Sunday, November 30, 2008

I climbed about twenty feet up the ladder

Cold weather just above freezing. Fog hanging everpresent like a curtain, only a field or so away. After lunch a couple of hours before the dark fell.

I drove to a small village and did a short survey (remand home, old schoolhouse now a private residence, church with a Comper porch).

I managed to talk my way into the church as I caught the churchwarden just as he was locking up. He was polite and helpful but I could tell he didn't want to hang around in the freezing fog. Colder than the freezing wet air was the chill of the church interior, the light of the winter afternoon fading fast.

Nominally medieval, the building had been almost completely rebuilt around 1880. I took about twenty photographs. The church warden accompanied me around the building, his wax jacket making a rasping noise as he walked.

Under the tower was a sort of junk area. The bells are no longer rung. Looking up I could see boards fixed to the walls, listing the various bequests to parish charities.

I couldn't see them clearly so I climbed about twenty feet up the ladder that leads to the bell-loft. The churchwarden looked anxious although he didn't say anything. Once I had taken my photographs I carefully (very carefully) climbed down again.



Above: one of the boards recorded a dole, initiated in 1820. White bread would be a luxury in the early nineteenth-century. The churchwarden said his mother could remember the dole still being given out (to children) in the 1940s, in penny spiced buns.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

“Oh yeahesss” - the past week at work

Monday

Up so early I was able to have tea and toast for breakfast – it has been a long time since I have been able to do this. At 5am the morning was cold and still dark. The reason I was up so early was that I had to get down to London and then out from Waterloo to Sunningdale where Terry was holding a planning meeting in his house.

Terry collected me from Sunningdale station in his Jag. At his home (big stockbroker-Tudor mansion covered in some kind of creeper) I met Andrea and Matthew Miller. We sat at the table in the dining room (a room festooned with silk flowers) while we listened to Terry bickering with his wife in the distance.

The meeting went on for four hours, with sandwiches and coffee for lunch. Mainly we considered possible new clients, and reviewed the existing clients Andrea has been able to bring in. Matthew has not so far brought in any work.

We finished about 3pm. Terry suggested it would be easier for me to get a train back from Windsor and drove me there through Windsor Great Park (herds of deer, knarled old oak trees, horses being led in groups of three or four). Long journey home.

Tuesday


Very cold weather.

Carol (one of the two admin staff) has worked in an agency before and was able to help with media research.

Matthew just sat in his office all day (a room even smaller than mine!). Because the partition walls are so thin I could hear everything he said on the ’phone – mostly he was calling friends. Later I could hear him talking to Andrea about how he was about to bring in a big new client.

At lunchtime I went with Terry to a meeting of marketing managers to do some “networking” – it was incredibly boring.

I spent the afternoon copywriting, although I was very lazy about this. As usual Andrea was appreciative (“It’s not something I can do”). Talking to Rachel, the clients upstairs have gone very quiet.

Wednesday

Both Matthew Miller and Andrea were out most of the day. Carol was away so I sat at her desk in the other room and talked to Julie (Julie complaining at how “pushy” Andrea was). A sudden ad came in and Julie got in a bit of a state as she had never done a rush job before.

Midday I went upstairs to have my lunch in the Board Room. Ian, my former boss, came in to chat (I was wary, as he always has an ulterior motive when he “just drops in”). He told me that Terry would probably build up Andrea’s little sub-agency and then suddenly sell it.

Thursday

Andrea away.

Terry came several times to the offices, addressing his remarks to Matthew and myself, and ignoring the female staff.

Lunchtime Patricia (Terry’s PA, middle-aged and divorced, rather plain except for long black hair in luxuriant curls) put two chocolate meringues on my desk to celebrate her birthday (everyone else got one, which led to unwarranted comments about why I was so favoured).

In the evening I went with Terry to another “networking” meeting hosted at the offices of a company in the City. We had a buffet meal in a spacious boardroom followed by a talk (about thirty people attending). I met a very large woman said “Oh yeahesss” to everything I said.

Friday

No Julie today (a day off). Mid-morning Matthew Miller went out to visit a potential client. It seemed as if the day would be quiet.

I talked to Andrea about last night’s meeting and she was intrigued as the company is supposed to be very secretive and difficult to get into.

While we were talking Matthew came back and went into his office. We could hear him next door moving about mysteriously (drawers opening and closing, rustling of papers, things thrown into the waste-bin). Suddenly Matthew appeared in the doorway, handed Andrea his keys, and told her things were not working out and he was leaving.

When he had gone (no effort by Andrea to stop him) we had a crisis meeting with Terry. Andrea was very thin-lipped and silent, which indicated to me that she had provoked Matthew’s departure in some way. Terry was avuncular and reassuring.

In the other room Carol was told about Matthew’s departure. She seemed worried and unsettled at the news. Later she told me “I should have gone to Biss Lancaster”.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Over-mighty

An Opposition spokesman arrested and held for nine hours (on a law so obscure it might as well relate to the Ship Money Tax). Opposition offices "turned over". Opposition politicians given the same processing treatment meted out to "terrorists".

I was surprised at how angry I became when I talked about this earlier today.

This is the sort of thing that happens in Zimbabwe.

Heads must roll, and at a senior level.

And listening to the news earlier, the Foreign Secretary is "hinting" that British forces in Afghanistan will be increased to please the newly-elected American president. Is David Miliband so shameless that he would sell the lives of British personnel for a few months strutting the world stage in the company of a foreign politician? The war in Afghanistan is unwinnable, has no mandate in a British election, and was in any case originally "sold" by John Reid as being a conflict in which "not one shot will be fired in anger".

This government has become over-mighty.

Update
Above: front page of today's Daily Mail.
Above: leading editorial in today's Guardian (just readable if you click on the image to enlarge it).
Heads must roll, and at a senior level.
And if it turns out that some top civil servant has decided to intimidate a Member of Parliament, not only should he be sacked, but his knighthood taken away.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Einstein and Eddington



Last Saturday I watched Einstein and Eddington, a drama shown on BBC2 about the interaction between the two scientists during the First World War.

It was a visually superlative work, directed by Philip Martin (and commissioned by Jane Tranter, Controller of BBC Fiction).

Full-lipped mittel-European beauties sang Schubert lieder. Symbolic dark thunder clouds rolled over the beautiful “Cambridgeshire” countryside as sunlight shone on the foreground, briefly illuminating the unrequited friends. Officious Prussians militarists behaved menacingly to non-conformists (so that you expected Maugham’s Ashendon to appear, suggesting a possible and ambiguous way out).

The dialogue was poor, even allowing for the fact that hardly anyone can understand the Theory of Relativity and so we had to take a great deal on trust. The sub-Mendelsohn music was irritating (not quite Fingal’s Cave so that I kept expecting it to break into the full overture). Also, I didn’t like the way the zenophobic crowd smashing the shop windows of foreigners was stereotyped as ignorant male C2 thugs – in fact as the sources show, this was done by men and women of all classes, and all levels of education.



Above: I was surprised at how good an actor David Tennant was in the film. He is so over-popular, in television productions that are so gushingly over-praised, that I had formerly regarded him as theatrical flim-flam (without any justification, since I havn’t watched any of the revived Dr Who). I meant to see him in Hamlet but as usual I didn’t get round to organizing it.

More: http://www.bbc.co.uk/pressoffice/pressreleases/stories/2007/05_may/21/einstein.shtml

Fingal’s Cave: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TJHaIevlvac

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Prime Minister's Questions, 26th November 2008



Above: the Union flag flying above the Victoria Tower.

From the laughing Daily Politics studio the cameras switched to the House of Commons, and focused on the government front bench. All the familiar faces were there, Jack Straw and Alistair Darling wearing identical ties, so that they gave a Tweedledumb and Tweedledee effect either side of the Prime Minister and the Leader of the House. The Prime Minister regretted another military death and then announced his afternoon schedule.

In mood Gordon Brown seemed livelier, more confident – insouciant even. In part this must be because the economic catastrophe has so limited his room for manoeuvre that there is now only one way forward for him. It reminds me of Evelyn Waugh’s 1952 novel Men At Arms where the protagonist Guy Crouchback is grimly satisfied at the outbreak of war because he knows the indecision and self-loathing of his life have come to an end and the path before him has become fixed and unalterable.

Conservative grandee Sir Peter Tapsell got to his feet. A uniquely Tory sort of braying broke out, as if they were crying “year, year, year”. Sir Peter, hands clasped behind his back, demanded the Prime Minister should apologise for wrecking the British economy.

The Prime Minister almost gleefully quoted Sir Peter’s own words of a week ago, and told him he was contradicting himself (harsh laughter from the Labour benches – or it seemed harsh to me, but possibly I am becoming increasingly biased against that side).

A Labour MP called Colin (I didn’t catch his last name) called for a crack-down on money-lenders who prey on the disadvantaged.

The Prime Minister smoothly announced measures to do just that.

David Cameron asked the first of his allotted six questions. He accused the government of secret plans to raise VAT after the election. He looked angrily across the chamber.

Gordon Brown told him “we were looking at all the options.”

David Cameron waved the “secret” plans and said they were so finished they had been signed-off by government minister Stephen Timms.

Gordon Brown airily said it was just one of many options. He called the Tories “do-nothings”. He referred to hard-working and hard-pressed families (this is code for anyone likely to vote Labour whose interests need to be ring-fenced).

David Cameron asked whether national debt was going to double as a result of the government’s spending plans.

Gordon Brown said we would still be in a better position than the Americans (as if that is going to be any comfort) and called David Cameron a do-nothing again.

David Cameron asked again whether national debt was going to double.

Gordon Brown said national debt would rise to 58% of GDP. He said the Americans would have a national debt of 70% of GDP (as if that should make us feel better). He condemned Conservative shadow minister Andrew Lansley’s comment that “recession will be good for us”.

David Cameron said a national debt of 58% of GDP would be the same percentage that forced 70s Labour Chancellor Denis Healey to go to the IMF (usually described as “cap in hand” to the IMF).

Gordon Brown told him that all around the world debt was rising and that “this is what has to be done” (there was an unspoken “sonny” at the end of his reply).

David Cameron told Gordon Brown (in the form of a question) that “New Labour was dead”.

Gordon Brown told David Cameron (bluntly) “the Conservatives have abandoned compassion.”

Labour Treasury Committee Chairman John McFall asked the Prime Minister to get all the bankers “into a room” to force them to start lending again. He had said on last night’s Newsnight that he would tell the Prime Minister this, and it was impressive to see him doing so in such a public way. Note: last night’s Newsnight also included an extremely well-made and interesting report from inside an Iraqi gaol – irrelevant to Prime Minister’s Questions, but worth looking at on BBC iplayer.

The Prime Minister replied that he was already talking to the banks.

Other questions included Liberal Democrat accusations of betrayal over the tax system; Ian Davidson’s wonderfully archaic and Old Labour jibe at the “spoilt rich kids” of the Tory benches; possible deployment of British troops to the Congo; the plight of the charitable sector as the economic situation worsens; an enquiry why Sterling has fallen so abruptly; and a plea to build more social housing.

My favourite question was Labour’s Joan Ryan who obliquely defended the booking clerks of Enfield Chase railway station.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The thing about Joseph

Excerpts from an interview, three females, indeterminate age (“put us down as forty-somethings”).

Female one: “The thing about Joseph, particularly in those days, is that you had to have the right figure to start with. Don’t know what it’s like now as I don’t wear fashion any more, but in the late eighties if you didn’t have the right figure and you wore something from Joseph you just looked like a sack of potatos. That’s why I threw the lot out after I had my second, it was too upsetting knowing I’d never wear them again.”

Female two: “Also, everyone wore fashion then. Today the only people who wear fashion are the fashion world. But I can remember in the mid-eighties you would all be wearing big-words T-shirts, and a month later everyone would be in tartan and a month after that everyone was in paisley. It was very quick moving.”

Female three: “And flat shoes…” (collective frisson of appreciation).

Female one: “To get back to Joseph, it became a thing with me. Joseph Tricot, Joseph Bis, Joseph Pour La Ville. I was buying clothes for my boyfriend as well – that’s how stupid I was.”

Female three: “I used to like Joseph Pour La Maison in Sloane Street. I used to go there with a friend and upset the shop assistants – they could be really bitchy if you let them. I bought a wonderful Stephen Jones hat there. Underneath the shop there was a restaurant called L’Express which was supposed to be one of THE places to go. Four of us went there once and we couldn’t believe the prices. But it was glamourous though, worth going to, and the only time I’ve properly enjoyed a salad as a main course.”

Female one: “I don’t understand when people look back on the eighties and say it was a miserable time – the eighties weren’t miserable for me.”

Female two: “The miners strike? Didn’t know anything about it. Young people weren’t socially-aware in those days and so it didn’t even register.”

Female three: “The only time I heard of the miners strike was when my sister went to North London Poly. The halls of residence were in tower blocks, and every week the miners used to come round with buckets collecting for the strike. There was a lot of pressure to give them money so she did, but that’s the closest anyone I knew came to the miners strike.”



Above: the Joseph store is still at 16 Sloane Street.



Above: and underneath the store (entrance actually in the store itself) there is still a restaurant, although it is no longer called L’Express. I looked down through the plate glass at the mysterious interior. Does the eighties continue to survive there, untouched, like some Tibetan Shangri-la valley?

Monday, November 24, 2008

Video for the Plushgun single Just Impolite

The video for the Plushgun single Just Impolite has been released:

http://www.tylershields.com/2008/11/21/plushgun-just-impolite-starring-brittany-snow-juno-temple-and-shiloh-fernandez/#more-1258

By Tyler Shields, the video stars Brittany Snow, Juno Temple and Shiloh Fernandez.

The visual narrative includes conventional love, Sapphic love, betrayal, revenge and regret.

Locations include an American urban environment, central Paris, central London and the English countryside.

The style is romantic, dramatic and engaging. The lighting is especially fine. The editing is very skillful.

More on Plushgun: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=95436234

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Champion

Six degrees below freezing last night. I woke at 5 am feeling cold, and put on the small electric fire I keep in my bedroom (we have very little heating upstairs). I slept again, and eventually woke at nine, drawing back the curtains to find the fields covered with snow.

As today was definitely a day for staying in I spent a lot of the afternoon going through my digital photograph collection (which is so vast it is becoming unmanageable). And I came across a sequence of photographs I took two summers ago and never wrote up. So here they are now.

They relate to the hereditary champion of England. This office has been held by one of the oldest county families since the twelfth century. Their duties include turning up at every coronation and literally fighting anyone who challenged the claimant’s right to the crown (this is a proxy role as in the ancient past the king himself would be expected to do the fighting).

Over the years the function became symbolic, and at the 1953 coronation the Hereditary Champion just carried a standard.

I find the “champion” concept interesting as it seems to be an illustration of Sir James Frazer’s work on “the king who slew the slayer and shall himself be slain” which he identified through analysis of the cult at Nemi. This impulse goes to the heart of European culture and explains (in my opinion) modern phenomena as diverse as aggressive corporate behaviour, party political in-fighting, even inner city knife crime. In advertising agencies for instance you are only as good as your last ad.

As a reward for performing this task the hereditary champion would be given a golden cup by the monarch. Once again, this matches Sir James Frazer’s work on “cups of plenty” (see the Ardagh chalice or the cauldron found at Sutton Hoo). It will be interesting to see if the hereditary champion is given a role at the next coronation (assuming the monarchy hasn’t been “modernised” out of existence with a new head of state being chosen from a reality TV show).



Above: the champion at the 1953 coronation.



Above: the helmet and sash the champion wore in 1953 are on display at the county museum.



Above: the 1953 coronation was marked all over the county by ritual fires or “beacons” – again Sir James Frazer has written extensively on the cult of beacons and their symbolic meaning.



Above: the current champion lives in the heart of the county, on the same site as his ancestors (although the house has been destroyed and rebuilt several times). The entrance to the park is marked by this colossal “lion gate” (lions were carved above the gate at Mycenae, which reminded me of Achilles’ single combat with Hector). In a church nearby the graves of past champions are laid out (I have looked for photographs of the graves for most of the afternoon, without success – although I do have them somewhere).



Above: the current house on the site is just a fragment of the former mansion. It is surrounded by a beautiful garden (open one day per year – when I took this photograph). Inside the house is a collection of golden coronation cups although I havn’t seen them (yet).



Above: in the grounds is a fine cedar tree – common enough in country houses, but Sir James Frazer does write about the importance of “sacred cedars”.



Above: the champion’s coat of arms. No supporters as the family does not have a peerage. Note the martial lions and upright sword.

Later in the day I did some copywriting - the past week at work

Monday

I got up at 5.45 because of an early meeting called by Andrea for 8.45. I was at the station by 7. On the platform the majority of people waiting were blue-collar commuters in worn clothes and boots, reading copies of The Sun and Daily Mirror.

At the agency I went straight into the meeting. It was actually a second interview for Matthew Miller, who had made a speculative approach for employment to Terry (our boss). Terry, Andrea and myself were involved in this second interview.

Matthew Miller is aged twenty-eight, tall and slightly round-shouldered, curly brown hair. He has a laborious way of speaking. He went through his presentation, which I thought a bit pedestrian.

When he had finished Andrea asked him to wait in the lobby (which she ludicrously described as “Reception”). She then told Terry she wanted to hire him straight away, and Terry agreed. Had they asked my opinion I would have told them they were being rash.

Matthew Miller came back into the room and Terry offered him the job. He told Matthew he would have to create his own client list and do it quickly. Matthew looked very pleased.

Matthew Miller left. Terry went back upstairs. Andrea rushed off to a client meeting in Staines.

I went into my office (a small box), drank three cups of tea in succession and looked out of the window for about an hour. I had hardly anything to do. In the office across the lobby I could hear the two new admin staff Andrea had recruited and who started today – Carol (very business-like but rather hard) and Julie (petite, pretty, not well educated).

Later in the day I did some copywriting, which Andrea liked when she came back from Staines.

Tuesday

Lack of sleep is beginning to tell on me and I fell asleep on the train. It’s a bad sign when you are tired at the start of the day. Before going into the office I had some Costa Coffee (probably the best of the chains of coffee shops).

Matthew Miller’s first day. His mouth seems to have too many teeth. In his briefcase (open on a chair by his desk) I notice a paperback copy of Zuleika Dobson and we talked about the bump supper incident.

More copywriting in the morning – there is a steady demand for copy.

Late morning Matthew Miller seemed to have upset Julie and I heard him apologizing (“Sorry I didn’t mean to use you as a dogsbody”).

In the afternoon we had a New Business meeting chaired by Terry.

Wednesday

Frost this morning when I took the dog for his walk. On the train I started reading The Rocks Remain by Gavin Maxwell. Opposite was someone reading The Temple by Stephen Spender.

Mid-morning I went to see a client just south of Blackfriars Bridge. Sun glittered on the Thames. The meeting went well.

After lunch Terry called me upstairs to tell me that he had just “brought in” a new client.

“I have to give him the name of someone who will handle the account” he said. “I could give him your name. Do you think you can handle it?”

Was this a test? Obviously I want big and important clients, but I did wonder what would be the price of failure. And why wasn’t Andrea involved since she is nominally the head of the new unit?

I spent the rest of the day ringing national newspapers asking about display rates.

Thursday

The presentation for Terry’s new client has to be done by tomorrow. I felt I was struggling a bit and rang someone I know in an agency in Birmingham, asking her for some research (“I’ll probably be ignominiously sacked for helping another agency” she said, but she e-mailed me the research anyway).

By the end of the day the bulk of the work was done. I could envisage how the final report would look. It was much less of a worry.

Friday

More copywriting, which I worked on with Andrea. She leafed through magazines looking for inspiration for the visuals. Beneath her hard exterior she is quite sensitive and creative.

Lunchtime we all went to a pub for lunch. Matthew Miller wore a pair of joke glasses with a false nose attached. Julie talked about going to Liverpool for the weekend and her plans to visit Anfield.

Terry and his wife joined us. Terry consults me on agency issues more than Andrea – surely she must notice this? I talked to his wife, walking with her back to the offices.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Prime Minister's Questions (sort of)



Above: the portcullis badge is a symbol pf Parliament.

I’m really busy at the moment doing some pricing comparisons for a client. It’s a tedious project, but may mean the client can knock out at least one of their five competitors. Obviously pricing policy will become more and more important as the economy contracts.

Although I am working flat out I took all my papers up to the Board Room at lunchtime to watch Prime Minister’s Questions. Even so, I wasn’t able to pay much attention, as a deadline was looming (deadlines always “loom” – they never pace themselves out in an orderly and unthreatening fashion). Terry was away today, so no-one else was in the room.

I can’t really remember much about PMQs except David Cameron and Gordon Brown clashing over economic policy. Gordon Brown wants “fiscal expansion to stimulate growth” whereas David Cameron wants government spending controlled (the Labour benches apparently made scissor motions with their hands and yelled “cuts” – we didn’t see this but it was explained to us). Gordon Brown ignored two questions about why Sterling is falling against other currencies (the questions were no doubt provocative, but I would have liked to hear a proper explanation).

Talking to various “money” people I know, the recession will go on to 2013 as that is the time it will take for all the bad debts to work through the system. There is no point in tax cuts as most people will spend the extra on Chinese goods and the money will go straight out of the country. There will be no recovery in the economy until consumer confidence (the “feel good factor”) returns.

Consumer confidence is notoriously difficult to predict. It might be stimulated by a big boost of cash through tax cuts (but surely not funded through borrowing?). Probably the safest way to restore confidence is to encourage people to pay off their debts, for the government to pay off the national debt, and for house prices to stop falling (which is likely to be when they reach the accepted norm of three times average salary).

But I’m not an economist.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Skegness

At least the severe recession we are about to plunge into will mean the end of the competitive trophy holiday.

No more feelings of inadequacy as others talk about three weeks in the Maldives, coastal tours of South Africa, and short breaks in Dubai.

The North Shore Hotel in Skegness will finally come into its own again.

Monday, November 17, 2008

The long-term unemployed



Above: I showed this picture to Terry and he started reminiscing about "Charlie Drake" a 1960s comedy set in an Employment Exchange.

In the Crossroads pub I met one of the long-term unemployed. He was aged about fifty and hadn't worked for about five years (and hadn't really had proper jobs before that). At fifty he didn't think he would work again.

I asked him what being unemployed was like. He gets about £55 a week in unemployment benefit (it's not actually called that, but I can't remember what the benefit is called). The Jobcentre periodically sends him on courses where he makes applications for jobs that never really come to anything (not having a car is a big problem for him).

Recently he has been sent on a new kind of course. This course is to last thirteen weeks. He has to go to a training centre where he sits in a large room with other long-term unemployed people.

They do nothing all day (sometimes they talk to each other, one person reads although reading is not allowed). The boredom of this experience is debilitating. Rather than experience this boredom week after week many people on the course go back to the Jobcentre and sign themselves off ("they sign themselves off and after three months they sign themselves back on again - even the ones who don't get hardship payments will do this in the end").

I was shocked when I heard this. It seems a cruel and immoral way to drive people off the unemployment lists. I say it is immoral because "we" pay taxes to fund the department of employment (or whatever expensive rebranding exercise they are going through at the moment) to HELP PEOPLE INTO WORK not to carry out vindictive campaigns against the very people they should be helping.

In the Victorian period the unemployed were required to carry out mindless "work" such as digging trenches and then filling them in again. This practice was condemned by subsequent generations. Until now, when we seem to have gone back to the policies of the workhouse.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Shrine



Above: Long Sunday afternoon drive to the east with Alan Nixon, his wife (who has multiple sclerosis) and her sister. The roads got more and more narrow until eventually they were meandering lanes. Eventually we arrived in a small village.

The village has an interesting history. In 1061 (Saxon period, just before the arrival of the Normans) the Virgin Mary is reported to have appeared in the village. Following the apparition the village became a place of pilgrimage and over five hundred years became one of the most famous shrines in Europe, with many claims of miraculous cures.

At the dissolution of the monasteries in the early sixteenth-century the priory was closed and the shrine destroyed. For the next four hundred years a continuous trickle of pilgrims visited the village, but the place mainly reverted to a rural settlement with an emphasis upon farming. In the 1930s the shrine was revived, as an Anglican establishment, and the pilgrimages revived (with the Roman Catholics and Orthodox also setting up their own shrines in the area).



Above: there is lots to see in the village - medieval ruins (the priory plus a friary), ancient churches, a small museum, the modern shrine, medieval remains in a neighbouring village connected to the shrine, interesting domestic architecture etc.

You have to pay to get into the priory ruins (they are in the grounds of a private house). In the picture above you can see the site of the medieval shrine - although it was two o'clock the light already seemed to be fading. Rooks cawed as we walked around (they build their nests on the tops of the ruined masonry).



Above: I walked around the damp landscape with Alan's sister-in-law and we stopped to make friends with these ponies. Alan joined us. I asked where his wife was, and he said she probably felt dizzy and had found somewhere to sit down.



Above: the ruins were very atmospheric and reminded me of the paintings of Casper David Friedrich (or Catherine Morland's expectations of Northanger Abbey).



Above: personally I have never been a big fan of crypts.



Above: on the way out we stopped to look round the small museum. There were photographic displays from the early days of the revived shrine. While we were looking around Alan's wife appeared and wanted us to hurry as a service started at the shrine in a few minutes.



Above: we walked round to the Anglican shrine which was a large 1930s basilica (the part in the picture is only the entrance) in the middle of a complex that included hostels, cafeterias, chapels etc.



Above: inside it was very High Church. A single bell was clanging. People hurried past us to go into the main body of the church.



Above: the High Altar of the church. It was completely packed with lots of people standing. This posed a problem as Alan's wife can't stand for any length of time, but luckily there were two free seats in the front row and Alan's wife and her sister took these. Alan got a seat in a side chapel. I had to stand in a side aisle. Not surprisingly the vast majority of people at the service were old and ill (at least half the congregation used crutches, many were in wheechairs).

The service took about an hour and a half and included hymns, a blessing with holy water, and Benediction.



Above: the blessing with holy water (which was the main part of the service) took place at the well which is located actually under the shrine itself. I took this photograph later to show the steps that lead down to the well and then up the other side. Long queues formed. Because so many people were ill and infirm progress was very slow. For those people who couldn't manage the steps the water was brought up. I would estimate about three hundred people were blessed with the water.



Above: after the Benediction the service ended and almost everyone left (you can see them going out in the photo - no-one else was taking photographs so I didn't like to take any of the actual service). The white wall you can see is the eastern end of the shrine (which is a building within a building). Although there had been a few hundred people at the service they seemed to disappear entirely, which made me think most of them were staying at the shrine hostels.



Above: another view of the outer wall of the shrine. The walls are studded with medieval masonry (possibly they are stones dug up when the site of the original shrine was excavated). The window is to allow people inside the shrine to take part in the main services.



Above: inside the shrine itself. The statue of the Virgin and Child was copied from the seal of the medieval priory. The hundreds of candles made the interior feel very warm, despite the cold damp day.

When we left the shrine it was already dark. Being a country village there were no street lights, and so we had to walk in complete darkness along a road to the only place that was open - the fish and chip shop. Despite my cholesterol warning I had a large portion of fish and chips.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Work

For a while I thought I would stop writing about my work, since it would cause so many problems if this blog were to be discovered. I still write about work in my manuscript diary, so I have everything recorded on a day by day basis (even though I am sometimes unsure about what this record is meant to achieve). But I miss the perspective that comes from looking at things over a whole week.

So I am going to give my blog work diary another go.

This entry is really meant as an introduction to the latest phase.

Back in September I was still working as a copywriter. My boss was Creative Director Marc Baxtor. I worked in the Writers’ Room – a screened-off area on the busy agency floor.

Then Andrea, one of the Account Execs, brought in a big new client (actually the client was not new to her as she “handled” them at her last job). As this new client doesn’t really fit the agency’s core business Terry (our MD and owner of the company) suggested setting up a little sub-unit that would get in more of the same clients and specialise in this lucrative new sector. Terry is always setting up sub-units and separate departments – sometimes they prosper, sometimes they fail.

Andrea moved to four offices on the floor below. I was asked to join her in the new unit as a copywriter and to do some account handling. Andrea asked for me specifically, even though we hadn’t really worked together much (perhaps she thought I was the best of a bad bunch – there has been a lot of hostility towards Andrea since she arrived at the agency).

The offices are on the floor where I used to work (in another of Terry’s diversified companies that has split off and moved out). Sometimes, in my more melancholy moments, I go and stand in the empty floor where I used to work and think about the days that have gone. This chronic melancholia holds me back a lot, and I really must snap out of it.

Anyway, one of the nicest things about my new job is that I can catch a later train to work.

And so the scene is set…

Thursday, November 13, 2008

SureStart

At lunchtime I caught the end of Andrew Neil’s Daily Politics, and heard everyone praising SureStart as an answer to helping dysfunctional families (the issue of Harringey Council was in the news again today). SureStart is a programme I have a slight knowledge about, being friends with a former SureStart manager. It seems to be a good programme but there are problems with the way it is “controlled”.

About two years ago I met my friend after work (we were going to see a film I think), and before we set off she showed me round one of the centres. It had been built onto a school. The centre was a good size and was very well fitted out, but I couldn’t see how it cost £11 million (or even one million).

Inside there was a Reception, a large children’s library (with a play area, all well designed), two medical rooms (“this is where a lot of work is done”), a big hall or meeting room, a café area where parents can get meals, a “sensory room” with lights, textures, sounds (designed to stimulate children deprived of sensory contact); and four or five admin offices – it was all deserted at that time in the evening, but I got a good idea of how it worked.

SureStart was a government initiative set up centrally to help very young children in deprived wards throughout the United Kingdom. SureStart doesn’t really exist anymore as it has “gone over” to local government control. When I asked why this happened I was told it was a result of the Victoria Climbie enquiry, and the need to get different agencies working together more effectively.

In this region (which I won’t name) “going over” to local government control has meant the Council making all SureStart managers and supervisors redundant and putting in their own staff (so presumably all the experience has been lost?).

Worse still, the SureStart centre we had just looked at was in the wrong place! There had been a fierce (but covert) campaign carried on locally to move the site from a deprived ward to one that was not so deprived (this is not an isolated incident). All the money spent on architects plans and site surveys, hundreds of thousands of pounds, had been wasted.

The stress of having to fight local councillors had made my friend ill, wasted huge amounts of money and delayed the project getting off the ground.

I’m writing this up because it has been in my mind ever since I heard it.

PS I forgot to mention that after the councillors had diverted it from a deprived ward, she then had to battle against (and lost the battle) the headmaster of the school who insisted on it being located on his site instead of on an independent site.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Prime Minister's Questions 12th November 2008

Apologies for getting the date wrong previously - I typed 9th instead of 12th.



Above: the peace camp set up by Brain Haw in Parliament Square (I took this photo in mid-October when the trees were still green). Brian Haw began this demonstration in 2001, protesting against the war policies of the government. In style the reproachful format of the protest (very visible to members of the government entering and leaving Parliament) resembled the old GLC banner about unemployment draped across County Hall (and like Mrs Thatcher, Tony Blair changed the law to try to outlaw the protest, although the courts intervened to allow the peace camp to remain).

An amazing scene at Prime Minister’s Questions today. I almost didn’t watch it, since I have so much work on. But when the time came I went up to the Board Room and joined Terry (our MD).

Lots of purple was in evidence on the Labour benches. I know the psychology of colour is controversial, but I couldn’t help wondering why so many of the Labour MPs and ministers have adopted the colour of imperial domination. Does it subconsciously signify a complacent belief in their right to rule?

The session began with a few knockabout exchanges, and then David Cameron asked the first of his six questions. Against expectations (“I’ll come to the economy in a minute”) he led with a question about “Baby P”, a seventeen month child murdered by three adults in circumstances that are beyond description. David Cameron asked for the investigation to be completely independent.

Gordon Brown said he was “shocked, saddened, horrified and angered” at what had happened, but then went on to say he would wait for a review would be held (calling for reviews is a stock response, and to my mind was completely inadequate in this case).

David Cameron persisted in asking who would carry out the investigation into the baby’s death. There seemed to be barracking from the Labour benches that we couldn’t see. The Speaker stood up and told them to behave with more dignity.

Gordon Brown, in a pedestrian style, listed the procedures that would be followed by the enquiry (“I am answering the question” he told the Conservative benches).

Yet again David Cameron asked about the independence of the enquiry. Again he was shouted at by the Labour benches. He seemed to be genuinely shocked at how the Labour MPs were reacting (Haringey is a Labour controlled borough so possibly they felt the need to defend the local council there).

Gordon Brown said “there are weaknesses that need to be addressed” before regretting the partisan way the argument was developing.

David Cameron called the Prime Minister “cheap” (and I would agree with David Cameron in this).

The next couple of exchanges didn’t really advance the discussion (David Cameron asking the Prime Minister to withdraw his remarks, Gordon Brown declining to do so). The Labour MPs (whom we couldn’t see) seemed to be yelling their heads off. The Speaker intervened again, mentioning the behaviour of the Leader of the House (Harriet Harmon) as particularly unacceptable (again we couldn’t see what she was doing).

The exchange ended with David Cameron saying “you should not investigate your own department” and Gordon Brown promising “it will be independent”.

After this serious, angry and completely unexpected clash the rest of Prime Minister’s Questions fell flat. Terry got up and walked about the Board Room a couple of times and sat down again. Absurdly I felt guilty, as if I had witnessed something I should not have.

Questions followed on post offices and social exclusion; tax policy; the payment terms of invoices; the backdated claims of Ghurkas; management of diabetes in schools; the date of the Iraq Enquiry; the safety of firefighters; boiler installations for the vulnerable; rate relief for businesses; funding of Alzheimer’s research; credit unions; post offices (again); the third runway at Heathrow; the fuel duty stabilizer; the economic theory of boom and bust; and the funding of town centre Christmas lights. I felt none of these questions mattered. As I went back to my floor I saw in Reception the day’s newspapers, with photographs of Baby P’s blood-stained clothes on the cover.

Brian Haw’s peace camp was recreated as an artwork at Tate Modern and won the Turner Prize: http://www.tate.org.uk/britain/exhibitions/wallinger/

More on the psychology of colour: http://www.infoplease.com/spot/colors1.html

PMQs: http://www.number10.gov.uk/Page306

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Finsbury PR



Finsbury PR near Barbican. I took this photo a few weeks back when it was still warm. Finsbury PR is one of the most influential agencies in London. They specialise in financial PR.

Founded by Roland Rudd but now owned by WPP.

http://www.finsbury.com/

Monday, November 10, 2008

A few fleeting impressions

A fact-finding visit to the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery (as usual I was late, and made even later by the incomprehensible layout of the rambling building). Marketing can lead you to some surprising locations. Here are a few fleeting impressions:



Above: faced with these confusing signs I was presented with a quandary. Is it better to try to find the back stairs (with the risk that in this warren one might never find them) and hope to slip into the lecture unnoticed? Or should I step brazenly across the front of the lecture hall, interrupting the speaker and perhaps letting the door thwack shut behind me?



Above: I was struck with the architecture of the hospital and institute and thought how it might be a metaphor for the human brain (I might go back and do a proper photo-essay). There were grandiose gestures, out of date and out of place. Like the mental pretensions we all indulge in.



Above: there were long featureless corridors that never led in the right direction, never went the whole distance, and often led nowhere. Like the inconsequential thoughts we have hundreds of times a day. If ever there was a building you could call Kafkaesque this was it.



Above: there were occasional lists of names, gilded and in a strict hierarchy. In this pantheon of the brain, imagine the combined brain-power represented by this list. And in our own brains I suppose each of us keeps a list of the worthwhile experience we have amassed in our lives.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Perhaps he was thinking: this is it.



Remembrance Day. In Whitehall the familiar ritual took place, televised on BBC1. All over the country similar, scaled-down ceremonies occurred.

I was reminded of a visit I made earlier in the year to see a local historian working on a Great War project in her village. She had traced the histories of all the names on the village war memorial and written up their biographies. One of the subjects had the same name as myself (“Andrew” – photo above) and so I asked about his story:

“He came from a local farming family and was one of eight children. His mother died shortly after he was born and he was brought up by his uncle. He was very athletic and a great village sportsman, very popular.”



“At the outbreak of war he enlisted in the Yeomanry and did his basic training in England (see above photo). He was then sent to Egypt. On the way there his troopship was torpedoed in the Mediterranean and he spent several hours in an open boat before being rescued.”



“In November 1917 he was shot in the back and moved to a military hospital in Alexandria (see above photo). He died on Friday 28th December. He is buried in the Alexandria War Memorial Cemetary.”

I find the above photograph intriguing and appalling. It seems to be more a photograph of the nurse in the centre rather than the wounded soldier in his bed. Possibly she sent a copy of the photograph back to the soldier’s family. The eyes look at you from the bed, and seem to be asking for help. Perhaps he knew he wasn’t going to recover. Perhaps he was thinking: this is it.



Above: this village war memorial, in the form of a stained glass window, shows St Michael standing guard above the county. Around him First World War bi-planes circle in homage. Below you can see the local landscape, the implication being: this is what we are fighting for.



Above: another memorial at a remote village crossroads. The garden around it was immaculately kept. Someone who was with me at university has done a study of First World War memorials (from a feminist perspective, relating their phallic design to the climate of homoeroticism and the stoked-up sexual hysteria among women encouraged to fear violation from the evil marauding boche).

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Eastman Dental Hospital



Can anything match the desolation of the Greys Inn Road on a Saturday morning?

Walking down from Kings Cross (I was far too early for a meeting and needed to use up some time) I passed the Royal Free Hospital and the adjacent Eastman dental centre.

In a sudden "whoosh" of memory I remembered when I was four and was staying at my sister's house in north London. Over the weekend I developed unbearable toothache and spent the whole of Saturday night in tears. On Sunday my father took me to the Eastman dental clinic, apparently the only dentist in London open on a Sunday. I remember Greys Inn Road was cold and desolate, and the dental clinic was deserted. The dentist opened up a green-painted dental surgery and I sat in the huge dentist's chair. My father held my hand as the dentist pulled the tooth out - this is the only time I can remember my father holding my hand.

More: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eastman_Dental_Hospital

Friday, November 07, 2008

Recession

One of the good things about the recession is that the avalanche of credit card cheques (0% until May next year but don't forget the 3.9% transfer fee) has finally come to an end.

At the height of the credit frenzy I must have been getting two or three of these offers every week (or so it seemed). MBNA was particularly persistent. Their arrival posed a problem as I don't have a shredder and you can't just throw them away.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Little Dorrit by Charles Dickens



I am really enjoying the new dramatisiation of Little Dorrit by Charles Dickens, serialised on BBC1 at the moment. I had my doubts at first, especially as Little Dorrit herself seemed a bit too perky and modern. But all those doubts have gone now - this is an excellent dramatisation, with lots to say about the inadvisability of getting into debt.

One night recently, on the way home, I made a diversion to Doughty Street (despite the rain) just to stand outside Charles Dickens' house (picture above - the building is now a small Dickens museum). Doughty Street is in an area difficult to get to by the tube. I got soaking wet and went into a cafe (Starbucks) to dry off - only to get soaking wet again when I came out.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Bonfire Night



5th November is popularly known as Bonfire Night, commemorating the foiling of the Gunpowder Plot to blow up the Houses of Parliament.

At one village in the county the bells in the church are inscribed with seventeeth-century sentiments expressing relief at the failure of the papist conspiracy. These three bells are rung on the 5th of November in a special thanksgiving composition (not sure how far back this tradition goes - the earliest record is 1860 so might just be a Victorian invention). I had intended to go to the village tonight to hear the changes, but it's cold and it's raining and I have too much work to do...

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Virgin Media



Above: the Virgin Media offices at 160 Great Portland Street (almost all the parking spaces filled with silver Mercedes).

Sky and Virgin Media have reached an agreement today about Virgin Media carrying Sky’s channels. The dispute between them had been going on for over a year and a half. It had led to animosity in the courts with Virgin Media complaining about Sky’s television hegemony (a valid complaint, but hardly one Virgin Media is morally able to make).

The deal will boost Sky’s advertising revenue – the gain worth up to £30 million per annum according to some reports.

Chief Executive of Virgin Media is Neil Berkett. Born In New Zealand, he has a background in banking and finance. He has a reputation for being “straight-talking” (in other words rude).

Virgin Media was founded by Richard Branson, one of the oligarchs who have manipulated their way into control of the United Kingdom over the last twenty years.

Monday, November 03, 2008

The Orchard, Grantchester



Above: in Cambridge at the weekend. It poured with rain most of the time. Midday I went down to Grantchester to meet Helen B in The Orchard.



Above: The Orchard is a tea garden in a large apple orchard in the grounds of a house where boy-poet Rupert Brooke used to live. Tables and deck chairs are laid out under the apple trees. After Rupert Brooke’s death in the First World War the tea garden became closely associated with the poet and attracts many literary tourists (there’s a small Rupert Brooke museum in a wooden shed).

The Orchard is a very useful place to meet as it is open every day of the year, and is never really crowded (also you can park there easily, which you can’t do in Cambridge itself).




Above: the ground underfoot was covered with rotting apples. Because of the rain the seats were wet so we had to have our tea and cakes standing up. The air was fresh, wet and autumnal.



Above: are these medlar apples?



Above: at the back of The Orchard is the gate and path where Rupert Brooke used to go across a field at night to swim in the River Cam.