Monday, July 31, 2006

Lying politicians were literally cut down to size

Traitors Gate at the Tower of London. Prisoners would be brought to the Tower of London by boat along the Thames, and taken in through Traitors Gate. Once they had entered the Tower by this route it was very unlikely they would leave the fortress alive. Aristocratic prisoners were beheaded with a sword. Commoners were beheaded with an axe. Their heads would then be stuck on a pole and displayed on London Bridge. Politicians who were found guilty of treason (lining their own pockets, selling secrets to foreigners, plotting to seize power) could be dragged to the block and immediately decapitated. Often within an hour or so of being found guilty. Those were the days when lying politicians were literally cut down to size.

It was disturbing to read in the Independent on Saturday about the visit of Tony Blair to Rupert Murdoch over the weekend – apparently in an attempt to “fix” the next election in the United Kingdom. The visit has been commented on elsewhere in the media as if it were a routine part of the political process, as usual as submitting nomination papers or paying election deposits. Has democracy become so rotten that no-one can see how bad this meeting is?

1 Tony Blair lied to win the last election and has lied continuously ever since (particularly over the Iraq war).

2 He has arranged who the next Prime Minister is to be without any suggestion of an election to ratify this selection (he has introduced a presidential style to this country and yet wants to keep selection of the “president” according to the old convention of a first among equals emerging by consensus), and having agreed that Gordon Brown is to be the next “president” he is simultaneously plotting to undermine his former friend and install yet another nominee.

3 He is now conspiring with a foreigner media owner, based in a foreign country, over the spin (lies) that is to be promulgated in the United Kingdom to maintain his nominees in power.

It is the smug way in which Murdoch seems to be weighing up whether Gordon Brown or David Cameron should be the next Prime Minister that I find so disgusting. Given that a free press is essential to the functioning of democracy perhaps there should be a law against foreigners controlling press and television (in the same way that there is a law against foreigners funding political parties in the United Kingdom). Even more offensive is the idea that Rupert Murdoch is lining up a job for Tony Blair for when he finally stands down.

The effectiveness of The Sun newspaper relies upon the ease with which clever people can bamboozle the uneducated and unsophisticated. The height of cleverness is to pretend to be stupid (Rochefoucauld). Tony Blair is popular with Rupert Murdoch because of the support Blair gave George Bush for the war in Iraq (presumably there is a cats cradle of quid pro quo deals going on here).

I never meant this to be a political blog, but it is proving to be impossible to separate politics from daily life. To paraphrase the saying: for evil to triumph it is sufficient for ordinary people to do nothing. And is Tony Blair evil? I think that is beyond doubt. He has betrayed everything. He has betrayed everyone.

I realise we live in enlightened times, and the concept of summary justice and capital punishment has no place in our current criminal justice system. Nevertheless I do have a recurring fantasy of seeing Tony Blair arriving by boat at the Tower of London and being dragged in through Traitors Gate (sometimes alone, sometimes accompanied by John Prescott, Peter Mandelson, Alistair Campbell etc). Rupert Murdoch could also be bundled through that entrance if we could get hold of him (maybe Peter Tatchell could do a citizen’s arrest).

Friday, July 28, 2006

Casting long shadows (in more ways than one)

In the park in the hot evening the giant monkey puzzle trees were casting long shadows. The monkey puzzle tree originates from Chile and was first introduced into Britain in the 1850s as the Joseph Bank’s Pine (the name “monkey puzzle” came a few years later). When I was a child I was fascinated by a monkey puzzle tree that grew in a neighbour’s garden (which is probably why I felt compelled to take this photograph – we are conditioned by our childhood more than we realise).

Thursday, July 27, 2006

City workers

The oppressive heat continues. Sorry to keep harping on about the subject, but it has become a major factor of life at the moment. The word “sweltering” comes from the Middle English “swelten” meaning to die from heat exhaustion. Normally I like the Summer heat but in this latest heatwave I have been experiencing headaches and pains in my chest (the office doesn’t have air conditioning). Early afternoon there was a brief thunderstorm with a torrential downpour of rain, but that soon passed over. August is forecast to be even hotter than July.

Above: in the City a finance broker or commodities broker or similar (I can’t use the word “yuppie” since the expression has become archaic) takes shelter behind the war memorial at the Royal Exchange whilst making a call on his mobile phone. The term “City” relates to the square mile financial district of London within the boundaries of the old medieval walls (and covering roughly the area of the Roman city of Londinium). The standard of living of City workers is tremendous – in a good year when bonuses are high they rate among the most highest-paid salaried employees anywhere in the world. Curiously their tastes are not plutocratic. A few will show off with bouts of conspicuous consumption but most are sober, modest and dull (betraying their lower-middle-class C2 origins, when thrift was instilled in them as a necessity). The wealth generated in the City washes out across the whole south east of England (usually in gentle persistent ripples, quite often in giant tsunamis of ready cash) and the economy is more dependant on the City for its buoyancy than the Chancellor cares to acknowledge.

Above: a PA sits out on a ledge to have her morning coffee and check through her personal organiser. The bonuses of even quite humble City workers can be substantial (Gary Spencer has clients who are very junior office assistants in the Broadgate area and get annual bonuses of between five and ten thousand pounds). Very few City workers can afford to live near their offices – most will commute in from the outer suburbs (Edgware, Clapham, Ealing) or even further afield.

Above: construction worker sitting out his lunch break in front of the Bank of England. On any one day the City contains tens of thousands of construction workers, working on the buildings that perpetually seem to be going up and coming down. Builders, plasterers, electricians, scaffolders, plumbers, painters etc. They dress in casual sportswear (always grimy by the end of the day when they catch the tube home) that often exhibits expensive labels. Because they can’t afford anything from the City shops (a sandwich and coffee in the Royal Exchange can cost £22 – I speak from experience!) they have nothing to do in their breaks except sit around looking bored. A hazard of construction work in the City is that an archaeological discovery can delay progress for months.

Above: oblivious to the money that is pulsating all around them, tourists sit out on the steps of St Paul’s cathedral as the sun goes down and the heat finally begins to ease. All the money in the world will at some point pass through London’s financial institutions, and usually this carousel of globalised currencies spins around endlessly, from London to New York to Tokyo to Frankfurt and back to London again. Every rotation of wealth results in a tiny sliver of commission accruing to the City, these commissions swiftly accumulating to staggering, mind-boggling proportions.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Unfortunately consumers like good packaging

On the Today Programme this morning was an item about the Environment Agency and how most household rubbish is actually made up of packaging. Easter eggs are 80% packaging (I had never really considered this, but it’s true when you think about it). So why doesn’t Parliament pass a law obliging producers to have a process in place for the recycling of their packaging, and advertise this process on the packaging itself?

The presumption should be: unless a packaging component can be easily recycled, the designers don’t put it into the packaging specification in the first place. Instead of consumers chucking discarded packaging into a catch-all recycling dustbin and hoping for the best, the producers would have responsibility for collecting and disposing of it (would ultimately reduce our Council Tax bills?). I think Germany has a variation of this sort of law.

Above: I looked at the packaging of ethical food manufacturer Innocent, but couldn’t see much specific advice about recycling. Tetra Pack are aiming at a measly 10% of their products being recycled (a fig-leaf to cover any exposure to criticism presumably). Tetra Pack seem to think the consumer should make the most effort over recycling, and that once they have sold the product it’s out of their hands. The Tetra Pack is made of a waxed card, so not sure how this would break down when recycled. The colour printing would probably involve producing dioxins. I’m not picking on Innocent / Tetra Pack specifically – it’s just an example.

I went through a phase when I was drinking smoothies every day, but now I only buy them once a week. Almost always pineapple, banana and coconut. I like the taste of sweet coconut – including Bounty Bars and Malibu.

Above: unfortunately consumers like good packaging, and products won’t sell if they are not enticingly wrapped. The packaging around my iPod was so attractive that I photographed it and carefully put it on one side to keep (until I realised how foolish I was being, and crushed it up and put it in the bin). I wonder if there are any products that consist entirely of packaging?

Above: the outer sea wall guards the flood plain.

While I am on the subject of the Environment Agency, down on the plain friends are getting demands from their insurance companies for flood assessment reports which they have to BUY from the Environment Agency for £20. Even though their property is protected by sea walls and has no history of flooding (would actually be the last place in the country to flood, since the defences are so good). When they get the Flood Report they then get another demand from the insurance company for a flood defence report which they will also have to pay for. Presumably the insurance companies will then increase their premiums. This whole process sounds like a gigantic scam. Either the Environment Agency is a public service and their advice is free. Or it should be a private company (competing with other private companies) and we just pay for their services when (and if) we think we need them. But to have a publicly funded body colluding with insurance companies over extorting money from householders is unacceptable. Most of the farmers on the plain can afford to pay for the reports, but there are many retired people down there who will be frightened by these demands (and the cruel implication that they won’t get insurance cover unless they pay up).

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

They represent a triumph of visual design

At the weekend I read a report that David Cameron (Leader of the Conservative Party) is making a commitment to designate domestic gardens as “green belt” which will stop householders selling off their gardens as building plots. Currently gardens are classified as “brownfield sites” and can be redeveloped. This is a really good idea from the Conservatives (makes up for all the other garbage they have generated over the years).

The suburbs around London have become blighted over the last twenty years by relentless infilling and “garden grabbing”. Front gardens have been paved over to create extra parking. Wooden windows have been unsympathetically replaced by identikit uPVC glazing. And yet if you look at the suburbs carefully you realise they represent a triumph of visual design, and the most successful experiment in mass housing anywhere in Europe. The inter-war suburbs that ring London are, to my eyes, a hidden treasure waiting to be appreciated (rather like the art deco architecture of Florida was ignored for many decades). Rash prediction: by 2050 the suburbs will be authentically restored and will be a visitor attraction on tourist itineries.

Above: this book by Mark Thomas is not as good as Semi-Detached London by Alan A Jackson (note: the books you find in second-hand stores are much smaller than the ones currently being retailed – was it a marketing scam that made paperbacks twice the size and three times the price?). I once went for a walk around Purley with a local history society and it transformed the way that I looked at the suburbs. Purley was laid out along the principles expounded by William Webb in his book Garden First in Land Development (emphasising the importance of gardens in the aesthetic experience of life – basically without access to gardens and nature humans become neurotic and anti-social).

Above: William Webb inspired Ebenezer Howard, founder of the Garden City Movement. This is one of my favourite books. I like everything about it – the restrained cover, the Faber “feel” of the book, the choice of typeface, the choice of point size, the layout of the pages, the fact that such an unassuming volume contains revolutionary ideas on town planning…).

Above: The pre-war garden cities (Letchworth, Welwyn Garden City, Hampstead Garden Suburb) inspired the post-war New Towns (Milton Keynes, Bracknell, Harlow). Derided as soulless and uninspired, the New Towns have actually been economically and socially successful. The exception I would make is Peterborough.

Above: garden suburbs, garden cities, New Towns – all these concepts stem from the utopian communities and model villages that have emerged in England since the fifteenth century. Little Gidding, Bourneville, Poundbury. Harlow New Town even inspired an exact copy in a sheikhdom in the Middle East.

Monday, July 24, 2006

The choice of Burberry brand clothing

At the recent G8 Summit in St Petersburg Tony Blair gave George Bush a Burberry sweater (this was the Summit where a microphone was left on and the President of the United States and the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom revealed themselves to be shallow idiots, making up foreign policy as they go along). The choice of Burberry brand clothing as Tony Blair’s gift is unusual. Did he think that by giving the President of America a Burberry item it would restore the brand’s image of exclusivity?

Above: Burberry shop window.

The Burberry check has become so popular in recent years that it has been imitated and copied by cheaper clothing manufacturers (“chavtastic bonanza” as one commentator put it), the pricing of these “me too” imitations completely eroding Burberry’s premium pricing policy. In response Burberry has gone back to classic styles based on English country life. Recently their shop window projected a willowy image that seems to have been based on Betjeman’s Myfanwy cycling through the Surrey countryside (“white the sheen of her dress” but leaving out the black stockings and navy blue serge).

Above: the cliché of “old maids bicycling to Holy Communion through the morning mist” was identified by George Orwell and quoted fifty years later in the 1990s by Prime Minister John Major as one of the component elements of English life. I have no idea whether this lady is an old maid, or on her way to Holy Communion, but she seems to fit the part. This is Betjeman’s Myfanwy in her early sixties, struggling to lose weight, her hips and elbows beginning to ache (looking into the chemist’s window for the price of cod liver oil – or maybe she could afford some glucosamine to get her joints working again).

Friday, July 21, 2006

Promotional modelling

Above: at the entrance to a supermarket I was stopped by a white rabbit gathering prospects for the Fitness First gym chain. Obviously it wasn’t really a white rabbit – it was someone dressed up as a white rabbit. The rabbit offered various health tests (blood pressure, lung capacity, body fat ratio) and took names for follow up calls (selling gym memberships).

This “promotional modelling” is a theatrical variation on the sandwich board man (a man who would walk up and down the streets with advertising placards strapped to his body). Charles Dickens invented the term “sandwich men” to describe the armies of promotional workers who walked around the streets of London in Victorian Times. The concept has recently been parodied in the launch of the new FREE Film Four channel, with Dame Judi Dench dressed as a lobster and Ewan McGregor dressed as a tomato handing out leaflets in Trafalgar Square.

Usually marketers are wary of using these tactics for fear of making their brand look ridiculous. What is beyond doubt is that promotional modelling does get your message across. As my old marketing tutor used to say: “You might ignore one of these characters, but you can’t ignore ten or fifteen of them strung out along the North Orbital Road.”

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Sunday School

In a corner of one village church I found an area that was laid out as a Sunday School. From a cultural point of view, the transfer of ethical values increasingly depends upon voluntary efforts such as these (schools have stopped bothering – in any case the last thing we want is the politicisation of ethics by the government via the National Curriculum). But in a dog-eat-dog world, is it necessarily to a child’s benefit that they are taught traditional Christian values (several parents I know are bringing their children up to be selfish and amoral)?

Above: Small chairs set around a low table. They are the sort of chairs that will make a scraping sound on the floor every time they are moved. The children have hedgehog toys to play with.

Above: On a window ledge were these paper angels, grouped conspiratorially.

Above: The children are obviously doing a project on the needs of the wider world. The dolls are in various kinds of national dress. The child’s map shows Africa, the Indian sub-continent, and an indeterminate continent with palm trees.

Above: There is a “garden” populated with tiny paper people. They could well be representations of footballers as the shirts seem to be in national colours (photograph taken during the period of the recent World Cup). Someone must come in each day to water the plants.

Above: High on the wall was an illustration from children’s hymn All Things Bright And Beautiful. Judging by the 1920s hairstyles the picture must have hung there for eighty years or so, informing the passing generations about flowers that open and birds with tiny wings. The hymn was written by Cecil Alexander in 1848 and set to a 17th century English melody.

Above: Forgotten in a corner was this portrait of a former incumbent (or possibly curate?). Undoubtedly an High Anglican priest in the holy order of Melchezidek, dating I would guess from the early 1930s. What do the children make of this remote image – will they take through life a sub-conscious memory of the face of God, benevolently watching over them?

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Open-air concert in the park

Above: looking towards the stage (we didn’t have a good view, but I think my friends preferred to be near the beer tent).

Record temperatures in England and Wales at the moment. The heat in the office is unbearable. One of the Marketing Executives stood in front of a big fan (on the floor) so that her dress billowed out (I told her she resembled Marylyn Monroe, which seemed to please her).

Last Saturday there was an open-air concert in the park in the middle of the small market town near to where I live. I went along with some neighbours (not really neighbours – they live in a row of bungalows about half a mile away down the lane). Because I didn’t know them all that well, we were just being polite to each other all afternoon.

The park is in the centre of the town, a big square of grass and trees. It had been cordoned off with three entry points, police and stewards guarding each entrance even though admission was free. At the far end a stage had been set up, with a giant screen on the right to relay and magnify the performances. Around the perimeter of the park were marquees and tents, most of them bars (one selling a selection of “real” ales, the rest being temporary outposts of local pubs). The remainder of the tents were a bizarre assortment of good causes including a council demonstration on the efficacy and desirability of worm-bins. The big central area of the park was completely filled by several thousand people sitting on the grass (mostly young families), drinking and watching the music acts.

It was two o’clock by the time we got to the concert, and it was clear that a tremendous amount of drinking had already taken place (people staggering, lots of empty plastic cups on the ground, police “advising” some individuals they ought to go home). The sun blazed down. We went into one of the bars and got some drinks and went out to stand at the edge of the park – there wasn’t any room to sit down in the central area.

After four pints my head began to ache (not sure if it was the beer or standing in the full sun). The act on stage was a very amateur local hip-hop band, repetitive and loud (most of the acts were “tribute” performances). I felt tired from standing, but there wasn’t really anywhere to sit on the grass – no room in the middle of the park, and round the edges people were constantly walking backwards and forwards. Three hours of this was enough for me, and I wanted to go home, but because I had come into town with my neighbours I didn’t have any means of getting back (my house is quite remote). I felt my clothes sticking to my skin. Another pint was put into my hands and my vision began to…

Anyway, the thing that struck me about the event was just how homogenous the crowd was. Especially how many young families there were – family groups easily formed the majority. We are supposed to have an aging population, increasingly single households, diverse and multi-cultural, but there was no evidence of any of that.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

The slowness of making tea

Above: roadside sign, late summer evening (slanting shadows in the grass), a hot day but with a stiff breeze blowing.

This post: about tea drinking I thought was interesting. I had not thought about the slowness of making tea before – it’s impossible to make a drinkable “fast” cup of tea. The issue of Milk In First (MIF) is supposed to be the origin of the expression “He / she looked miffed” (ie looked as if just given a cup of tea where the milk had been put in first).

Northern Planner is a site I check daily – it looks at marketing from an agency point of view.

They started that war

Above: Mars the god of war (Roman statuette in a provincial museum – you can’t use a flash in the museum, so apologies for the quality of the picture).

Listening to the Today Programme on the way to work this morning, the Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett wailed with exasperation because the interviewer kept “trying to drag Iraq” into a discussion about the Middle East. From her own PR point of view this response seems stupid and deliberately insulting to the Today audience (she was basically saying “don’t bother me with these questions”).

British involvement in Iraq is the most important issue the government is responsible for and the Foreign Secretary needs to pay attention to the subject and answer questions when asked (it’s what we employ her to do). Is the government hoping we are going to forget about Iraq? They started that war, and they don’t seem to have any clear idea on how to finish it (or, very troubling thought, the Labour hierarchy know it can't be finished until Tony Blair is out of the way, so in the meantime they just intend to stall all discussions on the subject).

Monday, July 17, 2006

A pillar of smoke

Driving across the plain one evening last week, in the distance was this impressive plume of smoke. Obviously the result of a major conflagration. But as I drove towards it the sight seemed to achieve Biblical proportions (“During the day, He was revealed as a pillar of smoke; by night, a pillar of fire” Exodus chapter 13).

Hope this doesn’t seem too “religious”. The phrase just came into my mind as I took the photograph. It’s odd the way things just emerge from the subconscious (and also, the word “smoke” comes from a really obscure 17th century edition of the King James Version – in most editions it’s translated as “cloud”, so I don't know where I picked up the archaic usage).

Now I look at the picture posted on this site, the smoke doesn't seem all that impressive, but actually it was HUGE. You can click on the photo and then click again (in the corner) to enlarge it to its fullest extent. It was a very hot evening, about 6.45 pm.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

City Hall is above all the people’s palace

A few days ago I was at a financial services seminar at the top of City Hall. I was invited there as a guest. Although I don’t work in financial services I want to keep open the option of taking up a marketing role in the City.

The seminar was held on the top floor of City Hall, the glass doors to the gallery wide open (it was a hot sunny day). The presentations were very technical, but I understood most of what was said. There was a buffet lunch, which was very well done (I had a bit too much wine).

During the breaks we walked on the gallery looking at the panoramic views of London. City Hall was designed by the architect Norman Foster and resembles a lop-sided egg. It was opened in 2002 to a mixed reaction (like most of Norman Foster’s work it has a slightly supercilious quality, as if the architect is addressing posterity, not the mortals who currently inhabit London).

City Hall is above all the people’s palace where Mayor of London Ken Livingstone has his base. Ken Livingstone was originally ejected from the New Labour Party for being too much of a rebel, supporting policies of old-style socialism (a sincere belief in the nationalisation of the means of production, distribution and exchange). Following his popular election as Mayor of London he has been readmitted to Tony Blair’s Labour Party (they couldn’t really do much else).

Ken Livingstone has a very affable persona. He is a working-class Londoner who likes newts, and talks about socialism in a very down-to-earth and accessible way. He is rightly acclaimed for sorting out London’s transport problems.

He is one of the most successful politicians of the last twenty years.

And yet…

And yet…

He has a reputation for violence, including personally beating up people he disagrees with. He has a persistent reputation for anti-Semitism (an easy enough slur for his opponents to make, but the accusations are too recurrent to ignore). He is by any standards someone who must be in control.

Not a good person.

Above: From the gallery of City Hall you get this amazing view of HMS Belfast, a 6-inch-gun cruiser from the Second World War, now preserved as a museum. HMS Belfast played a leading role in the destruction of the German battle cruiser Scharnhorst, and also supported Allied troops as they landed on Gold and Juno beaches on D-Day, 6th June 1944. Because of its size and position on the Thames the ship is difficult to photograph from ground level.

Monday, July 10, 2006

The sort of film that should be shown on Film Four (about to be re-launched as a free service)

Gypsies form a marginal group in society that literally lives on the margins – on roadsides, in car parks, at illicit sites in the countryside (sometimes buying agricultural land and putting up buildings in defiance of the planning laws). Also popularly known as Romanies, they call themselves Romanichals in England (Kale in Wales and Nawkens in Scotland). They are supposed to have originated in India about a thousand years ago, consolidated their culture and language in Turkey (“Rom”, which may possibly be where they get the name Romany) and arrived in England in the sixteenth century calling themselves the Lords of Little Egypt.

Above: group of caravans parked on the roadside verge. You can see one of the traditional horse-drawn covered wagons, which is known as a vardo. The inhabitants of these temporary encampments live out in the open, under the gaze of the surrounding population – I once saw a young gypsy woman brushing her teeth in the open, ignoring the passing rush-hour traffic only a few feet away.

Above: This sign, in the middle of nowhere, suggests an attempt to record the traditions, character and rituals of the community (in reality, there is little record of this enigmatic culture, and because the community tends not to produce intellectuals much of their history has been lost). I have never been to the museum. Gypsies provoke extreme reactions wherever they go. Historically they wandered about the country helping with the harvest. More than any other section of the population they represent the “other” in our midst, unassimilated even after four centuries. Professor Roger Lockyer has written about “the terror of the tramp” that emerged in the sixteenth century and the various Poor Laws meant to control the phenomenon, which makes me wonder whether the arrival of the gypsies was a catalyst for this legislation.

Above: Gypsies are also associated with travelling shows, although “showfolk” seem to regard themselves as a sub-section of the culture, with their own rules and traditions.

Above: Gypsy style has recently influenced high street fashion.

Above: The Suppliants, the expulsion of the gypsies from Spain (1872 painting by Edwin Longsden Long, now in the Picture Gallery of Royal Holloway College). Gypsies have always been regarded as pariahs subject to casual and official persecution. Legislation in the United Kingdom in the 1990s abandoned any official attempt to provide sites for gypsies, making inevitable clashes between travelling groups of gypsies and local communities (leading to violence on both sides). Whatever the provocations initiated by the gypsies (parking illegally, committing petty crimes, leaving stupendous amounts of trash and litter), it is undeniable that the government has behaved very irresponsibly in leaving them to confront local householders in a struggle for resources. The government is basically saying to gypsies and rural communities: fight it out between yourselves. The government doesn’t care about gypsies and certainly doesn’t care about rural communities (they cynically don’t care because they don’t see any votes for New Labour).

Above: Gypsy religion seems to be a form of Christianity intermingled with various superstitious practices. For example, Sir James Frazer records that a gypsy family will get rid of bad luck by placing small items into a box and then leaving the box to be found by a stranger who thus acquires the bad luck (or illness) – is this the origin of Pandora’s Box? Fortune telling seems to be a gypsy tradition.

Above: The 1976 film Gypsies are found near heaven is one of the most beautiful movies ever made. Directed by Emil Lotvanu it is based on the stories by the writer Maxim Gorky. Set in a gypsy camp on the eastern edge of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, it is the sort of film that should be shown on Film Four (about to be re-launched as a free service).

Friday, July 07, 2006

Denied the opportunity for triumphalism and exaltation

Whatever the outcome on July 9th, the World Cup competition (along with the Olympics being sporting contests of the globalised world) effectively came to an end last Saturday with the defeat of the England team.

History always repeats itself, once as tragedy, once as farce. The anxiety of penalty shoot-outs has, for the England team, become an insurmountable phobia. Freud’s “menacing hand” reaches out, the dreams of the eight-year-old child recur in the imagination, the infant’s irrational fear of being killed by round objects (balloons, clouds, footballs) with spooky timing collectively manifests itself at a moment of (pretend) national crisis.

The annual turnover of English football amounts to 2.5 per cent of total national income. Investment in football represents approximately 1.5 per cent of national wealth (I have extrapolated both these figures). Football in the United Kingdom represents capitalism in a particularly pure form (professional clubs sell football performances as a commodity to the consuming public).

The media also sets out to make a profit from mass enthusiasm for football. The ferocity with which the Sunday Mirror turned against the England team members it had sought to exploit only days previously illustrates the skill with which cynical journalists can sell profitable copy whatever the outcome of the actual sporting contest (like a butcher making delicious sausages from offal, floor sweepings and mouldy pork pies past their sell-by date). It also represents a channel for the widespread anger at England’s failure (including the missed commercial opportunities that would have accrued had the national team won the competition).

Wayne Rooney is an interesting personality because he illustrates Freud’s model of socialisation (with a football team acting as the organisational framework). From attack to defence, from a feeling of omnipotence to a feeling of despicable failure, his experiences last Saturday represented in the course of one match the workings of the id, the ego and the super-ego. Because he is so young (aged 20) you can see these developments untrammelled by the “baggage” associated with someone older.

Quote 1:
“When men are in the throes of destruction they reject everything that is not of their own kind” (W. B. Miller Lower class culture as a generating milieu of gang delinquency published in the Journal of Social Issues, New York 1958).

Quote 2:
“Public sporting events provide a welcome opportunity to distract the masses politically and transform their applause for sporting achievements into acclamation for the political system” (R. Altmann Der politische horizont des sports – read in translation).

Denied the opportunity for triumphalism and exaltation, the press is casting around for a subliminal scapegoat – a target at which they can channel popular rage (they need a big story that will provide narrative drive and sell newspapers over the coming weeks and months). It is probably no co-incidence that the hounding of John Prescott has resumed (nothing can save him). It is possible they will go on to drag down and destroy the Blair government.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Photographs of Pele at the Getty Images Gallery in Eastcastle Street

I have been off work for the last few days, but although I took the time as “holiday” it has not been at all relaxing. Because we were having building work done at the house I had to be up before the builders arrived and so have been permanently tired. Then on Tuesday evening, when eating some peanut toffee (a thick slab with the consistency of concrete) I broke a molar tooth and entered upon a sustained period of blood, pain, and disorientation that culminated yesterday with the dentist wresting the remains of the tooth from my jaw, leaving me with a sore mouth and feeling depressed (“You shouldn’t have any pain now” people in the office say unsympathetically).

But there have been interludes to the gloom of the last week. One evening I went with Gary Spencer to the Opening of an exhibition of photographs of the Brazilian soccer player (retired) Pele at the Getty Images gallery in Eastcastle Street. Pele himself was rumoured to be attending the Opening Night, but we didn’t see him (unless he had been and gone by the time we got there).

We went from the hot street outside into the gallery, which was crammed with (mostly) youngish people (mostly) talking to each other and (mostly) ignoring the photographs. The event was invitation-only and the people invited seemed to be designers, advertising executives, marketing people (“Sir False” as Shakespeare would categorise these professionals). I am always slightly uneasy when in the company of large numbers of my marketing colleagues – don’t know why this should be, since no-one forced me to go into marketing.

So trendy was the event that it resembled a Will Young video. Pink spotlights accentuated the vie en rose atmosphere. Waitresses brought round glasses of chilled champagne and plates of canapés. A DJ in the corner played samba music and a soundtrack of whistles and drums. The large front gallery was hung with about two hundred black and white photographs of Pele at various stages of his footballing career. He is seen with a vast number of celebrities, including Frank Sinatra, Audrey Hepburn, several Kennedys, his face beaming with pleasure. When he is photographed off-guard his face seemed to have a haunted look. Most of the photographs were for sale, the prices ranging from a few hundred pounds to many thousands. Gary Spencer pointed to various ones he intended to buy, ignoring the fact that his wife would veto the purchases.

Above: When he is photographed off-guard his face seemed to have a haunted look.

After twenty minutes we were ushered, with a few others, from the crowd in the gallery into one of the white, windowless back rooms where we met the Creative Director (black, aged about thirty five, wearing a suit but no shirt so that when he unbuttoned the jacket his defined musculature was shown off). The photographs from the exhibition, plus many others, are to be bound in a huge book, personally signed by Pele and retailing at £1,600. While we drank champagne and ate honey-glazed sausages the Creative Director gave us a sales pitch for the book.

“I used to support Spurs” the Creative Director said to Gary Spencer (presumably they had already discussed the north London team), “but now I go to see all of the great players – for me the individual has replaced the team…”

“…this is the biggest football book of all time… we profile Pele’s Santos years, which you will never see in any other book… we even have Pele in the army, which we got when we went out to Brazil tracking down unpublished photos…”

“…we have a big section analysing the Pele style… Pele was the first footballer to have an impact on fashion… he was the first sportsman to wear a tracksuit outside of training… here he is wearing his tie tucked into his shirt… the yellow jersey became iconic after 1970 when the World Cup was first broadcast in colour… he was incredibly influential, just from the things he did naturally and which other people copied…”

We were in the presentation about half an hour. After a while the subject of Pele began to assume mega proportions and I began to suspect that the Creative Director had become obsessed by his enthusiasm for the player. All the time we were there our glasses were replenished (as soon as they were empty) and plates of sausages were brought in.

Above: the Getty Images Gallery in Eastcastle Street. Getty Images is a commerical photo library which has grown big through acquisition (I think they bought Popperphoto's historical archieve). The Getty Museum in Los Angeles (where I did a sort of internship many years ago) was one of the first major museums to collect historical photographs - not sure of the link between the Getty Museum and the Getty Gallery.

Portrait from the globalised world Number 4 (World Cup postscript)

Zhu Guang used to share a house with several other foreign students. On the outside it was a drab Victorian terrace house, tiny front garden, tiny back yard. Inside it was clean, bright and modern.

The tenants of this house changed constantly, fluctuating with the academic year. But however much the polyglot composition of the house altered it always included Chinese and Brazilians. One seemingly permanent inmate was a Brazilian called Altenisio.

Like all the Brazilians he appeared to have lots of money (“Rich people in Brazil send their children to Europe because they are afraid they will be harmed if they stay in Brazil spending all their money”). When I first met him he was doing a computing course at one of the “New” universities. He was also very active in athletics and football, was an accomplished amateur artist (drawing portraits of all the girls in the house), claimed to write poetry.

His room included a Catholic “shrine” on a small dressing table – religious postcards, small statues of saints, candles. In Brazil his family were very devout Catholics, and Catholicism meant everything to them. Altenisio used to talk seriously about giving up his womanising and his wastrel life and going back to Brazil to become a good Catholic once again.

When I next met him, two years later (when Zhu Guang came back from Nanjing on a flying visit), he had left university and had got a dead-end job in a local warehouse on one of the big retail parks. He was short of money, as the job didn’t pay very well. Possibly he was also supporting a narcotics habit, as he seemed to be lethargic and “out of it”. His fervent Catholicism had completely gone. All that remained from his university persona was his compulsive pursuit of female company and his liking for football (a game he wasn’t very good at). He was insistent that Brazil would win the 2006 World Cup, so presumably even that compensation has now gone following Brazil’s defeat by France.

Above: despite the risk of appearing to be a human cliché Altenisio would put on his Brazil shirt and play football in the warehouse car park.