Monday, November 30, 2009

St Andrew's Day



Above: there is a section of Scottish society that sees the country as continually pushed behind England (although were Scotland to ever achieve "independence" it would still remain a small country immediately alongside a much bigger one).

Today is St Andrew's Day, and in Edinburgh the First Minister of the Scottish Executive (Alex Salmond) called for a referendum on Scottish independence. I watched Daily Politics at lunchtime and the First Minister was interviewed on the programme wearing an ethno-nationalist badge and silly ethno-nationalist tie. In appearance Alex Salmond gives the impression of being a jovial buffoon, but if you listen to what he is saying you realise he is promugating the evil doctrine of communal competitive prestige.

During the interview Alex Salmond became rattled at one point, and repeated the libel that "Scottish oil has been stolen by the English" (he said this very obliquely, but that was undoubtedly the slur he was making).

There has been no net benefit to ANYONE in the United Kingdom through possession of North Sea Oil. Having the oil has pushed up the value of the currency, and a strong currency has in turn destroyed British manufacturing industry - the one cancels out the other. Lord Kaldor demonstrated this in a speech to the House of Lords in the early 1980s (you can read the speech in the two images below, if you click on them they will enlarge).







Above: on the whole the SNP is given an easy ride by interviewers. Possibly it is because it is hard to take seriously a political movement dressed up like a tin of tartan shortbread. But these politicians represent the politics of envy, divisiveness and implicit communal violence (always strenuously denied).

SNP policies, like most "ourselves alone" political movements, are also economically crazy.

For instance, if they were to win a majority in a referendum on independence (highly unlikely) and took Scotland out of the United Kingdom they would also be taking Scotland out of the European Union. Are they proposing to have immigration borders and import tariffs at Berwick? Or do they imagine they will fast-track membership of the EU ahead of Turkey?

These people are mad and evil.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

English medieval alabaster plaques



Above: unexpectedly the ancient door in the Norman doorway was unlocked.



Above: inside it was dark, but the setting sun sent what appeared to be a golden ball of light into the building, allowing me a few minutes to look around.



Above: looking to the east. You can see the unusual arrangement of standard candlesticks which are lit at Easter, Christmas and the Feast of All Souls. Notice the high altar. In the nineteenth-century an alabaster plaque featuring the patronal saint was found under a flagstone in the chancel. Presumably it had been hidden there during the Reformation. The plaque would have been displayed above the high altar.



Above: English alabaster religious plaques were carved from sulphate of lime only found in a particular corner of south Derbyshire. Thus there is a fine display of the plaques in Nottingham Castle museum (from where I purchased this very thorough monograph). Mostly dating from the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, they were exported all over Europe, but have now become extremely rare in England itself.



Above: if you don't want to travel to Nottingham you can see English medieval alabaster plaques in the Victoria & Albert Museum. On the right is St Catherine and the Burning of the Philosophers (the Roman Emperor Maxentius sent a group of philosophers to convert St Catherine to paganism, but instead she converted them to Christianity at which point Maxentius burned them). The plaque on the left is the head of St John the Baptist (interestingly, alabaster plaques of these heads were produced for private houses rather than churches, the cult of the head of St John the Baptist originating with the Knights Templar and signifying...).

Saturday, November 28, 2009

I have to think about the possible repercussions - the past week at work

I have decided to return to my Work Diary. Over recent months I stopped it, afraid that I might be discovered. Now I no longer care.

Monday

I was determined to get to work on time today, after a number of sarky comments from Yvette (the agency "Head"). Arriving at five to nine, I found Yvette and Andrea were there before me, which was gratifying as I could make a lot of noise coming in so that Yvette would know I was in the building. Without even getting a cup of coffee I sat at my desk and began typing up Status Reports.

Almost all of the morning was taken up with the agency weekly meeting. We all sit in Yvette's office while she promulgated her unique commercial philosophy. Always in these meetings there is a point when, without warning (although we have learned to expect it) she sharply picks on someone and asks them what they have been doing over the last few days (today it was the turn of junior Account Executive Duncan, and Yvette was very rude to him, telling him his new business efforts have been inadequate).

The meeting finished by Yvette telling us: "I think you're all quite underpaid by advertising standards" which was encouraging (although not strictly true - the salaries are more or less the going rate except for Duncan who is paid a pittance).

After the meeting I was asked to remain and explain what had happened with our American toy client. I tried very hard not to squirm, although it was difficult. At the end she told me to go with that soft feminine voice she sometimes uses, as if she was Brigitte Bardot sighing Je t'aime and not a sixteen-stone woman of steel.

Andrea was summoned in to see Yvette, and so long was she in there that Chris (lady who does the accounts) and myself became concerned at her possible fate (Andrea used to be "Head" of the agency and has had a number of run-ins with Yvette).

When Andrea finally emerged she insisted that she and I went to lunch. We went to a nearby Italian cafe mostly frequented by tourists. I had a slice of cold pizza, a savoury croissant, a cup of coffee and a sickly chocolate truffle confection.

Andrea was in an excited mood, and revealed that she and I are to be formed into a new Account Team handling the clients Yvette is bringing in. We will have a new admin assistant (Associate Account Exec) who is to start this week. Because Terry (ultimate MD of the agency) wants the headcount to remain static either Duncan or graphic designer Neil will be laid off.

This information left me with the hope (experienced so many times over the last months and then dashed) that there might be a future at the agency after all. A major concern is that many of the clients on my list have gone very quiet. I resolved to make more calls to them.

I stayed late, wanting to get my Contact Reports up to date. Yvette went upstairs to see Terry (he runs the PR side on the top floor). When she came down at half six I was the only one left in the office and she off-loaded her complaints onto me, expressing disgust at the state the agency had been in before her arrival, and saying that Terry had misled her.

Tuesday

Sat at my desk this morning, with a pile of work in front of me, I grew nostalgic for the pre-Yvette days when I had been free to do as I pleased. Now everything has to be "accountable" and before doing anything I have to think about the possible repercussions. We are also often put on the spot and asked to explain decisions taken months before Yvette arrived.

Eleanor started today as the new Associate Account Executive. Aged about forty-five, she has short blonde hair, average figure, and a smile that seems a little hostile. Within an hour of arriving she was talking about her abrasive divorce from a Greek person ("Greece is where men are men" said Duncan. "No they're not" said Eleanor, "they're pigs").

Eleanor's arrival gave Yvette an excuse to indulge in her favourite hobby of moving people and furniture around.

In the evening I went from work to a committee meeting of the educational charity I do voluntary work for. We sat in the splendour of the Willingdon Room shivering our way through the agenda because the heating was off. The meeting was very optimistic, discussing access to new funds (just as the charity is about to fail someone leaves it a bequest and it is able to stagger on for a few more years).

We looked furtively at each other when the issue of co-options was discussed. I suspect most of the Council members share my desire to resign and hand our responsibilities to someone new. There are however limits - I heard of a very obnoxious person I knew at university putting out feelers as to whether he could join the Council and clattering about the headquarters in very loud shoes (the building has marble floors).

Wednesday

More introspection as I sat at my desk - I wish I could just get on with things and not have to bother about other people. Since Yvette's arrival the agency has become more stressful but also more exciting. There is a sense of movement after all the stagnation.

During the morning Yvette called us into her room to introduce a new digital media designer (freelance) she had appointed.

In the afternoon Yvette called Andrea and myself into a "review" meeting with our printer. Ange (short for Angela) listened to Yvette's immense list of complaints. Predictably the meeting became confrontational and Ange resigned as our supplier. She stormed out of the office after calling Yvette "Hiawatha" (Andrea giggled).

In the last hour of the working day Yvette called another general meeting and told us how the agency was being restructured. As expected Andrea and I are to form a new Account Team (and privately told we would get pay rises within three months). Neil and Duncan are to be formed into a Creative Team.

Thursday

All the afternoon was taken up with a general "Group" planning meeting chaired by Terry. I suppose it was a privilege to be invited, although it went on for a tedious length of time and finished by discussing the new contract for the cleaners. Director John W's made unfunny quips the entire time.

By the time we got out of the meeting the rest of the staff were putting on their coats to go home.

After work I went to Kensington to see Adrian. His teenage cousin Antonia opened the door and asked me to wait in the untidy television room as Adrian had gone out for a while. From the television room I could look into the kitchen where I saw Antonia fussing a delicate blue-eyed cat and talking to two lanky youths (no doubt the double-boyfriend Adrian had told me of).

Adrian came back, and Matthew also arrived. We went upstairs to the sitting room and over a bottle of white wine we had one of our long hectoring conversations about politics. Adrian defended the Greens and Liberals, Matthew sneered at all politicians, I was the only one who thought the Conservatives would positively win the next election (as opposed to Labour losing it).

Halfway through Antonia brought up a plate of roast beef sandwiches, telling us "the tomatoes are home grown" (surely not true in November?).

Friday

Duncan was very late this morning, adding to the sense that his days are numbered.

I methodically worked through the papers on my desk, and this organised approach (which I don't always manage) paid dividends and I got a lot of things done.

Yvette told Andrea she was not wearing acceptable clothes, and refused to take her with her when she went to see the new printers we have appointed.

This put Andrea in a bad mood, and in turn she gave Duncan a hard time. Duncan is increasingly the butt of jokes in the agency. I try not to join in this baiting.

And the week ended with my finally completing all the Client Status Reports and talking through each of them with Yvette - it doesn't sound much but for me this was a considerable achievement.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Meat



Above: Wards Butchers - I can recommend the sausages.


Health Secretary Andy Burnham has proposed reducing meat consumption in the United Kingdom by about a third, both as a way of helping the environment and as a health measure (countering the trend towards obesity). Almost immediately his office retracted the statement and denied he had said any such thing and that the media had misunderstood what he had really said (one imagines hysterical Thick Of It scenes in the Department of Health). Later Andy Burnham's office issued a denial that he was (or had ever been?) a vegetarian.



Above: prize winning cattle at a local show.


The proposal actually makes a lot of sense. Too many people are getting fat, and meat products are too cheap in this country (meaning poor animal welfare standards - most people would not eat meat if they could see the industrial ways in which the animals are kept and slaughtered). We need to pay more for meat, eat less of it, and give the animals a decent life.



Above: the Shoulder of Mutton pub - has a good range of ales.


Eating meat has been culturally important in the British Isles since prehistoric times. Sir James Frazer has collected many references to the way in which meat has been produced and consumed over teh centuries. Folklore records heroes who eat their meat roasted as opposed to marauding pirates who eat their meat raw; taboos and prohibitions about when raw meat can be touched; restrictions on how meat must be served (Saxon princesses require specific herbs with their roast lamb, and on no account must any bones appear on the plate).


The Thick Of It hysteria: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NIgT7gVNLm0

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Michael White's piece in The Guardian

I read Michael White's piece in The Guardian today about Philip Blond. It seemed to be a complete rip-off of an item from last night's Newsnight, even down to rehashing Danny Finkelstein's comment that David Cameron needs a range of think tanks so he can have a sort of pick'n'mix choice of intellectual ideas. When The Guardian practices lazy journalism I fear for the future of the free press.

Editor of The Guardian is Alan Rusbridger.

PS when I discussed Newsnight with Terry (our MD) he told me Danny Finkelstein used to be a "Liberal-Salad" in the 1980s.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Midland style



Above: the Midland Hotel in Morcambe in the early morning sunshine.

Recently I was at a conference in Lancashire, a county I had never visted before (unless you count Liverpool). One morning I got up early and had a big fried breakfast and drove across to Morcambe on the coast to see the Midland Hotel. The hotel is a fine example of art deco architecture, but the rest of the town was very run-down (and Heysham even worse).



Above: sculpted sealions above the main entrance.

The Midland Hotel has been restored fairly recently. Like many art deco structures, it has a nautical theme, inspired by great liners such as the Normandie. I only had about twenty minutes to look around before I had to leave to get back to the conference.



Above: on the seaward side the windows looked out over a terrace, the beach and the wide expanse of Morcambe Bay.



Above: Morcambe Bay from the hotel terrace.



Above: I went into the hotel to look around. Here you can see the main reception area. I am not sure if the furnishings are original - they don't quite look right (actually they look a bit cheap, whereas one of the characteristics of art deco was the use of expensive materials).



Above: looking up the main stairwell to a ceiling mural that seems to feature Neptune.



Above: the hotel sign in characteristic font.

The Midland Hotel in Morcambe is important not just as an example of art deco architecture, but as a final flowering of the Midland Railway style (in its final manifestation as the LMS). In this sense it is doubly interesting as both art deco and the Midland style were totalitarian design codes in which everything (exteriors, interiors, fittings and furnishings, signage, uniforms, letterheads etc) all conformed to an overall look. In the Midland Hotel we see this the result of this obsessive need to control everything.



Above: one of my favourite books - I never tire of reading it.

We think of "corporate style" as being a modern concept, but it goes back to Victorian times and was brilliantly executed by the Midland Railway which created a design empire which stretched throughout the United Kingdom (and terminated in London at the wonderful St Pancras station). People look at the Midland style today and think it is fussy and old-fashioned, but they miss the essential point. The Midland designers realised that when people make rail journeys they are under stress (the stress of getting to the station on time, the stress of standing in a ticket queue, the stress of the journey itself with the inevitable delays and hold-ups etc). Thus the entire time you were travelling by Midland railway the environment was designed to calm you down so that you almost suffocated in comfortable familiarity. This idea has been lost by modern architects and designers. Airports for instance are designed to increase the stress and alienation that travellers feel (what do Richard Rogers and Norman Foster care about ordinary passengers - they are more interested in building monuments to their egos).

Generally I feel that architects and designers are responsible for a fair amount of the stress people experience in modern life. This is because designers do not tend to study psychology and think that everything has to be "striking" (whereas most people do not like being struck most of the time). The coinage for instance - just at the time when we want people to have confidence in the currency we have that garbage design where the national symbols are chopped up.



Above: the contents page of Midland Style. Just leafing through this book I am transported to another world. I can't see the Network Rail corporate guide evoking the same sensation.



Above: even the colour swatches are calming to look at. Perhaps that's why I like this book so much. The designs are still working and reassuring people.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

My own feelings of boredom



Teacups teetering on the edge.

I came out of the seminar early, bored by the social media junk I had heard before. And I saw these teacups, waiting with pregnant expectation, far too many of them (at least double) for the seminar attendees, and lined-up ridiculously close to the edge. The sense of presentiment was palpable.

Had I caught them just about to throw themselves over, in an effort to relieve themselves of the boredom of being teacups?

Or was I projecting my own feelings of boredom and urge to self-destruction (to yell at the speakers, to throw my papers around, to DO something) onto inaminate objects that can neither feel nor think?

And if I have an urge to self-destruct does this mean I am going mad?

Or was Yvette right when she said I was too boring to be mad?

Monday, November 23, 2009

Capture the unconscious influencers

Emerson is an amazing writer. The intellectual ideas he formulated are very relevant today. It is impossible to read Emerson without scribbling in the margins.



One of the most intriguing ideas he expressed:

"Society is a wave. The wave moves onward, but the water of which it is composed does not. The same particle does not rise from the valley to the ridge".



Since I have read these three lines I have been thinking about the way in which influences move, like waves, through society. Only a few hundred people actually decide, either consciously or unconsciously, what the world is going to be like in 5 years, 10 years, 20 years. The conscious influencers are easy (media, fashion, politics etc) but it is the unconscious influencers that have the most impact.



If you can capture the unconscious influencers imagine how ahead of the curve you would be.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Staffordshire Hoard on temporary display



Above: I went to see some of the items from the Staffordshire Hoard on temporary display at the British Museum. Although I picked a time (just before closing) when the museum is usually fairly empty it was still difficult to get near them. In particular there was a party of elderly French people who leaned over the cabinets with no sign of moving, as if they were mesmerised by the gold.



Above: I think these are bits of a helmet (I couldn't see the caption as a French person was obstructing it). As you can see, earth is still attached to the items. According to The Times archaeologists wept when they first saw the finds.



Above: birds of prey fighting over a fish. Possibly part of a shield decoration. The military nature of the finds underlines the warrior aspect of Mercian society (and indirectly verifies Bede's "History" - one of the few Saxon texts that relates to the period).



Above: the golden inscription Rise up O Lord and may Thy enemies be dispersed and those that hate Thee be driven from Thy face. If Jung were alive today he would no doubt posit the workings of synchronicity in the appearance of this holy text (emerging from the Midlands earth after thirteen centuries) and the time of national emergency (bankrupt banks, terrorists both within the country and threatening from outside, a political class mired in the corruption of "expenses" etc). Will this Saxon hierograph have some kind of rejuvenating effect upon society?

There is much discussion about where the Staffordshire Hoard will finally be housed. It would be a disaster if the finds should end up in a corner of some existing museum in Birmingham (the Saxons were never city dwellers). In my opinion a new museum should be built especially for the treasure, preferably close to where they were found.

Context: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pwm_cfRClmc

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Elizabeth Truss, South West Norfolk

Sent by e-mail:
 
It was interesting to see on Newsnight the reports about Elizabeth Truss, the Prospective Conservative Candidate for South West Norfolk, threatened with deselection because of an undeclared extra-marital affair with MP Mark Lord (it's not the original deed but the deception that seems to have annoyed people).  My grandparents used to live in the area, in a hamlet so small it is not marked on most maps.  I can confirm that it is an extremely conservative (small and big C) district where adultery is generally condemned and the word "whore" is still in current usage (a vocabularly shared with hip hop performers). 
 
There is also a cultural context that the commentators seem to have missed.  In the 1990s a group of five parishes in south west Norfolk declared themselves in a state of schism with the Church of England over the "adultery" of their Rector (Kit Chalcroft I think) who wanted to get married for a third time and was told no by the Bishop.  The group of parishes ignored the Bishop and declared themselves independent, their Rector leading this mini-Reformation. 
 
The Bishop responded by defrocking Mr Chalcroft (is there a ceremony for this?) and putting in a new Rector.  There was a period when the two priests attempted to elbow each other out, holding rival services and denouncing each other ("Listen to your churchwardens you silly man" is supposed to have been shouted at the Bishop).  In the end the Bishop won, and the schismatics were defeated and expelled (a warning to any priests thinking of going over to the Church of Rome - they will not be taking any property with them). 
 
As for Ms Truss, is she going to have any sort of future after this false start?

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Ambassador Eikenberry

I read in yesterday’s Guardian that the American ambassador in Afghanistan has publicly (yes PUBLICLY) warned President Obama that the war in Afghanistan risks becoming another Suez.

His words are: “You either commit to D-Day and invade the continent or you get Suez. Half-measures end up with Suez. Do it or not do it.”

This has bothered me ever since I read it.

What exactly is this undiplomatic diplomat saying?

Whatever the moral aspects, the “Suez” invasion of Egypt as a military operation worked superbly well. All the objectives were achieved. The country was effectively in British (and French) hands.

However, Suez became a debacle because Britain’s closest ally refused any support (and not just refused support, but sided with the “enemy” and, incredibly as it seems now, threatened the United Kingdom with an economic war).

Either Ambassador Eikenberry is so ignorant of military history that he thinks the invasion failed, or else he is sending out a coded message (as well as the crass overt public messages he is issuing).

And if there is a coded message, what could that coded message be?

Is he saying that Britain might withdraw troops unilaterally, effectively refusing America support in the same way that America refused Britain support in 1956?

More: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/nov/12/obama-us-troops-afghanistan-kilcullen

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The behaviour of The Sun

What an unpleasant publication The Sun newspaper is.

Despite all my misgivings about Gordon Brown (and they are many) he has behaved entirely creditably in writing personally to the next of kin of soldiers killed in Afghanistan and telephoning the mother concerned when he thought she had been upset.

The mother is obviously distraught with grief and her words should not be repeated to millions of onlookers, especially as she may regret them later on.

The behaviour of The Sun in this context has been disgusting.

It's difficult to know what to do about The Sun and other Murdoch publications. Occasionally I am in the same room (along with a hundred others) with one of the extended Murdoch family and I suppose I could throw a glass of tepid white wine over that person. I would be too inhibited to spit and swear (although that is what they deserve).

Just as nauseating has been the individuals writing to the Letters page of the Guardian condemning The Sun's support for the Conservatives - they were docile enough when Murdoch was giving his tainted support to Labour for the best part of a decade.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Christenings



Above: there are so many Christenings these days that locally they are being grouped into the third Sunday of every month. This is designated a Family Service (without Communion) and is characterised by lots of twenty and thirty year olds filling the front pews and taking photos of each other. More than three children being Christened and the side aisles are full - a phenomenon not experienced for many years.

A writer in yesterday's Guardian (I forget who - I think it was in the Family section) defended parents who suddenly express religious fervour as a way of getting their child into the local Church of England school. A Jewish school in north London has been accused of discrimination because preference is given to children who have Jewish mothers. No-one seems to be asking why the state primary schools are so bad.



Above: photographic display on the theme of Christenings. As a social custom it has great antiquity, although it tended to go out of fashion in the 1990s. Sometimes you see the parents getting married and choosing to have their child(ren) baptized at the same time.



Above: an elderly lady said "that one's mine. It's about a hundred years old. It's even been to Australia. It used to be for girls and boys but only the girls use it now. Boys these days have little suits."



Above: another gown in the display - the note says 67 yrs old.