Saturday, January 31, 2009
There is supposed to be a recession, but in the office things were as busy as ever (although I’m not entirely sure this is translating through to billings). When it becomes very busy there is no time to think about the recession. The cold freezing weather continues so that I wonder when will this ever end.
Denise joined us today as the new Admin Assistant (more new staff!). Denise is short, overweight, Scottish, aged twenty-two, wearing glasses, wearing thin clothes unsuitable for the cold weather. All the day I could hear Julie (also an Admin Assistant) trying to impress her.
Despite all the new staff there still seems too much work to do. I gave some work to Nigel (Assistant Account Executive joined last week) but he was very ponderous about it all. And I had to tell him to be more diplomatic when talking to the media.
In the afternoon I talked to Andrea about a new business pitch we are doing tomorrow. They have asked to see our best creative work, which is a problem as we havn’t got any. Eventually Andrea borrowed some examples from our (big) sister company upstairs.
Andrea was becoming panicky about the presentation tomorrow - I told her we should just go there and be ourselves.
Working until 7.30 I managed to write all the presentation copy.
The train was delayed this morning, and I was so late getting to the office that Andrea had already left for the pitch (this wasn’t really a problem – I was only going along to give her some support).
During the morning I talked to Nigel about media research, and became very bored at all his questions. For a media studies graduate he didn’t know much about the media (and the things he did know were not really practical). His mobile phone never stopped ringing and he spent a large part of the day arranging his social life.
Denise on the other hand never stopped working. Throughout the day she was turning out cabinets, reorganising files, getting various bits of office machinery to work.
Nigel suggested going to a pub at lunchtime, so we went to the Adam & Eve and sat in the back (although it was really too cold and I would have been happier in the main bar). He talked seriously about advertising although this is a subject I can seldom take seriously (especially analysing the creative merit of TV commercials). He was very pleased that he had “finally” got a job in an advertising agency – I didn’t disillusion him.
Towards the end of the day Andrea came back and asked Julie whether some small task had been done. It hadn’t. I heard Andrea issue a very mild (I thought) rebuke and then she walked into my office to discuss the morning’s presentation.
However, her rebuke created a storm of indignation in the general office and we could hear raised voices in the background. Denise and Julie then appeared in the doorway to my room, shouting at Andrea. Julie did her usual trick of threatening to leave. In response Andrea told her “you can’t keep threatening the agency in this way”. So Julie went back into the general office to get her things and then stormed off home. She must have gone upstairs first as Terry’s PA Patricia came down and went into a meeting with Andrea (Terry himself was away, which was unlucky for Julie).
And so we are in the middle of another agency staff crisis! On the whole I am glad Julie has gone as her behaviour was not good. Most of today I spent working upstairs writing campaign plans (which I enjoy and could do standing on my head).
Julie is certainly not coming back, nor is she working her notice (so it was an expensive tantrum for her).
In the morning I went to a German company for a client meeting (this is one of Terry’s PR clients who may put some advertising with us). Returning to the office I wrote a contact report of the meeting (this seemed a curiously old-fashioned thing to do). Nearing the end of the month the overall figures do not look very good (this information came from Chris who does the Accounts).
In the evening I went to a People To People meeting and met American Lindsey who is staying in London for three months.
Leaving Nigel in charge Andrea and I drove out of London to visit a potential client, but when we got there the person we were due to meet had gone out, so a wasted journey. On the way back Andrea said she was not happy with all the mistakes Nigel was making and didn’t intend to offer him a permanent post (he is still officially a temp). I asked (innocently) how much money she thought the agency would make this month, but she didn’t give me a straight answer.
Another client meeting in the afternoon – in Hounslow. Frantically I worked on the presentation copy for this meeting and it was done minutes before we left. When we got there the marketing manager was not really interested in advertising and told us we were unimaginative.
Back to the agency where I began the weary work of preparing for next week.
Friday, January 30, 2009
Above: the tupelo-honey cafe in Camden (one of the nicest cafes in London). I took this photograph last year before the weather got cold. On the left, behind the fence, you can see the covered terrace.
We lost another client today - they went out of business (this is much more preferable to the clients who just go silent so that you wonder if you have done something to upset them, and if you have upset them whether your boss will get to hear about it).
The thing I shall miss about this client will be the long leisurely meetings, always at the tupelo-honey café in Camden. We would sit out on the covered terrace (the client smoked) and we would talk away the afternoon, neither of us very keen to go back to work. I know clients are not really friends, but you do miss them when they go.
More on the tupelo-honey café: http://www.tupelo-honey.co.uk/index.htm
Thursday, January 29, 2009
I was off work one day during the week, and drove to a small market town on the plain to visit a bank. The bank is on the corner of the market square, opposite the great church, by the cobbled way into the tiny civic area (council offices, magistrates' court, public library - all Victorian buildings, covered in ivy). The cobbled road itself was cordoned off by police, with a few shoppers standing and looking at the police barrier.
I asked one of the spectators what the fuss was about, but she didn't know. I didn't like to ask the police (they wouldn't tell me anyway). I went back into the marketplace and round by the river (a detour of about a hundred yards) and arrived at the other side of the barrier without being stopped or challenged.
Above: I stood by the entrance to a little alley. Parked in the middle of the road was an "official" car. Directly opposite from where I was standing was a line of dignitaries, sheltering in the lee of the church. Although the sun was shining it was very cold (freezing) and some of the dignitaries looked as if they were shivering. A group of police officers came to stand near me - some of them were very senior (judging by the elaborate silver adornments to their uniforms). A few "ordinary" people were also standing nearby.
We waited ten minutes. Then we waited another ten minutes and I began to think I would go (I hadn't been in the bank yet). A short policeman came up and told the senior officers that "they" were just coming out.
We waited another ten minutes. The short policeman talked into a device held in his hand and then said "they" were just coming out. We waited another ten minutes.
A thin elderly man came up with some flowers wrapped in paper and asked the group of police if he could present the flowers. One of the police said he would arrange it. The flowers were taken from the elderly man and completely unwrapped, inspected, then wrapped up again (it was a very small bunch of about ten tulips) and handed back.
The elderly man joined us waiting in the entrance of the alley. We waited another ten minutes and I began to feel I was in a play by Samuel Beckett. The cold seemed unbearable and yet we still waited.
There was a stir of excitement as the short policeman said again "they" were just coming out. At this point tears rolled down the face of the elderly man and he asked if someone else could present the flowers as he was too shy. The flowers were given to a photographer.
"They are coming out now" the short policeman said. The group of senior police seemed to bristle in an agitated way. All eyes turned to a small modern building in the shadow of the great church.
Above: "Ooo, she opened the door herself" a woman said in wonder. We had indeed seen the royal personage grasp the chunky post-modern handle and push the glass door open for herself. Her Royal Highness walked down a ramp (designed for wheelchair users?) talking to a clergyman by her side (in the picture you can see on the right the photographer holding the old man's bunch of tulips).
This issue of royalty opening doors sounds banal (they must open doors all the time when they are alone), but it did look odd. This is not how the world is supposed to work. It was as if the onlookers had been very slightly short-changed.
The appearance of royalty seemed to stun everybody (I have noticed this phenomenon before). There was no clapping or cheering, just an intense silence. The photographer presented the old man's flowers without saying who they were from.
The royal party walked over to the line of dignitaries and I saw them bobbing up and down like so many weebles. Her Royal Highness looked over to where the onlookers (including myself) were standing and smiled (at which moment she briefly became an icon of herself). She then got into the car on the opposite side from me (so I couldn't see whether she opened the car door herself).
As the car moved off everyone clapped, and some people cheered loudly. When the car had gone the police began to congratulate each other. I walked up the cobbled lane and into the bank.
Wednesday, January 28, 2009
Above: the eastern end of the Houses of Parliament (you can see the Speaker's residence and the clock tower) with a glimpse of Whitehall, and then the lavish new offices MPs built for themselves (Portcullis House).
Labour's Paul Flynn set the tone of the questions by referring to the recession and telling the Prime Minister "the people who suffer the most are those who have the least." Other recession-related comments (dressed up as questions) followed. A Labour MP called Cunningham (there are two, so I'm not sure which one) told the Prime Minister portentiously "there is anxiety in the Midlands".
Conservative Andrew Murrison wanted to know why our recession is deeper than anywhere else (the Prime Minister denied this and said the Conservatives were "living in a dream world" by talking in this way). Two Labour MPs (Jessica Morden and Don Touhig) expressed concern about the big redundancies at the steel-maker Corus ("the British people are worth backing" said Don Touhig, as if this might have been in doubt by the government). Labour's Ian Gibson asked how the downturn would affect the Private Finance Initiative (a complex financial wheeze where private companies build public assets and "lease" them to the state in a sort of hire purchase arrangement, thus avoiding the current cap-ex appearing in the state accounts).
Conservative Andrew Selous asked why the pound was falling if Britain was in a better position vis-a-vis the recession than other countries. The Prime Minister rounded upon him with righteous anger, implying the falling pound was solely a result of the Tories talking down the economy. Tory grandee Sir Peter Tapsell asked, in an elegantly oblique way, whether the Prime Minister regretted selling off the nation's gold reserves so cheaply (the Prime Minister blustered in reply).
In the set-piece exchange between David Cameron and Gordon Brown the Opposition Leader again tried to get the Prime Minister to eat his words over the abolition of "boom and bust" producing a sequence of damning economic quotations ("Ahhh!" said the Tories collectively and helpfully). Gordon Brown not only refuted the charge of hubris, but produced an equally hubristic comment by telling David Cameron "the UK will avoid a deep recession". If he is wrong he won't be around to account for that remark, but future Labour leaders may regret Gordon Brown's economic pride.
Conservative Graham Stuart referred to "Labour sleaze" (at least, I am almost sure he used that loaded phrase) and asked about the four Labour peers accused of amending legislation in return for (secret) commercial payments. There is much comment about how peers cannot be removed from the House of Lords, but I don't understand why not. Peers are created by the Crown and can be attainted in the same way - it could be done through an Order in Council on the advice of the Prime Minister.
Tuesday, January 27, 2009
Last week during the freezing weather I thought I heard a cat crying outside the house (this was at 2am, when I was just falling asleep).
Yesterday early in the morning I saw a large tabby cat in the garden eating the "sprinkles" I put out for the birds (they are made from lard - you can buy them from the RSPB).
I went out into the garden and the cat half-ran off, then came back again. He seemed very friendly and let me stroke him. I put out a bowl of Go Cat and he wolfed down every bit (see above picture). I refilled the bowl with Go Cat and went to work.
When I came home yesterday my brother said he found the cat waiting outside the back door, and when he opened the door the cat walked in. He ate four big bowls of Felix cat food during the course of the evening, eating in a ravenous fashion. When he wasn't eating he was sleeping.
We have two other cats (both female) and a dog - this stray cat seems completely unbothered by them. I have checked at the two nearest houses and the cat is not theirs. There are no other houses within half a mile.
We think someone drove by and just turned him out. Possibly another victim of the recession. We think he is a town cat used to staying in all day as he has shown no interest in going outside.
Now he has arrived he will have to stay.
PS I know there is grass coming up between the cracks in the yard, but I can't put down weedkiller as that is just above the cistern, and I simply don't have time at the moment to go out weeding.
Monday, January 26, 2009
Last night I saw (on BBC2) the feature film Good Night and Good Luck. I have long meant to see this, as it has had such good reviews. I wish I had seen it on the big screen at a cinema as it was such a well made film with many details that were lost on television.
Good Night and Good Luck was made in colour film corrected to look like black and white stock, and used the framing device of an awards ceremony (this structure reminded me of All About Eve). Although the scenes take place in a succession of interiors, there is no sense of claustrophobia. The distillation of the locations adds to the intensity of the drama.
I was trying to think who in the British media today would be able to take on a McCarthy figure in the same way that Ed Murrow did. Leaving aside individuals such as Jeremy Paxman and John Humphries (who are both in a different category) I think it is possibly Andrew Marr. But there are many other individuals who collectively safeguard democracy and freedom of speech - Andrew Rawnsley at The Observer, David Mannion at ITV News, Veronica Wadley at the London Evening Standard (especially if you consider the way she confronted Ken Livingstone who was/is a political bully in the style of McCarthy), Adam Boulton at Sky News, Peter Wright at the Mail on Sunday, and Matthew d’Ancona at the Spectator.
Sunday, January 25, 2009
Above: there are a number of these second world war Nissan huts, reused as farm buildings.
Above: there are many ponds and pools in the fields, which indicates the area is used for livestock farming (there were a large number of ducks on this pond, but they flew off just before I took the photograph).
Above : lots of roadside stalls outside isolated houses selling potatos, other vegetables, jams and relishes (like the rain-drenched jars above - the cook has even created her own personally-signed brand-name "Tricia").
Above: I went to 9.30 Holy Communion at a farming village in the centre of this area. The church was on top of a hill, although the gradients were so even you only realised it was a hill when you were at the top and could see for miles. The weather was cold and wet, with a strong blustery wind blowing. The bells were ringing in this wind, so that the noise fluctuated as the deep booming and clanging was carried off with each new gust. Notice the heavily-buttressed Early English west tower. That little door is just for the bell-ringers - the main entrance is through a porch to the right.
Above: I was glad to get inside (notice the Norman arch in the west wall, infilled by an Early English gothic arch). Immediately I was welcomed by an elderly gentleman in a grey worsted suit, walking slightly with a limp (and supported by a walking-stick). He introduced me to a substantial silver-haired clergyman in a hefty black cassock ("This is our Reader..."). The nave and side aisles formed a big square area rising to a height proportional with the width, so that a cube was formed. Pevsner says the stone walls are mostly Victorian restoration, although the columns are medieval. The ceiling was eighteenth-century and painted cobalt blue with two large white plaster rosettes.
Above: there was a Della Robbia plaque of the Annunciation above a side altar. In the nave there was a silver flute with pink and white flowers (a bride's bouquet left as a gift to the church) and at the high altar there was a much bigger display of white chrysanthemums. I sat down near the back and waited as people came in (each opening of the door allowing a cold blast to enter).
About fifty people in all attended the service. There was no choir, but the organist was expert ("poor man, he does the early service here, then the family service at the next village, and usually an Evensong..."). The candles were lit in the dim sanctuary. The Victorian stained glass of the east window was backed by dull grey sky so that an oddly attractive grisaille effect was formed. The continual opening and closing of the door made the interior so cold I began to shiver (or was that the presence of the Holy Ghost?). The bells stopped, the last stragglers came in, the service began.
Because the Rector was ill the service was led by a retired Canon from Oxford. 25th January is the Feast Day of the Conversion of St Paul, so the theme of the service was the Pauline conversion on the road to Damascus. We sang the hymn Amazing Grace (the cold creating vapour from our mouths as we sang) and the Canon explained the similarities between the life of St Paul and the life of the hymn's author John Newton. A long list of ill people was read out during the intercessionary prayers. The Readings included one from Jeremiah ("Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, And before you were born I consecrated you...") and the Canon explained the relevance of Jeremiah to St Paul. In his sermon the Canon emphasised the Jewishness of St Paul ("I like the Old Testament - I think we don't get enough of it...").
Floral scents of elderly ladies coming up to shake hands during The Peace.
Above: the sanctuary after the service, when everyone was milling around (the candles are still lit). The rain had stopped and it had brightened up outside. Notice the forbidding slate memorials on the wall to the left.
Above: as I drove out of the village I passed this eighteenth-century house behind a screen of trees (if you click on the photo you might be able to see it clearer). In the walled garden small (but professional) opera productions are held during the summer. It's like a miniature Garsington.
Saturday, January 24, 2009
The freezing weather seems to have returned and the landscape was white when I went out to the car this morning. The train journey was cramped and I was thankful I didn’t have to stand. I got to the office and sat looking at the papers I had left on my desk on Friday.
Andrea made a pot of coffee and poured out a cup for everyone, taking it to their desks (this is not a normal occurrence, in fact I can’t ever remember Andrea doing this before). Chris (part-time, does the accounts) had returned from holiday and had brought back some foreign biscuits for us. We all said how cold the offices were, until they warmed up about eleven o’clock.
Temp Nigel started today, replacing temp Sheila. I call him a temp, but it was obvious from his attitude and the odd things he said that Terry (MD of the agency) had told him there might be a permanent place for him. Aged twenty-one, he looked about thirty with a brawny rugby-player’s build, black curly hair, and mature lines on his face.
Nigel told us he was a media studies graduate (generally I am not impressed by media studies graduates). Andrea hadn’t been involved in his appointment and so she effectively ignored him. He spent the day helping admin assistant Julie, with periods spent sitting in my office although there was little I could show him, and in any case I find it difficult to work while someone is watching.
Lunchtime I went to various shops, trying to economise and conserve money as much as possible.
In the afternoon lots of phone calls, so that I couldn’t get anything done. I worked late, Andrea worked late, Patricia (Terry’s PA) worked late and came in to chat before she finally left. We heard one of the other tenants in the building having a tremendous row with the landlord out on the landing.
The unending cold seems to make me lethargic and tired.
The whole day taken up with Mintel research.
An air of crisis in the agency. Julie (supposedly Admin Supervisor, although she doesn’t seem to have accepted any new responsibilities) was wailing about the mess she had made of an ad for our biggest client. Andrea was in such a mood over this that I took my papers upstairs to the Boardroom and stayed there until early afternoon (I was determined to get a forth-coming presentation sorted out, although there were so many interruptions I didn’t make much progress).
When I went back down again there had been a reorganisation. Nigel was temp no longer, but had been made Trainee Account Exec, but also doing the Admin Supervisor’s role (how is that going to work?). Julie had gone back to being Admin Assistant, which she said she felt happier about.
In the afternoon I accompanied Andrea on a client visit. We drove out onto the M4 and arrived at the most beautiful commercial estate I have seen (the client’s building was like a modernist interpretation of the Royal Pavilion at Brighton). The meeting was rather frosty, although they were not completely unfriendly.
Back to the agency Andrea and I had a debriefing session on the client visit. It seems that clients are becoming less tolerant of brand-awareness campaigns, and want more definable results in terms of sales. There is also the usual incessant demand for “integrated” campaigns, which we say we can do but can’t really (unless we put the work out, and there is a complete ban on freelances at the moment).
Towards the end of the day Tim (an old friend I havn’t seen for ages, who rang me up yesterday full of schemes). He sat in the admin room talking to Julie about his schooldays, which were some considerable time ago (“Lessons were Divs…” I heard him telling her). After work we went to a bar and he described a business he wanted to set up while I thought of all the many reasons it would be impossible for me to get involved.
The presentation is tomorrow, and so far we had nothing concrete to show them. I shut myself in my room and had my calls screened, and by midday had devised a format for the Powerpoint slides, and had finished the presentation report (twenty copies of which Julie and Nigel printed out and bound). Andrea got one of the designers upstairs to do some creative proposals.
Julie took a casual phone call about new business that was astounding in its potential (but could we really cope with it if we took them on?). Terry said he had a new client he wanted to give us. Andrea told Nigel he might start handling some of the lesser accounts.
When she came back from lunch Julie brought us all cans of beer (Andrea pointedly didn’t drink hers, giving it to Nigel).
In the evening I went to a party held by Tim at his small flat in Clapham. The apartment was nicely furnished but very cramped (especially with so many people inside). There were lots of odd ceiling angles which made it difficult to stand upright.
Lots of old university friends were there, including James G now divorced and looking more dissolute than ever (in a lean Byronesque sort of way). Most of the people there I hadn’t seen for years. I talked to an old friend (last seen ten years ago) who was now working as PA for her sister (“She’ll give me something and say Type this up please, and I’ll say Why can’t you type it, and she says No, it’s YOUR job to type it, and this goes on for a while, and then I’ll tear it into small pieces and she’ll go off and sulk for half an hour…”).
I knew that today would be busy, but I had not anticipated the draining effect it would have on me. Almost as soon as I got to the agency I was plunged into preparations for the presentation. At the last minute Andrea had decided not to put the creative proposals on Powerpoint but to have visuals made up and mounted on board.
In-between all this frenetic activity I had to sit down quietly and do some copywriting. A concern I have is that in the drive to get more business we are neglecting existing clients. And who knows if the new clients we are going for will pay us properly (or indeed still be in business six months from now)?
Working until the last minute, we finally packed everything together and were ready. Andrea and I joined Terry in the back mews and we drove in Terry’s car out of London to an aging New Town and the prospective client’s shabby factory on a sprawling industrial estate. We were early so we went into a pub to wait (the pub filled with men and women who obviously worked in the surrounding factories).
In the company’s Boardroom we gave our presentation to a large group of managers (as usual we were one copy short of the Presentation Report - this always happens). The audience was rather unresponsive, but at the end the female CEO told us “Ten out of ten for new ideas”. She told us we were pitching against other agencies but our proposals were very strong.
When we got back to the office and even before we had taken our coats off Patricia came down to tell Terry that we had got the new client he had been lining up for us. I was so tired that the full implications of this did not immediately sink in. Andrea was less restrained, and she screamed and kissed everybody (she is not known for demonstrative affection!) and was later drinking wine from a bottle to celebrate.
Friday, January 23, 2009
Above: in the years that Gordon Brown was Chancellor he made the concept of Prudence into a financial cult. Prudence was the sui generis New Labour mechanism that would prevent boom and bust. However, if you look at his record on economic policy prudence was entirely absent as the British economy abandoned monetary control and built up a huge obligation of public and private debt.
Gordon Brown was interviewed on the Today programme on BBC Radio 4 this morning. The interviewer was Evan Davis whose gushing style was not entirely appropriate to the gravity of the discussion. He also seemed to be talking to the Prime Minister as an equal ("I didn't spot the recession coming either...") which again didn't seem to be appropriate - I wanted to hear Gordon Brown critically interviewed, not listen to a discussion between two equal economists.
However my main complaint with the interview is the way in which Evan Davis did not respond to the specific things the Prime Minister was saying. One can sympathise with the situation Gordon Brown finds himself in, and many of the measures he is taking seem sensible. But from an historical point of view I want to know how this economic collapse happened and why it happened and who was involved at each different stage.
The Prime Minister told Evan Davis that this downturn was unique and had been caused by sub-prime lending in the southern states of America. Previous recessions in the United Kingdom were caused by inflationary pressures, but this recession was caused by banks lending irresponsibly. Evan Davis did not really pursue these avenues.
For instance, inflation was low NOT because of financial prudence, but because of ever more cheaper Chinese imports which kept inflation artificially low and thus kept interest rates artificially low and so allowed expansion of the money supply in the form of an almost limitless availability of cheap debt (allowing the housing market to boom and personal credit to surge - credit card maximum limits were being increased on a 6-monthly basis by unreasonable percentages). If the government had controlled the money supply sensibly how could the banks have lent irresponsibly? And when average house prices exceeded three and a half times average income was that not a signal things were getting unmanageable (and possibly that moment, whenever it happened, was a canary in the mineshaft in terms of debt in the economy)?
Gordon Brown often speaks with passion, and this passionate style sometimes reveals Freudian slips. For instance, there was a moment in the interview when he repeated Margaret Thatcher's TINA mantra ("There Is No Alternative"). For a Labour Prime Minister to use such a culturally loaded phrase (steeped in the rhetoric of the 1980s recession) seems incredible, but Evan Davis let it pass (John Humphries or Jeremy Paxman would not have done so).
Towards the end of the interview Evan Davis tried to examine Gordon Brown's promise "no more boom and bust". This was possibly the lamest part of the exchange, and in terms of transactional analysis Evan Davis was like a little child pleading with a stern parent to say "yes" (which this particular stern parent was never likely to do). It would have been better to deconstruct the phrase and ask the Prime Minister to explain why he repeatedly sent out this cultural behaviour signal.
Above: "no more boom and bust" - encouraging individuals to max out their credit cards and borrow against their homes because the good times would never come to an end. No need for caution, no need for savings. The economic cycle had been abolished.
Two alternative views are emerging about what to do with the economy. Both the Conservatives and Labour agree (broadly) on the palliative measures necessary to cushion the effects of the downturn. Where they disagree seems to be on the level of government borrowing to get the economy moving again.
To me (and I am not an economist) Monetarism seems harsh and uncaring, but I can see it must eventually work. It must work because even the gloomiest projections say 85% of the working population will remain in their jobs, and as this 85% pay off their debts they will start to "feel good" and so resume spending (especially with cheaper prices on offer for houses, cars, white goods etc). The real blow will fall on the (up to) 15% unemployed.
Keynesianism I am less certain about. Significant government spending on big capital projects will keep people employed and improve our infrastructure for when the economy recovers. Cutting taxes such as VAT will ensure people have money to "go out and spend". Forcing the banks to lend money will again ensure people can "go out and spend" as they will be able to get car-loans, mortgages, hire purchase etc. The level of government debt doesn't really matter as governments can roll the debt forward into future decades and it will eventually be dissipated by a gentle level of inflation. There will be no fall-guys in this scenario.
But what if the Keynesian strategy doesn't work and not only do we have high unemployment but ALL of the working population is saddled with a crushing level of government debt that will take many years to pay off (through higher taxes and higher interest rates and ultimately through much higher unemployment)?
To me these alternatives sound like the difference between a calorie-controlled diet and the Atkins Diet. We know that if you eat less calories and take more exercise you MUST lose weight. Unfortunately this process is difficult and painful.
But with the Atkins diet you can eat as much fried fatty food as you want and not only will you lose weight you will be leaner and have less fat in your body. The Atkins diet is easy to keep to, as you are eating the things you like in the quantities you like. The Atkins diet became wildly popular in the early years of this century as it told people basically what they wanted to hear.
I would love there to be an easy way out of this economic mess, but in my heart I know there is not.
Listen to the Prime Minister's interview: http://news.bbc.co.uk/today/hi/default.stm
More on the notorious TINA phrase: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/There_is_no_alternative
More on Transactional Analysis: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transactional_analysis
Thursday, January 22, 2009
Village soccer: "This club nearly died, what with the ban on competitive sports in the school and everything. The cricket team was down to just one man! Then we got together and decided something must be done and we raised a quarter of a million to build the club house. Once you get the youngsters involved you then get the young dads forming teams, and then it all gets a momentum of its own. We now have football and cricket on this site, plus a croquet lawn. We used to have tennis courts up over there, but we couldn't afford to have the grass kept up to standard."
Above: the club house.
Club Secretary: "I raised most of the money for the club house. There's a bar and changing rooms, plus a meeting hall where dancing classes are held. The gym is very popular, and we don't charge extra to use it."
Wednesday, January 21, 2009
Above: St Stephen's entrance to the Houses of Parliament (are those police the same ones who bullied Damian Green?). If you attend PMQs in person you go through various security measures, along a long corridor (which leads down on the left to Westminster Hall) and into the Central Lobby. Then up some stairs and into the Strangers Gallery (steeply tiered and with a poor view - like the old £1 seats reserved for the blind at the top of Covent Garden).
I watched Prime Minister's Questions on BBC2 at lunchtime today, although I was interrupted so many times I only had a vague idea of what was being discussed.
Someone called Caswell started off, complaining about government plans to keep the details of MP's expenses (ie what they actually purchase with our money) secret. The Prime Minister told Mr Caswell that the new proposals were more transparent than the old system, and in any case were more than foreigners were allowed to know about their legislators (as if that should console us). Tory Edward Garnier returned to this topic later in the Questions and told the Prime Minister keeping expenses secret showed "hideous levels of insensitivity" at a time when ordinary people were facing hardships. The Prime Minister repeated his doublespeak that the new secrecy was actually more transparent. Later in Andrew Neil's studio there was confusion about whether the vote would be "whipped" (mandated) or not. Later still it was announced that the proposals had been dropped (seemingly with no explanation).
The only other part of the Questions I was allowed to watch uninterrupted was the exchange between Opposition Leader David Cameron and Gordon Brown. Increasingly these interlocutions resemble the "talk and relationships"Jeremy Kyle Show on daytime television (comes on at 1 o'clock). David Cameron is the stern Jeremy Kyle figure, angrily confronting a defiant NEET no-hoper who has been wasting money on gambling and living-it-up while the women and little ones go without. "Only the Prime Minister can laugh at these unemployment figures" David Cameron accused Gordon Brown. The BBC cameras switched onto the government benches and we did indeed see the Prime Minister with an undignified goofy smirk on his face. Off camera we heard an unmistakable Tory accent shout "Shocking" (the word shocking pronounced with unfathomable depths of contempt and disgust).
The government has also handed the Opposition a lot of ammunition over the past week, and David Cameron was able to deliver an impressive sentence which scorned the employment minister's sighting of "light at the end of the tunnel", Baroness Vadera's discovery of "green shoots of economic recovery" and Margaret Beckett's announcement of "recovery in the housing market".
The Prime Minister recovered when dealing with Nick Clegg (Leader of the Liberal Democrats) telling him "we have recapitalised the banks, given real help to families and brought in measures to help lending" - delivering this with the sincere passion he is sometimes capable of.
Note: I have just looked again at Prime Minister's Questions and it seems that the BBC has edited out Gordon Brown's grinning (it was definitely there in the live broadcast). Why has this been done? Is this manipulative fakery of some kind?
See Prime Minister's Questions: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/programmes/bbc_parliament/default.stm
More on NEET no-hopers: http://www.everychildmatters.gov.uk/ete/neet/
Monday, January 19, 2009
Above: in the county there is considerable evidence of a cult of St Helen among the villages on the southern slopes of the central hills. This fragment of stained glass shows the Emperor Constantine with the text In Hoc Signo Vinces (with this sign will come victory). As well as churches dedicated to Helen (the mother of Constantine) there are Helen farms, Helen wells, Helen woods - and a persistent legend that St Helen came from the area.
Yesterday I watched Michael Portillo's documentary on the Emperor Constantine's adoption of Christianity as an approved religion of the Roman Empire. It was a clever programme, inverting the usual analysis and stating that instead of Constantine converting the Roman Empire to Christianity he had converted Christianity into an mechanism of imperial control (with heavy implication that it has remained an imperial organisation to this day). Michael Portillo had an assured voice throughout the production, with an ability to state with complete confidence even the most shakiest of hypothesis.
Anyone who hadn't examined the period in detail might have been taken in by his cynical comparison of the power-politics of Constantine with the spin-doctoring of modern politicians. There was a lot of Michael Portillo in the commentary ("when I was in the Cabinet", "when I was Defence Secretary", "if I examine myself"). Was it possible Michael Portillo saw himself as a reincarnation of Constantine?
Where the programme fell down was in the details. There were so many errors and omissions that I stopped taking it seriously after the first fifteen minutes. For instance, there was a lot of confused commentary at Ephesus in modern Turkey (was he implying Nike and Artemis/Diana were one and the same?). When discussing the church of the Holy Sepulchre built by Helen in Jerusalem the film showed us the later Crusader church (the Helen structure had been destroyed in 1009 by the Fatimid caliph Al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah). Michael Portillo listed the "bad" Christian emperors who had persecuted pagans, but failed to mention Julian's revival of paganism 331 - 363. Most dodgy of all, he relied upon "author" Jonathan Bartley for quasi-erudite pronouncements throughout the documentary (a Google search reveals that Jonathan Bartley is a Tory crony from John Major's regime 1991-97).
The biggest ommission of all was the absence of any credible motive. If Constantine wanted a religion he could use as an agent of social control why did he pick on a minority sub-sect of Judaism? The cult of Mithras would have been a much more likely candidate.
At the end of the programme Michael Portillo adopted a kindly-wise tone of voice and told us reassuringly "I believe power is for politicians" Really? I thought power belonged to the people.
Sunday, January 18, 2009
Above: I was surprised at how many people turned up for the tour (which had been organised by the county's archaeological department). Strong sunshine, but a stiff wind was blowing and the temperature was exactly zero. We started at 10.30 and carried on until 12.30.
Above: the female archaeologist who was leading the walk circulated an aerial LiDAR image which showed the topography of the fields ("that ridge is glacial deposits..."). She emphasised that the fields were originally an island, surrounded by shallow expanses of water and reed marshes ("the reeds would have been higher than your head, so very difficult to get through"). She told us the site had been continuously occupied for six thousand years and contained a Neolithic long barrow, numerous Bronze Age round barrows, medieval monastic remains, a Victorian water company and modern farmers and farm workers.
Above: the main focus of the walk was the monastic remains, but the archaeologist first talked with enthusiasm about the round barrows ("one of the barrows has been excavated and revealed a high-status burial of a man wearing an archer's stone wrist-guard and surrounded by Beaker pottery - interestingly he was buried in a wooden coffin, and around the central grave were later interments of cremated remains, probably family members...").
Above: we went over to the side of the field where a hawthorn hedge provided some protection from the wind. The archaeologist told us the round boundary of the great field was unusual and probably marked the edge of the monastic settlement. Aerial photographs taken in the 1970s were circulated, and these showed evidence of the monastery's layout.
Above: from the aerial photographs a map of the site had been drawn.
Above: although the aerial photographs were fairly clear, on the ground the long grass completely obscured the mounds and bumps - because the site is now protected no farming is allowed and so the grass has grown over the medieval remains.
Above: as we walked around the site wildfowl would suddenly rise up from the ground in front of you. Hares had colonised the area, and their burrowing had thrown up numerous fragments of medieval pottery. Other parts of the site were very waterlogged, and you had to be careful as you walked - the ground was very wet, and if you looked back you could see your footsteps in the spongy grass filling up with water.
Above: fish ponds on the edge of the monastic site.
Above: towards the end of the walk the archaeologist gave way to a local historian who talked about the Victorian water company that operated for a few years on the site. A deep well had been dug by the monks and a naturally-carbonated water (similar to Perrier) had been discovered and marketed as a health drink (the water is rich in lithium which counters depression). The historian held up one of the embossed brown bottles the water had been sold in (notice the cottages in the distance - in one of those houses a carved monumental slab found in the monastic site has been reused as a hearthstone).
Above: some of the marketing of the Victorian company. The company failed, mainly because of the remote nature of the location and the distance from the main centres of population. The farmer who owns the land said the well was still producing water and when the pump is going can produce eight gallons a minute.
Above: the walk ended on this little ridge where we counted the church spires on the horizon. The archaeologist encouraged us to come back to the site on a summer evening ("the owls are flying around, the hares are running through the grass, you can find all sorts of medieval fragments..."). I went back to my car and drove home to lunch (roast beef).
Saturday, January 17, 2009
I overslept, and by the time I had got up (at 10!) and rung the office, and had a cup of tea the morning had effectively gone.
In the afternoon I worked on my contribution to the 2009 Agency Plan.
I thought it wise to go in early this morning, after yesterday’s debacle. The train was cold. In the office a slight frisson of hostility from the others that I hadn’t put the coffee on (how am I expected to know what the first one in is supposed to do? - I am never usually the first one in).
I spent the morning copywriting. Terry came to my office and told me about a possible new appointment he might make. Andrea was outraged when I mentioned this to her, complaining that she should know first (“Because I’m quiet people like to confide in me” I told her).
Temp Sheila bought cream cakes at lunchtime.
In the afternoon I became concerned about Andrea’s behaviour. She was arguing with both media and clients (the partitions are so thin you can hear every word that is said). Possibly she is under a lot of stress as the figures are not good – although I am meeting my targets (not that they are very demanding).
I stayed on after 5 to make up for yesterday, even though I didn’t really have anything to do.
I had more energy today, and got lots of things done – writing copy, making three separate attempts to get new business, working on a presentation we have coming up.
Also on the new business front the agency (upstairs and ourselves) is producing a newsletter which is to go out to potential customers. This newsletter is to be hard copy and an “interactive” e-mail. Marc (my old boss when I worked upstairs) is in charge of this initiative.
Andrea came back from a visit to a client (our most prestigious, although they don’t give us much work and we never make much money from them). Instead of a meeting she had been given ten minutes in a corner of the client’s Reception. It looks as if we have lost this client and she will have to break the news to Terry.
A result of the downturn is that we all seem to be working together better and acting like a team. Egos have been suppressed voluntarily. In particular Andrea has curbed a lot of her arrogance (she is her own worst enemy).
Very quiet today.
Terry, Andrea and myself had a long meeting talking about approaches to potential new customers, and also visits to clients we used to handle.
An outburst from Andrea about her company car (Aine was on the receiving end). It is not going to be upgraded this year. Patricia (Terry’s PA) came down and had a long meeting with Andrea, suggesting she should apologise to Aine.
Someone seems to be going through my desk on a regular basis – at first I had thought this was my imagination, but now I am sure (from the way things are disturbed, always the same files). It isn’t Andrea as she goes through my desk in front of me. I may start locking the door of my office, although that will annoy the cleaners.
Towards the end of the day a rush of work came in, which was encouraging.
Thursday, January 15, 2009
Above: the video of Live Your Life (song written by TI) was directed by Anthony Mandler. It is an ambitious mini-movie, heavily encoded with biographical details (based on the life of the artist TI, who appears in the film as himself) and is packed with anthropological data. In theme it resembles Friedrich Nietzsche’s Will To Power, and emphasises the importance of taking control.
The pace of the editing (necessarily swift in such a condensed work) contributes to the strong narrative drive. The standard of acting is very high (except when TI throws a punch at an assailant, which is a bit inadequate – but that is the only flaw I have found). I have watched it several times, and each time I notice something new (the furrowed brow expressions, the way hoods should be worn, the serving of Campari in the menacing nightclub etc).
Above: Wayne Rooney on the front of the Sunday Mirror.
The lyrics of Live Your Life include the phrase “Been thuggin’ all my life” (thuggin’ pronounced “tugging”). As far as I can understand “thuggin’” in this context means life in a black American ghetto. The use of the word is different from its British usage.
Wednesday, January 14, 2009
Above: I never tire of looking at the Puginesque marvel of the Palace of Westminster - there is always some new detail you havn't noticed before.
At lunchtime I half-watched Prime Minister's Questions while I worked through the draft of my 2009 plan (we are all required to write sections of the agency's composite Plan for the coming year).
The Prime Minister insisted that the economic crisis was global (his "no more boom and bust" promise was thrown at him again).
There was much quoting and counter-quoting of a long-gone Tory Chancellor (mirrored later in the day by Baroness Vadera saying she could already see "the green shoots of economic recovery" - some hope).
David Cameron said the government was copying so many Conservative policies they needed a photocopier (how they laughed on the Tory benches).
Nick Clegg called the Prime Minister a copycat for the way he was taking up Conservative initiatives.
The rest just seemed to pass over me until Conservative Richard Bacon asked about welfare standards of imported foreign pork. The association of the name Bacon with the subject-matter pork seemed to have the whole House of Commons tittering. It even provoked a rare (and excrutiatingly leaden) joke from Gordon Brown.
Tuesday, January 13, 2009
I havn't been upstairs much since I came back, apart from Friday's meeting in Terry's office.
So when I drifted upstairs today, at a loose end, I was presented by Aine with my "Secret Santa" present from before Christmas. I hadn't attended the Secret Santa session as our little sub-agency finished on the Friday whereas upstairs they struggled on until Tuesday. As well as the present there were two late Christmas cards.
The present was a bottle of red Italian wine. I don't usually drink Italian wine as I am trying to learn about French wines (especially Gigondas, which is my favourite red wine). Plus (without seeming ungrateful) Ogio is not likely to be a wine you can learn much about.
It seemed odd opening a Christmas present and cards in the middle of January.
Monday, January 12, 2009
Above: at three o'clock in the afternoon the moon was already rising above the valley.
I woke this morning and looked at my alarm clock. The time was half-past four. I closed my eyes and went back to sleep.
When I woke again it was broad daylight. I looked at the clock again and it still said half-past four (and had clearly stopped). I picked up my watch from the bedside cabinet and the time was ten - I should have been at work an hour ago!
I rang my boss Andrea (pronouned "On-dray-er") and explained what had happened. I suggested I spent the day "working at home". It was impossible to tell whether she was annoyed or not (I think today is meant to be the most miserable day of the year, and so she may have thought I was "pulling a sickie").
In the afternoon I drove into the local town to collect a package from the Royal Mail sorting office. As I drove back I stopped the car and looked out over the valley. The moon was already high in the sky at three o'clock in the afternoon.
Sunday, January 11, 2009
Getting up at 7.30 (which I am not used to on a Sunday as I depend on the weekends to catch up on my sleep) I drove eastwards for about an hour until I reached a big river and followed it southwards (the road went along the bank) through a succession of ever smaller villages until I arrived in a settlement so small it wasn’t even on the map.
The weather was milder today than it has been for about a month (by milder I mean a blustery cold wind was blowing, but it wasn’t actually freezing). I parked my car in the small pub car park and walked down to where the High Street (a meandering muddy lane lined with cottages) forked into two. At this junction was the village church.
Above: Pevsner says the church was built in 1756. It was very small and built in a red-brick gothic style. From the road junction it had a two-dimensional appearance, as if it were cut out of cardboard.
Above: just before 10.30 a single bell made a jangling clamour and people walked along all three lanes to the church. Most people stood outside while a small plough belonging to a local farmer was wheeled up to the west door. The lady Vicar, the farmer and various dignitaries posed for photographs with the plough (as you can see, it is a small Victorian plough and would not have been used much in the fields).
Note: my digital camera stopped working at this point and so this photo is courtesy of Mrs Blaney.
Above: everyone went into the church and took their seats – about fifty people in all including a contingent of Young Farmers. The plough was ceremoniously brought in and taken up to the altar rails (Sir James Frazer records similar rituals where the plough is decorated with ribbons, but this one was completely plain). We sang hymns and the plough was blessed by the Vicar.
Above: then the Vicar produced a bowl of soil (presumably from the surrounding fields) and the soil was blessed. Although this ceremony dates back centuries it had a very modern ecological and environmental feel to it. In her sermon the Vicar pursued the environmental theme and told us to “use the power you have as shoppers” to buy local and sustainable goods.
Above: after the formal end of the service the plough was taken out of the church again. A folk duo (a fiddle player and a guitar player) then performed what the Vicar called “Plough Carols” although they seemed more folk songs to do with ploughing. They finished with a fifteenth-century song Speed The Plough which I had never heard before although everyone else seemed to know it and joined in.
Sorry this picture seems so gloomy – there was a problem with my camera. Actually the interior was very light and painted in cream and white. The lighting was modern.
Above: coming out of the church we all walked down the path to the junction where the Morris dancers were waiting (these are the sword dancers – again photo is courtesy of Mrs Blaney).
Above: holding up the traffic (cyclists, horse riders, some four-by-fours) a different group of Morris dancers performed the dance Speed the Plough (which is different from the song).
Above: more of the cavorting Morris dancers.
Above: I only stayed a short while watching the dancers as I needed to get home for lunch (roast pork). I walked back to the Full Moon pub where I had left my car. The wind had dropped and the sun was trying to make an appearance.
Above: the pub was holding a Plough Sunday beer festival. Over sixty different types of beer were on offer. Because I was driving I was only able to have a half (I would have liked to have stayed there all afternoon).
Text of the song Speed the Plough: http://hillshepherd.blogspot.com/2008/05/god-speed-plow-farmers-arms-or-success.html
The dance Speed the Plough (best I could find): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RXkgXLiJH6w
Saturday, January 10, 2009
The first day back at work. The cold was unbearable (the bitter fresh cold of the journey to work and the dull cold of the offices before the heaters warmed them up). All of the week the temperature remained below freezing, so that I mostly stayed in at lunchtimes.
The economic situation has made people more careful over spending money. Jo, assistant (“Associate”) Account Executive upstairs, came into our offices to chat, moaning about how much Christmas had cost her. “Despite having a good job I still have to watch every penny” she said.
Julie (admin) complained that Andrea (our boss) was in a “swanning mood” (“she’s just swanning around finding fault with everything).
First day back and I hadvery little to do. In the afternoon I felt incredibly tired.
Sheila (the temp) jammed the photocopier and no-one could fix it (Andrea very tight-lipped and struggling to remove the tiny bits of shredded paper, finally giving in with a snarl and telling Julie to ring the engineer).
Client meetings, one late morning and one late afternoon. I managed to string them out so that I didn’t need to go back to the office afterwards. The cold so intense that I felt dizzy.
I did some media planning and thought about the other projects I have been given.
Terry’s American friend (who we think owns part of the agency) came to the offices. He noticed Andrea had put up one of her certificates on the wall and told us: “I don’t put my certificates up on the wall – the office is too small.” After he had gone Julie said she was sure he was gay because of the shape of his moustache (“it’s like a packet of Pringles”).
Since we have returned to work Andrea has become very annoying (or perhaps she was always very annoying, only not to me). A number of times today I thought she was becoming confrontational. In the afternoon she attempted to contact an old client (from her last job) and they told her to get lost, which put her in an exceptionally bad mood.
Chris (does our Accounts part-time) talked frankly about her dissatisfaction at the way the personnel keeps changing, which she finds unsettling. Andrea listened to her with a blank look on her face. The arrival of Andrea’s sub-agency must be an intrusion for Chris as previously she had this side of the floor to herself.
Terry (our MD) came down several times and I revealed to him (casually) that my billings for December were almost twice the target. I always try to keep some small item of positive news for Terry’s visits so that he regards talking to me as a positive experience. Most people just tell him their problems.
In the evening, despite the bitter cold, I went to the west end for a committee meeting of a small educational voluntary group I do some work for. This voluntary group has a social programme which is used to raise funds. I took Andrea with me (she had expressed interest in the group) and she was co-opted onto the committee to help with publicity (the two of us were easily the most competent people on that committee).
Afterwards we went to a bar and over gin and tonics Andrea ran down Rachel (one of the Account Directors upstairs).
A slow day. I should really have got some research under way, but somehow I couldn’t get motivated. Most of the morning was taken up with the monthly agency meeting held by Terry in his office upstairs (not for the first time I noticed that most of his remarks seemed to be addressed to me instead of Andrea).
Friday, January 09, 2009
At the beginning of each year I send donations to the sixteen main charities I support. I send them occasional donations throughout the year (plus a few I have monthly standing orders for) but the main bulk goes out early January. I also respond to ad hoc appeals - I can't give much but I try to give something to everyone who asks.
What I find dispiriting is that for some organisations as soon as I have sent them something I get a letter back by return post asking for more. I realise that some charities are run as businesses with professional hard-nosed marketing people in charge of fund-raising (people of a type I know only too well). I realise that direct mail for some charities is as mathematical and formulaic as any hedge fund calculation (and probably someone has worked out that if you make an appeal to someone immediately they have donated you can get them to give again).
But even so, it is dispiriting.
Thursday, January 08, 2009
Above: I am currently reading Out Of Sheer Rage by Geoff Dyer. I heard it reviewed on Radio 4 while I was driving and decided on impulse to buy it, and ordered it on Amazon when I got back to the office. It is very unusual for me to do this, since I have so many books waiting to be read that I have imposed a moratorium on new purchases.
The novel is ostensibly about a writer attempting (and failing) to write a biography of DH Lawrence. You might think a book about a writer trying to write a book about a writer is somewhat self-indulgent. However, the book is really about procrastination, inertia and self-delusion, and therefore has some very pertinent points to make that are relevant to my current life.
I hadn't thought much of DH Lawrence before reading this book (although I have liked Bavarian Gentians since I was about fourteen). As a result of reading Geoff Dyer I looked up Lawrence's poem The Snake and have already read it several times. I think it is going to be one of my all-time favourites.
The Snake: http://homepages.wmich.edu/~cooneys/poems/dhl.snake.html
Wednesday, January 07, 2009
Above: the Vivienne Westwood shop in the Kings Road – “World’s End”. Although Vivienne Westwood is usually associated with the 1970s, she did some of her most influential work in the early 1980s, developing the “new romantic” look (Kim is drawing parallels between Westwood’s “new romantics” in the 1980s and Dior’s “new look” in the 1940s). In particular Vivienne Westwood designed for Adam And The Ants.
Above: Vivienne Westwood c1987 – make-up by Paul Starr, hair by Kevin Ryan.
Vivienne Westwood pirate design: http://www.fashion-era.com/images/1960-80/west300x20a.jpg
And today at the V&A: http://www.vam.ac.uk/collections/fashion/fashion_motion/westwood/index.html
I don't think anyone takes Adam and the Ants seriously these days, but they have to be seen within the context of their time: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wtxuPqjSJDc