Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Powerful decision-maker

Above: yesterday’s Guardian published this short article about Elisabeth Murdoch, daughter of media “mogul” Rupert Murdoch. The article included a picture of Elisabeth Murdoch, the first image I have seen of this powerful decision-maker in the world of television. She is a graduate of Vasser (upon which Royal Holloway College was modeled).

Above: Shine in Notting Hill (one of two sites they have in the area). Shine is a TV production company founded and owned by Elisabeth Murdoch. Most of what they produce is complete garbage (The World’s Biggest Celebrity Mingers; Royal Servants – Behind Closed Doors; Brad, Jen And Angelina; Teenage Tourette’s Club; Reality TV Is Good For You; How “Friends” Changed The World).

Above: recently Elisabeth Murdoch bought TV production company Kudos. Their output is of higher quality than Shine’s (Wide Sargasso Sea and the surrealist cop drama Life On Mars). Joint Managing Director of Kudos is Jane Featherstone.

Above: the Murdoch family uses its wealth and media power to influence elections in the western world. There is no transparency about how they do this. The influence is widely regarded as pernicious and anti-democratic.

Monday, September 29, 2008

The demonisation of foreigners

Above: the use of foreigners as scapegoats for a nation's problems has a long (and disreputable) history. Several times yesterday, in an interview for the Politics Show, government minister Yvette Cooper said the economic crisis "came from America". New York financiers are to blame for our troubles (trade unionists and Scottish Nationalists have blamed "Non-dom spivs and speculators", non-dom being shorthand for non-domiciled financiers living in London).

Financial “meltdown” and turmoil in the markets.

Many comparisons with the past are being made.

As a (very amateur) historian, with an interest in economics, I have been struck by the demonisation of foreigners in the lexicon of the present “credit crunch”.

How many politicians recently have said our problems “have come from America”?

In 1920s Germany politicians blamed “international financiers” for their economic problems.

In the 1970s James Callaghan blamed “the gnomes of Zurich” for Britain’s economic woes.

Today we are being told the economic crisis “came from America”.

In times of crisis it is always easier to blame “the other”.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

An arcadia

Above: a meeting with a local historian who talked about the work she has done in her village, particularly on researching the field system. She had meticulously recorded each field and traced its history. It was fascinating talking to her.

Above: the English landscape is an artificial design imposed upon nature. Agricultural life was hard, but there was the compensatory feeling for the country folk that they inhabited an arcadia. This idea of a rural arcadia has profoundly influenced the way people think about England.

Above: the historian had carefully identified each field with a particular farming family and looked at the houses where they lived. Continuity of ownership of the land is one of the most remarkable aspects she had discovered. Even when enclosure or sale of a field had indicated a change of ownership, by tracing the farmer's family connections a link with the previous owners was often proved.

Above: so far as she was able, the local historian had traced traditional farming methods and how they applied to each field.

Above: she had carried out minor excavations in the gardens of village residences, uncovering evidence of occupation that went back to medieval and even (in a few cases) prehistoric times.

Above: in the churchyard she had identified the graves of the farming families and put up little biographies. Almost everyone in the village was related. In a Forsyte-like web of connections the gentry were related to the blacksmiths and the millers.

Above: further reading - I think this book is now out of print but you can pick up copies in second-hand bookshops.

Above: even in the heart of London the rural romantic dream is kept alive.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Is this giant hogweed

There's no hiding the fact that Autumn has arrived. Is this giant hogweed gone to seed? The giant hogweed has a sap that can cause serious skin irritation.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

David Miliband’s “Heseltine moment”

Finally I have finished the customer attitudes report I have been writing. I took the work home on Monday and worked until 2 am. On Tuesday I stayed at home working from 9 am until 3.30 am (Wednesday). Yesterday I finally finished it, working intensively from 9 am until 10 pm.

The result is a 50 page report containing twenty thousand words. The client is amazed at what I have found out about their customers, and has already described the report as “monumental”. The critics in my office, who were complaining about how long I was taking, have been silenced (thank goodness).

Today I have had a day off to recover.

Working at home has an odd feel to it. While it is comfortable, it is also quite lonely. When I needed a break I would take the dog along the lane for ten minutes, the sun shining, the quiet landscape empty of human life.

While I worked (at the table in the dining room) I had Andrew Neil on the television in the long Sitting Room next door, reporting from the Labour Party Conference. I also would stop in the evening to watch Newsnight (again focused upon the Labour Party Conference). The (unofficial) theme of the conference was the survival of Gordon Brown.
Foreign Secretary David Miliband was overheard comparing himself to Michael Heseltine (infamous for his overweening ambition in the 1980s). This gaff was supposed to have dampened down his leadership challenge against “Gordon”. Andrew Neil interviewed a succession of Cabinet ministers (including Culture Secretary Burnham), all of them proclaiming loyalty and unity.

I listened to Gordon Brown speech and thought it was good. I quite like him as a person, although his government is another matter. “Gordon” attacked the “novices” who were after his job (David Miliband and David Cameron).

I also quite like David Cameron as a person. He is an interesting person and not at all the lightweight he is accused of being. He has the ability to inspire people to hope for the future, which is a quality that will be needed in the difficult years ahead (consider the way he has taken a failing "nasty" party of three-time losers and led them to the brink of government).
Above: The reference to David Miliband’s “Heseltine moment” made me think of this “time-capsule” sealed into a wall along Millbank (and mutilated by passers-by). What would happen if we were to open this time-capsule? There would be an escape of foetid 1980s air, perhaps reeking of perfumed hair oil. There would be an unsettling moment as the zipped-up frustrated Heseltine ambitions were suddenly released. And then (so I imagine) there would be a loud echoing laugh as the genie of Michael Heseltine rushed out and expanded to giant-size, hovering over Westminster. Whatever a Cameron administration means, Heseltine must stay securely in his box.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Stack of questionnaires

Above: statue of Charles II in Soho Square (the orange is probably a reference to Nell Gwyn).

I am in the middle of a research report at the moment. There is no end to the stack of questionnaires to be analysed and interpreted. I was a fool to take this project on.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

An offensive statement

Baroness Warnock, one of the ruling oligarchy that seem to take decisions in this country (whatever party gets into power), has said that people who suffer from dementia should be allowed to die.

In a magazine interview she said: "If you're demented, you're wasting people's lives, your family's lives, and you're wasting the resources of the National Health Service.”

I was shocked and angry that such an offensive statement should be made by one of our legislators, and reported widely in the media as if it was a legitimate comment. This woman is preaching Nazi ideology (that mentally ill people have worthless lives and should be exterminated). She should be publicly disgraced and sacked from the House of Lords.

In the last two years of her life my mother was developing Alzheimer’s disease. She was “ill” one or two days a week. It was an exhausting process for my brother and myself to look after her, especially as she had several other illnesses (we got no practical help either from the NHS or from my sister and eldest brother).

Eventually my mother went into the local hospital because of a stomach disorder (this was in June 2003). In hospital she was immediately infected by MRSA and died two weeks later. Her death certificate says she died of a heart attack, and because I had never heard of MRSA I didn’t challenge this (the Registrar was very unwilling to put on the certificate the cause of death as stated by the hospital, and lots of people were giving me hints about the real cause of death, but at the time I didn’t want an autopsy).

Afterwards at least one of the family said the MRSA had been a blessing (even though she had personally never lifted a finger to help us).

Anyway, the point of my writing this is to say that neither my brother nor I thought the death was a “blessing”. We paid taxes all our working lives to support the NHS (as did my parents) and yet when we most needed help the help wasn’t there. But even without help we would have carried on.

I suppose what I am really saying is that I am still ANGRY at what happened to my mother, and I don’t want “liberal intellectuals” implying that it is alright to ignore or neglect elderly people with dementia because they are a waste of NHS resources. The way elderly people are cared for is a scandal. The resources should be increased, not reduced.

And another thing that annoys me is how politicians (all parties) go on and on about how “wonderful” the NHS is and what a “wonderful job” NHS nurses do. Only one nurse on my mother’s ward made any effort to look after her – the rest were uninterested. In my experience nurses are not wonderful – they are lazy and ignorant and kill people because they can’t be bothered to wash their hands.

Money has been poured into the NHS for the last twenty years and yet it hasn’t improved.

The NHS needs a bloody good kicking.

Above: Moral Hazard is an American novel by Kate Jennings about a couple in New York (I bought the book in 2003 when I was reading all I could about Alzheimer’s). In the novel the husband develops Alzheimer’s and his wife takes a job on Wall Street to earn enough money to pay for his care. It’s an interesting comparison between the demanding life of a finance executive and the equally demanding life of a carer.

The book is also a reminder that not everyone in the financial sector is a greedy “fat-cat”. There are “fat-cats” in all walks of life, including fat-cat doctors on £150k salaries, not to mention fat-cat politicians with every luxury and excess you can imagine. I don’t mean to defend greedy financiers – I just want the condemnation shared out fairly.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

The final bout of the evening was particularly ferocious

Friday evening I went to an open day at Joey’s boxing club (Joey is a freelance graphic designer).

Joey had originally intended to fight, but had to pull out because of an injury.

The club is based in a brick-built 1970s building in a south London suburb. Inside the main hall the ring was in the centre with seating around four sides. The walls were painted dark green on the lower half, with white paint on the upper half - almost entirely covered with photographs of boxers and posters of boxing champions.

About two hundred people were at the event, mostly friends and relatives of the boxers. There was a bar at one end of the room, and there was continuous traffic back and forth between the seating areas and the bar. We drank pints of beer from plastic beakers.

As well as being a boxing club the hall doubles as a gym. All the weights and fitness equipment had been moved to the other end of the room. The seating was on old metal-framed chairs covered in canvas – very uncomfortable.

The bouts started almost immediately we got there, with the junior fighters going on first. These included tiny children who couldn’t have been more than five or six. One of them burst into tears and refused to fight.

Teenagers followed, and then the senior fighters. Generally the taller fighters seemed to win, most of them giving snarling grins as they accepted applause (I think the snarling was a result of the gumshields). During the break one of the club trainers got in the ring and encouraged people to sign up as members:

“Whatever your condition we guarantee we can get you fitter than you ever thought possible. Learning to box is one of the best life skills you can have. You’ll be fitter, you’ll be more confident, and you’ll know how to look after yourself.”

The final bout of the evening was particularly ferocious. One fighter’s nose began to bleed, and blood spread in a thin red film over his face and splattered onto his opponent. The referee wiped away the blood and let the crumpled crimson tissue fall onto the floor.

As the fight became more intense the audience became caught up in the excitement. Several club members (who had fought earlier in the evening) rushed over from the bar area and began yelling encouragement (“Get in first…” “Make him look silly…”). They made punching motions with their right hands, spilling the pints of beer they held in their left.

The bout was won by the fighter with the bloody nose. He looked aggressive and triumphant as the audience applauded. A little later I saw him changed into ordinary clothes and looking much more docile, carrying a tray of drinks over to the club trainers.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Financial Times

Above: the Financial Times offices are at the south end of Southwark Bridge.

World money markets in turmoil. Barclays Bank making predatory swoops on Wall Street. The British government paralysed in indecision.

The Financial Times avoids sensationalism and attempts to tell you what is happening (if you can understand the jargon).

The Financial Times was founded over a hundred years ago. One of the most influential publications in the world. Printed on pink paper – immediately identifiable branding.

Editor of the Financial Times is Lionel Barber. An expert on American foreign policy. Author of The Price of Truth (about Reuters news agency) and Not with Honour (about the Westland scandal).

More: www.ft.com

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The ten o’clock service

Using up my holiday I took a day off today. I wanted to go to the county town for various things. I also decided to go to the ten o’clock service at one of the churches.

I had never been to a midweek service before. The church was in a former village that had been swallowed up by Victorian suburbia and then in-filled with post-war social housing. The day was grey and cool as I parked my car and walked round to the entrance.

Outwardly Victorian, the church dates from Saxon times. Approaching the south porch no lights seemed to be on (it was overcast enough for lights to be necessary) and I wondered if I had got the time right. Opening the medieval door I saw a small group of elderly people standing in the gloom at the west end.

I was made very welcome. The lights were put on (surely not for my benefit?). The Rector introduced himself.

A few more elderly people arrived and we went up to the chancel and sat in the choir stalls (there was only ten of us). The building felt very slightly cold. To my right was a lady of about seventy-five, still very active, and we talked while we waited for the service to begin.

“We moved here in fifty-two, and I’ve been coming to this church ever since. Look, they havn’t got the candles straight again. The one on the right always burns faster because it’s in a draught...”

The service of Holy Communion began and lasted about half an hour. No hymns. No sermon, although the Rector did read out some announcements.

After the service the lady showed me round the church.

“I was a churchwarden here for twenty-five years, so I know how things should be done… I do all the brass now. I remember when the brass chandelier was last done twenty years ago. We took it all to pieces and numbered them and everyone took a bit but they came back some cleaner than others…There’s no choir now. I was the last of the choir. At the end, when there was just me, the organist used to ask me to stand at the top of the chancel steps because I had such a clear voice and could keep the congregation in time to the music…”

We joined the others at the back, sat round a table drinking tea.

“The parish used to be very wealthy and we had lots of property, but it’s all been sold over the years. We used to have two Rectories, one for the Rector the other for the Curate. You can see the old Rectory down on the main road…” (an enormous Victorian mansion, now a nursing home) “…and the parish used to own all the land between the church and the Rectory” (the space now filled by a small housing estate). “When I first came here the Rector used to leave the church and go in a procession with his family along his own path through all the apple trees to the Rectory” (some of the apple trees are still in churchyard – they are a particular variety developed by a former incumbent). “They lived like lords. I can remember Rectory tennis parties and garden parties that used to go on until midnight…”

Above: the candles on the high altar - the one on the right burns faster because it is in a draught.

Above: the great brass chandalier last polished twenty years ago.

Above: the Saxon chancel arch and the chancel steps.

Above: some of the apple trees are still in the churchyard.

Note: re-reading this piece, I hope I havn't given the impression of a forlorn community, or a church in retreat. They were very cheerful and optimistic. They were also well-organised, and kept lots of social activities going.

It is very apparent in this "Inquiry" that the Anglican church has not kept up with developments in communications, and is often inept in the way it talks to local people. It is not enough to post details of services and activities outside the church door and expect "word to spread". They need to be more proactive in using modern marketing communications.

One simple tactic that would bring in more people would be simply to deliver the parish magazine to every house in the parish every three months or so. Parish magazines are usually excellent productions, with the genuine "authenticity" that many people are looking for. I am sure that if the parish magazine was distributed consistently to the local community over a year or eighteen months church attendances would double and then double again (you can tell I am a great believer in direct mail).

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Marsh samphire

Fresh marsh samphire gathered wild from the coast and sold on the market. Has tiny greeny-white flowers (when it does flower). Mentioned by Shakespeare in King Lear.

Has a very salty taste. You boil it and eat it with butter and lemon juice. It’s supposed to be good for you.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Even loyal supporters are deserting the field of battle

Above: at every stage Labour has been outwitted by the Conservatives (quote is from today’s Guardian).

Lunchtime, and I went into the Conference Room at twelve o’clock to watch the return of Andrew Neil’s Daily Politics.

As the Conference Room has three glass walls I felt a bit exposed sitting there watching the television until Terry (our MD) came in to join me.

Andrew Neil’s Daily Politics has a unique approach to political stories, treating all issues with a mocking and satirical interpretation that exposes pomposity and deceit in a way that only a genuine “insiders” can. “All power corrupts” Lord Acton said in 1887, and Daily Politics looks for the corruption that inevitably underlies political decisions and manifestations of government power. As someone who mistrusts politicians (especially the messianic saviour types, whether Left or Right) it is reassuring to know they are being watched in this way.

The programme is presented by Andrew Neil, Jo Coburn and Liz MacKean, who work very well together as a team.

Ostensibly reporting from the Liberal Democrat Conference in Bournemouth, the programme cross-referenced this with the continuing demise of Prime Minister Gordon Brown. In a discussion with columnists from The Times and The Independent the Prime Minister was described as “staggering” towards disaster. Liberal Democrat spokesman Vince Cable, in a speech shown live on the programme, called Gordon Brown a “twitching corpse”.

Like Richard III at Bosworth, support for “Gordon” is ebbing away. Even loyal supporters are deserting the field of battle. Traitors and arch-traitors are all around him (in a sensational betrayal at the start of the summer recess, a smiling Foreign Secretary David Miliband published an article and fronted a press conference that completely undermined and marginalised “Gordon” and effectively treated him as a non-person).

Later in the programme Andrew Neil interviewed Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg, who said the “Whitehall machine” was too big, and promised tax cuts if the Liberal Democrats get into government (possible if there is a hung parliament).

David Cameron has also started to talk about tax cuts.

Terry interpreted these tax-cutting promises:

“They intend to dismantle Labour’s empire. They could probably cut quite a lot by only targeting the claques and cliques Labour has embedded in local and national government. Just by stripping political correctness out of the system they could save a hefty sum for tax cuts, and without antagonising ordinary people.”

There has been a lot of talk about the “fatalism” of the Labour party, and the “inevitability” of their decline. Commentators struggle to understand why the decline should be inevitable. Possibly anthropology can provide an answer.

We are witnessing the playing-out of an age-old myth that has recurred in western Europe since pre-classical times. It is a variation of the cult of the Golden Bough in the grove at Nemi, discovered and analysed by Sir James Frazer over ninety years ago (the king who slew the slayer and must himself be slain). This is the way (sub-consciously) we choose our leaders, and the story must play out to its end.

More: http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/dailypolitics/andrewneil/

Sunday, September 14, 2008

I wondered what I was doing on this hill

In the Morning Service this morning there were four baptisms. The church was full, including the side aisles. “You have to get here early if you want a seat when there’s a baptism” said one elderly lady.

Above: In the afternoon I drove deep into the county to visit an exhibition. On the way back I stopped to buy eggs at this farm (the eggs were in the box you can see – you just took however many you wanted and left the money). Rural family pride has led the farmer to decorate the entrance with two large stone lions and an avenue of chestnut trees

Above: As the sun was setting I drove along the side of a shallow valley, and looked over a low hedge and saw this field of horses. As you can see, it was a beautiful sight. One of the horses whinnied loudly as if calling to me.

Above: Rounding a bend I saw some ruins in the distance, on top of a low hill. I parked my car and walked along a rough track until I came to a barbed-wire fence. A stile was to one side, but someone (the farmer probably) had moved the bench away and blocked the gap with more barbed wire.

I climbed over the wooden frame and jumped down into a field where the ruins were located. Lots of sheep were in the field, but seemed unbothered by my arrival (which is unusual for sheep, as normally they run off). I had to watch carefully where I walked to avoid stepping into sheep’s muck.

The ruins belonged to a small twelfth-century abbey of Premonstratension canons. The area was of great religious significance in the medieval period, and eight other monasteries were located in this valley (six on the west side of the river, three on the east side). The water in the river was supposed to be efficacious in the washing away of sins, and flower-decked boats were rowed along its course on the feast day of St John the Baptist (even into the twentieth-century marker stones in the local fields were anointed with river water on St John’s day).

Above: It became darker and colder, and without warning I experienced a sudden deep pang of depression. I wondered what I was doing on this hill, on my own in the half-dark, trying to understand old stones nobody cares about anymore. Not for the first time I asked myself what I was doing with my life.

Anyway, the moment passed, and in the light that remained I did a photographic survey of the site. Here you can see part of the refectory range. Notice the lancet windows, and on the left you can see the remains of an eighteenth-century farmhouse built in the ruins (and itself now ruined).

Above: Returning to my car, the last rays of the sun caught this sycamore tree and lit up the bunches of winged seeds so that they seemed to glow.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

I heard more about the reorganisation - the past week at work


Marc Baxter (Creative Director) held a review of my work which lasted about an hour. He said he was bemused by my writing and said I interchange from an austere formal style to vernacular then back again. I considered challenging him, but decided not to take him seriously (his own writing style is not beyond criticism, and when talking he has a habit of putting “ette” on the ends of words - “problemette”, “lunchette”, “recessionette”).

Junior Account Exec Jo came into the writers’ room. With her blonde hair and big blue eyes she attracts towards her all the attention in the room. She came in to ask my opinion about a full stop.

Marc asked me to write some web copy “articles” for a car client, and I was able t o knock them out quite quickly.

Later Marc told me that I would be working more with one of the account teams. This was welcome news as I find solid copywriting all day a bit of a bore. He wouldn’t tell me who I would be working with.


Doug showed me photos of his baby son.

I worked on some copy for Jack Lawson – he very rarely asks me to do anything. It was a small job, and I finished it within an hour. When Jack came back he complained about all the coverage of the American elections:

“I’m not interested in Obama’s audacity or Mrs Palin’s lipstick. We have enough gobshite politicians of our own without having theirs shoved in our face. I think we need a long rest from American foreign policy.”

Later Managing Director Terry feigned indignation when Marc showed him artwork that was off-brief. He then asked Marc what was wrong with it. Although Terry is outwardly quite belligerent, Marc is able to manipulate him quite effectively.


Two briefings – one from Senior Account Executive Nicola, the other from new Senior Account Executive Andrea (she comes to me now instead of trainee Copywriter Claire).

John (white hair, old friend of Terry’s, handles a small number of clients) came in to show me some copy he had written. I suppose he was looking for compliments. It was appalling, but I pretended I liked it.


On the train I began reading Last Summer by Boris Pasternak.


Claire argued with Junior Account Executive Alex when he refused to sign her Amnesty International petition.

Briefing from Lynn in the morning on some brochure copy, and the work took up the rest of the day.

Later I heard more about the reorganisation. I am to work on a new team with Senior Account Executive Andrea and a new Account Director who is to start in a couple of weeks. So my short spell as a “creative” comes to an end.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Return of the Soldier by Rebecca West

Have just finished reading Return of the Soldier by Rebecca West.

I chose the book because it is a cultural product of the (aftermath of) the First World War, which is one of my interests (although I have far too many interests and need to cull them to a realistic level).

The First World War created the modern world. It decided who we are culturally, where we are in terms of social progress, and why we are “us” and not some other option. In terms of “modern” history, the First World War can explain everything (if we could only understand “everything”).

Written in 1918, the novel is very powerful. Rebecca West had amazing powers of description and brings to life the “proud tower” of Edwardian England (using “Edwardian” to mean 1890 to 1915) with an immediacy that I didn’t expect. One of the most worthwhile books I have read.

Above: I wish people wouldn’t buy me books. This huge tome has an intimidating presence on my reading table (I pick it up, look at the Contents, put it down again, I pick it up, look at the Index, put it down again, I pick it up, leaf through hoping a paragraph will catch my interest, then I put it down again disappointed…). As it was a gift I will have to at least skim-read it so I know enough to be able to discuss it.

Roy Hattersley was on last night’s Newsnight in a studio discussion. He seems to personify “yah-boo” politics. He seemed to be saying that the economic recession is solely a result of rich businessmen being greedy (when in fact we ALL have been greedy and none more so than snouts-in-the-trough politicians).

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Hammershøi exhibition at the Royal Academy

I went to see the Hammershøi exhibition at the Royal Academy just before it closed.

Vilhelm Hammershøi was a reclusive Danish artist working in Copenhagen between 1885 and 1916.

In the way he restricts his use of colour, curtails perspectives, and limits his range of subjects, Hammershøi provokes the imagination of people who look at his work. His work is deceptively simple but actually very complex. The expectant intensity of his paintings conveys the impression of a life lived at a different level of meaning.

The exhibition was on the top floor of the Royal Academy, in five rooms. Admission was £8. The place was packed.

His figures are almost all female, and usually shown at an oblique angle. Sitting in sunlight, sitting in candlelight, standing in gloom. Sewing, playing a piano, carrying a cup of coffee.

He objectified objects – pictures, tables, furniture. We see these objects in a cold opaque light (as if reflected from snow). Biedermeier without the Viennese self-satisfaction.

Architectural scenes devoid of humanity (like the still and timeless interiors of the early black and white photography in Country Life magazine). Omnipresent grey mist. The Christianborg Palace from an angle that makes it resemble a Victorian barracks.

Landscapes – light on water, rows of trees, a northern-baroque church tower.

His portraits are especially fine – expressionless blue-eyed faces, silent and solitary.

I think I like Hammershøi because he takes a very limited world and makes it beautiful and meaningful. Instead of cramming his work with “experience” (colour, activity, exoticism) he makes do with what he has (more than “makes do” – he excels). It’s an anti-materialist manifesto.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

"It’s so hard to see from the road"

Sunday afternoon I went to look round another of the county’s villages. This one was on top of the internal cliff, close to the county town. The settlement grew up in the mid-nineteenth century around a massive Paupers’ Lunatic Asylum.

Above: the internal cliff, which runs for miles through the centre of the county. In places it is almost sheer, but here the ascent, although very steep, is not impassable. You can see to the left of the photo the path that led up from the “old” village to the “new” one that formed around the asylum (if you click to enlarge the picture you can follow the path up to the top). The path was especially difficult in winter. Eventually the people on the top of the cliff got tired of going up and down this path to school, church, shops etc and petitioned for a new parish to be formed. This is a late example of the “internal colonisation” which is such a marked feature of the county’s history (new villages being formed from old ones).

Above: the Paupers’ Lunatic Asylum closed in 1990 and is now being converted into flats (houses have already been built in the grounds). As you can see, the building was in a Palladian style, described by Pevsner as “grim”. I took this photograph from my car, in a torrential downpour of rain, so possibly the building looks grimmer than it usually does.

Above: the new village consisted of rows of small terraces to house the people who worked at the asylum. Semis were added in the inter-war period. A church was built in 1908 (described by Pevsner as “cheap red-brick with a spiky bell turret”).

Above: it was the church’s centenary, and a weekend “festival” was being held.

Above: inside there was an exhibition about the history of the church, the Church of England School, and the village. It had been organised by a retired school librarian, who showed me round. She had also written an impressive booklet to go with the exhibition.

Above: the interior of the church, with the organist on the left. The sacraments of the Church of England (Communion, Baptism, Wedding etc) had been illustrated in flower displays. “That’s my wedding dress” the retired librarian told me, pointing to the display in the corner (it looked almost new, although it must have been at least forty years old – how long do people keep their wedding dresses?).

Above: this display illustrates Holy Communion (the bread and wine).

Above: an interesting feature was this ornate cupboard, almost certainly an aumbry where the Blessed Sacrament would be kept (aumbrys are rare in Church of England establishments).

Above: after the tour I had a cup of tea in the annex and talked to everyone about the village:

“There is not a church round here to compare for fellowship – whenever someone is ill they are visited and looked after…”

“We are middle-of-the-road to low, although some of us would like it to be higher…”

“You wouldn’t think the church was here, it’s so hard to see from the road – someone had to ask me where it was…”

“We really need a new hall, the existing one isn’t suitable to prepare food in…” (this was the Scout’s Hall at the back).

“Over a thousand people were in the asylum. It had it’s own chapel, but it’s completely derelict now. There’s talk of turning it into a kindergarten.”

“Do you think it’s a bit rude to get the vacuum out?” (everything was kept absolutely clean and tidy).

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Cut costs and “batten down the hatches” - the past week at work

Above: blackberries ripe against the stone wall.


Going out into the lane this morning I noticed blackberries ripe against the stone wall – a sign that autumn is here.

An incredible rush to catch the train. When I was finally sat down and was hurtling towards London, the air in the coach was so humid I felt uncomfortable. I read The Guardian and then the Daily Telegraph.

Quite an easy day at work, and I spent most of it leisurely working on some copy for Terry (our MD).

Late afternoon Marc Baxter (Creative Director and my boss) asked me to write a complex IT-related ad, giving me an hour to do so. I did it in an hour and a quarter and was very pleased with the result. Marc then proceeded to hack it about (but that didn’t detract from my achievement – he would never have met the deadline without my help).


On the whole a mostly boring day.

Marc carried out a review of Clare’s work (Clare is a trainee copywriter). He was very critical of some of the things she had done. Later, when he had left the room, Clare said to me: “He’s got such a massive ego that he can’t leave other people’s work alone.”

Senior Account Executive Simon had put up on Flickr the photographs he had taken at Silverstone, then came into the office to talk to Marc about them. They were like a couple of schoolboys talking about the cars. Simon is aged about thirty-five, slim except for a beer-belly, longish dull gold hair swept back.

The new girl in admin is over-friendly.

Clare had news that Valerie (Account Director) and Andrea (Senior Account Executive) have fallen out – apparently Valerie told Andrea to deliver something to a client (it was on her way) and she refused.


Terry called a copywriting meeting in the Board Room. This was part of his review of all departments in the agency to try to cut costs and “batten down the hatches” in view of the economic situation. Later I said to Marc “I thought the meeting this morning was very productive” (I meant this ironically, but he thought I was being serious).

Doug briefed me on some copy needed for a medical insurance client.

Simon came in to talk through his Brands Hatch photographs, which he has just put up on Flickr.


I had some copy to do about cars, but it wasn’t required until midday, so it was a fairly easy morning.

Praise from Doug for the medical insurance ad I had done.

In the afternoon I had to come up with some concepts for a do-it-yourself client. I did not enjoy this as my mind was a blank. Eventually I wrote ten possibles and whittled them down to four passably good ideas (so at least I will have something to show).

Late afternoon Simon came in to tell Marc: “Just got rid of a flat that cost me forty-two thousand – fourteen thousand in mortgage payments and twenty-eight thousand in dropped price”.


Immediately I arrived I wrote a financial services ad, then decided to do nothing until lunchtime.

Marc talking to Valerie about one of the account exec teams: “Both of them are very competent, but when they are together they’re not”.

I took a late lunch and, dodging the rain, made a flying visit to Dean Street. Cutting through Soho Square, I noticed lots of media activity outside the offices of the Football Association. I found out later they were waiting for Joey Barton to come out.

Account Executive Lindsey came in to ask Clare to write some headlines. This involved lots of waving hands, gushing adjectives, and abrupt changes of direction. Afterwards Calre said: “She really is dreadful at giving a brief”.

In the evening I met Gary Spencer and we joined some of the others for one of our catch-up dinners.

Above: lots of media activity outside the offices of the Football Association.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

British Vogue

Most influential women’s fashion magazine in the United Kingdom is Vogue. A Conde Nast publication, it is a British version of the New York-based magazine. Other editions of Vogue are published around the world, most notably in France and Italy.

As well as publishing articles on fashion the magazine addresses culture in its widest sense (politics, literature, people) and has a distinct and coherent “world view” (weltanschuung or an all-embracing idea of society and the individual’s relation to it – I have deliberately chosen a totalitarian adjective to describe the Vogue hegemony).

The magazine is a machine for creating images. Writers who write for Vogue acquire an assured reputation. People endorsed by Vogue become influential.

In 2007, British Vogue generated over £32 million in advertising revenue.

Alexandra Shulman is the editor of British Vogue. She received an OBE in 2004. She reads serious fiction, and has talked positively about the work of Rosamond Lehmann.

Above: Vogue House in Hanover Square, offices of British Vogue.

Above: window display in Fortnum & Mason featuring copies of People in Vogue – an incredible collection of photographic portraits drawn from the Vogue archives.

Above: the magazine invests heavily in good quality photography – this photograph of Madonna (outside Ashcombe House) is by Tim Walker and was reprinted in The Guardian.

More on Tim Walker: http://www.openmagazine.co.uk/pictures/tim-walker-pictures.htm

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

The Canadian wilderness

Above: the county produced many explorers who opened up the Canadian wilderness and claimed the territory as “British”. This marble stone commemorates Sir John Franklin who disappeared while attempting to navigate the North West Passage. The memorial asserts, with Victorian confidence, that the explorer DID discover the passage (although the evidence points to a different conclusion).

The North West Passage across the top of Canada is free of ice for the second year running. The new route is expected to have a dramatic effect upon the way goods are shipped around the world. It is widely regarded as an ecological disaster (and the subject of a report on Newsnight yesterday).

More: http://www.spiegel.de/international/0,1518,574815,00.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lady_Franklin%27s_Lament (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fiXD6kH7sXI and also http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9fgNcx9st1A&feature=related).