Tuesday, June 29, 2010
I only just got to the tiny village in time. The garden drinks party was ending and the society members (about eighty of them) were walking across to the small church where the meeting was to be held. It was about eight o'clock in the evening, the sky remaining light until gone ten (that preternatural shadowless evening light you get around Midsummer Day).
Above: the church is dedicated to St Maurice, which immediately alerted me to the possibility of a crusader connection (the finding of the lance of St Maurice or St Morris in the ruined citadel of Antioch during the First Crusade had been a cathartic moment in the recapture of the Holy Land, leading to the cult St Maurice becoming popular among crusaders - this Antioch lance of St Maurice is not the same as the one kept in Vienna, which has a dubious provenance). The church had been recently restored, the restoration funded in part by the architectural society and the local council. Hence the invitation to the society to hold its summer lecture there.
Above: there were so many people milling about inside the building that I wasn't able to get a proper picture of the interior, but this is a photograph of a photograph that was on one of the information boards at the back. Note the unusual flight of steps up to the chancel, which indicates there is probably a chamber underneath it. Obviously I wondered what might be in that chamber.
Above: some nicely restored heraldic hatchments. Apparently they had been found in the bell tower in a rather dilapidated state. The pews at the back of the church had been removed to create space for display boards describing the history of the local area (there are important Roman remains nearby, a famous painter lived in the area in the eighteenth-century, the name of the village is mentioned in one of the most famous English folk songs etc).
Above: my heart sank when I read one of the boards and found that the pernicious revisionism was being repeated that reduces the Anglo-Saxons to mere "immigrants" who had introduced a "Nordic lifestyle". There is no hard evidence that this twisted version of history is true. All the evidence we have tells us that the Angles, Saxons and Jutes arrived as invaders, and obliterated the culture they found here (which was not the Romano-British culture of the colony of Britannia, as society seems to have regressed after the Roman legions left with the urban areas abandoned and revivals of paganism taking place). There was none of the cultural fusion that was experienced when the Franks invaded Gaul, recorded by Gregory of Tours. It is likely that the Saxon invaders of Britain physically destroyed the population they found here, as there is such an ominous silence in the years following the invasion, coupled with a complete change of language, culture and religion. Stenton, Loyn, Whitelock, Myres, Wallace-Hadrill, Michael Wood etc.
Probably the wording of the board had been decided by some diversity-awareness commissar in the local council. I was annoyed that money I had donated had gone towards this board. I would rather the church became a ruin than history should be politicised and tainted in this way.
Above: as I suspected, there was a crusader connection with the church.
Above: the lecture was given by Professor David Stocker. Very interesting talk on the way churches in the county have created a unique succession of landscapes ("each village wants to be seen... the tower would get higher and higher... the eighteenth-century aimed to reproduce Elysium..."). The lecture lasted an hour and I could easily have listened to another two or three hours, despite the fact that in the overwhelming heat of the evening I was beginning to shiver slightly and my hands and feet had become very cold.
Above: leaving the building I looked out across the valley where the crusader remains are suspected to be. I felt too ill to take a closer look. Long drive home, almost all the way in daylight.
Monday, June 28, 2010
Too ill to go into the office today, but I managed to answer my e-mails by a remote connection. Feeling better, and no longer have a headache or feel sick. Have slept for about fifty percent of the last three days.
When I have not been sleeping I have been reading Lawrence Durrell's Alexandria Quartet. I am half-way through Justine. I imagine Justine as a Lady Gaga figure.
The book was a gift - I'm not sure I would have bought it (mainly because it is 860 pages long, and I don't really have the time to read books this long).
The novels are suffused with references to Cavafy, and Durrell seems to be aiming to reproduce in prose form the longueurs of Cavafy's poetry.
"Anything pressed too far becomes a sin."
"Evil is good perverted."
"...the long bereft Greek face, with its sane Grecian nose and candid eyes, the satiny skin that is given only to the thymus-dominated, the mole upon her slender stalk of a neck."
Sunday, June 27, 2010
No appetite. I ache all over and have a headache if I move. All I can do is sleep.
Earlier today, after lunch (which I left most of), I went back to bed for two solid hours.
But I got up at 3pm to watch England vs Germany.
I don't care about the result. I will not read the Sports section tomorrow. In my view every one of the team played well, and I enjoyed seeing them performing at the highest level of international football.
And there is the compensating thought that however well Germany play and however well they perform they can never become the England football team (by this I mean they will always be the bad guys, the title of good guys is permanently reserved for England).
Towards the end of the match one of the commentators said "There will have to be an enquiry into this".
The commentators speculated how the England team members, individually so expert, could collectively fail.
Leaving aside physiological issues such as the effect of the climate and the altitude, the most obvious reason must be a failure of morale.
And a contributing factor in poor morale must be the behaviour of sports journalists. If you constantly tell a group of people they are rubbish and sustain this message over a period of decades, then the objects of this abuse will inevitably experience a loss of morale. In any other area of life the perpetrators would be guilty of psychological cruelty (and in certain workplace situations they would end up having to explain their behaviour in court).
It would be interesting to chart the performance of national teams in the World Cup together with the support they get from their respective media. Is there, I wonder, some Brazilian equivalent of Marina Hyde, constantly snarking about every single aspect of the national team's performance? Is there in Germany a coterie of journalists who, instead of finding new and interesting things to say, lazily recycle the old narrative of failure, knowing that by doing so they will bring about the very failure they predict?
Friday, June 25, 2010
After work I accompanied Terry (my ultimate boss) to an economics seminar delivered by Gillian Tett from the Financial Times.
By taxi to a side road off St James, and then into one of the clubs. Up the stairs two at a time as we were so late. We took our glasses of Chilian white wine into the meeting and sat down right at the back just as the introduction was ending.
Gillian Tett walked to the podium. Dull blonde hair, soberly dressed, her neck swathed in seed pearls. Her background - she trained as a social anthropologist in
She described her efforts to understand the financial markets over the last seven or eight years, looking at financial structures from the point of view of a social anthropologist. As an anthropologist she was able to identify "cognitive capture" – the way elites hang onto power. She developed a sketch map of how the City of
She discovered that the concept of risk dispersion via hedge portfolios, although claimed to be a safer system was in fact a "bunkum" creed ("because of the slicing and dicing people couldn't see along the chain"). She began to dig around into the concept of "Market Completion" ("a private financial ideology few outside the City has heard of"). Market Completion aimed at spreading risk perfectly all over the financial system, but in fact this was all nonsense ("but no-one was able to see this because of greed - Market Completion had the function of keeping the elites in power").
There was also the problem of fragmentation. Within banks departments were extremely competitive, with the risk departments usually having little power. Senior management had little idea of what CDOs were doing and very small groups of people were taking decisions.
She was very critical about the disconnect between the City and the rest of society ("we need to have a good hard look at the cultural translators in society - these should be politicians, media and academics, but they are not doing their job"). The City is two miles from
Financial regulation had become separated from monetary policy. Most banks have become too big to manage and need breaking up. The idea that the crisis is all the fault of
Her finishing comments included: "Slowing down the pace of financial innovation might be a solution, otherwise we could be looking at these crises every fifteen years".
"You have just seen a future Editor of the FT" Terry said to me on the way out.
Wednesday, June 23, 2010
Everyone played well. John Terry in particular played well. It was a great result.
Monday, June 21, 2010
No need to apologise. It is the people who booed who should apologise. Especially those whose booing is sophisticated and encoded, but nevertheless incessant (Marina Hyde etc).
And who are those people who booed? From the evidence of television interviews (not, I admit, an exact sample) the demographic seems to be well-off grey-haired businessmen taking their children on trophy holidays. Hardly representative.
Sunday, June 20, 2010
Above: interesting article in the Guardian earlier this week about the discovery in Germany of the remains of Edith, an English Saxon princess who married a German Saxon king. On Friday was a much larger feature in a sort of pull-out-and-keep section about the discovery (I have pulled out and kept it). As well as a gushing article by Michael Wood there was also in the supplement a piece by someone called Mike Pitts who repeated the politically-correct (but wrong) line that there were no real Anglo-Saxons and that the British Isles has always been a multicultural society (ignorantly illustrating his argument with two pieces of evidence from the Roman period!).
Why is the Anglo-Saxon period being made a target in what seems to be an undeclared culture war?
Mike Pitts obviously doesn't do much fieldwork or he would realise you can't move in this country without coming across Anglo-Saxons.
Above: a few weeks back I visited a village in the north of the county where the church was holding an open day. I was interested in the building because although externally medieval the inner core was Saxon. The Saxon fabric includes the central tower (also note there is a blocked-up Saxon door just above the car).
Above: the dedication was to St Edmund, Saxon king and martyr. Just inside the door was this display of various Saxon attributes (flowers, the flag of St Edmund, a translation of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, postcards of Anglo-Saxon ruins etc). Although the flag was a later invention, the ladies who put this display together obviously think of themselves as Anglo-Saxons.
Above: this stained glass window of St Edmund was paid for by a local sheepfarmer who had been sitting in his farmhouse during a storm when a thunderbolt hit the fireplace in front of him, setting fire to the room and destroying everything around him, although he escaped untouched. In gratitude for his narrow escape he donated this window to the church. From the choice of subject, he also thought of himself as a modern Anglo-Saxon.
Above: I rashly said I would like to see inside the tower. The entrance was from outside the building, up a winding stone staircase (worn steps) in complete darkness. Emerging into the bellchamber the wind was hissing through the open latticework of the windows. I was shown the bells (but declined to go up a narrow ladder to look down on them properly). I was shown the ancient mechanism of the clock, which has to be wound every week. When I got down again I was completely caked in dust and white powder (the crumbling Saxon masonry?) and in the words of one of the church ladies I looked like a ghost.
Saturday, June 19, 2010
Yvette (head of the agency) was in a good mood, which transformed the usual Monday planning meeting.
I worked on copywriting for our charity client.
Lunchtime I met a friend and we went to a cafe for chocolate bread and coffee. I entertained him with stories about Yvette. News that a mutual friend had broken up with her boyfriend.
In the afternoon I worked half-heartedly on a presentation.
Last thing I went to see my financial services client. As I crossed the Thames I stopped to watch the grey-brown water rushing below. I could have watched the scene for hours, but had to hurry on into the offices to avoid being late (not that the client would have minded - he is very easy-going).
Quite a relaxed day. Apart from liaising with Hugh J in Brussels (our oil client) there was not a great deal to do. I gave two more of my clients away to Eleanor (trainee account executive).
Every couple of months we have a general meeting attended by Terry (who heads the PR division upstairs, and is our ultimate boss). Yvette announced that the next one of these meeting would be held this afternoon, so there was a flurry of preparations. I was able to produce some very spurious figures that "demonstrated" how agency billings were rising in real terms compared with a general fall in economic activity (Yvette was delighted with these stats).
The meeting started with lunch - sandwiches and chocolates, but no champagne because we hadn't exceeded our targets. Mostly Yvette talked while Terry listened sagely and the rest of us made occasional contributions. Everyone seemed shocked when Yvette announced that one night per week we will have a training session until 9pm.
Katharine (Terry's PA) sat in the corner and took the minutes. After the meeting, as we were going out, she told me she planned to go to Australia for ten months. Another person leaving.
As soon as I arrived at my desk, Terry K from the PR section upstairs appeared waving a national publication. He thanked me for the position his ad was in, and seemed genuinely grateful (the client has been very pleased). Actually I had placed the ad Run Of Press, and the good position was an accident.
During the morning there was a moment of drama. I was on the telephone, so could only pay half my attention to what happened. About ten o'clock Yvette appeared in the account execs' room and spoke to Andrea (Senior Account Executive). Her back was to me, so I couldn't really see much (Yvette is a big woman). After Yvette had left Andrea slammed down the 'phone she was holding, threw things violently around the room (but not in my direction), then put on her jacket. "Have a nice life everyone" she yelled as she stormed out.
John W (one of the directors, a very mild and ineffectual man) had been in the room at the time and looked very shocked.
I went through to the front office which has a view of the street, and saw Andrea walking off into the distance.
After about an hour Andrea came back and sat down at her desk giggling. "Sorreey" she said to Eleanor and myself, using a wacky accent and waving her hands. Nothing more was said.
Very routine day.
Andrea was trying to get out of yet another client lunch with Yvette at the Italian restaurant, pushing Eleanor to take her place.
"Go on" she said to Eleanor, "the pig's ear with truffle sauce is lovely" ("it's a pig's ear" is Yvette's verdict on most creative work produced by our studio).
Nearly forgot: at the end of the day Julie's brother Martin came to meet her again (Julie is trainee account exec and Yvette's favourite). He had an olive-green bag on which was written, in thick black marker, 7th PARA RHA. Thin and sinewy, unsmiling, not saying anything. He looked about seventeen, but apparently is twenty-one. Julie and Martin left the office at the same time as Andrea and myself, and we all walked to the tube together. The platform was crowded and we let two trains go past because they were packed. The third train was also over-full but Julie and Martin pushed their way on, and Andrea pulled my arm and said "Let's go for it". We were all squashed together, and when the doors closed I was pushed up against Andrea. Her hand was holding one of the metal side rails, and as the train moved I saw Martin put his hand half on top of hers. There was no need for this intimacy as no-one else was holding that particular rail. Because of the way we were positioned Julie would not have seen this. Both Martin and Andrea had absolutely impassive faces, looking into the distance, but effectively holding hands.
Although the garden gave the appearance of full summer (strong sunshine from a clear blue sky, the air suffused with the scent of philodelphus, the pink and white Bowl of Beauty paeonies looking sensational) a steady arctic breeze blew from the north, making the temperature unbearably cold. It was as if the whole landscape was air-conditioned, with the control turned well down. This freezing feel to summer was fascinatingly surreal, but I could only stand it for a few minutes and was glad to get into my car and put the heating on.
An air of crisis at the office this morning, as Julie had had her second-hand Mercedes C class sports coupe stolen last night after only three days in her possession. She broke into tears several times during the morning and made incessant calls to her friends to tell them the bad news. It was as if she had suffered a bereavement.
Because "we all need cheering up" Yvette produced a bottle of champagne she had in her office and we all had glasses of champagne mixed with creme de cassis (which tasted disgusting).
I left at 4pm because I wanted to get back in time for the football.
Friday, June 18, 2010
Above: Joe Hart.
England play Algeria at 7.30 this evening.
Leaving aside any judgmental view on whether Robert Green should be included in the England team, I am positively hoping Joe Hart is in the squad because he is an exceptional player and I want to see him in action at the highest international level.
The World Cup tournament creates a platform on which the top players of the world can be seen to their best advantage. For me that is the whole point of the contest. The jeux sans frontieres reporting style of some of the media (Marina Hyde etc) is just an irrelevant distraction.
Among the cuts in proposed public expenditure yesterday was the new £25 million Visitors Centre for
On balance I am glad this project is not going ahead. There has been unease for some time at the quasi-political manipulation of historical "interpretation", particularly related to the pre-historic, Roman and early medieval periods (ie the scandal of Francis Pryor's
One of the most unforgivable aspects of the previous government was their perversion of science. Not just archaeological science, but statistical science, scientific advice on drugs policy etc. This interference was seldom done overtly, but via a series of official "nudges" that in an oppressive political climate were impossible to ignore.
Thursday, June 17, 2010
Above: I was in the Co-Op earlier this week and saw these chocolate mint fondants. As you can see, the packets says the product was made with "single estate English peppermint oil". Which was intriguing enough to make me buy a packet.
And searching around on the internet I found this interesting article about the revival of the English mint crop: http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2007/jul/22/foodanddrink.features8
Everything about this product is attractive - Fairtrade chocolate, domestically-sourced peppermint oil, revived crops, careful farming practices, delicious chocolates and sold through a Co-Operative (based in a small council estate, so close to the people it serves).
Wednesday, June 16, 2010
It was an interesting session. In particular, it was interesting to see how the former lords of life and death (collectively ordering wars, authorizing detentions, deciding which communities get medical resources, police resources, education resources etc) were reduced to just four ordinary men in a television studio. How are the mighty fallen.
The programme lasted for forty-five minutes and had many moments that arrested attention.
Ed Balls claimed to be one of “the people who speak the language of Mrs Duffy” (Mrs Duffy has become an archetype figure, representing the ignored electorate).
Diane Abbot said that immigration was a proxy for issues such as housing or jobs.
Ed Miliband admitted that “Iraq was extremely damaging – catastrophic”.
David Miliband said “the state got too big in some areas”.
But once again (in my opinion) it was Andy Burnham who said the things I wanted to hear: opposing British membership of the Euro; advocating reform of care for the elderly; admitting that the last government “were putting big business before people”.
However, it would seem that most people have already decided they want David Miliband as Labour Party leader. On election night presenter Andrew Neil hosted a “booze cruise” boatload of pundits and celebrities, sailing up and down the Thames getting increasingly inebriated and offering comments on serious political issues whenever a camera was pointed in their direction. When Andrew Neil asked writer Tony Parsons which Miliband brother he favoured as leader he replied “the good-looking one” which reduces David Miliband to the status of a male bimbo.
Tuesday, June 15, 2010
Above: L'Escargot is one of the great London restaurants. Founded in the 1920s, during the 1980s it became favoured by intellectuals such as Melvyn Bragg and serious actors such as John Hurt. But it is still going strong today, although perhaps a bit too linked with pre-matinee trips to nearby Mama Mia.
Above: Maison Bertaux in Greek Street was founded in the 1870s but was last refurbished in the 1980s. The 1980s style still remains, relatively untouched. If you want to step back into the 1980s for a few moments, the easiest way to do so is to visit Maison Bertaux.
Presumably the interiors should be listed.
More on the cafe: http://russelldavies.typepad.com/ateaandathink/2006/04/maison_bertaux_.html
Above: I have a complex relationship with Bar Italia. Whenever I go there I feel such a phony, as if I'm trying to be something I'm not. Again, Bar Italia was famous before the 1980s and has remained famous ever since.
During the 1980s Bar Italia was haunted by teenage girls hoping for a glimpse of model Nick Kamen.
Nick Kamen appeared in one of the 1980s' defining advertisements, produced by BBH: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q56M5OZS1A8
Note: there is nothing worse than being stuck in a conversation with a BBH bore (unless it is a BMP bore, or worst of all a DMB&B bore).
Above: Bar Italia appears in magazines from the 1980s, and was linked with the decade's growing obsession with Italian football (which later manifested itself as live broadcasts of Serie A on satellite television from 1990).
Above: it seems that in the 1980s ethnic diversity was limited to an Italian cafe in Soho.
Monday, June 14, 2010
Above: the National Magazine Company in Broadwick Street.
National Magazine Company publishes some of the leading titles in the United Kingdom including Good Housekeeping, Cosmopolitan and Prima. 63% of ABC1 magazine-reading women are reading NatMags publications.
Magazine advertising has many advantages – production standards are high (usually lavish full colour), the cultural environment is excellent, magazines tend to have a long life.
Managing Director of the National Magazine Company is Duncan Edwards. Generally respected for keeping up rates despite the recession. He has a lot of political soft power he doesn’t tend to use.
Sunday, June 13, 2010
Andrea (account executive) was away today, Julie (trainee account executive) was subdued, Eleanor (trainee account executive) was sullen. The offices were generally quiet all of the day. It felt as if the agency was slowly losing steam.
Yvette (agency head) talked by 'phone to a rep from one of the national newspapers, and flew into a temper, demanding to talk to the rep's manager. When the manager came on she called the rep a moron and said she didn't want to deal with her anymore. Later the manager called back and I happened to answer the 'phone. Before putting him through to Yvette I deliberately mentioned the rep's name and said how helpful she had been in the past (which is true). "Thank you for saying that" the manager said. I put him through to Yvette and the bellowing began.
Later I learned from Katharine (PA to Terry, our ultimate boss) that Yvette had been told off for missing the billings target for May.
Morning off to have a dental check.
When I got to the office (at 1pm) Katharine told me about a new business call that had rung the upstairs (PR division) number this morning. Katharine had been waiting for me to come in before passing the details on. I called the potential client back, and they placed ads immediately, which will account for a big chunk of June's target (Yvette was disgruntled when she found out, and told Katherine that all new business must go to her first).
At 2pm the weekly meeting was held, postponed from yesterday. As usual Yvette complained about all sorts of things. Most of her bitterest invective was directed at Andrea, who sat stony-faced and looking offended.
Late afternoon Hugh J (an elderly American) arrived from our Belgian oil client. Yvette had told us to make the office look busy ("I want a buzz") so as pre-arranged we got up from our seats every few minutes to walk into the other offices, and also rang each other up so it looked like lots of calls were coming in. Hugh J and Yvette disappeared into Yvette's office, and later I was called in to talk about Scandinavian media, a subject I knew nothing about (I had to bluff my way through by looking up BRAD on a laptop).
By the time the meeting finished it was 6pm. We (Yvette, Andrea and myself) took Hugh J to the Italian restaurant for dinner. Yvette talked about horse-riding despite Hugh J's obvious uninterest. By the time we got back to the agency Hugh J was talking encouragingly about lots of new business.
Afterwards Yvette gave Hugh J a lift back to his hotel in Knightsbridge. I went along as I needed to go to west London that evening. The powerful sports car made heads turn the entire journey.
A lot of discussion before Yvette arrived about what to get her for her birthday. Julie said she was collecting the Mont Blanc range (big chunky fountain pens, retractable pencils etc). Andrea suggested getting her a Mont Blanc bludgeon.
Andrea told me about an interview she had gone to on Monday. "They told me the MD has a firey temper. It didn't seem to be any improvement on here".
Yvette and Julie were supposed to have been out all of the day at our catering client. However Jonathan (copywriter) rushed through from the loo at 10.30 saying "They're back, Yvette's parking her car now!" (the toilet lobby has a view of the back mews). We all looked at each other ominously, since such an early return was not a good sign.
Julie didn't say anything when we asked how the meeting went. Later when I logged into the system I saw the catering ads had been removed from the schedules. We heard Yvette loudly rearranging her day, booking herself into a beauty salon.
The toilet lobby played a second part in the day's incidents. The unisex toilet on our floor has a door into a tiny cramped lobby with a sink and window, with another door to the right into the toilet itself. Neil (graphic designer) always locks the door to the lobby when using the toilet. In the early afternoon Yvette tried the lobby door and found it locked and flew into a little rage. When Neil emerged a few minutes later he was told he must not lock the lobby door in future, but only the actual toilet door. She told him she had to be able to get into the lobby in case she needed to speak to him urgently.
Busy day, mostly concerned with copywriting. I worked through the assignments helped by coffee and some shortbread biscuits. I also produced a European Media Guide presentation for one of our clients.
Neil was goading Jonathan and asked him about his salary.
Neil: "How much are you earning?"
Jonathan: "I'm not going to tell you that".
Neil: "Give me a clue - does it include glass beads?"
At the end of the working day Julie's teenage brother arrived to meet her. He was totally unlike her, being slim and dark. Two big gold rings on his right hand, one big gold ring on his left hand, gelled spiky hair, white England football shirt, pale blue jeans, trainers that looked new (but were actually just very well cleaned). He had a backpack and a big olive-green holdall with him, both items clearly very heavy. He sat in the account execs room pretending to be half-asleep, but actually watching everything through half-closed eyes. When Andrea asked him if he wanted a cup of tea his face went red and he could hardly speak.
Saturday, June 12, 2010
Have just watched England vs USA.
Overall impression I gained is that Steven Gerrard is one of the world's most perfect footballers - technical skill, elegant movements, effective performance.
And as he said afterwards: the most important thing is not to lose.
PS I celebrated the Gerrard goal by opening this World Cup pack of Mars bars.
Friday, June 11, 2010
Above: I have botched this photograph. This is of the Black Swan pub displaying World Cup banners. However I have taken it at an angle where you can't see the Black Swan sign (if you click on the image to enlarge it you can see the Black Swan name either side of the door). What I meant to imply by this image is that England are the "black swans" in the tournament. Unsuspected by the other teams, and unregarded by the media, the England team have all the attributes necessary to win. And I confidently expect them to win.
Above: the World Cup is also a great marketing event. This is a "limited edition" milkshake. Many of the flags that are currently covering the country have been put up at the insistence of children, which demonstrates how the competition has captured the imagination of young people.
Above: sports-related headline that appeared in the Daily Mirror. I may change my newspaper during the period of the campaign (or buy an additional newspaper) as the Guardian seems incapable of saying anything positive about the England team. The irony of the Guardian sports commentators is continually tipping over into sneering.
Thursday, June 10, 2010
Above: common bluebells (Hyacinthoides non-scripta). Because I have a garden shaded by chestnut trees, there are always swathes of bluebells in May. The flowering season is short, and the flowers have now already gone, leaving bunches of leaves rapidly turning into a sort of mush.
In Greek mythology the plant was named after Hyacinth, a mortal who died in a sporting accident (the cult animated one of the principle festivals of Sparta). In England the presence of large numbers of bluebells indicates ancient, usually primeval, woodland. The bulbs have styptic properties.
Above: the Bluebell Line is a steam railway that runs through Sussex, and got its name because it passed through landscapes famous for carpets of bluebells. It is staffed mainly by volunteers. Now limited to just nine miles, the railway has featured in numerous film and television productions.
Above: the Bluebell Inn - originally this pub got its name because of the bluebells that grew in the area. As you can see on the pub sign, the name is now related to a blue-coloured bell rather than a plant (possibly a bell was easier to paint). Very pleasant country pub, despite the busy road.
Wednesday, June 09, 2010
Above: the recent election resulted in a "hung" Parliament where no party had an overall majority. Subsequent negotiations led to a Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition and the ejection of Labour from power. The theme of a hung Parliament captured the popular imagination, as in these home-made cakes, sold to raise funds.
Nominations closed earlier today for the election of a new leader for the Labour Party. From a PR point of view, the most electable (in terms of a general election) of the five candidates is Andy Burnham - looks and sounds normal, is not too closely associated with the previous regime, has a back story that relates to ordinary people. In many ways he has a Ronald Reagan appeal.
He also has a fairly good record as a minister (opposing product placement, promoting care for the elderly etc).
But probably the Labour party is too out-of-touch to elect him.
Tuesday, June 08, 2010
The surgery (one of several grouped together) is in a big red-brick Victorian building that was probably once an hotel. Inside it has been completely modernised and received the attentions of an interior designer. The Reception area doubles as the main waiting room. A semi-circular Reception desk half fills the space, decorated with opaque tubular lights. Seating, vitrines displaying dental merchandise, and small tables loaded with magazines completed the furnishings. I gave my name to a Receptionist and was asked to wait.
I took a seat in the corner from where I could see end-on the Reception desk, so that the staff were in profile. Four young women were behind the counter, all of them aged in their early-twenties, slim and attractive, well made-up. All of them were blonde (not sure whether they were all genuine blondes, one did look a little improbable).
Their blondeness surprised me, since the incidence of blondes in the general population is not 100% (the genetic mutation that caused blondeness occured eleven thousand years ago during the last ice age). I wondered whether the dental practice had a discriminatory recruitment policy in place. There were no other patients in the waiting room, and I could hear clearly their conversation - one woman was describing in needless detail how her foot had been stepped on at a party by another woman and the repercussions that resulted from this.
After about ten minutes, the doors to the street opened and a man came in, aged about twenty-five, medium height. From his physique and clothes he seemed to be a construction worker (his heavy boots were spattered with clay). His very short hair was also yellow-blond.
His appearance silenced all of the women. Leaning against the counter he said he wanted to collect the next stage of a course of antibiotics. His demeanour was quiet, but also displayed a degree of confidence I find difficult to analyse.
One of the receptionists immediately said "It's Fox, isn't it?"
The man's expression must have expressed surprise as she amended her statement by saying "I recognised the face".
The man then said "I'm a lucky man" - said deliberately and quietly, ignoring the other three women looking on.
The incident sufficiently impressed me so that I felt I had to write it down as it happened. I hope to add other examples, and build up a picture of these interactions. All sorts of questions arise from this slight connection.
Monday, June 07, 2010
On the Politics Show yesterday Ed Balls was interviewed, saying that the last government had made a wrong decision to allow unlimited immigration from Eastern Europe.
Whenever the issue is discussed the politicians say “there is nothing we can do about immigration from Eastern Europe” even though it is having a devastating effect upon the lowest-paid in society, destroying their lives.
What is wrong with the Foreign Secretary going to his Polish and Latvian counterparts and just explaining that a terrible mistake has been made? Just explain that we were expecting about twenty thousand migrants, not the millions who have arrived. Then remove the right to work for all migrants who have arrived over the past thirteen years.
The Poles are supposed to be good Europeans, so surely they will see that the situation is completely untenable? Good Europeans are supposed to help each other out. Surely as good Europeans they will want to co-operate?
And even if they decide they are not good Europeans, what are they going to do? Declare war? Invade us?
Possibly the Polish government will demand reparations of some kind. If this is the case the British government should identify everyone (civil servants and politicians) who has created this mess and place them under house-arrest for ten or twenty years. There will be no need for a trial as house-arrest can be imposed by fiat of the Home Secretary (and as the Icelandic banks incident demonstrated, anti-terror legislation can be used for other purposes).
On the Politics Show Ed Balls gave a good interview, and came over as a reasonable chap. Then you look on Google and find he attends Bilderberger meetings. And you think: WTF are our politicians up to…
Sunday, June 06, 2010
The elder tree is just coming into flower. The name elder is Anglo-Saxon in origin. The elderflower harvest still continues at various places in the county, particularly in the south-west, and is accompanied by various customs. The trees are fast-growing and will establish themselves anywhere. I am fascinated by the products that can be made from this ubiquitous wild tree. There is no need to buy these things - nature will give them to you freely.
Saturday, June 05, 2010
Above: Having read all of Hardy, every direction I looked seemed half-familiar. I had forgotten how attractive the county of Dorset is. I was last there aged ten, on a family holiday, and forgotten memories of that time came back to me.
Above: little ports with shingle beaches and orange cliffs. The area is known as the Jurassic Coast because of the number of fossils that are found here. My aunt warned me to be careful when walking under the cliffs as lumps of rock fall down frequently.
Above: all the time I was reminded of the 2008 BBC production of Tess of the D'Urbervilles (a fine production, although inferior to the Polanski film).
Above: at one point I managed to slip away from the family gathering and drive down to the island of Portland. There wasn't really enough time to carry out this trip, but I felt I had to revisit the scene of my childhood holiday. As soon as I saw Portland Museum (which appears in Hardy's The Wellbeloved) I was transported back to my ten-year-old self.
Above: this is a Folio edition of The Wellbeloved. Proust described it as a hundred times better than his own work. The text includes the phrase "white cubes of oolite" which seems to sum up Portland stone.
Above: as I walked down the woodland path from the cottage museum I saw the crumbling remains of Bow-and-Arrow castle, a view not seen since I was a child. And it seemed as if I were a child again. Did the impact created by this castle subsequently lead to my life-long interest in the medieval period?
Above: and I came out of the trees at a point where I could look down into the cove, and I almost gasped at how familiar it all seemed. There was no time to go down to the beach (I should already have been heading back) but I did wonder what would be the result if I continued down the path. Possibly I would find my parents and brother waiting for me; or possibly the enchantment would fall away into banality and a sense of being foolish.