It all started with a slightly skewed phrase that popped into my head one day for no reason… ‘A leopard never changes his spats’. This conjured a comical image of a dapper feline with an immaculate top hat and cane but inexplicably dirty footwear. A children’s illustrator could have a field day, I thought.

Building on the theme, I racked my brain for more well-known sayings, and made a rule for myself… each idiom could only be changed by a single letter. And then I came up with a title that explained the concept by almost acting it out — ‘From Idioms to Idiots — How One Letter Can Make All The Difference’.
Eventually I had a long-list of around 50 ‘idiom/ts’, many of which had a pleasingly surreal quality to them. They conveyed a kind of twisted reality, where the familiar had been subverted and the original meaning completely undermined. Animals seemed to feature prominently, along with baked goods. I found it amazing how changing a single letter could create such a mighty effect, and it got me thinking about the potentially catastrophic (or unintentionally humorous) effect of mis-spellings in my everyday work. I suppose I had it in the back of my mind that one day these ‘idiom/ts’ might become a small, beautifully designed book, but then the daily grind took over, and I thought little more about it.

Until Mark Pailing, Creative Director of Bostock & Pollitt, briefed me to come up with some ad headline ideas for a financial services company. Its name was an acronym of three letters, so among several routes, I suggested a series of ‘messed up proverbs’, with the sign-off line ‘A few letters make all the difference’. I also confessed that this was based on my ‘idiom/ts’ concept, and somewhat cheekily asked if Bostock & Pollitt would be interested in helping to take it further. As it turned out, they were.

Mark suggested a calendar rather than a book might be the way to go. He’d read somewhere that paper wall calendar sales were (perhaps surprisingly) massively on the up, and this would give us a more structured format and deadline to work with.

He also suggested that each ‘idiot’ should somehow be relevant to the month it represented, and that I wrote a small, quirky related story for each month to tie everything together. So for instance, the story for August/’In the bap of the gods’, concerns a survey published in August revealing egg mayo as the UK’s favourite sandwich filling. October/‘Everything but the kitchen sank’ was about the Great Beer Flood of London in October 1814, and so on.

Mark duly briefed the B&P designers, and a few weeks later, they came back with a series of wonderfully strange, striking images to illustrate each month’s idiom/ts, as well as a really great, functional calendar. The build up to Christmas was pretty full on for all of us, so production went down to the wire, but we made it to mail-out day with a day or so to spare.

Many thanks to Murray Arbiter of print buyers Arbiter Drucken for the fantastic print production on the calendar.

And Happy New Year to one and all — may the moths ahead be kind to us all.

photos © 2014 Lukje Davies

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