Sunday, September 30, 2007

The past week at work



This week I finished reading The White Cities by Joseph Roth. It is a collection of his journalism between 1925 and 1939. You get the sense that gradually his life became more and more constrained as the political situation deteriorated (he was a Jewish refugee who left Germany for Paris, where he died in poverty in 1939).

Some typical Roth quotes:

“I have learned that nothing can continue to exist unless it represents continuity in some way - the chain does not break nor can one break it.”

“Only by minute observation of reality do you get at the truth.”

“It is only through its individuals that a nation can be known and understood.”

Looking back over the last week at work, one of the dominant themes is fatigue. I am beginning to resent getting up so early for the long commute, and the trains are always crowded. I wonder if it would be quicker to drive most of the way and then park by a tube station.

In the office on Monday there was lots of gossip about one of the PR Executives upstairs (“His girlfriend threw him out last night at three o’clock in the morning and he had nowhere else to go so he came into the office and slept there. Terry was first in this morning and found him. He’s not happy about it.”). Later that day I saw the individual, looking sheepish and slightly dishevelled. Terry is our MD, and I would judge he was a hard man under his gentlemanly veneer - not someone to overlook anything unprofessional.

Most of Monday was spent in the Conference Room with Directors Ian and Alan, and New Business Executive Kate. Kate has just moved into this role, having formerly been an Account Executive. The meeting discussed various potential clients she has set up meetings with. Ian wants to build up the client list so that we are less dependent on the PR division upstairs. I rashly agreed to help Kate with the presentations. We went through the agency powerpoint presentation (which really needs improving) tailoring it for each potential client.

Tuesday Kate and I drove miles to a northern town where we talked (with some degree of animation) about how best to promote a range of big machines. We spent about three hours in a long room overlooking a car park - no coffee was offered. We were giving the presentation to seven salesmen, the company’s entire sales team. They were nice people but they knew nothing about advertising and how it works (for instance, they expected to just put one ad in a magazine and the phone would start ringing). It was very hard work talking them through what virtually amounted to a complete marketing plan for their company, but the effort was worth it. They were so enthusiastic that they gave us a definite brief and budget, plus an Order for the first campaign.

“New business is easy” said Kate (exultantly) on the way back.

Wednesday we went to the next potential client, located in Warwickshire. This was a much bigger enterprise, and because of the importance of the presentation Ian came with us. At this presentation we were dealing with the company’s directors (all decision makers) with real coffee and luxury chocolate biscuits on the table.

The brief was very demanding and will involve television (something Ian doesn’t have a great deal of experience with, although he bluffed his way through). The Managing Director of the company kept thinking of new things to add to the brief. Afterwards we were taken on a tour of the factory that included a big sales and marketing suite with all their products on display and a dining room for client entertaining. This suite was completely deserted of people and had the air of the Marie Celeste. The director showing us round explained that the entire sales and marketing team had just been sacked for corruption. Kate, Ian and I looked at each other - obviously that was why the company needed an agency in a hurry, and why the brief was so big.

After the presentation we sat in Ian’s car talking it over. Ian was almost jabbering with excitement, dazzled by the size of the potential account and how it would transform the agency billings. Getting this client would solve all our problems (and also, no doubt, create a whole load of new problems).

The rest of the week I chased things, I telephoned clients, I shuffled paperwork around my desk. Is it wrong to dislike one of my clients? Every time I go to see him he is rude and badly organised (dropping things on the floor, forgetting where he had put things, asking me to send more proofs to save him having to find the ones I sent him a week ago and which should have been signed-off by now).

Because I was off on Friday (the Nixon trial) I had to do the monthly invoicing for my client list. This involves writing the bills on a standard form and passing them to accounts clerk Janette who puts them on the system. I have learned that if it is a quiet month Ian tells Sheila (Office Manager) to add ten or twenty per cent to every job (mostly the clients don’t notice, but if any of them complain they take the amount off again and apologise for the “error” - which the client then thinks I am responsible for!).

Anyway, this month there was no need for unauthorised mark-ups - the amount of money “my” client list has generated was well up on September last year (when Kate was looking after things).

Thursday evening, and on the way home I stopped at the Co Op. The night felt cold as I got out of my car. In the store, in one of the aisles, two women were packing the shelves (very slowly) and talking about a colleague.

“Margaret’s in a strop again” one said to the other.

I took my basket to the checkout at the front. A slim woman in her early sixties (grey hair in a perm, old-fashioned glasses, severe expression on her face) was coping on her own, despite a queue. Her name badge said “Margaret”. As each customer came up she took the items from their basket, scanned them, and smacked them back down again, with no attempt to put them in a bag (normally the staff put the items in a bag for you). I wondered why she was having a bad day. If it had been possible I would have liked to have helped her.

As it is Sunday Kim Blacha’s Song of the Day is Caccini’s Ave Maria by Andrea Botcelli.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SqBJFDbE2ZI&mode=related&search

Saturday, September 29, 2007

It is the cover-ups that cannot be forgiven



Above: the James Purnell story was on the front page and page two of the Financial Times, and page two of the Daily Telegraph.

A “fakery” scandal has attached itself to James Purnell, Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport. He arrived late for a photo shoot at a hospital, and so his image was “merged” into the group photograph afterwards, making it look as if he was there on time. He has since said that although he agreed for his photograph to be taken and knew it would be “merged” he did not agree to the faked merged photograph as it finally appeared (but note, he did not disagree with it either).

Last night on Newsnight it was reported that the hospital had refused to release the original unfaked photos (the framing would possibly reveal whether there was an intention to fake). Also on Newsnight Emily Maitlis interviewed former New Labour lobbyist Derek Draper (involved in a cash for access scandal back in 1997, indicating that the Blair administration was corrupt right from the start) who said that the matter was trivial and of no importance. An endorsement by Derek Draper does not exactly inspire me with confidence.

On the face of it, the matter IS trivial and of no consequence. But the fact that only two weeks ago James Purnell was lecturing the Royal Television Society about the importance of not faking information means that the doctored photo, if it is a “fake”, reveals him to be a hypocrite. And the fact he has tried to deny any involvement indicates an attempted cover up.

As Richard Nixon found out, it is not the original misdemeanour that is so terrible, it is the cover-ups that cannot be forgiven.

Speaking from my own (very humble) experience of PR, it is inconceivable that a government minister would not be aware of how his image is used. He is not just one person on his own. As a constituency MP and as a Minister he is surrounded by entourages of party workers and retinues of civil servants who watch every move he makes to ensure he is presented in the best possible light.

For James Purnell to say that he was aware of the merged photograph but was not aware of the faked photograph reminds me of Bill Clinton saying he smoked marijuana but did not inhale.

Why should I bother with these things? Why should I care whether political leaders are corrupt or not? The indications are that the vast majority, all parties, are venal and corrupt beyond belief. But somehow I do care. And through the only channel I have (this blog, poor thing that it is) I register my protest. It’s a faint voice, but it is protesting.

More on Derek Draper: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Derek_Draper

More on Richard Nixon’s cover up: http://watergate.info/

More on Bill Clinton’s smoking but not inhaling: http://www.iht.com/articles/1992/03/30/bill_1.php

Kim Blacha’s Song of the Day is Rule the world by Take That.
http://www.musicvideolife.com/mtv/videos/851/Take_That_-_Rule_The_World_Pop_usic_Video.html

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

David Miliband’s striking (and handsome) eyebrows

It is the week of the Labour Party, this year being held at Bournemouth. Yesterday (Monday) Foreign Secretary David Miliband used the conference to launch the “second wave” of British foreign policy. This second wave “moves on” from the unfortunate realities of Iraq and Afghanistan.

This idea of “moving on” appears to be a new political technique (or an old technique used more intensively). The technique regards an undesirable issue (such as the bloody catastrophe in Iraq) as a private grief particular to the government, from which they are trying to “move on”. Any journalists who ask about the issue are treated as if they are being crass, insensitive and intrusive.

David Miliband was interviewed on Newsnight last night (Monday) and gave an unusually bad performance for someone who is considered a rising star. He hadn’t shaved, so that his face displayed the sort of stubble (particularly on his upper lip) that undermined one of Richard Nixon’s television appearances. His reaction to Jeremy Paxman’s questions about the democracy protests in Burma was defensive and sarcastic, so that Jeremy Paxman had to protest “Don’t patronise me”.

He seemed to be badly briefed about Burma, and when challenged about investment expressed a weak hope that his department was supplying him with the right information. Several times he was obliged to answer “I don’t know”, saying this phrase in a combative way, as if he was being asked obtuse questions. Several times he said answers to Jeremy Paxman’s questions would be posted on a website, sounding like one of those automatic answer machines employed by large corporations (“all our lines are busy right now, but you can find further information on our website…”).

When he is thinking David Miliband screws his face up into an agonised expression. He occasionally splays out the long fingers of his hands (not in an excitable Latin way, but deliberately, so that a scissorhands effect is created). He has a supercilious way of raising his eyebrows and saying “exactly” (as if a slow dunderhead has finally grasped the point he is trying to make).

David Miliband’s striking (and handsome) eyebrows are worthy of further analysis. They dominate his face, and movement of these facial umlauts ensure that whenever he speaks he commands attention. However the strength of the brow ridge makes you wonder if possibly he has one continuous eyebrow and plucks out the middle section (I have no way of knowing this, it’s just the way it looks to me).

His vocabulary is Blair-like. Occasionally it is juvenile. For instance, he described a television appearance of Aung Sang Su Chi as “brilliant” (the word “brilliant” was also used, in a different context, by Ed Balls on the Today programme this morning - it seems an imprecise word for ministers to use).

In the same programme Newsnight also staged its own “Iraq debate”, filmed earlier in the day and involving Labour Party activists. This was a response to the Labour Party’s refusal to debate the issue (the most important issue this country is facing) in the Conference itself. Perhaps that was why David Miliband was so annoyed with Jeremy Paxman?

More on Richard Nixon's "five o'clock shadow": http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Five_o'clock_shadow

Kim Blacha's Song of the Day is Are you going to Scarborough Fair by Amy Nuttall (I asked for something with a seaside theme).
http://vids.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=vids.individual&videoid=1440257408

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Personality is more important than celebrity

Lunchtime yesterday - Paul (designer) and I went to the Sitting Pretty exhibition in Kings Cross. Because we only had an hour we got a taxi there and came back by tube. The exhibition was photographic portraits by Jonathan Root of designers, artists and writers.

The Rabih Hage Gallery was in Birkenhead Street, just down from the mainline station. You had to go through THREE security doors just to get to the yard outside the Reception. The exhibition was in a long room, with wall-to-wall windows running down one side.

In the portraits Jonathan Root is trying to illustrate the principle that personality is more important than celebrity. To emphasise the “personal” aspect of each subject they are photographed with a chair (and some of the chairs are included as objects in the exhibition). I’m not sure this technique entirely works, and in any case the portraits are good enough to stand on their own.



Above (from left): designers Robin and Lucienne Day, writer Alan Bennett, artist Gavin Turk, actor Mark Rylance, artist Craigie Atchison (in my opinion the best of the exhibition), and fashion designer Zandra Rhodes.



Above: artist Aki Kuroda with the chair he is sitting on in the image - there was no-one else in the gallery so Paul sat down on the chair and begged me to photograph him (which I refused to do).

The exhibition seemed familiar, so that I was experiencing a sort of indeterminate déjà vu. Only later back in the agency did I realise that the photographic enigma variations I had just seen reminded me of the Great British exhibition of photographic portraits. When I got home I looked up the catalogue.



Above: The Great British was an exhibition of photographic portraits by Arnold Newman. It was put on at the National Portrait Gallery in 1979. Apparantly this was the first exhibition of photographs I was taken to, although I can’t remember anything about it (I imagine I would have been bored all the way round).

Susan Sontag, writing in the catalogue, says that a photograph, being a registering of a light emanation, is in fact a material vestige of its subject.

Kim Blacha’s Song of the Day is Empire by Kasabian.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aSKxXu05aOE

Monday, September 24, 2007

Prest pour mon pais

Sunday, and once again I was on the Pettifer trail. I have also been trying to dig out some biographical details. So far I have learned that he attended Jesus College Cambridge where he studied Classics and translated Virgil (privately printed).

Some of his more straightforward notes deal with David’s Tomb. This Pettifer matched with a hamlet right under the internal cliff, to the north west of the county. I call it a hamlet as it only amounts to thirty or so houses, most of them farmhouses and tied cottages.

The place is very difficult to get to, as it is at the foot of the cliff, at one of its steepest parts, but only accessible by road from the cliff top (there are tracks that lead to the settlement across the plain, but even if you had a four by four it would be rough going). In part the isolation has been maintained because the inhabitants almost all work on the land, and so go deep into the farms each day, rather than up onto the main road. To say the place is timeless is an understatement.

To get there you have to drive along the main road on the cliff top until you reach a side road that literally plunges over the side, falling at an alarming gradient. It really isn’t wise to do this in a normal car as you not only have to get down safely, you also have to get up again. When I made the descent it was about six o’clock in the afternoon, the sun already showing signs of going down.

Once on the level a lane goes in a big circular loop around the village before rejoining the entry road. The houses are all large and substantial, with barns and outhouses (the plain at this point is very fertile, producing several crops per year). There were many mature trees around the houses, which gave a leafy aspect to the village.

Being located in a niche at the foot of the south facing cliff, the sheltered aspect of the village seemed to have preserved the summer so that it was more like late July than almost October.



Reaching the church, I caught my first glimpse out into the secret places of the plain - a sight very few “outsiders” have seen.



The exterior of the church was disappointing. Although it was at least eight hundred years old (and if Pettifer is to be believed, considerably older), the building had been so hacked about by the Victorians that the final appearance of evenly-cut stones and banded slates gave no clue to its ancient provenance. My pace quickened a little, as the dying light meant that I only had about half an hour before twilight.



I walked round to the north side, as Pettifer advises. Rising up from the long unkempt grass, and attached to the church, was a fancy chapel in the gothic style of 1897. Pettifer refers to this structure as an aedicule.



Returning to the south side, I entered the church by a small porch and once I was inside I saw a simple nave that went off to the right. You can’t really gauge it from the photograph, but the setting sun produced a glorious horizontal light that suffused the dark interior with a rich golden glow. The atmosphere was one of certainty, as if a pocket of Victorian confidence and assuredness survived here intact.



On all the walls were heraldic funeral hatchments. Over the west arch (above) you can see the 1815 Royal Arms but painted on a lozenge in the style of a funeral hatchment (this is of crucial importance if Pettifer’s claim is to be given any credence). Notice the vase of sunflowers, a flower of great symbolism to Pettifer, which he related to the south-facing aspect of the village.



Close-up of some of the heraldry. Notice the knight in armour with golden spurs, red plumes on his helmet, and carrying a battleaxe and a curved sword (the motto Prest pour mon pais means Ready for my country). The cult of the champion is a recurring theme in Pettifer’s notes.



On the north wall was this giant representation of a sunflower, made entirely of seeds.



On the east wall was this marble tablet commemorating a former curate. I liked the reference to persevering faithfulness and kindness (on Andrew Marr’s programme this morning Ann Widdecombe said these virtues had almost entirely died out in public life). The curate was a contemporary of Pettifer, so possibly they met?



Finally I reached the chancel, but the way into the chapel was screened off by iron railings. Beyond the rails I could see the tomb - it looked sixteenth century (certainly Pettifer is right that the stone canopy resembles the sort of temporary canopy that would have characterised a medieval royal lying-in-state). The light was fading and I knew I had to get up onto the cliff top again, therefore there was no time to ask around to see if the gate in the railings could be unlocked.

Pettifer relates this place to David’s tomb: Kings 1, Chapter 2, verse 10 So David slept with his fathers, and was buried in the city of David. 11 And the days that David reigned over Israel were forty years: seven years reigned he in Hebron, and thirty and three years reigned he in Jerusalem. 12 Then sat Solomon upon the throne of David his father; and his kingdom was established greatly. (Note: “city of David” refers to the necropolis of the Davidic royal family on the Ophel Hill in Jerusalem - some of the caves are still visible today).

Kim Blacha’s Song of the Day is Stay the night by Ghosts.
http://www.myspace.com/ghostsuk

Sunday, September 23, 2007

The most sarcastic bow any of us had ever seen



Saturday - I went for a three-mile walk round through the village, returning along the lane at the back of the house (several fields away). It was about four o’clock in the afternoon. The air was mild, the birds sang, the honey-scent of a small field of uncut chrysanthemums (grown as a cash crop in these parts) accompanied me for about half a mile.

Feeling soothed and relaxed, I made the decision I had been putting off all day. I decided I would meet Charles Frappe at a concert in the evening. I hadn’t seen either him or Robert Leiper since they had been obliged to leave France (in a hurry).

I drove there rather than trust the trains. In any case, there is usually no problem parking at weekends. I made excellent progress into the city and arrived just after seven.

Entering the church, I immediately saw Charles Frappe. The rest of the audience (about fifty or so) were taking their seats. I sat next to Charles, by the second pillar (right up against the pillar so I could lean back on the stone).

The church was originally eighteenth-century, but rebuilt in 1936 (using much of the original stonework, but also including lots of modern brickwork in a stripped classical style). The organ is quite famous (among organist circles) and was located at the back of the church on a gallery that spanned the west end. Although we were in pews facing the east, most people sat half-turned and looking to the gallery at the back, an uncomfortable position to keep up for an hour and a half (hence my care in sitting next to a pillar).

While we waited for the recital to start an elderly lady walked along the central aisle handing out cushions to sit on (some people had brought their own). Another elderly lady came to sit just in front of us, laying her walking stick along the bench and putting down her cushion and bag. She turned round and began chatting, telling us about her days as a chorister, performing at concerts all over the city.

“I remember one Christmas we were performing at a big concert of carols. While the audience were arriving the orchestra played little incidental pieces. In the middle of this incidental music the steward came in and told the conductor the Mayor would shortly arrive and when he reached the door the music was to stop and the Mayor would process to his seat in silence. The conductor was furious and said: this isn’t a football match that can be stopped and started on the blow of a whistle. You tell the Mayor that he can either take his seat while the music is playing or else wait for us to stop and take his seat in silence. Anyway, the Mayor arrived at the door and the conductor carried on for about five minutes until he reached a stopping place. Then the Mayor and his party advanced in dead silence. As he passed the orchestra the conductor gave him a deep bow. It was the most sarcastic bow any of us had ever seen.”

The recital began. The programme was very high-brow, the composers mostly unknown to me (but explained in very informative notes on the handouts). Sumsion (thundering ceremonial march), Bach (imitative points, episodes and subsidiary motifs), Mendelssohn (a double fugue develops - Aus tiefer Not).

There were some pieces by a former organist of Leicester cathedral, the introitus so loud and deep that it vibrated in the bones around my ears and almost made the building shake.



Pierné’s long-phrased melodic lines, Jongen’s individual harmonies, Wolstenholme’s unusual time-signature of 15/8.

One of the advantages of this kind of concert is that if it becomes boring you can close your eyes and doze and people just think you are concentrating on the music. However, the recital was so good (mainly due to the really expert organist) that I didn’t get bored at all. Towards the end (nine o’clock) the building was beginning to get a little cold.

The florid melody line of Peeters gave way to the “glittering passagework” of Edmundson, and then the recital was at an end. Sustained applause echoed under the vault and called the organist back to do an encore. When the clapping had completely stopped I left the church, after arranging to meet Charles Frappe when his accommodation was more settled.

More on stripped classicism: http://www.cartage.org.lb/en/themes/arts/Architec/TheAgeofRevivals/NeoClassicalRevival/NeoClassicalRevival.htm

Friday, September 21, 2007

An address by Jana Bennett, BBC Director of Vision



After leaving Helen and Kim, I went to Oxford Circus and had a club sandwich in Fred’s Café, also an almond twist and a cup of coffee. Then I walked down to Duchess Mews and the Cavendish Conference Centre for a meeting of the Royal Television Society. This was the first time I had been to the Cavendish Conference Centre which had a modest entrance at street level then went down to a huge basement.

Rachel (from the PR floor in the agency) had suggested I went to the RTS meeting as Terry (our MD) likes us to “understand” the media thoroughly. I was using Rachel’s ticket as she didn’t feel well (although she seemed fine). Terry thinks going to these sorts of meetings shows “commitment”.

I was just in time to buy a glass of (very bad) white wine in the crowded bar before everyone moved into the auditorium. This was a large lecture theatre, painted in brilliant white and lit from every conceivable angle, the white walls superimposed with projections of the golden RTS logo. The noise from the RTS audience was considerable.

The meeting consisted of an address by Jana Bennett, BBC Director of Vision, followed by questions. Jana Bennett was introduced by Alex Graham from the programme Wall to Wall (very rambling and disjointed). Jana Bennett was described as “one of the most powerful women in television in the world” with a list of job titles so extensive it sounded like a department put together by John Prescott.

A rather anodyne BBC promo video was then shown (projected onto the wall), consisting of clips from a multitude of different programmes, the sound appalling. When the film finished Jana Bennett walked across to the podium. She was dressed mostly in black (black shoes, black stockings, mostly black dress) which accentuated her dark hair and black-rimmed glasses. The lighting threw two shadows, both larger than life, onto the back wall. Her voice was low and serious. Her accent was difficult to place (Canadian? Somerset? even, rather improbably, a kelpie from the Falkland Islands?).

“The BBC is one of the leaders of the national conversation about knowledge… we are constantly refining the canon… this cannot just be consumer led…”

The audience was completely silent and appeared to be hanging on her every word.

“We live under a torrent of information but we also need understanding… the BBC is curator, editor, author, mediator, translator… knowledge building is one of the greatest sources of distinctiveness for the BBC…”

At this point she began reading from her speech rather than looking at the audience.

“We are going to become more strategic than ever in our commissioning… I would rather commission one very special programme than two programmes with less valuable content… fewer, bigger, better is our aim…”

It appeared (to me at least) that the speech contained some coded messages that some sections of the audience were responding to.

“Web two-point-oh allows our audiences to engage as partners… user generated content is important… increasingly we’ll use the web to build a rich legacy of content…”

The speech came to an end (“you never know what you havn’t yet done”). The audience applauded. Alex Graham said Jana Bennett would take questions from the audience - and then hogged a good ten minutes of the time himself with a number of very tedious “questions” that were really statements of his opinion.

Twenty minutes of genuine questions followed, most of them from BBC insiders. Two assistants ran up and down the central staircase, taking microphones to everyone who wanted to speak. One questioner put Sir David Attenborough on the spot by asking him for his views (he was just quietly sitting at the back minding his own business).

The meeting ended and I went home.



Above: Alex Graham and Jana Bennett. In between them you can see (back of his head) a Media Guardian journalist who asked Jana Bennett about the Blue Peter kitten-naming scandal (he referred to it as “fakery”). Jana Bennett was clearly uncomfortable discussing the subject and referred blandly to “more training about fair dealing” (do BBC employees really need to be trained not to tell lies?).

The scandal in question refers to the children’s show Blue Peter which asked its (mostly pre-teen) audience to name a kitten that had “joined” the team of presenters. The audience chose the name “Cookie” but the producers decided that they preferred the name “Socks”, announcing that the name “Socks” had been the most popular choice. The image of a big state-owned corporation lying to small children in such a blatant way (and about a fluffy KITTEN) is so shocking a PR disaster that words fail me.

I cannot take fashion PR seriously

Yesterday was the formal end of London Fashion Week, and Kim Blacha began her rehabilitation back into normal life. I went with Helen B to meet Kim as she emerged from the calderium of the contemporary fashion pavilions. Kim seemed unharmed by a week of total fashion immersion, but it’s bound to have marked her psychologically (claims of being “in love” with David David without saying whether she meant the man or the clothes; a new obsession with “vintage” Janet Fitch; second-hand anecdotes about the tyranny of Jean Muir etc).



London Fashion Week was held in temporary pavilions set up in the gardens in front of the Natural History Museum (an incredible building designed by Alfred Waterhouse). Above you can see the right hand pavilion, with the gothic museum looming behind. Security was very tight.



As we waited for Kim we saw several waves of the nation’s fashion PRs walking across the central area between the pavilions. I’m afraid I cannot take fashion PR seriously. The mere mention of it conjures up the image of Edina Monsoon.



The left hand pavilion. Things were obviously winding down (someone carrying a giant placard that said, with unintended irony, Fashion For Relief). Various stressed young women appeared and then disappeared and then reappeared again (and in my mind I could hear them muttering “American Vogue, French Vogue, Abyssinian Bloody Vogue…”).

Meeting Kim, we walked up and down the Cromwell Road chatting (actually Kim did most of the talking). I left the two of them outside the main entrance to the Victoria & Albert Museum (they were going on to a party). Some kind of reception was being held at the Museum as caterers were carrying in trays of sandwiches, porters were carrying in pots of hydrangeas, and there was a big pile of boxes marked “champagne”.

Kim’s Song of the Day is Valerie by Mark Ronson.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

On the front page of The Sun today



Wayne Rooney sells newspapers. He was on the front page of The Sun today, showing his new “Proud to be English” tattoo. He was also on page three - another premium spot in the newspaper.

The Sun has a circulation of 3,158,000 and is the United Kingdom’s biggest selling daily newspaper. 69% of the readers are aged below 45, and 88% of them are social groups C1, C2, D and E. The Editor is Rebekah Wade, whose pursuit of populist features (celebrity gossip, sensational crimes, short items that make people laugh) belies the fact that she is a serious and sensitive journalist (educated at the Sorbonne, former president of Women In Journalism, supporter of the charity SANE).

Articles in The Sun are short, and written in an easy style. This doesn’t mean that they are easy to write - short copy is much much harder to write than long copy (“It’s like writing poetry” one journalist pompously told me, “every word has to count”). Apart from Page 3, and Supergoals, the paper also has Jeremy Clarkson’s column on Saturdays.

It is fashionable to hate The Sun, but a critical editorial (of perhaps no more than three lines) is one of the few things over-mighty politicians really fear.



Above: as well as appearing on the front page, Wayne Rooney was also on Page 3 (which he shared with Peta, aged 20).

More on Rebekah Wade: http://www.bbc.co.uk/bbcfour/documentaries/profile/rebekah-wade.shtml

Kim Blacha is at London Fashion Week, so today’s Song of the Day is I’ll be ready by Sunblock (contributed by Gary Spencer).

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

On The Top

Driving home on Saturday I stopped to go up the hill known locally as The Top. I say known locally, as no-one else knows about it. Just another of the places that a careful reading of Pettifer gets you into.

I stopped at the nearest village and asked in the shop for directions. I thought for a moment that the woman behind the counter wasn’t going to tell me, but after a long pause she did. These directions turned out to be unnecessarily complicated, as the way is quite straightforward once you know where the turning is.

The turning off the main road was narrow and unmarked. I drove along it for half a mile and then at a sharp corner turned right (again the turning unmarked). Then along this lane the way forks again - I took the right hand track that was marked Rabbit Hill Farm.

The track was made of compacted loose flints (flints? in this part of the county?). Although I call it a track, it was quite wide and the flints provided a proper driving surface. As I drove clouds of white flint dust rose up. The way began to rise - not a steep gradient, but over half a mile I went up about three hundred and fifty feet. Dozens and dozens of pheasants scuttled out of the way as I went along, some of them running in front of the car until they had the sense to veer off. Near the summit was a sign that said the hill was common ground and the villagers had rights to remove “conies”.



Finally arrived on The Top, the road went straight down again and then up a more modest hill crowned by a complex of farm buildings (presumably Rabbit Hill Farm). Parking the car I got out and looked to the right (above), inwards to a secret landscape of remote valleys and hidden woods. Despite the hot afternoon a fresh wind was blowing on the hill top.



Looking in the other direction (above) I could see a tremendous view that was vast but also disappointing. This was because the rounded nature of the hill meant that everything was far off. You couldn’t really stand on the edge of the hill because there wasn’t an edge, just a concave expanse of stubbled fields, with the plain a long way in the distance.



On a little ridge in the centre of the hill was the area known as the beacon. Big fires have been lit on this spot since ancient times, the last really big fire being for the Golden Jubilee in 2002. A cresset (a sort of fire basket) is used for smaller fires (Guy Fawkes Day etc).

Pettifer’s Pisgah, one of the summits of Mount Nebo: “And the Lord shewed him all the land of Gilead, unto Dan. And all Naphtali, and the land of Ephraim, and Manasseh, and all the land of Judah, unto the utmost sea. And the south, and the plain of the valley of Jericho, the city of palm trees, unto Zoar. And the Lord said unto him, This is the land which I sware unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob, saying, I will give it unto thy seed…”
Deuteronomy 34: 1-4.

Kim Blacha is at London Fashion Week, so today’s Song of the Day is provided by my immediate boss Ian, who was listening to 10cc and Things we do for love on his way into work this morning.

Monday, September 17, 2007

“Well we try to tell the truth”

Unlike any previous place of work I’ve been at, the agency encourages staff to listen to radio and watch television (but you have to be able to justify why - it’s not enough to just passively absorb things).

Anyway this afternoon when things were a bit slow I half-listened to the PM programme on Radio 4. The presenter Eddier Meyer interviewed Chief Secretary to the Treasury Andy Burnham about the run on the Northern Rock Bank. Eddie Meyer read out various vox populi e-mails, one of which insisted that politicians tell the truth.

“Well we try to tell the truth” stuttered Andy Burnham, inadvertently implying that the attempts are not always successfully.

“Try?” echoed Eddie Meyer, an edge of incredulity to his voice (incredulous that politicians might not always tell the truth? or incredulous that a member of the government should be so thoughtless of basic media training?).

Andy Burnham made several bland and soothing statements about the credit crunch which led Eddie Meyer to say scathingly “Crisis, what crisis?” (a remark that incensed the country when “uttered” by PM Jim Callaghan in the 1979 winter of discontent).

When the PM programme (usually a very gentle current affairs programme) goes on the offensive you know the wheels are coming off the government’s PR operations.

More on “Crisis, what crisis?”: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/921524.stm

The brilliance of a Teulon design

Although it is the middle of September, the summer continues - if anything the weather has become more summery than the months that have gone before. Except that each morning I go out into the garden the greenery has seemed diminished slightly. Not turned brown and autumnal, just diminished.

On Saturday I visited a village where the warm summer was still at its height. Once again, Pettifer led me there, although at times I wonder whether following his trail is a wild goose chase. He combines a considerable level of scholarship with a sort of esoteric mysticism. For instance, he has done a lot of work listing the genealogies of the patrons of church foundations (inevitably incomplete, and making whopping leaps between Saxon and early medieval), but then cross-references them with his interpretive “feelings” that a particular settlement corresponds with a place in the Holy Land. I thought at first he meant this literally, but I am beginning to think he intends a symbolic connection (like a series of Edwardian eschatological twin-towns). Added to this, his crabbed hand-writing and slapdash organisation make his notes very difficult to follow.

This particular village (“Gilgal”) was on the sides of a lush and humid wooded valley, the hillsides sharply falling and then rising again, with no valley floor. You couldn’t drive up to the church, you had to park on a sort of ledge at the side of the road and then walk up a curving path for about three hundred yards. Trees blocked the view and luxuriant ferns grew waist-high on either side.



The first view I got was of the medieval tower - a deceptive view since the rest of the church was Victorian (pulled down in 1842 and rebuilt according to designs by the architect Teulon). The trees hemmed around so closely that they made the approach seem dark, although it was a bright late afternoon (about five o’clock). The ground was very springy underfoot.



On the sloping ground the tombstones seemed to be falling down the hillside. The dense vegetation was almost exotic in the abundant way it rose up from the graveyard, as if I was in some kind of micro rainforest (an effect heightened by the damp earth, although it hasn’t rained for over a week). Big rabbits in the undergrowth looked at me curiously before thumping off, the unhurried slowness of their gait indicating that they were not used to visitors.



Look at the door! Even Pevsner agrees the Teulon ironwork is spectacular. But why such elaborate decoration on the door of a humble out-of-the-way village church?


Inside I was assailed by the smell, which was musty (perhaps a little damp) and slightly bitter with a myrtle edge to it. The church consisted of a nave (with a simple north aisle) and a chancel. Pevsner says the font is from the medieval structure although Teulon has put an elaborate cover over it. The sense of stillness and silence was profound, the silence accentuated by the loud steady ticking of the church clock in the tower, a mechanism that in its sober deliberation seemed to be counting down the years. Looking at the Visitors Book I noticed that the last entry was 10th August (obviously they must have had services since then?). As I walked along the nave I saw that candle lamps were fixed to each of the columns (above) - they are still used since the wicks were fresh.



Monuments to a family of churchwardens - there is a propensity for church offices in these parts to run in families (and woebetide any incomer who upsets the equilibrium).


When I reached the chancel step I stopped and looked back (notice on the left at the back the font with its cover and the strange bracket that lifts it off). The church seemed to be filling up with a white light. Pettiferian mystical manifestation or just the brilliance of a Teulon design that floods the building with light at unexpected moments?
The altar was decorated with fresh flowers, the lilies still in bud. The east window was stained glass, but you can see the white light just floats through it. I think Teulon has designed the building so that as the sun moves the light comes down at oblique angles and from all directions at once.

In the centre of the little chancel, exactly where Pettifer said it would be, was the inscribed stone. The medieval slab was surrounded by a Victorian floor of encaustic tiles (I wonder if Teulon had a look inside the vault - it might be worth checking his papers to see if he mentions anything). All was as it should be, except that the church notes (a typescript photocopied sheet) say that the stone covers a grave belonging to one of the former priests, who died in 1420 (so what is Pettifer playing at?).

Emerging from the church, I felt cold despite the warmth of the afternoon. I walked round to the north side where the trees gave out and the ground fell steeply into the valley. A friendly donkey in a paddock came up to me, and I experienced a sense of relief as I rubbed his head and felt contact with his animal warmth ( I am aware of how pathetic this sentence must seem).

On the way back to my car I thought I would have a look at the Rectory, which is also by Teulon (usual forbidding style of his domestic work, but I could see it included a massive conservatory at the back which looked innovative). I walked a little way up the drive, then my nerve failed me, and I felt I couldn’t disturb the householders on a Saturday afternoon. I confined myself to taking the above photograph, but when I looked at it later the house had been masked out by the light through the trees, as if I was not meant to capture the image (or perhaps I had just got the light setting wrong).

Joshua 4, 19 & 20. And the people came up out of Jordan on the tenth day of the first month, and encamped in Gilgal, in the east border of Jericho. And those twelve stones, which they took out of Jordan, did Joshua pitch in Gilgal.

Kim Blacha is tied up with London Fashion Week, so in her absence I am choosing people at random to suggest their Song of the Day (obviously they don’t know I'm putting their suggestions up on this site). First up is my “assistant” Pete: Sorry seems to be by Blue and Elton John.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

No more boom and bust?

We were promised no more boom and bust. And yet ten years after this (actually fatuous) mantra first began to be repeated we are seeing on television queues of people outside banks trying to get their money out. They have little to worry about, since it would be inconceivable for the government to allow a high street bank to go bankrupt (that really would be the end of the road for the current incumbents of Downing Street).

On Newsnight yesterday a government minister, in what must have been a Freudian slip, said “This is not nineteen twenty-nine”, immediately putting into people’s minds the horrible thought: “This IS nineteen twenty-nine!” As PR gaffs go, this was a classic. And why was no senior government figure on the programme, given the serious issue of public confidence in the banking system?

On Thursday Prime Minister Gordon Brown invited former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher to afternoon tea at 10 Downing Street. Inevitably there have been jeers about Stalin meeting Ribbentrop. But the timing of the meeting, as the world economic system dips, underlines the importance of sound money (and whatever you think of her, Margaret Thatcher did deliver sound money).

The economic consequences of Mrs Thatcher were pain, pain and more pain. Having endured two bouts of misery driving inflation out of the national economy (remember Norman Lamont and “if it’s not hurting it’s not working”) we are now set to go through a third (and entirely unnecessary) session of economic blood-letting. Gordon Brown has, over the last ten years, expanded the money supply to mind-boggling levels, not just through official government borrowing but through the PFI initiatives, through four wars (and nothing is as inflationary as a war), and through allowing millions of householders to regard the rising value of their homes as a sort of bank deposit they can make withdrawals from.

All this extra money has not led to an increase in inflation because cheap imports from China, and cheap services from India, are still driving prices down. But the fact remains we have gone from a Monetarist economy to a Keynesian economy through three elections without the people ever being consulted on the issue. Gordon Brown might be able to continue rolling everything forward, hoping gentle inflation will negate the debt over the long term, but he is beginning to resemble Sisyphus.

More on 1929: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wall_Street_Crash_of_1929
More on Freudian slips: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Freudian_slip
More on Sisyphus: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sisyphus

Kim Blacha’s Song of the Day is No more running away by Air Traffic (has a sort of Coldplay sound to it).

Friday, September 14, 2007

It was a fait accompli

Back to work after two days off. The biggest change was that Kate (Account Handler, whose client list I have been looking after) was back at work after compassionate leave. Angela (Ian’s PA) was already voicing annoyance at the amount of work Kate was piling onto her.

I had been looking forward to Kate’s return and handing back to her all the job bags heaped on my desk. But this was not to be. Soon after I arrived this morning Ian and Alan (the two directors in charge of our floor) asked me into the Boardroom with Kate.

“You’ve done such a smashing job that we’d like you to carry on with the client list” said Ian. “Kate is going to spend the next twelve months working on new business. We’d also like you to help her put a new agency presentation together.”

What could I say? It was a fait accompli. I had to just agree as graciously as I could.

Kate and I then travelled up to Watford, in Kate’s red car, to show an industrial client the designs for an advertising campaign which is due to run in trade magazines. The main image for these ads was of a big pipe with sludge shooting out of it (let no-one try to tell you advertising is a glamorous career). Despite company policy Kate chain-smoked all the way there and all the way back (albeit with her window open, and after asking if I minded).

At the client meeting she was very effective, keeping the two partners focussed on the campaign and asking if they wanted any extras (sales literature, giveaways, press release). Although she was very professional in the meeting, she also used her femininity, pushing her chair back from the table as if she were putting her very good figure on display, shaking her long wavy blonde hair whenever she disagreed with something, crossing and uncrossing her legs so that the black dress she was wearing would ride up a little. On the way back we called at a shopping centre for sandwiches - the centre had a palpable feeling of isolation, alienation, urban neurosis (strangely it was not unpleasant).

Back to the agency and my desk by the windows, behind a row of partitions, next to the designers. As usual on Friday afternoons, all the directors seemed to have gone out, not expected back (“this is my dress-down Friday” said Paul, taking his T-shirt off - something he would never do if Ian was around). Rachel (account handler in the PR division upstairs) was talking to Paul, but turned to me as I sat down.

“I hear you’re handling Kate’s clients permanently now” she said. “You’ll be doing all the work and she’ll be swanning around giving everyone orders. You should join us upstairs, and leave this lot behind.”

Unhappy as I was with the situation, I recognised that Rachel was just mischief-making. Although I am new to the agency, I have already been told about the feud between Rachel and Kate (Pete, in one of his rare jokes, saying that Rachel and Kate must be the same person since they are never seen in the same room together). But later I went upstairs to talk to Rachel and see if there was any possibility of a sideways move.

The afternoon was very slow. Tony W (Production and Print Buyer) brought me various proofs to look at and I found mistakes in all of them (this reduced his bluster a little - he can be very abrasive if you let him). Pete also helped me look over the proofs, waving around his bandaged left hand (injured in lunchtime football in the mews at the back).

In the last hour of the working day, with nothing much to do, Paul and I talked. He kept apologising for not being “educated”, so that I felt obliged to tell him my own story (that I had left school at sixteen and worked for a year in the last of the nationalised industries before becoming disillusioned and going back to school to do A-levels and then a degree). I told him it was never too late to do a degree.

And then the day ended. The office emptied. I was the last to leave (only by a few minutes), and as I walked across the floor the office had a melancholy Caulfield sort of look to it.

More on Patrick Caulfield: http://www.patrickcaulfieldprints.com/art.php?min=0&max=10000000



Above: when I went to see Rachel I noticed this book on her desk. She is learning Yiddish. This explains her cries of “shiksa” and “shlimazel” etc.

Kim Balcha’s Song of the Day is We don’t have to take our clothes off by Lil Chris (normally she doesn’t like cover versions).
http://www.lilchris.co.uk/news/we_don_27t_have_to_take_our_clothes_off_all_the_details_you_need/

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

The wellbeing of society depends upon its stakeholders



Above: new neighbours in the manor house (next village but one) - nice garden, nice car, four hundred acres.

The tendency of “new money” to buy small landed estates is nothing new. In the fifteenth century William of Waynflete began as a minor religious clerk and scribe, and after a long career at last managed to buy a very modest manorial estate (and through his influence over Henry VI endowed Eton College and Kings College Cambridge). The Paston family began as lawyers, and bought estates in Norfolk, eventually becoming Earls of Yarmouth. Cardinal Wolsey was a butcher’s son and through his political career acquired enough money to set up Hampton Court (and became an early casualty of tall poppy syndrome).

This pattern has repeated itself every century until modern times (ie Jim Callaghan evolved from proletarian politician to gentleman farmer).

Even the Botts (parents of Violet Elizabeth Bott) made their money in manufacturing before buying The Hall and beginning Mrs Bott’s eventful journey along the uneven obstacle course of county “society”.

What is it in the national psyche that seeks to translate commercial and professional success into acres? In part I think it is because ownership of land decides your status in this country in a way that is so ingrained into the English character that it is fundamental to how people think of themselves. The gulf that separates the owner of a “semi” from the tenant of a council house is culturally so vast that it cannot be reckoned merely in financial terms (a far greater gulf than between the semi owner and the manor house owner).

In this (if nothing else) Tony Blair was right - the wellbeing of society depends upon its stakeholders. The most direct way in which people “think” they are stakeholders in this country is through the ownership of property (obviously there are other less tangible ways in which people are stakeholders, but these require imaginative interpretation not just by the stakeholder but also by society - and often this recognition by society is withheld). Therefore an policy to increase and improve the housing stock, important though this may be, will probably not increase the “happiness” of society unless it is associated with a mechanism whereby individuals can buy the land on which they live (in other words, better housing will improve living conditions, but the individuals who benefit will not feel “happier” and will not feel they are stakeholders).



Above: article in the Observer (in May I think) that Gordon Brown does not intend to live in Chequers, the Prime Minister’s country residence in Buckinghamshire. Simon Thurley (architectural historian) recently presented a television comparison between the official residences of the heads of government in Britain, France, America and Russia. He argued that the British Prime Minister lives in a terrace house whereas the other three live in quasi-royal palaces, and this relates to the way in which each country “imagines” its government.

Although Simon Thurley’s programme was very interesting, I think in the United Kingdom the British Prime Minister is following a particularly English template of having a “town” house and a country cottage (a template that at its most magnified encompasses Buckingham Palace and Sandringham House). Presumably by dropping Chequers as a residence Gordon Brown is seeking to distance himself from the playboy premiership of Tony Blair. An unintended consequence of this might be to demonstrate how un-English the Brown administration is behaving (not something he can afford to do).

Kim Blacha's Song of the Day is Save Me by Darren Styles.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XwnVHK7HUCo
http://profile.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=user.viewprofile&friendid=155471769

Monday, September 10, 2007

Emily Bell, The Guardian's Director of Digital Content



Friday lunchtime I listened to The Message on Radio 4, which included an interview with Emily Bell, The Guardian's Director of Digital Content. I read her column in The Guardian on Mondays, and I have long admired The Guardian's website, which is easily the best-designed national newspaper-branded site (mainly through its use of white space and subdued colour, making it very easy to read on-screen). I expected her to be interesting, original, possibly even a little provocative.

Instead she uttered so many hums and hahs it was difficult to make sense of what she was saying. It was like listening to Ann Widdicombe at her most irritating (before she went to a coach and learned how to speak). It shows how a communicator in one medium (ie text) seldom translates well into another (ie aural broadcast).

I had formed a mental image in my mind as to how Emily Bell would speak based on the prose in her Monday columns, combined with the portrait photograph that accompanies the headline. These portraits have become ubiquitous in national newspapers, the ones in The Guardian having expressions that are mostly well-meaning but slightly priggish (as opposed to The Telegraph's portraits which are benevolent but slightly smug). In addition, some of The Guardian portraits (Emily Bell, Sam Wollaston, Lucy Mangan), have a look as if they have eaten too much starch and it has become lodged in their intestinal tract causing them digestive discomfort.

Anyway, The Message discussion was about whether there should be any limits to BBC expansion. Leaving aside philosophical issues about decline via imperial over-reach, my own view is that the BBC should "compete on all fronts" as by doing so the Corporation will drive up standards on a worldwide level. The BBC is one of the few institutions that has the capacity to become a global force and as such the government should fund it using long-term investment criteria (maybe scrapping the useless British Council if extra money needs to be found quickly).

Nation shall speak peace unto nation (in various kinds of English and through the worldwide channels of the BBC).

Kim Blacha's Song of the Day is: Stay the night by Ghosts
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y7sjaEHA0dc

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Lunch at this cafe



I met Helen for lunch at this cafe which is on the edge of Leicester Square. I havn't seen her for about six weeks, so it was a chance to catch up and also get over the Misunderstanding (now that there has been time for the dust to settle). We have been coming to this cafe for about ten years - at first there was a big group of us usually meeting up after work and going on somewhere, then gradually people dropped away (married, moved, became different people) so now only Helen and I are left.

Kim Blacha's Song of the Day: Aly and AJ with Potential break-up song.
http://video.aol.com/video-detail/aly-and-aj--potential-break-up-song-full-hq-version/2565296473

Monday, September 03, 2007

The personality of Simon Cowell



Above: Simon Cowell on the cover of the Radio Times.

I have been aware of The X Factor for about a year, but I have never actually watched the programme until this weekend. One of my clients (ie one of Kate’s clients, as I’m looking after her client list) wanted to do a promotion with an X Factor theme. So on Friday we held a meeting at the agency chaired by Caroline from the upstairs PR division (because the PR division “owns” most of the clients they have to be involved in all the planning decisions, even when there is no PR component).

The meeting was basically a brain-storming session to think of ways we could link the product to the X Factor series. An added complication was that the client didn’t want to pay for any endorsement, so the campaign had to imply there was an X Factor tie-up without actually making any definite statements. There are, of course, laws in this country about passing-off, but I didn’t mention this so as not to appear a wet blanket (and also because bright ideas of this kind usually fizzle out without anything happening, especially when the client gets an estimate of likely expenditure).

So Caroline, and the client, and Pete (who I had asked in, as he watches the show) talked animatedly about the X Factor while I nodded and looked as if I knew what they were talking about. Is this what getting old is like? An increasing remoteness from the topics of popular youth culture.

At the weekend I watched two of the X Factor programmes. The format is that of a fairly standard talent show, with a panel of “experts” judging acts of varying degrees of quality. What made this show different was the scale of the auditions (they seemed enormous - hundreds of applicants at auditions in Cardiff, Birmingham, Newcastle etc), the emotional intensity of the process, and the personality of Simon Cowell.

Simon Cowell seemed in charge of the panel, and ran the auditions with all the finesse of a judge at a 1930s Moscow show trial. He had a strange kind of magnetism so that even while feeling revulsion at the way he treated people, you had to keep watching to see what he would do next. I think it was his refusal to allow the failed auditions any residue of dignity that was so shocking (and also enthralling, since you had the vicarious feeling that you might somehow end up on that stage, under that viper-gaze, trying to stutter your way through a song).

At one point a Brummie band (two sisters and their husbands) appeared before him and delivered a performance that so bad they should have been ashamed to show it in public. Heaven knows these four individuals were devoid of any dignity as they begged (literally begged, with tears and everything) to be included in the list of possible maybes. But was it really necessary for Simon Cowell to have been so cruel to them?

For there is no doubt that Simon Cowell is a cruel man. You can see it in his eyes which have the capacity to narrow and turn black (so black it looks as if his eyeballs have disappeared, leaving dark sockets that display… what exactly?). You can hear it in his voice, so that even when he was flirting with a tiny Japanese girl, there was an undercurrent of derision.

In a society where children can stone to death a pensioner playing with his grandson, is it right that ITV and Simon Cowell should release yet more cruelty into the world?

More on Simon Cowell: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Simon_Cowell
More on the Moscow show trials:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moscow_Trials

I asked Kim Blacha for an X Factor related Song of the Day and she suggested No U Hang Up by Shayne Ward. Shayne Ward is a previous winner of The X Factor. In his performances he is so made-up, choreographed and stylised that he resembles a Ridley Scott replicant (Do androids dream of electric Pop Idol?).

More on Shayne Ward: http://www.kovideo.net/music/video/Shayne-Ward---No-U-Hang-Up/1761.html

PS this is the 900th post on this site.

Typical day in the office



Above: one of the golden lions on the railings of the Law Society.


When I arrive I find a cup of tea on my desk, hot and done the way I like it (not too much milk). I am, so far as I can tell, the only person in the agency to use a cup and saucer. This miraculous appearance of tea each morning puzzled me until Angela (my boss’s PA) told me that Pete looks out the window to see me coming down the road, then puts the kettle on.

And so begins another typical day in the office. Except that often I am out of the office visiting clients, visiting the photographic studio, going out to the street to make ’phone calls on my mobile that I don’t want anyone to hear (I had made a mistake over artwork and needed to put it right before anyone found out). After several days of this kind of activity I began to realise that rushing in and out of the office was more typical than not.

I tried to do some copywriting, but the floor was too noisy, the noise level intensifying when Rachel (Account Executive from upstairs, wearing an extraordinary outfit that looked as if she had a lace brassiere on top of her dress) was hanging around the Studio section, talking to Paul (designer) about a band she knew:

“They’re new. If you haven’t listened to their stuff, you definitely should. I’m doing a fansite promoting their music.”

Pete, the office junior, is a problem in that he is meant to be reporting to me but I don’t really have anything for him to do. Aged about eighteen, very slim, face dotted with acne, gauche in manner (with a teenage combination of uncouthness and sensitivity), bow-legged walk, habit of standing at my elbow with his hands deep in his pockets. He came to the agency on a college work-placement and has stayed ever since, mainly because he is so popular with the agency five-a-side football team (they practice every lunchtime in the yard at the back). Although Pete has no real PR or marketing skills, Angela says he is not worth getting rid of since he is paid so little. He has told me he wants to go into sports journalism, but there is little chance of that happening unless he goes back to college. He says he admires my copywriting (“Ian said the article you did for him was perfect”) but that might just be flattery since he obviously wants to keep on my good side.

Seven job-bags on my desk, representing seven different clients. Mostly it is a matter of moving each project on a little. Very seldom do you have the satisfaction of entirely completing something (which for a Completer-Finisher like me is very frustrating).

Mid-morning I had a meeting with a group funded by the Arts Council. I had been warned they were weird, so I took them into the Board Room. After about twenty minutes I began to suspect they were totally mad (“they call us the duffle-coat brigade”).

Late morning I was called urgently to the photographic studio which is in the next street. This studio is above a shop (it has a separate entrance up a flight of stairs). There is also a big ex-garage on the ground floor at the back where they have an infinity curve. The photographic studio is part of the agency (not sure what the exact relationship is - my boss Ian seems to own the photo studio, but whether agency MD Terry also owns a share is not clear). Anyway, the photo studio handles all our photographic work unless they are too busy and then we can call in a freelance. The staff at the photo studio comprises Stuart (studio manager, longish black unkempt hair, cowboy boots), Ben (Ian’s son) and an assistant whose name I didn’t catch.

I walked into a crisis over a room-set the studio was meant to be building for a photoshoot involving gas-fires. Kate (Account Exec on compassionate leave - I am doing her work while she is away) had appointed an interior designer to oversee construction of the set. This bossy individual was complaining to Stuart that the carpet was wrong.

“It has to be a mid-tone grey with a blue sheen and dark damson fibres” she told me.

“All that won’t show up in the shots” Stuart told me. “I’ve bought a cheap grey carpet because that’s all we need. We can add any sheen with the lighting.”

As the carpet had been bought, and as the set was already behind schedule (the clients were coming in that afternoon) I said we would have to go with what we had got. The interior designer didn’t look happy with this. Stuart didn’t look happy when I told him he needed to get a move on with the set construction.

Back to the office where I contemplated telling Ian about the back-sliding at the photo studio (as his son was involved I would have to do this tactfully). Ian was talking to Angela about difficulties he had had with one of his clients, and how he had talked them round over the ’phone (“You should have heard me being smarmy - I was almost sick myself”). When I got him on his own I explained that the clients were arriving soon and things were not ready, so would he help me take the clients to lunch to use up a couple of hours.

As it happened, the clients arrived an hour late at two o’clock, and seemed agreeable to have lunch on the agency. We took them to a nearby pub which does very good meals (I had steak and kidney pie) and also has quiet booths where we could talk. The two clients were owners (among several other enterprises) of the factory that made the gas-fires being photographed.
The older of the two was very indiscreet, talking about various important people he knew:

“He’s completely sold out. He married the woman even though he doesn’t love her and hates her family. They have got him a sinecure position. Now he’s stuck and doesn’t have the courage to give up the house, the job, the social kudos. His life is half comfort, half humiliation. Believe me, never marry the wrong woman.”

The other client talked about Iraq:

“The Iraq war is the most serious international incident I can remember this country being involved in. Politically it’s been a complete balls-up. I’ll be surprised if we come out of it unscathed.”

We went back to the agency, and found Kate had come in to see the photoshoot (possibly the interior designer had rung her and told her about the carpet being wrong). While Ian kept the clients chatting I rang the photo studio and made sure they were ready for us. Then we all walked round (Pete coming with us, although no-one invited him).

At the photo studio I was amazed at the progress that had been made since the morning. The room set looked magnificent (I thought one of the windows was slightly out of scale, but I didn’t say anything). We sat on canvas chairs while the photography team slotted each of the gas fires (twenty of them) into the fireplace aperture, arranged the lighting, then photographed it.


More on Completer-Finishers: http://changingminds.org/explanations/preferences/belbin.htm

Kim Blacha's Song of the Day is Glorious by Natalie Imbruglia.