Friday, April 30, 2010

Bloomsbury



Apologies for the blurred image.

Evening outdoor soiree in a communal garden in Bloomsbury. There are hundreds of institutes, learned societies, and professional associations in the area. Social interactions of this kind combine a surface urbanity (and apparent indifference) with the exchange of gossip and the discussion of very serious obscure ideas.

Although the gardens are communal to the terrace, they are railed off from from the public. There are many of these gardens in Bloomsbury. Most are private, some are public.

A few words of praise or damnation at these gatherings can decide professional careers.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

A fair price for milk



Above: as soon as I read that Marks & Spencer have committed to paying farmers a fair price for milk and rewarding them for high standards of animal welfare, I immediately resolved to buy all my milk from M&S. This is exactly how the food supply chain should be working. At last someone is talking some sense over this issue.



Above: however it is not always that easy to get to a Marks & Spencer shop. I can't really buy it in central London and take it all the way home (not in Summer anyway, even with a cool-bag). I will have to stock up properly at the weekend.

Note: later this evening I will watch the last of the "presidential style" debates. I am appalled by the events of yesterday. How could "Gordon" have been so stupid.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

“Voting Tory is quite cool”



Above: this appeared in the Daily Mirror – I forget which columnist.

Dermot O’Leary is reported to have asked Conservative Leader David Cameron “Do you think it can ever be cool to be a Conservative?” This was a trick question, as generally politics in the United Kingdom is “uncool” (and we should keep it that way). But there are a number of implied issues in the question.

Does it matter to young people whether the people they vote for are cool or not? If yes, why does it matter? And is Dermot O’Leary through his question raising the fear among young people of being “uncool” if they vote Conservative?

Does it actually matter if politicians are uncool? Is coolness significant in a political context? Is it possible to marshal the characteristics of coolness in support of a political movement (the only examples I can think of are foreign – John F Kennedy, Barack Obama, Gabriele D'Annunzio etc)?

By my reckoning there are only about five hundred cool people in the public sphere in the United Kingdom, so presumably it would be possible to recruit them to a political cause.



Above: an interview being set up on College Green (an area of grass opposite the Houses of Parliament – the path you can see features prominently in “establishing shots” of politicians).

An answer to Dermot O’Leary’s question was provided by the Today programme this morning. Writer Will Self presented a short item, recorded among the mainstream interviews on College Green, on “absurdist” performance artists who are using the general election as a backdrop for their art. One of these avant-garde artists (I think he was a Situationist) told Will Self “voting Tory is quite cool”.



Above: picture of Dermot O’Leary that appeared in an advertisement in Sky magazine. Possibly his head is over-large. I keep asking myself whether there is such a thing as a cool aesthetic.

More on Situationists: http://www.artandpopularculture.com/Situationist_International

Processology

On the Today programme this morning Foreign Secretary David Miliband used the word "processology".

I have never heard of this word before.

Looking on Google there are about seven hundred references to "processology". It seems to be associated with neuro-linguistic programming. Alistair Darling (Chancellor of the Exchequer) is also listed as using the word.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Am I missing something?

The Daily Politics this lunchtime was going on about how none of the parties were telling us the truth about the financial deficit.

Vince Cable has warned that the Liberal Democrats would impose "more ferocious spending cuts even than Margaret Thatcher".

Am I missing something?

We need thirty billion (American billion) pounds sterling to halve the deficit in four years.

There are about thirty million productive taxpayers in the United Kingdom.

That's £250 per year per head for four years.

It's five pounds per week. Even my cousins who live in Bellingham (and have nothing) could afford that. Even my old friend who lives on the Marsh Farm Estate in Luton (and has less than nothing) could afford that.

So what is all this talk about savage cuts and unrest in the streets?

It's five pounds a week for four years.

Send out a hypothecated tax bill for £1,000 with payments spread over four years and let's just pay the money and get it over with.

Or am I missing something?

Monday, April 26, 2010

The air

Yesterday every time I went out into the garden the air was different:

10am. This was just after I got up. The air was cool and fresh. The sun was shining gently.

11am. A shower of rain was falling, the light raindrops bouncing off the plants. An earthy smell filled the air. A single dark cloud crossed the grey sky.

12 noon. Hot sun, all the wet paths suddenly dry. Intense humidity, almost unbearable, making it difficult to breathe easily. The birdsong loud and piercing.

1 pm. Just before lunch. Warm sunshine mixed with clouds. The air fragrant with the scent of the flowering shrubs (Osmanthus burkwoodii).

2pm. Incredible balmy feel to the air, warm and fresh and smelling of hyacinths. Both the moon and the sun clearly visible in the sky. Sound of doves.

3pm. After my short sleep. Suddenly cold, the air damp. It had been raining again.

4pm. Warm again, but a drizzling sort of rain still falling (a rain that seemed to evaporate before touching any surface).

5pm. Dry and cool. A stiff wind blowing. Smell of fresh vegetation.

6pm. Cold and overcast. Magpies clattering over the farmyard. Smell of wet grass when I walked along the lane.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Falconry

Sunday afternoon I went to see a display of falconry. I was fascinated to see the beautiful birds (also it was interesting to see a medieval sport that has basically remained unchanged). I took several photos of the birds in flight but all the shots are blurred.

Below are some pictures of the birds when they were still:



Above: Harris Hawk, Parabuteo unicinctus. Found in the central part of the western hemisphere. Extensively used in modern falconry because they are very easy to train.



Above: Lanner falcon, Falco biarmicus. Native to south-eastern Europe, but used in falconry in England since the late middle ages. The hunting style is horizontal pursuit.



Above: Peregrin falcon, Falco peregrinus. Found worldwide and used for falconry since antiquity. The hunting style is a “stoop” in which extremely fast speeds are achieved.

Falcons in English culture:

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Relations rather strained - the past week at work

Monday

A rush to get to the office on time, but when I got there I found that Yvette (Head of the agency) was taking the morning off because she had a cold.

Most of the day I spent at an exhibition, accompanying Terry (in charge of the PR division upstairs and ultimate MD of the group). It was puzzling the way Terry completely involved me in his itinery, even interviewing (on stools in the exhibition cafe area) a possible new Account Director who, if appointed, would be considerably senior to myself. By chance we met an old friend of Terry's at the exhibition and he gave me lots of information about the European toy industry that will come in handy for a report I am writing.

We went to lunch at a carvery outside the exibition hall. I had poached salmon followed by a delicious chocolate cake. Terry kept refilling my glass with red wine so that I felt sleepy.

The main reason we were at the exhibition was to support our toy client who had a big stand there. Rhoda (my contact at the company) showed me the new toys from America, played with by the children of an extremely famous American politician. Franklin (Terry's contact at the company) strutted about the over-heated stand displaying all his usual arrogance.

I was complimented for the media buying for the 2010 campaign (actually Duncan had done this, but as Duncan has gone it seemed okay to accept the credit).

In the middle of the afternoon I rang the office to see how things were going. Yvette came on, absolutely furious that I had been away from the office for most of the day. Her voice was so loud I had to hold the 'phone away from my ear.

Tuesday

The Thames was gloomy and grey when I got off the tube at Blackfriars and crossed the bridge to visit a client.

Relations rather strained between Yvette and myself this morning, so I kept out of her way. I was reminded of the scenes in Battlestar Galactica where the humans have to keep absolutely still to avoid attracting the attention of the maurauding Cylons with their devastating firepower. I didn't even dare to go to the coffee machine, which is in an alcove just outside Yvette's office.

However the mood brightened considerably when more work came in, achieving our target for the whole week.

Jonathan, the new copywriter, started work permanently today (he had previously come in for a couple of days to get the feel of the place). Tall, plump, plummy-voiced. I hope we will get on.

I worked through lunch to make up for my absence at the exhibition yesterday (although Terry was really responsible for that). I helped Account Executive Eleanor with some copy for a client. I got my invoicing up to date.

Last in the office, I was still there when elderly cleaner Rosemary came in. She was worried about the price of carpets, and described how she discussed things with her cat. She is very grateful to have the cleaning job ("I'm lucky really") even though it might be physically too much for her.

Wednesday

Yvette has brought in a freelance personnel consultant, Jess Lewis, to help her run the agency better. This morning we all had interviews with her, which seemed fairly meaningless. Christine (does our accounts, will be leaving soon) suggested that Jess Lewis was a friend of Yvette's, and that Yvette was just finding a way to give her some money.

In the afternoon Yvette was raving at account executive Andrea over mistakes made in the copy of an ad for our Begian oil client. Some of the mistakes were Andrea's, some of the mistakes were Yvettes, all of the mistakes were due to the delays Yvette caused so that there had not been enough time for proof-reading. I tried at one point to defend Andrea, but a small inner voice told me not to get involved.

Thursday

An unpleasant atmosphere in the office today. Trainee account executive Julie looked very guilty (she had been the one who had shopped Andrea to Yvette over the mistakes in yesterday's ad). She hardly said a word to anyone all morning.

Things were quiet, with no new business coming in. I worked on some media research, making lots of calls to France and Italy. Yvette was in a funny sort of mood.

At lunchtime I met an old friend. We went to the Victoria Bar for sandwiches and a glass of wine. I was able to make him laugh by telling Yvette anecdotes.

In the afternoon Yvette went out. I had a long talk with new copywriter Jonathan - we have read several of the same books. Andrea joined in this conversation, but Jonathan was snootily dismissive of her choices (Lori Lansens).

Friday

On my desk when I arrived at work was a note from Yvette asking me to do some more European media research. Later she rang up from her car asking had far I had got (I had to bluster a little, as I hadn't actually started). When she came in she began raging at Eleanor because of spelling mistakes in a report she had just taken to a meeting.

I had an early lunch from 11.30, going upstairs to the Boardroom where Terry was watching Daily Politics (it is an hour-long programme during the general election). With him was an ancient politician, no longer in the House of Commons but quite well-known in his day. They were talking about how well David Cameron had done in last night's Leadership Debate, and I made a point of saying how well I thought David Cameron had done in last week's debate (Nick Clegg did not impress me at all).

The ancient politician became very dismissive about the importance of the debates.

"The trouble is that our candidates have become too lazy" he said. "The sure-fire way to win a seat is for the candidate to meet absolutely everyone on the electoral roll over a couple of years or so. Then in the election campaign itself, a full canvass needs to be done and on the day tellers at every polling station, and get the vote out. That will turn a no-hoper into a marginal, and a marginal into a safe seat. Never fails. I had a wonderful woman, a Mrs Leach, who led our canvassing team and she worked non-stop..."

Friday, April 23, 2010

St George's Day



Above: the 2010 gold sovereign on the cover of a Royal Mint brochure.

Today is St George's Day, the English national day (although not yet a national holiday). St George was a saint made popular by the crusaders. Contrary to widespread belief, the day has always been officially marked through ceremonies and religious services.



Above: part of the cover of today's Daily Mirror.

What has been new, over the past few years, has been the significance of the day in the popular collective consciousness. Google today has a small graphic representation of St George and the Dragon in front of Windsor Castle (the castle contains St George's Chapel). I noticed that Sainsburys today put out St George's flag bunting over the fresh produce section.



Above: the Betjeman Arms at St Pancras Station is using the day as a marketing opportunity.

In London there are official parades and celebrations marking St George's Day - this is a completely new phenomenon.



Above: the London Review of Books recently gave away this anthology of English poetry.

Is the rising consciousness of St George's Day (and English identity) reflecting a popular mood or is it being led from above?



Above: recent window display at Foyles, with a new book by Labour politician Roy Hattersley (dedicated to his dog).



Above: new play by left-wing musician Billy Bragg about English identity (although I describe him as left-wing, be has in the last week announced he is voting Liberal-Democrat in the general election on the grounds that the Labour Party has "abandoned the white working class").

In the first seconds of St George's Day I was watching Andrew Neil's This Week. Andrew Neil announced that it was St George's Day, and then initiated a discussion on the meaning of patriotism. Taking part in the discussion was Andrew Neil (Scottish), Charles Kennedy (Scottish), Michael Portillo (child of Spanish refugees), Diane Abbot (child of Jamaican migrants) and Gurinder Chandha (born in Kenya to Indian parents). All of these people have a right to an opinion on English patriotism. And all these people are welcome to call themselves English if they wish. But the absence of an indigenous English voice in the debate did strike me as ironic.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Chris Huhne interviewed on Today

Liberal Democrat Home Affairs spokesman Chris Huhne was interviewed by John Humphrys on the Today programme this morning. 
 
It was possibly the most bad-tempered interview I have ever heard. 
 
Chris Huhne accused the BBC of "sneering" at the Liberal Democrats and "smearing" their leader Chris Clegg.
 
At one stage John Humphrys actually had to say the words "let me finish".

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Look forward



Suddenly (over the past few days) the weather has become warm and all the trees are in leaf. It has been a long cold winter. But perhaps it is now finally over and we can look forward to the summer.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The most enduring and powerful form of marketing



Browns Hotel in Albemarle Street.

Five star hotel. Very old-fashioned. Previous guests include Theodore Roosevelt, Emperor Napoleon III and Emperor Haile Selassie.

Old-fashioned but also very successful.

Browns Hotel was the model for Agatha Christie's 1965 novel At Bertram's Hotel. Agatha Christie's novels have sold two billion in total, worldwide. After the publication of At Bertram's Hotel Browns' marketing personnel could relax.

Recently Terminal 5 at Heathrow tried to duplicate this effect by commissioning Alain de Botton to write A Week at the Airport. The most enduring and powerful form of marketing is to create or commission a work of art. That's my view anyway.

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Week-Airport-Heathrow-Diary/dp/1846683599

PS Heathrow is a wonderful brand name for an international airport - it conjures up images of old hawthorn hedges running alongside ancient un-ploughed grassland.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Full page essay in today’s Observer



Full page essay in today’s Observer by David Cameron on the Big Society policy (if you click on the picture you might be able to read it, for some reason there isn’t a copy of it on the Observer website).

Of all the ideas generated by this general election, the Big Society interests me the most. I am convinced of the argument that smaller groups of involved people will run state funded services better than directly employed state servants (thus delivering economic value). But I think the main values of this policy will be psychological and social.

Aldous Huxley has said: “To associate with other like-minded people in small, purposeful groups, is for the great majority of men and women a source of profound psychological satisfaction.”

Voluntary work brings psychological satisfaction. A society of satisfied individuals is likely to be a more stable society. Also a social economy based on voluntary units will be much less vulnerable to fluctuations in government policy or funding.

Miranda Sawyer, writing in yesterday’s Daily Mirror, wrote a completely incoherent critique of the Big Society policy. Her main point seemed to be that people are too busy to do voluntary work, without explaining what is more important than helping to run social institutions. Her biography on Wikipedia includes writing for Smash Hits, appearing on The Weakest Link, and appearing on The Culture Show (a programme so bad I can’t watch it) – this list makes me wonder whether she has got her life priorities right.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

The debates should be scrapped



The "candidates' debate" is a long-standing part of American political culture, noted in Simon and Garfunkel's Mrs Robinson. On Thursday the United Kingdom introduced this device into the general election campaign. Since then media coverage of the event has reached hysterical levels.

Later on Thursday evening on Andrew Neil's This Week the most interesting analysis came from James Purnell, but he mumbled so much that his points were often overlooked, especially as the other people in the studio were talking over him.



On Friday the newspapers were full of the debate and the effect it seems to have had on voting intentions. Lots of commentators kept saying it was good for democracy (when what they really mean is that it was good for the media). Nick Robinson on the Today programme effectively said that Cameron was mad to have agreed to participate (since the British public will always support an underdog). On Channel 4 News Krishnan Guru-Murthy chaired a panel that completely deconstructed the debate - "Leadership Consultant" Ruby Wax (ridiculously over-dressed, as if she was Margot Channing in All About Eve) clicking her fingers and spouting psycho-babble. On Newsnight Emily Maitlis frowned seriously and talked about the Clegg breakthrough. The entire journalistic world seemed to be going mad.



Today Polly Toynbee soberly reminded Guardian readers that we have seen this sort of political blip before with the SDP in the 1980s. On Dateline London Janet Daley (who always gets things right) predicted that the Liberal-Democrat bounce would be a 48-hour wonder. On a Newsnight special Jeremy Paxman reminded people of the rash David Steel hubris of "go back to your constituencies and prepare for government".



But it was Tony Parsons, writing in today's Daily Mirror, who raised the one-man-band issue.

For me this is a major cause of concern. We are not electing a President in this country, therefore presidential-style leader debates must be unconstitutional. Especially if they can sway voter intentions by large percentage points. They must be unconstitutional because unlike an elected president who enjoys tenure of office (unless impeached) a party leader can be deposed by a small internal clique. Nick Clegg's immediate predecessor as Liberal-Democrat leader was ousted in mysterious circumstances (reportedly partly because he wore sock suspenders). I have lost count of the number of coup attempts against Gordon Brown, and were he to remain as Prime Minister it is likely that the plotting against him will continue.

If leaders' debates are to continue, Prime Ministers must be given security of tenure between general elections - otherwise the debates should be scrapped.

And from an advertising point of view, doesn't the experience of this debate prove the power of mainstream media as opposed to all the pro-digital garbage we have been subjected to!

Go back to your constituencies and prepare for government: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CxyQqDik2rs

Thursday, April 15, 2010

The Independent rather likes the Tory manifesto

Out of all the political manifestos launched this week, the only one that has caused a stir in intellectual circles has been the Conservative one.



Above: Looking for a realistic critique, I looked in The Independent where the editorial yesterday focused on the Conservative programme. I have read this editorial several times, and I think The Independent actually rather likes the Tory manifesto. There are a few leftist mantras, and three stock examples we have heard before, but on the new stuff I think they are intrigued more than anything else.

If it had been possible to tear the Conservative manifesto apart (I'm talking rationally, not just abusively) The Independent would have done it.



Above: And in today’s Independent the praise (very subtle, never overt) seems to continue.

As I write this I am half watching the first of the Leader’s debates. Each of them is doing fairly well. Nick Clegg is a bit too abrasive.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The secret valley

On Sunday, after lunch (roast beef) I drove about an hour into the central hills. The day was amazing, the first warm day of the year. The air was very fresh and scented with flowers.

After the long winter it seemed as if everything was blossoming at once.

My objective was a small village in a "secret" valley. It deserves the description secret as there is only one passable road into it (the other routes are all tracks - fine if you have a four by four, but otherwise effectively closed). Although I was using the Ordnance Survey map it took me some time to find the way in.

When I eventually found the little lane that gave entry, I came to big barns where I parked my car. All of the valley is covered by a single farm, and the farmyard is the largest I have ever seen - a big square open space, bounded on the east by the barns, on the north by various outhouses and stables (descending the valley), on the west by a terrace of ten Victorian farmworkers' cottages, and along the south side by a great range of farm buildings that made me think I had wandered into Brobdingnag.



Above: a view of the secret valley. I am very disappointed with this picture as it doesn't convey the beauty of the landscape or the breathtaking quality of the atmosphere. The middle line of trees you can see running along the valley floor is the route of a former railway that closed in 1950. Supposedly a ghost train is sometimes heard running along this route (there is no track now, so it can't be a real train).



Above: looking into the entrances of the great south range of the farmyard, I saw all sorts of interesting artifacts. This is an old waggon - not sure what type it is (they generally varied county by county). There is a date on the side that says 1824, but I can't think that would be right.



Above: going up the stairway at the side, I looked down to see the waggon was filled with old sacks. There was a heavy smell of sacks throughout the range. Dust motes in the sunlight.



Above: inside one of the upstairs rooms were shepherd's crooks.



Above: old billhooks.



Above: horse brasses hanging on the wall.



Above: in the fields nearby was a white horse, enjoying the sunshine.



Above: the main house in the valley, where the farming family has lived for several generations (Pevsner notes the coupled Ionic columns that support the porch).



Above: walking further along the side of the valley I came to the church. This looks Victorian, but is on the site of a medieval structure. Parts of the ancient building were incorporated in the rebuilding.



Above: image of the saint in the gable of the church porch. The dedication is to St Martin of Tours, a Roman martial saint. Dedications to St Martin of Tours usually indicate a very early foundation (the first church founded in Saxon England was St Martins in Canterbury, dating from the 6th century). There is also a theory that dedications to St Martin are nearly always found near a Roman road, but these links are sometimes tenuous - in this case there is no Roman road, although there is a prehistoric trackway that might have been used by the Romans. Another theory is that dedications to St Martin are found in communities that actively supported the crusades. The muslim invasion of France was defeated at Tours by Charles Martel in 732, and the cult of St Martin of Tours (based in the abbey there) was supposed to have been instrumental in the victory.



Above: inside the church was this life-sized stained glass image of St Martin. The sun coming through the window made the figure almost life-like. A visitation of 1763 found that St Martin was the object of considerable veneration in this and neighbouring villages.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Jam today



Above: "The rule is jam yesterday or jam tomorrow, but never jam today" (Lewis Carroll).

This is the week that most political parties are publishing their manifestos. Labour have produced a "Blair-Plus" manifesto that emphasises their delivery of jam yesterday. The Conservatives are offering jam tomorrow. No-one is promising jam today.



Above: the front cover of today's Guardian.

Personally I am attracted to the Conservative programme. In particular their promises to devolve power down to local communities, including use of local referendums and election of local officials. Unsure whether they would extend these rights to Scottish communities (it would certainly pull the rug out from under the SNP - and the SNP could hardly oppose the principle of devolution).



Above: Kevin Maguire writing in today's Daily Mirror damns Gordon Brown with faint praise, giving him only an outside chance of winning. The campaign poses a problem for left-of-centre journalists. Although they want to encourage Labour's supporters they do not want to lose personal credibility by getting their predictions wrong.



Above: the Guardian is less hesitant. Not sure if Julian Glover wrote this headline himself. He very rarely gets things wrong.

Saxon Gold on Channel 4



There are so many things I want to blog about, but because I also want to record my impressions of the general election campaign (as seen through the media) a backlog is mounting up.

I don't really have the time to post twice per day.

But I enjoyed the Saxon Gold programme on Channel 4 last night.

Once you had got beyond the Tony Robinson narration (he has a knack of dumbing things down through use of his tone of voice alone) it was a very interesting documentary, throwing out all sorts of strange facts but without really exploring them.

For instance, the metal detector operator who found the gold claimed to have received supernatural guidance. Given the immensity of the finds, it was never really explained why he went on digging after unearthing the first hundred or so items (thus destroying the context in which they were found). He confessed to being frightened by what he had done.

Various archaeologists appeared, some in brown shoes and cords, others in bow-ties and tweed. Through "ums" and "ahs" they conveyed childish excitement at what had been discovered. Shaky amateur film was shown of the professional archaeologists carrying out a secret excavation of their own at the site.

Lots of mysteries remain about this hoard. All the items were either military or religious. "Restoration" is expected to take at least ten years.

No doubt many professional reputations will be made interpreting this discovery.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Daily Mirror columnist Tony Parsons



Writing in Saturday's Daily Mirror columnist Tony Parsons identified that the most important factor in the general election is the mood for change. It may seem a contrary way of choosing a government, and there may well be regrets later on, but the desire for change is probably now unstoppable. And who is to say the people are wrong.

This causes a difficulty for commentators who need to go on finding things to talk about (endless speculation about the unlikely scenario of a "hung Parliament"), but already there is a sense that the outcome is decided and we just need to get on with it.

The reference in the title to "mess" relates to the pudding Eton Mess, which is made from strawberries, meringue and cream (it's actually very good).

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Dandelions (a perennial weed)



Warm sunny day, occasionally hot (although also occasionally an east wind blew and it felt cold).

The air was very fresh, almost intoxicating.

After the long cold winter and the drab weeks of March and early April when nothing was growing, it is a pleasure to see even the dandelions (a perennial weed) flowering.

Botanical name is Taraxacum Officinale. Native to the British Isles. The yellow flowers close at night. Used as food by the larvae of the Gothic Moth. All parts of the plant are edible. The plant can be used medicinally as a diuretic, antioxidant and to reduce inflammation.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

"How appropriate" - the past week at work

Tuesday

Back at work after the long holiday weekend. A chart has been put up in the account executives room showing how much money we need to make each day this month. We managed to overshoot the target by a wide margin today ("Don't you dare say you're working too hard" head of the agency Yvette warned us).

Gasps of horror from account execs Julie, Eleanor and Andrea when they discovered that the chocolate biscuits they were eating had eighty calories each. Graphic designer Neil finished the packet. "I don't expect any thanks for my self-sacrifice" he said.

Instead of a lunch break we had another agency meeting headed by Yvette. Because we are doing so well financially the meeting was very good-tempered. We were promised a bonus half-way through the year and a salary increase in July.

The general election was called today, throwing the upstairs PR division into turmoil (they've had long enough to plan for it). I went upstairs to watch the news in the Boardroom until summoned downstairs by Yvette. Everyone upstairs was saying the Conservatives will win.

Wednesday

Again we overshot our financial target for the day. This was just as well, as Yvette was in a bad mood over a competition we have been running for our breakfast cereal client. Apparently there have been very few responses.

Eleanor subdued because of a complaint from one of her clients. I did my best to explain to her that a lot of account handling was dealing with complaints and problems. If the job was easy the clients would do it themselves.

The usual rush to put together a presentation for Yvette to deliver to a prospective client. The presentation document (a hard copy of the slides with extra notes and stats) was particularly complex. At one point Eleanor was standing in the middle of the office with heaps of the uncollated pages strewn around the floor when Yvette rang from her car to say she would stop outside the front door (double yellow lines) in five minutes time and wanted Eleanor to be there with the presentation reports and some pears and grapes from the big bowl in her office.

Lunchtime I went out into the streets. Since the demise of Woolworths you can buy pick and mix sweets everywhere. I bought a big bag, but later became so sickened by the sugar I gave most of them away.

Offering the sweets to Katharine, Terry's PA upstairs, she put her beautiful hand into the bag and took out a brightly-coloured shape.

"A heart" she said, "how appropriate".

The rest of the day I wondered what she had meant by the word "appropriate".

In the afternoon Yvette and Eleanor went off to pay a visit to M-International, one of the clients I have transfered to Eleanor. The meeting did not go well, and apparently they had told Yvette very firmly how much they had liked dealing with me. This came as a surprise as I had always thought them difficult.

Yvette announced she was on a diet, but everyone was cynical about how long this diet would last (not to her face of course). Yvette is a large woman, big-boned and very fleshy. "Her idea of a diet is a complete binge interspersed with a few sips of mineral water" said Andrea.

Thursday

No money came in today, although we have already reached the target for the week.

It was a quiet day. During the morning I worked on new business presentations. Because it was so quiet I took the afternoon off as holiday.

As arranged, I went up to a street near Regents Park to have lunch with a friend who is working as a nanny for a Dutch "countess" (this may be exaggerated). My friend was alone in the house which was a big pink classical cube, with a few gothic decorations and battlements on top of the cornice. Stone pineapples were a persistent motif around the house and garden. We had lunch in the big kitchen, mushroom soup, toast, cheddar cheese. Because I had all afternoon we were able to spend several hours talking. Of all my friends she is the one who has done least well, although she seems happy enough.

Friday

Hardly any work done this morning as new computers were being installed. They were put in by Richard N from ESL. Richard N is supposed to be Yvette's boyfriend. She often refers to talking to him over breakfast. Aged about fifty, he is an active man, longish dark hair, very large paunch (as he crawled under the desks his white shirt came untucked, exposing rolls of fat around his middle and hairy white skin). All the time he was in the offices he didn't mention Yvette once (she was out on a client visit).

At twelve Yvette rang in to say she was taking the afternoon off to go riding. At this news everyone relaxed, and a light-hearted mood developed. Julie went out to buy sandwiches and cakes from Just Desserts and we had a sort of picnic lunch in the admin office.

I asked around the room and everyone said they would vote Conservative.

Friday, April 09, 2010

A few gems

Among all the pages of election coverage there are a few gems.



Above: Paul Routledge in the Daily Mirror employing a convoluted argument justifying the imposition of Old Etonian toff Tristram Hunt as Labour candidate for Stoke on Trent. You can tell Paul Routledge hates loathes and detests Mr Hunt, but has to back him for the greater good of the party. Personally I would like to see a residence restriction for candidates - you can only apply for the seat you currently live in and only if you have lived there for at least three years (that would stop the professional carpet baggers).



Above: I am also enjoying David Hare's election columns in the Guardian (and I silently cheered when I read Brian Binley's comments about Kraft).

The other noteworthy event today was the defenestration of a candidate for failing to understand that Twitter is a medium that needs to be managed: http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2010/apr/09/stuart-maclennan-sacked-twitter-general-election

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Party manifestos



Above: Kevin Maguire in today's Daily Mirror discusses the publication of the party manifestos - another of the ritual moments of an election campaign. Kevin Maguire also writes for the New Statesman. He appeared on this lunchtime's Daily Politics, making the point that new media is going to count for less in this election than most people think (which reinforces the view that what works in America will not necessarily work here - the two cultures are different).

Even so, Kevin Maguire does have his own Twitter account: http://twitter.com/kevin_Maguire



Above: report about investment mis-selling (appeared some days ago in the Guardian).

If it is possible to draw up rules preventing financial mis-selling surely it must be possible to have rules to prevent political mis-selling?

My own suggestions are:

1) If a politician is found (by a panel of judges) to have made false or misleading remarks during an election campaign he can be struck-off, fined or imprisoned.

2) All proposals published in manifestos must be measurable, costed, and have an independent evaluation measure.

3) Key manifesto proposals (involving constitutional changes, taxes, irreversable social changes etc) to be formally identified as such.

4) All key proposals in the manifesto of a winning party must be carried out in full within the parliamentary term (failing to do so could lead to a charge of political mis-selling - see item 1).

5) No new key proposals to be introduced within a parliamentary session without a national referendum.

6) Funding of political parties to be limited to one £200 donation per individual party member.

But who is going to take any notice of me...

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Identity: Eight Rooms Nine Lives exhibition



Recently I went to the Wellcome Institute in Euston Road to see the Identity: Eight Rooms Nine Lives exhibition.

It was both fascinating and infuriating. Fascinating because of the huge amount of scientific techniques available to define “identity”. Infuriating because the layout was so badly designed so that finding your way around was difficult (especially as I only had my lunch hour, and also there was a big group of students going round led by a very loud American woman who seemed to think she could just push her way in anywhere).

The most interesting (for me) room was the collection of diaries, including Samuel Pepys. I would have liked more analysis on why people keep diaries (as a diarist myself, this area interests me, as I am not really sure of my own motivation). The Francis Galton room was unconvincing – I would have thought improved diet over the decades would throw all his findings into doubt. The Fiona Shaw room was interesting, but not really relevant. The DNA profiling was also interesting, but scary in its implications. The room on the twins was absorbing but I have to be honest and say I didn’t understand a lot of it.

Identity is a big issue in the current election campaign, not least because of the proposal to introduce identity cards. There is widespread unease at the idea of identity cards, particularly as those who do not have one will cease to officially exist. The effect of identity cards will be to create a “club membership” that can be cancelled at will by the government (for anti-social behaviour perhaps, or specific categories of crimes, or even for heckling Jack Straw at a Labour Party Conference).



Above: there were various materials that helped you define your own sense of identity.

And I have to say that the exhibition made me ask: who am I?

Although by almost every demographic rating you could apply I fall into the “comfortably well-off professional”, if you really pushed me to identify myself I would say: white working class East Ender. Until my generation my family were all East Enders, from Bethnal Green, Limehouse and Stepney, and lived there continuously at least since 1750 (documented, although who knows how far they actually go back). I feel I would be disloyal to my parents and grandparents if I claimed to be anything else.

But having an affinity to the East End is problematic. The garbage TV soap opera EastEnders routinely portrays the original population as white trash. The old docks where generations of my family worked have been redeveloped and are now populated by shallow worthless yuppies. The church (St James the Great) where my grandparents were married is now flats. Waves of migrants from all over the world have moved into the rest of the area. Intellectuals and commentators promulgate the myth: “there are no real East Enders, the area has always been a cultural melting-pot”.

This last point needs to be challenged. The vast majority of the East End population, over a thousand years up until the 1950s, has been English. You needn’t take my word for this – the census records are on-line and you can go into each one and see that the overwhelming majority of surnames are English. Not Irish, not Jewish, not Chinese, not “Huguenot”, not Flemish weavers, not descendants of African slaves etc etc. My grandparents came from Limehouse – there were some Chinese living in Limehouse, but they were a small minority, not the majority. Not sure why I feel so strongly over this. But I do want my cultural identity back.

More: http://www.wellcomecollection.org/whats-on/exhibitions/identity.aspx

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Desire for something more exotic.

The general election was called today. The Queen has dissolved Parliament and new elections will be held on Thursday 6th May. It is an exciting moment, and I will be blogging my thoughts on the cultural aspects of the election period.

Watching the early reports, John Sopal standing on a raised platform (on what must be the steps of the George V statue on College Green) made much of the fact that class is going to be a factor in Labour's election campaign. Gordon Brown in his opening announcement made the point that he is from an "ordinary" background. John Sopal asked Home Secretary Alan Johnson whether Labour would be running a toffs-in-top-hats negative campaign against the Tories.



Above: The Guardian at the weekend promoted a "step outside posh boy" t-shirt showing an agressive Gordon Brown.



Above: There is further evidence of this negative campaigning on the Powerpoint for Labour site: http://powerpointforlabour.wordpress.com/

I am not sure this approach is going to be successful. It didn't work in the Tatton by-election. And Labour also have their share of rich and privileged leaders (this fact has not gone unnoticed).



Above: the top hat as a symbol of poshness may not resonate particularly well - Clement Attlee (a secular saint among socialists) even wore a top hat in the supposedly egalitarian 1960s.

And there is an increasing body of evidence that the "poshness" and privilege of the Tories may play in their favour.

In part this is related to the death (in the United Kingdom) of "mainstream urban" as a cultural influence. Why this is happening is open to debate. Possibly it stems from Barack Obama telling young men in America to "pull their pants up"; possibly it is related to lack of authenticity for the style when transplanted across the Atlantic; possibly it is due to the recession and a consequent mood of seriousness and formality.

But the reason may simply be a mundane boredom with the urban style and a desire for something more exotic.

The famous/infamous Bullingdon photograph showing David Cameron and Boris Johnson in ethnic costumes as exotic as any feather-bedecked New Guinea tribesman seems to have inspired curiosity rather than ridicule.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/newsnight/2007/03/bullingdon_and_blair.html



Above: the Spring/Summer 2010 issue of the influential magazine GQ Style reproduced the Bullingdon photograph as a cartoon, together with a quote from Evelyn Waugh's Brideshead Revisited. I have looked for some minutes at this image and I cannot detect any irony. This combination of image and text seems to be genuine homage (the ridicule from Anthony Blanche has a psycho-sexual undercurrent and is not ridicule at all...).



Above: also in the Spring/Summer 2010 issue of GQ Style is a fashion photo spread based on the Bullingdon look. Being in such an influential magazine we have to take seriously the idea that this is one of the key themes for the months even years ahead. There will, no doubt, be much wailing and gnashing of teeth in some quarters, but there you are.

Finally, just on the subject of the demise of mainstream urban I was interested in John Harris's article about suburbia and the non-metropolitan condition:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/culture/2010/apr/03/suburbia-pop-betjeman-john-harris