Wednesday 2 March 2022

The Mobile Phone Challenge

Recently my great friend, the photographer Mark Page, set me a challenge. He helps to run a fantastic enterprise called Wycombe Food Hub. Volunteers visit all of the local supermarkets in and around High Wycombe every evening to collect residual food - by this I mean food they will no longer put on sale. This could be because of damaged packaging or because the product is nearing its sell-by date or because it's old stock and new stock is incoming. Sometimes it's due to over-ordering - just after Christmas recently, the stores handed over a staggering 320 unsold frozen turkeys to the Food Hub. 

The volunteers also visit local food outlets and restaurants, farms and farm shops. All of this residual food is then brought back to the Hub, checked, and then put out for sale at vastly reduced prices.
This is not a food bank. Food banks are for the desperately poor in society and you have to be referred via the local authority. The Food Hub is different because anyone can shop there. Its primary purpose is to prevent food waste. However, there are plenty of working people who, with the rising cost of living, are finding things tough. A visit to the Hub can save them quite a few quid as all they charge is £3 to fill a handbasket. It means that people can retain their dignity without having to ask for handouts. That said, if people have no money at all - such as the homeless - the Hub will give food for free. And none of this costs the taxpayer a single penny.

The Hub also supports local homeless charities, and any food that goes past its use-by date is donated to farms as animal feed. Incredibly, the Hub currently prevents five tons of perfectly good food going to landfill every month. Isn't that staggering?

Anyway, Mark set me a challenge. In moving the Hub into an empty shop unit, he had the task of disposing of hundreds of obsolete phone cases left by the precious occupier. None of these cases has a re-sale value - they are all for phones that no one has any more, like early model iPhones and Blackberries. So Mark bagged them up - and it was a very big mail bag - and gave them to me, saying 'Do something creative with that lot!'
He knows how much I enjoy a challenge like that! 

I was immediately struck by the fact that many of the phone cases were covered in fake rhinestones that looked like scales. The many replacement keypads also reminded me of scales. So, using a few bottle caps and the neck of a bleach spray I made a tail. A dragon maybe? A crocodile? However, I soon realised that it looked more invertebrate than reptile. It was at this point that I decided to make a scorpion. I had a rummage in my junk boxes and found some pieces left over from old printer cartridges. Adding them to some Blackberry carcases, I had the start of a pair of claws.
I then used my hot wire tool to cut and shape a block of polystyrene to act as the main body for the scorpion. I attached the tail and began cladding it in phone cases - using heat to bend them into the shapes I wanted. I added lots of keypads, plus any other small greebly junk pieces I had to hand. Usefully, most of the keypads were backed by a kind of rubber layer that made them flexible enough to wrap around curves. I then used parts of two bleach spray triggers as jaws (pardon the messy hot glue strings - they get removed later!).
Okay, so I then realised that the claws were going to be too big (one is half-finished in the photo). So, instead, I cut down the larger claw to match the smaller one. Trashbuilding means constant problem solving and occasional changes in direction. There's rarely a plan.

The arms were easy. Back during the first lockdown I made a sculpture of a robotic businessman (see here). Unfortunately it suffered a catastrophic tumble off a table at an art exhibition but I kept all of the parts for re-use. The arms were perfect for the scorpion and were, therefore, recycled from previously recycled materials. A third life for them! I added some plasticard panels and added loads of greeblies - mostly old wires, googly eyes and pieces of phone keypad and attached the claws. I now had the arms done.
Now came the issue of legs. And a nasty surprise. I know that scorpions are arachnids - like spiders and ticks - and therefore have eight legs. But, for some reason, I'd assumed that the 'arms' were two of those legs. Not so, however (I also didn't know that a scorpion's anus is at the end of its tail by the stinger - every day is a school day!). So, I had to make eight legs instead of six. Grrr. Anyway, here's the leg assembly being built using phone parts, plastic cutlery, plastic beads, some laser cut cogs left over from another project and various pieces from my junk boxes.

Then the final elements to be added were the eyes (small nylon bearings) and the sting which, as a tribute to the scorpion's phone-related origins, I made by sculpting a model of a 1980s mobile from balsa wood. It seemed like the right thing to do.

Finally, out came the rattle can and I sprayed it with a black primer. 

Then it was drybrushed to bring out the highlights and I added a little rust effect here and there.

And we're done!

However ... I've barely scratched the surface of how much junk there is in that mail sack. 

I feel a big project coming on ...


  1. Fantastic. How are the legs attached?

  2. Just hot glue. The legs are made from the handles of plastic cutlery melted and fused into shape.