Friday, June 30, 2006

The media can make or break popular morale

The media has been accused of negativity in reporting the (so far successful) progress of the England football team. Almost everyone I talk to comments on this negativity, usually in terms that suggest those responsible should be put on trial for sedition. It is as if the journalists have made up their minds there is going to be a downturn and are competing among themselves on who is going to be the first to report it. Inside the England camp the negativity has been noticed, with Wayne Rooney voicing bewilderment at why the England performances are being portrayed so harshly. The issue is an important one, since the media can make or break popular morale. The complaint that vested interests are talking down the national good is a familiar one, and dates back to Homeric times and the Trojan War (“Above, on the walls, the wailing has begun, and bitterly for us, Priam and Hecuba cry” etc etc).

Above: The London Evening Standard is a “regional” daily newspaper but effectively operates as if it was a national daily. It has a good reputation for investigative journalism. Generally its World Cup reporting has been supportive and encouraging.

102 degrees

When I went to lunch today the temperature in the car park was 102 degrees. Even driving around, the gauge was showing 98 degrees. It was nice to get to the air-conditioned environment of the supermarket.

Outside the supermarket the C2-class office girls are eating their luxury sandwiches. The sandwiches are not really luxurious, but the purchase of these items by office assistants who earn about £12k per annum, is a response to the various pressures on them (particularly from TV dramas) that they should be living life to the full. They are not just buying a sandwich, they are indulging in sybaritic luxury.

On the council estates the D-class alpha males take their shirts off, postponing any attempts to find work until after the World Cup has finished.

At the bowling green the retired people spend a relaxing afternoon. Retired people cause problems to marketing analysts – they fall into socio-economic class E because they usually have low incomes, but they are often well-educated and hold valuable assets, particularly property, which should make lots of them C1s and Bs. They have also seen a lot of advertising during their lives and have developed a resistance to the standard sales pitches (good for them!).

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

An Englishman's home is his castle

The government is advancing legislation that will give the authorities power to confiscate houses left unoccupied for more than six months. The right to hold private property forms one of the primary strands of English Common Law, and can be traced back to Magna Carta. Many other age-old rights are under threat by the current government, which seems to have become fatally corrupted by the exercise of power (recently they have threatened the right to trial by jury, the primacy of Parliament, and the independence of the judiciary).

An Englishman’s home is his castle. The saying can be traced back to Sir Edward Coke (1552-1634) who was a parliamentary defender of the Common Law against the arbitrary and dictatorial powers of the state (Et domus sua cuique tutissimum refugium - One's home is the safest refuge of all). I’m not a great fan of David Cameron (I’ve seen too many PR people to be taken in by the surface gloss of “niceness”) but he represents the only force the government is afraid of – and as things cannot go on as they are, Cameron will have to be given a chance.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Their experiences with internet dating

Friday, Midsummer Eve (the Eve of St John). Marie-Astrid gave her annual Midsummer Party. Being half-Danish this was a big event for her (Scandinavians make a big thing about Midsummer).

I arrived at Marie-Astrid’s house about seven-thirty, going there straight from work. Most of the other guests were already there, about forty people in all. Apart from three others, none of the people who were at this year’s party were at last year’s. Marie-Astrid is very good at making friends, but not so good at keeping them. There were eight children, who had their own party in the long lounge area, and then went to bed about nine. Two of the girls (they were all aged about four or five) had dressed up as Midsummer fairies (more Shakespeare than Scandinavia).

Considerable effort had been made to decorate the house. The children had constructed a “Midnight Sun” out of gold foil and this was put up on the wall in the lounge area. Chinese lanterns were draped around the big conservatory (runs the whole length of the house) and Malibu lights were around the garden.

One aspect of the party that surprised was the amount of alcohol on offer – Marie-Astrid had previously been strictly teetotal. For instance, there was a big punchbowl (“It was my grandmothers…”) that started the evening as a fruit punch with lavender ice cubes but gradually became more and more alcoholic as the evening progressed (bottles of Southern Comfort and red wine being tipped into it). Around the makeshift bar were bottles of whisky and gin and numerous bottles of wine (brought to the party by various people).

Emily arrived very late with her new partner (“We were relying on you to be the latest” she said to me). As usual she was over-dressed, wearing a full-length clinging black dress with a revealing neck-line and lots of costume jewellery. She talked about an argument she had had that morning with her boss and how she was determined to confront him and face him down next time they met.

On a long table in the conservatory the food had been laid out. The meal was a smorgasbord with open sandwiches on rye bread, rubbery Norwegian cheeses, sweet dumplings, two marzipan ring cakes, and many other delicacies I had not seen before. Emily made jokes about herrings and Danish pastries (neither of which were on offer). The plates of food were decorated with tiny flags. Someone pointed out that the blue flags were Swedish, not Danish, but Marie-Astrid shrugged this off with a reference to her numerous Swedish relations. The table was decorated with big (ten inches tall) brightly-painted wooden toy Danish soldiers belonging to Marie-Astrid’s daughter (they looked like British guardsmen, with black bearskins but with white bandoliers across the red tunics).

About eight o’clock some of the children, who were playing with the bead curtain that hung over the double-doors leading into the garden, fell out noisily with each other. One of the Midsummer fairies burst into tears. The respective mothers of the children took this as a signal to send them upstairs to lie down (this didn’t quell the disturbances, and the children’s argument rumbled on for the rest of the evening, occasionally intruding into the adult’s gathering).

Out in the garden a group of guests sat around a table became very boisterous, which was surprising considering none of them had met until that evening. As the light faded and it became colder this group migrated indoors, changing the atmosphere and making it livelier. Two women came in from the garden, both aged in the their thirties, both divorced mothers, both with blonde hair but otherwise not attractive. They seemed determined to be outrageous, and in their semi-inebriated state began talking about their experiences with internet dating:

“As I say, I found the man of my dreams, but unfortunately I wasn’t the woman of his dreams” (cackles of laughter).

“The thing that no-body warns you is that when you put down a particular town, you’re going to know half the men already.”

“Yes, I came across someone I see everyday on the train.”

“I had a date with a lad who was alright and that, but not really for me. But he wouldn’t take no for an answer. He kept texting me saying he wanted to …” she whispered the remainder of the sentence to her companion and the cackles of laughter resumed and went on for some time, renewed each time they rolled their eyes at each other.

Monday, June 26, 2006

England beat Ecuador on Sunday

In the World Cup England beat Ecuador on Sunday (the winning goal scored by Number 7 David Beckham). As the competition ratchets upwards in intensity there is resentment from groups who want to see England lose (Guardian journalists, Scottish devolved ministers, feminist groups – an informal coalition of sentiment that seems confirm jibes about the loony left). Over the weekend there was trouble in Stuttgart when German fans attacked English fans (is the word “fan” an abbreviation of “fanatic”?). In Scotland there have been racist attacks against people wearing England football shirts (including a child and a disabled person). In the small market town near my home there was fighting in the square following the win over Ecuador (“I have never seen bouncers in Weatherspoons before – they just picked up a big Polish bloke when he started to make trouble and took him outside until the police came”). To paraphrase Clausewitz: football is war by other means.

The political implication of supporting (or ostentatiously not supporting) a particular team has many precedents in the past. The Hippodrome stadium in Constantinople, during the period of the Later Roman Empire, was split between the Blue and Green factions. Through the mobilisation of popular feeling they had the power to decide the fate of emperors.

Above: I am currently reading The Mediterranean World In Late Antiquity by Averil Cameron. It is full of ideas – concepts that really make you stop and think. I used to go to lectures by Averil Cameron at the Institute of Archaeology in Bloomsbury (she would deliver tendentious and provocative ideas in a dry ironic style that gained her a lot of admirers).

Thursday, June 22, 2006

The Georgian and Regency consumers were literally buying a quality brand

Above: Despite its eighteenth century appearance, the Red Lion is a very ancient public house. Soldiers were billeted in the building during the Civil War. It is the perfect place for a quiet drink on just before the longest day of the year (still light at ten o’clock in the evening – you can sit outside in the pub garden and feel the heat of the day slowly cooling).

At the weekend I went down on the plain to a little village that throughout the centuries of its existence always seems to have been poor, the parish an appanage of an absentee lord (an appanage is hereditary property that can be given to a family member for a lifetime but can never be sold out of the family patrimony).

The Domesday Book describes the settlement as comprising thirty acres of common meadow, and three caracates (a caracate was the amount of land that could be tilled by one ox-drawn plough in a year, so about a hundred and twenty acres). The population at that time consisted of twenty-eight Sokemen. A Sokeman was a peasant farmer who owed labour services to the absentee lord, and could pass on his land to his son by payment of a heriot, a heriot being the arms and equipment of a soldier (thus under the feudal system land generated military assets for the knightly class).

The Red Lion pub stands on the highest point in the parish – even so this eminence is barely above sea level (“You can see the marks on my garden wall where the water came up during the floods in nineteen fifty-three – sea level is about door-handle height in most of the village”). In the middle ages the village (consisting of mud and brick huts roofed with thatch) was in the centre of the cultivated land, which in turn was surrounded by marshes and tidal pastures. Apart from farming there was fishing and fowling, and summer grazing on the tidal pastures for cattle and sheep.

Because of the nature of the common tidal pastures each village in the area had to mark its livestock with a distinctive brand. The mark of this village was an “S” and this brand remained in force until the nineteenth century when the marshes were drained and the common lands enclosed. The beef and lamb produced by the village in the eighteenth-century was highly prized, and the Georgian and Regency consumers were literally buying a quality brand.

One of the most interesting aspects of the village is the fact that the lives of the ordinary people changed so little during six hundred years. The Elysium existence of the villagers (described in the writings of one of the Rectors who was an amateur poet) came to an end in the 1750s when the marshes were drained. Although the nature of farming changed and life became easier, many in the region still hankered after the old way of life, and there were riots and disturbances throughout the period of the drainage – the terse writings of the parish’s Overseer of the Poor records the new class of tradesmen that emerged after the enclosures: miller, tailor, boatman, shoemaker, butcher, baker, thatcher, coal dealer, chimney sweep, wheelwright, horse-breaker, with the Rector doubling as Headmaster of the small village grammar school.

Above: Framed Enclosure Map. The Enclosure Acts in England cleared the land of subsistence peasant farmers, and drove most of them into the towns and cities. The social effects were terrible, reducing a generally contented rural population to urban poverty and destitution. However the enclosure of the common land (basically the theft of the land by the more prosperous cash-crop farmers) meant that land titles could be legally enforced and property bought and sold as an asset. The result was a huge explosion of capital wealth, circulating and accelerating and helping to fund the world’s first industrial revolution. This industrialisation in turn generated the cash to pay for overseas military adventures and led to the establishment of imperial glory.

Friday, June 16, 2006

England vs Trinidad

Above: Kit Kat bar with image of Bobby Moore holding the World Cup in 1966. It’s not alright to eat sugary junk food, but it IS alright to celebrate a win with this special commemorative snack. For the World Cup tournament Kit Kat has turned itself into a kind of festival ambrosia (the food-of-the-gods type of ambrosia, not the tinned milky pudding).

The office closed early yesterday afternoon to allow everyone to watch England vs Trinidad. I watched the match on Sky but with the commentary from Radio Live 5 (not my combination choice). There was a dichotomy between the doom and gloom Live 5 commentary (including some really irritating Australian) and what was happening on the pitch (as if the journalists had already made up their mind what they were going to say – I suppose in a sense they are always commentating on the last match before the one they are watching).

The World Cup saturation of popular culture continues. On MTV they were showing Footballers Cribs (all repeats) where they take you round the houses the players live in. All these residences look of a kind – big spacious rooms, new furniture and furnishings, ultra modern designs. “We don’t really use this area much” the player says as we are shown a big white living room, “we don’t really use this room much” (indoor swimming pool) “we don’t really use this room much” (formal dining room laid out for a banquet). Lloyd Samuel could have played for either Trinidad or England last night. But like so many people he has fallen between two stools.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

We can see modern humanity taking the same road

Above: head of a Cyberman on the cover of Radio Times. The Cybermen are among the most terrifying creatures invented for the Doctor Who children’s science fiction drama. The horror relies upon psychological factors rather than special effects. It is the relentless inhumanity of the Cybermen that is so appalling (as the anthropologists tell us: "otherness" is invariably a threat, and "extreme otherness" means extreme danger). In the storyline the Cybermen were once human but gradually modified their bodies until they became machines. This is probably the basis of the horror – we can see modern humanity taking the same road. It is a theme that has been developed for adults in the American science fiction series Battlestar Galactica. The Cybermen were designed in the mid-60s by Dr Kit Pedler and redesigned over the years by different production teams. The design seems to draw heavily on the whore-robot in the 1927 film Metropolis.

Above: the whore-robot in Fritz Lang’s Metropolis. Fritz Lang said he based the design upon an African mask. Metropolis is one of the most influential films ever made, inspiring feature films such as Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner and music videos by Madonna, Queen and Shakespeare’s Sister (among many others).

Above: African mask in a window display of Heals furniture store in Tottenham Court Road. Heals is more than just a shop - it has become an institution. Along the road used to be Maples furniture store, just as good as Heals (the demise of Maples, as a result of a bungled take-over bid, was a disgrace).

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Most popular song of the evening was the Crazy Frog

I don’t usually go to the pub on a weekday as it makes me too tired the next day. But Monday was so hot that I agreed to go along for an hour – and ended up staying all evening. I went along after work and was surprised how crowded the bar was for a Monday, and also how many underage drinkers there were (under 18s – they were over sixteen, but from their boisterous shouting were obviously being served alcohol).

Also there was a girl I have seen a number of times – blonde, slightly top-heavy, aged about twenty-five. She has a way of moving smoothly through an absolutely packed bar, getting through even the densest groups without pausing. She holds her drink high above her head, so that she resembles the Statue of Liberty.

The karaoke (which I didn’t get involved in!) featured World Cup songs. Julie went up twice, belting out Embrace’s World At Your Feet and Tony Christie’s Is This The Way in her Scottish accent (being half-English, she has no hang-ups about supporting the England team). Easily the most popular song of the evening was the Crazy Frog’s We Are The Champions Ding A Dang Dong – not a karaoke option but whenever it played on the jukebox everyone in the bar joined in.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

England win over Paraguay

Above: someone brought these celebratory World Cup iced buns into the office and handed them round.

The sense of euphoria that resulted from the England win over Paraguay on Saturday lingers on. It is one of the features of the World Cup competition that the matches are so close together that the rush of emotions associated with winning (elation, excitement, exultation) are still reverberating when another win sets the cycle in motion again. The escalating nature of this emotional sequence builds to such a state of intensity that forms of release become imperative – it is typically at this point that waves of consumer spending take place (as members of a spectator-nation “self-actualise” their new persona of winners-by-proxy by equipping themselves with the trophy material goods associated with “success”). Emotional release can also take the form of excessive binge-drinking. There is also the possibility of violence (usually irrational and spontaneous). Feeding every stage of this experience is the desire and demand for information, provided through multifarious channels (especially real-time), and pitched at every level from sardonic (The Guardian) to shameless (The Sun).

The England team itself has been so saturated by media commentary that the individuals have acquired mythological and heroic status (so that when Joe Cole appeared in a sports item on the Today Programme yesterday, it was surprising how ordinary he sounded).

Monday, June 12, 2006

A walk around the lake

It was extremely hot yesterday, temperatures in the high eighties. The dog gulped water from his dish and then went to lie down on the stone floor in the kitchen (the only surface that was cool). After lunch (roast chicken, strawberries to follow) I went for a drive – never have I been so glad of air-conditioning in my car!

In the fields the water sprays created rainbow arcs in the fierce sun.

Sheep (most of them shorn of their coats) gathered lethargically in the shade of spreading trees.

The horses had on their fly fringes (sometimes they wear masks of gauze that fit over the ears and hang over the face like a veil).

At the Hall there was no answer from the front door.

Walking round to the back the elderly chatelaine (last of a banking family) was sitting out on the terrace, under an awning. After some moments of polite conversation I said I would go for a walk around the lake. As I set off down the lawns her voice carried after me:

“There’s over eight different kinds of oak around the lake. The cedar trees were put in when the house was built. Have a look at the sunken garden, it was dug by my father in the nineteen-fifties – we were hoping at the time he was digging a swimming pool!”

At the end of the lawn I looked back and took this photograph. The steps you can see lead up to the terrace. They are actually quite steep steps, encrusted with lichen. It was on these steps in 2001 that my mother became “stuck” – too frightened to move in case she might fall (really, more frightened of what people might think of her rather than the physical effects of falling). This was when her illness and frailty became so apparent that we could no longer pretend there was nothing wrong. I have often thought about these steps, and seeing them again, after five years, I looked at them carefully as if they might provide some kind of explanation.

A gentle walk clockwise around the lake, no relief from the heat even under the trees. Occasionally there were glimpses of the Hall across the wide expanse of water. All pervasive was the smell of nettles heated by the sun (a wonderful syrupy smell).

The Hall was built in the 1840s and has been lived in by the same family ever since. These photographs make it look gloomy but in reality the sun was blazing down. I think the excessive sunlight has made the camera overcompensate.

At the farthest end of the lake, where I guess few people ever go now, the yellow flag irises were grouped in big clumps in the water – it must have taken decades for them to grow like this. The colours in this photograph havn’t come out very well, but it gives a good impression of the glaring heat of the afternoon, washing the colour from the landscape. Across the ornamental stone bridge, the balustrades half-covered by ivy (very sweet fresh smell at this point – I think it could be the cedar trees).

Two trees reflected in the water, the ducks streaming across. The sense of peace was cathartic, compensating for the week spent in the hot city. Is it justifiable for so much natural beauty to be held and enjoyed by a very few people (or would opening it to a wider public destroy the silence and tranquility?).

Friday, June 09, 2006

It has become a causal force

The World Cup tournament opens in Germany today. On all levels (cultural, economic, psychological) it is already registering big surges in the national nexus (that inter-relation of links and connections that holds society together). It has become a causal force driving all sorts of motivations unrelated to sport.

Above: “England, England, England” proclaims the window stickers in the Ben Sherman shop in Carnaby Street. Carnaby Street was one of the fashion centres of the swinging sixties. It went through a trashy tourist-trap phase in the 1970s and 80s, before reinventing itself as a retail showcase for men’s fashion.

Above: As well national enthusiasm for the current tournament there is a nostalgic fascination for 1966, as seen by these replica souvenir shirts. Already the excitement generated by the World Cup has translated into millions of retail transactions. If England were to reach the final (or win the tournament) the "feel-good" factor will have serious economic and political consequences.

Above: I was given one of these England awareness bracelets (which I wore for all of five minutes!). Not sure if it is worth keeping some of these ephemeral England items – tomorrow’s antiques? Awareness bracelets are more for teenagers (but I might possibly wear a red string Kabbalah to ward off the evil eye – Hindus also wear red string bracelets, but I think it is more to do with their marriage status).

One of the hottest and hippest shows on satellite television at the moment is Miami Ink

Not sure I really understand the attraction of tattoos. It seems to be taking “branding” to the ultimate limit (has anyone used a corporate logo as the basis of a tattoo?). Having an irrevocable design stained on your skin seems to represent “commitment”, “passion”, “belonging” (all the ideals that radical youth appropriates to itself).

Tattoos are interesting however in that they are undeniably tribal and relate to a community’s sense of identity. Herodotus writes of Thracian women being tattooed with signs of nobility. Sir James Frazer, writing in The Golden Bough (the chapter describing the fetish of “The Soul as Manikin”) says that people who had themselves tattooed “believe that at death the soul, the little entire man or woman inside the mortal frame, will go to heaven blazoned with the same tattoo patterns which adorned the body in life”.

According to Kim Blacha: “One of the hottest and hippest shows” on satellite television at the moment is Miami Ink – a programme that looks at the everyday routines of a Miami tattoo shop. I have only watched the programme once (last weekend) when an American man called Justin, aged early twenties, had his back decorated with a large shield displaying a lion rampant, explaining his choice of image by referring to a desire to celebrate chivalry and commemorate a friend who had died of a drugs overdose. What I found interesting was the survival in twenty-first century Florida of symbols and visual codes (including chivalry, which I define as the cult of knighthood) that first emerged in Europe eight hundred years ago.

Above: By chance earlier that day I had gone to look at some medieval carvings, and took this photo of a shield with a lion rampant, exactly like the image used in Miami Ink. I find it really interesting when you can trace links in this way. It makes you realise the power of symbols in defining identity.

Above: This tattoo on the back of someone’s head (photo taken in a shop in the West End), looks to me like a barcode.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

In the car park the temperature had registered eighty-six degrees

Lunchtime I went to Rico’s, the café more crowded than I have ever known it, almost every table occupied. In the car park the temperature had registered eighty-six degrees. Long queue at the counter with at the head of the queue a deaf-blind man, head lolled to one side, and his translator (spelling everything out to him, Helen-Keller-like, in symbols traced on his hand – there were also three people in wheelchairs sat at the outside tables so possibly Rico’s is marketing itself as somewhere that welcomes people with disabilities).

Ham, cheese and tomato ciabatta, lemon frangipani slice, and (in a daring innovation to my usual pedestrian routine) a Mocha coffee instead of the usual filter.

Outside in the shopping mall the continuous frieze of consumers flowed backwards and forwards. The café is not in a wealthy area, and I noticed that many of the women in their thirties and forties (mature beauties with subtle fake tans) were wearing gypsy-style skirts that were in fashion two summers ago. The café sound system was playing Dusty Springfield (whose music is enjoying a revival currently and is used in a Cadburys TV commercial featuring a Wayne Rooney lookalike – another “look” of the moment – although it’s not clear why the commercial uses the Dusty Springfield version of Take A Little Piece Of My Heart instead of the more famous Erma Franklin release).

Monday, June 05, 2006

Something Toad of Toad Hall would have favoured

At a country fair I saw this car (a Trojan), which looks like something Toad of Toad Hall would have favoured. The original illustrations for Wind In The Willows were by EH Shephard. The drawing for Toad Hall was supposed to be based on a mansion on the River Thames, but I think it is more likely to be a building in Chesham.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Bank Holiday pictures

Above: The northernmost edge of the escarpment (an area I rarely visit). Looking up the slope from the road, you can see the hawthorn (May tree) in blossom, with yellow gorse bushes dotted here and there. We are (today) now in June and the white May blossom has mostly faded.

Above: village cricket, the school pavilion in the background, English flag flying from the church tower. Notice the dark clouds rolling towards us (a few minutes after I took this picture there was a sudden downpour of rain). Profusion of buttercups in the foreground.

Above: motherly sow summoning her litter in a big field of mud.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Portraits from the Globalised World Number 3

Above: I could look out through the clear letters in the frosted glass, watching the passing traffic on the avenue outside

Two days training and team development. Once again we were in the small suburban hotel, the building completely deserted of any other guests, the staff listless and doubling up to carry out every little request we had. Once again we were in the annex, in a boardroom that had been created out of a downstairs bedroom (they will put it back to a bedroom after we have gone).

One of the unit PAs giggling as she told us that this downstairs bedroom is rented out at an hourly rate to casual couples who want somewhere quiet “to rest for a while”. Did the atmospheric vestiges of these carnal activities intrude into our meetings I wondered? Or alternatively, did our earnest deliberations about off-the-page advertising and catalogue page yields linger on to dampen the ardour of the next couple to hire the room?

Normally the training and development days finish at six o’clock, but this evening there was to be a special dinner at the hotel to celebrate the birth of a child to one of the senior unit personnel. It was to be a themed Moroccan dinner, with free drinks in the bar beforehand. The Moroccan theme was decided by the hotel manager, who comes from Casablanca (via Fez and Paris).

Although dark-skinned, the manager appears more Italian than Arabic. Aged in his late twenties, he is good-looking in a flashy sort of way, gelled hair combed backwards, always laughing and smiling (but his manner a little too ingratiating, like a hip twenty-first century Joel Cairo). Over the last six months I have seen him emerge from the kitchen, where he was/is chef, to become hotel manager, ousting the previous incumbent and pushing to one side more capable but less charismatic candidates.

The manager is a perfectionist, very visually minded about the way things are presented. He is passionate about his work, and warns the other staff that they better not involve him in their day-to-day work unless they want him to take over. I have seen him with the staff move from being close to tears, to raging anger, to protestations of undying friendship (all this is done publicly). With guests his friendliness is almost overwhelming, and you have to tell him several times before he will accept that you do not want anything (“Are you sure?” he will ask, “Are you sure? Are you sure?”). He speaks to some staff in perfect French, usually finishing with a command delivered in English (“Let’s rock and roll” he says in a loud, slightly falsetto voice). At times he appears to be manic, driven by a shining-eyed enthusiasm that seems to have an underlying anxiety.

During the training sessions our party from the office split into little groups. My group set up base in the hotel dining room, at a table in the bay window – I could look out through the clear letters in the frosted glass, watching the passing traffic on the avenue outside. While we worked on our marketing presentation people came into the dining room delivering Moroccan accoutrements (large bulbous amphora-type jars, exotic lamps, ornamental plates) for the themed dinner.

After lunch everything in the hotel fell silent, the Eastern European girl at the Reception desk looking listless. Even our marketing groups fell prone to enervation. In the garden court the hanging baskets cast shadows against the painted wall.

As the preparations for the evening were being made the manager always seemed to be popping up, dressed in different clothes, supervising operations (“All these things are from my house” he said to us proudly). His energy seemed inexhaustible. In the morning, in his role as manager, he appeared in a dark pin-stripe suit with pastel pink shirt and pink silk tie. Early afternoon (when he was off duty, working a split shirt) he was in faded Levi 501s, and grey hoodie, roaring into the carpark in his brand new Jeep. Early evening he was in full chef’s apparel of checked trousers, white overall, blue apron, chef’s hat. Later in the evening, while the Moroccan meal was being served, he had changed yet again, and bustled around the table dressed in a Moroccan embroidered top and wearing a black fez (no tassel).

At six o’clock our party from the office gathered in the small panelled lounge, the bottles of spirits back lit behind the bar. A couple of commercial travellers had also arrived at the hotel. Shortly afterwards we all went into the dining room, where I sat with my colleagues at a long table that dominated the room.

The Moroccan dinner was laid out in a buffet at the end of the room – we went up and helped ourselves, the hotel manager introducing each dish:

“This is our national dish” (sausages) he said. “This is called Royal Lamb. This is chicken with lemon. This is made with aubergines – it took me over three hours to make!” For a pudding we had pastries soaked in honey. Strong coffee to follow.

I asked the hotel manager about his life and he told me he had left Morocco as a child and grew up in Paris and later London, so had always lived among foreigners.

“I love England” he said. “In Morocco I could have my own hotel, everything” (the word everything emphasised by dramatic slicing movements with his hands) “but I don’t like the Moroccan policies. Always giving bribes for everything. In Morocco the houses are always open – anyone can go in there. In England I can have my private life.”

He smiled with pleasure as diners came up for second helpings. The Indian waiting staff brought in the coffees. In the background tinny Moroccan music played.