Thursday, October 30, 2008

“Comedian” Russell Brand and television presenter Jonathan Ross



Only one subject in the news over the last couple of days.

“Comedian” Russell Brand and television presenter Jonathan Ross have been suspended following an abusive telephone call (broadcast on BBC Radio 2) to a retired actor.

Tens of thousands of complaints have been made to the BBC (although only two people complained at the time of the actual broadcast). The Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition have both become involved. The Justice Secretary called for both of the TV “personalities” to be sacked.

Russell Brand has pre-empted his sacking by resigning (and also “apologising” in a typically arrogant and unapologetic style). Jonathan Ross has been suspended. The Controller of Radio 2, Lesley Douglas, has resigned (she is ultimately responsible for the culture of BBC Radio 2).

On Newsnight last night a BBC executive (with bright red hair) ranted about “the ranting Daily Mail”. There have been complaints of “mob rule”. There have been protests of a “generational split” over the issue (ignoring the fact that the BBC is generally paid for by the older generations).

The “generational split” was highlighted by ad hoc interviews with queues of people waiting for admission to BBC shows. The older people in an “Alan Titchmarsh” queue complained about the abusive phone call. The younger people in a “Buzzcocks” queue said they couldn’t see anything wrong with the “gag”.

Are the comments about a generational split valid? There is little doubt that the language used by younger people (by “younger” I mean under 21) is becoming very explicit. Their humour has also become very cruel.

For example, the Buzzcocks show routinely and cruelly humiliates people (including a cruel humiliation of the singer Preston by presenter Simon Amstell, who made insulting references about Preston’s wife to his face while the audience laughed – Preston walked off the show and the audience laughed even more).

Cruelty is a corrupting behaviour trait – people who have behaved cruelly rarely see anything wrong in what they have done. Even over the last ten or fifteen years I have noticed how cruel people have become to one another. This has happened before in history – the cruel humour of Baldur von Schirach corrupted millions of young people and turned them against the weak and vulnerable in society (and yes, I am directly comparing Baldur von Schirach with Russell Brand).

The increasing use of “the f-word” in everyday speech is more problematic. The BBC broadcasts this word routinely and without (until now) a second thought, whereas every Friday and Saturday night, in every town and city in the country, young people (young again meaning under 21) are arrested by the police for using “the f-word” in public. And they are not just arrested but usually wrestled to the ground, their faces literally pushed into the gutter while about four police kneel on them, and then bundled into a police vehicle (with an ironic “mind yer head mate”).

Either the BBC (and other broadcasters) must stop “yoof” role models from using “the f-word” or the police must stop arresting people for the same identical behaviour.

Career of Lesley Douglas: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/entertainment/7700888.stm

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Prime Minister's Questions, 29th October 2008



Above: if you walk a little way along Westminster Bridge and look back at the Houses of Parliament you can see the terrace where MPs sit out when it's fine.

Twelve noon, and Prime Minister’s Questions.

The Prime Minister appeared on the Government Front Bench, seated between a stony-faced Deputy Leader Harriet Harman and a youngish-looking nonentity (none of us knew who he was).

Labour backbencher Adrian Bailey started off, swaying from side to side as he asked about job security for his constituents during the economic downturn. So rambling and badly-expressed were his comments that he appeared to be speaking from the heart. However the Prime Minister adroitly launched into a reply that emphasised his global co-ordinating role, his silky assurance sounding so out of character that I judged it to be a set-up.

Conservative Leader David Cameron began the first of his six questions by referring to the growing rate of house repossessions (a statistic that can finish any government if the rate passes a certain limit) and then taunted him once again with his (now never mentioned) claim to have abolished “boom and bust”. A huge racket broke out on both sides of the Commons. Gordon Brown listed, in a random order, the achievements of his government and then said “I’m not going to take any advice…” (something he must never say, as it only tells the Opposition he is running scared).

In subsequent questions David Cameron referred again to house repossessions, mentioned negative equity and then condemned the creation of a national culture of debt. “Your fiscal rules have failed and collapsed” he told the Prime Minister. With great subtlety he laid a trap for Gordon Brown, asking him if he still believed in his 1997 neo-Thatcherite (although originally from James Callaghan) statement “You can’t spend your way out of a recession” (in response Gordon Brown referred to the Keynesian “automatic stabliser” – a reference that had Terry logging onto Google).

I used to be puzzled by Gordon Brown’s inability to stand up to David Cameron, particularly on economic questions. Having seen today’s exchange, where David Cameron shot so many barbed arrows that the Prime Minister was beginning to resemble St Sebastian, I now think that Gordon Brown probably cares too much about the economy. He seems to be genuinely hurt by the things that are said to him.

Labour Joan Walley made a statement (in the form of a question) about the Stoke-on-Trent referendum to abolish its elected mayor. The town is of interest to psephologists as the Labour vote in the constituency is collapsing and defecting to extremists. Gordon Brown waffled in reply.

Nick Clegg, Leader of the Liberal Democrats asked three questions about the economy, with the Prime Minister snappily denying that his questions were valid. Nick Clegg seemed to be rattled by Gordon Brown’s aggression, and stumbled over some of his phraseology, which prompted cruel laughter from the Labour benches (I heard someone distinctly call “Calamity Clegg”). Gordon Brown listed the ways in which the government was helping ordinary people.

Labour Gordon Marsden asked about higher education in Blackpool. Conservative Sir George Young asked, reproachfully, about the erosion of parliament by the executive (the Chamber falling silent to listen to him). Labour Alison Seabeck asked about savers who had lost money in one of the Icelandic banks (Gordon Brown referred her to the Financial Services Authority).

Conservative Philip Hollobone asked about a boycott organized by the Black Police Association – Gordon Brown sidestepped this controversial subject, giving a noncommittal reply.

Labour Linda Gilroy asked whether British troops in Afghanistan were getting the right equipment (there have been a number of scandals recently about inadequate equipment). Gordon Brown launched with enthusiasm into an announcement on the supply of new protected vehicles. This was obviously a planted question, the Prime Minister brazenly reading from a prepared statement.

Liberal Democrat Paul Holmes asked about a police funding shortfall in Derbyshire, Gordon Brown telling him in reply that there were more police than ever, and that crime rates were coming down.

Labour Robert Waring got to his feet to general appreciation throughout the House (both Labour and Conservative, for opposing reasons, like to hear one of the “awkward squad” speak). Robert Waring referred to the unreasonable profits made by oil company BP and contrasted this to the inability of his constituents to heat their homes during the winter. Gordon Brown gave one of his most ineffectual replies ever, lamely urging the energy companies to reduce their prices (but carefully avoiding any suggestion of regulation).

Conservative Andrew Robathan compared the present economic predicament with the 1976 IMF bailout fiasco (the then Labour government’s helplessness being forever codified as “Crisis, what crisis?”). Gordon Brown smartly referred to the Conservative’s 1992 ERM expulsion fiasco. Both sides of the Commons shouted and jeered.

Questions followed on the Agency Workers’ Directive; a welcome-home army parade in Belfast; and the importance of measuring climate change (Labour Colin Challen so rambling and seemingly obscurantist in his question on climate change that the Tories laughed at him).

Mark Prisk asked about the third runway at Heathrow (“we are looking at this” said Gordon Brown). Ian Cawsey asked about the British Pig Industry (“British bacon is best” said Gordon Brown). John Butterfill asked about the nefarious ways in which the unsecured debts of individuals were being converted into debts chargeable against house ownership (“we are aware of this” said Gordon Brown).

Labour Karen Buck complained that small businesses were still not getting adequate loan facilities from the banks. Independent Dr Richard Taylor complained that appeals against post office closures were a sham. Margaret Moran complained that judicial guidance on house repossessions didn’t seem to be working.

Abruptly (as is usually the case) PMQs came to an end. The cameras went back to the studio where Hazel Blears defended the government. Andrew Neil read a statement from the Director General of the BBC on the behaviour of Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand (David Davies MP calling for them to be sacked).

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Shed Media



Above: Shed Media, a television production company which is based close to Pentonville Road.

The company was founded in 1998 by former Granada TV executives Eileen Gallagher, Brian Park and Maureen Chadwick.

The creative “culture” in the company does not have a good reputation. Ideas are supposedly derivative, “me too” and lack originality. Imposed quotas on the amount of “indie” productions commissioned by major channels is supposed to have distorted supply and led to an increase in the number of these sub-standard productions (“there’s nothing wrong with being populist, but their populism is out of touch”).

Shed productions have populist (and slightly trashy) themes and include Bad Girls, Footballers’ Wives, Rock Rivals. A recurring leitmotif of their dramas is a feisty forty-something outwardly-hard female character who (eventually) turns out to have a heart of gold. Supposedly these characters are based on Eileen Gallagher herself.

Their PR is handled by Sharon Makin of Makin PR.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Representative of the feline world



Having Having introduced one of my cats yesterday I thought I ought to say a little more about her.

We used to have two cats, a mother and son, but they got old and died. For a couple of years we just had the dog, but living on a farm we get periodic invasions of rats (especially if the farmer leaves crops lying around). After one of these rat forays we decided to get more cats – two from the local cat-rescue.

The old cat just seems to sleep all day, but the younger one (see picture above) is a ferocious representative of the feline world. Docile and innocent-looking in the house, out in the fields she is the best hunter we have ever had. During the time she has been with us I havn’t even seen a rat anywhere near our property.

The problem is that she also hunts other creatures:



Above: she regularly turns out nests.



Above: she brings back these shrews.



Above: she brings back these water voles.



Above: water voles are a protected species, so regularly we consider whether to have her claws cut.



Above: not sure if this is a stoat or a weasel.



Above: occasionally she attacks the doves, although she knows this is one of the few things she can be smacked for.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

My tax return



For months I have been putting off doing my tax return. With only five days to go, I finally got round to doing it. I started at 5pm and finished about twenty minutes ago. I took a break to watch Little Dorrit on BBC1. One of the cats came to see what I was doing. Earlier in the day she had brought a live mouse into the house (I had to rescue it and set it free in the garden).

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Triumph Herald



For the last few weeks I have been trying to get a photograph of an XR2 (for Kim Blacha's book The 1980s - a search for the romantic decade). You would think this would be fairly straightforward but all the XR2s in the world seem to have disappeared. I have given up actively looking for the car now, and am relying on stumbling across one by accident.

Anyway, in my trawls around vintage car shows I came across the above Triumph Herald. It was a Proustian moment, as it reminded me of the Triumph Herald we had in an old shed when I was small. No-one could remember when the car had last been driven - it had just been abandoned one day in the early 1970s and left (replaced by a newer car). We had (still have) lots of sheds full of old junk. My brother and I used to play at driving in the car, and it was always understood (so we thought) that it was "our" car. Then our eldest brother put a new engine in the car, and restored it completely. He drove it around for a couple of months.

Then he sold it.

Friday, October 24, 2008

To the end of the line



Above: A slim little book bought cheap from a stall (although not as cheap as its original cover price). It's the story of a half-forgotten railway that still runs (a shadow of its former self) through dingy parts of north London. Possibly the Pooters would have known it in its heyday.



Above: I looked at Camden Road station in the afternoon sun. The Ventian Gothic architecture is much-admired (everythign about the little railway was uniquely designed - locomotives, staff uniforms, tickets etc). If I hadn't had to get back to work I would have liked to have bought a ticket and travelled to the end of the line (which is no longer the magnificent terminus of Broad Street - destroyed in the '80s in an act of vandalism).

Thursday, October 23, 2008

“Supermen”

Above: in the recent economic crisis Gordon Brown has been portrayed as a Nietzschian superman – as in this cartoon by Steve Bell.

Very interesting discussion on the Today Programme this morning between Matthew Bishop and Michael Edwards. I was able to listen to it as I was the first into the office this morning (my new office, which is back on the middle floor, more or less where I was a few months ago, but with different people). The discussion focused on whether strong and powerful (ie wealthy) individuals such as George Soros, Warren Buffet and Bill Gates are better than elected representatives at solving the world’s problems.

And it make me think about the way in which cultures long for “supermen” in times of crisis and uncertainty.

Given the historical record of these “supermen”, I think we can do without them, no matter how philanthropic they seem to be.

British culture seems to have an in-built mechanism for getting rid of supermen/women when they become too powerful. Little remained of Cromwell’s severe “legacy” barely a couple of years after his death. Oswald Mosley’s movement never really got off the ground. Arthur Scargill was crushed. Margaret Thatcher was bundled out the door in a way that must have been humiliating for her. Even Winston Churchill was politely asked to leave when the war was won.

If I had the time I would like to study what this self-correcting mechanism is – it is more than just democracy I think.
Above: another “Brownman” cartoon, this time showing “Gordon” as the Laocoon in the grips of the serpentine Lord Mandelson and a constricted Shadow Chancellor George Osborne.

Today Programme: http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/console/b00dywqn (the discussion comes right at the end).

More:
http://tacticalphilanthropy.com/2008/07/philanthrocapitalism-micahel-edwards-vs-matthew-bishop

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Prime Minister's Questions, 22nd October 2008



Above: the Houses of Parliament from Victoria Gardens (which has replaced College Green as the venue for al fresco television interviews with MPs).

At twelve noon I watched Prime Minister’s Questions. Only Terry (our MD) was also in the Board Room. It is very noticeable that many people have stopped taking lunch breaks.

The Prime Minister was sat between Alistair Darling and an anonymous front bench nonentity.

The session began with Tim Sheridan asking about how ordinary people can be protected from the worst effects of the economic downturn. This was obviously a planted question as Gordon Brown used it to make an announcement about judicial guidance to make house repossessions a last resort (“They’re worried about the rise in repossessions” said Terry, “it was the rate of repossessions that fatally damaged Major”). This is the second week running that Gordon Brown has used PMQs to make an announcement.

David Cameron asked a tranche of questions related to government borrowing and accused the Prime Minister of hiding government debt. The Labour benches seemed to explode with barracking and general shouting at this point. The Speaker intervened to calm them down (telling a Mr Tuohig to behave himself).

David Cameron taunted Gordon Brown about his long-standing claims to have abolished “boom and bust”. The Prime Minister didn’t seem to have an adequate response to this. He gabbled through a list of government achievements, reading from sheets of paper stuck about with post-it notes (“In the old days they would shout No Reading at him” said Terry).

“Have you abolished boom and bust, yes or no” asked David Cameron impatiently, as if he were a headmaster trying to get a naughty schoolboy to admit he has been telling fibs.

Gordon Brown read another list from one of his sheets of paper (or perhaps he reread the same list).

David Cameron used the last of his six questions to ask again about boom and bust.

Gordon Brown lamely launched into an analysis and deconstruction of Cameron’s rhetorical style (he does this every week, so that it has entirely lost its novelty).

Labour MP Angela Smith asked what could be done about outrageous energy prices, and Gordon Brown repeated his recent comments about falls in energy costs being “passed on” to the people.

Nick Clegg asked three questions for the Liberal Democrats. Since Vince Cable’s devastating jibe about Gordon Brown being Mr Bean almost every Liberal Democrat questioner has adopted the style of a would-be stand-up comedian. None of these attempted jokes has had any success, and even Vince Cable has not managed to land a second blow.

Labour’s Fabian Hamilton asked again about profiteering by the energy companies.

Conservative John Whittingdale asked a question about tax relief for commercial buy-to-let landlords – as buy-to-let landlords are a leading component of Old Labour demonology (which, given a new impetus by the “fall of capitalism”, is beginning to resemble the seven-headed hydra of Tsarist oppression), one knew as soon as he said the words “buy-to-let” his question would not be taken seriously.

Labour Lynda Waltho laughed at Conservative attempts to understand women voters. Liberal Democrat Andrew George asked a question that was so garbled I couldn’t understand it. Labour Sally Keeble asked the Prime Minister to bask in the in the well-deserved glory of the one-hundredth new hospital since ’97 (“They are finally getting round to implementing Enoch Powell’s Hospital Plan of sixty-one” said Terry, “only forty seven years late!”).

Elfyn Llwyd asked a serious question about the unreasonably high rate of ex-servicemen who end up in prison. The House of Commons fell completely silent, as if amazed that someone should use the session to say something intelligent. In reply Gordon Brown used the word “Veterans” as a blanket adjective to describe former soldiers – it didn’t really sound right (I think using the word in this way is an Americanism).

More questions followed, including one about knife crime that was obviously planted as Gordon Brown immediately read a long and well-structured reply from one of his sheets of paper.

Adrian Sanders asked my favourite question of the session, about water and sewage in the south west – it had a surreal note of parish-pump politics intruded into the great affairs of state.

Old Labour MP Dennis Skinner asked a class-war question about the Shadow Chancellor George Osborne being entertained on a luxury yacht in the company of a Russian oligarch and arch-class-traitor Peter Mandelson (I half-expected him to finish by quoting Friedrich Engles, saying “all these people should be shot!”).

Prime Minister’s Questions came to an end with Gordon Brown looking tired, worried and defensive.

The cameras went back to the studio where Andrew Neil interviewed Treasury Secretary Yvette Cooper. Or rather attempted to interview her, as every time he tried to speak she talked over him. The performance reminded me of Vickey Pollard’s court appearance.

Vicki Pollard in court: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6WR3Noc5O-E

Yvette Cooper in Andrew Neil's studio: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sEyj9Ui6p20

Prime Minister's Questions: http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b00f6lqc/Prime_Ministers_Questions_22102008/

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

RDF Media



Above: the offices of RDF media in Kensington Village (which is a sort of gated business community in a seedy part of west London – ad agency Leo Burnett also has offices there). While Andrea went into RDF to “negotiate” I had a coffee in the little coffee shop and looked at the women (they were all women) exercising in the gym (big windows, so you couldn’t help but look at them). The architecture of Kensington Village is self-consciously recherché and without merit.

RDF is a television production company (or rather a group of production companies). It was founded by David Frank in 1993. David Frank had a background of working on Newsnight, Panorama and the Six O’Clock News. He has squandered this high-minded reputation by giving British television garbage such as Wife Swap, Ladette to Lady and Location Location Location. Chief of Operations at RDF is Joely Fether. RDF was also responsible for the fakery scandal involving photographer Annie Leibovitz and the Queen.

About 490 people are employed by the group in the United Kingdom.

The share price of RDF fell like a stone after the fakery scandal involving the Queen. David Frank has responded by attempting to take the company private again. He was being advised by failed Icelandic bank Landsbanki, so possibly things are in a bit of a mess at the moment.

Wife Swap is probably the group’s best known production to date. It is a formulaic “reality” show in which the female heads of two families “swop” lives for about two weeks. These swops are deliberately contrived, and usually involve hard-working working class mum of seven children swapping with an indolent spoilt childless middle-class lady of leisure (or alternatively a council-house-dwelling unemployed Waynetta Slob type who swops with a house-proud media executive and mother of two perfect children).

Incredibly Wife Swap won the Golden Rose of Montreux in 2004.

More: http://www.rdfmedia.com/

Waynetta Slob: http://www.bbc.co.uk/cult/ilove/years/1990/gallery/harry.shtml

Monday, October 20, 2008

Most people just walked past



Above: In a shabby inner London suburb a homeless man is selling copies of The Big Issue in an effort to raise money and escape from destitution. In an example of the widow’s mite, one of the few people to stop and give him money is a young mother (who couldn’t have had all that much spare money herself). Most people just walked past without looking at him.

Henry Mayhew, in London Labour and the London Poor, wrote extensively about the homeless in Victorian London. Although he studied them as a category, he also integrated them into his great anthropological study as an extension of the poor, rather than as a class apart. I think this graduation of poverty is an important concept.

Because the homeless live in inhuman conditions it does not follow that they are less human than the rest of us. Homelessness is the logical extension of poverty, and homeless people should be seen as individuals who have failed to cope with the stress of extreme poverty. Most people do not look at homeless people because they are afraid of seeing someone like themselves, in need of help (obviously once that need has been acknowledged there is a concomitant obligation to give all the help you are capable of).



Above: the Big Issue is a weekly magazine published on behalf of, and sold by, homeless people throughout the United Kingdom. It is a way of overcoming the embarrassment most people experience when giving money to homeless people (it also has a cover price, so the “donation” is fixed in advance at £1.80). Unfortunately it is not a very good magazine, and so I usually give the money without taking the magazine.



Above: Arlington House in Camden. Once a famous hostel for the homeless. This institution (one that worked) has been closed and is being “redeveloped”.



Above: Jack London continued the work of Henry Mayhew. People of the Abyss is very well-written and deserves to be better known. For instance: “…how can I make you know what it is to suffer as you would suffer if you spent a weary night on London’s streets? Believe me, you would think a thousand centuries had come and gone before the east paled into dawn; you would shiver til you were ready to cry aloud with the pain of each aching muscle; and you would marvel that you could endure so much and live.”



Above: I also plan to read this biography of Jack London.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Harvest

Harvest time, and re-reading Sir James Frazer (not that I ever really stop reading him) I have been looking for ways in which our culture venerates the harvest (production of food without which human life would be impossible).



Above: many artists have portrayed the harvest scenes in idealised forms. This painting of hay-loading by George Stubbs (at Port Sunlight) shows rural workers in quasi-heroic poses (the scene was later reproduced in Wedgewood plaques). See also Gainsborough’s portrait of Mr and Mrs Andrews sitting by a cornfield.



Above: 1633 monument in Southwark cathedral in the form of an agricultural allegory. Standing corn is in the centre with two harvesters in smocks and wheaten hats. Notice the rake and pitchfork (other agricultural implements are scattered throughout the monument).



Above: all across the county harvest festivals have been held in the churches. This is a picture of the harvest loaf (made from the new corn) on the high altar of one church I went to. The name Lammas for the harvest festival derives from “loaf mass” (the loaf was used as the communion bread in the service).

More on Mr and Mrs Andrews: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mr_and_Mrs_Andrews

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Buying The Guardian does tend to label you

Every time I go to Kings Cross and walk up York Way I notice more changes. Gradually the area is becoming gentrified. For me, knowing so many people from the old British Rail, this is a sad development.

For instance, the Lincoln used to be a real “railway” pub. At the end of the working day the civil engineers (DCEs) used to walk along the long corridors of East Side Offices, down the stairs at the end and across the road into the Lincoln. It was more a railway club than a pub.

With the development of Kings Place, plus all the other gentrification in the area, the Lincoln is expected to go upmarket and probably become the “local” for The Guardian newspaper (which is moving to Kings Place in a couple of weeks).



Above: The Guardian newspaper is currently located in Farringdon Road. The Editor is Alan Rusbridger and Chief Executive of the Guardian Media Group is Carolyn McCall. The Guardian and the Daily Telegraph are, in my opinion, the best “overall” newspapers in the United Kingdom (although journalists in other publications may score just as high on an individual basis).


Buying The Guardian does tend to label you. For instance, I was changing trains at a midland station, and I bought The Guardian in a crowded platform buffet. As I did so I heard distinctly a voice behind me say “Another po-faced killjoy”. The comment must have come from a table of three middle-aged working men (I knew they were “workers” because they were wearing fluorescent orange safety vests). For I brief moment I wanted to go back and remonstrate with them (“Look, I have to buy it for my job, okay!”) but I let the moment pass. Now whenever I buy The Guardian in public I combine it with something else (the Evening Standard or the Sun).
Favourite Guardian writers include:



Above: Laura Barton writes about music (although a recent piece she did about Glyndebourne was a bit unfair).



Above: Simon Hoggart writes about politics and also has a Saturday column.



Above: Matt Scott writes about sport.

Friday, October 17, 2008

The politics of the ’eighties

Terry, our MD, is planning to retire and is slowly divesting himself of the few clients he continues to handle. Most of these are on the PR side, which means none of them will be coming to me (I’m not very good at PR). However, the new Account Director still isn’t in place, so Terry took me along to a meeting to “act as a bridge” (?).

Afterwards, at five o’clock, we paused on the pavement and he said I might as well go home as it wasn’t worth going back to the agency. He said he was meeting a Tory grandee from the 1980s. On impulse I said I would also like to meet him, and so I got asked along (as easily as that!).

We went to the Carlton Club at 69 St James’s Street. The building is Georgian, built in 1826 to a design by Thomas Hopper, and renovated in 1925–6 by E. Turner Powell. The front is of Portland stone, and is realatively simple and plain with four arched windows and a modest arched entrance on the right.

We went through the front door into a passageway with a desk at the end. Terry told the clerk the name of the person we were meeting. We waited about ten minutes until the Tory grandee (large, waist-coated, maroon bow-tie with small white spots) appeared and signed us in.

Inside there was a central staircase with two main rooms on each floor. The decoration was derived from classical Greece. As we went through the building I noticed enormous mahogany doors, architraves decorated with rosettes, fireplaces of gold-veined black marble, a decorated frieze below the staircase cornice, Corinthian pilasters of scagliola, free-standing borders of anthemion etc etc.

The Carlton Club is the historic home of the British Conservative Party, and in every room there are paintings and relics of past Conservative leaders (although David Cameron has refused to join the club on the grounds that it is too stuffy and old-fashioned).



Above: the drawing room on the first floor (notice the “orbs” in this picture – I have previously dismissed the idea of “orbs” but now I am not so sure, especially as they cannot have been marks on the lens as they do not show on the photo of the noticeboard I took a few minutes later).

We went up to the first floor and into the front room which was sort of drawing room. The whole club was almost deserted. We sat down in a corner and the grandee told me “Ted” used to sit in the chair I was occupying.

Tea was ordered – very good quality.

I asked the grandee about politics in the 1980s:

“People think the nineteen-eighties were entirely dominated by Margaret, as if she came from nowhere, but the politics of the ’eighties were a product of the breakdown of consensual politics in the ’seventies. By bringing down the government of Edward Heath the miners cleared the way for Margaret. I’d go so far as to say that Margaret Thatcher was directly created by Arthur Scargill – one would not have been possible without the other…

“The other thing to bear in mind is that there were two political coups in the nineteen-seventies and eighties. A successful coup by the right in the Conservative Party and a failed coup by the left in the Labour Party – failed except for Ken Livingston who seized power from Andrew McIntosh in the GLC...”

After about forty minutes I said I had to go. The grandee showed me out. Terry remained in his seat.



Above: at the foot of the stairs was the Club noticeboard.



Above: I noticed that Gavin Esler (Newsnight presenter) is talking to the Young Members of the Carlton Club on Monday evening).



Above: part of the failed coup in the nineteen-eighties was Liverpool “militant” Derek Hatton.



Above: Derek Hatton was an early influence on current Culture Secretary Andy Burnham.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

New Chinese Art

I am incredibly (and unreasonably) busy at the moment. I have taken up a new role (still in the same agency) part of the time Account Handling and part of the time copywriting. Undecided about whether I will write about the new job.



Above: Anyway, I was not so busy that I couldn't spare the time to see the New Chinese Art exhibition at the new Saatchi Gallery. I have to say that I am not a great admirer of Charles Saatchi either as a person (he's a bit too oleaginous) or as a leader of the advertising profession. And my visit to the gallery did not get off to a good start - as I was taking the above photograph a security guard came up to me and told me the building was private property and no photographs were allowed.

This seems very high-handed, especially when you consider it is a Grade II former military building, built originally with taxpayers money.



Above: the first gallery had these architectural models constructed from a sort of gel. They are all Western buildings. They reminded me of Salvador Dali's Soft Watches.



Above: the artist is Liu Wei who likes to illustrate cultural anxiety.



Above: I particularly liked these enormous portraits by Zhang Xiaogang. These haunted faces are inspired by family photographs taken during the Chinese Cultural Revolution. George Orwell's 1984 didn't happen in the West (at least, it hasn't happened yet) but the Cultural Revolution was a Chinese expression of Orwell's prophecy.



Above: not sure what to make of this work by Yue Minjun, which is "a response to the spiritual vacuum and folly of modern-day China.”



Above: Yue Minjun sits soberly on a sofa, cackled at by one of his manic creations.



Above: going around the gallery were these two young Chinese lovers. They looked carefully (and for several minutes) at each exhibit. They held hands but didn't talk to each other.



Above: in an addition worthy of James Purnell, Mao has been inserted into the Yalta Conference photoshoot.



Above: Li Qing produced this unusual image of the British Royal Family c1981. He has subverted the imagery by applying communist stars to the drapery. This pixelated painting is meant to "explore the authenticity of documentation".



Above: Chinese Offspring by Zhang Dali. From a distance it reminded me of Lionel Ritchie's Dancing on the ceiling. The artist intends the work to portray internal Chinese immigrants "the uncertainty of their life and their powerlessness in changing their own fates.



Above: a parody of socialist realism by Wang Guangyi.

Monday, October 13, 2008

The future of the English parish church



Above: you might have to click on the image to enlarge it to see the suffragan bishop (the lighting was subdued as their was a slideshow with the talk).

A meeting of the county’s architectural trust.

It was held in a church on the eastern side of the county. Because I was late I missed the reception in the manor house next door. I was only just in time for the talk, which began at 8pm.

The guest speaker was a suffragan bishop. Middle-aged, middle-class lefty liberal (I’m basing this analysis of his political views upon his references to Amnesty International, Palestinian rights, and frequent mentions of “diversity”). He illustrated his talk with a slideshow projected onto a screen.

The subject of the suffragan bishop’s talk was the future of the English parish church. He showed us slides of his favourite churches which all seemed to be empty multi-use urban buildings (he was particularly keen on church buildings doubling as community centres). It soon became apparent that he had a obsession with church fittings (“clutter and mess” he described the accretions of history).

“Don’t be afraid of space” he told us, “you can always improve a church building by taking things out.”

He informed us the English parish church had to prepare for even greater change (as if enough damage hadn’t been done already). In particular he told us we had to be more open to ethnic groups who saw the Anglican church as “exclusive”. He told us bluntly “we have systematically alienated people from our buildings.”

His talk was arrogant and deliberately offensive. He was also intellectually dishonest. At the time I was very angry at the things he said, but thinking about it later I feel he was actually a pathetic figure – he obviously hasn’t a clue what to do about falling attendances and thinks the answer is to rebrand the English parish church as a multi-cultural community centre.

The Anglican church is experiencing falling attendances because of a failure to communicate. This failure is one of management – in particular middle and senior management. Looking at the Anglican church purely as an organisation (a multi-million pound organisation with eleven thousand “branches”) one has to condemn the fact that none of their personnel (absolutely NONE of them) seems to have had any professional training in marketing or advertising or public relations.

Putting up a hand-made poster on the lych-gate may have worked fifty years ago, but in the twenty-first century they need to make more of an effort.

From my observation there is nothing wrong with Anglican “content” (the services, the music, the social groups, the sense of history and continuity, the community work etc) but hardly anyone in wider society knows what is going on.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Twilight of the gods



Above: Yesterday the turmoil in the markets continued.

Towards the end of the working day I was visiting a client at Canary Wharf (yes I am visiting clients once again). It was a long meeting that went on until nearly six. Afterwards I took one of the express lifts down to the ground floor, and instead of turning right into the station I went through the marble Reception and out into the open air (the first time I have done this at Canary Wharf).



Above: outside the hush of the tower, I heard the agitated sound of a crowd. Looking down from the steps I saw thousands (no exaggeration) of financial people standing in the balmy evening at the open air bars that overlook the old docks. All of them had drinks in their hands and were talking, talking, talking.



Above: I walked a little distance away and turned back to take this photograph of the Canary Wharf tower. The proud tower stood, Tuchman-like, in the last rays of the golden sun. A moving (in the physical sense, although it would also have for some people emotional implications) red digital display on a nearby building reported nemesis in the form of final stock prices.



Above: other parts of the financial city were almost deserted. The sun slipped away leaving the landscape in a twilight of the gods. I knew I needed to hurry to get my train, and yet I also wanted to see the ending of this infamous day and record it as best I could.



Above: how much wealth has evaporated today from Canary Wharf?

On the crowded DLR train back to Bank I stood next to a man in his fifties talking into his mobile ’phone:

“Just finished, not like you part-time traders… I can’t even begin to tell you how bad it’s been. I don’t know where to start. Well, I DO know where to start – I’ll start with a pint so have one ready when I get there… He sat next to me all day. He was punch drunk. All he did all day was read out the falling prices…”

This was the music going through my mind: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=20RldhK9354&feature=related (the Nibelungen obsession with their golden treasure drove them mad and brought about their gotterdamerung).

Barabara Tuchman’s Proud Tower: http://www.amazon.com/Proud-Tower-Portrait-Before-1890-1914/dp/0345405013