Sunday, August 30, 2009

Elephant & Castle

Above: the Heygate Estate in Elephant & Castle. A failed modernist experiment in social engineering, put up in the 1970s and already scheduled for demolition. Architects are divided on why the residential housing failed to create a viable community, but probably it was because of the lack of defensive space - as soon as you stepped outside of your unit (you can't call them flats) you were in communal areas and vulnerable to whoever happened to be there. This sort of architecture might work in quasi-fascist or quasi-socialist societies with a heavy police presence, but is entirely unsuited to individualistic lifestyles. The extensive use of concrete might look impressive in strong sunlight, but in the English climate appears oppressive and depressing. The replacement plans are not much better.

Above: the Elephant & Castle pub. It has "rooms" above, but is not really an hotel. The planners responsible for the post-war development of this area should be shot (only joking!).

Above: the K9 pet shop under the central shopping centre at Elephant & Castle. I was appalled to go into this store and find in an airless area at the back, without natural light, pens of puppies for sale. Is there a link between the inhuman treatment of people (via the brutalist architecture) and their subsequent cruel treatment of animals (and each other)?

Above: I did like this row of business under the railway arches.

Saturday, August 29, 2009


James Murdoch, heir to Rupert Murdoch's evil empire, gave a speech yesterday at the Edinburgh Festival. Is it possible that when Rupert Murdoch finally goes he will hand his illicit political power to his son? It is not the BBC's ambitions that I would describe as "chilling".

Above: the article which James Murdoch wrote for today's Guardian was intellectually bogus and full of doublespeak. News International is an organisation that routinely corrupts the political process in the United Kingdom. There are very strong grounds for suspecting its employees have broken the law on a massive scale, and if this lawbreaking was authorised at a senior level then James Murdoch should be in a prison cell, not feted at the Edinburgh Festival.

Above: Newsnight has kept going through the summer with a number of "guest" presenters including Nick Robinson. The BBC is one of the few media organisations that has looked impartially at the mobile phone hacking scandal. The national press has maintained a collective silence on the issue (either through fear of Rupert Murdoch or because they themselves are implicated).

Above: one of the few journalists to cover the mobile phone hacking scandal was Lucy Mangan. All the big guns of the British press have remained silent, leaving this latter-day Adela Quested to speak out despite the pressure to keep silent (very real if unspoken pressure - it's unlikely News International will be offering her a job anytime soon). The power of the press today is comparable to the power of the unions in the 1970s, and one of the actions "Dave" should do as soon as he gets in (as soon as he gets in) is to destroy the power of News International through a media monopoly bill - otherwise News International will eventually destroy him.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

She refused the white wine - a work incident

It has been so long since I updated my Work Diary on this blog, and so many things have happened, that I scarcely know where to pick up the thread.

The agency now has a new Head - Yvette. Andrea, the former Head, has been demoted to Account Director (everyone expected her to slink away but in the current recession there is nowhere for her to slink to). Yvette is a monstrous, bad-tempered, bullying woman who swears, shouts and threatens people.

For a while I thought of ending my Work Diary, since discovery would mean the end of everything. Or at least the end of my career in advertising and PR since Yvette knows almost everyone in the trade, and almost everyone knows her. But like Procopius I feel the need to keep a secret record.

Above: as I walked southward along Regents Street, the silver-blue summer dusk and emerging city lights gave a dreamlike glamour to the end of the working day. In the picture, if you follow the pavement along the right you can see half-way down a little side-turning. Just on the corner of this turning is the entrance to Cocoon.

Above: the function room at Cocoon - packed with PRs and very hot.

I collected my namebadge from the temporary reception desk and went up the curving stairs and through the restaurant to the function room. This low-ceilinged salon was absolutely packed with PRs networking with each other. The noise was intense and the temperature unbearable, despite all the windows being open.

I took a glass of white wine (unchilled) from the bar and made a slow circuit of the room that entailed a great deal of gentle pushing to get through. There was no-one there I recognised. Like Catherine Morland in Northanger Abbey I felt the awkwardness of having no party to join.

I forced myself to approach a pretty blonde girl from Aurora PR and we chatted easily for a while. A large middle-aged woman drifted into the room and joined us. I finished a third glass of the horrible white wine (on an empty stomach).

It was at that point I noticed Andrea standing quite close, and excusing myself from the others I went across and asked her how long she had been at the event. She had arrived before me and had watched my circuit of the room and subsequent dithering with the other waifs and strays. While I had been wasting time she had made quite a lot of progress, collecting business cards from potentially useful contacts.

She introduced me to Justin from Fuel PR, a towering American aged mid-twenties. Then two freelances who might be able to write for one of our clients. Then an elderly man whose name and function I didn't catch (I was on my fifth glass of wine by this time).

Yvette arrived and her position in the room, moving towards us, was immediately apparent from the noise she made and the number of people who greeted her. She must have changed in the office as she was wearing a shapeless gold kaftan of a diaphanous material (silk-like, but not silk I think) that outlined her body as she moved, identifying the rolls of fat around her middle. She laughed constantly with that unique social laugh of hers where she grins and nods her head vigourously and makes a "He he he" sound.

Arriving in our little circle she talked very graciously to Andrea and myself, all the while her cold suspicious eyes flicking around as if she had caught us shirking (which in my case, she had). She refused the white wine, giving the glass back to the waiter and insisting on champagne. After a little arguing she got her way, and the waiter returned with a tray of champagne flutes although so rude had Yvette been to him that I wondered if he had spat in each of the glasses (he would be justified in doing so).

Yvette, Andrea and myself withdrew to the edge of the room where Yvette wanted to know who we had spoken to and what new business we had identified. Andrea went through the business cards she had collected. Then it was my turn to explain what I had done at the event.

However, just at that moment there was a presentation in the middle of the room. A "body wrap" was demonstrated by a model and an assistant who dextrously wrapped her up ("She has wrapped Vannessa Feltz" the presenter announced). This presentation went on for about twenty minutes, and at the end of it a middle-aged man with dyed black hair came up to suggest to Yvette that they had dinner in the restaurant.

"We'll catch up in the office" Yvette said to me. As soon as they disappeared from sight I left the event. I was given a goodie bag on the way out.

Postscript: days later I arrived at work and Chris (does Accounts) immediately said in a whisper "Have you seen Yvette today! Have you seen her! She's thin!"

I went into Yvette's office to look at her and she was indeed improbably thin.

"She must have had the body wrap" Andrea said.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009


Sent by e-mail: 
In the news today was an attack on the "meddling" of the Prince of Wales into architectural decisions.
The report contained an attack upon the Prince of Wales by someone called Graham Smith who, in a brazen example of doublespeak said:  "We need to know if decisions are being made according to what the public wants and needs or what Prince Charles wants".
Graham Smith (who represents an organisation called Republic) is deliberately distorting the truth here, since he must know (if he has even half a brain) that "the public" overwhelmingly wants an end to brutalist architecture constructed on an inhuman scale.  He must also know that the Prince of Wales is fully representing the voiceless and voteless public in opposing the arrogant and undemocratic imposition of offensive architecture despite the wishes of those who have to work in it or live near it.  Real democracy should mean everyone who lives and works within a quarter-mile of a development getting a vote (paid for by the developers) if the building is above a certain scale or involves intrusive styles of architecture (and if the public wants pastiche the public must have pastiche).
The choice is not actually between "pastiche" and "modernism".  There would be far fewer complaints if the new buildings being put up were of high quality (Norman Foster is not Mies van der Rohe - not in my opinion anyway).  The gherkins, shards and cheese graters proposed by the intellectual elite do not represent the sort of utopia most people want to live and work in (and for an idea of the utopia most Londoners dream of I would refer you to Hatch End).

Thursday, August 13, 2009

"Young upwardly-mobile professionals"

This post may seem a little thin, but I hope to add to it and develop it into a section for Kim's book.

Above: Diary of a Yuppie by Louis Auchincloss. Much of the literature of the period was written by American authors who were less inhibited than their British counterparts at recording changes in society in the 1980s. Bright Lights Big City by Jay McInerney, Slaves of New York by Tama Janovitz and Bonfire of the Vanities by Tom Wolfe are examples of this genre. In the United Kingdom Michael Bracewell is the most vivid chronicler of the yuppie demographic. Other British writers such as Robert Elms (In Search of The Crack) and Rupert Thomson (Dreams of Leaving) chose to ignore the yuppies that populated the 1980s London they were attempting to describe. This refusal to face reality is interesting in itself and deserves further study.

Yuppie was originally a marketing term that sought to identify and segregate a demographic known as "young upwardly-mobile professionals". Because this group was characterised by large disposable incomes and a willingness to spend freely on aspirational status items it was often the target of marketing campaigns. Although vilified today, yuppies characterised the 1980s, and the demographic represented a mechanism by which working class people who had entered well-paid jobs were recruited into the middle class (and through the purchase of private education for their children were able to propel future generations into the upper-middle class).

This is a particularly difficult subject to research since nobody today will admit to having been a yuppie, although in reality a huge section must have fallen into this classification, and an additional group (almost as large) assumed the identity of a yuppie and funded their yuppie lifestyle through credit.

Simultaneous with the emergence of yuppies was the "discovery" and recording of the Sloane Ranger demographic (I use the term "discovery" since some elements of this group were of considerable antiquity, although other attributes were new and a few traits were invented and projected onto the sub-class). Researching the Sloane Ranger class is problematic since the field is dominated by Peter Yorke, former editor of Harpers & Queen magazine. Effectively a Sloane Ranger was whatever Peter Yorke said it was (and equally if he said something was not Sloane Ranger it is hard to argue against him). Sloane Rangers appear to have been (I use the past tense since once again, no-one today will admit to having been one) a melange of lower aristocracy; London relatives of the landed gentry; and urban rich people (with oldish fortunes and private educations). This generally unremarkable collection of inter-connected families would have remained in obscurity were it not for the marriage of Lady Diana Spencer to the Prince of Wales in 1981 (in what must have been the upwardly-mobile act of the century since it was the first time a commoner had married the heir to the throne for several hundred years).

The shinto-like worship of the Princess of Wales by all classes led to the Sloane Ranger style (which she epitomised and popularised) becoming a mainstream phenomenon. In what can only be described as the mass indulgence of sympathetic magic a plethora of imitative behaviours and purchases resulted in an unusual social construct whereby the Thatcher revolution in society was masked by the re-emergence of a very traditional and conservative lifestyle (just as society was becoming atomised and individualised it was dressed up in the clothes of extended families and collective country communities, change was disguised as continuity). This led to some unexpected coincidences - when the Princess of Wales waved her hair in a particular style George Michael and a million others dyed their hair blonde and waved it in the same way.

The question asked by this chapter is how far (if at all) yuppies merged into Sloane Rangers, what was the process by which this happened, and when did this process start and finish.

Being interested in issues surrounding branding, I will attempt to answer the question by referring to the way in which very traditional luxury brands were, during the 1980s, sold to yuppies as a way of attaining and confirming their new upmarket status. I only have a few examples at present, but I hope to add to this post in the coming weeks and months. If anyone wishes to contribute to this study do please let me know.

Above: this is a modern artwork by Grayson Perry but it illustrates the way in which luxury brand names formerly synonymous with the aristocracy have entered popular consciousness (Dior, Chanel and Hermes were particularly exclusive and expensive brands, far more than they are today). Personal identity, which originally was conferred by family, religion, political allegiance, cultural upbringing, occupation, sporting clubs etc is now acquired by shopping for brands, and even wearing clothes where the brand name is prominently displayed. Acquisitive materialistic shopping has replaced religion as a provider of solutions to the insecurity and guilt which most people feel most of the time, and this transition began during the 1980s.

Above: the Hermes store in Sloane Street. Prior to the 1980s the Hermes brand cultivated exclusivity and reputedly instructed their sales assistants to deter people they did not like the look of from entering their shops. Increasingly however their products were made more accessible (“Sloane Ranger novelist Charlotte Bingham wrote about characters who gave Hermes scarves to London debutantes – you can see this in her nineteen eighty-three novel Belgravia”).

Above: this profile of Hermes designer Eric Bergere appeared in 1986 in the magazine Blitz (which had a high yuppie readership). Is this evidence of cultural transition? Today Hermes products have completed the journey from badges of a closed social caste to signifiers of material success (women will pay ridiculous amounts of money for an Hermes handbag and will insist their life is incomplete without one).

Above: just as interesting as the brands which made the transition to popular consumption are the ones that did not. Smytheson was another brand that defined the Sloane Ranger demographic, and yet it was not taken up by yuppies (who presumably bought their writing paper from Paperchase). Why was this?

Above: I thought initially that it was because of a decline in letter-writing, and yet the Royal Mail ran a major campaign during the 1980s promoting the writing of personal letters. The ads are romantic in style and talk about the way in which hand-written letters have a permanent quality. Obviously there was no e-mail in the 1980s.

Sloane Ranger icon HRH The Princess Of Wales:

Yuppie icon George Michael:

For more on sympathetic magic see the relevant chapters in The Golden Bough by Sir James Frazer.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Sent by e-mail:
Lord Mandelson was interviewed by Evan Davis on the Today programme on BBC Radio 4 this morning.
It was not a good perfromance as Peter Mandelson came over as very tetchy - he accused Evan Davis of being cynical and the Opposition of being hypocritical and was sarcastic throughout the interview ("Are you finished?" he asked Evan Davis, at one point).
But apart from the content the style of the interview was interesting.  It seemed to be a classic example of a Parent/Child exchange as defined by transactional analysis.  Peter Mandelson assumed the role of a patronising parent and Evan Davis (who can be patronising himself) immediately took the role of a pleading child.
More on transactional analysis: 

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Sent by e-mail:
Do the scare stories that appeared yesterday about projected food shortages represent YET ANOTHER attempt by this corrupt and discredited government to "bounce" the British population into accepting genetically-modified food?
Why is the Labour government so determined to force this through?
As Deep Throat advised in the '70s, we should follow the money.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Sent by e-mail:
I thought it was really good news that there might be independent regulation of the supermarket cartel.