Thursday, February 26, 2009

Zidane, un portrait du 21e siècle



Douglas Gordon's film about Zinedine Zidane was on BBC4 last night. Seventeen cameras were used to film the football player during a single match. The material was then edited into effectively a feature-length music video.

The film chopped up Zidane into his component parts (feet, hands, cheekbones etc) in what was literally a deconstructuralist approach. You could also see him running and walking and occasionally looking bemused. Surprisingly for a top soccer player he didn't seem all that vocal (or has the verbal communication been edited out?).

The film convincingly conveyed the speed, confusion and aggression of a typical football match.

Interesting example of Image Music Text in the Barthes style.

http://www.uipfrance.com/sites/zidane/ba2.html

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Ash Wednesday



Above: the church blazed with light, the flag of St George flew from the tower, Ash Wednesday 2009.

Ash Wednesday is the start of Lent. I went to an evening service (7.30 start) at one of the heathland villages. A stone village on the stone heath, with an ancient stone church at its centre.

The church was small but seemed bigger because of the proportions of the architecture. Mostly fourteenth-century. Every candle in the building was lit, signifying this important day in the church calendar.

About twenty people at the service, all ages. Two clergy presided, a slightly hesitant woman vicar and a more senior priest who sat in chancel and watched. An urgent appeal from the Archbishops of Canterbury and York was read out from the chancel step - because of the parlous state of the economy in Zimbabwe funds were required so that the churches in that country could feed the people.

We were then formally welcomed and began by working our way through the ten commandments.

The reading was from Job: Blow the trumpet in Zion; sanctify a fast; call a solemn assembly...

The sermon started with the woman vicar talking about an elderly lady she knew: "She's getting on a bit so she told me she was only going to clear out her kitchen cupboards once a fortnight instead of once a week." This reference to extreme household cleanliness caused one woman in the congregation to giggle helplessly and for such an extended period that I wondered if she was becoming hysterical. The vicar used the anecdote to remind us of the greed, negligence and waste in the metaphorical cupboards of our own lives.

The "ashing" took place just before the Peace. We all went up to stand before the Communion rail and the priests made the sign of the cross on our foreheads using ashes (from last year's burnt palm fronds) mixed with annointing oil, and saying "Dust thou art, and to dust thou shall return..."

Holy Communion. The hymn Dear Lord and Father of Mankind. Sombre dismissal.



Above: Global Care send out useful Lent calendars. There are meditations and suggestions for each day. Global Care was founded by Ron Newby who died suddenly last year.

More on Ron Newby: http://www.coventrytelegraph.net/news/coventry-news/2008/10/29/ron-newby-a-life-of-caring-for-world-s-poorest-92746-22143267/

Monday, February 23, 2009

Gisele Bundchen



Very intrigued by this ad for Dolce & Gabbana’s fragrance. Instead of their usual provocative tableaus featuring plastic flesh, this shot is a tribute to Veronica Lake’s portraits from the 1940s. It’s a very powerful image – I’ve been searching on google for the photographer, but so far no luck.

More on Veronica Lake: http://www.fanpix.net/picture-gallery/752/469752-veronica-lake-picture.htm

Madonna’s Veronica Lake tribute in her music video Vogue: http://images.mefeedia.com/entries/8619227/video_120.png (tiny image, but you can see it better in the video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bZGIC6wgSLs&feature=related it’s about two minutes twenty seconds into the clip).

More on Gisele Bundchen: http://www.giselebundchen.com.br/gisele_home.asp and http://www.sandaliagiselebundchen.com.br/

More on Dolce & Gabbanna advertising: http://www.bwgreyscale.com/ads/d&g.html

Sunday, February 22, 2009

The first Sunday before Lent

Increasingly as people find out I am doing an (unofficial) inquiry into Anglicanism they have started to recommend specific churches and services I should go to. These commendations are given in the same way that a restaurant would be recommended (praise for the décor, clientele, atmosphere etc). Although it is not my intention to write a Michelin guide to the Anglican church, the service I attended this morning was possibly Three Star.



Above: gigantic heaps of sugar beet.

Because the service (the first Sunday before Lent) started at eight, I had to be up at six this morning. An hour’s drive took me to the middle heathlands, and then slightly down the escarpment past gigantic heaps of sugar beet. The tiny church was outside the village in open countryside, the small churchyard bounded by layered hawthorn hedges and dotted with neatly clipped yews.

Inside about fifteen people had gathered, with a few others arriving afterwards. The interior was almost entirely Victorian – whitewashed walls, bulky organ, rich pink brocade curtains at the east end, coloured and patterned encaustic tiles on the floor, low pews with a convenient ridge so you could prop up your service book, hassocks that were proper drum-shaped cushions (very comfortable). A dazzling amount of brass was in the church, well-designed and spotlessly clean (including two large free-standing six-light candelabras either side of the altar, a brass chandelier, and a set of brass vases).

The Vicar was a large lady in a rather shapeless white surplice and a green stole with rainbows at each end. Her manner had a pleasant sort of briskness, that reminded me of the Vicar of Dibley. We said the service, no hymns and no sermon, the communion cup a small silver chalice.

Everything about the service was faultless. Every detail of the church was perfect. The people were all very friendly and told me how “nice” the church was (as if congratulating me on finding out their secret).

As I was leaving the Vicar (who looks after six villages in all, as part of a team) told me: “You should come back for the August teas! Every Sunday in August between three and five-thirty they have the most wonderful home-made teas here. It’s their main fund-raiser, and people come to them from miles around”.



Above: the notice sheet included a recipe for pancakes – Shrove Tuesday is this Tuesday.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

When you are gone you are gone - the past week at work

Monday

A meeting this morning between Terry, Andrea and myself. We held it in Terry’s office upstairs (there have been complaints that Terry is neglecting the main PR agency because of all the problems in our little operation). “We” decided that Nigel (temp cum trainee) would have to go (I say “we” as it was a sort of collective decision, although I didn’t voice an opinion one way or the other).

A new admin assistant has been appointed - Louise (tall, full-figure, wavy blonde hair - friendly, boyish and not feminine). She is replacing Julie who walked out after a contretemps with Andrea. Louise will be working with Denise (who is herself new, and barely knows the systems).

Tuesday

An office meeting to start the day. We all gathered in the admin office, Nigel with his folder as if he was still at college. A stern warning from Andrea about limiting outgoings and expenses. Terry is writing objectives for each of us to meet in terms of new business.

Louise has made a good start - calm-headed and eager to learn.

In the afternoon Andrea and I drove out to Surrey to visit a potential client (another of Terry’s leads). They were housed in a Regency manor house with 1960s additions. In a reversal of the normal roles, the company personnel were most attentive to us, and seemed to want our approval (their "product" is controversial and I told Andrea on the way back that I would prefer not to handle them).

The weather has changed and is much milder. On the way home I got off the tube at Waterloo and walked across the bridge to Embankment so that I could look at the Thames. As a consequence of this I missed my usual train home.

Wednesday

The weather has become milder but the heating in the office is still at full blast. Everyone complained about how hot they were (we can’t really have the windows open because of the noise from the street). Denise went out mid-morning to buy us all ice-creams from the Häagen Daz café.

It was the third day in a row that was extremely quiet, with no new work coming in. This was of concern to everybody. Andrea told us she is planning a day when we all “get on the phones” and drum up some business.

In the afternoon Andrea handed me a poisoned chalice. She had poached a client from her former place of work and gave me the job of cancelling their existing advertising and rebooking it at lower rates (so the client gets a better deal and we get the commissions). The publications were most unwilling to do this, and only by threatening to move the ads into rival magazines could I get them to co-operate.

In the evening I had to work late to help Andrea with two first ads for a new client (whether they continue with us depends on whether the ads perform). Having had a row with the studio upstairs, Andrea couldn’t get any of our own creatives to do the ads (it was all rather last minute). She had obtained a quote from a design agency to do them, but the cost was so extortionate we would be running the campaign at a loss.

So we came up with some rough visuals ourselves, and devised the copy. This home-made effort was sent over to a jobbing designer who did the artwork in about two hours. I felt humiliated at the end of this process, as if I had done something dirty (Andrea was so effusively grateful she bought me a bottle of wine - a 2004 Meursault).

Thursday

This morning Andrea told Nigel his services were no longer required. He took the news very badly. Instead of leaving immediately he lingered in the offices all morning talking about his situation. His voice seemed twice as loud as normal, as if the volume control had broken. When he eventually left at 12 he said goodbye to everyone as if he expected to be coming back soon. But when you are gone you are gone.

Friday

Quiet all day until mid afternoon, when the ’phones began ringing and e-mails started pinging in, reaching a climax at 5 (without Nigel to help them Denise and Louise were floundering).

When I left at 5.30 there was still an air of crisis (but happily one that did not require my assistance).

Friday, February 20, 2009

London Fashion Week



Above: the Fashion Retail Academy was set up in 2005 to enhance the standard of merchandising in the British fashion industry (the United Kingdom excels at designing, but is not so good at selling - there is a residual idea that selling is somehow...).

It is worth considering the impact fashion has on the United Kingdom economy. In the exotic caravansarai that is London Fashion Week the world creative forces that shape how people look (and look at each other) will be briefly gathered. London has always been a reliable wellspring of original designs / ideas / concepts.

As well as giving, London also receives a considerable amount of support from world-fashion decision makers. A few words of endorsement from Anne Wintour or Karl Lagerfeld will easily negate the gloomy verdicts of Howard Schultz or Jim Rogers among investors looking for sectors that can make them money. The industry makes money and is an engine of growth, but hardly anyone takes it seriously.

More: http://www.londonfashionweek.co.uk/

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Beattie McGuinness Bungay in Shorts Street



Above: Shorts Steet in Covent Garden. Location of advertising agency Beattie McGuinness Bungay. The damp narrow street had a Dickensian feel, so that I felt as if I had tracked Fagin to his den.

To pursue the Dickens metaphor, BMB are the best of agencies and the worst of agencies. They have won awards. Their work is technically outstanding, their brand characterisations are fully developed and with depth and empathy, their conceptual ideas are exceptional.

For instance, their work for Carling is funny, visually stimulating, and noticeably well-executed (there is a slight 1990s-noir-ish tinge to the campaigns, but this may reflect aspects of the age groups that are being targeted).

Their work for Walls (“the two best bits”) sparingly demonstrates the power of gestalt theory.

Their Virgin Money ad takes the selfishness implied in capitalism and accentuates the self-serving altruism that capitalism can sometimes deliver.

But their work is also nihilistic and lacks any inherent morality.

Does advertising lead society or merely hold up a mirror to it? Trevor Beattie is an intelligent man, so when he says “Eastenders is pretty much representative of British life” we can no longer dismiss it as offensive trash and look away. Beattie McGuinness Bungay is one of the two hundred or so reasons society is in the mess it’s in.

More: http://www.bmbagency.com/

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Confusion at BillStickers in Greek Street



Above: the former BillStickers in Greek Street.

Respondent: aged 45, female, professional (legal executive):

Sundays I almost always went to Confusion at BillStickers in Greek Street. I walk past it now and it’s just offices. I can’t begin to tell you what that place meant to me.

I met the love of my life there, and I was offered two really really good jobs through people I met there, and I generally had a good time…

What I really liked about it was the place was small, so you knew everyone at least by sight. Especially if you went there every week. It was a reliable party every Sunday.

I never felt threatened there, if you know what I mean. I could go there even on my own, which I did a couple of times, and be sure of a friendly welcome and knowing that people would talk to you and be nice. For a single girl in her early twenties that was a big deal then.

London has changed so much I don’t recognise the place. People are much ruder now and everyone has this anger in them. It wasn’t like that twenty years ago.

The thing I liked most? Was the way people looked. They looked devastating… (respondent laughs, and after further questioning respondent becomes candid) …well I’ll tell you the truth, I looked pretty devastating in those days. Not that I knew at the time. It was only years afterwards when I looked at photos of myself, and I could see myself properly. At the time I was too insecure and self-critical.

Mind you, the music was never up to much. The sound system was all wrong. You danced in spite of the music not because of it.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

February Fill Dyke



Above: February Fill Dyke - painting by Benjamin Williams Leader 1881.



Above: February Fill Dyke - digital photograph by me 2009.

February fill dike
Be it black or be it white
But if it be white
It's the better to like
(1670 J. Ray English Proverbs 40)

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Owls

This afternoon, after lunch (roast beef, Yorkshire pudding, roast potatos, boiled Savoy cabbage, swede mashed with butter), I went to look round an owl sanctuary.



Above: I am familiar with owls from the ones who live in the surrounding countryside (including a white owl that flies around in daylight near the house) and also from stuffed exhibits in museums and galleries. This is a Victorian example of an English barn owl. Stuffed owls are increasingly rare in public museums given the current public sector mania for political correctness which has censored these objects for some reason.



Above: they had a live English barn owl at the sanctuary and because things were quiet (I was the only visitor) the attendant took it out to show me. English barn owls feed on rabbits, rodents and frogs. Their wings have developed so that they can fly almost completely silently (apart from an occasional screech).



Above: Great Grey Eagle Owl, found throughout northern Europe (but under threat). Eats voles, shrews and mice. I was completely unprepared for the intelligent way owls look at you with their beautiful eyes, calm and appraising (but also shy - often they would turn their heads 180 degrees and look the other way).



Above: European Eagle Owl, no longer found in the United Kingdom. Largest owl in the world, it has a wingspan of up to 6 feet. Feeds at night, and makes its home in cliff faces, gorges and crags (the feathers provide camoflage for this habitat).



Above: the European Eagle Owl was persecuted into extinction in the British Isles, but it was once common until the later part of the nineteenth century. Occasionally you find evidence of their previous existence, like this ceramic in a church in the county. Possibly they could be reintroduced (one fo the good things about the recession is that wildlife is being given a reprieve from the relentless pace of "development" - the collapse of the housing market has its advantages!).



Above: I am fascinated by this heraldic "achievement" which I photographed at a church in a heathland village. The supporters are green parrots, and the quarterings show parrots and owls (you might need to click on the image to see the details). Perched on top of the coronet is a grey owl and a pelican.

I have read The Owl Service by Alan Garner, but I haven't seen this series, which was made back in the '60s: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1TYzD7yK494

Saturday, February 14, 2009

St Valentine's Day



Today is St Valentine's Day, which is widely regarded as an indeterminate celebration of "love". Trying to look at it from a cultural perspective, what exactly is being "celebrated" in an age where there is no longer any social-sexual inhibitions, and even thirteen-year-old boys are fathering children? What I am trying to find an answer to is the question: what does St Valentine's Day mean to you/us/them?

Looking beneath the current conventions of chocolates, cards and flowers, the day-long celebration in its present form seems to be a relic of Victorian sentimentality.

In the county there were three distinct periods in which St Valentine's Day was marked:

In the medieval period it was one of a series of feast days that enlivened the winter months. Various "free love" customs are recorded (including mock marriages for the day); children are allowed to beg for money if they can recite specific chants; various superstitions were prevalent involving the divination of future marriage partners. All these customs were suppressed during the puritan period.

In the nineteenth-century St Valentine's Day was revived as a picturesque observance, entirely separated from its "misrule" origins and given a veneer of Christianity (one of the churches in the central hills still rings "a quarter peal of St Valentine doubles" on 14th of February). Magazines of the time publish mawkishly sentimental illustrations that idealise "love". The anonymous nature of many Valentines customs indicate that it was unrequited love that was being celebrated.

The Victorian celebrations came to an end about 1900, and were then revived in the 1920s when the sending of Valentines cards became prevalent. It is likely this custom came from America (although there are a few local examples that pre-date 1900). This is the form of St Valentine's Day that is celebrated today.



Above: even charities are using St Valentine's Day as a theme for direct mail campaigns.

The increasing commercialisation of St Valentine's Day has turned the "holiday" into a marketing opportunity and engine of sales for greetings card manufacturers, chocolate retailers, purveyors of coloured heart-shaped balloons etc. Pubs, clubs and restaurants provide themed events (at premium prices). From being a ritual way in which "love" can be expressed openly without being censored by society, the day has developed into an opportunity for demonstrating "love" through expenditure and consumption.

This isn’t especially to do with St Valentine’s Day, but I want to record it on this site and it may as well go here as anywhere else – the video directed by Philippe Andre (and could have been scripted by Jose Saramago): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YQKegElRAcA

Friday, February 13, 2009

FremantleMedia



Above: FremantleMedia in Stephen Street (behind Tottenham Court Road). FremantleMedia is part of the RTL Group, which is owned by Bertelsmann AG. FremantleMedia Chief Executive is Tony Cohen (“the downturn is a good time to go shopping”) and their PR is handled by Ogilvy PR.

The FremantleMedia Group has operations in 22 countries, creating over 10,000 hours of programming, over more than 60 formats and 300 individual titles. Tony Cohen has an expansionist philosophy, and is always on the look-out for “the next big thing” (he does this by internal intellectual growth and through external acquisitions). Core production activities include daily/weekly dramas; primetime entertainment; and “factual” entertainment.

“Names” include: The Bill, The Price Is Right, Neighbours (Fremantle, through its acquired companies, is probably the organisation most responsible for British teenagers from the 1990s onwards adopting the Australian High Rising Intonation – a questioning inflection at the end of phrases).

Significantly Fremantle have pioneered the distribution of original format programmes on YouTube (matching YouTube’s audiences to Fremantle’s content).

More: http://www.fremantlemedia.com/

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Byzantium at the Royal Academy



Above: Taking refuge from the bad weather I went into the Byzantium exhibition at the Royal Academy in Piccadilly.



Above: the steps leading up to the exhibition (then I had to put my camera away as photography is not allowed).



Considering that Constantinople fell to the invading Turks in 1453, it is amazing that anything remains of Byzantine civilisation. The few fragments that do survive indicate the treasures that have been lost. If the European Union should last a thousand years it might possibly develop a continental culture comparable with Byzantium.

Entering the first room you walk under an enormous Byzantine chandalier. In the next room you come face to face with a life-size marble head of Constantine, positioned on a level so that you can look into his eyes. In the next room is the Antioch Chalice, supposedly a candidate for the Holy Grail itself ("recent scholarship" says it is a standing lamp, but we know all about recent scholars and their attempts to out-banal each other in dead-pan interpretations).

It was the books that I found most exciting. The Sacra Parallela of St John of Damascus; the Khludov Psalter; the Menologian (a calendar of saints' days). A copy (obviously much-kissed) of the theological writings of the Emperor John VI Kantakouzenos.

A room filled with icons, including the familiar icon of the Archangel Michael (familiar from illustrations - the actual object impressed me with its three-dimensional depth). A micromosaic of the Man of Sorrows in a later reliquary case which had tiny stuffed compartments in the doors so that I wanted to take it apart. A wonderful icon of St George from St Catherine's monastery in Sinai (after the books this was for me the star of the show).

Other objects that caught my eye included some big silver spoons; the sapphires set in the Berlin collar; the angels holding fans on the Epitaphios of Nicholas Eudaimonoianoannes.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Prime Minister's Questions, 11th February 2009

At noon today I watched Prime Minister’s Questions.

In the studio Hazel Blears was talking to Andrew Neil. Even after twelve years of power her verbal style is one of opposition. This ruse (if it is a deliberate ruse) takes you in briefly until you realise that she is part of the power structure and needs to be explaining more and complaining less.

The cameras went across to the House of Commons where there was a great deal of red on the Labour benches.

Referring to whistleblowers, sackings and resignations, Leader of the Opposition David Cameron asked about the behaviour of Sir James Crosby (simultaneously poacher and game-keeper as a banker who sat on the FSA, presumably regulating himself).

Gordon Brown tried to obfuscate the scandal by referring to the process of inquiry (“the KMPG investigation” and “the Walker Committee”).

David Cameron continued to refer to Sir James Crosby and made a frontal assault: “The Prime Minister has been relying on him for economic advice.”

Gordon Brown distanced himself from Sir James Crosby, saying he had been involved in two reports which were now finished (the curl on his lip and snarl in his voice telling David Cameron he had been ready for such a trap).

David Cameron fatuously asked the Prime Minister to “admit he got something wrong” (Gordon Brown’s position echoes that of Asquith – Come one come all this rock shall fly, from its firm base as soon as I).

Gordon Brown launched into a long list of Tory shortcomings (but seemed to be put off by David Cameron and George Osborne whispering in front of him).

David Cameron asked Gordon Brown whether his prediction about the resumption of economic growth in July this year was still credible.

Gordon Brown called the Leader of the Opposition a “do nothing” and seemed to imply that President Obama shared this opinion.

At this point the shouting on the Labour benches had reached such a pitch that the Speaker stood up and told them bluntly “Don’t push your luck”.

David Cameron ended his viva voce examination of the Prime Minister by accusing him of “incompetence and arrogance”.

Gordon Brown bellowed back “wrong, wrong, wrong” and pointed forcefully to David Cameron.

Shortly afterwards Nick Clegg, Leader of the Liberal Democrats, attempted a trap question of his own, but the whole exchange fell flat (we saw the Culture Secretary apparently laughing at Mr Clegg’s ponderous points).

Later in the session Tory Angela Watkinson asked an intriguing question that I would like to know more about. Something about an illicit appointment. She must have known what she was doing when she asked this.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Le Caprice



On Friday I met friends at Le Caprice in Arlington Street. You would think that with the recession / depression no-one would be able to afford to eat at Le Caprice, but the place was packed. To add to the sense of recherche indulgence, our party included an unrepentent City person - and he paid the bill for all of us, which was generous.



Le Caprice is more of an institution than a restaurant. It is a favoured dining place of the media world. The glossy interior consists of an L-shaped room decorated with black and white photographs by David Bailey.

The restaurant is currently owned by Richard Caring who is a major donor to the Labour Party. A recent magazine caricature portrayed Richard Caring as the Bond villain Blofeld. Having bought Le Caprice he intends to "extend" the brand (in other words, dilute and corrupt it).



Above: I started with eggs Benedict, which is one of the Le Caprice specialties.



Above: for the main course I had a salmon fishcake, which again is a renowned Le Caprice dish.



Above: orange pudding with custard for dessert, followed by coffee.


We talked about media issues, politics, economics. Sancerre to drink. At one stage the City person became very agitated and talked about what the government should be doing - I made notes as he talked:
"It is okay to bash the bankers but do not confuse their actions on CDOs and other derivatives in the wholesale market as being about market failure. In fact most of the toxic waste that these banks have on their books is a result of bi-, tri- or quad-lateral agreements that they had with mortgage brokers or others. There was no market for these instruments when they were bought. Some smart ass simply gave a projection of revenues which the rating agencies signed off on. The key point is that the market was never in operation - there was no exchange for these things. Some are only now beginning to emerge. The government can help by supporting a market where this paper can trade. The solution to the current crisis is more markets not less! The Government needs to encourage the exchanges in the City - the LSE, or maybe better would be LIFFE - to set up a market where toxic waste can be traded publicly during normal trading hours. The Government should help finance independent rating analysts who can work towards getting information about all of these products into the public domain - this is a big job and needs government backing. That way not only can the government be seen to be doing something, but they can also begin to see the value of the assets in the banks that it has invested in. Plus the government gets to poke a snoot at the rating agencies. London needs to take a lead in creating a market for these instruments."

Well there you are. I didn’t understand a word of it. But I reproduce it here as the semi-drunk slurred ramblings of a fallen master of the universe down on his luck.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Ann Widdicombe and the Reformation

Credit where it is due. Up until yesterday the Channel 4 series History of Christianity has been rubbish, but last night’s documentary on the Reformation was a superlative piece of intellectual television. Scintillating visual images were combined with original insights in a way that had real integrity (you might not agree with everything that was said, but you couldn’t really fault it on grounds of logic).

The documentary was presented by the unfashionable Ann Widdicombe, and we saw her short dumpy figure and inquiring expression appearing in a succession of dramatic settings (parades of burning crosses, ravishing Renaissance architecture, dark priests’ holes in English country houses). Her wheezing slightly-asthmatic voice (with its Joyce Grenfell tinge of authority) told you everything you needed to know about this complex and contradictory period. One of the most stimulating programmes I have seen in a long while.

You can see the programme: http://www.channel4.com/programmes/christianity-a-history/episode-guide/series-1/episode-5

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Temple

The Channel 4 "documentary" (the inverted commas indicating the word is used in its loosest possible sense) on the crusades recently has made me curious to examine the crusader involvement in the history of the county. At least five preceptorys are known to have existed in the county. Yesterday I went to look at the remains of one of these preceptorys.

A preceptory was an area headquarters of the Knights Templars. The Templars were not strictly "crusaders" as they took a different (and permanent) vow, and lived in a sort of military monastic order. The preceptorys raised enormous amounts of money to finance Templar operations in the Holy Land.



Above: place name evidence shows Templar activity on the limestone heath in the centre of the county.



Above: driving out to the area, the main road was clear but the side roads were covered in ice and the fields were under about a foot of snow.



Above: I arrived at Temple Farm and walked along the drive (covered in about an inch of ice) towards the farm buildings. This was not a straight track but undulated condsiderably so that I had to walk slowly to avoid slipping over. In the bright sun the ice was melting and running off the shed roofs to create sparkling beads of water falling to the ground.



Above: the farm is a centre of the local hunt, and so there were lots of horses (obviously these are hunters).



Above: also lots of barking dogs, excited to see someone.



Above: the track went entirely around the back of the farm buildings to the site of the preceptory. Only one tower remains. Originally there were two towers and a characteristic round temple church.



Above: a short flight of ice-encrusted steps led into the tower.



Above: inside there was an impressive 12th century arcade, a vaulted roof and a weathered Templar tomb lid.



Above: many masons' marks were on the walls - this one is possibly a double-headed axe.



Above: a research student was also in the tower, doing some work on the masons' marks. She had produced a small booklet on her findings. We chatted for a little while.



Above: on the wall was a plan of the site, which was excavated at the end of the Victorian period. The amateur archaeologist had found (supposedly) underground chambers. Because of the snow it was impossible to discern any of the preceptory remains other than the tower.



Above: an 18th century engraving shows some of the round church was still standing.



Above: also on the wall was a "reconstruction" of what the preceptory might have looked like. I climbed a narrow winding staircase up to the next floor in the tower. It was an empty stone room with no ceiling so that you looked right up to the roof.



Above: apart from a few farms and cottages the only other building in the "village" is a small Victorian church with a schoolroom attached. I thought I would take a look at this while I was in the area. As you can see on the map above, the church is in the middle of nowhere at a point where five roads meet (this is supposedly a very significant spot associated with ley lines and the winter and summer solstices).



Above: one of the five roads is a "green lane" - covered in snow.



Above: the crossroads. On the way there I saw a car half-in a ditch with two men trying to push it out. I stopped to help them, and after some effort we pushed the car back onto the road.



Above: the little remote church.



Above: it was dedicated to St John the Baptist which made me think (the Templars were supposed to have venerated the mummified head of St John the Baptist).



Above: the church was locked. I walked through the deep snow round to the back and looked in through a window (spattered with raindrops) into the small schoolroom. What is the significance of the date written on the blackboard?



Above: what is the connection between the tiny village and the temple site in Jerusalem? During the second summer vacation at university I went on a British School of Archaeology excavation at a crusader site in Israel. I stayed at the British School and went up onto the Temple Mount almost every day - the Templar activities there have not been properly examined or recorded.

Note: someone who has seen these photographs has put forward the theory that the Knights Templars discovered the Ark of the Covenant during their excavations on the Temple Mount, and moved it for safe-keeping to the remote preceptory in the county, where it was hidden in an underground chamber. Re-discovered during the amateur late-Victorian excavations, a special church was constructed by the local landowner (that at least I can verify) and the Ark was moved there during secret ritual ceremonies on 11th November 1898. I add this note in the smallest type, in the faintest grey, because I am afraid of being classified with the "crazies".

Saturday, February 07, 2009

The figures for January are dire - the past week at work

Monday

It was impossible to go to work today - the landscape was white with snow and it was bitterly cold - a painful sort of cold.

So I spent the day writing copy and did some of my best work for a long time.

Tuesday

The monthly agency meeting was held with Terry (our MD and owner of the business). The meeting had been scheduled for yesterday, but had been cancelled because so few people had made it into the office. At the meeting were Terry, Andrea (my immediate boss) and myself.

Nigel (ex-student and temp hoping to become trainee Account Exec) came into the room and sat down with his folder, but Andrea told him he didn’t need to be at the meeting.

The figures for January are dire. The agency had been set up on the expectation that a limited number of clients (mostly Terry’s existing PR clients) would spend their advertising budgets with us. These billings have not materialised, which is why Andrea has been so frantically trying to get new clients on board.

Terry told us we have three months to turn the situation round. He did not expand on what would happen if things were not turned round. Rachel (works upstairs) has told me privately that Andrea and myself would be moved back up to the main agency and everything else closed down.

Wednesday

A day of processing ads. The agency seemed to be functioning properly without any staff dramatics. Andrea’s computer failed, so she took over Nigel’s leaving him with nowhere to work.

In the morning a visit to the shambolic Peter B to discuss his latest advertising - we always worry whether he is going to pay the bill.

Andrea asked my advice about what to do about Nigel. It was obvious that she wanted me to support her recommendation to Terry to get rid of him. “He is going to be a problem unless we can put Terry off the idea of giving him a permanent job” she said.

In the afternoon I went with Terry to see another one of his clients. We sat at a board table in a room surrounded by toys. We went through the presentation and the client just said yes at the end of it (if only all pitches were this easy).

Thursday

Again the weather was too bad to get to London. I left at the usual time and drove about six miles on compacted snow, this taking me about an hour. Rather than continue I decided to go home again and work over the remote connection.

Friday

More snow, but there had been a thaw yesterday afternoon and the road surfaces were actually visible. I had a day’s holiday, and went into London to meet friends. I allowed myself five hours for this journey, but actually it didn’t take much more time than usual.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

The golden bough



Above: more snow fell again today, the white revealing previously hidden aspects of the landscape. For instance, this photograph shows balls of mistletoe hanging on a beech tree. Seeing it like this was a revelation - I could suddenly understand the veneration of our Iron Age ancestors for this parasitic vine.

Mistletoe is known as "the golden bough" of European mythology. It produces white berries in the middle of winter (the seeds are spread by birds). Heavy infestations can ultimately kill the host tree.



Above: Sir James Fraser writes extensively about the cultural importance of mistletoe in The Golden Bough. This is one of the books that changed my life. It is important to read the full unabridged version of the work (in several volumes) but you might also want to keep a Wordsworth edition handy in the car - it is amazing value at £2.50 and being so cheap you can turn the corners down, write in the margins, stuff cuttings between the pages (at which point it becomes much more valuable to you than the multi-volume hardback edition).