Wednesday, July 30, 2008


Above: bag of rubbish dumped (ironically?) in front of a sign prohibiting the dumping of rubbish. Not even the order of the Clerk to the Drainage Board can stem this tide of rubbish. Despite the grim name, Black Sluice is a local beauty spot.

Although I live in a remote part of the county, down a lane few cars drive along, even here we have experienced fly-tipping. In recent weeks we have seen: a plastic bag of rubbish dumped on the verge; a baby’s mattress and old toys thrown on the side of a ditch; an abandoned freezer just left half-on the road. If you ring the local council they usually come out and remove the stuff the same day, but so prevalent is the fly-tipping becoming that you can see this service becoming overwhelmed.

It’s easy to blame ignorant and selfish townies, dumping in the countryside the detritus of their urban culture.

The real fault must lie with the manufacturers, retailers and marketers. Most packaging is ridiculously over-engineered and wasteful. Most designers (of both products and packaging) do not give any thought as to how the products they are designing should ultimately be disposed of.

The fault also lies with the government, which has shamelessly pushed responsibility for recycling and disposal onto the end-user (with the result that a growing number of anti-social end-users simply dump their rubbish in open areas).

The government needs to push responsibility back onto manufacturers, retailers and marketers.

Designers of consumer products should be required by law to include on packaging accurate details of how and where that packaging and the product inside it should be recycled or disposed of. The average cost of recycling and disposal should be included in the cost of the product (thus making these facilities free for end-users). The general principle should be: if you cannot demonstrate how your product and its packaging can be easily recycled or disposed of, then you cannot sell your product in the United Kingdom (and by “easily” I mean weekly household collection, not the German farce where you have to take the packaging off in the supermarket where you have just made the purchase).

The advertising, marketing and design industries in the United Kingdom are the most creative and efficient in the world. If such a legal requirement were to be made they would respond quickly, easily and with a high standard of innovation. The subsequent boom in product innovation would make British products attractive internationally, since all countries will eventually have to address the issue of consumer waste.

And those products that cannot be recycled or ethically disposed of? I doubt whether anyone would really miss them. The advertising profession will soon find something else for you to buy.

Above: another view of Black Sluice drain, with the waterfowl enjoying their afternoon swim.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008


Above: extremely blurred photograph I took at Port Sunlight of the William Holman Hunt painting The Scapegoat (the museum didn’t allow you to use a flash, and the only angle I could see the whole painting was from the gallery).

Plotting against Gordon Brown by his own parliamentary colleagues is reported as feverish, although the press has yet to use the word “febrile” (an adjective seemingly reserved for mass hysteria in the House of Commons).

Newsnight yesterday led on the plotting, denials of plotting and incipient betrayal. Pictures in The Times and The Guardian show “Gordon” on holiday in Southwold, looking ill-at-ease in a casual jacket while attempting to converse with normal people, all the time aware of what is being said behind his back. If “Gordon” can be loaded with all the ills of the government (the thinking goes) and then “despatched”, the anger of the people will be assuaged.

Above: Andrew Porter writing in the Daily Telegraph about Gordon Brown’s predicament. He is a very perceptive political writer. Also able to express himself in down to earth concepts.

Sir James Frazer has written in The Golden Bough about the role of the scapegoat in primitive societies, especially those individuals marked as human scapegoats (“…so few sands in the hour glass, slipping so fast away, sufficed for one who had wasted so many precious years”). It is impossible not to feel pity for Gordon Brown, about to be betrayed by his friends. And as a cultural device the idea of the scapegoat is still with us - how many people in our post-industrial, ultra-sophisticated, intelligence-economy environments have not been made scapegoats ourselves, carrying the mistakes of others?

Betrayal is a complex phenomenon. Few people who practice it remain unmarked. A further complication is that Gordon Brown is (so far as we are allowed to see) a genuinely good person trying to do his best - only a paragon will be able to knife him and carry on unscathed.

Above: The V&A had a recent exhibition of theatre set designs - they were fascinating. This one is of Harold Pinter’s 1978 play Betrayal. On the subject of Harold Pinter, his wife Lady Antonia Fraser was featured on Desert Island Discs last week and demonstrated why she is regarded as one of our greatest historians and intellectuals.

More on the Pinter play:

"Gordon" looking very uncomfortable on holiday:

Monday, July 28, 2008

The Sunday Times 27th July 2008

Normally on a Sunday I buy two newspapers, almost always the Sunday Telegraph and the Weekend FT, but sometimes the Sunday Telegraph and the Observer. Yesterday however, when I went to the shop, the only serious newspaper they had left was the Sunday Times. Rather than drive five miles into the town I decided to give the Sunday Times another go.

I say another go as I have tried with the Sunday Times in the past. I have tried and tried and tried. And it always seems to end with me hurling it away, exhausted at the tedium and disgusted with the shallow content.

Anyway, this time I decided I would work out why I don’t like the Sunday Times. Is it me or is it them? Or is it just an ingrained dislike of (the idea of) Rupert Murdoch that is preventing me from seeing the publication objectively?

On page two of the Sunday Times, below the Contents, the newspaper flags up its USP: “The Best Writers.” Also on the panel is an out-of-date tagline - the Sunday Times is your Sunday Papers. It’s a confident assertion of quality by one of the leading newspaper brands in the country (in the world in fact).

But is it true?

The five “best writers” listed are: India Knight, Rod Liddle, Rosie Millard, AA Gill, and Minette Marrin.

India Knight was educated at Wycombe Abbey (which has a high reputation for English). Her article on Mick Jagger contained clichés (“howls of derision” “adding to the nation’s gaiety” “lords of misrule”), sweeping generalisations (what is her justification for saying “Jagger’s baby-boomer generation has completely reinvented old age”?), and an odd condemnation of elderly demographics who are “wearing cardigans and waiting for death” (India Knight’s by-line photo showing her wearing a cardigan and the sort of floral print dress favoured by my late grandmother). This article didn’t tell me anything.

Rod Liddle was formerly editor of the Radio 4 Today programme (one of the most erudite of news programmes). He shared a page with socialite Tara Palmer-Tompkinson. In his half-page he poked fun at dwarves (done before, most memorably by Ricky Gervais), recycled the disappearing canoeist (done to death as a news item), told us about yet another loony council with bullying petty officials, recycled the (cheaply titillating) Max Mosley item, and produced a corner paragraph that had the sub-text: I hate Labour leaders (without telling us why, which might have been interesting).

Rosie Millard was formerly a BBC arts correspondent. Her article was an interview with the “gay bishop” Gene Robinson. Mildly sneering in choice of language (“holy beanfeast” “goad the boycotting bishops” “he’s even got Jesus backing him”). Mildly racist (African bishops are homophobic). Mildly funny camp portrayal of men in purple frocks getting in a tiswas. Such lazily stereotypical journalism you half-expected the Vicar from Dad’s Army to make an appearance in the article, saying Oh you silly man!

AA Gill is the author of a thinly-disguised autobiography The Angry Island. His self-hatred is externalised by a superficially brilliant (luminous, dazzling, shining) prose style that is ultimately depressing because he hasn’t got anything good to say about anyone or anything. Even when he appears to be saying something nice (for instance, a review of The Wire) if you read the piece again you see he is being nasty in an ironic way.

Minette Marrin is a popular journalist (shortlisted for Columnist of the Year at the 2004 Press Awards). Her article was a polemic advocating disestablishmentarianism masquerading as an attack upon Islamo-fascism. She used a mishmash of statistics (“only a tiny minority” “a startlingly large proportion” “four out of 10 Muslim students in Britain” “almost a third” “40% said they felt” “nearly a quarter do not think” “a quarter of Muslim students” “57% said they should and a further 25% said they were not sure” “more than half” “a third don’t think or don’t know” “a third said they were” “more than half” “these are large minorities” “one can hardly doubt the findings of the YouGov survey” “fully 42% said they weren’t sure” “one in five wasn’t sure” “one in six” “while three in 10”).

The Sunday Times is edited by John Witherow with weekly interventions by Rupert Murdoch (and presumably James Murdoch).

“You MUST read…” - I suppose this sums up what I feel about the Sunday Times. It is a publication that is continually telling you what to do and what to think. Without explaining any reasons why.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

The most anxious part is the waiting around just as you are about to go on

After lunch (roast lamb, Yorkshire pudding, Maris Piper roast potatos grown in the county, spinach grown in the county, carrots from Norfolk, some boiled kale) I went to a livestock show. Because of all the precautions that have to be taken (against bluetongue, foot and mouth, other endemic diseases) many livestock shows have struggled to survive. This one was much smaller than previous years and mainly had sheep on show - with a few cattle.

Above: I watched the show jumping.

Above: The cattle had already been judged and, feted by rosettes, the winners were relaxing in their pens.

Above: I watched the sheep being judged (lots of serious conferring).

Above: Greyface Dartmoors. Descended from ancient breeds of Dartmoor sheep, they have very strong constitutions (able to withstand the Dartmoor winters). Traditionally the lustre wool was used for blankets, serge and carpets.

Above: Leicester Longwools. Direct descendents of Robert Bakewell’s Dishley Leicesters, but developed to fatten more easily. The high-quality wool is mainly used for spinning.

Above: Lincoln Longwools. One of the classic nineteenth-century breeds (but has ancient origins). Not only the biggest breed of sheep, but also carries the greatest weight of wool.

Above: Ryelands. Small traditional breed of docile sheep - very easy to manage (which makes them suitable for smallholders). They prefer grass feeding (without the need for additional feed), and so are popular among organic farmers.

Above: Wiltshire Horn. Has little wool, and is naturally self-shedding, so there are low shepherding costs. Probably introduced by the Romans, the sheep are traditionally associated with Salisbury Plain.

Above: Hampshire Downs (the characteristic black face is just visible through the straw). My favourites. The blood of the Southdowns was merged with the Knots of Berkshire and Wiltshire to produce this superior breed. Developed by the local farmers rather than wealthy breeders. Praised by Sir Joseph Banks when he was President of the Royal Society. One writer in 1861 said: “The Hampshire -Downs are the glory of the county as respects live stock.” Large head with a Roman face. Long neck. Unusually well set shoulders.

Above: Probably the most anxious part is the waiting around just as you are about to go on.

Above: At the end of the show the hunt brought the dogs into the main ring. Everyone clapped and cheered. The children rushed into the ring to see the dogs.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

In the office there was a strange atmosphere - the past week at work


It was a busy morning. A surprising amount of new work seems to be coming in, considering we are supposed to be experiencing a downturn in the economy. All I seem to be doing is opening job bags.

Mid-morning I got a call from an offshoot branch of BQW telling me that the media campaign I had put together for them had been accepted. This is worth 250k in billings, 25k being pure profit (I had done all the buying myself). I made sure everyone in the office knew about this good news.

Most of the afternoon was taken up by a sales meeting. It really did seem a waste of time as nothing concrete came out of it. Afterwards Kate and I discussed the meeting and we were both perplexed at how gloomy Ian and Alan (two directors) were being, since we have loads of work on at good margins.


In the morning I was summoned to Rocket in Holland Park for another frantic briefing. They waste a lot of money by not planning their work and doing everything at the last minute (with rush charges). This small client probably represents twenty per cent of my work.

The new brochure for my Entertainments client has been printed and I looked at a few copies the printer had sent me. The covers of the brochure had been cracked in the folding stage and looked horrible. I rang the printer and said the job would have to be redone - he didn’t argue.

Joey (freelance graphic designer) turned up looking almost unrecognisable in a suit. He had been asked to appear in a photoshoot for one of our clients (virtually the whole office has appeared in this way at one time or another - Angela’s hands are very popular). Joey could only be photographed from the left as he had a black eye on his right side (yet another boxing injury - he hadn’t worn any headgear).

In the afternoon the heat became unbearable, with no hint of a breeze despite all the windows being open. Kate went off to see a potential new client at Ampthill in Bedfordshire. I mentioned Pilgrim’s Progress and the House Beautiful but she didn’t really know what I was talking about.


In the morning I took some visuals to Rocket. Joey had worked on them overnight and although it had been a rush job they looked excellent. Rocket thought otherwise however, and rejected them (even though they were absolutely on brief).

Ben (Ian’s son and a photographer in our photographic company) has stopped playing football with “the lads” in the little mews at the back. Probably he doesn’t want any contact with Pete (office junior) who is having an affair (or should I say relationship?) with Sarah our Receptionist, who was Ben’s partner. I went down to the photographic studio, which is on the ground floor, to give them some more work (Rocket stuff).

The photographic studio is a big square windowless room, the brick walls painted black. Half the space is taken up by an infinity curve. Ben was on his own. He looked very sad and vulnerable, even though he almost certainly better off without Sarah. In the background he was playing a Sophie Ellis Bexter CD. The song Love is here couldn’t have been more inappropriate.

In the afternoon a meeting with my Entertainments client in west London discussing their marketing strategy. They specially invited me to attend, and will pay for my time at my hourly rate. After the meeting I left work for the day (arranged with Sheila).


Another emergency meeting at Rocket. Rosina (my contact there) was becoming distraught at all the changes her boss was making on the eve of their big conference. Leaving their air-conditioned offices, I was almost crushed by the heat of the day on Holland Park Road.

In the office there was a strange atmosphere. Angela (junior Account Exec and also Ian’s PA) was in an extremely sulky mood, sarcastic to everyone who spoke to her. The heat made it difficult to concentrate.

In the afternoon I went back to Rocket with some cartoon illustrations quickly drawn by Paul (graphic designer in our studio, and quite a good illustrator). The cartoons are to be incorporated into one of the conference presentations. I had to show Rosina how to work her scanner.


In the morning everyone on our floor was split into three groups and taken off into different meeting rooms with one of the directors (Ian, Alan and Sheila). I was in Ian’s group, along with Kate, Ben and Stuart. Ian told us that our division was splitting off from the PR agency upstairs and would become a separate company owned by Ian, Alan and Sheila. This had been the case a few years ago, so the agency was really going back to that structure. Pete, Sarah and Tony W were being made redundant, and had already been told this and had left the company. All the remaining staff would go through a TUPE process.

After the meeting Ian asked me to stay behind. He explained that there wouldn’t be room for me in the new agency, but that there was a vacancy upstairs I could take if I wanted it (Terry had already agreed this). As the alternative was redundancy I took the job upstairs.

Love is here by Sophie Ellis Bexter (I had never heard it before, but immediately I liked it): or

Friday, July 25, 2008

"Stone the bloody crows, don’t move your bloody knees…”

Above: the new putting green on our (very scenic) golf course.

Friday evening, late, I went putting with some friends from the village.

Although I can play golf I don’t enjoy the game. Mainly I play it because so many people I know have started playing it (good exercise and less physical wear than playing football). I took a course of lessons at Whaddon Golf Centre near Cambridge, then took another course (I was determined not to be shown up), so I know how to stand, how to hold the club, what the swing should look like. But somehow it never really comes together on the course. I have never beaten anyone at a game of golf. I can get round a course competently and can keep up with most people I know, but somehow I lack the killer instinct.

I suppose the real underlying reason (which I would never tell anyone as they would be too offended) is that I find golf boring.

Anyway, half the battle is to get your putting right. “Most people never take putting seriously, which is why their score is so bad” (said to me reproachfully). Which is how I ended up on the putting green at the dog end of a hot day bored out of my mind.

“You’re not standing properly, put your weight on your toes, not on your heels…lock your grip on the putter…don’t move your knees…look! you just moved your knees…I said DON’T move your knees…stone the bloody crows don’t move your bloody knees…”

The heat of the day showed no sign of dissipating. Every part of me seemed covered in perspiration. Never has two hours seemed so long.

“Don’t hit the ball, you only have to stroke it…you want the ball to accelerate so it stays straight…you still have to finish properly, even when you are putting…”

Thursday, July 24, 2008

The Mystery Play

Wednesday evening. I left work early and after an hour and a half on the train I drove from the station northwards into the heart of the county, to the county town itself. The day had been hot and sunny, and the heat lingered into the evening, so that the drive was uncomfortable (dust whenever I opened the window, dazzle from the bright light, heavy traffic on the roads).

The county town is actually a small city, originally a Roman foundation. It is dominated by what appears to be an extinct volcano which is capped by a vast medieval cathedral - one of the finest in Europe (some would say it is the finest, perfect beyond comparison). The town is divided into two parts - the workaday manufacturing town at the base of the volcano and the clerical settlement on the hilltop.

Arriving in the city, I drove through the lower town, all terraces and Victorian warehouses. Through the commuter traffic of people going home. Then in a rush up the steep volcano side, low gear all the way until the hilltop.

I parked by an old pub. The time was 6.30. I walked towards the cathedral.

I was early (overcompensating as usual) and so I walked around the cathedral close, which encompasses almost the entire hilltop. Hundreds of people live in this huge area and are attached to the cathedral and its associated institutions (faith schools, clerical administrations, the bishop’s palace etc). The architecture is a jumble of styles, from medieval to Edwardian, laid out in cobbled little courts and side alleys that fill the space between the glacial gothic purity of the cathedral and the edge of the hill (there is definitely an edge - it falls sheer in some places).

Mellow stone garden walls (just high enough that you can’t look over), beautifully-kept expanses of lawn, glimpses of sedate still interiors seen through casement windows, sash windows, tiny leaded windows.

The sky was cerulean blue (or pantone 15-4020 TC if you prefer). The heat of the day, that had been oppressive in the town below, was relived by a steady warm wind that (in my imagination) seemed to blow all the way from Provence to dispel some of the Barchester-laden high-minded seriousness of the place. I was almost alone in the close, walking up and down the lawns, glad to be in the open air after the sticky train journey and frustrating drive.

Most beguiling of all was the effect the evening sun had on the greenery of the hilltop (trees, shrubs, lawns - all clipped and shaped and kept in place). The sunshine, falling at an oblique angle, lighted all the leaves and blades of grass so that not only were the multifarious shades of green made glossy with the light, but they were also given a deep intense shadow that made every tiny detail stand out. I had never seen this effect before - the whole of the landscape-townscape of the hill acquired a deeper perspective (and so assumed a greater significance).

A steady stream of people began to walk through the close, and I followed them to a side entrance and into the gloomy ten-sided Chapter House. There I met someone whom I have agreed not to mention in this weblog. Gradually more and more people arrived for a performance of the cathedral’s Mystery Play.

We had to wait in the Chapter House about thirty minutes. To entertain us a choir of ten people sang madrigals (they sang so perfectly it was as if someone was playing a CD). We looked through notices about Anglican culture (singing groups, poetry readings, talks, workshops, lectures, specialist exhibitions - this is the Anglican culture sneered at by Ruth Gledhill, jeered at by Melanie McDonagh and generally lampooned by News International).

At 7.30 we were guided into the cathedral cloisters where an open-air theatre had been set up. As we filed into the central area a plethora of ushers warned us (in the interests of health and safety) not to trip over the graves that dotted the grass. About two hundred people were in the audience, and we took our seat in tiers that filled about half of the cloister square.

Mystery Plays are religious interpretations of Bible stories that date from the 10th century. Possibly the best known is the Oberammergau passion play in Germany. In England there are four distinct texts that preserve the Mystery “cycles” - short ten-minute productions that together tell the story of the world from Creation to the Day of Judgement in a performance that lasts two to three hours.

In the medieval period each of the episodes in the cycle was performed by one of the city’s trade guilds (which were also quasi-religious fraternities). The productions were delivered in the open air on carts rather like modern carnival floats. Sir James Frazer has written about the anthropological importance of mystery plays in The Golden Bough (unexpurgated version).

Our seats were in the second row, to the right of the cloister (as you faced the stage). The performance of the mystery play opened with the entire cast chanting and singing. The plays were interrupted by the bells in the cathedral’s central tower tolling every quarter, and a raven kept up a noisy racket throughout.

You couldn’t judge the acting too seriously - this was amateur dramatics (the plays would always have been performed by amateurs, over the past thousand years). A band played medieval instrument (trumpets, drums, weird oboe-like pipes). Folk songs from the county were sung, sometimes with new words.

The twenty-one different plays included shepherd’s dances, tunes revived from ancient manuscripts, Latin phrases pronounced phonetically in the county accent. The language was archaic but no more difficult than Shakespeare, including rhyming sequences. This production revived the guild banners, which changed with each of the plays.

In the interval we went back into the Chapter House to drink tea served in Styrofoam cups. The evening was warm so we didn’t need the blankets on hire for 50p. It was a long production, but worth going to see.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

An interview

Last night I watched Mark Lawson interview Jonathan Meades (BBC4 very late).

In theory this interrogation between two of television’s most cerebral presenters should have been a memorable event. As if the late Lord Clark had been interviewed by the late Jacob Bronowski. Or Edward Gibbon cross-examined by Adam Smith.

But actually it fell a bit flat.

The two thinking-entities warily looked at each other and exchanged polite opinions. Mark Lawson would hesitate for a few seconds and then ask a tentative question. Jonathan Meades would hesitate for a few seconds and then carefully tell him the answer.

Jonathan Meades had an open, innocent, wide-eyed expression throughout, as if perfectly willing to answer more difficult and probing questions (but at the same time that little furrow on his brow seemed to warn: if you try to make me look silly I will rip your arms and legs off).

Mark Lawson’s questions were oddly truncated, as if edited to remove his characteristic tics and blinks and rapid nodding (these usually make very good television, but in this interview could only be seen obliquely from behind the head, and in half-shadow).

Mostly the questions were about Meades style rather than Meades substance. At one point Jonathan Meades mentioned he had lost seven stone in one year (seven stone - that’s ninety-eight pounds!) and looked as if he might explain more fully how he had done this. But the “how” questions never came.

This was not really an interview. It was more a demonstration of the balance of terror theory. An exposition of the idea behind the deterrent of mutually assured destruction.


Magnetic North:

* apologies for getting the weight in pounds wrong - maths was never my strong point.

Monday, July 21, 2008


In his column in today’s Times Michael Gove confidently asserts that no-one reads Bulwer-Lytton these days.

As it happens, Pelham is one of my favourite novels.

The writing is (even after all this time) fresh and contemporary in feel. It is also very funny. In this book (if not his others) Bulwer-Lytton is as good as Anthony Trollope.

Pelham is “a man of fashion” in Regency London. Bulwer-Lytton contructs Pelham through anthropological insights that completely bring the character to life. In terms of cynically-charged enthusiasm, dandyish self-expression and Byronic self-actualisation Pelham could equally be a nineteenth-century aristocrat, a New York rap artist or James Purnell.

I bought my copy of Pelham from a second-hand bookshop. The shop had just received several complete sets of Bulwer-Lytton from a grammar school library that was downsizing. The individual volumes were being sold off at one pound each (in fairness to Michael Gove, Pelham had the pages uncut, so I was the first person to read the book since it was printed in 1895).

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Spangled with flowers

Sometimes when I go to see my Milbank client I drop into the Tate Gallery. Recently I saw the Return of the Gods exhibition of neo-classical sculpture (and didn’t enjoy it, which doesn’t bode well for my participation in Kim Blacha’s planned trip to the Glyptothek museum in Munich). And last week I went in to see the Burne-Jones painting Sleep of King Arthur in Avalon, which is on loan from Puerto Rico.

The painting was on its own in a fairly dark room. As I expected (from all the news reports) it was enormous. The mood of the painting is very sombre, lightened by a foreground that is spangled with flowers. Arthur sleeps on a bed under a gothic construction that looks like a gigantic oven extractor fan from the 1980s. The Queens wear Saxon regalia. Female “knights”, with elongated supermodel figures, stand around nonchalantly.

The painting is on temporary loan to the Tate while the Museo de Arte de Ponce in Puerto Rico is being renovated. There is an on-going campaign (focussed on the Elgin Marbles) for major museums to “give back” works of art to the cultures that created them. If we ever have to “give back” the Elgin Marbles a compensation will be that we will “get back” the Sleep of King Arthur in Avalon (plus most of the contents of the Metropolitan Museum in New York).

Above: I only had a few minutes to spare in the Tate Gallery, and after the Sleep of King Arthur in Avalon I had a quick look at Leighton’s Flaming June (which I have seen before) then went back to the office. Several thoughts stayed in my mind for hours afterwards - for instance, I learned that Burne-Jones painted his figures naked first, then painted clothes over them (which means they are presumably still naked under the layers of subsequent paint - I don‘t know why this troubled me, but it did). I had also been very impressed with the flowers in the foreground of the King Arthur painting. I remembered I had been impressed by Burne-Jones’s depiction of flowers when I saw the exhibition of his work in Birmingham a few years back. In the Grail tapestries you could recognise blue campanulas, red pieris, hound’s tongue, knapweed, lilium candidum, anemones, oxeye, lilyworts and cornflowers.

Above: regularly in the Country Diary column of the Guardian Paul Evans talks about wild flowers. He is an exceptional writer (one of Rachel’s Boogaloo Dudes). After reading Paul Evans you feel inspired to go and do some field research of your own - except that other things always seem to intervene.

Above: anyway, this afternoon I decided to look at wild flowers. I took along my brother’s Observer’s Book of Wild Flowers. I went into the central hills to a small settlement where the village green is on a steep slope. The top of the slope levels off, and in this area a wild garden has been laid out. There are many wild gardens around the country (the most famous being the Prince of Wales’s garden at Highgrove). This one is fairly small - about half the size of a football pitch.

Above: obviously the flowers are seasonal, but enough of them were in flower to make the trip worthwhile. I thought about taking samples, but if everyone did that there would be no flowers left, so I just photographed them. I had to be careful about the sky - heavy clouds rolled over, but the rain held off.

Above: celendine, violets, wild arum. Celendine has heart shaped leaves. The yellow flowers open when the sun is out.

Above: harebell, flax, field scabious. Field scabious likes dry chalky soils. Slugs can’t stand scabious, so it is useful to grow in the garden.

Above: ladies smock, fritillaria, meadow knapweed. Note the white butterfly on the label - there were many butterflies and other insects in the garden. Meadow knapweed is a sort of thistle - a very tough plant.

Above: tuberous comfrey. The leaves have a velvety feel to them. Comfrey is supposedly good for rheumatism (not scientific confirmation of this).

Above: “area of native flora”. This is my favourite photograph - typical of the hedgerows and roadside verges in the county. Jack-by-the-hedge is a sort of wild garlic with white flowers and bright green leaves.

Above: common restharrow. The leaves have a sticky feel to them. Clusters of pink flowers.

Above: you would be amazed at how many different kinds of ivy there are.

Above: herb robert. A form of geranium. Likes shady areas.

Above: cowslips. Obviously this is a spring flower, but you can see the foliage. A form of primrose, and associated with nightingales (they both like the same habitat).

Above: nettles. They have a nice smell. If you fall in a bed of stinging nettles you won’t easily forget the experience.

Above: docks. Broad leaved docks, curly leaved docks, sorrell docks. A large dock can produce up to sixty thousand seeds per year.

Above: wayside mallow. Bright pink flowers with purple veining. The stripes are nectar guides for bees.

Above: dandelion. Ubiquitous wild herb. The leaves can be eaten in salads and the roots can be made into a ersatz coffee.

More about the painting:

Image of the painting:

Saturday, July 19, 2008

“She’s showing Sheila the holiday photos!” - the past week at work


On the train this week I read a British Library publication on the Hastings Book of Hours. The details are incredible. As soon as I finished it (only 64 pages, most of them illustrations) I read it again, and then read it a third time.

I got into the office and immediately Judy (Alan’s PA) told me to ring Steve C (my contact at BQW) on his mobile. I didn’t need to ring him as he rang me only a few seconds later. He was at an exhibition in Dublin and couldn’t put up the panels we had supplied for his stand. He was in a very bad mood, and it was not clear whether his swearing and cursing was directed at me or just life in general. I calmed him down (a bit) and then handed him over to Tony B (designer in our studio) who explained how the things clipped together. I then went to my desk and had a cup of tea (brought to me by Pete).

Freelance graphic designer Joey was in the office, finishing a project. He was in an edgy mood, I guess because Paul (graphic designer in our studio) was back from holiday, so freelance work is likely to dry up. Paul seemed in a sullen mood and didn’t want to talk about his vacation, so I left him alone for the rest of the day.

Also back from holiday was Ann, admin assistant to Sheila (a director and also office manager). Sarah (Receptionist) came over to sit with Pete (with whom she is having an “affair”) and said she couldn’t stand listening to Ann any more. “She’s showing Sheila the holiday photos!” she complained.

Problems with a visual of a brochure we are doing for a retail client. We have shot pictures of groceries that include two which are sold by the client’s competitors. The client sent the visual back with sarcastic comments written on post-it notes.

Most of the day I spent working on a new media schedule for one of the BQW divisions, and by late afternoon it was pretty much done. I like to speak to the publications directly (rather than using media buyers), but a downside is that you a plagued ever-afterwards by ’phone calls. Especially from the long-established publications you have taken off the schedule.

At the end of the working day a ’phone call from an agency asking if could attend an interview tomorrow (Kate and I had both applied for jobs at the agency last week).


Ian (MD of our division) back from holiday. The office was packed with people, which was a nuisance as I wanted to slip out late morning. I was wearing my black suit (which has a very subtle dark charcoal stripe) and Lanvin tie, and must have looked different from normal as Kate asked me point-blank “Are you going to an interview?”

Not caring what anyone thought, I left the office at 10.45, saying I was taking an early lunch. Two stops on the tube. Some difficulty finding the agency, which was above some shops (you had to go into one of the shops and the agency door was to one side, then up some stairs).

The agency seemed very luxurious. None of the heaps of paper and discarded product samples that characterise our offices. Instead everything seemed colour co-ordinated in light grey and pastel pink, with expensive-looking designer furniture (heavy smell of air freshener in the Reception).

I was shown into a meeting room and given some psychometric tests to complete. Someone brought me a cup of coffee. Despite the busy road outside (screened by narrow Venetian blinds), the room was completely silent.

The interview was with agency directors Charles and Lois. We talked through my CV, and then they asked me to go over two projects I was particularly proud of. They then described the role and what they were looking for.

Right at the end they asked if I had any questions. There wasn’t anything I really wanted to know, but silence wasn’t an option. So I asked how the vacancy had arisen.

Charles and Lois looked at each other. Lois explained that a long-standing colleague had suddenly left, leaving them in the lurch. After the breakdown of his marriage he had given up everything and gone to live on his own in Brazil.

“He’s the sort of man who goes off to live abroad surrounded by foreigners who all think he is quintessentially English and eccentric” she said.

“And they don’t know enough English to realise he is completely bonkers” said Charles.


Called upstairs suddenly to work on a campaign with Rachel. We had a very long meeting with a team of consultants who are supposed to be effective lobbyists. Afterwards Rachel and I stayed in the Board Room talking over the project and eating cakes left over from a photoshoot (there were about twenty packets of cakes, all different).

Going downstairs, everyone was complaining because Sheila hadn’t come to work (“She took the day off to recover from the stress of her husband going back to work after a long period of illness” said Pete).

Joey was in the office, doing some work for Kate. He had an ugly gash on his forehead, which was another boxing injury. Alan (director) was jeering at his cuts and bruises (“Do they prove you are a really good fighter or hopelessly bad one?” he said).


In the morning I went with Kate to a marketing seminar. It was held at a modern hotel in Knightsbridge. The seminar didn’t really tell us anything new.

Returning to the office, I spent the rest of the day on a big document (fifty pages) I have been copywriting for a client. I am at the stage where I am going through it page by page looking for imperfections in the style. Probably I will need to read it through about seven or eight times before it will be ready.

Taking a break I went down to the photographic studio to check on some photography. The room was completely dark. Only Ben (Ian’s son) was down there, and seemed very helpful and friendly (being the boss’s son he could choose to be difficult if he wanted).

Joey rang up plaintively asking for work, so I gave him some photoshop retouching to do.

On the drive home I stopped at a supermarket to get some groceries. In front of me in the queue at the checkout was a solitary eastern European, dressed in a grubby Nike tracksuit. He was obviously living alone, the items in his basket looking wretched in their cheapness and singularity.


Another fairly quiet day.

News that an agency Kate used to work at had just been taken over, which caused a fair amount of gossip and speculation (Terry, our ultimate MD, coming downstairs to talk to Kate about it).

Joey came in to do the retouching, and at lunchtime joined the lads playing football in the back mews until the ball went up on the roofs (this happens regularly - there must be lots of balls up there as Sheila won’t let them go up and get them down again).

Not having a great deal to do, I looked through Getty Images, trying to find an image for my Entertainments client.

Pete gave an update on the situation (“the situation”) between Ben and Sarah: “They’re in separate rooms now, but they’re not going to sell the flat until after Christmas.”

Just before the working day ended I got a call from Lois who I saw at the interview on Tuesday. Although I had given a good account of myself they were not going to ask me back for a second interview. I was surprised at how hurt I felt.

Friday, July 18, 2008

An unusual crop in the fields

Driving home in the warm sunshine (the air fresh after a recent shower of rain) on a whim I turned off the road to go down a lane I have never been down before.

Above: Beyond the tumbledown drystone walls I noticed an unusual crop in the fields.

Above: Stopping the car I got out to have a look. The weeds underfoot gave out a pungent herby smell as they were crushed by my footsteps. The air was fresh but the heat was already drawing up an oppressive humidity from the landscape.

Above: The strange crop turned out to be opium poppies (interspersed with red field poppies), grown to produce morphine for the NHS. The still air over the field was dense with flying insects - from butterflies to the tiniest of midges. The poppies were still at the growing stage and in infinitesimal exponential upsurgings must have been growing under my very eyes so that the whole field seemed to swell and pulsate (or this could just have been my imagination).

Above: Poppies in western culture tend to be symbolic of death (this tradition goes back to ancient times, although most popularly known via the poem In Flanders Fields).

Both Klimt and Monet painted views of poppy fields.

One of the main characters of John Le Carre’s A Perfect Spy is called “Poppy”.