Wednesday, December 22, 2004

“It scared the life out of me”

Posted by Hello

Preston Hall - there are many stories about the place

Last day at work before the Christmas holiday. This will probably be the last post on this weblog until Tuesday 4th January (unless I manage to find somewhere with internet access). Merry Christmas to all my readers (if there are any!).

It is traditional to tell ghost stories on Christmas Eve. Usually on Christmas Eve adaptations of M.R James stories (Stalls of Barchester or A Warning To The Curious etc) are screened on BBC2. I thought I would adapt this tradition to the internet, even though it’s not Christmas Eve until Friday, and I don’t really know any ghost stories except…

I once heard a ghost story about Preston Hall – just outside a village roughly six miles away. It is on top of a little hill. A new family (new to the area that is) lives there. About four years ago, before I started working in London, I had a local job (still in marketing) and my assistant was a woman aged about fifty, very short in stature, a bit condescending in her manner (she implied that she didn’t really have to work, and was only doing it as a sort of hobby, and that we were all idiots etc). I could never get her to do anything, as I shared her with two managers and their work was always more important than mine. In the end I just did everything myself, which I suppose was her strategy.

Anyway, this assistant who didn’t do any work once told me that years ago, when she was newly married and hard up, she took a job working in the kitchen at Preston Hall. This was when the old family, who had lived there for centuries, was still in residence. One day she was in the house completely on her own, working in the kitchen (a huge room, always cold, even in summer). Because she was on her own she had made sure all the doors were locked. Mid-way through the morning she was working at the sink, peeling potatos, and when she next looked round she saw marks of wet footsteps across the flagstone floor.

“It scared the life out of me” she said.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Winter scenes (4)

Posted by Hello

Winter solstice, the shortest day. The farmer has left a plough in one of the fields, and the last rays of the winter sun have caught the blades, giving the implement an eerie, other-worldly appearance. Actually this photo was taken about a week ago, but it captures the mood of fading light in the middle of the afternoon.

Winter scenes (3)

Posted by Hello

Last few days before Christmas. This doorway to a smart block of flats in the west end is slightly mysterious - I can't remember seeing anyone ever coming out or going in. Perhaps a lot of elderly people live in the flats, and they never go out after nightfall.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Winter scenes (1)

Posted by Hello

No time to write, so I shall post photographs. This one is of a leafless row of trees. I once went to a Simon Palmer exhibition where tree trunks like this featured heavily. Simon Palmer is very good at painting Yorkshire landscapes (unfortunately I couldn’t afford to buy any of his works, even though they would probably be a good investment).

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

I have to do everything myself

I am overwhelmed with work at the moment - my new assistant has decided that the job wasn't for her and has left without any warning. My other assistant is on holiday until 21st December. The part-time person who helped with the mailshots has had to take extended leave because her son was involved in a car crash. I have to do everything myself at the moment.

I am also feeling depressed as a result of the dark cold winter weather. So here are some photographs from the summer. Most of my photographs seem to be taken late on a summer evening - I suppose it's part of my photographic style (insofar as I have one).

Posted by Hello

Mellow red bricks - sixteenth-century brick barn in Buckinghamshire (near Edlesborough I think).
Posted by Hello

Mellow red bricks - Tudor manor house in Buckinghamshire. The chimney bricks have been carved into twisting spiral shapes. My mother loved coming to the garden here (another white garden). My brother disliked (intensely) one of the women associated with this house and used to call her "Mrs Snooty" (she wasn't really snooty, she just had a loud, rather commanding voice).

Posted by Hello

Eighteenth-century thatched cottage in Buckinghamshire.

Monday, December 13, 2004

Posted by Hello

One of the most attractive features of London is the way in which various communities have recreated their particular homeland in a few streets. South Kensington is home to some of London’s large French population. As well as many French restaurants (including Bibendum) there is also Cine Luminare (opened by Catherine Deneuve) which shows only French-language films, plus numerous boulangeries, charcuteries and patisseries. This is the shop window of rising Moroccan-French clothes designer Joseph. The window is filled with such glittery clutter that the stark lines of the dark clothes are an arresting contrast.

This network of streets was also famous for being the haunt of the late Princess of Wales and, for all her English pedigree, there were (if you can believe the press) apparently many French aspects to her character (hysterical tantrums, romantic infidelities, bitter self-defeating feuds).
Posted by Hello

Joseph window dressers are expected to work late into the night.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Posted by Hello

Blurred night-time view of Trafalgar Square, taken through the grimy window of a taxi. You can at least make out the Christmas tree, which is given each year by the people of Norway (I think it's to do with the help we gave them in the Second World War).

Friday, December 03, 2004

Photo essay: the white hart

Posted by Hello

The white hart was the chivalric badge of Richard II. I did my university third year dissertation on chivalry in the late middle ages (definition: medieval chivalry was the cult of knighthood – it had nothing to do with holding doors open for people). The white hart refers to a pure white male deer (very rare) and followers of Richard II incorporated white harts into their coats of arms.
Posted by Hello

I like the way the escutcheon has been done in coloured enamel and the rest of the heraldic achievement is in shades of grey.
Posted by Hello

Supporters of Richard II met in taverns called (not surprisingly) The White Hart, and these pubs still survive all across the country.
Posted by Hello

The National Gallery in Trafalgar Square has a famous painting (called the Wilton Panel) of Richard II kneeling in front of the Virgin and Child (obviously this image belongs to the National Gallery and if they object I’ll have to take it down). All the angels are wearing white hart badges. One of them is holding the flag of St George as the Virgin Mary used to be England’s special protector (this was before the Reformation – not sure what she thinks of us now).

Thursday, December 02, 2004

The king who slew the slayer and shall himself be slain

The fall-out from November’s sales figures continued today. Trevor Bush’s irritation has been so intense that there are rumours that one of the sales reps will be made an example of. Prime candidate is Regional Sales Manager Craig Wymer, since he is the most senior person to be off-target.

Craig Wymer has worked for the company since he left school. He started in telesales and made such an impact that he was quickly promoted to field sales rep and then Area Manager, and finally (last year) Regional Sales Manager controlling the south of the country. This year he will personally bring in over one and a half million pounds in sales (if he keeps to target!) and his team will be responsible for over ten million.

Aged in his mid-twenties, he personifies the description “lean and mean”. He is very much a loner, even among his own team, and has no patience with anyone who cannot perform to his own very high standards. Often, when in the office and making calls to his top customers, he talks to himself, saying “Come on Wymer” while waiting for his calls to be answered.

This morning however, he was slumped in a chair by the Sales Desk. He was supposed to be motivating his staff on the Sales Desk but by eleven o’clock they had clearly exhausted themselves and were entering that stage of lethargic acceptance where they tell people “the market’s down – we can’t do anything” (not an excuse Trevor Bush will accept).

Seeing Craig Wymer so dejected and defeated, when previously he had been such a star performer, reminded me of the section in The Golden Bough by Sir James Fraser (one of the books that changed my life) where Sir James describes an ancient cult that was based around a sacred grove on the shores of Lake Nemi in central Italy. The Italian tribe that lived in this area (this was in pre-Roman times) had a custom that ensured their leader was always young, strong and a good fighter. This custom required the king to go each year, on a nominated day, to the sacred grove and fight anyone who challenged him. If he killed the challenger he remained king. If he was killed himself (as must eventually happen), the challenger became king.

Craig Wymer is only as good as his last sales figures. Sooner or later one of his team is going to challenge him. He is the modern equivalent of “The king who slew the slayer and shall himself be slain” (Thomas Macaulay).

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

The best deserve the best, the worst deserve the worst

The monthly sales figures have come out for November. Overall a six per cent increase on last year, but far short of the fifteen per cent increase that had been targeted. All the sales reps were in the offices this morning, long faces, bemoaning the fact that they had missed target for the month (they have their own room where they sit when they are in the office – it’s like a private club just for them, no-one ever goes in there except by invitation).

Everyone expects Trevor Bush, our Managing Director, to come storming into the offices later this afternoon, demanding to know why the sales were off target and what plans the sales reps have to put things right. He will keep them late into the evening, haranguing them about their failure and threatening to take away their privileges (they are very well looked after in terms of salary and benefits). One of Trevor Best’s favourite sayings is: The best deserve the best, the worst deserve the worst.

Throughout the afternoon the tension has been mounting.

I would not normally get involved in this monthly berating (just as I do not get any of the bonuses when targets are met). However, recently Marketing has been given one of the least-performing areas to run some campaigns in, to see whether they will have any effect (none of the sales reps believed anything would come of this – they regard Marketing as a wasteful irrelevance). Looking at the sales figures just released, Area 7 (the area we had been given) has experienced a thirty-five per cent increase.

I have e-mailed Trevor Bush pointing this out to him. I know he will use it as ammunition to attack the sales reps. I can almost hear him saying: Even Marketing, yes even those useless people in Marketing have done better than you lot…