Sunday, May 30, 2010

Morris: A Life With Bells On

Above: late last night I watched the film Morris: A Life With Bells On, which was on one of the satellite channels. Actually I only watched the first half of it as I went to bed at midnight. The film was already beginning to go downhill by then (it was two hours long).

The hour of the film I saw was good, well acted and suspending disbelief. After the first twenty minutes I realised it was based on the clash a hundred years ago between Violet Alford and Cecil Sharp over the "purity" of Morris dancing. Cecil Sharp insisted that only dances recorded from field trips were valid Morris dances, whereas Violet Alford wanted to be more experimental and develop new interpretations (unlike the film, the Cecil Sharp faction won).

Above: a blurred picture of Morris dancers I took earlier this year.

It is easy to mock Morris dancing, although satirists should be ashamed of picking on such an easy target. Violet Alford, for all her agitation, genuinely believed that the dances were a living link with the culture of the Old Stone Age. These possible Paleolithic orgins mean we should take the dances seriously and not jeer them out of existence.

Above: locally there is a Morris group that meets at the Bull. I have no intention of joining them, but I am glad they exist. I would be happy for groups like this to receive state support (rather than some of the elitist garbage the Arts Council tends to fund).

Above: the Bull is a perfect pub. From the archway I would guess it is an old coaching in (the coaches would go through to a yard behind where the horses could be stabled). Like most good places it's family-run.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Total billings for the month to date actually declined - the past week at work


The warm weather of the weekend continued, so that getting up this morning was hardly any effort. The downstairs rooms of the house seemed very still as I made a cup of milky coffee. I took the drink out into the garden - blossom from the chestnut trees covering the lawns to the depth of an inch.

At the agency plenty of work remained from last week. Eleanor (trainee account executive) was in a funny mood, and spent the morning doing nothing. This was unusual as normally she is a workaholic.

Increasingly it is becoming clear that we are not going to make our income target for May, probably by quite a wide margin. The only person who does not seem to fully realise this is Yvette (head of the agency). The usual Monday meeting at which we were commanded to ring up all our clients and ask for work.

Yvette has lost so much weight that there was considerable speculation as to the cause. Andrea (account director) suggested liposuction. Julie (trainee account executive) thought it was due to a long session in a sauna.

In the afternoon I went to a quiet room on the other side of the floor and rang up someone I had known on the post-grad course in advertising. He is now in a senior position with JWT and I was hoping to ask him for a job. But too many years have passed, and our friendship had lapsed, and I finished the call without asking him anything.

In the evening I went to the headquarters of an educational charity I do voluntary work for. The young members ("young" being up to age 40, although a few were obviously much older) were holding a fund-raising event in the marble courtyard (Grade II listed). About thirty people paid £20 for a wine evening.

We sat at the small iron tables in the comfortably warm evening while a former wine expert from Christies gave us various wines to sample, describing in beautiful words liquids that were, in my opinion, horrid:

"This is a spicy wine... this one has a little more finesse... this is rapier-like... we're in rather deeper water now... a test of good wine is how long the taste lasts... ahh, a demesne-bottled wine! ..."

At the end there was a blind tasting, and the nicest turned out to be an Australian red (to the consternation of several people, Sally raising a Gaspar-gloved* hand to her mouth as if she were going to throw up).

Later I talked to Peter, and after paying the speaker's fee and paying for the wines, the event had hardly made any money, which seemed somehow typical.

* I knew they were Gaspar gloves because I asked - apparently gloves are in, although no-one else seems to be wearing them.


Another quiet day with no work coming in. I used the morning to get some research done, and to catch up on contact reports. Our total billings for the month to date actually declined when one of Andrea's clients rang up and cancelled part of a campaign (provoking a flurry of activity and some unreasonable hysteria from Yvette).

The afternoon was boring, and it was an effort to find things to do.

I decided that no matter what else happened I would resign from the agency before the end of August.


Everyone remarked on how quiet it had become. Yvette has accepted that the target for May is not going to be met. She responded to the fact by withdrawing into her office and hardly communicating with anyone.

Now I have decided to leave all the feelings of stress I have experienced recently have disappeared.

In the afternoon I took Eleanor to a meeting with my food client (since I intended to hand her most of my client list when I go). Instead of returning to the office we went to the Italian cafe. And she revealed that she is also planning to leave!


Changed weather so that it is colder and wetter.

Yvette out all day.

During the morning a rep from a design magazine came in. He was a Liverpudlian aged about twenty-five, thin build, curly black hair. He told us he used to sell cookers before going into media sales ("...I was advised to stick at it, and now I'm Assistant Advertising Manager"). He also plays in a band, and showed Andrea the band's Facebook page. After his presentation he seemed reluctant to leave, and sat talking. We had nothing to do, so let him stay.

I was puzzled at why the Liverpudlian was so impressed with everything in the agency - our job titles, the offices, the client list etc.

In the afternoon I spent some time copywriting for our oil client, drinking Badoit water (which had a salty taste, so I suppose it was bad for my blood pressure).


I had the ad for our oil client to look after, but otherwise things were quiet. Eleanor and Julie sent out letters to potential clients, criticising their current advertising campaign and asking for an opportunity to explain how we would do things better. Chris (part-time accounts, working out her notice) revealed how bad the figures for May were.

In the afternoon Yvette came in accompanied by a toddler who she introduced as her nephew.

"That child is going to grow up with an incredible complex" said Andrea quietly.

Later Yvette's nephew was sick.

"I also get nauseous when Yvette is in the room" said Andrea quietly.

Friday, May 28, 2010

David Kershaw

Above: the world headquaters of M&C Saatchi in Golden Square - the agency doesn't have a nameplate on the building on the grounds that most people in the world of advertising will know where they are.

M&C Saatchi worked for the Conservative Party in the general election, and produced work that is generally acclaimed as being effective and well-targetted. The subdued vote for the Conservatives on 6th May is attributed to the expenses scandal rather than any failure to get communication messages across. Other clients include Coca Cola (featuring Wayne Rooney), RNID and Save the Children.

Chief Executive is David Kershaw, who is now probably the most influential adman in London.

Thursday, May 27, 2010


Above: one book that keeps cropping up again and again in any discussion of the 1980s is Alan Hollinghurst's The Swimming Pool Library. This is an actual copy from the late-1980s, a bit tatty, sold second-hand for 99p. The cover illustration is a representation of Michaelangelo's Dying Slave distorted as if seen through blue water.

Although now reduced to a "genre" novel, at the time the book was regarded as a serious literary work and won the Somerset Maugham Award in 1989.

Above: the book is packed with cultural allusions - to Ronald Firbank, to the Nuba of Southern Sudan, to Benjamin Brittain etc. One of the locations is a terracotta-faced hotel that can only be the Hotel Russell in Russell Square. The complexity of the text means it can be read on many different levels.

Above: Alan Hollinghurst later wrote The Line of Beauty (2004) which won the Booker Prize. The novel attracted considerable media attention for its recreation of the 1980s. As you can see in the picture, the book has become sufficiently significant as to appear in a carefully constructed image in a 2010 issue of World of Interiors magazine.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Translating popular opinion into public policy

Above: the Sun published this picture of Diane Abbott yesterday. It accompanied a story that Diane Abbott had charged £300 for writing an obituary, claiming that there had been an irregularity about the payment. Notice how the newspaper has put an advertisement adjacent to the story saying “get cash for your stories…”

Interesting article in the Daily Mail shows Diane Abbott as the most popular of the candidates for the Labour Party leadership:

Diane Abbott stated as her reasons for wanting to stand the fact that the other candidates were all from a particular demographic (male, 40-50, ex policy researchers etc). She complained that no women were standing for the leadership. She also called for "A proper debate on immigration, where children of immigrants like me also have a voice."

There is no lack of discussion about immigration. The issue seems to crop up whenever ordinary people are allowed to speak to their representatives. The difficulty seems to arise in translating popular opinion into public policy (“when are you going to do something”).

For instance, David Cameron is putting out to “consultation” the numerical cap on non-EU immigration. However that consultation will only be with other experts in the field, and will not involve any public consultation. Therefore the suspicion must remain that he is only consulting with people who will agree with him.

Immigration is one of three key areas where ordinary people feel the political elite are ignoring the popular will (the other areas being European integration and Globalisation).

They are all areas where enormous changes have been imposed on the United Kingdom without a specific mandate (it is no use civil servants pointing to the small print of parliamentary bills passed in 1972 etc). Without a popular mandate none of the changes, which go back forty or fifty years, are valid. Without a valid basis to the laws that have been passed the whole system is discredited (as has been revealed recently, although some politicians still seem to be in denial over the level of public rejection).

PS on Newsnight yesterday Jack Straw said the previous government “never forced through” constitutional change. And yet the Lisbon Treaty was certainly forced through. Does Jack Straw think he can tell lies in public, on television, and no-one is going to notice?

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Cow parsley or anthriscus sylvestris

The cold icy winter has resulted in a profusion of cow parsley or anthriscus sylvestris this May (the winter chill leads to synchronous germination).

Above: cow parsley along the ditch bordering the north field. Cow parsley is a marginal plant - literally to be found at the margins of meadows and woodland. Usually regarded as a weed, each plant can produce up to ten thousand seeds.

Above: despite its reputation as a nuisance weed, cow parsley has become extremely fashionable as a decorative flower in the last two or three years. In part this is because of the increasing awareness of environmental and ecological issues, and the celebration of English wild flowers. In part this is also because the flower is genuinely beautiful.

Above: I am also wondering whether there is a Jungian explanation for the rise in popularity of cow parsley. It is the perfect symbol for the new age of austerity. It is also a reminder that we can easily get by with what we already have.

Above: confirmation of the new status of cow parsley came in this article in last Saturday's Guardian magazine which suggested growing it as a garden flower (the Guardian is read by the urban uber-liberal elite).

Monday, May 24, 2010

Caley's Marching Chocolate

Above: Caley's Marching Chocolate. Available as either milk or plain. Very intense chocolate experience - a little overwhelming in some respects. Very strong cocoa aroma. Smooth texture. Manufactured in Norfolk at a real factory employing real people doing real work.

Above: Irene Rosenfeld has been rewarded for her predatory raid on Cadburys. However investor Warren Buffet, CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, sold about a quarter of his holding of Kraft shares earlier this month as a verdict on the "dumb" behaviour of Kraft in taking over Cadburys. Perhaps other shareholders will punish the Kraft Board for their coup, or perhaps they will feel that the business needs to operate unconstrained by any sense of morality.

Above: there is a growing sense that globalisation is out of control. On the Today programme this morning the Chancellor George Osborne said that eventually the third world will start importing high-value goods and services and we will all be wealthier as a result. But he did not put any timescale on when this is going to happen, and in the meantime a lot of working class people are seeing their jobs evaporate.

Globalisation is yet another policy with profound and far-reaching consequences which the political elite (all three parties) has decided to impose on the United Kingdom without seeking a mandate from the people.

It might result in us all becoming richer in the long term. Or it might result in a few people becoming unimaginably rich and the rest of us becoming significantly poorer. Whatever the effect, the absence of a mandate makes globalisation undemocratic.

Personally I would like to see import controls on chocolate products - and if that means a Chocolate War with the Americans then so be it.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

The durability of an image

Baking hot day, so hot it was almost unbearable. I drove to the far north of the county, the far far north where I had never been before. There was a sense of being at the top of the world, as if I had travelled to Tibet.

Above: the village was deserted in the mid-afternoon heat, as if everyone were taking shelter. A few houses, one pub, and a church dedicated to All Saints. Entering the church from the dazzling light and oppressive heat, I stepped down into a space that was both cold and very dark, so that I had to pause for a minute to let my eyes adjust.

The nave had Norman arches on one side and fourteenth-century gothic arches on the other. Walking along the south aisle I had to go carefully as the floor was uneven and I still felt giddy from the heat. Every window in the building was filled with stained glass, which explained the gloom.

Above: the church had been restored by Bodley in 1895, resulting in this magnificent reredos in the chancel. You can see the whitewash on the walls is starting to come off. Persistent smell of damp.

Above: between the nave and the south aisle was a mysterious tomb with a medieval brass on top. I say it is mysterious because the brass is fourteenth-century in style, but the inscription dates it to the reign of Henry VIII nearly two hundred years later. The knight in the brass is heroic in style, under a triple-arched gothic canopy, the armour looking incredible - tremendous sword, dagger, belt etc.

Above: on the right you can see a translation of the Latin inscription. I think William D'Alison has reused someone else's monument to bolster his claims to chivalric status. We think of the Tudors as being "Renaissance" and "early modern" but in remote areas such as this they were still firmly in the feudal world, even though Bastard Feudalism had substituted monetary contracts for feudal service.

William D'Alison would not have been bothered about using an image in fourteenth-century armour rather than the more showy Augsburg armour of the time of Henry VIII. Chivalry looked back to a golden age, and sought to revive that age (the court at Richmond was "the rich mount of England's honour" etc). A spectacular brass image such as this would have been famous in the local area, and by incorporating the knight into his tomb William D'Alison was appropriating the unknown hero's chivalric prestige.

Above: presumably this is William D'Alison's coat-on-arms on the side of the tomb - unless he has stolen someone else's heraldry as well. We are accustomed to thinking of heraldry being strictly regulated by the College of Arms, but this was not always the case. In remote counties families would often just set up their own coat-of-arms and claim ancient usage whenever challenged.

In any case, symbols of identification predate formal heraldry by many centuries. A great deal of work needs to be done in this area, particularly the way in which family identification devices (brands!) developed into the heraldry of the later middle ages. No-one now believes heraldry just appeared out of nowhere as a way of identifying knights in armour.

Above: other heraldry in the church was interesting. This quartering shows naked figures carrying shields emblazoned with the crusader cross (heraldry within heraldry!). Looking at them reminded me of a lecture by a world authority on the crusades where he described the progress of the First Crusade - when the knights travelled down through Syria their pack-mules died so they carried their armour in sacks, then became so tired and thirsty they threw their armour away and eventually had to fight naked.

The figures seem to be carrying funny-looking weapons that reminded me of ceremonial knives kept in a church in the south of the county.

Above: on a later representation of the coat-of-arms the naked figures seem to have acquired beards.

Above: in the north aisle was this gold-framed watercolour of the brass, but without D'Alison's inscription. Hanging in the half-light it resembled an icon. It made me think about the durability of an image once it has been created and released into the collective consciousness.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Some sort of exchange took place - the past week at work


Extremely quiet in the agency today, but there was an air of expectation - I could almost say menace. I had hardly slept last night, so all of the day I felt listless and tired. As a result I kept myself to myself, only really talking to Eleanor (trainee account executive).

Agency head Yvette called the Monday planning meeting. Instead of sitting behind her desk the big woman walked up and down in an agitated state, complaining about the lack of support she was getting. She was wearing a voluminous eau-de-nil silk trouser suit (which with her bulk made me think of photographs of Winston Churchill in his boiler suit).

Her ash-blonde hair, streaked with grey, shook as she told us "It's almost as if you are trying to sabotage everything I do".

Later Yvette was alternately shouting at Jonathan (copywriter) and Andrea (senior account executive). Andrea began muttering about a mass-walkout. I began to seriously wonder if Yvette was insane.


Again not much sleep. A slight headache all of the day. One of the reasons I am so relaxed about the situation at work is that I know I cannot keep up this commuting and eventually I will move on.

Crossing the Thames to my financial newsletter client, I was surprised at how much noise the river made this morning, and how high the water seemed to be.

In the agency there was a gloomy atmosphere, although Yvette was out most of the morning. When she returned she began making unreasonable comments to everyone, myself included. There was a feeling that things were heading for a showdown, and Eleanor talked about organising ourselves and going up to see Terry (owner of the agency and head of the PR company upstairs), but for a variety of reasons this is not really practical.

Andrea went out for lunch, and when she came back some sort of exchange took place in Yvette's office. Very subdued Andrea came into the account execs office and sat at her desk. When I next looked in her direction slow tears were running down her face and she said: "No matter what I do it's always wrong".

At four o'clock I took a late break, knowing I would have to work late this evening on a rush job that had come in. At Pret a Manger I ran into Patricia, Terry's previous PA now working for a theatre. She knew all about events at the agency and was able to put things in perspective (particularly that Terry would never back junior staff against Yvette, and that any deputation would not last five minutes before he threw them out).

"You just have to accept you're working for a bad employer, and that there's no future there" said Patricia.

I was in the office until nine, borrowing keys so that I could lock up. Emerging into the street I was struck at how different it looked in the evening. As I walked towards the tube I came face to face with Andrea and Richard M, one of our biggest clients, and seeing them was a surprise - I hadn't known Andrea was meeting him, and they looked very pally for client and account exec (and also what were they doing so close to the office - surely they weren't going in there?).


Yvette was out most of the morning with Julie (trainee account executive) and Neil (graphic designer). Andrea and I talked about how awful things were in the agency and how nice it would be to leave. She talked again about making a complaint to Terry.

"Julie I regard as Yvette's spy" said Andrea, "and Neil I do not trust. Jonathan is useless. Which just leaves Eleanor, you and me."

Later I talked to Jonathan about a novel he was writing in the quiet periods (it was very quiet today). The work is a spoof ghost story and sounded dire. I was bored by his excessive descriptions of it, and made several attempts to get out of the Studio until finally Eleanor called me to the telephone.

Yvette came in and once again Andrea was under pressure for a great many things that were not her fault or her responsibility.

A general meeting was called for 3.30, and this set everyone wondering whether Yvette was going to make a major announcement. However when the meeting came it was just another rambling moan at how poor our work was. Later Eleanor and I discussed whether Yvette might be mentally ill and heading for a breakdown, so often does she contradict herself and behave irrationally.

Several times I went upstairs to help myself to chocolates kept in the 'fridge (samples of a new product).


Once again I started the day by going straight to my newsletter client in his office near the Thames. The river fascinates me, and I paused half-way over the bridge to look down into the rushing water. I knew that if I fell there would be no chance of survival.

Getting to the agency by late-morning I arrived just before Yvette. The weather very warm so that Andrea was wearing summery clothes including a bare midriff. Yvette bluntly told her the clothes were unsuitable.

The ads for our oil client were given the go-ahead for a Paris publication. At one stage the campaign had been in doubt because of hesitation by a regional manager, but Yvette had gone over his head and got the advertising approved. This really illustrates the agency's dilemma - nothing will be done about Yvette's bad behaviour while she is bringing in significant amounts of money.

The afternoon experienced a rush of ads coming in so everyone became busy.

Graphic designer Neil had badly briefed a third party over the collateral items for our IT client (especially the web content). Since the work will have to be done again (and paid for again) Yvette had to be informed, and we heard her go into the Studio and begin shouting at Neil. "He had that coming" Andrea said to me quietly.


I woke at 5 this morning because I had to get approval for an ad from a client who is travelling in the Far East. I then had to ring the other decision maker based in Brussels. So many amendments and extra things to do that even before I had left the house I felt as if I had done a day's work.

At the agency the magnificent news that Yvette had taken the day off. She rang in a few times, but none of these calls were directed at me. Long leisurely day spent getting my invoicing up to date.

At lunchtime I met Katharine (Terry's PA) and temp Jane, and we went to lunch at a quiet pub. I tried to ban talking about work, but they were both eager to hear about Yvette's latest excesses. None of us was keen to go back to work, and we could have sat there all afternoon.

Friday, May 21, 2010

"I remember as if it were yesterday..."

Discussion I overheard in the office upstairs:

Alec: “Did you watch This Week last night? If you want to see how much of a joke candidate Diane Abbott is, you should tune in to the first ten minutes and watch Digby Jones skewer her on some straightforward economic questions. Most enjoyable.”

Philip (Finance Director): “Yes I watched it last night, I doubt she will even get the thirty MP’s to sign her nomination.”

Terry (our boss): “You say that, but I remember as if it were yesterday nineteen seventy-four when Margaret first dared to stand against Ted, and everyone was saying exactly the same things about her being a joke candidate and a stalking horse for Sir Keith Joseph and the best Tory leader Labour could wish for. The MP's who signed Margaret's nominations were all marginal outsiders and Monday Club members. Admittedly she had to get far fewer nominations than the thirty Labour requires. Also MPs were more chivalrous in those days about not attacking a woman, whereas now they are vicious right from the start…”

Thursday, May 20, 2010

An idea you can trace back to Homer's Illiad

Above: a couple of weeks back Turner prize-winning artist Grayson Perry fulminated about the concept of coolness. It is a position I have some sympathy with, since the use of "cool" as an acclamation is inherently unfair. However, just because we disapprove of something doesn't mean it will go away.

I also think Grayson Perry has got some of his assumptions wrong. Cool is more than just an expression of teenage approval, and is a pervasive concept that regulates society (or sub-groups within society - what Seth Godin would delineate as "tribes"). The concept of Cool relates to ethics, logic and the philosophy of language.

It's an idea you can trace back to Homer's Illiad.

Above: an example of the power of Cool can be seen in the Demos report on terrorism and how it can be countered by addressing the "cool factor".

As the Victorians taught us, if you can measure something you can control it.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Finest in the world

Lots of fresh produce is available at the moment if you only make the effort to drive out into the countryside.

Above: English asparagus is supposed to be the finest in the world. It is to do with the fluctuations in temperature and rainfall at the time it is growing. Imported asparagus tends to be hard and stalky.

Above: these are going to be last season's potatoes, but still good value if you load up with a sack or two.

Above: local honey varies in taste according to where the bees have gathered their pollen (orchards on the great plain, heather on the heaths, clover in the riverside pastures). Supermarket honey has been heat-treated and transported half-way round the world, so should be avoided. The Anglo-Saxon poem Beowulf describes warriors drinking mead - honey wine.

Above: many farmhouse kitchens contain recipes collected over the generations. Often (if you ask) you find they have a ledger-book containing hand-written recipes dating back to the late Victorian period. Pies, jams, long-forgotten puddings etc.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Old politics from one of the new intake

Above: the Miliband brothers represented as the Mitchell brothers from Eastenders (this was by Rory Bremner).

Not impressed with the performance of new MP Tristram Hunt interviewed on the Today programme this morning. Instead of taking part in the discussion he just loudly recited a list of irrelevant party political points he wanted to make. It was an example of old politics from one of the new intake.

Demos is more encouraging about the new alignment in the current political settlement:

Newsnight yesterday used a panel to research possible new leaders for the Labour Party and found David Miliband was the unanimous preferred choice. Later in the programme Jeremy Paxman asked David Miliband if he was a “wonk”, which seemed to discomfort him. David Miliband was formerly part of the Primrose Hill Gang which included James Purnell.

Above: although David Miliband may be popular among ordinary people he is not entirely popular among Labour Party supporters. This is a savage attack by Guardian journalist Charlie Brooker (from May 2008). Charlie Brooker is an alumni of Central London Polytechnic.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Richard Fuller MP

Among the more interesting new MPs is Richard Fuller, MP for Bedford.

Intellectually capable.

He did PPE at Oxford. Former TRG (maybe current for all I know). Has always lived in Bedford, so is not a carpet-bagger.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Manage popular expectations in dire economic circumstances

Above: old guidebook to Hughendon Manor in Buckinghamshire, which is preserved as a Benjamin Disraeli museum. This booklet has a pre-decimal price so must date from the 1960s. It lists hundreds of Disraeli books, pictures and mementos, and is an example of a scholarly guidebook from the pre-dumbed down era.

David Cameron intends to model his premiership on that of Benjamin Disraeli, the only British Prime Minister from a minority background. There was a distinct Young England tone to his speech in Downing Street yesterday – the need for effective and sustainable social justice in an industrial society. It’s an interesting ideology.

He will also have to manage popular expectations in dire economic circumstances.

The challenge will be to make austerity and restraint desirable, rather than encouraging people to expect an early return to the boom and bust cycle.

Although consumerism is constantly portrayed as a “good” there is no rational reason for this. Consumerism has brought a lot of problems to society, to the environment and to individuals. It is irrational for people to over-eat until they are fat, over-shop until they are burdened with debt, over-work themselves until they become stressed etc.

Consumerism relies for its power on the trigger of Maslow’s needs for Esteem and Self-Actualisation.

If the government can deliver to its population access to “Esteem” and “Self-Actualisation” without the purchase of consumer goods (which do not actually satisfy either of these needs) not only will many economic and environmental problems be solved, they will also have established a political usp that will be of value at the next election in 2015.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

New Prime Minister

David Cameron has just been appointed new Prime Minister.

Apparently he is going to run the government in the one-nation style of Disraeli.

I wish him well.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Browbeat the media

A rare public example of how New Labour privately browbeat the media for so many years:

Self-imposed exile

I know Charbonnel et Walker is the best chocolate in the world.

I know the packaging has the Royal Warrant embossed in gold.

But there are times when I miss the taste of Cadbury's Daily Milk.

I suppose most self-imposed exiles must feel this way.

I suppose all self-imposed exiles are ultimately futile.

If only the evil directors of Kraft would give up and go away, and we could return to how things were before their predatory take-over.

The hostile take-over (financed with debt) was condemned by Nick Clegg during one of the election Leadership Debates. If only Nick Clegg would insist, as part of his coalition negotiations with the Conservatives, to a punitive one-off retrogressive attack on Kraft operations in the United Kingdom. In the good old days Kraft directors would be seized as soon as they set foot on British soil, be hung drawn and quartered, and have their heads stuck on pikes on London bridge.

Friday, May 07, 2010


Out of all the fine writing that has accompanied the general election I think this is my favourite piece.

As for the election result itself, I was hoping for a clear Conservative win.

Since the smoking ban no-one mentions "smoke-filled rooms" anymore, but metaphorically this is where the next government will be decided.

Thursday, May 06, 2010


Very interesting item on Channel 4 News this evening about dna abstracted from Neanderthal bones.

Analysis and comparisions suggest that Neanderthals and Early Moderns interbred in Europe and the Middle East (but not in Africa apparently).

Neanderthals had a distinctive appearance - low forehead, boney ridge above the eyebrows, a boney bulge on the nape of the neck. Often on the tube I look at people and wonder whether they have the neanderthal gene. Now we know they do.

Despite their ferocious appearance neanderthals were quite sophisticated.


Mauern caves where neaderthals were found with spears and javelins:

Wednesday, May 05, 2010


I will miss the election campaigns once they all stop.

And I will especially miss all the pundits, who have almost become familiar friends.

Most of all I think I will miss the sense of narrative running through the day - Today on Radio 4, Daily Politics if I can take an early lunch, PM on Radio 4, Channel 4 News, Newsnight, This Week, The Daily Mirror, The Guardian, The Independent.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

The Labour vote is collapsing

Above: even the New Left Review is saying there is no point in voting for this version of the Labour party (click on the image to read the text).

The general election is on Thursday.

There is a growing awareness in the media that the Labour vote is collapsing. Writing in today's Daily Mirror even diehard socialist Kevin Maguire said he was undecided whether to go on supporting Labour. The fear in Labour must be that they are facing a complete rout.

However, a collapse of this kind has been inevitable for some years. The loss of thousands of seats at council elections over the past five years has deprived the party of county and local councillors. These councillors were the committed activists who got the vote out on previous elections - without them an election win this time is highly unlikely (impossible in fact).

Monday, May 03, 2010


After Sunday lunch (roast lamb) I drove about an hour northwards into the central hills. I would have got there a good deal sooner if I hadn't got lost in the winding lanes. Usual sense of expectation as I entered an area I had not previously traversed.

Above: the geology of the central hills is very interesting. Chalk, limestone and sandstone have formed the landscape. The area is noted for chalybeate springs which well up at various points.

During the Second World War a V2 rocket hit the hill you can see above.

Above: the village I was visiting was holding a "scarecrow festival" with straw effigies set up at the entrances of the houses. Also there were these giant figures made from bales of straw. Personally I found them all a bit sinister.

Above: the church is fourteenth-century and built of greenstone. I took this photograph towards the end of the afternoon when people were packing up, but earlier a maypole had been set up where you can see the parked car. There had also been Morris dancers earlier in the day.

Above: the White Hart pub was the meeting place of a nineteenth-century literary society which included one of the most famous Victorian poets. A temporary car park had been set up for the day on the village sports field opposite the pub. The village football team acted as car park stewards, tumbling out of the pub with pint glasses in hand as each new car arrived (the traffic was not very heavy).

Above: I would estimate there were about a hundred of the scarecrows throughout the village. Most of the visitors seemed to be local. Despite the forecast for heavy showers the day was warm and sunny.

Above: these two, at the entrance to Burnt House Farm are supposed to be gypsies. There is a legend of two gypsies being killed by lightning in the village in 1830. Gypsies moved into the area during the summer looking for field work.

Above: I went into the church where a folk band was playing. I know we are supposed to admire the purity of folk music played on authentic instruments, but they did go on a bit. Also the audience filled the building so I couldn't really look around.

Above: my main motive in visiting the church was to see this armour, which belonged to a former royal Champion. Slightly disappointing as this is plain seventeenth-century armour, and not the Augsburg armour of the medieval period that I had been hoping for. The family was a cadet branch of the main line.

Above: although we normally associate scarecrows as standing in the middle of fields, these were all at the entrances of houses. There was something about these scarecrows standing at the gates that made my mind struggle to remember something I had once read. And eventually, after about an hour, the recollection "pinged" into my mind...

Above: Sir James Frazer writes extensively about straw effigies in The Golden Bough. Describing a custom that was prevalent throughout northern Europe until the early modern period, straw effigies were set up at the entrances to houses at the beginning of Spring to confuse witches who were feared to blight the crops. The witches would curse the effigies and leave the householders untouched.

The straw effigies would remain in place for a week before being burned at the ringing of the Sunday Vespers bell.

Obviously there was no connection between this village show and the former ritual, but I did wonder if a folk-memory had lingered in the collective sub-conscious, leading to the organisers of this festival to arrange their straw effigies at the garden gates of villagers.

Above: as I left the village I saw another of the giant figures. Sir James Frazer records May Day processions in which giants of straw were carried through villages before being burned as the on-lookers sang the Salve Regina. An interesting afternoon.

Salve Regina:

Saturday, May 01, 2010

Dateline London

One of the most civilised moments of the weekend is to watch Dateline London, almost always with a cup of tea. Today the programme was ruined by Yasmin Alibhai-Brown who threw a bad-tempered tantrum, becoming abusive towards one of the other panellists. She is completely unsuited to this kind of rational exchange of views.