Monday, June 30, 2008

“No, don’t do that!”

If you wanted to you could go to a different village show every weekend between now and the end of September. I like them because they make me feel close to the land. You also get to see and talk to farmers en masse (farmers are “real” people, uncorrupted by urban life with all its sham fakery and over-hyped materialism).

On Sunday afternoon I went to a show at a big village on the plain (actually its located on the slopes that are the start of the upland heaths). It was a very professional event, which is not always a good sign (when you see car-dealers have taken stands you know it’s getting too commericalised). About a thousand people were milling around.

In the vegetable tent an old codger (wearing old codger clothes) was proud of all the different produce he had grown in his garden, especially the runner beans.

Old codger: “The weather has not been kind to growers of any crop this year. Not round here onyroad [“any road”, meaning anyway] . March was cold hereabouts and the Spring was late. We had the driest April for many a year. Then in May the temperature rose and fell like billyo. In my garden I have over fifty different types of potato and all of them have been affected…”

I agreed absently and moved to the next table, the old codger accompanying me.

Old codger: “Look have you seen these baby turnips? These ones are very sweet. Gorgeous in a good stew” [ the man had the county accent and his pronunciation of the word “stew” defies phonetic translation] .

I took a picture of some cabbages.

Old codger: “Ye can see here the Spring cabbage which has a lovely crisp heart, ’specially boiled up with caraway seeds and a bit o’ butter. This is the Walking Stick Cabbage which I grow high. An’ this is the Sea Cabbage - best to steam these leaves.”

We moved on to the carrot table.

Old codger: “I grow white carrots, which are the good old English carrots. The orange ones are all Dutch. Came in with William of Orange.”

We came to the Green Peas.

Old codger: “Most folks boil ’em unripe, but I like ’em dried an’ then cooked in a mush. Or you can boil up the whole pod if you catch it young enough. What the French call maayn-jey-toot.”

I moved from the vegetable section into the Flower Show (same marquee, but divided by a wall of canvas). The air was fresh and sweet, with the varied scents of the flowers. Some of the plants looked a bit forced.

Already crowded, the Flower Tent became even more congested as people took refuge from a sudden heavy shower outside. Ten minutes passed and still the rain fell. People stood around looking at one another with expressions of amused boredom.

The roof of the tent began to sag down ominously in one corner as a huge volume of water collected in the canvas. Eventually the roof came down to within touching distance. Most people moved away from that area but a teenage girl went and stood right under the bulge, laughing across at her sister.

She was aged about fourteen. She looked the sort of girl who has been doted on since birth by her parents (who possibly haven’t noticed her metamorphosis into an attention-seeking teenager). Giggling the girl raised her forefinger and pushed upwards at the swollen sac of water.

“No, don’t do that!” a commanding woman shouted.

At that very moment the canvas roof burst open and a DELUGE of water fell down upon the girl, completely soaking her. She stood there with a glassy grin on her face, everyone else in the tent looking at her with horror. She then burst into uncontrollable sobbing.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Euro 2008

Above: Freudians would point out that the excitement of holding the Euro 2008 cup represents a tiny fraction of the glory and catharsis experienced by child footballers when winning their first trophies (and all the subsequent careers of professional footballers are a futile attempt to recapture that first innocent rush of exhileration and omnipotence).

Euro 2008 came to an end earlier this evening.

Spain beat Germany.

As the game progressed Michael Ballack’s heavy brow ridge become increasingly furrowed. Xabi Alonso’s expressionless face showed brief moments of satisfaction. In the interval Alan Shearer said wise and interesting things in a completely monotone voice.

The preamble to the game, which was shown on BBC1, had been awful. As well as the kitsch performances in the stadium (what looked like extras from the film Amadeus releasing coloured balloons as Enrique sang in English) the BBC had added a sort of historical perspective. This consisted of an echoing Brummie accent delivering cringe-making historical generalisations in a sub-Kiplingesque style.

Is this what the jingoism of the new European state is going to sound like?

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Royal Academy Summer Exhibition

One of the nice things about the agency (as opposed to the many nasty things) is the way in which we are encouraged to think laterally and try to identify cultural trends before they go “mainstream”.

Terry (our Managing Director) likes everything that is new and innovative. He likes us to do things first. He never criticises work for being “too creative” (even though it might be wacky, weird and hopelessly off the brief).

Terry has been to every Royal Academy Summer Exhibition for the past thirty years. The bookcase in his office is full of old exhibition catalogues. He used to buy one painting from each exhibition (that’s a lot of RAs!) until he ran out of wall-space.

Therefore all of us are encouraged to go to the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition each year to look at two-dimensional images and get a feel for the sort of cultural representations that will be filtering through to society over the next year. Two-dimensional images are actually highly-artificial ways of creating the illusion of reality, and there is no such thing as a purely “realist” way of representing the world as it “really is”. Artists show us how to look at society, and the techniques they use (the lines, the colours, the textures) need to be incorporated into the latest creative “product” of the agency, suitably amended for the commercial world.

So on Friday afternoon, when things were a little slack, I went to the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition with Paul (graphic designer), Rachel (Account Executive), Caroline (Account Executive) and Angela (Ian’s PA - I will explain her presence in the group in a later posting).

Above: there was a floral garland on the statue of Sir Joshua Reynolds in the courtyard of the Royal Academy.

Caroline paid for all of us on her company credit card. We went into the exhibition and walked around the crowded rooms in a group. I think we would have seen more had we split up (but by staying close to Caroline we could make sure she paid for tea and cakes at the end).

Above: the latest catalogue was added to Terry's collection.

I have to be honest and say that I didn’t like most of the art that was on show (I know how bad this sounds, but I am at heart a stuckist). Rachel liked a painting by David Gleeson and nearly bought it (it was one of the few works that didn‘t have a red “sold“ sticker on it). Paul liked Gus Cummins, Jennifer Dickson, Leonard Rosoman. Caroline liked Lisa Milroy. Angela liked “everything, all of it”. And I liked Anthony Green and Simon Palmer.

Friday, June 27, 2008

The fashion of pink Sancerre

Suddenly pink Sancerre is everywhere in London:

In Westminster...

In Great Portland Street…

Even in Fortnum & Mason (“approval of what is approved of…” and all that).

I wish I had the time to research the cultural connection between the quaffing of pink wine and the end of days (the end of Bush, the obvious end of Brown after the fifth-place-behind-the-fringes humiliation, the end of the NICE economy, the end of the soccer season, the end of the Ulysses space mission, the end of the career of Paris Hilton* etc etc). More than purple, to me palest pink seems to be the colour of over-ripe decadence (pink champagne is drunk at the Hotel California, that mythical hotel being a metaphor for the current condition of western society). Like the medieval morality story about gilding the lily, the suddenly fashionable drinking of rosé Sancerre is a warning that sophistication has gone too far.

To paraphrase the first book of Corinthians: the trumpet shall sound, and we shall all be sitting around drinking pink Sancerre and sighing about our fallen house prices.

More on the trumpet sounding:

More on the fashion of pink Sancerre (Victoria Moore is one of the best writers on wine today):,,2105828,00.html

A definition of gilding the lily:

Hotel California:

*the Paris Hilton bit was just wishful thinking.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Midsummer Party

Above: there was something about the cover of the latest National Geographic that I found disturbing. It bothered me for some days. Until I remembered, in my grandparent’s house in Norfolk, a pile of ancient National Geographic magazines with one of them featuring an article on the summer solstice at Stonehenge.

Saturday 21st June - the Longest Day. The day of Marie-Astrid’s Midsummer Party (although Midsummer is not actually until the 24th). In the evening I drove over to the town where Marie-Asrid lives, on the western edge of the county.

Marie-Astrid’s parties always have an unexpected element. Sometimes they are biggish events with seventy-plus people milling around. Other times they are the same small familiar group that meets up month after month, year after year.

The other notable aspect of her parties is the number of “new” people she manages to produce. You can almost guarantee that there will be at least one person you havn’t met before. Just as abruptly as she takes people up, she drops them again, so these “new” people tend to disappear after a few weeks.

I was the first to arrive. Marie-Astrid’s house is a big suburban 1970s building, plain but comfortable, with large badly-proportioned rooms. Across the back of the house is a long lounge about fifteen feet wide, but because of its length the room looks narrow and awkward.

Matching the long lounge is a long lean-to conservatory where a table had been laid for eight places (so obviously this was going to be one of the more intimate parties). I talked to Marie-Astrid’s partner Dave while Marie-Astrid was upstairs with her six-year-old daughter who was having a sleepover with her friend Lucy. The doorbell rang and Sharon came in - overweight, opinionated and (I remembered from a previous encounter) obnoxious.

Next to arrive were Sophie and Nadia, work colleagues of Marie-Astrid, both aged in their mid-twenties, slim, long-legged (Sophie a strawberry-blonde, Nadia with long black hair). I got Sophie and Nadia glasses of punch, the cloth on the side table decorated with representations of the Danish flag (Marie-Astrid has Scandinavian ancestry). Dave talked about how well he was doing despite the credit crunch - as financiers always claim to be doing well, it was impossible to know whether “the worst has passed” or not.

Marie-Astrid came downstairs having changed for dinner. We sat around talking for about a quarter of an hour. The doorbell rang and Emily and Dan came into the house.

Emily is only aged about forty, but her attitudes and manners are those of a past age. She always wears long formal dresses which makes other women feel she is trying to upstage them (whereas in reality she probably doesn’t like to show her legs in public). She is very shy, and together with her dignified personality this is often misinterpreted as condescending froideur.

Marie-Astrid lit candles all around the lounge and conservatory. The candles had little Norwegian flags stuck into them. The two six-year-olds appeared, wanting to see everyone, but Dave ordered them upstairs with such sternness I was surprised Marie-Astrid didn’t rebuke him (they are not his children).

A feature of Marie-Astrid’s past Midsummer parties has been the Danish cuisine, but this year there was a change. Dave had given her a copy of a Nigella cookbook, and so we had: green beans with almonds; pasta shells stuffed with spinach and ricotta; mashed sweet potato; crispy onion rings; honey chocolate cake; zabaglione. Marie-Astrid also produced a huge home-made ice-cream, turned out of an elaborate mould and decorated with angelica (“basically it’s just cream and icing sugar”). To drink a bottle of trockenbeerenauslese - although it was very sweet it seemed to go well with the vegetarian meal (I made one glass last the whole meal).

Dave had warned me that the punch was very strong, but Sharon didn’t seem to have received this information. Obviously tipsy, over dinner she told us about her experiences internet dating, and her amorous meetings with “Fat Fingered Sean”. Emily said (dryly) that the only safe way to meet other people was to be introduced to them by one’s friends.

We talked about the economic situation. We talked about the government. Sharon talked about three closures of local companies - she works in a government unit that counsels employees involved in medium-scale redundancies.

“Most of them won’t travel to get new jobs” she said dismissively, as if washing her hands of them.

By this stage in the evening I had reached a point where I was determined to disagree with everything Sharon said, so I praised the loyalty these workers had towards their communities, and their decision to stay put.

“It’s their right to stay where they are” I said (other conversations were going on at the same time - it wasn’t as if our bickering was disrupting the party).

“Actually, it’s not their right” said Sharon. “They have to be prepared to take jobs that are offered to them. They just want everything handed to them on a plate.”

Then Sharon told us the “inside story” about council attempts to force a bus route through a pedestrian area. I opposed this bus route without really knowing what I was talking about. Sharon became very agitated about the pensioners who need the bus to get to the main post office (I pointed out that they wouldn’t need to go to the main post office if all the small post offices hadn’t been closed - four in the town we were discussing).

After the meal we had coffee by candlelight at the other end of the conservatory where four sofas had been arranged in a square. Outside it began to rain, and despite being the longest day the sky became dark from the rain clouds. The children came downstairs again and were given some ice cream.

Later we moved into the long lounge. I played Wii tennis with Nadia and then Sharon (room for manoeuvre was so limited she was hitting me with her Wii racket - possibly not accidentally). At the other end of the room everyone else danced around to Kylie (In My Arms), Bass hunter (All I Ever Wanted), Darren Styles etc.

These songs are the ones I remembered most from the party (I don’t usually listen to dance music):

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Prime Minister's Questions 25th June 2008

Above: ham salad sandwich, mango and passion fruit panna cotta, Still Sea Breeze to drink (followed by a coffee, followed by a glass of water, followed by a shared packet of crisps).

Wednesday lunchtime, and a disappointing Prime Minister’s Questions. This should be an opportunity to ask the most powerful person in the country to explain his policies, account for his decisions, apologise for his mistakes (if any). Instead we had time-wasting, posturing, and planted questions of the “I’m very glad my honourable friend raised that important point” variety.

A stuttering Labour MP began the questions today by asking about Zimbabwe. Black mark to David Cameron for joining in this posturing about a situation we can do nothing about. The news bulletins and newspapers have been filled with repetitive reports about Zimbabwe which tell us nothing except that Robert Mugabe is a monster (and most people knew that already). BBC reporters are not allowed into Zimbabwe and so we see their clandestine correspondent “somewhere” in southern Africa whispering from the shadows about how bad things are (although given the history of finchamesque fakery, it could all have been mocked up in the studio). The opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai is optimistically represented as a saviour figure, and yet he will probably behave as badly as Mugabe once he has got into power (I am basing this on the experiences of Uganda after Amin, Kenya after Moi, Zaire-Congo after Mobutu etc). The situation is tragically sad, but do we really want to employ our politicians in pointless hand-wringing instead of getting on with their day-jobs?

Liberal leader Nick Clegg asked (yet again) about the so-called grievances of the Ghurkhas, who want backdated special treatment (more money, pensions, residence rights etc). Did no-one explain to them the compensation package when they first signed-up? I do not want my money spent on open-ended commitments of this kind (or Iraqi interpreters - Mr Blair should compensate those from his vast personal fortune).

Zimbabwe, the Ghurkhas and two Labour questions (ie planted questions about oil speculators and child poverty targets) and we had reached the half-way mark. Fifteen minutes had passed with no effective questioning of the Prime Minister on issues relevant to ordinary people. The Speaker did nothing about this situation.

The second half was not much better. There was a spectacularly theatrical question from the Labour farthest benches about the wisdom and sagacity of the Prime Minister in continuing to ensure the continuation of the NHS in its 60th year. Twenty-three minutes after the start of PMQs and the Speaker at last called a second Tory questioner (not that I am especially keen to hear Tories, but as things stand at the moment that is the only direction questions critical of the government are going to come from).

Then things fizzled out.

Probably the most interesting question of the day was asked by Andrew Neil back in the studio - why do “husband and wife team” Sir Nicholas and Lady Ann Winterton still have the Tory whip after their grossly immoral expenses claims were revealed (and later today were reports that Labour “husband and wife team” Ed Balls and Yvette Cooper were doing something dodgy over second home expenses - these “husband and wife” teams seem to be all over the place, as if the House of Commons was some extended episode of the game-show Mr & Mrs).

Today’s PMQs:

More on jackpot game-show Mr & Mrs:

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Only eat food when it’s in season

Above: usually I call once a week at one of the many farmshops near where I live (the pies are made at the local pub).

I am struggling to keep to my resolution to only eat food when it’s in season. Broadly I have three guidelines for the weekly shop: 1) unlimited amounts of fruit and vegetables when in season and bought locally; 2) sparing amounts of exotic fruit (oranges, peaches, the occasional lemon) bought from European countries with the vague and well-meaning hope that they have been transported by train; 3) very small amounts of exotic fruit that cannot be grown in Europe (bananas, coconuts, passion fruit) - organic and fair trade wherever possible. I have stopped eating apples out of season.

Tinned produce from across the world, frozen New Zealand lamb, New Zealand butter are all in my “exempt from restriction” category.

It is a struggle to keep to these guidelines.

I would like to shop only at farmshops and family-owned stores, but this is not always possible. Sooner or later, because of time constraints, I find myself doing a big shop in one of the supermarkets. That is when the horror and madness and cruelty (in the case of meat products) of the international food trade begins to hit you.

Above: these raspberries are in season, and Tescos makes a virtue of telling us so. But courgettes are also in season, yet Tescos is importing them from half-way across the world. Artichokes are also in season, but Tescos doesn’t stock them (except tinned).

Above: although it is difficult to shop locally and in season, it is also very rewarding. I especially enjoy learning about where the food I am eating comes from, and how it has got to me. For instance, the Daily Telegraph magazine had this fabulous article, written by Dan Lepard, about Buckinghamshire cherries - but Tescos has decided we have to make do with tasteless Italian cherries, or bottled cherries from Poland.

Not sure who Dan Lepard is, but he is a very fine writer. A Google search indicates he is represented by talent agency pfd. pfd has just been bought by Andrew Neil.

PS I know I decided a couple of years ago NEVER to shop in Tescos again, but I have now fallen out with Asda and have decided to give Tescos one last chance…

More on Dan Lepard:

Monday, June 23, 2008

RL Quins vs Leeds 14th June 2008

We left the office about 4 (being a Saturday we were on our own time, so keeping hours didn’t matter). To Waterloo and a train to Twickenham. The late afternoon had become very warm - humid and sticky.

At Twickenham there was no problem finding the stadium as a steady stream of fans (both Leeds and Quins) was walking from the station along suburban semi-detached streets to the stadium (the Stoop Stadium in Langhorn Drive, not the national stadium).

We paid our money and went in at the south east corner (persistent smell of fried onions). We got ourselves a drink. We walked round to the Lexus stand and found our seats half-way up on the right.

Not impressed with Douglas’s two rugby mates who seemed a bit juvenile. The sun came down really hot (it was nearly six o’clock by this time). Nickleback’s Rockstar bawled out of the sound system.

On the pitch the long-haired Quins cheerleaders were performing their routines. Some of the players were warming up, lying on their backs on the grass and raising their pumped-up limbs like hydraulic weeble men. All around us the seats were filling up.

At six exactly the teams formally ran out onto the pitch, holding hands with the tiny mascots. Coloured tickertape fell down on them. Loud cheers around the stadium, everyone standing up.

The only players I recognised were Henry Paul (famous for being the brother of Robbie Paul) for RL Quins and Jamie Peacock for Leeds. Although they are physically tall, all the players looked short from where we were sitting because of the way their arm and leg muscles bulged out sideways. The game got off to a slow start, and then started to speed up.

On television rugby league looks a claustrophobic game because of all the close-ups, so I was surprised at how fast it was, and the distances the players covered. Generally Quins got the better of Leeds. At every Quins success dance music (Watch Out by Alex Gaudino) played loud over the sound system.

Half-time we went down to get some more beer. Everyone seemed to be drinking beer and eating chips. Tiffany (I think we’re alone now) played loudly.

Number 15 (Chris Melling) was the most impressive Quins player, with many flashes of real brilliance and the speed the crowd wanted. Unselfish, courageous, intelligent, he crashed into the Leeds opposition with a juddering impact you could see was inflicting pain and consternation. When a vicious little fight broke out he tried to calm things down (the referee sent one of the Leeds players into the sin bin).

Towards the end of the match it became obvious RL Quins was going to win. The chanting and singing in the Lexus stand became continuous. “Stand up young London” the sound system ordered, and everyone in the Lexus stand stood up and clapped and cheered.

RL Quins beat Leeds 28 - 24.

This was the first rugby league game I had been to. I was aware of rugby league from occasional stars like Sean Long and Robbie Paul (still famous for his performance in the 1996 Challenge Cup). Plus I had read This Sporting Life by David Storey.

Jamie Peacock’s autobiography No White Flag has just been published:

He obviously got the title from the Dido song, which is one of my favourites:

Sunday, June 22, 2008

To Green Park to see the guns

A week ago. Saturday morning I went into the office. I did this mainly to show “commitment” as I didn’t really have any urgent work to do, and since the BQW move to Watford none of my clients work on Saturdays.

The main advantage of going in at the weekend is that Terry, our MD, is always in the office on Saturday mornings, and it’s a good chance to get to talk to him informally without any of the other directors being around. As my own division of the agency (run by Ian) is on increasingly shaky grounds I have decided to work most Saturday mornings. That way if the axe ever falls Terry will at least know who I am, and might find me a job upstairs.

About six people were in the office, including Douglas (Account Executive on Rachel’s team, both of them under the ultimate control of Val). Douglas is mixed-race English-Chinese, slightly less than average height, athletic build (used to be a student player for London Scottish rugby club - this was some years ago although he talks as if it were recent). He always wears a formal suit, even on dress-down Fridays.

Most of the morning I spent upstairs, talking to Douglas (neither of us had much work to do apart from planning a new business campaign for Rachel). Douglas plays rugby union in the winter and watches rugby league in the summer. He was going to a rugby league match that evening and urged me to go along.

I couldn’t go to a rugby match in a suit (I suppose I could, but it would look conspicuous), so we went out mid-morning to buy some new clothes (buying new clothes is one of Douglas’s chief recreations). We went to Gianni Ricci, which is not really my sort of place. I broke my resolution not to wear jeans after the age of thirty.

Walking along Piccadilly, we could hear music from Trooping the Colour on Horse Guards Parade. Douglas had never seen this, so I suggested going down to Green Park to see the guns. The time was about 11.30, so there was no hurry to get back to the office (Terry would already have left for his usual long drawn-out Saturday lunch with his cronies).

Above: we walked down as far as Buckingham Palace, stopping short of the big crowds forming in front of the building. Through some side railings we could see the Irish Guards (on the left, with blue hackles) and the Coldstream Guards (on the right, with red hackles). More and more people were arriving so we moved away before the crush began.

Above: we walked into Green Park where we stopped to look at these smart-looking horses - even under the trees the heat of the day was intense, which made me wonder how the horses were coping.

Above: soldiers from the Royal Horse Artillery were waiting on the edge of the park, as the crowd noise from the Mall grew louder and a mood of expectation slowly increased.

Above: a military band was playing Elgar marches in the dappled sunlight under the trees (the dappled sunlight hasn’t come out in this photograph, which demonstrates what a rotten photographer I am, or alternatively what a rotten camera I have, or alternatively again how incompetent I am at using what is supposed to be a fairly good camera).

Above: the guard stood to attention as in the road to our left the guns were drawn up - loud cacophony of jangling harnesses, bugle sounds, clattering hooves.

Above: we went to stand at the edge of the cordoned-off area, where we had a perfect view into the park. We were among the first to take our places, next to an antipodean photographer with a hi-tech camera that looked like some kind of weapon (it was inspected by a burly policewoman who wanted to make sure it was just a camera). Then the guns were brought round into the park, looking exactly like the illustration Bringing Up The Guns in a pictorial book I have about the Boer War.

Above: within minutes of the guns arriving a large crowd formed all along the edge of the park. We had a perfect view along the line of guns, but just at the last minute a camera crew came and stood in front of us. “Trust the bloody BBC” said the antipodean photographer in tones of considerable disgust, not bothering whether the BBC could hear him or not (I suppose he was entitled to be miffed, having come from the other side of the world to take his photographs).

Above: possibly the BBC did hear him, as they moved to one side. We saw the guns go off with loud “bang” noises (there’s no other way I can describe the sound), the gun-smoke overpowering the fresh summer smell of the park. “They aim at the Iranian embassy” someone in the row behind us said.

Above: after the forty-one gun salute we walked back down to Buckingham Palace, standing right at the edge of the crowds (I know from experience that once you get caught in a crowd you can get stuck for ages). The Royal Family came out onto the palace balcony - I have magnified this photograph several times, so apologies for the blurred image. You can see the Queen in turquoise, with the Duke of Edinburgh next to her in a red uniform, plus the Duchess of Cornwall and various others.

We seemed to have got into a group of Australians, all of whom were cheering and shouting out things (which the Queen cannot have heard). Even Douglas cheered and waved (I hadn’t known he was a royalist). We kept having to walk backwards to get out of the crowd as more and more people arrived.

From an anthropological point of view the sight was extremely interesting. On that balcony we were looking at the most ancient and basic form of human organisation, preserved intact in the British Isles for at least one and a half thousand years. The Queen, being a direct lineal descendant of Ecgbert first king of the English, still holds the titles and powers of the prehistoric Bretwaldas (combining the three elements of Saxon kingship - supreme law-maker, supreme warlord, supreme priest).

No doubt UNESCO will eventually declare the British monarchy part of its World Heritage cultural programme.

Above: everyone looked up for the RAF flypast. Several waves of symmetrically-arranged aircraft flew along the Mall and over our heads. A woman nearby began bellowing “That’s my son, that’s my son…” and waved frantically at the planes (already heading out towards Surrey).

More on the Bretwaldas (but the author seems to be a bit tendentious so treat this with caution):

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Germany vs. Portugal

Thursday, seven o’clock in the evening. I am at home, having left work early (with permission) to watch Germany vs. Portugal. The game starts at 7.45.

Above: in contrast to previous tournaments, there is little enthusiasm for Euro 2008. Few cars display national flags (an exception being this badly-parked Volkswagen Polo with two Portugese flags and a sticker on the back boasting about the sexual prowess of the driver, who was slumped in the driver’s seat sleeping). Some pubs make an attempt to screen the matches live, but if you look in as you walk past you can see the bars are almost always empty.

Above: I have been following Henry Winter’s reports on Euro 2008 in the Daily Telegraph. The quality of his writing is very high. He also places matches into a context, which I find interesting (it makes you look for the next instalment).

Above: I have also been reading this “biography” of Christiano Ronaldo. It was in a pile of books left at Reception on a sort of sale or return basis. Having read the book I suppose I am under an obligation to buy it.

It appears to be an English edition of a Portugese book published last year. Ghost written, then translated into English, then “edited” - so that the original Ronaldo personality has been highly refined and distilled. 176 pages, half of them comprising images of Christiano Ronaldo (including some very doubtful ones advertising Pepe jeans).

Although the production values of the book are high (crisp images, well-bound, nice feel to the paper) the designers have been allowed to get out of control, and the point size of the text is tiny, often reversed out of colour backgrounds (including black type on red pages) with intro paras composed of block caps.

There is hardly anything about football in the book (which is a change from dreary Hunter Davis books where he describes in excruciating detail obscure matches from the 1970s). Christiano Ronaldo wears his heart on his sleeve and tells you all about his emotions (tears, empathy, love for his family). Combined with the Pierre-Et-Gilles-style images the result is highly original and way above the requirements of its potential audience - as if Brian Sewell had written and produced a biography of Tony Adams.

More on Henry Winter:

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Prime Minister's Questions 18th June 2008

Above: I am working my way through the Pret a Manger Summer Menu, trying something different each visit (as I only go there once or twice a week, this will take me about twelve weeks - less if I leave out the chicken items as I have doubts about where their chicken is sourced from, even though they seem to be making an effort see:

Wednesday, late morning. Advertising executive Torrie (“It’s short for Victoria”) came in to renew the schedule for one of my clients. Torrie is aged about thirty, shapely full figure, long “dirty blonde” (ie real blonde and unbleached) hair, oval face too flat and too wide to be classically beautiful, blue eyes, dimpled chin, wide smile (and always closes her eyes when she smiles).

Renewing the advertising schedule has taken on a ritualistic format. Torrie will say she is under pressure from the magazine to put the rates up, but is holding them especially for my client as they really like the creative nature of the advertising. I then say that I am under pressure to put rival magazines onto the schedule as they are cheaper, but I am keeping things as they are as you don’t change a winning formula (I might refer to some TGI research, and talk about trying a page in the Radio Times).

At the end of the meeting she suggested getting some lunch. I said I always watched Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday. She suggested getting the sandwiches and she would join me in the Board Room.

Pret-a-Manger wheat-free humous and roasted tomato sandwich, summer cherries, mandarin and lychee juice to drink. Torrie paid the bill (or rather, her magazine did). Going back, we were the only ones in the Board Room apart from Alan who came in at ten past (perhaps everyone else saw Torrie through the glass and assumed we were having a meeting).

“What is humous made from?” I asked.

“Tahini paste” said Torrie (drawn-out emphasis on the word tahini, pronouncing the ingredient “ta-heeeeney paste”, at the same time smiling and closing her eyes).

On the screen British involvement in Afghanistan was discussed but no-one asked the question I would like an answer to (how was it possible for the then Defence Secretary John Reid to commit us to a war by saying troops would be involved for only a short time and might not even fire one shot and yet two years later there have been a hundred fatal casualties - I accept the war might possibly be necessary and it might possibly be difficult to get out of the situation now, but I want to know how a senior minister was able to involve this country in a war by a seemingly casual decision on the basis of such flawed information, and why there has not been an apology for getting this decision so spectacularly wrong).

David Cameron turned to the issue of the Lisbon Treaty, due to be ratified today despite popular disquiet in the United Kingdom and outright rejection elsewhere in the EU. At first Gordon Brown was effective in his rebuffs to David Cameron, the camera showing close-ups of David Miliband (Foreign Secretary) screwing up his face in disbelief at David Cameron’s effrontery. At Gordon Brown’s side we could see the kohl-eyed minister Ed Miliband, hands clasped oddly over a thick green book on his knees, nodding his head in agreement like the Churchill insurance dog.

“The Milibands are not very nice to their civil servants” said Torrie mysteriously.

The questioning on the Lisbon Treaty continued and Gordon Brown seemed to become rattled. As the chamber started to become raucous the Speaker intervened to smack down an off-camera Mr Norris (perhaps the BBC should have a roving camera to capture, in the style of Leni Riefenstahl, the contorted expressions of the agonised baying backbenchers). The exchange ended with Gordon Brown indulging in a fusillade of angry pointing which was a disaster from a body-language point of view (although the pointing was aimed at David Cameron, the camera picked it up centrally so that it looked as if the Prime Minister was pointing aggressively at the viewers, which on a subliminal level made one feel uncomfortable).

Other MPs began to ask questions including one about the duel role of Des Brown the Defence / Scottish Secretary - Prime Minister said the Defence Minister worked “night and day” at his job (an obvious untruth as I have tried working night and day and it can’t be done).

An MP intriguingly captioned from the “Co-Op” (did you know the Co-Op had MPs in parliament?) asked about a conspiracy theory involving the merger of the Royal Navy and the French navy.

Right at the end one of the Tories asked a devastating question about why there were so many strikes at the end of a Labour government (Gordon Brown rather floundered in reply).

PMQs came to an end and the camera went back to the studio. Andrew Neil (presenter) led a sort of debriefing session. Government Minister Caroline Flint (black hair a bit unkempt, which reinforced her Cruella de Ville persona) defended Gordon Brown. I didn’t like the look of shadow minister Ed Vaizey who came across as a chuckling buffoon.

Andrew Neil said the war in Afghanistan was the United Kingdom’s biggest foreign policy issue, but no-one wanted to argue this point seriously (as the British involvement in Afghanistan might last thirty years, and as the casualty rate is running at fifty per year, are we to expect a total of 1,500 fatalities among British armed forces?).

Looking at the wider political situation, it would seem we are in the dog days of the Labour government (using the expression dog days to mean “an evil time when the seas boiled, wine turned sour, and dogs grew mad”). Writing in the Guardian Polly Toynbee has said several times that the government should use what little time it has left to push through major socialist projects since there is no longer any need to fear public opinion. The government would be unwise to do this, as the Conservatives tried this strategy in their own last dog days and have been punished with a minimum three terms in opposition (in his last years Major privatised the railways against public opinion, rushed through a commission for a new Royal Yacht the order for which was immediately cancelled by Tony Blair, and initiated the building of the grossly extravagant Millennium Dome - adopted with enthusiasm by New Labour as their cultural “manifesto” with some ironic justification as the project turned out to be intellectually facile, financially near-bankrupt and intolerably hubristic).

On the other hand, Andy Burnham (minister for Culture Media and Sport) appeared on the Politics Show on Sunday and managed to make the government’s record seem quite reasonable. He had a convincing way of portraying the government team as decent hard-working people doing the best they can in an extraordinary world economic storm. Not sure how he did this - he was making non-sequential bland statements but they sounded wise and convincing.
See this week’s pmqs:

Sunday, June 15, 2008

An apology

Working hard at the moment so realistically it will probably be Wednesday when I will next post anything.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Rural romany fakirs of the late-Victorian period

Above: the dusty little display cupboard.

Above: a handwritten note, affixed with rusty drawing pins and dated 1923.

One village I went to recently had a dusty little display cupboard which held an ancient brush. A handwritten note, affixed with rusty drawing pins and dated 1923, said the implement was used to brush the feet of the dying. Miraculous recoveries would follow.

Joseph Abel Atkinson was a village shaman of the 1890s who inherited this magic brush “used in olden times” and passed it on to Canon Layng (and Canon Layng decided to preserve it, unlike most Anglican clergymen of his time who would have burned the item).

The words “complete nonsense” went through my mind. Yet another of the superstitious frauds practised by rural romany fakirs of the late-Victorian period. If ever there was a candidate for The Guardian’s Bad Science column this is it.

And yet in the office today, among a range of toiletry items sent in by a client to be photographed for their new catalogue (collagen creams, face masks, slimming pills etc) was a “body brush”! You use it to “detoxify”. It is especially effective when used on the soles of the feet.

As they say, you learn something new every day - did you know such things as body brushes existed?

You can even buy them at Bodyshop:

More on body brushing: (note the manic use of search engine optimisation in this url!).

Also here:

Thursday, June 12, 2008

A world of passion, pride and love…

Sunday afternoon I went to a poultry show. A whole world opened up - one I never previously knew existed. A world of passion, pride and love…

Above: the Welsummer originally came from Holland and is named after the village of Welsum. The head has a single comb, almond-shaped ear lobes and a short beak. Friendly birds but inclined to go broody in the late Spring.

Above: Buff Orpingtons have existed as a breed for about a hundred years. Greedy birds which need lots of exercise (and like to be free range). Lay small pinkish eggs.

Above: Despite the German-sounding name Hamburgs originated in Holland about three hundred years ago. A lot of work has been done by British breeders to develop the fine birds we see today. These are the chickens that feature in Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the d’Urbervilles (and Roman Polanski’s Tess - one of the Films That Changed My Life).

Above: the eggs were laid out on trestle tables along the centre of the marquee - I like the way that the farmers’ wives have brought along their best floral tablecloths.

Above: did you know ducks mate for life?

Above: Sussex Bantams are smaller versions of the Sussex breed. Medium tail feathers, red eyes and featherless yellow legs (four toes). They have an affectionate and placid nature and don’t mind coping with bad weather.

Above: Gold Laced Orpington are very beautiful birds. Comparatively rare in the United Kingdom (the breed originated in Germany). They have gentle personalities and lay about a hundred and ninety tinted eggs a year.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Prime Minister’s questions, 11th June 2008

Wednesday lunchtime. Rachel and I had lunch in the upstairs Boardroom. I had a classic super club, a “Love” bar, and a mocha coffee; Rachel just had vegetarian sushi and a Flower Fantastic.

We went into the Board Room at 11.50 to get hold of the TV control. Just as well, as at 12 noon in came Alex, Douglas, Paula and the Aines. Caroline came in shortly afterwards, which didn’t please Rachel, and Alan shambled in at ten past.

In the camera frame during the first couple of questions we could see Justice Minister Jack Straw on the front bench apparently sticking his tongue out.

“Is he sticking his tongue out?” said Aine 2.

“Do you mind, I’m eating” said Aine 1.

We watched the Justice Minister sticking his tongue out (“isn’t he just licking his lips?… no he’s definitely sticking his tongue out…”).

“He reminds me of a dirty old man on the train” said Paula. “I keep trying to get away from him but he waits until the last minute then gets in the same coach and sits exactly opposite. When he thinks no-one else is looking he half sticks his tongue out and stares at me.”

The to and fro began with Greg Hands MP (Tory) making a jibe about the Prime Minister’s unpopularity which is now lower than Iain Duncan-Smith at his nadir. This sort of baiting may backfire as Gordon Brown is fast assuming under-dog status (the British public tends to like underdogs). I half-expected Sebastian from Little Britain to appear at the bar of the House of Commons singing you are beautiful…

Generally Gordon Brown had a good Prime Minister’s Questions. His exchange with David Cameron was statesmanlike on both sides, mostly about the proposal to extend arrest without charge to 42 days. He also managed to make a good joke at Michael Howard’s expense (not easy to do).

He did waver at a couple of places, and twice used a variation of “we’ll take no lectures from you” (once referring to the Chief Constable of Northern Ireland and once on a point about poverty).

The sycophants seemed to have been culled this week but in their place appeared charity do-gooders who, because they were speaking on behalf of “good causes”, assumed an irritating high-moral-tone. One of these questioners, in a blatant example of product placement, held a big “Sign Up For Sudders” message while she asked her question about organ donations. Another questioner, Dawn Butler MP, insisted on spelling out a website url in her question, without the Speaker intervening to tell her not to misuse the state legislature (and the state broadcasting service) as an advertising medium (because these questioners claim to represent charities they practice a sort of moral blackmail that defies any criticism).

Sebastian (a sort of Derek Draper ministerial aide) at pmq’s:

Christina’s version (at Koko near Mornington Crescent):

Today’s PMQs:

Tuesday, June 10, 2008


Euro 2008 without England. The newspapers are bereft of the usual images and copy that would normally sell their “product”. The government has been denied one last straw to clutch at to save itself from oblivion (since a successful England campaign would have created a national feel-good factor they could have used to launch a daring Skorzeny-style electoral rescue mission for the Labour party).

Above: the brass plate of Setanta’s London offices is so highly polished it reflects the neo-classical architecture of its elegant West End surroundings.

Has the England failure to qualify become a disaster for Setanta? This was the summer they intended to face up to (and face down?) Sky Sports with innovative and intimate coverage of the only real sports show in town. Now they are reduced to quasi-public school, quasi-gentlemanly, Old Corinthians-type exhortations of: it’s-not-the-winning-that-matters, it’s-not-even-the-taking-part-that-matters, but “now is the chance to really take in and savour an eventful competition… with no inevitable exit on penalties and painful national post mortem…”

One suspects it will all end in a pub in Southend, singing the word “schadenfreude” repeatedly to the last movement of Beethoven’s 9th, as Germany go out to Portugal in the final.

Setanta appeared in the United Kingdom “from nowhere” in 2006. Actually they have been established in Dublin since 1990. Director of Sport at Setanta is Trevor East (“Trevor East?… he made his name with Tiswas in the seventies… the show gave him a claque that has followed him ever since…”).

Facing up to Sky (which is good):

Setanta want us all to be good Europeans:

Beethoven’s 9th, last movement: