Monday, March 30, 2009

Life imitating art imitating life



Above: another Monday, another political sex scandal. This one involves the Home Secretary who has been caught putting her husband's pornographic viewing habits on public expenses. More seriously (in my opinion) her husband is also employed as her assistant, on the public payroll at a vastly inflated salary (much more than we pay our office manager).

Everyone seems to have a ribald comment to make on this news item, mostly revolving around aspects of... er... onanism.

I looked at all the front covers and nearly chose the Daily Mirror to illustrate the story, but in the end opted for the Daily Mail. I particularly like the subtle and subliminal way in which the layout links the word "hilarious" with the name of the Home Secretary Jacqui Smith (as the eye reads the Home Secretary's name it also picks up the understated verdict). This is the work of a master.

Late yesterday Jacqui Smith's husband appeared at the gate of the family residence and read a carefully worded and unconvincing statement: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KeF36BWgKhE&feature=channel

It is life imitating art imitating life: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=72ZO6w0rl6Y

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Like the beating of a giant heart

The fifth Sunday of Lent. Lent this year seems far more studious and serious than usual. As well as the formal services there are meditations on the beatitudes, a course on the psalms, a day "exploring the spirituality of George Herbert priest and poet".



Above: driving back across the county I saw an isolated church, the nave and chancel quite small but with a striking tower and steeple.



Above: I turned off the main road and went down a narrow lane to the church (miles from the nearest village). I thought I may as well have a quick look while I was passing. Vaguely arts and crafts gates, creaking open.



Above: as I expected, the door was locked. No notice on where the key might be obtained. Looking through the windows I saw an interesting interior, including some pre-Raphaelite stained glass.



Above: rounding a corner, I became conscious of a regular pounding sound, like the beating of a giant heart. I was briefly (only briefly) alarmed, thinking I was imagining things. The "boom, boom, boom" noise seemed to be coming from narrow slits in the tower.



Above: looking upwards, I saw dozens of pigeons flying in and out of the windows at the very top of the tower. The whole structure was hollow (had the floors collapsed?) and acted as a gigantic sound box. The beating sound I could hear was the collective cooing of the birds, magnified many times over and projected out through the window slits.

The sound on the RSPB site: http://www.rspb.org.uk/wildlife/birdguide/name/w/woodpigeon/index.asp

Saturday, March 28, 2009

"What is the one question we are all thinking"- the past week at work

Monday

I got to the agency to find Louise and Denise waiting on the landing outside - Andrea still does not trust them with keys to the office. In part this is because we know someone (probably Matthew) had come back to the offices after leaving the company and gone through the files. He must have done this late at night.

I started the day with the ad for the architect's practice, and it was accepted without amendments. The Summit artwork has been produced and looks superb, so that I have thoughts that we might get the account (although I know I must not think this way - the odds are against it). The day seemed to be going well.

Denise put a call through to me from one of our bigger clients. They had asked for Andrea but she wasn't in yet. They told me that they were not going to do any national advertising for the rest of the year.

This was appalling news, and will considerably affect our profit margins. I called Andrea on her mobile and told her the news. I went upstairs and informed Terry (our ultimate boss) but he expressed no surprise at the information.

Tuesday

Andrea came out of her office looking shocked - she had just commiserated with a friend about the break-up of her relationship and it had been the first the poor woman had known about it.

Work began to pour in - Good Hope placed a total of eight ads during the day, with more to follow. Downport came through with three ads, all totally new business with a lot of creative input. We began to feel stretched by all this new work.

The afternoon was quieter. Denise brought everyone gingerbread men at lunchtime ("She only does this to give herself an excuse to break her diet" said Louise). I sat by the window and looked out at the busy street.

Wednesday

I was half an hour late getting to the office this morning and found Denise, Louise and Duncan waiting outside and looking considerably fed-up.

Another busy morning. The architectural practice very pleased with the creative proposals we have done for them. Downport extremely late getting amended copy back to us, so that we had to rush around to meet the deadline.

Andrea incensed at mistakes made by the Financial Times, so that she got Terry to write a letter of complaint to their advertising department.

Later Andrea stormed about, shouting at Denise, Louise and Duncan about the general standard of their work.

Chris (part-time, does accounts) produced profit and loss figures for the past three months. I was surprised at how well we seem to be doing despite all our quarelling and indolence. Andrea looked at the report and said "We are still over-staffed" (she said this in front of Chris, no doubt knowing it would be repeated to the others).

In the evening I went to the educational charity where I do some work on the committee. They were sat out in the little baroque courtyard at the centre of the building, drinking wine and wondering whether to go indoors. A long and indecisive discussion about whether we should cancel the Summer Ball because of the recession - as it is one of the main fund-raisers this would be difficult to do without repercussions.

Thursday

Generally a much better spirit in the agency, and morale seems to be rising.

However, my extreme lethagy became a problem in the afternoon and I found myself unable to do even simple tasks. Most of the time I drank cups of tea. And looked out of the window.

Louise sat in a corner of my room and giggled at my inability to do anything.

There was a small drama when Andrea ordered Duncan to stop playing Heart FM in the general office. He refused, so Andrea took him to see Terry. When they came back the music was turned off.

Friday

The whole of today was taken up by an agency meeting, chaired by Andrea. In the morning we went through all the clients one by one, reviewing the advertising they had placed with us and how we had handled it. Andrea then asked us how much business we were likely to get over the rest of 2009 (an impossible question).

After lunch we concentrated on new business, trying to identify possible new clients.

Above: Kevin Pietersen in London Lite.

"What is the one question we are all thinking" said Andrea.

"Whether Kevin Pietersen is the real deal" said Duncan flippantly.

Andrea looked at him - an odd look, as if she thought he was mad.

"The question we should all be thinking" she said, "is whether our jobs are safe..."

Thursday, March 26, 2009

2008/09 Rugby Union season



Above: The 2008/09 Rugby Union season is coming to an end. The Six Nations tournament was particularly enthralling. Very impressed by Joe Worsley.



Above: At our local club the last fixtures are being played. This game started slow but became more aggressive after the first half hour. What I like about the club is that you can turn up most weekends and see a great game completely free.

Coverage of rugby is of varying quality, although Tom Jenkins’s photos are an exception. Some of the images he takes are incredible. Sometimes a good photo is on its own worth the price of the newspaper.

More on Tom Jenkins: http://www.guardian.co.uk/sport/gallery/2008/dec/18/sports-photos-of-2008-jenkins?picture=340885820

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Westminster Abbey



Above: Westminster Abbey - I like the way the grey stone merges with the grey sky.

Sometimes you can walk past the same place hundreds of times without realising its true significance. How important is Westminster Abbey to our culture? In every sense of the word this is Valhalla, the place of meanings (if you can spare the time to unravel them all).

Another view: http://www.ltmcollection.org/posters/poster/poster.html?_IXMAXHITS_=1&IXinv=1990/48&IXsummary=results/results&IXsearch=westminster&_IXFIRST_=17&IXenlarge=1062-55

Monday, March 23, 2009

"Romping"



Above: There was a glorious front page to the News of the World yesterday. It involved illicit sexual “romping” by Nigel Griffiths, Labour Member of Parliament for South Edinburgh. The article encourages us to think “dirty dirty dirty Nigel” (to paraphrase Richard Curtis writing about John Major in his film The Girl In The Café).



Above: political sex scandals tend to be judged against the gold standard of David Mellor’s fall from power in 1992. David Mellor was an uber-hubristic Cabinet Minister who was dragged from office following press revelations about his sexual “romping” and subsequent attempted cover up. The public opprobrium heaped upon David Mellor related to his lying and his nauseating hypocrisy, but also (unfairly no doubt) referred to his overweight and unattractive appearance (he is gap-toothed and podgy-faced, with greasy lank hair).



Above: the David Mellor sex scandal has been lampooned on the award-winning comedy show Little Britain, thus signifying the scandal’s entry into popular consciousness and cultural reference. In the satire we see the lying cheating politician at the gate to his vast mock-Tudor residence, surrounded by his family, reading out a carefully-worded and unconvincing statement. Little Britain has a patchy record, but this particular satire approaches Brechtian levels of social commentary.

More: http://www.littlebritain.net/minor-characters/leonard.html?Itemid=54



Above: A variant was produced for Little Britain USA involving a lying cheating Congressman.



Above: as well as Labour “sleaze” and Tory “sleaze” there is also a Liberal-Democrat variety. Probably the best-known recent example is the Paddy Pantsdown incident (then Liberal-Democrat leader Paddy Ashdown was caught “romping” with his secretary, despite his projected image as a man of integrity). Arguably the Liberals provided the most shocking political sex scandal of all time with the Jeremy Thorpe case in the 1970s, but this was so long ago that few people remember it (although it would make a good subject for a Peter Morgan drama).

Why do these political sex scandals acquire such a huge importance? In part it is because they represent an opportunity for ordinary people to deliver a popular verdict on a political class that is seen as remote, self-perpetuating and beyond democratic control. It should worry politicians that whenever “the people” get an opportunity to deliver such a verdict they drag the hapless MP down into the mire and kick him to death (metaphorically).

MPs do not help themselves by evading public concerns over corruption. On the Today Programme this morning there was a Tory spokesperson saying MP’s employment of staff was “no longer an issue” when it absolutely IS an issue – the popular mood is incredibly hostile to MPs employing their spouses or other relations on the public payroll. This is yet another example of how the political elite, by ignoring popular concerns, is alienating voters and driving them to the extremist parties (both left and right).

Editor of the News of the World is Colin Myler. The newspaper has a circulation of just below three million, and a complex readership profile (it's not just C1, C2 DE men and women). Neville Thurlbeck is an alumnus of Lancaster University and has regularly produced sensational reports for the News of the World.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Mothers' Day

Mothering Sunday. I drove across to the stone heath, the last of the clifftop villages. The day was bright and sunny, a cool breeze blowing.



Above: after looking around the village (wide high street) I went to 9.30 Morning Service at the parish church. This building was at the end of a narrow lane, teetering on the edge of the clifftop. The tower you can see is the second constructed on the site - the first one tipped over the edge and crashed down.



Above: I was a little early, so I walked beyond the church to see the point where the road plunged down to the plain. The branches of the trees formed intricate patterns against the blue sky, matching the reticulated tracery in the windows of the church nearby. The whole world seemed fresh and new.



Above: going into the church, there was a lot to see, including this font which had been purchased from the 1862 Great London Exposition. It was in a sort of puginesque baptistry under the tower. There was a fair attendance for the Morning Service.



Above: I was interested to see that the Rood Screen (1911 by Temple Moore) had been linked to the fourteenth-century staircase (you can see the access), and presumably could be used in the medieval style although when I enquired about this I was informed the rood loft was only used to display Christmas trees in December.



Above: baskets of flowers for Mothering Sunday.

Two women priests presided - I knew the senior one slightly (a very formidable woman, academic and Protestant). One of the priests had brought her black labrador into the service and it sat quietly in the chancel apart from a single howl during the intercessionary prayers. Because it was Mothering Sunday baskets of flowers were blessed and then distributed to all of the congregation (this inclusivity on the grounds that we all had mothers who should be honoured).

In England Mothering Sunday is a traditional religious day that occurs during the sombre season of Lent and was designed to venerate family life (workers were given time off to visit their mothers). In America Mothers' Day is a secular and legal event that occurs in May. Over the years various elements of the American festivity have been applied to the English one (although according to some anthropologists the American day was based on European precedents promoted by lobbyist Anna Jarvis).



Above: Tescos and Starbucks have combined to run this Mothers' Day promotion. Starbucks chief executive Howard Schultz has helpfully described Britain as "finished" and is advising investors not to put their money into the United Kingdom economy. In a tiny act of retaliation I have been briefing creatives to use Starbucks coffee as a symbol of the over-priced over-hyped greed and excess that has got the world into such a mess.



Above: the Co-Op's window display advertises chocolates as a Mothers' Day gift.



Above: this window display is slightly more esoteric - I'm sure some mothers must want one of these twee teddies.



Above: the White Hart Hotel was running a lunchtime promotion.

From a marketing perspective, special events and traditional occasions such as Mothers' Day act as a spur and an impetus to the economy, encouraging expenditure and creating a modest "feel good" atmosphere. They are also useful community experiences. Given the importance of public mood on economic activity it is surprising that more is not done to encourage these little holidays (and perhaps revive some forgotten ones - the ritual year is full of them).

Saturday, March 21, 2009

I listened politely - the past week at work

Monday

All the day I felt unwell, breathless and with a tight constricted feeling around my chest, slight aches in my arms.

I put Duncan on the work for Sharon McGrath at Kingswood. He was very enthusiastic about it, writing reports and briefing the creatives upstairs to produce several alternatives (usually we just give them one option, so they were being spoiled). I discovered that Duncan gets on well with the upstairs creatives, which is useful to know – usually they are obstructive over anything to do with Andrea’s sub-agency.

Otherwise a slow sort of day.

After work Andrea and I went to a wine bar. I had one glass of dry white wine while Andrea had the rest of the bottle and then ordered another bottle. She hardly seemed affected by this quantity of alcohol, but at one point she knocked her glass over and it smashed on the floor.

Tuesday

I stayed at home.

Wednesday

I went straight to Piccadilly and the offices of one of Terry’s PR clients (Terry is our ultimate boss). This client, a firm of architects, wants to do some advertising. I was welcomed into a small spartan office and talked for an hour to one of the partners. I pretended to have read his report (there really hadn’t been time to do more than skim over it). Then I took a brief for the ads. Another partner came in and wasted a lot of time talking about design elements and typefaces.

Afterwards I went with the two of them to a bar (it was already lunchtime) and had a drink. The senior partner told me his life story. I listened politely but I was longing to get away.

Then I went to the agency. News that Andrea’s car had been vandalised during the night (she had left it in the back mews and the gate had been closed, so it was a mystery how the vandals got in). A slow afternoon so I went home early.

Thursday

A good sound sleep, so that I felt refreshed. But the journey to work tired me out, and when I got to the office I wanted to go home again. Andrea was out during the morning.

No-one had any work to do, and eventually everyone was sitting in my office talking idly. Denise (admin) complained of having no money. We all felt as if we had worked at the agency for most of our lives.

In the afternoon Andrea came in, and then we both went to a potential client behind Oxford Street. I went through our standard presentation while Andrea made encouraging remarks. But it all seemed a waste of time.

In the evening, despite not feeling well, I went to Tim’s dinner party in Clapham. James G was there, with Ava (a colonel’s daughter). Also Tamsin and Oriana.

We had melon slices, followed by chicken cooked in cream, followed by fruit and cream.

I felt so ill on the journey home that I decided to go to the doctor tomorrow.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Update

An update on my health. I have suspected angina. This is not good (but maybe not as bad as I feared).



Above: because I was not in the office today I went for a walk in the wood, the crows making their usual racket in the treetops above. At the point where the path starts to fall steeply I heard some rustling to my right, and saw a rabbit moving in the undergrowth. It came close to where I stood but seemed unconscious of my presence.

Watching the creature for a few minutes I realised it was blind, entirely preoccupied with finding grass to eat. Occasionally it stopped to rub the ruined remnants of its eyes. Probably (almost certainly) it had the horrible disease myxomatosis.

In the mild air and soft sunshine, among the wild woodland violets, it was dying.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Not very well at the moment. I have lots of things to write and lots of photos to post. But I know I must close this down and go and rest.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

What are you doing here...

I have nearly finished my survey of the stone heath, and have only one more village to visit (which I plan to do next weekend). Already I am thinking about the next part of the county I want to "explore" - the little hills in the south west. On my way home I made a diversion into this new territory, and followed a narrow lane over a high ridge and down to the first of the villages.

The light was fading, so I didn't intend to do much more than reconnoitre. The region is fairly prosperous, the stone cottages mostly owned by commuters, the village pub famous for its English cooking. The river that runs through the village double-backs on itself, forming a sort of island which you reach across a eighteenth-century bridge.



Above: the light was fading as I drove across the bridge and started to look around.



Above: the path was lined by these antique sculptures - this one is of a naked woman kneeling and with her hands behind her head.



Above: from the bridge I could glimpse the gables and chimneys of the Elizabethan hall.



Above: the church was directly ahead (yes, that is my car, in much need of a wash). The tower is over the south transept, which is unusual. I thought I would try the door, not that I expected it to be open.



Above: the door opened and I stepped down into the half-dark interior. The stained glass was vivid in the dying light. I felt a definite sense that I was not alone - a curious presence rather than a hostile one, as if whoever it was wanted to know: what are you doing here.



Above: in the murky twilight I could see across into the shallow north aisle where there was a good set of eighteenth-century monuments.



Above: the flash from my camera lit up the monuments, which commemorated a family of doctors (I found out later they were by Nollekens - according to Pevsner).



Above: again the flash of my camera illuminated the 13th century font, and this freize of hooded medieval villagers kneeling in prayer.

Then I felt as if someone was standing by my elbow, looking over my shoulder as I checked back the photos on my camera, and suddenly I felt afraid (this is a hard admission to make - afraid of shadows) and I left the building in some haste. Outside in the cool evening air the last birds were singing as they settled for the night. I briefly considered going to the Hare and Hounds for a whisky but decided to go home.

“I’ve a horrible feeling we’ve got them back” - the past week at work

Monday

Early to work today because of a client visit. As soon as I got to the office I was leaving again, accompanying Andrea (my boss) on a drive out to Surrey. We arrived at the client’s premises under the impression that we were going to lose the account (they had placed advertising with another agency without telling us). It was with a sense of foreboding that we went in to see Marketing Manager Sharon Macgrath. Despite her difficult reputation (she can be very rude and off-hand) she gave us some coffee. Then she gave us the incredibly embarrassing information that we had arrived a week early (the appointment was for next Monday!). Thank goodness this was Andrea’s mistake and not mine.

This mistake must have confirmed our incompetent status in the eyes of Sharon Macgrath. But the meeting went ahead, and Sharon Macgrath talked about “fine tuning” the way we worked together, which was encouraging. Towards the end of the meeting there was even a hint that we might be given a new campaign.

“I’ve a horrible feeling we’ve got them back” I said to Andrea as we returned to the office.

Lunchtime I went to the bank. Then into Waterstones, just to look. Denise (admin assistant) brought everyone back milkshakes from McDonalds.

In the afternoon I couldn’t motivate myself to do any work, even though the Summit presentation is looming. It was very quiet most of the day until late afternoon when three ads came in – all with tight deadlines. Everyone helped to get them done (and they were done well for once).

Tuesday

Quiet morning with nothing much to do.

In the afternoon Andrea threw a fit when she learned that the February invoices had gone out with errors on them. She called an emergency meeting and confronted Denise and Louise (both admin assistants) with the evidence. This caused considerable resentment in the admin office and I was aware of mutterings continuing throughout the rest of the working day.

In the evening I went to look at a private library that has just opened in London – they had a small reception with very dry white wine.

Wednesday

Andrea was ill today (an unspecified complaint) and didn’t come into the agency.

Chris (part-time lady who does the accounts) was in, and at her desk in the office we share. Louise and Denise came in and sat down and told her in injured tones about the way Andrea had berated them yesterday. All three of them entirely ignored my presence.

Lunchtime Denise went out and bought plants for the offices from petty cash – my room has been allocated a dragon plant.

In the afternoon I talked to Chris about the billings – so far they seem to be quite healthy for March.

Thursday

The morning was taken up with the monthly agency meeting – nothing profound was said.

Two visits today from media reps. I went through the motions of appearing interested, but they were an interruption to my work. Unlikely we will use either of them.

Andrea so changed today! It was as if no-one could do anything wrong. She was laughing and joking even with Duncan (a trainee who has been appointed by our MD against Andrea’s wishes).

Again at lunchtime Denise went out and bought everyone milkshakes from McDonalds – I don’t really like them, but it is difficult to refuse.

Friday

A brisk morning processing ads (the usual retail campaigns that just churn through with little changes except for discounts and price cuts). Andrea had a short abrupt telephone conversation with an IT client and said later that we had probably lost them. I kept Duncan busy with a series of projects.

In the afternoon Andrea came back from a client meeting and said the Marketing Manager had “ogled” her all the time she was talking.

Right at the end of the day Sharon Macgrath sent through a brief for two ads, so we obviously have not lost them. They are a horrible client to handle however. Andrea delegated the ads to me, and I delegated them to Duncan, telling him we would do them together on Monday and then he could handle the client from then on.

After work I went for a walk along the Thames and then caught the train home. At home I had dinner and then sat in an armchair in the long sitting room and closed my eyes and slept until 11.30. When I woke up I felt as if I had been asleep for months.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Young Victoria



Above: Emily Blunt stars in the film which was co-produced by Martin Scorsese.

I have just seen The Young Victoria which opened in London on 6th March. The film stars Emily Blunt who, like Anna Neagle, combines gravity and beauty. Co-producer was Martin Scorsese (the production had an Age of Innocence lavishness).

I went to see the film because the visual impact had been highly-praised by the critics. I didn't expect much from the storyline, and half-expected to sit through gushing over-romantic set-piece scenarios and unrealistic dialogue. But actually it was a very intelligent artwork with several layers of meaning - historical narrative (accurate for once!); philosophical tract; allegory for our present time.

And I found myself wondering, from an anthropological perspective, why a work of such quality should appear at this moment in our culture. These things don't happen by accident - a culture will periodically throw up works of art that indicate change is on its way. Although a costume drama, The Young Victoria was more about the future than the past.

The Victorian era defines our society more than most people like to acknowledge. Implicitly we are either proto-Victorians or anti-Victorians, but whichever stance we consciously (or unconsciously) take, we relate ourselves to the Victorian period in terms of attitudes to work, attitudes to science, attitudes to religion, attitudes to family life, party political allegiance, political economy etc etc. Every so often "Victorian values" reassert themselves (and I would echo Jeremy Paxman in his series The Victorians when he analysed their values as "a hunger for the spiritual and romantic").

There have been so many signs that this reassertion is about to happen that I cannot be mistaken. If only I was more commerically adroit I could make some money from this prediction. Instead I offer the insight to you, whoever you are, as a gift.



Above: the Institute of Contemporary Art in The Mall.

The Young Victoria was reviewed on Newsnight Review last Friday. Ekow Eshun, artistic director of the ICA, slated the film. It was yet another example of how the ICA fails to engage with or interpret contemporary society and the art it produces.

I used to go to the ICA regularly, thinking it was "cutting edge" and innovative, and if I sometimes failed to understand what they were getting at I thought the fault was mine. Then I realised they had no idea about contemporary society, but I kept dropping in because it was funny to see how often they got things wrong. Now, as someone who depends upon the creative professions for a living, I am appalled at all the missed opportunities and wasted money.

More about the film: http://www.theyoungvictoria.co.uk/#/en/home/

More about the ICA: http://www.ica.org.uk/Homepage+1.twl

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Prime Minister’s Questions, 11th March 2009

Three topics interested me:

There was a lot of talk about the renewed violence in Northern Ireland with a unanimous support for unity among the leaders of Northern Ireland, as if unity could be willed into unilateral existence. This ignores the fact that the problem of republican extremism lies in the unreconstructed politics and creation myths of the Irish Republic. These in turn depend upon the legacy of the extreme policies of Eamonn De Valera which have never been examined or scrutinised in any meaningful way. What the “Real” or “Continuity” IRA are doing to Martin McGuiness and Gerry Adams is what de Valera did to Michael Collins. The pattern will repeat itself until the original thesis is challenged and faced down within the Irish Republic. Blatherings from Peter Hain about encouraging unity are meaningless in this context.

In reply to a question from Labour’s Andrew Miller the Prime Minister referred to a “car summit” which presumably means we are going to attempt to revive the “big car economy” despite the opportunity to use the downturn to reconstruct our harmful dependence on the internal combustion engine.

Conservative Nicolas Winterton raised the inflationary consequences of “quantitative easing” (printing money). In reply the Prime Minister said “we have kept inflation low in this country” – this is not true as inflation was kept low by artificially cheap Chinese imports and the true rate of inflation was demonstrated by the explosion of prices in the housing market. Quantitative easing must lead to hyper-inflation as whichever politician attempts to turn off the tap will lose the subsequent election (and so the tap will never be turned off until the system collapses again – you can see this coming!).

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

An infectious Blue Peter style



Above: last night I watched Grow Your Own Drugs on BBC2. Presented by James Wong (an ethnobotanist, whatever they are) it looked at various herbal remedies for minor ailments. We saw James Wong walking barefoot through sunlit flower-strewn meadows, sensitively interviewing people with unsightly eczema, and mixing up herbal concoctions in an infectious Blue Peter style.



Above: my current library book is Nature's Alchemist by Anna Parkinson. It is a book about a book - John Parkinson's superlative 1629 Paradisi in Sole: Paradisus Terrestris. It describes the enthusiasm with which the seventeenth-century botanists recorded and classified the natural world (and also tells you a lot about religion, politics and life in Stuart London).



Above: Helen B's mother is a medical herbalist and often at her house you come across afternoon groups of earnest-minded blue-stocking medical herbalists debating symptoms and therapies and complaining that they are never taken seriously (they are qualified medical practitioners).

Monday, March 09, 2009

Alex Herron

YouTube is to block all United Kingdom access to music videos following a dispute over royalty payments. The move will be a test over how powerful the Google-owned YouTube has become. It will be interesting to see if a competitor is able to step into the vacuum and take the United Kingdom market away from Google.

Just because the music has been blocked, there is no need for them to block the accompanying “video” productions as well. These are often small masterpieces. They also provide important information on trends in society (if you can decode and unpick them).

For instance, the video of Sash - Raindrops (Encore Une Fois) directed by Alex Herron completely captures the ideal of European dance culture although being a highly stylised and mediated interpretation of a night-club (a difficult genre to do well, dance venues being dark and cramped). Everything Alex Herron does seems to be perfect. He is showing us the aspirations of young Europeans.

More on the news story: http://www.reuters.com/article/technologyNews/idUSTRE5286GM20090309

More on Alex Herron: http://www.alexherron.com/Websted/W__e__l__c__o__m__e.html

Raindrops (Encore Une Fois) – it it hasn’t been “blocked”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GoTKXOkdx2E&NR=1

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Christening



Above: display of christening robes - these ones are of white silk, and one is over a hundred years old and still used in the same family.

Second Sunday of Lent, and I went to the 11 o'clock service at the church at the end of the lane. It seemed odd to be in my local church, in my usual seat, after so many visits to other parishes. The main focus of the service was a christening, and so the place was packed.

Three children were to be christened, from two different families. Two babies and a toddler. The christening parties came in right at the last minute, all of them dressed up (several women wearing hats).

Because the rector is ill there was a stand-in priest. He wasn't very well prepared, and had to break off ten minutes into the service to get a microphone. He played a tape of the Righteous Brothers I Believe; he gave a rambling sermon that seemed to go on forever; he insisted on everyone singing a 1986 religious song from some sheets he had brought along (there was just confused mumbling).

The actual christening was more traditional, and went well. The hymn was Love Divine All Loves Excelling. The toddler (a little fair-haired girl) initially refused to have water poured on her head, and after a protracted series of negotiations her mother just held her over the font and the deed was done.

Baptism is a sacrament of the Anglican church. It is very popular in this village probably because it allows easy access to the local Church of England infants school. It is also a social event with several traditional elements (family christening gowns, christening cakes, gifts of silver spoons etc).

Saturday, March 07, 2009

We had gone a complete week without any new bookings - the past week at work

Monday

A quiet Monday with none of the usual rush. I spent the morning with Chris (part-time lady who does our accounts) compiling billing figures for each of the agency’s clients and the result was quite a revelation. Terry (MD and owner, who is based in the main agency upstairs) had asked me to do this project as the management reports supplied by Andrea (my boss) are not informative enough.

Louise (blonde admin assistant) had found out why Terry keeps appointing temps when we have no need of more staff. Apparently he is unable to say “no” to a rep from a temp agency who keeps visiting him (she is reportedly very attractive and flirtatious, and quite pushy as she can even manage to by-pass Terry’s PA Patricia). We decided against telling Andrea as the knowledge might provoke her.

I talked by ’phone to a client twice before he went to Germany to attempt to get an increased advertising budget.

Last week Andrea had done some copywriting and this morning the client had torn it to shreds - later she asked me for some pointers on where she had gone wrong.

In the afternoon I went with Louise and Duncan to see a client (a fairly tame one who would not object to trainees traipsing through their office). Duncan drove us there in Andrea’s car. He drove like a maniac and not for the first time I felt my life was at risk when someone else was at the wheel.

Tuesday

I transferred a client to Duncan to see how he would handle them and he made so many mistakes and omissions I ended up doing the work myself.

Up to see Terry with my list of client billings. I wondered whether I was being disloyal to Andrea by telling Terry this information (I reasoned that my first loyalty was to Terry). We spent most of the morning discussing trends, most of which look ominous.

“Perhaps I am being over-cautious” I said.

“No, you’re right, I’m very worried myself” he said.

He showed me the targets we are to be supplied with.

Later I telephoned a potential client (whom I will abbreviate as “Summit”). We are pitching for their work although the general consensus in the agency is that they will steal our ideas without paying for them (the marketing director has this reputation). But the account is substantial, and the advertising (if we get it) would be a pleasure to work on, so that I have pushed reason to one side and am going ahead with the pitch just on the off-chance we might get it.

In the afternoon Andrea came to my office wanting me to do some copywriting for a client she is trying to poach from her last agency.

I set Duncan some media negotiating to do, but he wasn’t very good at it.

Wednesday

A big new client for the PR agency upstairs, which is likely to mean more advertising for us (they are not currently using an agency).

Duncan is becoming rebellious towards Andrea, answering her back in a petulant style. He is quite an arrogant person, without having anything especial to be arrogant about. He is not stupid, but seems incapable of taking instructions from a woman.

Most of the day I worked on the Summit presentation. The marketing objectives are very interesting. I am fairly clear in my mind how the presentation should be structured, and have nearly finished the presentation report.

Thursday

I was late getting to work, and when I arrived the two admin assistants Louise and Denise were waiting on the landing outside - everyone else was late or away and they did not have any keys to get in.

Unpleasant realisation that no new work has come in this week.

Duncan arrived late and retreated into a world of his own, chatting to Louise and Denise or reading through his college notes (he has brought all his folders into the office and lined them up on his desk).

In the evening I went to a Board of Governors meeting for a small educational charity I do some volunteer work for. I gave my report as concisely as possible and tried not to say anything out of place. One of the governors is the wife of a former cabinet minister, frumpish and opinionated.

Friday

During the morning Andrea called an agency meeting. We spent the time mostly discussing problems with three clients. At the end Andrea casually announced that we had gone a complete week without any new bookings coming in.

Tensions all day between Andrea and Duncan, but no actual outburst.

At lunchtime Denise went to a patisserie and bought us each a marzipan pommes de terre (chocolate marzipan in the shape of a potato, dusted with cocoa powder, and with a hollow centre that contained chocolate cream).

When I got home this evening I was so tired I fell asleep, waking again at ten and realising I hadn’t had any dinner.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

South Korean photographer Kim Jae-Hwan

Have recently been studying the images of South Korean photographer Kim Jae-Hwan. You can see them best on the AFP site (I've put a link at the end of this post). Through thousands of images Kim Jae-Hwan shows us a society entirely prepared and disciplined for war. It is a society on the edge of conflict, and yet not quite tipping over into the fire. Kim Jae-Hwan, through his technical brilliance, conveys the sensation of taut expectation and the sense of enternally waiting for the signal to go. From an anthropological perspective I feel as if I am looking into ancient Sparta.



Above: wargames are a perennial theme - both the actual wargames of the military, and the oblique wargames that permeate the nation's ultra-competitive spirit.



Above: in national costumes physically perfect young women bang the drums of nationalism.



Above: perpetual mobilisation is the ideal.



Above: nature imitating artifice.



Above: a standard marketing shot subverted by a sense of power and a slightly sinister glamour.



Above: a good photographer will use the eyes to convey meaning, but a truly great photographer will focus on the nuances conveyed in the expression of the eyebrows.



Above: what will they do if peace ever comes - they have invested so much effort in defining themselves against the "enemy" (ironically a version of themselves) that if the enemy were to be taken away they would be lost.

More on AFP: http://www.imageforum2.afp.com/ImageForum/AuthFiles/login.aspx

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Prime Minister's Questions, 4th March 2009



Above: is there no end to the parade of lickspittle lapdog politicians scurrying across the Atlantic whenever there is a power change in Washington?

I watched Prime Minister's Questions at lunchtime. The Prime Minister wasn't present, having gone to America for a thirty-minute meeting with the new American president. Leader of the House Harriet Harman took the Prime Minister's place, sitting on the front bench between David Milliband and Alistair Campbell.

The studio preamble predicted that Harriet Harman would be laughed at by all sections of the Commons for her recent public populist comments and not-so-public manouvring to replace Gordon Brown. With the Prime Minister away nothing serious would be said. I prepared to witness some knockabout silliness.

But the list of armed forces personnel killed over the last two weeks seemd unusually high, and when Opposition Deputy Leader William Hague led with a reference to the lack of objectives in Afghanistan I briefly thought an attempt would be made to hold the government to account for their chaotic and contradictory foreign policy. "They have given their lives" said William Hague, and I waited for him to tell us what they had given their lives for. When he failed to develop his question I found myself becoming angry, and the rest of Prime Minister's questions passed in a blur.

What are British armed forces doing in Afghanistan? What were/are (it is unclear whether we are in or out) British armed forces doing in Iraq? What exactly is the British Prime Minister doing in Washington?

Although I have many individual American friends, for a long time I have been ambivalent about "America" in a collective sense, and I do not regard the American government (whatever party) as a friend of the United Kingdom.

At best the two countries are allies with a broad spectrum of similar interests - but it goes no further than that.

There is no special relationship, there never has been a special relationship, there never will be.

There never will be because if a democracy is functioning properly a government is the servant of its people and must put their interests first, ahead of those of foreigners.

The Anglo-American "special relationship" amounts to no more than a special permission granted by British politicians for American presidents to use United Kingdom assets and interests as if they were their own (and increasingly this means the waste of young service men and women who are being killed pointlessly in Afghanistan while America manouvres itself into a position where it can claim "peace with honor, not peace with surrender" and scuttle off home).

This is not to condemn the American government. They are a foreign government pursuing their own national interests. But I do condemn British politicians for their self-interested addiction to American publicity and (shameful to say) American money.

It is no coincidence that the mega-lying creep Tony Blair and his Lady Macbeth wife were feted at The White House while Gordon Brown was allotted thirty minutes. Foreign leaders are bought and sold as a matter of course in Washington, and those who are not in favour are given short shrift. European politicians may be finessed with more skill, but their effective status seems to be little different to the third world despots openly paid-for by the CIA (again, this is not to condemn the American government - they are a foreign government pursuing their own national interests).

Which really raises the question: what do British politicians hope to achieve by their humiliating self-abasement to American presidents? Hints are made about access to "secrets" but it is entirely unclear whether these "secrets" are really worth knowing. Reference is made to availability of military technology, but Britain is not a poor country and presumably can afford to defend itself without relying on foreign assistance.

The main beneficiaries of the "special relationship" seem to be British politicians with over-inflated egos who get an opportunity to appear on the world stage and forget for a while that they represent a small country with limited power (and ironically British power and influence was diminished in large part as a result of American foreign policy post-1945).

Thirty minutes indeed! If that is the value they put on British friendship we should try them with a dose of British neutrality. Or even (I'm talking at a government to government level) British enmity.



Above: Tristram Hunt identified some weeks ago that Britain would be slighted by the incoming American government. The British alliance has become an embarrassment to the new American administration. What do they care if a few more old-world fogeys are killed in Afghanistan.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Moles



Above: a fine set of mole hills, streaming across the paddock. Moles are small burrowing mammals which live off a diet of earthworms and other soil-dwelling invertebrates. Black velvet-like coat, spade-shaped front limbs and small pink snout.



Above: I was recently browsing through parish vermin-payments from the eighteenth-century (privately collected and printed in the 1930s) and came across a set of accounts related to mole catchers. As you can see, the payments vary wildly. The payments represent a considerable expenditure on controlling a creature that does mainly cosmetic damage.



Above: moles in the United Kingdom have no legal protection and can be persecuted at will. Personally I would prefer to put up with the molehills than have these creatures exterminated. However I ought to declare that the main lawn was laid on the bricks of the old Victorian farmyard, and so the soil is never undermined by moles or anything else.

In A Fatal Inversion by Ruth Rendall (writing as Barbara Vine) a mole-catcher who calls at Wyvis Hall is tipped into the lake.



Above: illustration by EH Shepherd from The Wind In The Willows. This book is probably responsible for my over-sympathetic attitude towards moles. This is a photograph (taken by me) of a picture on Google images - we do have two copies of the book in the house, but despite searching I can't find either of them.

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