to me, as I have called Santa’s cycle a ‘unicycle’ when, of course, it’s a ‘penny farthing.’ So much more characterful (and easier to ride too..)

  5. Gaw
    December 18, 2010 at 16:17

    Simply bonkers pictures, Susan. Thankfully, they speak for themselves – words are certainly not up to the job.

    Toby, are you sure these Cornish village lights aren’t descended from an ancient Celtic tradition which marked the winter solstice by burning torches and braziers and hanging up red-cloaked wicker men? It’s probably an aspect of their distinctive national culture.

    December 18, 2010 at 18:04

    I grew up just up the road from bugle! Lucky me! I know a couple of Cornish families who have old phone boxes set up as outside showers in their yards as they make a great place to clean off one’s wetsuit when you’ve returned from a surf session

    December 18, 2010 at 20:17

    Is this what’s known as ‘folk art’, do you think?

    December 18, 2010 at 21:19

    Worm, surely one should have a serf with Surf for cleaning wetsuits after surfing?

    I know everyone is doing folk art these days, Brit – but this isn’t just folk art it’s authentic Cornish folk art. Shortly only available to those able to afford a tank of petrol, plus an oligarchic hotel bill. Mass produced folk art, oops – exclusively available to everyone, can be found at John Lewis via South Africa via the Congo…

    December 19, 2010 at 17:37

    PPS Thanks to Helen Derici, who via ShopCurious’ page at Facebook has supplied the location of this curious telephone box: “It’s in Cornwall and it’s just outside a village called Penwithick in a smaller village (a couple of houses!) called Carthew and it’s very near the turn-off to The Eden Project. Bugle is fairly near to these places.”

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