Sunday, August 31, 2008

The rabbit landscape

Very interesting afternoon researching medieval rabbit breeding on the upland heaths. I was surprised at how many traces of the rabbit landscape still remain. Although not native to the British Isles, the rabbit has become important to the preservation of the unique flora on the upland heaths.

Above: place name evidence shows the location of ancient “warrens” which were areas where rabbits were bred and harvested for the fur and meat. Warrens would be looked after by a “warrener” in the service of the local lord. His job was to protect the rabbits through bad weather, drive off predators (foxes, stoats, weasels), and catch them for harvest.

Above: rabbits used in a coat of arms (you may need to click on the image to see it clearly). Also look at the crest, which is a big-eared rabbit. Writing in The Golden Bough Sir James Frazer described how a field of corn would be harvested by reapers working in a circular motion from the edges of the field to its centre. Eventually just a small patch of corn would be left standing. As the central portion of corn was finally harvested the animals that had taken refuge there would run for cover. Typically rabbits would be among these animals, which led to the rabbit being identified with the “corn spirit”. Originally the word “rabbit” just applied to the young, and fully-grown animals were called “conies”. Use of Coney as a surname, implies a connection with the keeping and harvesting of rabbits. In the eighteenth-century when rabbit poachers were caught in the county they were transported to Australia.

Above: rabbit pies which I bought at a local farm shop. Rabbit meat has attracted the attention of gourmet cooks in the recent revival of traditional English food. In the medieval period rabbits did not breed so prolifically as they do now, and rabbit meat was comparatively rare and a great delicacy.

Above: there was a display in the local museum of a typical medieval diet, which included rabbit meat, turtles (from the coastal areas), onions and cheese (the reddish item you can see).

Above: I very rarely see rabbits around the garden, although I am aware that there are lots of them living in the surrounding fields. I have two cats (necessary in an old farmhouse) and they often bring back wildlife they have caught. A few weeks back I saw the younger cat running around the main lawn with something furry in its mouth. After a little effort I managed to catch her and take the furry thing off her. It was a baby rabbit, a bit shaken but otherwise unharmed. After taking the above photograph I set it free (although it looks like I am gripping it tightly, I was actually holding the rabbit very gently).

Very sentimental view of rabbits:

Not for the first time I thought that Marc was useless - the past week at work

Above: police watch the commuters streaming down into the Underground.


Very busy when I arrived in London this morning. Lots of police at the entrance to the tube. Considerable delays on the tube so that crowds of people built up on the platform – I let several trains go rather than try and squeeze on, and so I was late getting to the office.

During the morning only Clare (Junior Copywriter) and myself were in the writers’ room. Clare has managed to get into the salary details of everyone else in the agency (she found a way of going into the “back ups”). We talked about what everyone earned – the salaries are much lower than I imagined, so I am not badly off.

Valerie (one of the Account Directors) came into the room to talk to Clare about the problems she has had getting her copy accepted by Val’s account execs. “I know you must be having a rough time” she said to Clare. “I know you havn’t said anything, but I can pick up the vibes.”

Both Lynn (Senior Account Executive) and Marc (Creative Director and my boss) were to have briefed me on work today, but they kept putting things off. Typically it was five-thirty, just as I was about to go home, that I was called into a briefing with Valerie, Trevor (MD) and Marc. What they were saying was quite obscure, but instead of asking questions (which would have extended the meeting) I decided to get the information from Marc later.

When I finally managed to leave, as I walked through the main floor only account exec Jo was still in the main office (Jo is aged about twenty, slim, well-dressed, blonde, blue-eyes, always smiling).

“Goodnight darling” she called, which totally confused me (I am not so vain that I think she meant “darling” seriously).

I was so hungry that I bought sandwiches to eat on the train (even though I hate seeing other people eat on public transport) plus a bottle of Polish water.


The tube is the worst part of my journey to work, and seems to take longer each day.

I arrived in the office and settled down with some coffee to look at the brief I was given last night (it’s transport related). I tired to ask Marc for some supplementary information but he couldn’t help me. Not for the first time I thought that Marc was useless as a manager.

Mid-morning, while Marc was out, Managing Director Terry came to the office and asked to see Clare and myself. It was with some apprehension that we followed him down to the Board Room. Our fears of being sacked proved groundless however - all he wanted to do was to assess the amount of work we have on, to reduce the amount of copywriting sent out to freelances (presumably he didn’t trust Marc to give him this information).

In the afternoon Clare had to go home because her bag had been stolen at lunchtime, so I found myself doing some copy for the unpleasant Andrea (Senior Account Executive). When I had done a draft I foolishly asked Marc to look it over. Marc looked at the copy and said “I think it sounds really good, just let me make two tiny suggestions…”

Marc rowed with his wife over the ’phone (mobile ’phone, but he made no effort to go somewhere private).

When I left the office I felt exhausted. Writing is physically tiring but you can never tell people this. They just think you have a really cushy job.


In the morning I wrote the transport-related ad (“There’s some lovely work here” said Marc, but he is so insincere I don’t take his remarks seriously). I wrote a second ad in the series, liking it better than the first. Clare went out to buy some ice creams (being in a screened-off area we don’t get the benefit of the air-conditioning).

Lunchtime I went to the library at the Barbican, taking nearly two hours for lunch (I didn’t intend this, it’s just the way it turned out).

Difficult meeting with Senior Account Executive Andrea, discussing the copy I had done for her. Due to Marc’s fatuous ideas I had strayed from the brief she had originally given me. The copy was rejected and my credibility with Andrea has been destroyed.

As a “creative” there is little you can do to defend yourself when someone attacks your work. Creative Director Marc should be the first line of defence, but he takes little interest. In any case, I can’t see myself staying in this job.

Later in the afternoon Marc and I talked generally – he became very defensive when I said consumer-defined lifestyles were not sustainable.


Because my season ticket needed renewing I was up early and allowed plenty of time at the station. Consequently I was able to catch an earlier train. I was the first in the office this morning.

Mid-morning Lynn (Senior Account Executive) came in to talk to Marc, tearful and worried about her boyfriend troubles. Marc gave her lots of sympathetic advice that sounded dubious. Later Clare was scathing about the incident (“She’s a grown women, it’s pathetic the way she goes on”).

In the afternoon Alex (Account Exec on Valerie’s team) came into the writers’ room wearing an overcoat, despite the heat. Alex is aged about twenty-five, thin build, dark curly hair. His father is a director of a famous company.

Clare asked him why he was wearing an overcoat.

“I’ve just found out my trousers have split” he said. “But it’s not as bad as when my flies came apart. There was no way of hiding that.”


I got up late and missed my usual train (I made no attempt to rush). The next train was very late. I eventually arrived in the office at ten o’clock.

Marc was away for most of the day, and I was a little bored.

I was amazed when Valerie came in to thank me for writing the transport-related ads, saying how good they were. I was almost speechless. I had thought she didn’t like them.

In the evening I went for a drink with Rachel. I met Rebecca’s boyfriend (“I’m in the mob, an engineer in the navy at Portsmouth, it’s my birthday this weekend”). Juliette had too much to drink.

Friday, August 29, 2008


The MI6 building on the Albert Embankment (I took this photo from the other side of the Thames.

Although put up in the early ’90s, Terry Farrell’s post-modern design is an example of the 1980s break with modernism and eclectic revival of previous architectural styles (in this case art deco, although the building has neo-classical and gotham-gothic elements).

The building extends five storeys into the ground, comprising a bunker that is safe from external attack.

When it opened the building housed 2,500 staff, although this number is supposed to have doubled since 2001.

Self-consciously playing up the security service’s James Bond image, the building has actually appeared in James Bond films.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Freud Communications

Freud Communications in Newman Street.

Chairman (and founder) of Freud Communications is Matthew Freud. He is married to Elisabeth Murdoch (who runs Shine and Kudos). His sister is Emma Freud (broadcaster who is married to Richard Curtis) and his cousin is Esther Freud (author of Gaglow).

Freud Communications has a tremendous reputation. Right mix of clients, right portfolio of past work, right atmosphere to work in. It’s the place to be (for PR aficionados).


Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Still beautiful

I was driving through the central hills on Saturday and took this photograph of fallow deer gathered under an oak tree. I think it is one of the best photographs I have taken. It seems to sum up the county in 2008 – still beautiful and unchanging.

Elsewhere the countryside is not in such good condition. This article (above - it you click on the image you should just about be able to read it) in the Observer is a piece of scare-mongering journalism that tells us the apple harvest is under threat because of changes to the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme. Incredibly the journalist Caroline Davies makes no connection between low wages and lack of workers (was she too lazy to do the research, or did she willfully seek to mislead?).

We do not need to import cheap labour from Russia to pick English apples. All we need to do is pay a realistic wage for local people to pick the fruit. In any case, smaller family-owned farms always have a network of local people who come in to the farms to harvest crops – it’s the bigger farms that need hundreds of workers at rock-bottom wages.

The problem (once again) is the big supermarkets. They are prepared to flood the British market with ultra-cheap apples from the southern hemisphere (grown in industrial mono-cultures) if English apples cannot be produced at uneconomic prices. Why is the government so afraid of the four main supermarket chains (and why can’t they be broken up, with an anti-cartel clause that specifies no more than fifty outlets per chain?).

Personally I am unimpressed by complaints that food is too expensive (in real terms it is cheaper than it was two decades ago). We don’t need cheap food that encourages people to overeat. We need good-quality food locally produced and sold at a price that is fair to everyone.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Lured into a racket

Above: advertisement for "hostesses" in the (obscured) window of a "topless" restaurant in Farringdon Road.

"Topless" restaurants and lap-dancing clubs are in every town now, following changes to the law in 2003.

Henry Mayhew in London Labour and the London Poor demonstrated that the poor pay of female theatrical performers drove them into prostitution:

“Ballet Girls have a bad reputation, which is in most cases well deserved. To begin with their remuneration - it is very poor. They get from nine to eighteen shillings. Columbine in the pantomime gets five pounds a week, but then hers is a prominent position. Out of these nine to eighteen shillings they have to find shoes and petticoats, silk stockings, etc., etc., so that the pay is hardly adequate to their expenditure, and quite insufficient to fit them out and find them in food and lodging. Can it be wondered at, that while this state of things exists, ballet-girls should be compelled to seek a livelihood by resorting to prostitution?”

This is not to condemn all modern lap-dancers and topless waitresses as prostitutes. I am sure there are some who are confident career women fully in command of their own destiny. But I guess most are pretty girls from eastern Europe, lured into a racket they cannot get out of.

There were a few lap-dancing clubs ten years ago, but the explosion in numbers has been a result of New Labour policy (along with Super Casinos and 24-hour drinking).


Monday, August 25, 2008

Mystical revelation within the Anglican tradition

During my (entirely unofficial) inquiry into Anglicanism I have tended to concentrate on the practical aspects of the religion – buildings, personnel, services (in the widest sense).

However I have also been aware that there are all sorts of mystical activities which I have, up until now, tended to avoid (how do you define and quantify mystical revelation?).

Unlike the American evangelical churches, or the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic traditions, the Church of England generally steers clear of anything that could be seen as cultish.

The Virgin Mary appeared in north Norfolk at a site that attracts thousands of pilgrims every year, but the wider population generally does not know about this (unlike Fatima or Lourdes). A shrine has built up around the cell of a medieval anchorite in Norwich, but again this is hardly mentioned (the Anglican church has no process for creating “saints”). A religious community operates in the Huntingdonshire village of Little Gidding, but most people would connect the place to the poet TS Eliot.

It is clear that there are dozens (possibly hundreds) of semi-official mystical activities occurring throughout the country.

I was invited to one such event on Saturday. The invitation came from someone I met last week at the high church service in the county town. Aged about twenty-five or twenty-six, very enthusiastic, he had shown me around the building and then said: “I own a medieval church which I am restoring. We are holding a service there this Saturday. You would be welcome.”

I went to church not really knowing what to expect. The location was in the central hills, in a rural hamlet that consists of five houses. The small church was about a quarter of a mile off a lane, next to a farmhouse.

Above: a stone in churchyard apparently marks the geographic centre of the county (I have no idea whether this is true or not).

Above: general view of the church – inside is one room divided into a square nave and a small chancel.

The church was obviously part medieval (verified by Pevsner) but with eighteenth-century renovations and a restoration of 1913. It had closed about thirty years ago and had been used as a store until discovered and purchased by the person who had invited me. Gradually he had repaired the roof and restored the interior: “English Heritage said they had no record of the building, so we were able to get on with the work quite quickly – it was only recently that we found out it was listed. I’m gradually transferring the church to a Trust and we now have about five services a year here. Even in the nineteen-twenties it was High”.

Above: the church has been restored in an Anglo-Catholic style.

About forty people were present at the event, half of them seeming to be clergy. As we took our seats, the tiny candle-lit building became packed (the experience was similar to being crushed on a commuter train). A clanging single bell sounded a bit too loudly in the confined space.

A hand-pumped organ wheezed into life. An over-powering smell of incense filled the building as acolytes processed in, followed by three priests in elaborate copes and wearing birettas. The High Mass began with a Deacon going up into the pulpit and saying: “One hundred and seventy five years ago today John Keble preached a sermon that began the Oxford Movement revival of catholic worship within the Church of England…”).

Because space was so cramped the Holy Communion was characterised by shuffling, queuing, apologising. There hadn’t been enough service sheets to go round, so not everyone knew what to do. The choir of six people was directly behind me, and the sound they produced was extremely loud.

Above: after the High Mass there was a half-hour break for tea, served at a trestle table outside. The Blessed Sacrament (the bread and wine after it has been blessed by the priest) was “reserved” in the church during this half-hour break. I wandered around taking photographs.

I paused at the entrance to the church and took the above photograph. The day was sunny, and the interior was gloomy, so I didn’t really expect anything to come out. However, when I checked my photograph (you may need to click on the picture to enlarge it) the cross on the altar appeared to be blazing with light.

I am not claiming this is miraculous in any way. But it did seem unusual, as the light source was coming from the window behind the cross. Combined with the fervent assertion by the young Deacon that the Sacrament in the church was actually the Body and Blood of Christ (this depends on a belief in Transubstantiation), it was enough to make me stop and think.

Above: biretta held by one of the priests.

During the break there was a rehearsal by some of the clergy for the next part of the service. I could hear them adapting the ritual to the limitations of the building (Acolyte: “At Walsingham we always kneel at this point.” Priest: “Well you’ve got more room at Walsingham – here we will have to sit…”). I talked to the lady doing the teas.

After tea we went back into the church for the Benediction. The Blessed Sacrament was placed in a monstrance, and one of the priests put on an embroidered shawl (not sure what this item of clothing was – it seemed to be too wide to be a clerical stole). We all went out into the churchyard where the service of Benediction was held at an open-air altar (it was as if the surrounding countryside was being blessed).

Above: you can see the priest wearing the shawl and carrying the monstrance, sheltered by a sort of elaborate umbrella (which is about a hundred years old). Two acolytes are carrying candles. Just in front you can see the thurible containing the incense.

This service impressed me in several ways. The fact that it was held at such a remote place was in itself impressive. There was no doubting the faith of the clergy in proclaiming their beliefs. The tide of downsizing and retreat had in this instance been reversed, and a closed church had actually been restored and reopened (through one person’s determination). The campaign of John Keble had been revalidated. Mystical revelation within the Anglican tradition had been verified.

Sunday, August 24, 2008


This afternoon my brother and I watched a cricket match in the local town. We don’t often do things together – our interests are different. The cricket season is coming to an end soon and this will be one of the last matches we get to see.

I like watching live cricket, but I can’t stand cricket on television.

The weather was good and the mood was relaxed. The batting was good from both teams, and most of the bowling was straight. The fielding was a bit unfocused, and one team was talking so much when they were fielding that their Captain had to tell them to shut up.

Paragraphs had been chopped off - the past week at work


One after the other this morning the Account Handlers came into our room boasting about what they had done over the weekend (theatre, dinner at Smollenskys, new boyfriends).

In the morning I did some poster copy, which was quite interesting.

Creative Director Marc Baxter locked himself away all day in the “glass cupboard” (a tiny room next door, just big enough for a small desk) and we could see him frowning.

In the afternoon I wrote headlines for some print ads – about twenty of them (although sometimes it is a mistake to give people too much choice).

Kate (ex-colleague from when I worked downstairs) rang: “I’m bored… we need to meet… I need to decide whether to stay in advertising...” We arranged to meet this Thursday.


Only five hours sleep. I got up right at the last minute. As a consequence I had to rush, nearly missing the train.

Boring retail ads to write today. I worked some irony into the copy, wondering whether it would be noticed. I felt so tired that I longed to close my eyes and get half an hour’s sleep.

Mid-morning I went out to get some coffee (although we have a coffee machine in the office). Mainly I just wanted to walk around a bit to wake myself up. In Café Nero were two young women talking.

First woman: “I’m still pining for Chris – it’s been a year and two days. I’m losing two pounds a week.”

Second woman: “You needed to lose some weight.”

First woman: “What am I going to do?”

Second woman: “Is Paddy an alternative?”

First woman: “He’s been in every brothel in Finland!”

Back in the office Claire (Copywriter, not very experienced) was furious over a remark Valerie had made about her copywriting. I am sure they also talk down my work, although Linda came back from a client meeting this afternoon praising my brochure copy (“That style was perfect”).


I got to see some copy when it came back from the client. Paragraphs had been chopped off. Crude lines had been inserted.

Claire was away and Marc was working in the glass cupboard so I felt a bit lonely.

Occasionally I watched the Olympics on the BBC website.

I overheard Valerie talking about a client lunch she had been to: “I thought that as they didn’t know me they would want to ask me about myself, but they didn’t…” (she had the typical arrogance of our industry, and seemed genuinely perplexed that other people were not interested in her).


I seem to be building a reputation for brochure copy (which is a relief after writing webcopy). Two new briefs for brochure copy came in this morning. You would think that websites had superseded company brochures, but they seem as popular as ever (the web isn’t tangible – about a third of the business population will only accept a sales pitch when they can literally hold it in their hands).

Claire was back today, so I didn’t feel so isolated. She has taken so many odd days holiday that rumours (repeated to me by Doug) are beginning to circulate in the main office that she is looking for another job. Even if she isn’t this is dangerous as the directors might decide to get rid of her just in case.

Doug said he had made a major error which has alienated a client. He needs to break this news to Valerie (boss of his account team). I asked if I could be in the room when he does this.

In the early evening I met Kate and we went to Chiquito in Leicester Square. She was very despondent about how her job had ended. I agreed to write her CV.


I went to work early so that I could leave early (it is a Bank Holiday this weekend).

I was the only person in the writers’ room at eight o’clock and so I had the radio on (via the computer). On the Today programme John Humphrys interviewed the President of Georgia and revealed him to be a bit of a charlatan. By noon I had finished all my work and was filling in time until I could go.

It has become very noticeable that Claire becomes incredibly quiet and hardly says a word whenever Marc is in the room. This was especially apparent today. I wonder whether they have fallen out.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Overheard on the train

Going home early (it is bank holiday weekend) I was squashed into a seat that had no window. There was so much noise I couldn’t read. In the seats behind me was a couple talking – from their voices I guessed they were recently retired, although I never actually got to see them.

They had been in London for the day and had gone to a restaurant for lunch.

Man: “We had a very good meal.”

Woman: “I’m still bloated though. I like to try different kinds of food but I can’t eat like I used to. I shouldn’t have eaten so much.”

Man: “You did like it though?”

Woman: “I’m too bloated. I feel really uncomfortable. I don’t think I’ve ever been so bloated.”

Man: “What about that fish you had in Corfu?”

Woman: “Oh yeah! I became enormous. I’d forgotten about that!”

Man: “You were bad in Cofu.”

Woman: “I felt like those cattle in that Paul Newman film. Hud. Where the cattle all blow up like massive balloons and have to be shot.”

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Putting on the Olympics

Above: the Olympic laurel crown used as an architectural motif on one of our more important public buildings. The British team is currently third in the gold medal table. Given Boris Johnson’s classicist background, perhaps he should welcome the team back to London with a traditional arch of victory (albeit one made of white cardboard and completely recyclable).

My immediate boss is the agency’s Creative Director Marc Baxter. This morning I asked him what he would do if he were made Creative Director of the 2012 Olympic Opening Ceremony. He sprung into life, as if he had been waiting for someone to ask him that very question:

“The first thing I’d do is cut out all the politics and nationalism. No national stereotypes, no nationalistic visions, no politicians glad-handing everyone. And no kitsch, no tacky celebrities, no faded pop stars.

“I would entirely refocus it on sport. We have a tremendous sporting heritage in this country. A huge number of sports were invented in this country.

“I would design an Opening Ceremony that had three main things going for it. First all the sport that Britain has given to the world, including the non-Olympic sports. Second I would showcase all the sports that are currently played in London, which must be pretty much every single sport, with information and interactive links so you can find out more and start to get involved straight away.

“Thirdly I would focus on British sporting disasters…” (here he gave that bear-with-me look he sometimes uses on clients) “…because one of the greatest traditions we have given the world is that it’s okay to fail, that it’s the taking part that counts. So I’d do that in a humourous self-deprecating way. And I would also deliberately scale things down so everything is on a more human level.

“We need to say in twenty-twelve that you don’t have to be a megalomaniac state with billions to spend. Putting on the Olympics should be within the reach of all nations, even the poorer ones. Our economy is as big as China’s – we could outspend them if we chose to, but we choose not to do so.

“And as a legacy I would turn the Olympic park into a sports university, turning out Olympic athletes for the future.”

Article by Mick Hume (one of The Times nastiest and most negative writers - Editor of The Times is James Harding):

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

One of the finest lettuces you can buy

During the summer one of the finest lettuces you can buy is Little Gem.

This one was bought in Tescos.

I always buy produce from Shropshire farms whenever I can. Years ago I researched the company for a pitch (which we lost). I was so impressed with the company that the memory has stayed with me ever since.

The main farm is based in the Cambridgeshire fens. There is only one road which goes to the site (although I think there are tracks which can give access in an emergency if the road is blocked). You turn off the main road and drive for miles through bleak flat fields until an ENORMOUS complex of buildings appears before you.

Hundreds of people are employed here, mostly eastern Europeans who live in hostels on the site, so that it resembles a kibbutz. Locals are also employed but one said to me: “People round here don’t like working at G’s because it’s too easy. You come in here because there is always work, and the people are nice. But the wages are low and you never really get anywhere, so you can spend years here and have nothing at the end.”

The company is markedly paternalistic. As well as accommodation, there is a subsidized canteen, and a company shop that sells very low-price fresh vegetables. Like most family-owned companies there is a sense that everyone is “part of the family”.

I have a sort of memory that G’s first developed the Little Gem lettuce (although I can’t be certain of this). Quality standards are very high, and very rarely are there any complaints about the products. Once, however, a customer found a mummified mouse in a Little Gem lettuce. An enquiry investigated how this could have happened. The mouse crawled into the lettuce while it was growing in the field, and then suddenly died (I suppose even mice have heart attacks). The lettuce continued to grow, and dense layers of leaves closed around the mouse, so that it was completely encapsulated.

You’ll have to cut and paste this url: -

Monday, August 18, 2008

An unknown masterpiece

Sunday morning. I got up at seven and drove to the county town (about thirty miles from my house). The first half of the journey was in torrential rain, which fell from low dark clouds, this giving way to bright morning sunshine as soon as I was up on the heaths.

Arriving at the county town the way was blocked by roadworks and I had to drive south, west and then north before getting to a suburb on the north-east side of the city.

The time was eight-thirty, and being an hour too early I looked around the suburb, taking photographs.

The area was Edwardian “inner city”, and laid out on a steep hillside. On the crest was a garden village of big mansions (built at that point in architectural history when form begins to reflect function, so that the big brick cubes bulged with bay windows, stumpy towers for water tanks and ugly fat drainpipes). Below this ridge of prosperity was a lush wooded park, occupying about half the hillside, and terminating in a little wall-cliff constructed from boulders. Immediately below this wall was a busy road, bisecting the suburb. The other side of this road were public buildings, shops, and large houses (now divided into bedsits and occupied by eastern Europeans). Below the cordon sanitaire of the road streamed vertical streets of terraced houses (if the park was like a Helen Bradley painting, these landscapes were more of a Lowry landscape).

Above: I went into the park and walked up as far as the Grand Terrace which was a wide path that crossed the park horizontally. The trees that lined the Grand Terrace were all different, so that an arboretum was formed. As I walked along the terrace I passed from light to shade to light to shade (this hasn’t really come out in the photograph). The air was fresh after the morning’s rain, and many of the trees were scented (I detected lime, pine, cedar etc). The sun was already very powerful, and it promised to be a hot day. Hardly anyone was about.

Above: Halfway along the Grand Terrace was a flight of steps that led down further into the park. Again, no-one was about. At the foot of the steps was a large statue of a lion.

Above: Close-to the Lion was huge (and you can see someone's dog, to give it perspective). The Lion commemorates the founder who donated the park to the city. An important landscape designer (Edward Milner) had been employed to lay the park out.

Above: I walked round to the left, following the meandering paths. I could see a maze, but didn’t like to go into it (time was getting on). Every kind of tree seemed to be represented in the park.

Above: I came to an ornamental lake. Fountains were gushing. I sat on one of the benches for a while, until it was nine-fifteen.

Above: Across the lake by this bridge. I could see the church in the distance. The peace of the park was disturbed by the noise of the busy road.

Above: The red-brick church of 1904, designed by Fowler (“an unknown masterpiece by an architect at the height of his powers”) and with an interior embellished by Sir Ninian Comper. Incredibly there are no moving cars in this photograph, although the road is a main artery. There are rumours that the Church of England would like to close this church as the site is so valuable (it fills the block between two side roads).

Above: Inside preparations were being made for the nine-thirty service. I was made very welcome – this is one of the friendliest churches I have been to. As I sat down (in the nave, on the right side, I felt I was surrounded by the disinterested love of the doughty ladies bustling about.

The service was (like the architecture of the church) both long and high. Because it was the first Sunday after the Feast of the Assumption of Our Lady the entrance procession made a diversion to censer the statue of the Virgin Mary in the Lady Chapel (in the south aisle). We all said the Hail Mary prayer.

Above: I could see the incense passing through the shafts of light coming in through the clerestory.
Censing of the altars followed, then censing of the choir, and a general censing in the direction of the congregation. The fragrant smoke rose up the full height of the church, past Comper’s beardless Christ on the great Rood. I could see the incense passing through the shafts of light coming in through the clerestory.

The priest taking the High Mass was from the cathedral (presumably the incumbent was on holiday). We sang five hymns, including Charles Wesley’s And Can It Be That I Should Gain. The sermon was long, and delivered from the Desk, not the Pulpit. The visiting priest talked about the “healing renaissance” and regretted the influence from “across the Atlantic” where evangelicals were being too specific and personal about healing. “I’ve no complaint about that” said the Priest (in a loud voice that indicated he had indeed complained about the over-enthusiastic American jellies). But we were referred to Matthew (15) and the priest said the Church should concentrate on the healing of communities rather than individuals.

Although the service was long, the church was so comfortable that you didn’t notice the time passing. The seats were well designed, and there was a sort of upholstered kneeling board so you didn’t have to get absolutely down on the floor. The service had the right combination of visual, musical and textual elements that your mind was always focused.

At the Holy Communion some exceptional silver was used.
Above: Right at the end of the service, the choir is processing off to the right. The Priest is about to leave the altar. The sacred vessels are covered so I felt it was OK to take this photograph.

Above: After the service teas were served at the west end of the church from a sort of neo-Edwardian hatch. Filling the upper half of the west wall was a Jesse Window showing Christ’s descent from David. You can get a good idea of the height of the church (but I haven’t been able to capture the atmosphere, which was one of the most remarkable aspects of the building – perhaps we should consider whether it is possible to “list” atmospheres in the same way it is possible to list architectural features).

Above: The great organ. “Our organist is only fifteen”. I was introduced to the organist who was a young man taller and broader than myself, with sensible glasses and wearing a dark suit.
Above: The memory of past organists is preserved.

Above: I was fascinated by the music cupboard, which seemed untouched since it was first put in.
Above: The matches used to light the altar candles.

Above: Brazen vessels for the flower arrangements – I liked the totality of the church’s design and how every little detail matched the overall scheme of the building.

Above: Sir Ninian Comper’s beautiful side chapel.

Above: Sir Ninian Comper designed the incense thurible.
Above: I was shown the fitted cupboards (designed by Fowler?) which held the richly embroidered copes and chasubles (“They’re all original from the foundation of the church. This white one was made from the silk wedding dress of a lady who was married here and donated her dress fabric to be made into a chasuble. The embroidery work is incredible and is all hand-done”).

Above: The embroidery on this cope is very fine. On the walls of the Sacristy (where the vestments are stored) were pictures of the previous incumbents – the priests wore birettas until the 1960s. The choir vestry next door had been badly damaged by rain following the theft of its lead roof.

Above: I was shown a fitted cupboard with about ten drawers inside. “These are the sets. We’ve even got a canopy.”

Above: This very clumsy photograph is of the enormous fitted cupboard which contains the Edwardian altar frontals. They are hung on movable rails that swing outwards so you can select the right one for a particular Feast Day or celebration. These ones look a bit plain – the most ornate ones have been put at the back, out of harm’s way.

Above: The First World War memorial was in the Lady Chapel. “Do you see that small smudge on the side? The mason originally put his name there as a tiny advertisement. The Father at the time took umbrage and said: Were you killed in the war Mr Stephens… No? Then take your name off the war memorial.”

The hymn And Can It Be:

Sunday, August 17, 2008


Bullrushes in one of the “pools” (man-made shallow lakes). You can feel summer is slipping away. It’s a melancholy time.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

I am conscious of how less interesting my life has become


I had done some work over the weekend – something I never do, but with so much work on at the moment I had felt obliged to take some projects home.

I pushed on with some brochure copy plus a manual we are doing for a motor company.

I worked through lunch, not wanting to get behind with all these projects – again this is something I would never do in the past.

While I was taking a ’phone call Claire put a post-it in front of me saying that Kate (Account Executive with the agency downstairs) was holding on another line. When I spoke to her she told me she had resigned that morning after a row with Angela and Alan. I told her she had made the right decision.

In the afternoon Creative Director Marc complained about the copy his clients tend to like (“short sentences, banal sentiments, overworked superlatives”).


It was Junior Copywriter Claire’s birthday, so I gave her a card.

I arrived at work knowing three deadlines awaited me (this is not a good feeling). One of them was for a telecommunications company. Copy for this company is notoriously difficult to get accepted. I did their writing first and e-mailed it to the Account Executive. When I got feedback later in the afternoon I was told my work had been only slightly amended. This really cheered me up – Marc struggles to get his copy accepted by this client, and he has worked for them for years.

After work about ten people from the agency went to a winebar to celebrate Claire’s birthday. I drank more than I intended. Afterwards I had to go into Costa Coffee before attempting the journey home.


Jon R (freelance copywriter we sometimes use) came in to talk to Marc and said:

“One day I am going to write a searing exposé of this business, based on my ten years’ experience.”

How long’s it going to be?” Marc asked. “Fifty words? And that would be pushing it.”

Lots of strong opinions in the office about the Daley / Aldridge clash at the Olympics.


Claire was extremely fed up about the way her work was being rejected, and complained about the bad briefs she was being given.

Just as she finished saying this Doug came into the writers’ room and said he had to “rebrief” me on an ad I am doing. Luckily I hadn’t started on this ad. The second brief was markedly different from the first one.

Again I wrked through lunch all I had to eat was a pastry filled with cherries brought back by Claire.

At five o’clock MD Terry briefed me on a creative rationale that had to be written for a presentation to be delivered tomorrow. Valerie and Marc got involved and we were working on it until nine o’clock. By the time we had finished I was sick of the whole thing.


A good mood in the agency today as we won the presentation (I am entitled to use the word “we” as my creative rationale played a minor part).

Mid-morning new Account Executive Andrea (whom nobody likes) clashed with freelance copywriter Jon R over a headline – this was a very public argument in the writers’ room with Claire and myself looking on.

And in the afternoon I just wrote copy – one brief after another. Since I started working “upstairs” I am conscious of how less interesting my life has become. I just produce words all day.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

It was so different from everything I was used to...

Above: 9 Hanover Street in London. The anonymous looking green door is now the Paragon Lounge bar and nightclub. In the 1980s it was a nightclub called Prohibition, as one of Kim Blacha’s interviewees explains:

“Inside it was really tiny and absolutely packed. It was known as the poser’s paradise. It was a place you just had to go to… I was twenty and my boyfriend was twenty-six so I always felt a bit out of my depth with his friends. Looking back he didn’t take good care of me. He used to go off and talk to people and I didn’t know anyone… It was a place where everyone knew everyone else, so I was a bit left out sat on my own. At the time I didn’t mind, but looking back I would have expected him to be a bit more considerate. I was just excited at being there so I didn’t complain or anything. It was so different from everything I was used to. The clothes were incredible and the way people looked. You felt everything was new and beautiful and you were right in the middle of it…

“We went to lots of parties - this must have been eighty-one, eighty-two. There were parties and discos every weekend. The funny thing is, now I look back I didn’t enjoy any of them. I was always too nervous. I felt this is my life about to begin, so I mustn’t mess it up. I had to get things right - the right clothes and hair and everything. I remember there were two records in particular - Open Your Heart by Human League and Just Can’t Get Enough by Depeche Mode. Whenever those records played everyone went on the dance floor. It was as if it was a secret code. Everyone seemed to know what to do except me. Everyone knew what it meant except me. Even today I hear those records and they make me feel sick with anxiety…

“I stopped going out with him in eighty-four. Then I got married in eighty-five and that’s when the eighties came to an end for me. All the London nightspots came to an end for me, and I settled down in Reading…”

Note: this idea of the 1980s coming to an “end” in 1985/86 is a recurring comment. Possibly the cultural innovation was over by the middle of the decade and from 1987 became a parody of itself (formulaic music by Stock Aitkin Waterman, innovative fashions turning into fancy dress and “big hair”, individuality giving way to more collective instincts). By late 1988 a new and more democratic youth culture was on the way in.

Above: “Even today I hear those records and they make me feel sick with anxiety…” Just Can’t Get Enough came from Depeche Mode’s Speak and Spell LP (1981), Open Your Heart came from The Human League’s Dare LP (1981). Records from Kim Blacha’s private collection.

PS this “series” on the 1980s is not going to be all fashion and frivolity (which reflects Kim’s interests). I plan to introduce some political and socio-economic background to introduce an element of dull seriousness. There might even be footnotes.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

War between Georgia and Russia

Above: the Daily Mail today relegated the war in Georgia to pages 6 and 7. On the front page was a report about binge drinking (an important subject, but not comparable to a shooting war). Editor of the Daily Mail is Paul Dacre, whose policy is supposedly "Make them laugh, make them cry, or make them angry". Owner of the Daily Mail is Viscount Rothermere who has (according to the Sunday Times) a personal fortune of one billion (an American billion, not an English one). Viscount Rothermere has said: “The Daily Mail supports the middle class of this country” - and undeniably the British middle classes (C1s) are not interested in foreign wars.

Suddenly a war has flared up in a remote part of the world, involving obscure provinces with unpronounceable names.

All I previously knew of the Caucasus was gleaned by reading a Biggles book of short stories dating from the 1940s and passed on to me by my eldest brother (goodness know where he got it from). In The Adventure of the Counterfeit Crusaders Biggles and Ginger fly out to the Caucasus to foil a dastardly German plot. The Caucasus is described as a network of valleys each one of which is inhabited by a different civilisation, including descendants of the medieval crusaders.

Anyway, when the war between Georgia and Russia broke out last Friday I was slightly interested because of the correlation between the communities of this mountainous region and the book of short stories I read when I was an 8-year-old. But after the first twenty-four hours I became bored by the coverage (all through the weekend the news reports just repeated each other, with no analysis or context). Then Newsnight yesterday produced riveting reports from the war zone - some of the best reporting I have ever seen.

After an introduction by Emily Maitlis we saw Andrew North, the BBC’s Iraq correspondent, on the ground in Georgia. Ignoring personal safety he crawled into the wrecked flat of an elderly Georgian woman and showed us her blood spattered on the walls. He went into the local morgue (staff choking with smell of death) and counted the bodies. He showed us exhausted medical staff at the hospital. He interviewed ordinary people in the streets and asked them what they thought of the situation (as if conducting a survey in Oxford Street). He confronted officials and asked them if they had provoked the conflict. All this was done in an modest and unobtrusive way, the disturbing images accompanied by an elegantly spare narrative. It was some of the best reporting I have ever seen. This is how I imagine Alan Moorhead to have worked.


Monday, August 11, 2008

Mother’s Milk by Edward St Aubyn

Today I finished reading Mother’s Milk by Edward St Aubyn.

Fiction, 278 pages, published 2006. I chose the book because it had been heavily “puffed” in the review pages of the serious newspapers, especially those Best Books of the Year sections that are brought out in December. The book even carried an endorsement by Will Self on its front cover.

The book is an examination of the downfall of a family over a short number of years. They miss out on an inheritance, the marriage breaks up (sort of), the husband becomes an near-alcoholic, they have to endure cheap American hotels, they have to endure a relative who speaks his mind in his own home, they bungle an assisted suicide. Mildly funny in places.

Normally I would not complain about a less-than-scintillating novel, but this book has been so over-hyped that I feel cheated. Even though I only paid half-price I feel like asking for my money back. This book does not live up to its endorsement by Will Self (or the Daily Mail, or the Sunday Telegraph, or the Guardian etc).

The novel has a number of narrators, one of which is a child aged about five who seems to think and speak like Noel Coward. The father is so rude to people that not surprisingly he is ostracised and marginalized even in his own home. The mother is such a prig that all your sympathies are with her mother, a malevolent character called (improbably) Kettle.

I used to rely on reviews in newspapers to tell me about good books, but they have become completely unreliable.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

We forget how ubiquitous waggons used to be

Above: In a village in the north east of the county I went into the village hall where teas were being served. Later, coming out of the hall, I saw a helper putting some things away in a cupboard. The doors to the cupboard swung open and I saw lots of large model waggons on shelves.

I asked the helper about the models and she said they had been left to the village by Charles E. Major, who had worked on the land all his life. Over a period of thirty years he had made models of the waggons he had used in his youth. When he died he had left them “to the village” - and the village hadn’t known what to do with them.

“We had them on display on the windowsills, but they got dusty and were awkward to clean, so they were put in this cupboard” (where they have remained since 1985).

Above: The encounter with Mr Major’s model waggons made me curious to know more about this aspect of rural life. We forget how ubiquitous waggons used to be. I bought (second hand) this book which explained about the importance of the village wheelwright’s shop, the choice of wood for specific elements (oak, ash, beech and elm), the work of the sawyers, the construction of the waggons, the making of the wheels, all the different tools that were used.

Above: I went to an exhibition and saw more model wagons on display. Apparently many counties had their own style of waggons. This is a Lincolnshire potatoe waggon.

Above: A Monmouthshire waggon (with a Sussex plough in the foreground).

Above: A waggon used in the Dutch corn trade.

Above: Shepherd’s waggon which he would use when out with the sheep. The opening of the film Far From The Madding Crowd shows the shepherd Gabriel using one of these waggons. Coal waggon on the right.

Above: Occasionally you come across old waggons tucked away in odd corners of a farmyard.

Above: Or left to weather away in the open.

Above: I have no idea what this contraption is - it puts me in mind of the reddleman’s waggon in Hardy’s Return of the Native.

Above: Probably the most famous cultural representation of a waggon is Constable’s The Hay Wain. This is his study for the painting (in the Victoria & Albert Museum). I find the finished painting (in the National Gallery) is so over-familiar, with so much emotional “baggage” attached, that I can no longer see it objectively.

In yesterday’s Guardian journalist Lucy Mangan said that in her lifetime (she only looks about 25) rag and bonemen with their distinctive horse drawn waggons had disappeared from our culture.

Rag and bonemen (a fictional representation from the 1970s):

The only video I could find of Far From The Madding Crowd is this one of the harvest supper: