Saturday, July 31, 2010

"It's a small token" - the past week at work

Monday

During the morning I went into the quiet room and did some amendments to the German campaign for our toy client. This is the biggest piece of work we have on at the moment, and so is very good for my position in the agency. I get on well with the client because I always write a full justification for every single aspect of the advertising (choice of media, creative rationale, collateral back-up etc).

I was so busy on this work that I forgot to go to lunch on time.

So it was a shock to wander into the account executives' room and hear that Andrea (Account Director) had resigned. She came out of a meeting with Yvette (agency head, a monster) looking very tight-lipped and announced she was leaving. She began clearing her desk and because I didn't know what else to do I gave her a small cardboard box I use to keep magazines in.

Then Yvette asked me into her office and officially told me the news.

"I suppose you're wondering if you'll get her car" she said.

This had been the last thing on my mind. I told her I already had a car and didn't want another one. Yvette said we would talk again about Andrea's clients.

I went back into the account exec's room. Terry (head of the PR division upstairs and our ultimate boss) appeared looking dazed. He went into Yvette's office and shortly afterwards Andrea was called in to join them.

Later it was announced that Andrea would work a month's notice in the PR office upstairs.

Tuesday

Terry's wife Diane is to move into one of the unused small offices on our floor (she runs a small business and works three days a week). It is obvious that she is doing this to keep an eye on the agency as normally she uses one of the "hot desks" upstairs. Perhaps Terry and Yvette are falling out.

Often today I wondered whether I should leave on the same day as Andrea. I know I do not want to go on working at the agency. And I am not enthusiastic about having to pick up Andrea's client list (we almost certainly will not recruit anyone new).

Wednesday

One of the (many) downsides of Andrea's resignation is that with the air of crisis it is impossible to arrive late in the mornings. When I arrived this morning Yvette was looming over Andrea who was sat at her desk. Andrea was sent home to collect agency property she has supposedly stolen - when she returned all she had were a few innocuous papers.

Then Andrea was sent upstairs to help Val's admin team.

At lunchtime Jonathan (copywriter) suggested we went for a drink. We went to the Two Brewers. He announced it was his birthday, but this was an incidental comment. He mainly wanted to talk about conditions in the agency. He thought that with Andrea gone he would become the main target of Yvette's bullying. We reached a loose agreement that if either of us was attacked we would act together to protest.

Later that afternoon we all gathered in the general office where Yvette gave Jonathan a present Eleanor (trainee account executive, working out her notice) had bought earlier.

Handing Jonathan the gift-wrapped package Yvette said: "It's a small token of our appreciation - actually it's quite a big token when you consider our appreciation..."

We all laughed politely.

Late afternoon Martin, Julie's brother and Andrea's former boyfriend, arrived asking for Andrea. He was wearing a suit, a red T-shirt, black shoes. Julie was out. Eleanor told him Andrea no longer worked in the office (technically true, although she was only upstairs). He asked if he could wait and sat down in a chair, reading a martial arts paperback. After about half an hour he left, telling Eleanor and myself that the army was transferring him soon (presumably he wanted us to pass this information on).

Thursday

The agency has become very silent following Andrea's resignation. The atmosphere one of boredom mixed with tension. Julie (trainee account executive) has become very withdrawn.

During the morning I met with a German media buyer. She told me that the best-selling magazines in Germany are television listings. "There is tremendous personal wealth in Germany" she said.

Towards the end of the working day I was asked into Yvette's office to discuss Andrea's client list. I expressed disquiet at the way Andrea was being treated. We talked for quite a while, although not acrimoniously. Yvette told me that she was hoping Eleanor would stay on at the agency. She also wanted Katharine (Terry's PA upstairs) to join us as a trainee account exec. For the time being she intends to handle Andrea's client list herself (which was a relief as I was afraid of having them dumped on me).

Friday

The mystery solved today about why Yvette's car alarm keeps going off. She parks it in the mews at the back of our building. The assistants in the photographic studio on the ground floor have been sneaking out into the mews, rocking the car until the alarm goes off, then rushing back inside again. Yvette caught them this morning red-handed. She apparently told their boss that she wants them sacked. She came back up to our floor seething with anger.

I helped Jonathan with some copywriting and Julie with some media research.

Yvette out all of the afternoon at an awards ceremony (nothing very special).

Friday, July 30, 2010

Krispy Kreme



Above: Krispy Kreme.

I don't know what made me buy this Krispy Kreme doughnut. I wasn't hungry. The experience wasn't particularly noteworthy (certainly not the catharsis others have claimed to experience when consuming these items).

Was this a waste of money? Was this an indefensible indulgence in the decadant foodstuffs of a dying materialist culture? Or was it consumer choice taken to its logical conclusion?

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Foreign policy initiative



Above: The Lion and the Tiger by Denis Judd.

David Cameron is in India, leading a big delegation to create a new alliance.

The foreign policy initiative is extremely interesting and made me think of The Lion and the Tiger by Denis Judd, which I read last year (Denis Judd is Professor of Imperial, Commonwealth and Indian History at London Metropolitan University).

The book is an entirely unsentimental review of the historical relationship between Britain and India and had a number of points that made me think:

The association between Britain and India created the world’s first superpower, and Britain ceased to be a world power immediately after Indian independence in 1947.

Putting to one side the colonial aspects, the association was essentially one of collaboration.

The behaviour of the local (and self-serving) British community in India (especially the women) poisoned the atmosphere and masked the mutual dependency.

Indian and British people were well suited in temperament.

Under British rule Indian industry developed rapidly from the 1880s, so that by 1914 India was among the top fourteen most industrialized nations.

India was granted its own delegation in the Versailles Conference that followed the First World War.

Roosevelt’s policy objective was to weaken the link between Britain and India, and the Atlantic Charter in 1942 was part of this process – this stealthy manouvre became on-going American policy.

What does all this tell us about David Cameron’s mission today? The Guardian dismisses the visit as a cynical attempt to sell arms to the sub-continent, and they may be right. But it is also possible that David Cameron has a much more far-sighted aspiration.

Both India and the United Kingdom are regional powers. India is one of the strongest powers in Asia. Britain is one of the strongest powers in Europe. Neither country can achieve regional military-economic hegemony alone (assuming hegemony is a policy objective). If they pooled their commercial and military power in a strong alliance they would, almost immediately, become an irresistible world power. With hardly any effort, and almost unnoticed, David Cameron would have taken the United Kingdom to the edge of greatness.

The two countries are well-matched. They have economies that are roughly equal in size but complementary so that there is little rivalry. They have surplus assets that would be of use to the other (for instance, the United Kingdom has considerable reserves of diplomatic influence throughout the world). The linguistic link is obvious. The geographical separation adds rather than detracts from the alliance (neither country is particularly enamoured with its neighbours). A huge number of semi-dormant cultural links already exist between to the two nations.

To create such an alliance would mean an unaccustomed exercise of realpolitik. Britain would have to abandon any pretence of friendship with Pakistan. India would have to get over its post-colonial hang-ups. Sections of British society would have to get over their Jewel In The Crown hang-ups (although there cannot be many of the Raj generation left alive). The pro-Labour Indian claque in Britain will need to be faced down. There will be many critics around the world.

But this looks like the most interesting and ambitious foreign policy initiative since 1st January 1973.

More:

http://www.number10.gov.uk/news/latest-news/2010/07/uk-india-relationship-should-be-stronger-and-deeper-pm-53956

http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/home/opinion/edit-page/Old-Ties-Made-New/articleshow/6233548.cms

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Masterpieces from the Uffizi Gallery, Italian Renaissance Drawings


I went to see the Masterpieces from the Uffizi Gallery, Italian Renaissance Drawings at the British Museum last week. The tickets were free, a gift from a client who was unable to go. ­­I went with Alan Nixon, who wanted to see if he could spot any collector's marks that he knew.

Drawings I especially liked:

Luca Signorelli's Shepherds and an Angel – fabulous expressions.

Fra Angelico's beautiful King David.

Fra Filippo Lippi's Virgin and Child with Two Angels – everything about this drawing is wonderful.

I used to like drawing - it teaches you to observe the world closely.


The Fra Filippo Lippi: http://www.lib-art.com/imgpaintingthumb/5/4/t13045-madonna-with-the-child-and-two-ange-fra-filippo-lippi.jpg

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Delighted



It was good to see that Sainsburys has started selling cottage loaves. The drab experience of going round the store on a Friday evening was suddenly transformed. It was a textbook example of delighting the customer (well, it delighted me).

I suppose it's possible that they have always sold cottage loaves but they run out before I get to the shop.

But this is the first time I have seen a cottage loaf on sale in a supermarket.

Now I want to see a "cottage brick" (a London delicacy) on sale.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Concentration

Recently I have been thinking a lot about concentration.

Some examples:



Above: rolling a cigarette.



Above: texting.



Above: listening to music.

Concentration is a cognitive process. It has received a huge amount of attention from psychologists and cognitive neuro-scientists. The subject is of great interest to advertising agencies as getting the target audience to concentrate on "the message" is a good eighty per cent of what we do.

Concentration involves making a choice (either voluntary or involuntary) between several simultaneous demands on our attention. On the whole I am persuaded by the feature-identification theory. Also I am interested in the neural correlation when we focus our concentration (the "firing" in the superior colliculus of the brain) - but I am entirely opposed to the experiments carried out on monkeys.

How different is visual attention from mental concentration? Visual attention has three stages - focus, margin and fringe. Advertising uses repetition to get a message onto the fringe of a subject's visual attention, then relies on creative impact to persuade the subject to focus.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

This is England, 25th July 2010

St James's Day. I was invited to two patronal festivals. Instead I decided to go to a village fete in the heart of the county.



Above: the village street (there is only one) is very picturesque, lined with thatched cottages. The walls of the houses are made of baked mud, and have lasted over two hundred years. Normally you hardly see a single car in the place, but today there was a row of parked cars for about half a mile.



Above: there was some evidence of gentrification, but not much. Tinker's Cottage was obviously once the abode of socio-economic class "E". Now it looked very prosperous and bourgeois.



Above: at the end of the village, by the sharp bend, is the church. Fourth church to stand on this site. The raised churchyard indicates a burial ground of some considerable antiquity.



Above: one of the memorial windows in the church, dated 1917, showed two pre-Raphaelite knights. This is how "modern" society viewed itself. The faces are so distinctive that it seems they are portraits.



Above: the fete itself was held in the garden of The Old Rectory. Pevsner says the building is 1839, the architect SC Lomas. The severity of the large three-story brick box was softened by the beautiful woodland garden that surrounded it (terraces, herbacious borders, rambling roses).



Above: as I looked at the main lawn I thought: this is England, 25th July 2010. It was so English it could have been a caricature by Eugène Ionesco. The heat of the day began to ease.



Above: the most interesting stall (for me) was the honey stall. It was run by a local farmer's wife who keeps bees. There were informative notes about bee-keeping pinned to a board.



Above: there was also a sample hive (without live bees!).



Above: samples of the honey were being sold for a few pence. I bought this little jar. The honey seemed to add to the Rupert Brooke ambience of the day.



Above: bee just outside my back door. The falling bee populations thoughout the world are causing scientists some concern, but so far no government has commissioned research on why this is happening. We still get bees in our garden, but for how much longer?



Above: the latest magazine from the Soil Association has an interesting article on bees.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

"What's jangling?" - the past week at work

Monday

Yvette (agency head) is becoming more and more anxious as the end of the month approaches and it is clear we are not going to hit our billings target. She was extremely rude to Andrea (Account Director) interrupting a 'phone call to ask her questions (it had been a personal call, but Yvette wasn't to know that). She switched off a fax transmission left by Rachel from the PR division upstairs (we have the last fax machine in the building).

Lunchtime Yvette's friend from the Sunday Express came in and they both disappeared into Yvette's office with two bottles of wine, their laughter heard all over the floor.

Terry (MD and our ultimate boss) came down and asked me to do some PR for a French bathrooms client, although I have only the sketchiest idea what he wants me to do.

Tuesday

We had back the results of the psychometric tests we did with Jess Lewis last week. Yvette went through them, making all sorts of snap judgements. "You obviously want my job" she said to Andrea.

We were quite busy this morning, with two quite big campaigns coming in, but they will not be billed until August, so no use for this month's figures. One of these campaigns was the German advertising for our toy client. As I had done most of the work on the proposals, it put me in a good light.

Wednesday

The working day ended, but we had to stay on for another of the Jess Lewis training sessions. Aged in her late fifties, Jess Lewis wears a dark suit (looks very Marks & Spencer) and has short blonde-grey hair. Her training style is very pedestrian, and she will make a bland statement and then pause, as if expecting us to gasp in admiration.

Thursday

Very tired this morning because of the late night yesterday. I was twenty minutes late getting to the agency. Eleanor was half an hour late and Andrea rang in sick.

No more money came in today. July looks as if it is going to be a major failure for Yvette. Jonathan (copywriter) is openly pleased about this, even though it may have serious repurcussions for staffing levels (Jonathan and Yvette have completely fallen out, and they are no longer even polite to each other).

Neil (graphic designer) seems to have wiped lots of artwork from the system when loading some new software. I suggested that it would all be on the back-up, but he became very mysterious and said "Backing-up is not as easy as it sounds". He is supposed to do a back-up every evening.

Eleanor wearing lots of bracelets.

"What's jangling?" said Yvette.

"My nerves" said Eleanor.

Friday

Yvette not in until midday, which made everyone feel relaxed.

Nothing to do, so most of the time we just sat around talking and drinking coffee.

At 5 Martin, Andrea's boyfriend, turned up although Andrea had told him not to. She stayed in the general office and wouldn't come into Reception. Eventually Eleanor told him Andrea wasn;t feeling well.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Ed Miliband



Above: Ed Miliband seems to be emerging as the front runner for leader of the Labour Party.

On This Week yesterday Ed Miliband talked to Andrew Neil about his campaign to become leader of the Labour Party. His voice has a unique sound I can't identify - it's as if he is continually gobbling his words ("like the Soup Dragon on the Clangers"). During the interview he revealed that he had only been an MP since 2005.

Attitudes towards Ed Miliband are mixed. About half of media commentators regard him as an intellectual man of integrity. The other half talk of him as if he were Ass-Eared Folly in Mantegna's Allegory on the Fall of Ignorant Humanity.

This Week is now "on holiday" until September, mirroring the excessive summer holiday of the House of Commons. In the past MPs took the summer off because they had to bring in the harvest on their landed estates. Now they just loaf around.



Above: Andrew Rawnsley writing in The Observer.

Lawrence Durrell wrote in the 1950s: it is the unthinking instinct of the Left to promote civil war. As well as class war within wider society, this also applies to factional war within the Labour Party. None of the five candidates (except perhaps Burnham) can be called a unity figure.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Shaftesbury Park Estate in Battersea



Above: recently I visited the Shaftesbury Park Estate in Battersea. The estate was built by the Artisans, Labourers and General Dwelling Company housing co-operative in the 1870s to provide good quality housing for the working class. As you can see, the standard of housing is excellent.



Above: the houses were originally built for rent although some houses have been sold. The estate is mainly owned by the philanthropic Peabody Trust. The architect of the houses was Robert Austin.



Above: although intended for the poorest classes of society, great care was taken over the design, construction and layout of the estate. This care in design seems to be reciprocated by the inhabitants, as I did not see any litter or graffiti, and the tiny gardens were immaculately kept. The closed nature of the layout (no through roads) gave a sense of seclusion.



Above: it was a condition of the trustees that no pub should be located on the estate. There seemed to be no shops either, although there were a few buildings that were obviously once shops. All the roads were lined with trees and despite the modern myth that trees along roads cause subsidence, there was no evidence that these trees had caused any harm.



Above: the Shaftesbury Park School. Not sure if this was part of the original estate. Looks more Board School than Ragged School.



Above: it is the humanity of the houses that I liked. The wide window sills designed for pot plants. The realisation that every family deserves a garden, however tiny it might be.



Above: this is in the middle of Battersea! And still a working class area as I stopped to ask directions from someone standing in her (miniscule) front garden and her accent was pure cockney. I could have been talking to Wendy Richard.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Scottish

In all the media coverage of the release of the Libyan bomber, it is very clear that the Americans do not take the Scottish "government" seriously. All attempts to deflect attention to Edinburgh are met with irritation by American politicians and commentators, as if they are being given the runaround. Most of the Americans (interviewed on Newsnight, Today, The World at One etc) sound as if they are unsure where Scotland is, or whether it might be a marketing concept for whisky and biscuits, or a brigadoon fairy story starring Gene Kelly and Maureen O'Sullivan.

A measure of Scotland's unimportance came on election night when Emily Maitlis produced a digital map of the constituencies in the United Kingdom with each constituency given the same size blob. Scotland looked tiny. Completely insignificant.

To understand why Scotland attained political significance in recent years you have to look at the collapse of the Labour Party in the 1980s. Following the 1983 election Labour was greatly reduced in the House of Commons and over-reliant on Scottish contituences (where it did relatively well). Thus Scottish MPs filled a large number of Shadow government posts, and when the electoral tide turned these Scottish MPs became government ministers, giving the impression that we had a Scottish government with a few English and Welsh tokan appointments.

This is unlikely to happen a second time. The balkanisation of the United Kingdom, resulting from the policy of devolution, is leading to reduced Scottish representation in the House of Commons. The banking crisis and subsequent recession has reduced Scottish economic importance (there can be no government significance without economic significance).

The Scottish population is expected to decline to below five million by 2025. Thirty percent of the Scottish workforce is employed in the public sector. The much-vaunted "arc of prosperity" has completely evaporated.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Dogs



Hot July day, the heat persisting into the evening. The train was crowded and airless. From the station I drove home by the back roads, and going through the ford I saw these dogs playing in the water.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Chairman of Global Radio is Charles Allen



Above: Global Radio in Leicester Square.

Global Radio is the largest commercial radio company in the United Kingdom. Owns Classic FM, the Galaxy Network and the Heart network. Also LBC radio which is a speech-based station (the phone-ins are very popular with lazy PRs who use them as an easy way to get exposure for their clients).

Heart dj Erica North famously once received a mass of white lilies from Blue singer Duncan James, a romantic gesture that attracted envy and attention in the media world (Duncan James had been a guest presenter on the station).

Chairman of Global Radio is Charles Allen. Supposedly "hard but fair" as an employer. Lifelong supporter of the Labour Party and a director of Tescos.

http://www.thisisglobal.com/radio/

http://lbc.co.uk/

http://www.officialduncanjames.co.uk/

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Castle in the north of the county



Above: the castle overlooks the great west river. It is on private property and strictly off-limits. To see it you have to wade through a field of stinging nettles and climb up a high bank, all the time hoping no-one is going to come after you.

Castle in the north of the county, built of red brick. 16th century in date. Except that castles were of no use in the 16th century, and bricks were no protection against cannons.

To understand why this "castle" was built, you have to consider the projection into the Tudor and Stuart periods of chivalric culture. The usual line is that "the Renaissance" brought an end to the medieval period, and "the modern period" commenced. While there is a lot of evidence that society had in practice become modern, in mentalite many people, especially knights, thought of themselves in the chivalric terms of the later middle ages.

Thus knights still built themselves castles (of red brick), wore ornamental armour, took part in jousts and duels etc.



Above: illustration (facsimile) from Le Passages d'Outremer in the Bibliotheque National in Paris.

Far from being designs related to their time, castle builders in the 16th century looked back to the triumphs of the high middle ages, particularly the crusades. Huizinga, writing in Herfsttij der Middeleeuwen, said "warlike aristocracies need an ideal form of manly perfection... the aspiration to a pure and beautiful life gives birth to chivalry." This is an example of architecture being used to shape the thoughts of the people who inhabit it.

Obviously I need to add that chivalry was also used to mask exteme violence, self-interest and obsessive erotic fantasies.

I'm very interested in the Boucicaut manuscript that suggests knights often founded their own (very small) orders of knighthood that existed alongside the more famous orders such as the Garter and the Golden Fleece.

Also interesting is the fact that the "sword of Tristram" (an important secular chivalric relic) was being brought to the county when it was lost by King John with the rest of his treasure in the marsh at Walpole Cross Keys.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Yvette looked shocked - the past week at work

Monday

Yvette (agency head) brought a dog in to work, a black Labrador. It was not hers but belonged to a neighbour who was in hospital. It came into the account execs' room and I fed it on digestive biscuits.

A telephone call from an educational establishment asking if I could attend an interview tomorrow morning (this was for a marketing job). I immediately said yes, then wondered how I would get the time off work without raising any suspicions. I asked advice from Eleanor (trainee account exec) and she told me that she had got another job and intended to resign later this week.

Tuesday

Having rung the office with a "headache" I then caught my usual train to London, but instead of getting the tube to central London I caught the Piccadilly Line north, almost to the end. Getting off at a Holden station I then waited for a minibus which took me to the campus. Main building a Victorian pastiche.

The interview was odd, and not very professional. A panel of three interviewers, the interviewing style meandering and unstructured. There is always a risk with public sector interviews that they are just going through the motions and have already decided who they are going to appoint.

Afterwards I went home (and developed a headache!).

Wednesday

A call this morning telling me I hadn't got the job I went for yesterday.

At lunchtime I went up to the boardroom to watch television.

When I came down I heard Eleanor handing in her notice to Yvette, doing this in the account execs' room in front of everyone. Yvette looked shocked. The news caused a stir throughout the building.

After work we had the first of the "training" sessions with personnel consultant Jess Lewis (a friend of Yvette's). It was very basic, and covered things like communication and teamwork. The training went on until past nine, with wine halfway through and big plates of pasta followed by strawberries.

Thursday

Most of the day I spent planning a German campaign for our toy client. It was hard work ("We have all this media data, but nobody can read it!"). Finally I put together a credible schedule and wrote notes justifying every stage.

Andrea (account director) back after a few days off.

Friday

Yvette was out most of the morning, but rang up Andrea about eleven - I could tell from Andrea's reactions that it was a difficult call.

When Yvette came in at lunchtime she ordered a pizza from the Italian restaurant. She took a few mouthfuls of this then rang the restaurant and started complaining. The restaurant sent another one across.

After work Martin (Andrea's boyfriend) arrived and they went to the cinema. I asked what they were going to see, but they hadn't decided yet. "They're not interested in the film" Eleanor said.

In the evening I went to Battersea for a Council meeting of an educational charity I do voluntary work for. We had the meeting over dinner at the house of Simon S (Finance Officer). Typical Victorian terrace house, sparsely furnished. Simon S is about to get married, and talked sentimentally about his fiancee (showing us a bowl of pot pourri "These are the flowers from St Valentine's Day").

The dinner was a big Frenchified stew, followed by French cheeses, followed by coffee.

Katrina, Edward, and a couple from Manchester were also at the Council meeting, plus Peter B (who is employed by the charity). Peter B left early, and the rest of the time seemed to consist of endless complaints about how poorly Peter B was doing his job. While the others washed up Simon S showed Katrina and me his small back garden.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Sally Bercow "popping up"

I watched Question Time on BBC1 last night.

And I was appalled to see Sally Bercow "popping up" as one of the panel.

Are we expected to believe that she was on the panel entirely on her own merits and not because her husband is Speaker of the House of Commons? This argument is incredible, especially as Sally Bercow had nothing of any interest to say. I am fed up with public life being infiltrated by "husband and wife teams", "brother and sister teams", "brother and brother teams", "son and eighty-year-old mother teams", "devolved First Minister's wife and her toyboy lover teams", "debonair treasury secretary and his secret gay fuck-buddy teams" etc etc etc.

We have become stuck with a self-perpetuating political elite that is endlessly mutating, replicating and colonising so that you can never get rid of them. Like the lernaean hydra of ancient mythology, every time you manage to cut off a head two more grow in its place. And all the mouths have to be fed from the public finances.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Bret Easton Ellis talking about Imperial Bedrooms



Above: a British first edition of Less Than Zero. This book dates from 1985. It seems to have gone straight into paperback, without a hardback edition.

On Tuesday I went to see Bret Easton Ellis talking about Imperial Bedrooms, Less Than Zero and his other novels. The talk was held at the Queen Elizabeth Hall and started at 7.30pm. About a thousand people attended the event.

The discussion was chaired by Suzi Feay.

Bret Easton Ellis was modest to the point of indifference, expressing bemusement that anyone should value his writing. I am unsure whether this was genuine modesty and bemusement, or whether it was pride and self-satisfaction masquerading as modesty and bemusement (implying what a great author he would be if only he would take his talent seriously). Or perhaps he was just shy and tired.

"I work slowly... I wish I had more ideas for novels... I'm half as bright as I once was..."

There was an ironic interlude when he praised the MTV series The Hills, comparing it to the work of Jane Austen.

He told us he wrote his first (unpublished) novel aged fourteen (where is this now I wonder?).

Occasionally he talked about the act of writing: "The act of writing transports me... The inspiration for writing a novel does not come from joy or happiness... The darkness of Hollywood is the stress..."

The most interesting (for me) sequence was when he talked about Less Than Zero: "There is a noirish aspect to this novel... I was reading a lot of Chandler... It is clearly set in its time... I am astounded to see people half my age reading the book... It went through many edits... It's about youth culture in LA" ("LA" pronounced elle-ay, in a slurred drawl).

He denied he was the narrator Clay. He talked about the narrator Clay in the third person. He described how asking himself questions about the narrator Clay led to him writing Imperial Bedrooms.

The questions were monopolised by people who wanted to ask about American Psycho, so that they became monotonous. They were also dominated by questioners who wanted to be witty (with varying degrees of success). Suzi Feay should have managed this section better.

Emerging from the auditorium the queue for the book-signing was so huge I would have missed my last train home had I joined it.



Above: Bret Easton Ellis signing books after the talk. He looks tired and apprehensive. Note the glamorous PR "minder" to his right.

Less Than Zero is a book that changed my life.

After graduating in medieval history I was unsure what to do with my life. I seemed destined for a career in museum work. At the time it seemed as if the past (in particular, the European past 200BC - 1400AD) was crushing me.

In my last term at university I started applying for internships at various museums, and on impulse sent an application to a world-famous museum on the coast of California. To my surprise (to everyone's surprise) they said yes, but the only vacancy they had was in their Public Affairs department. Everything they sent me was by overnight courier - they seemed awash with money.

Having arranged to "work" at the museum for three months, I then booked accommodation in Los Angeles (in Hollywood, although after a few weeks I moved to Fremont Place). I was excited at the idea of going to a place that had no medieval past - that seemed to have no past of any kind whatsoever. In my naive way I began to research Los Angeles, which is how I came to read Less Than Zero.

I took the book completely seriously. I dissected it as if it was a work of anthropology. I was dazzled by the exotic culture the book revealed.

And when I finally touched down at LAX I walked straight into a Less Than Zero lifestyle (except that I never took any drugs). How this happened I can't really explain. I was the least likely person to inhabit, even by proxy, a Bret Easton Ellis novel. I know many people, most of them a lot cooler than myself, who had completely pedestrian experiences of the BUNAC work-in-America programme. But having read the book, it was as if I knew what to look for. It was as if I knew where to go, who to talk to, what to say "yes" to...



Above: review of Imperial Bedrooms by Mark Lawson. He is a reliable guide. You might disagree with his reviews, but if he takes a book seriously you know it must be worth reading.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Prime Minister's Questions, 14th July 2010

I watched Prime Minister's Questions at lunchtime.

One of the questions was from Keith Vaz's sister who has "popped up" as MP for Walsall.

I thought we had ended the corrupt practice of families regarding the House of Commons as a resource they can use to enrich their particular "family firm". Of idiot children, aged mothers and endless siblings being eased into public positions because of who they are related to. Or are we supposed to believe Valerie Vaz got herself selected and elected entirely on her own merit?

I would like to see a convention (or better still legislation) preventing more than one member of a family holding a House of Commons seat at any one time.

Just as nauseating was a question from one Tory backbencher whining about the amount of paperwork he had to complete to reclaim his expenses. The simple answer to this is to end all expenses full stop (and without "compensating" pay rises). There is no end to the arrogance and greed and corruption of these people.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Mark Roalfe executive creative director



Above: Greater London House on the edge of Camden. Egyptian-style art deco, it was put up in 1926. Converted to offices in 1961.

Greater London House (part of it) is the office of ad agency RKCR/Y&R. Mark Roalfe is their executive creative director. His work is widely admired throughout the ad industry.

http://www.rkcryr.com/rkcr.php

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Thinking aloud



Above: on the front page of the Guardian last Thursday, and also filling pages 2 and 3, were in-depth reports about the archaeological discovery in Norfolk of artifacts left by the earliest "Britons" about 900,000 years ago. The excavation was part of the "Ancient Human Occupation of Britain" project. An article by (revisionist) archaeologist Mike Pitts suggested that these Early Pleistocene inhabitants were not nomads following herds, but settled inhabitants - a very controversial theory.


The reports were illustrated by images created by artist John Sibbick. They seemed curiously dated in style. The Stone Age inhabitants were depicted naked, using primitive tools, and with dark hair that seemed to incorporate blonde highlights.





Above: we have an old (dated 1963) guidebook to Grimes Graves in Norfolk, a Neolithic site dated to 2,600 BC. It includes illustrations by artist Alan Sorrell. As you can see, they are very similar to the Sibbick illustrations.





Above: a Thames & Hudson book about archaeological heresies. Every alternative idea you can think of is in this book. As you would expect from a Thames & Hudson book, the approach is scholarly and responsible.





Above: the book describes how official Ministry of Works publications portrayed an image of "ancient barbarism" - primitive, naked and uncivilised. This image was consistent with a darwinian view of continuous progress. It was also consistent with an imperial ideology of domination (the Romans were superior to the British tribes, the Normans were superior to the Saxons etc).


It's odd to see this type of illustration come back into fashion, and in the Guardian of all places.





Above: anyway, I began rereading the book, which I have not looked at for some years. And I reached the chapter on Wilhelm Teudt who was a mad German archaeologist whose work was largely discredited after the Second World War. One of his crazy theories was about the Externsteine rocks in central Germany, supposedly the centre of worship of the Irmensul, or sacred oak tree.

There is a carving on the rocks that is central to Teudt's theories of prehistoric nationalism, but has been dismissed as unimportant by post-war scholars.



Above: I kept looking at the illustration of the Externsteine carving. Something about it seemed familiar. Then the similarity "pinged" into my mind.



Above: at a remote village in the county there is a carving set in the wall of the church. Originally it was the shaft of a cross that stood in the churchyard. Pevsner describes it as early Norman on the evidence of the decoration on the sides, but admits it is Saxon in style.

Now I look at it again, I am struck by the resemblance to the Externsteine carving - the Christian imagery triumphing over the drooping Irmensuls.

Or am I imagining this?



Above: I also thought I was seeing things, when I saw this direction post put up by the National Cycle Network (a Sustrans initiative). Is this an Irmensul? And if it is, who decided to revive this pagan symbol?

Anyway, a rambling post. Not really sure what I am saying here. I am mainly just thinking aloud.

Am I being paranoid to suspect that there is a move to replace the narrative of post-Saxon Christian civilisation with pre-Saxon pagan prehistoric nationalism?

More on John Sibbick: http://www.johnsibbick.com/
More on Alan Sorrell: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alan_Sorrell

Saturday, July 10, 2010

The past week at work

Monday

There was a good atmosphere in the agency this morning.

"I'm in such a good mood that not even Yvette's rudeness can upset me" said Andrea (Andrea is Account Director, Yvette is agency head).

"She's in love" said Eleanor (trainee account executive).

Andrea did not deny the statement.

No work to do today. I had to make myself look busy. It is impossible to know how well we are doing towards our monthly targets.

"It's getting so quiet my desk is beginning to look tidy" said Andrea.

The planning meeting was cancelled without any reason being given.

A little flurry of work in the afternoon when an ad came in, then it became quiet again.

Tuesday

Yvette was out of the office most of the morning.

"I get the feeling she is building up to some kind of explosion" said Andrea.

In the afternoon I went with Kennedy from the PR division upstairs to visit one of his clients. The client is a scientific institute of dubious morality, and I would have preferred not to have had any dealings with them. As well as a PR campaign, they wanted to place some recruitment advertising (which was the reason I was there, although we don't really do recruitment ads - Yvette says they look tacky on our client portfolio).

Wednesday

In the back office we hardly see any of the hot sunny weather. All the desk fans had disappeared this morning so that Yvette had to go upstairs and get them back again. The heat was almost unbearable.

The weekly planning meeting was held this morning. Jonathan (copywriter) came under attack from Yvette for the poor work he is producing. "That favourite has had a swift fall from grace" said Andrea later.

Most of the day I spent doing the recruitment ads for the scientific institute.

Also I wrote the creative brief for a campaign for our oil client. I took care over this brief as Jonathan and Neil (graphic designer) have complained to Yvette about the poor creative briefs they have been getting, especially from trainee account exec Julie. As I wrote the brief it occurred to me that it would be quicker to simply write the copy myself and tell Neil how I wanted it to look.

Thursday

Yvette was late in this morning, admitting that she had overslept. She gave everyone a bar of chocolate. I had to put mine in the fridge for an hour as it was almost melting.

Eleanor was ordered about to such an extent by Yvette that she became disgruntled. Eventually Yvette and Eleanor went off to visit the London office of our oil client. Everyone seemed to relax once they had gone.

At four o'clock an ad came in that had to go in a French national newspaper the deadline being tomorrow morning (which effectively meant it had to be written, designed and approved this evening). For the next two hours things were extremely hectic, especially as we had to find a (competent) French copywriter. For once things, went smoothly, and the working day closed with everything falling into place.

Friday

One by one we were called into Yvette's office and asked what we thought of the new profit-sharing scheme. I was non-committal, although privately I think it is a farce. Eleanor was more blunt - she told Yvette the scheme was irrelevant as she didn't intend to stay until the end of the year (that must have given Yvette a shock).

In the afternoon I did some copywriting for our breakfast cereal client, wading through lots of notes about what sort of people eat porridge products.

At the end of the working day Julie's brother Martin arrived to wait for Andrea. He was wearing jeans, a maroon t-shirt with a big army badge on the front, and what looked like desert boots. Sat in the account execs' office (Andrea was in with Yvette) he was half-embarrassed, half-anxious, not knowing what to say to us but feeling he needed to make an effort (I wanted to tell him there was no need to say anything as we were completely unimportant).

Friday, July 09, 2010

Prestat Choxi



Prestat Choxi - very smooth, with a complex taste sweet and slightly bitter at the same time (the bitter aftertaste is quite nice).

The company manufactures its chocolate products at Park Royal in London. A real factory, actually manufacturing within the London area. You can buy the products in Waitrose, John Lewis and at the Prestat store in Piccadilly.

They also do single-origin chocolate buttons which are very good.

Here is their home page: http://www.prestat.co.uk/

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Gary Younge - Who Are We - And Should It Matter in the 21st Century?



On Tuesday I went to see Gary Younge (Guardian columnist) talk about his new book Who Are We - And Should It Matter in the 21st Century? The event was held at 7.45pm in the Purcell Room of the Queen Elizabeth Hall on the South Bank. About three hundred (my guess) people attended the event.

Rachel Holmes, Head of Literature and the Spoken Word at the South Bank Centre, introduced the talk with a quote from Gary Younge: “The only certain thing about identity is that it will keep changing.” She then introduced as Chairperson of the evening “Bidisha” (who is presumably one of the small group of women so famous they are known by a single name - “Hillary” or “Diana”). Rachel Holmes praised Bidisha to such an excessive extent, and for such an extended period of time, that Gary Younge seemed eclipsed.

For the first half-hour Gary Younge stood at a podium:

“Sex, race, age, class, nationhood, belief… we rarely talk about identity intelligently… identity is an important place to start when it comes to politics, but it’s a deadly place to finish…”

He talked about the many contradictions of identity, making the audience laugh with absurd examples from around the world ( South Africa , China , Israel ). He quoted EH Carr: “A man is from his earliest years moulded by the society he is born into.” He talked with approval of the identity conferred by shared consumerism – food, branded clothing, lifestyles.

“The more powerful you are the less conscious you are of identity… Nationhood and race is a nonsense… Cultural gatekeepers deny changes to identity… White men do not have an identity, they have an orthodoxy… Identities make no sense unless they are seen in the context of power… In an era of globalization people are more likely to retreat into identity…”

He gave a warning: “All over Europe fascism is now a mainstream ideology.”

He finished by opposing the concept of “identity” with the broader abstract idea of “humanity”.



Resuming his seat, questions followed, mediated by Bidisha.

They were cynical about the idea of diversity (Bidisha: “Diversity happens at a level of marketing and image.” Gary Younge: “Diversity has become presentation”).

They made mild jokes at the expense of Diane Abbott’s candidature for Leader of the Labour Party.

Other comments made by Gary Younge during the questions: “Political correctness means whatever you want it to mean so long as you don’t like it… It is impossible to understand class without identity… To some extent all identities become a performance…”

Towards the end Gary Younge was asked how he defined his own identity: “Humankind… In America I’m very British all the time… Black British.”

I had been looking forward to the talk for some time. Marketing is obsessed with issues of identity, and I spend most of my time at work identifying audiences, segmenting populations, classifying people by their beliefs, behaviours, aspirations etc. I was hoping for some new insights on the subject.

On the whole I thought the talk was a little lightweight. Perhaps the book will be more in-depth. During the questions I thought he skated over the way parents impart identity to their children, whereas this is the main mechanism of cultural transmission.

Where Gary Younge is absolutely right is to say that the more powerful you are the less conscious you become of identity. The obverse of this must also be true – the less powerful you are the more conscious you become of identity. This is because sections of society who have little wealth or power are more reliant on communal ownership of property and resources.

I also think that Gary Younge is mistaken to expect the majority of the population to transcend issues of identity and become part of a universal “humanity”. Some may be able to make this step, but most will not. Being fully human seems to include an impulse to “belong”.

Aldous Huxley wrote: “Nationalistic theory… justifies those periodical orgies of emotion which are, for the great majority of men and women, a psychological necessity… health cannot be maintained without occasional orgasms of hatred, self-love and group-frenzy.”

Aldous Huxley also wrote: “It is the business of men of science to devise a technique for making prosperity and peace as satisfying, psychologically, as nationalistic hatreds and hysterias.”



Above: article Gary Younge was asked about (if you click on the image it should enlarge so that you can read it).

During the questions Gary Younge was asked about an article he wrote on the 28th June that questioned whether “English” identity existed outside of the English football team. Later I reread the article (I had not taken it seriously the first time I read it). In the article Gary Younge says:

“When England ’s national team ceases to exist as a viable entity the nation and, to some extent, its national identity, goes with it… ( England ) lacks the basic tropes of nationhood.”

This statement is hard to justify. When you consider the basic “tropes” of nationhood (linguistic, judicial, religious etc) England has more than most nations can claim. For instance the legal system is unique to England and all the time Gary Younge is in England he is subject to English Common Law. The Church of England is uniquely recognized, in law, as the state religion of England . English local government, based on county and borough councils, has existed since Anglo-Saxon times. When Gary Younge speaks or writes he does so in the English language etc etc.

Gary Younge is an intelligent man. He must know all this. So why did he write such a silly article?



Above: The Struggle for the World by Lindholm and Zuquete.

Gary Younge is wrong to conflate identity politics with fascism. In The Struggle for the World by Lindholm and Zuquete, the Zapatistas evince a nostalgia for communal ownership of ancestral lands and goods and many examples are quoted of Zapatista ideology. Zapatista spokesperson Subcomandante Marcos says: “Globalisation destroys nation states and destroys the human beings in them.”

President Morales of Bolivia is quoted as saying: “We the indigenous peoples, the humble and honest peoples of this planet, believe the time has come to stop and to rediscover our roots and a respect for Mother Earth” (as opposed to “a universalist project to convert the world to a single society directed by the economy”).



Above: when I saw this (hate crime) comment by Ashley Cole I was reminded again of Aldous Huxley: “As well as hate, the other passion behind the theory and practice of nationalism is vanity. Delusions of greatness are always accompanied by persecution mania. The paeans of self-praise with which the nationalists are perpetually gratifying themselves are always on the point of modulating into denunciations of other people.”

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Prime Minister's Question's, Wednesday 7th July 2010

Lunchtime today I managed to watch Prime Minister's Questions.

This is the first time I have done so since the new government was formed (I suppose I could watch the recorded version, but it is never the same - you need to see it live).

I was impressed at how competent David Cameron looked. He is very quick-witted. At one stage he seriously discomfited Alan Johnson (later in the studio Andrew Neil produced a killer clip of Alan Johnson from the election campaign).

The Speaker's behaviour was irritating. John Bercow is probably the most undignified Speaker of modern times. Perhaps the post should be directly elected (and removed) by the people.

Chuka Umunna asked about knife crime. Roger Williams asked a question that appeared to be interesting, but was so obscurely worded it was unintelligible. Rushanara Ali asked about housing in the East End.

More: http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b00t164p/Prime_Ministers_Questions_07_07_2010/

Monday, July 05, 2010

The Cobb at Lyme Regis

When I was in Dorset recently I was at a loose end one evening and drove down to Lyme Regis, about twenty miles away.



Above: the Cobb at Lyme Regis features in Persuasion by Jane Austen's and The French Lieutenant's Woman by John Fowles. I've always wanted to see it. I arrived in the town about 8pm - the evening was warm, and all the tourists had left for the day.



Above: after parking my car I had a fish and chip supper on a bench on the promenade. From where I sat I could see the curve of the Cobb in the distance. Two pigeons came along to watch me.



Above: view from the top of the Cobb looking back at the town - the cliffs you can see are known as the Jurassic Coast from the large numbers of fossils that can be found there. Once up on the Cobb I felt very unsafe. The drops are sheer on both sides, and the surface is slanted so that if you fell over you could easily roll into the sea.



Above: steps leading up to the top of the Cobb. The exact location of the accident in Persuasion is disputed, but I this flight of steps most closely matched my imagination. For some reason all the time I was up on the top of the Cobb I felt giddy - perhaps the movement of the sea made me disoriented.



Above: the end of the Cobb where Meryl Streep (as Sarah Woodruff) stood in the film version of The French Lieutenant's Woman. I wouldn't want to stand there in a storm. Even on a mild summer day, with a calm sea, I felt unsafe.



Above: when I returned home I reread Fowles, getting the book out of the library rather than buying it. There was no need to reread Persuasion as I know it so well. I know these things are hard to judge, but probably Jane Austen is the greatest novelist of all time.