There once was a lamb called Kip.     Kip had a big white coat and little black feet and tiny black ears. His eyes were big and his...

   There once was a lamb called Kip.

   Kip had a big white coat and little black feet and tiny black ears. His eyes were big and his mouth was small. 

   He also had one leg shorter than the rest and one of his eyes didn’t work as well as the other.  

   If all of your eyes work and both of your legs are the same size, this might seem unusual to you; but to Kip, it was pretty normal. Nearly everyone in his flock had one leg shorter than the rest. Some had two legs shorter than the other two, and some had one of their legs completely missing. There were sheep with eyes so bad all they saw was a blur, sheep with ears that rang as loud as a payphone, and lambs in his flock who heard voices that were never there at all.

   Everyone in Kip’s flock was unusual, and this is why they were happy - because all their differences were what made them interesting sheep.

   The flock had a king, and he was the most unusual sheep of all, because he was a dog. A sheepdog. The flock did what he said, and trusted him to always lead them the right way. 

   The king lived in a house with his pet human and never stayed with the sheep, but they all liked him because he was a natural leader and he always had a clear vision of the direction in which the flock should be heading. He held his power well, but always seemed friendly. Everyone in the flock thought that if they were allowed in that house with the king, they'd probably be his best friend. 

   One day, Kip's mum gave birth to a new little brother for Kip. The first time Kip saw him (through his good eye), he fell in love with him. And he never stopped loving him. To Kip, his little brother Mal was just perfect. 

   And in a way, Kip was right - Mal was perfect. All of his legs were the right length, both of his ears and both of his eyes worked, and he never heard voices that told him to do things. He seemed to be the luckiest sheep in the flock, because everything on him was in its right place. 

   The trouble was, he grew up thinking that this made him better than the other sheep in the flock. He didn't realise that everyone has issues and we all just need love, so he treated them like they were strange and repulsive, and this made them sad. The flock didn't like Mal much.

   Kip still loved him though. Partly because Kip was such a nice lamb, and partly because they were brothers and you always have to love your brothers, and partly because Kip recognised that it was all because of the way Mal had been brought up. If their mother had taught Mal that everyone was equal, no matter how different they look, then he wouldn't think he was better than anyone else. 

   But that wasn't their mother's fault - she learned all she knew from her own mother, who learned it all from hers, who learned it from hers, and it went on and on and on back to the very first sheep mummy. The point was, Kip recognised, that everyone learns very bad habits from their parents that are very hard to unlearn, and the one that Mal had learned was the delusion that his physical attributes somehow elevated his status in life. 

   One fine summer’s day, the king of the flock hurt his leg, and his pet human had to take him to an animal doctor to have it fixed. He was gone for hours, and the flock started to worry. Rumours started flying around that he was never coming back and that he'd gone to live in the sky with someone not many of the sheep had heard of called Biggie-and-Pac. Tensions were high, and as the day gave way to the darkness of night, the sheep became very nervous and restless.

   Mal saw this as his big chance, and climbed onto the biggest rock he could find to address his flock. 

   'My fellow sheep,' he baahed, in a silly posh voice they'd never heard him use before, 'As you've all noticed, we have been deserted by our king. He has left us with no direction and no structure. We feel pointless and used. Our civilisation is in tatters. We need to rebuild, start again, rise like a phoenix from the flames...'

   The rest of the flock were uneasy in their agreement. They didn't know if they'd put it as dramatically as Mal had, but they did feel a little abandoned. They had felt like they had no purpose all day. They hobbled closer to the rock on their wonky legs and the ones with gammy ears pointed their heads at his mouth to hear him more clearly.

   'But who, my friends, will lead us to the light again? Which of us is capable of rescuing us from these ruins?'

   He pointed at the flock's only one-legged sheep, who sat on his sheep bottom painting a very accurate picture of the whole event, and said, 'Surely not those with missing legs, for they can't be expected to run the flock when they can't run across the field...'

   He suddenly spoke very quietly, and said, 'And surely not those whose ears can't hear all those that would hurt us...'

   Then he spoke very loudly, and gestured toward certain other sheep in the crowd, 'And surely not those whose eyes can't see threats as they arrive...'

   And then he addressed the entire flock again, as he said, 'But if not any of those, then who?'

   Mal scratched his little lamb chin and made a very big show of pretending to think. Kip, along with many of the smarter sheep, already knew what he was going to say next.

   Then Mal shrugged and said, 'Well, I suppose I could be our new king... After all, I am the strongest, smartest, most physically capable sheep in the flock...'

   And the sheep murmured in agreement. Although he shouldn't have been so arrogant as to declare it himself, he was right - none of them were as fit or as capable as he was. No one raised a baah of objection. 

   So Kip's brother Mal clapped his front legs together, for he too was sitting on his fluffy lamb bottom by now, and said, 'Right-oh! That's decided then. I'm our new king. Sleep soundly now, comrades, for we are no longer festering in the ruins of anarchy.'

   And they did sleep soundly, each of them satisfied that their flock was no longer doomed to a futile future. However, the next morning, they discovered how much worse than that their current situation was. 

   Mal was not a very nice ruler at all. 

   First, he set up a class system in which the most physically capable, woolliest sheep were at the top and the most wretched, prickly-skinned sheep were at the bottom, and their quality of lives were directly affected by their position on this ladder. Number of legs and ability to hear being things that can’t be changed without surgery or prosthetics (neither of which sheep have much access to), this left a lot of sheep with no hope of living happily ever again.

   He put up wool taxes and made grass more expensive, so everyone had less wool to spend on the food that was getting more expensive.

   He branded female sheep 'second-class citizens' and said that it was 'okay' if anyone wanted to spit on lambs whose favourite colour was pink.

   Then, he paid some of the sheep to listen in on all the other sheep’s conversations, all because he claimed some of them were wolves dressed up as sheep. He also paid some ewes to present the rolling news which told all the sheep, all day, about the terrible atrocities the wolves were committing in the fields next door, creating a constant culture of fear in the community of sheep, who used to be so oblivious. 

   All the while, of course, he was selling tooth sharpeners to the wolves for extra profit.

   Lastly, he stole the girlfriend of Lenny, the nicest guy in the flock. When Lenny protested, Mal said that he was more important than Lenny, so Lenny should shut his woolly mouth and put up with his master’s decisions.

   He might as well have outlawed cuddling. Now that they were all scared and suspicious of each other and resentful that they were missing out purely because of the bodies they were born into, the sheep didn’t feel so much like a community anymore. They felt sad all the time, worried that their worlds were going to end at every turn. Most of all, they felt bullied by their new king. 

   But being sheep, all they could do was follow; none of them rose to dethrone Mal.

   Every time lovely little Kip squinted at his brother and said, ‘You should really be nicer to these sheeple,’ Mal just told him he’d rather listen to Ed Shearing than hear Kip’s stupid voice.

   The flock used to be so happy, so blissfully unaware that there could ever be sadness in such a sunny, green field; but Mal had made it feel more like a warzone than a field. Where once, every sheep was equal and cooperation and teamwork came naturally, it was now a sheep-eat-sheep world where helping each other out was weakness and inequality ruled all. 

   And all this, he did in a day.

   Another couple of nights came and went, bringing more misery with them; until one morning, the sheep on patrol at the perimeter of the farm, looking for threats from neighbouring farms (who were all now the enemy), sent word that the old king’s pet human had arrived home, in his lit-up metal wagon. 

   Mal knew that this meant that either the old king had returned, or his pet human was alone and the king was gone for good; so he brought all his best men to the fence that faced the house as a show of force. Whichever it was, Mal was the king now, and he wasn’t going to give up his throne easily.

   But the old king had returned, and although his bad leg was bald and scarred, he looked as strong as ever as he walked out of the door followed by his human. He was tall, and elegant, and had hair more fine and smooth than any sheep could ever hope to wear. It was obvious that Mal, who stood at the fence giving the old king evil looks, was just putting on a brave face, and that he was actually feeling woolly-headed.

   All the way across the drive, the old king came; until he was face to face with Mal. The two stood there, staring into each other’s eyes, their noses not an inch apart, and the rest of the flock looked on in silence. No one knew what would happen. Was there going to be a fight? Would Mal lash out, seeing his leadership threatened? What if Mal won, and they were stuck under his despotic rule forever more? You could have cut the tension with a knitting needle.

   After a couple of minutes had passed of the sheepdog staring aggressively at Mal and Mal staring aggressively back, the old king’s pet human let out a whistle, and the old king’s back straightened. He breathed in, his chest inflating like a furry bouncy castle, and let out one short bark.

   ‘WOOF,’ he said. 

   And Mal jumped out of his skin. Instantly, he started crying.

   The rest of the flock started laughing, which made Mal cry even more. He had been humiliated in front of the flock he hoped to rule, and now nothing could console him. He would have sit there and cried forever more, but the sheepdog let out another bark, as loud as the first, and Mal forgot all about his resolution to stand strong and fell into line with the other sheep, who were happy to do exactly what their rightful king was telling them to.

   The king had returned! Long live the king! The flock had never been happier.

   Later, when the king had gone to bed and the flock were alone, the sheep who had been wronged by Mal practically lined up to insult him. While he sat there in floods of tears, wishing he had been nicer to all those sheep who were now no less special than he was, they called him a goatface and a cowpat and a horseshoe, and they spat in his tea and poked holes in his favourite sheep socks. Lenny, whose girlfriend now suddenly wanted him back after Mal’s fall from grace, even threw a handful of his poop at Mal. (He also decided to stay single and wait for someone who would treat him right – he could do better than a wooldigger, he said.)

   But there was one sheep who still had time for Mal. After everyone was done, Kip came up to Mal and gave him a great big hug. Mal flinched at first, sure that his brother was going to take revenge for all the mean things that Mal had done and said; but after he felt the love that his brother was giving him, he hugged him back and cried into his arms for a long while.

   Pulling away from his brother, Kip said, ‘You’ve been a very baaaaahd lamb, Mal Henry Wilfred Sheepman. But I forgive you. Tomorrow, you can apologise to all the sheep whose feelings you hurt, and they’ll understand. Everyone makes mistakes, and it’s never too late to take them back. I love you, and if you show them that you’re truly sorry and give them time to heal, they will too.’

   Mal looked up at his big brother with eyes wet with tears, and nodded. Of course he would do that. Of course he was sorry. He’d been a prize idiot, but now he’d seen the light. The kindness his brother had shown him when he least deserved it but most needed it sparked a flame in him, and his heart was warmed by it. He’d learned something today, something that Kip had known all along: that it’s nice to be important, but infinitely more important to be nice.

   Prepare yourselves fellow humans, for I'm about to argue in favour of the humble, old-fashioned Polaroid instant camera. And I'm...

   Prepare yourselves fellow humans, for I'm about to argue in favour of the humble, old-fashioned Polaroid instant camera. And I'm going to do so without mentioning jazz bars in Shoreditch or shit bands that are cool purely because they're unknown, without telling you that you should check out this secret cinema that only shows foreign films in some shithole backstreet of East London or letting you know which charity shop is best for buying your tweed jackets or oversized spectacle frames.
   Yes, I'm going to sing my praises of Polaroid cameras through a megaphone, from the raft on which I am floating directly through the middle of The Mainstream.
   Anyone who knows me will tell you that this is somewhat out of character for me. I'm usually so enthused by modern technology that I'll waste money on gadgets I know I'll never use, just to play with them for the first few days. I reject DVD and VHS because nothing compares to Blu-Ray.  I won’t use a smartphone that isn’t a ridiculous colour. I'm the kind of guy who wants Google Glass, just so that he can Wikipedia every conversation topic as it's happening and correct his friends' factual errors on-the-fly. I own two tablets when I only really have a need for half of one. I kind of want to buy a Microsoft Band, for crying out loud.
   So why would I suddenly be handing myself to the past? Well, it could be that sometimes, modern technology solves something that I just didn’t see as a problem. Kindles and other e-readers are amazing, skillfully designed gadgets that fit their purpose beautifully; but why would we ever want to lose the infinitely more beautiful sight of a full bookshelf? Who’d be happy to see printed books made extinct? Not me. No sir.
   However, that's not it. I’m not about to claim that the digital camera is just another Kindle. I’m not saying that the Polaroid is something that shouldn’t have been replaced. There are modern cameras I lust after, all new and digital and shiny with more features and less maintenance. Of course they’re better; that goes without saying. The Polaroid, compared to those, is cumbersome and heavy, designed for a different time and aging disgracefully. It has no technical support now that most of the good models are discontinued and the newer models nobody wants. You can only find it at car boot sales, on eBay, in your nan’s loft. The pictures are often of very poor quality, and you can only tell just how poor once you’ve waited for them to develop, and by then the moment’s passed. And perhaps worst of all, with this new Impossible Project film, photographs cost nearly £2 each to snap.
   They have charm, though, as any hipster will tell you. There’s the retro appeal, the shabby-chic-ness of old, obviously inadequate technology dusted off and used today. There’s the little white bar at the bottom of each print, begging to be written on, to be filled with the caption of the moment. There’s the uniqueness of the format, in a world where everything is standardised and packaged up and perfectly formatted for sharing online with friends and advertisers and the government. It’s a set of cameras that hark back to simpler times, when pictures we took weren’t instantly viewable on a little screen, when we couldn’t snap twenty-three photographs in a row and pick out the best one (or just shrug and upload all of them to Facebook without regard for who actually wants to see them).
   But these aren’t the reasons for my love. My two reasons were broached two paragraphs ago, in amongst all the cons.
   Firstly, I love them because the quality of the pictures is so poor. And this isn’t one of those I love vinyl records, they’re just so warm and raw bullshit arguments that idiots use to excuse their desperate need to be different; or maybe it is just that. It’s because I have a terrible memory, and even times that I’ve really enjoyed and cherish in my mind are shrouded in doubt and barely-even-half-remembered events. My memory isn’t full-colour and crystal-clear, it’s out of focus and tinged with a dark-grey shade of I’m not sure I recall that. What I’m trying to say is that my memory isn’t 41-MP jpg, it’s Polaroid 600.
   Why would I want to look back on a perfect, bright, crisp version of the past, when a much more accurate representation of it as I remember it can be fed out of the front of a £30 camera I bought from a guy in a field on a Sunday morning?
   Secondly, and definitely more importantly, is the price of the film. Digital cameras and smartphones have made storage for photos cheap, and the taking of them as quick and easy as pressing a button; and there’s no denying that this fact is great for anyone who wants a full and accurate record of their life on a hard drive. But as part of one of the first generations who have grown up with this technology, I can tell you that there’s a hell of a lot of shit out there, taking up gigabytes (terabytes, petabytes, exabytes, zettabytes…) of hard drive space that will never be looked at and never be claimed back. Take a look at the Pictures folder of any average noughties teenager and you’ll find folder after folder of pictures of nights out, days in, relatives, outfits, ex-boyfriends and ex-girlfriends, new cars, hotel rooms, pets, and streets of foreign cities; all of which will never be looked at again.
   If you do catch one browsing through those folders, once in a blue moon, you’ll even occasionally hear them say things like, ‘Why did I even take that photo?’ or, ‘I never want to see him/her again!’ or, ‘I really need to clear some of these out…’ but still those jpegs all remain, undeleted, sitting sorted in their folders, ready to be looked at by no one ever.
   With Polaroid, however, and the new (and expensive) Impossible Project film, a photograph has to be special. You can’t take eight pictures at once and keep only the one where you look absolutely reem unless you have the money to spunk on all that film and forty minutes per photo to wait for development. You have to seize the moment, click the shutter, and hope that you got it right. If you didn’t, you throw the photograph away or accept its flaws. And if you're like me, you'll always accept those flaws. A hair out of place, a smile that looks a bit like a grimace, the subject looking away because they think the photograph has already been taken… these are the things that make real-life moments. We don’t always look perfect, we’re not always on-point, we’re not forever ready to be on the cover of a magazine; so why should our photo albums make us look like we are?
   With a Polaroid camera, a moment is captured, and all of the flaws that make us beautiful human beings are put on paper, and unless we’re millionaires without other hobbies, that’s the moment we have to settle for. The memories we no longer cherish, all those ex-boyfriends and ex-girlfriends we shouldn’t still be keeping around, places we'll never revisit, photographs we forget were ever even taken, these don’t all sit in a folder on our computers wasting space and offending the senses; they go exactly where they belong: in the bin. The times we enjoyed, the people we love, the places we want to see every day, the parties we wish we could still be dancing at, these things all get pinned to a noticeboard and written on and displayed in our houses for all to see.
   No photograph left behind, nothing hidden away waiting to never be rediscovered, just our most important memories, recorded just as fuzzily as if our brains had done it themselves, on a square print in your hand. The way nature intended. Probably.
   I’m not saying modern technology is crap and we should all revert to decades-old cameras, I’m just saying that shabby old Polaroids, like so many things we've almost forgotten, have their place alongside all our modern bells and whistles. But that’s just the way I see it. Maybe I’ve made a case for investing in a technology you can’t really buy anymore, or maybe I haven’t. Maybe you’ll see the same charm that I do in those little square prints of love, or maybe you still prefer your bulging Pictures folder. Maybe – and this is most likely – all I’ve done is add to the yottabytes of shit articles written by nobodies on the Internet. But you should feel more foolish than me, because you just sat here reading it.
   Peace out, bitches. I’m off to try out Windows 10 and fly my drone from a hoverboard.