Thursday, April 30, 2009

Poet Laureate



Above: there is a lot of speculation about who the next Poet Laureate is going to be. The Guardian is predicting Carol Ann Duffy. The post of Poet Laureate is part of the Royal Household, and formally dates from 1668, although the role can be traced back to ancient Greece.



Above: Andrew Motion writing an article for the current issue of the RSPB's Birds magazine - an example of how the role is being subsumed into educational propaganda for officially-approved organisations (a kiss of death if ever there was one).

The current Poet Laureate is Andrew Motion. He has been bad for the role (in my opinion) in that he has tried to develop it into a sort of extension of the Arts Council with a "mission" to promote poetry. This may be a very worthy aim, but it is straying from the traditonal role which is to write panygeric poetry. The reason modern Poet Laureates have found their efforts mocked is that they have been lousy at writing panygerics. As Carol Ann Duffy is not a panygeric poet this fumbling feebleness and cultural mission creep is going to continue. It seems to be death-by-a-thousand-cuts, and eventually the ignorant government ministers making this appointment are going to decide it can't be done and the post will be dropped.



Above: Mary Reneault's novel The Praise Singer - she used the character of a praise singer to illustrate fifth-century Athens (one of the high points of human civilisation).

Would it matter if we didn't have a Poet Laurete? Probably most people wouldn't notice. But we do have in this country an official "praise singer" in an unbroken tradition that goes back over three hundred years. A building with this heritage would be listed Grade 1 and protected by statute, and yet a living institution such as the Poet Laureate receives no such protection and its very existence depends on a political whim (and we all know how worthless political whims are). For Andrew Motion to "develop" the role of the Poet Laureate into an "ambassador" for poetry is akin to fitting UPVc windows in the facade of a Wren building. Would the praise singers of Mali be treated in this philistine way?

Panygeric poetry is a living art form. Panygeric poets do exist. Why can't the selection committee find one?

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Second Sunday after Easter



Second Sunday after Easter. I went to 10.15 Holy Communion at a commuter village near the southern boundary of the county. The sun was already high in the sky and the temperature was hot.

The small picturesque church is on a little slope just outside the village, overlooking fields filled with horses. Running alongside the edge of the churchyard is a Roman canal, a noticeboard describing its importance (just as well there was a notice as otherwise I would have dismissed it as an uninteresting ditch). The church is dedicated to a Saxon saint, and much of the fabric of the building is Saxon, with Norman extensions and thirteenth-century embellishments.

Cruiform in shape, inside it was small but well-proportioned. Light poured into the building, in particular through the great east window. This window was filled with Victorian stained glass of indifferent quality, and in normal circumstances would have presented a flat appearance. However the strong sunlight pushing through the reds and blues created a dazzling effect, especially as the kaleidoscope-image of saints and holy scenes was projected onto the whitewashed north wall of the chancel. All through the service this shimmering light show continued its preternatural performance. My words are unable to describe the beauty of this light.

There was a fair attendance at the service. The choir was on tour, which caused problems with the hymn Oh For A Thousand Tongues To Sing (it has an antiphonal chorus, and left to themselves the congregation got lost). There was a stand-in priest which was a bit disappointing as I had wanted to see the female vicar (who is apparently so High she would be at home in Forward With Faith).

Lots of candles in the chancel, including an enormous Paschal candle - the sight of lit candles in bright sunshine had an unusual, radiant appearance.

In the sermon the stand-in priest talked about the road to Emmaeus, relating the incident to his personal experience. At the Peace everyone shook hands with everyone else in such a thorough way the central aisle was a circulating hubbub of people. At the Eucharist I knelt at the eighteenth-century barleysugar-balustraded communion rail surrounded by the coloured lights streaming down from the east.

Well-attended, well-run, aesthetically very fine.

The client was a slob - the past week at work

Monday

As I approached the agency I was passed by Patricia (Terry's PA) rushing in the opposite direction. I later found out she had forgotten to get Terry a birthday card - we all signed it later. She also brought round a tray of cakes.

Neil D. joined our little sub-agency today, appointed by Terry (without consulting Andrea). He is supposed to expand our work into packaging and point of sale, since we have a few retail clients we get on well with. Terry brought him to my office and asked me to see that he settled in alright (ie was not savaged by Andrea).

Most of the morning Neil and I drank coffee and talked. He was scathing about the sort of clients he used to work for, and how badly his former agency had been run. Medium height, slightly overweight with a chubby face, black hair and beard and black-rimmed glasses.

When I was upstairs I asked Rachel why Terry kept appointing new staff, and she told me it was because he didn't want to be too dependent on Andrea in case he has to let her go. Rachel talked about her pesarch observances. When I asked how this squared with her opposition to religion she told me she was "ethnically ashkenazi".

Today was quite busy, and if this rate of business keeps up we shall even meet the targets set by Terry.

Andrea's boyfriend has gone to America.

"You're not very good at long-term relationships" I told her. "Mike, Rebecca, and now Chris. Who are you going to fall out with next?"

"You" she said in a warning voice.

Tuesday

All the coffee (a whole pot) had gone by the time I got to the agency, and so I made myself a cup of tea. It was another busy day, although most of the activity was following up on the things started yesterday. We also began to discuss two more presentations.

A new creative, William, has joined the studio upstairs. He has been allocated to work for us (Andrea doesn't on with the other creatives who think she is too demanding). William is aged twenty, thickset, with a determination to please that is a bit overpowering.

It was 3.45 before I reached a period quiet enough for me to take my lunchbreak. The weather was warm and sunshine fell down from the sky. The pavements round Leicester Square tube more crowded than ever.

I stayed late after everyone else had gone. While I was sat at my desk Terry appeared, showing around a hard-faced young woman. I wondered who she could be.

Wednesday

Another busy day. This sort of bustle is reminiscent of pre-recession days. But will it keep up?

During the morning there was an agency meeting - Andrea, Terry, the American we think is a director (but no-one is sure) and myself. Terry revealed that admin assistants Louise and Denise had both handed in their notice. I could see this was a blow to Andrea, although she kept her composure.

Our IT client telephoned saying they wanted to go ahead with a fairly big (for us) campaign and asking for a face-to-face meeting immediately. Andrea asked me if I wanted to go as well, so we went to Hounslow. The client was a slob, eating an ice-cream cornet that threatened to drip over the visuals. He showed us visuals produced by another agency for the same campaign, and they were very unimaginative ("There was no contest"). We talked for about two hours and then back to the agency. Immediately I began rewriting the copy to fit the new campaign.

Thursday

Terry came to my office first thing and told me to find plenty of work for Louise and Denise as he wanted them kept busy.

The weather was so warm we had the windows open, wasps flying in and causing uproar in the general office with Duncan chasing them around and the girls squealing.

Andrea was clearly affected by a telephone call from her former boyfriend Chris. He rang her at 5 in the morning drunk and saying he was lonely. The general consensus was that she should brush him off, but I said she should stick by him, and later I encouraged her to ring him back.

Towards the end of the day problems developed with the campaign for the IT client. No-one was around to authorise the proofs, and so we had to decide whether to run them without client approval (it was too late to cancel the space, and the deadline was looming). Eventually we went ahead with them.

I left early.

Friday

Very quiet day.

Crisis with amendments the IT client wants to make to the ads which have already "gone to press". We managed to stop them at the last minute and resend artwork. It was a stressful experience.

Duncan went to see a client on his own, and seemed to do quite well.

But otherwise nothing much happened.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Terra Firma own the UCI and Odeon cinema chains



Drury House in Covent Garden, offices of the Terra Firma group. Among many interests Terra Firma own the UCI and Odeon cinema chains, as well as record company EMI. Until March the CEO of Terra Firma was the "mercurial" Guy Hands (he remains Chairman of the group, and like the Roman god Mercury he remains interested in profit, commerce and communication).

The Terra Firma group has not been well managed.

Cinema advertising in particular is a much-neglected medium and commands more impact than any other option – the images are massive, the ads are on film (and are thus technically perfect and beautiful), the sound is loud and in stereo, the target audience is self-selected (according to the feature), they are sat in the dark facing towards the screen, they are in a heightened state of expectation.

Cinema is a wonderful advertising medium.

And yet since the Second World War bad management and defeatism (in the face of television) has run the industry into the ground.

It’s a sorry old story.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

St George's Day

Today is St George's Day, the English "national day". It is not an official national holiday despite widespread calls for it to be declared as such. The closest "official" endorsement of the day came when Andrew Neil announced the fact on his politics show at lunchtime (which I watched in the Boardroom in the company of a very taciturn temp).

One of the anthropological themes I have been following over the years has been the emergence / re-emergence of English nationalism. It is axiomatic that with the withdrawal of Irish, Scottish and even Welsh participation in British nationalism there would be a default creation of English nationalism. What has been interesting is seeing what forms this new / revived nationalism takes.

All nationalisms are, to some extent, bogus inventions of the 19th century. Usually they take embarrassing forms (ie kilts, bagpipes and tartan-wrapped shortcake). But they often depend upon ancient (sometimes prehistoric) foundation myths that prove to be surprisingly resiliant (attempts by the British state to eradicate the Irish and Highland cultures ultimately failed, despite the considerable violence employed in the process).

An example of the "bogusness" of invented nationalism can be seen in the current, and entirely synthetic, attempt to celebrate English "radicalism" in the form of the Tolpuddle Martyrs - the name "Tolpuddle" is itself an invention, the original placename being Tolpiddle.

The position is further complicated in that the United Kingdom is in many ways a pre-nationalist entity (allegiance is to a real person of ultra-respectable behaviour, not to abstract and emotional notions and symbols).

Here is a brief roundup of manifestations of Englishness:



Above: many schools, particularly "faith" schools, participate in pageants on the theme of St George and the Dragon (sometimes including processions, which have always been a traditional component of the day).



Above: pubs and bars hold themed events and promotions on the theme of St George's Day - this is a natural development of live big-screen football matches where bars have often been filled with English t-shirts and flags.



Above: although the political class has tended to ignore English national feeling, the "ordinary people" have persisted in displaying St George's Cross as a facet of their identity. Political ineptness in handling English nationalism is one of the most notable features of the current situation. There is a major sequence of change underway, and yet the political class has refused to participate, or provide any semblance of leadership (you can't count Hazel Blears).



Above: last year the right-wing Spectator magazine recognised St George's Day with a special issue (apologies for the poor photograph).



Above: this year St George's Day even appeared in the Guide listings of The Guardian.



Above: one of the ironies of the history of St George's Day is that the Roman Catholic church no longer recognises the saint, thus leaving the cult almost entirely in the possession of the Church of England (apart from the small number of Orthodox, mostly concentrated in London).

This evening I went to a mass for St George the Martyr at a local church (a High Anglican church, so that I was among the sort of people Rose Macaulay used to write about). Although the cross of St George flew from the tower and the bells rang for half and hour, the service itself was entirely devotional, with no trace of nationalism. It was also very well-attended and had to be relocated from the side chapel to the main body of the church because of the numbers.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The natural classification of artisans or skilled labourers

Writing in 1849 Henry Mayhew said that: There are, then, three classes of workpeople - artisans, labourers, and servants. Of these the artisans are not only the most numerous, but the most varied in their occupations. The natural classification of artisans or skilled labourers appears to be according to the materials upon which they work, for this circumstance seems to constitute the peculiar quality of the art more than the tool used - indeed, it appears to be the principal cause of the modification of the implements in different handicrafts.



Above: these painters are certainly artisans. They look organised, and specialised, and even seem to have (unconsciously) formed themselves into a hierarchy (from the one stood on a ladder to the one on his knees). These are old-fashioned "working men", proud of their achievements (you could tell they were proud and self-confident from the way they worked and the way they talked to each other).



Above: park gardeners. They must be nearly as skilled as the painters - certainly they would need to know the difference between plants and weeds. But somehow they were less confident, seemed almost shambolic.



Above: window cleaner. Perhaps not so skilled, but needs to have an apititude for heights. The way this person worked was frantic, as if he was behind time and needed to catch up.

Earlier today Gordon Brown announced plans to (slightly) modify the lavish expenses and allowances claimed by Members of Parliament. As so many ministers in this government are fond of condemning "lazy" British workers who will not work for the minimum wage can I suggest that their own salaries and "perks" (second homes, free porn, 88p bathplugs) be set at the minimum wage for the remainder of this Parliament? Those MPs "too lazy" to accept this can clear off and we will bring in people who are prepared to be an Honourable Member for £5.73 an hour (maybe even importing Polish candidates).

Monday, April 20, 2009

Innocent



The soft drinks manufacturer Innocent has been in the news recently. By selling "a steak" in the company to Coca Cola they are supposed to have sold out on their idealistic aspirations. Many commentators have portrayed the Coca Cola deal as akin to shopping in Christina Rossetti's Goblin Market.

Anyway, I thought I would share with the world my favourite (soft) drink of the moment.

I discovered it by accident about four weeks ago when I had a terrible cough and cold. Nothing from the chemist seemed to work, so Helen's mother (who is a phytotherapist) prescribed a mixture of 15ml echinacea and 15ml lycium barbarum. The only problem was the mixture tasted disgusting.

So one morning I poured it into a glass of Innocent's pineapples/bananas/pineapple. The combination was perfect - the goji juice added a complementary flavour, and the echinacea gave the drink a unique tingling quality. If I were an enterprising entrepreneur I would patent the drink and make a fortune, but as it is I offer it to you for nothing.

More on the Coca Cola deal: http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2009/apr/06/innocent-drinks-sell-stake-coca-cola

More on Christina Rossetti's Goblin Market: http://classiclit.about.com/library/bl-etexts/crossetti/bl-crossetti-goblin.htm

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Butterflies and moths

It has been a really lovely sunny day. I meant to go out in the afternoon but I had too much pear cider (Jacksons) at lunchtime and it knocked me out for a couple of hours. So I went out into the garden and tried to take pictures of butterflies and moths.



Above: I had to follow this Peacock butterfly around for quite a time until it settled long enough for me to take a picture. They hibernate through the winter. The caterpillars feed on nettle leaves (which is probably why they are in the garden so often).



Above: Common Blue butterfly on the leylandi hedge (the hedge was planted by my brother-in-law and we are stuck with it). Or possibly this is an Adonis Blue (it seems to have the black marks in the white fringes). The Common Blue is widespread throughout the British Isles.



Above: this is a small Victorian table where the top has been decorated with real blutterflies, preserved under a sheet of glass. The colours were still vivid. It seems incredibly cruel to use such beautiful insects in such a way.



Above: in museums (especially small local ones) you can also come across cabinets filled with butterflies all meticulously noted and identified. The Victorians had a mania for measuring the natural world. If you can measure something you can control it.



Above: recently I read The Behaviour of Moths by Poppy Adams. Although it was fiction it had a lot of scientific information about moths, and the obsessional nature of those who study them. I had never really thought before about how a pupa emerges as a moth.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

I put the magazine back exactly as I had found it - the past week at work

Tuesday

Back to the office after the bank holiday. I spent the morning art directing an ad for a software company. We are supposed to put all art directing through Ian our Creative Director upstairs, but I knew exactly what the client needed and decided to brief the designer myself (also I wanted to mildly annoy Ian who used to behave badly when I worked in his department).

Only Louise and myself were on our floor today, everyone else being on holiday. It was quiet, and there wasn't much to do apart from mooch around the emply rooms. Leafing through a woman's magazine I picked up from Andrea's desk (Andrea is my immediate boss) I discovered a very frank questionnaire about sex which she had filled in - I put the magazine back exactly as I had found it.

Lunchtime I spent looking at wallpaper in various shops.

The afternoon was a bore and I was glad when the working day came to an end. I went to a committee meeting of the educational charity I do voluntary work for. We discussed setting up and International Council to co-ordinate activities overseas, and by a constitutional fluke I found myself a member of this new Council.

Wednesday

The morning was extremely quiet, with no new ads to process. Chris who does the Accounts was back from holiday and we drank coffee and talked. Andrea was also back and talked of her boyfriend coming to the agency tomorrow ("He's dying to meet you - I told him you were the one I confided in...").

I wrote copy for the software campaign, hampered by the fact that I didn't understand a lot of the jargon.

Despite my spartan intentions I was lured out at lunchtime and had sandwiches and chips and a pint of beer.

The afternoon was as quiet as the morning.

Thursday

No Andrea today as she was ill. I rang her at home and she described how she was lying in bed feeling sick ("Whatever you do, don't make me laugh"). I wrote down her instructions for everybody.

I finished the software copy and it was integrated into the layout. The design looks superb. We discussed doing a slightly different version, then decided to just stick with the one option and pursuade the client to go with it.

Lunchtime I went to Oxford Street where the congestion on the pavements was off-putting.

In the afternoon I heard that the software ads had been accepted (and my copy had been commended, which briefly relieved my on-going feelings of creative inadequacy).

Friday

Andrea did not come in until midday, having had to visit her doctor.

Despite having articles to precis and an urgent press release to get done I did almost nothing during the day. Louise went out and bought all the newspapers, which kept me occupied for most of the time. Chris was also in (she shares an office with me) and we talked idly.

A late lunch from 2.30 to 3.30. Andrea and I went to a nearby cafe. She talked about her boyfriend Chris who is an army officer ("He's quite porky... he doesn;t get on with his father... his sister married a squaddie...").

Back in the office I finally got the press release done. Some ads came in for next week, which was a relief (the long period with no new work was becoming unnerving). Denise had bought a water spray/mister for the plants and this proved to be very popular so that Andrea had to shout for it to stop.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Record Store Day



Above: the Soul & Dance Exchange in Notting Hill (I took this picture last year - it took me ages to get someone framed in the doorway, and as a bonus they looked inside).

According to the Today programme this morning, tomorrow is Record Store Day in the United Kingdom, designed to draw attention to promote this culturally-important niche retail sector. A series of live events (including performances) and activities will be taking place in the participating stores. These independent record shops have been on the retreat recently, undercut by chain store, then supermarkets, and then finally the internet.

It made me think about the possible reasons why these stores should survive:

They enable serendipity - you don't necessarily know what you want until you see/hear it.

The palimpsest argument (or flip side if you prefer) is that internet search engines are only really useful when you know what you want.

Price is unlikely to be a factor going forward, since where disposable income is concerned few people make buying decisions on price alone (and if price comes up as a factor in research then it means that the store is not doing enough to develop unique attributes).

Record stores are able to make music "products" tangible (and research shows that about 30% of the population needs to experience some form of product tangibility before they will make a buying decision).

Some people just like possessing things (LPs, singles, CDs) and downloads are never going to satisfy this desire (there is a tendentious theory that this drive to collect things goes back to prehistoric times when mankind was divided into hunters and gatherers - collecting is the primeval instinct for "gathering").

Record sleeve designs are a highly specialised and influential subsection of the art market, which operates as its own market.

The personal contact of enthusiastic store staff cannot be replicated in supermarkets or on-line.

Specific record stores are integral to the sense of identity of many people, and will attract customer loyalty for that reason (even if the staff are surly, the products badly displayed and the prices relatively high).

Specific record stores are culturally significant for the way in which they generate youth sub-cultures - for that reason alone they should qualify for subsidy by the Arts Council, since "youth culture" is one of the United Kingdom's key export sectors (music, fashion, merchandise etc).

I really like this intro to Lily Allen's LDN, which perfectly captures a typical record store enquiry: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wmYT79tPvLg

Soul and Dance Exchange has this (odd) promo on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wH5XYRPM6U0 (not sure if they are participating in Record Store Day.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

1980s gothic revival

I have been doing some research for a chapter in Kim Blacha's book on 1980s style. This section looks at the influential (but now almost entirely forgotten) gothic revival that took place in the arts throughout the decade. I am never happier when doing research (even media research for sealants or children's toys) and I found this assignment fascinating.



Above: interest in the gothic during the 1980s seems to have originated in antiquarian research, especially around the social topic of chivalry (previously mostly ignored by English historians). John Boorman made his visually influential film Excalibur in 1981. Maurice Keen wrote his 1984 seminal work on the subject entitled (unsurprisingly) Chivalry. There was a sensational major exhibition at the Royal Academy in 1987 called The Age of Chivalry (this exhibition was probably responsible for the transition of the gothic style from specialist to mainstream interest). There were numerous minor exhibitions with a chivalric theme. It was as if archaeological "discovery" around the topic of chivalry had led to a fashion for gothic in all the fine and applied arts.

More on Keen: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Chivalry-Maurice-Keen/dp/0300033605/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1239913276&sr=8-2

More on the Royal Academy exhibition: http://www.historytoday.com/MainArticle.aspx?m=13110&amid=13110

More on Excalibur: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=soWyMan6FH0&feature=related




Above: among the commercial enterprises adapting the gothic style for consumer goods was Soho Design based at Poland Street and also at 263 Kings Road (which you can see above - it is now a light shop).



Above: designer Peter Leonard produced for Soho Design this modern interpretation of a gothic-backed chair (this is an actual chair, photographed by myself).

More on Peter Leonard: http://www.nytimes.com/1987/11/12/garden/the-other-london-where-chintz-is-out.html



Above: the chairs rapidly achieved "mediasaturation" and became a design classic.



Above: Soho Design harvested media interest with clever promotional campaigns.



Above: Soho Design also used the gothic style to reinterpret other aspects of interior design such as this clock.



Above: mainstream confirmation of the 1980s gothic revival came when Laura Ashley (a leading 1980s brand) brought out its own range of gothic furniture and wallpapers.



Above: the 1980s gothic revival influenced architecture throughout the decade, most notably in Quinlan Terry's Gothic Villa overlooking Regent's Park.



Above: the gothic influence was reflected in music - including Kate Bush and Billy Idol (need to so a lot more work on this).

Billy Idol's 1982 White Wedding: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zQ1OidOK7Js&feature=related (best quality I could find).



Above: Eighties gothic influenced literature, including Patrick McGrath's collection of short stories Blood and Water published in 1988 and AS Byatt's superlative Possession published in 1990 (but undoubtedly a product of the 80s).

In fine art I need to research the Brotherhood of Ruralists which self-consciously modelled itself on the Brotherhood of Pre-Raphaelites: http://ruralists.com/index.html

And that's as far as I have got. I may come back and add bits to this post as I find out more information. Perhaps the Design Museum might put on an exhibition about 1980s Gothic.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Fallon in London



Above: the Fallon London offices off Great Titchfield Street.

Fallon are doing some of the nicest work today:

Eurostar - http://www.fallon.co.uk/#/work/today.html Wonderful film that lingers on the architecture of St Pancras station and uses the building as it was originally intended (as an incubator of romantic adventures). The actual train journey becomes incidental.

Not sure who was involved in the Eurostar film.

Creative Director Juan Cabral has been responsible for much of the agency’s success.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Sex smear scandal



Above: during the bank holiday weekend there has been no Newsnight, no Andrew Neil, no Politics Show. And yet one of the biggest "sex smear" scandals of parliamentary history has broken out. Surely there should be some mechanism for recalling political interviewers during crises of this kind?

"Downing Street" staff were behind the invention of salacious sex stories about Conservative politicians and their wives, which were to be published on a supposedly independent "front" blog. One of the main people implicated in this campaign was actually a civil servant, paid for by our taxes (and although he has resigned over the scandal presumably he is hoping to keep his comfortable public sector pension). One of the main targets of this false sexual innuendo was David Cameron, and although as a senior politician he should expect ruthless attacks he is also (with his wife) still grieving the death of his infant son - to publish false material designed to damage or break up his marriage seems to have shocked many people.

Am I alone in thinking that now we have caught one of these political spin merchants red-handed we should put him in a court and see if a gaol sentence can be imposed? Surely he is guilty (with Derek Draper) of conspiracy to commit a crime? Can we at least take his pension away?



Above: as the scandal has unfolded there are suggestions that it could bring down the government. On PM (Radio 4) today senior Labour politicians were turning on their own leadership, suggesting that confidence in the administration is ebbing away. Strategically it might be better for Labour to ditch Gordon Brown now rather than wait for the electorate to do it in a year's time.

You can see above the front cover of yesterday's Guardian. I like the way they have positioned Armando Iannucci in a prime adjacent position next to the sex smear scandal headline. Armando Iannucci satirised the outrageous behaviour of Downing Street special advisors in his comedy series The Thick Of It (at the time some critics thought it was exaggerated, but it now seems Armando Iannucci was a master of understatement).

Life imitating art imitating life (in this clip the Conservatives are the target of sexual innuendo that seems to have originated from Downing Street): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NQoem1717X4&feature=related



Above: no Paxman, no Andrew Neil, no Politics Show. But Today (BBC Radio 4) has covered the scandal brilliantly, and today's World At One was excellent. Also enjoyed Carole Cadwalladr in Sunday's Observer, Jackie Ashley in yesterday's Guardian and Dominic Lawson in today's Independent (note added Wednesday - also John Harris's article in the Guardian).

Monday, April 13, 2009

Seeds



Although I have not (so far) been touched personally by the economic downturn, I find the current mood of austerity infectious. I find myself looking for ways to economise. I feel good when I go a whole day without spending anything.

One of the most rewarding areas has been growing plants from seed. Having a high-maintainance garden usually means spending a couple of hundred pounds on bedding plants. This year I have grown my own from packets of seed.

So far I have forty white hibiscus, seventy or so red and white striped petunias, twenty white pyrethrum, fifty vanilla marigolds, forty morning glory (half white, the rest blue with a white edge), hundreds of poppies (white) plus more on the way.

You just put the seeds in seed compost, water them, and they grow!

When they develop four leaves you pot them up and put them in a cold frame. I found myself using pots not touched since my father died in 1989. Despite my green aspirations I put down slug pellets in the cold frame otherwise the whole lot would be eaten overnight.

The garden was started (in its present form) by my parents. Before she died my mother asked me to keep the garden going. I have often thought about this request - she assumed I would go on living here.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Easter Sunday

Easter Sunday, and I got up at 4am and drove to the coast (the east coast, the water is the North Sea). The coast at this point is tidal marshes, held at bay by two sea walls. I parked under the inner sea wall and walked ten minutes along a muddy path to the outer sea wall - the sea birds were already up and making a tremendous racket.



Above: on top of the outer sea wall the local vicar was waiting (sensibly dressed, unlike many of the congregation who were in their Easter finery). About a hundred people eventually gathered with thousands of sea birds circling overhead. There was a cool off-shore breeze but at least it didn't rain.



Above: the intention was to gather in the darkness and as the sun came over the edge of the world to hold an Easter service of light. Actually there wasn't really darkness, just a dark grey sky that changed imperceptibly to a lighter grey sky. We had to rely on the time to tell us the moment of sunrise.



Above: "sunrise" and the Paschal candles were lit. "Christ is risen" bellowed the vicar, the seagulls joining in the responses. We sang Thine Be The Glory and other hymns.



Above: after the service I went home and drank coffee. At the 10.30 Holy Communion I could hardly keep my eyes open. After lunch I slept for two hours and then tackled the chocolate Easter eggs.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

"I may bring in a heavyweight" - the past week at work

Monday

Incredibly quiet, although some of the clients show signs of becoming active. I worked with Andrea on the Summit report, and at last there is the possibility of getting the project finished. Also various items of copywriting needed doing (as the only person who can write copy I sometimes feel overwhelmed by the amount of writing I have to do, but also reassured by the fact that my skills can't be replaced by anyone else and so my position is fairly secure - I will be one of the last to go I hope).

I left at midday to go to the doctor for an ECG test on my heart. I had to lay down on a bed while two nurses stuck various wires to my chest. Then the "test" which only took a few minutes.

Tuesday

The Summit proposals have finally been sent off, and it is as if a huge stone has been lifted from my chest. Right up to the moment the report went off (by courier) we were adding things, but eventually I stopped doing this and told Louise to send it off. We'll see what the reaction is before we add any more details.

Terry (our MD) came to my room and told me there was going to be a Board meeting of the Group at which Paul de Lion will be present as he is a likely candidate to take over the reins when Terry retires. I wondered why he was telling me this, as I am not a member of the Board. Possibly he wants me to tell Andrea (who is a Board member) as he is too wary of her to tell her directly.

Otherwise there was nothing much to do. Many of my clients have taken the week off. Most of the afternoon I read yesterday's newspapers (the jobs section of the Media Guardian very thin).

Wednesday

Nigel Celeste, one of the Account Directors upstairs, came to our floor and I heard him complaining to Andrea that he had been left out of the Board meeting. He is equal to Paul de Lion, so must feel his omission as a slight. "I'm not putting up with it" he said to Andrea (but he will have to - there are no other jobs he can go to).

Then Nigel Celeste came into my room and said how difficult it was to get to see new potential clients: "Last year I was snubbed by a much better class of companies".

Duncan has been on holiday all week and no-one seems to have mentioned him once.

A leak in the loo which Terry mopped up himself (everyone seemed to think this was hilarious).

Thursday

One of our clients was complaining about mistakes made with their ad in a national campaign (the typeface hadn;t reproduced all that well - it was really the fault of the designer but Andrea managed to get the newspaper to admit responsibility). Personally I thought the discount the client was offered was more than they deserved, but I couldn't say this. In the current climate clients have suddenly become very powerful.

I had five lots of copy to finish before the end of the day so I was rushing through my work.

Just as I was contemplating packing away my things and leaving for the long weekend Terry came to my room and talked about his disappointment at the way the agency was barely covering its costs. "I may bring in a heavyweight from another agency" he said. I decided against repeating this to Andrea.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Good Friday 2009

Today is Good Friday. A bank holiday (national holiday) in the United Kingdom. As befits a bank holiday, it rained for most of the day, and because I still am not well (I have a bad cough) I stayed in all day.



Above: at lunchtime we had hot cross buns. At 2pm I listened to the Bach St John Passion on Radio 3. Then I fell asleep in an armchair, dimly aware of the rain falling on the window.



Above: I'm not sure whether I prefer Bach's St John Passion or his St Matthew Passion. This is a set design for the St Matthew Passion. It was designed about a hundred years ago by Edward Craig as a permanent architectural setting for the work (at the time it was seen as very innovative). There was a performance of the St Matthew Passion a few days ago at Smith Square but I missed it. It is really unusual for me to be so ill. And I can't help wondering whether this is the way things are going to be from now on.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

The way the European world has been designed

Today is Maundy Thursday, in the middle of the most sacred week of the year. It made me think about the way the culture of religion continues to influence the way we look at the world (and the way the European world has been designed). Many people will tell you society is now completely secular, but that is very far from reality...



Above: an early printed copy of the Bible on display at our local museum. For centuries every village in the country would have been familiar with the idea of a huge book, kept in the parish church, illustrated with iconic images (using "iconic" in its literal sense). This book held all the values of English culture - linguistic, metaphorical, historical, behavioural, aspirational, inter-communal etc.



Above: I was walking through Covent Garden recently and I saw in a shop window another huge book (with a stratospheric price tag). It was a collection of signed images of Manchester United Football Club. On the left you can see a hooded Wayne Rooney, and on the right you can see Christiano Ronaldo with his shirt off (again). The format of this publication appears to be (subliminally) based on that of an illustrated medieval Bible. The images could be those of St Francis and St Sebastian. The grey text you can see was on the glass of the window and is a quote by Albert Einstein (which added a surreal touch to the display).

The earliest portrait of St. Francis by the Master of San Gregorio in the Benedictine Sacro Speco of Subiaco, near Rome: https://segue.middlebury.edu/repository/viewfile/polyphony-repository___repository_id/edu.middlebury.segue.sites_repository/polyphony-repository___asset_id/958145/polyphony-repository___record_id/958146/polyphony-repository___file_name/fra_port.jpg

St Sebastian and St John the Baptist by Piero Della Francesca, 1416-1492: http://www.arthistory-famousartists-paintings.com/images/stsebastian2francesca.jpg

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Skegness

There was an evocative article in yesterday's Guardian about Skegness. It made me long to go there again and walk along the promenade by the pier. Even when the wind is blowing it's a happy place.

Laura Barton's article: http://www.guardian.co.uk/travel/2009/apr/07/bartons-britain-skegness-laura

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Valkyrie, starring Tom Cruise



Above: a couple of weeks ago I went to see the film Valkyrie, starring Tom Cruise. I saw it at the Odean, Leicester Square (which seemed shabby and in need of renovation). Fairly long film but the acting was good and I was not distracted by the accents (which had been a complaint of the critics).

In particular I thought Tom Cruise's performance was incredible - totally believable.



Above: the subject of Valkyrie is well known, but the film was fascinating in the way it demonstrated how a small group of determined people can organise and carry out a coup (failed in this case). This film also treated the Germans (some of them) sympathetically, which indicates a change in attitudes - for my parent's generation there was no such thing as a good German, and all the Germans were evil sadists forever tainted by the crimes they had committed. I was disappointed there was no exploration of the influence Stefan George had on von Stauffenberg - one of several examples where poetry has challenged oppresive power (and in this case came close to killing it off).

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Palm Sunday 2009



Palm Sunday. I walked along the lane to the parish church, the hedges already turning white with greengage blossom (the greengage trees were planted by a doctor who used to live in the house at the end of the lane). The sun was shining, the bells were ringing, the grass in the churchyard was sprinkled with confetti from yesterday's weddings.

Another stand-in priest, the Rector still being ill. There was a procession and the handing out of palm fronds made into the shape of a cross. Hymns included Rock of Ages and My Song is Love Unknown (I had forgotten how fine this hymn is).

The sermon was far too long and lecturing.

Eclectic performance by the organist, Handel arias segueing into the Londonderry Air and morphing into freeform compositions.

Right at the end of Holy Communion the Sunday School came in from their room at the back carrying giant palm leaves made from green paper.

My Song is Love Unknown: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WxhHZz4kgDw&feature=related

Friday, April 03, 2009

G20 summit

I listened to John Humphrys interviewing the Chancellor of the Exchequer this morning. It was an excellent interview and cut through the hype surrounding the “success” of the recent G20 summit to ask how the measures agreed would benefit the British population (rather than playing to the world gallery). The Chancellor of the Exchequer was unable to itemise any specific benefits other than a general we’re-all-in-this-together appeal for global solidarity.

The G20 summit has been a sham and a charade. It has been a glamorous pageant to disguise the fact that ordinary people throughout the world are about to be robbed (via quantitative easing and the subsequent devaluation of the American dollar) to pay for the recession. The most shameful and disturbing aspect is that the unelected Chinese leadership has effectively agreed to the Chinese dollar holdings being devalued in return for a worthless “seat at the top table” in the new G20 grouping (not since the Dutch bought the island of Manhattan for a few beads has such a brazen inter-continental fraud taken place).

How many expended Chinese units of labour (as priced in American dollars) are about to evaporate to give respectability to a communist regime that cares only about its own collective status? That money should be spent on Chinese health, education, welfare payments etc. Surely no good can come from this.

Off-line

Apologies for being off-line so much recently.

I was working at home on Tuesday morning and got a call from a BT engineer “just checking the line”. When I went back to the laptop the internet connection was “connected” but didn’t work. I immediately rang the engineer back on 1471 and must have taken him by surprise as he gabbled excitedly about what he had been doing and when I asked who his boss was gave me the mobile phone of the senior regional engineer (I was probably a bit sharp with him).

Since Tuesday I have spoken to eighteen BT personnel, including three one-hour calls and the arrival of two BT engineers in my home. Mostly the BT personnel have tried to tell me it is all my fault and there is nothing they can do. Eventually, by a tedious process of elimination (and ringing the senior engineer on his mobile), I have found out that the original engineer had “ceased” my broadband connection (although I have also been told “this is not possible without an order, and there is no order”).

The rudest and most unhelpful person I spoke to was Omar in Warrington.

Anyway, there is still no internet connection at home and not likely to be until the end of next week at the earliest. I am posting this from a third party computer (since I can’t really use the PC at work without IT seeing everything). If I was paranoid I would think someone was out to get me.