Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Llamas



Beyond the fringe of bullrushes I saw this group of llamas gamboling around the meadow.

Llamas are very social animals, intelligent and easy to train.

From the diverse colours I would guess these llamas are being kept for their wool.

Anyway, these are the first llamas I have ever seen.

A reminder that I ought to get to know more about South America (perhaps even go there).

Monday, August 30, 2010

All features and no benefits



The contest for the Labour Party leadership continues. The Independent on Saturday did this helpful questions and answers article. I'm not sure any of the candidates really understands the concept of a unique selling point (and their more general selling points are all features and no benefits).

Although it is possible that events will destabilise the Coalition and Labour will bounce back after a couple of years, realistically they are probably out of power until 2020. They should be using this period to develop new policies, not worrying about current personalities (none of the five candidates are likely to be around in ten years' time). None of the candidates are talking about long-term policies (except possibly Diane Abbott and Andy Burnham).

Andy Burnham's focus on long-term care for the elderly is the only policy that will have electoral appeal. However he has not worked out a proper means of paying for it. I think a specific hypothecated tax would work.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

School

Village close to the northern edge of the county town so that it has effectively become a suburb.



Above: despite its appearance this is not an Anglican parish church. It was constructed in the medieval period as a church, and the tower dates from this period. However in 1620 it was purchased by a Merchant Adventurer (the venture capitalists of their day) and turned into a grammar school administered by a charitable trust supported by grants of land (which provided an income to run the school.



Above: the school originally met inside the nave of the old church. In the 1860s purpose-built schoolrooms were constructed (access is through the open green door on the left) and this part of the school became an assembly room and chapel. So good was the quality of education that the school attracted pupils from all over the country.



Above: the school lasted until the 1970s when it was merged with other schools and moved to new buildings. The classrooms are now used for continuing education. They don't look as if they have changed much.

I was very interested in the sustainability of this school - founded in 1620, endowed with income-producing assets, and lasting three and a half centuries. This is how I visualise the "big society" happening. There must be many individuals who would donate money to institutions if they could be sure their bequests would be safe from political interference, social engineering, siphoning off into pet projects etc.



Above: there were displays of old photographs - here you can see how the children celebrated "peace" in 1919 with a patriotic pageant.



Above: the children celebrated "victory" in 1945 with a communal meal.



Above: the rural nature of the village survived until comparatively recently. Even in the 1980s strawstacks could be seen in the centre of the settlement. You can imagine how Mud Lane got its name.



Above: I was interested in the way that housing developments were superimposed on the farming landscape - so that the original use of the land persisted in road names, house locations, surviving trees and hedges.

Despite the proximity of the encroaching urban area the "world view" of the villagers together with their self-perception and cultural modes of expression still seems to be intimately connected with the natural world around them and the former school at the heart of their community.

Teas were provided by the Methodist chapel next door. Young female minister in a pink clerical shirt. A tiny ancient lady, very frail, came into the chapel and I had the sense (intuitive) that she was very holy.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

She insisted I came with her - the past week not at work

Monday

Nothing appropriate in the Media Vacancies pages of the Guardian.

Because I still have my season ticket it made sense to go up to London and see if any of the specialist recruitment agencies were offering freelance work (preferably stuff I can do working at home).

I met Jonathan (copywriter at my last place of work) for a lunchtime drink. "You spoiled her weekend" he said, describing the effect my resignation had on Yvette (my former boss). He talked about the advertising agency, but I was bored by this office gossip - already it means nothing to me.

Later I caught a train from Waterloo to Windsor and met EGJ in on the Eton Bridge. We walked along the river as far as Athens. Lots of rowers on the river, in twos and threes, some moving slowly, some moving fast.

Tuesday

Today I researched marketing companies I might like to work for, and began to put together some examples of my work. Because I left so abruptly there were a number of significant gaps. I rang Rachel to see if she would go into the agency and get them (she works in the offices upstairs) but she insisted I came with her.

Therefore at eleven o'clock in the evening I drove up to London, the journey taking nearly three hours. I parked my car in Berkeley Square where there are always spaces, and met Rachel in Covent Garden, almost everywhere closed. We walked to the agency and she unlocked the door and turned the alarm off (we were in some doubt about whether this would be recorded electronically).

Walking up the stairs to the agency floor, I fumbled in the palm plants on the landing until I found the spare key. I felt very uneasy as I unlocked the door to the offices and stepped inside, but once I was in the familiar environment I moved quickly, knowing where everything was that I wanted. I had to work in the dark, but there was plenty of light from the street lights outside.

Before leaving I paused briefly by my old desk. It seemed to be occupied by someone new (probably new recruit Lisa). I had no sentimental feeling for the place, and when I rejoined Rachel on the stairs I was glad to get away.

Wednesday

Didn't do much today except rest and sleep.

Thursday

I didn't get up until 11am. In the post my final payment from the agency. It was more than I expected.

A committee meeting in the evening for the educational charity I do voluntary work for. The meeting was held in the courtyard. I drank diluted whisky and soda and watched the interactions between various people - there were some strains but no actual explosions.

I told Simon S (finance secretary) that I had left my job. He told me matily: "We'll soon have you on your feet again". I told him I wasn't really off my feet.

Friday

Again I got up at 11am. It would be so easy to fall into a lazy routine. At the local library I met an elderly lady who told me she was a creative writer "...but I had a great fall and was in hospital a long time, during which my parquet-floored library burned including all my writings."

Friday, August 27, 2010

Barley

Recently I have been thinking about barley.



Above: this is the barley growing in the field just to the north of the house. It is grown in the county as a summer crop. I have watched this field of barley grow from seed and feel very protective towards it. Probably barley was the first grain domesticated by humans about ten thousand years ago. You can buy barley bread in Sainsburys. There are many health benefits to eating barley.



Above: the Barley Mow pub. A very convivial establishment (pubs are important social spaces throughout the county). Note the lucky horseshoe nailed at the side of the door. Drinking barley beer has been a popular occupation since Neolithic times. The mythological figure John Barleycorn is a personification of barley beer. More than any other alcoholic drink, the consumption of barley beer is linked to traditional concepts of "plenty", leisure and festivity.



Above: barley is also made into non-alcoholic barley water. Robinsons Lemon Barley Water is probably the best known brand, and has cliched associations with lawn tennis and Wimbledon Fortnight. This very traditional drink is one of the diet items that contribute to English identity.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Bullying in the workplace



I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw reports that MPs are still carrying on about their expenses.

Newsnight yesterday dramatised some of the abusive incidents.

I thought we now had a mechanism for sacking MPs who behave badly? This is an opportunity to make an example of senior personnel caught bullying in the workplace. One of them, Denis MacShane, has said he doesn't want to represent his country as an MP, so the Labour leadership should take him at his word and chuck him out.

And as for the MP who was threatening to kill someone, shouldn't he/she receive a visit from the police?

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Veil

Newsnight on Monday had an item on whether Muslim women should wear veils in public. The issue became controversial when former Home Secretary Jack Staw said he didn't like speaking to women wearing these veils. In France there are moves to make the wearing of veils in public illegal.

This has made me think about the culture of veil-wearing.



Above: there has been no mention (that I have seen) in this debate about the English custom of wearing veils. Until the Second World War it was quite usual for women in the United Kingdom to veil their faces in public, and the novels of Wilkie Collins, Trollope and Dickens are filled with heavily-veiled characters. The custom still survives in the wedding veil - when my sister got married she wore a huge veil.

There was a sort of revival of veil-wearing in the 1980s, and presumably we will see future revivals.



Above: at a church I visited last year there was an exhibition of wedding dresses over the last hundred years with examples from every decade. This is the 1949 dress - no veil, but you can see in the photo at the foot of the dress that the accompanying veil was voluminous. Several questions were raised in my mind when I saw this item. Considering clothes rationing only ceased in 1949 how was it possible for such an expensive satin-silk garment to have been produced so soon after the war? Also, how has it been stored over the last sixty years without a mark or a crease or a moth-hole? Also, what is the owner keeping it for (or perhaps she sits in it everyday like Miss Haversham)?



Above: at a different church I saw a wedding veil left before the high altar like some kind of votive offering. There was something about this arrangement that seemed familiar. For a long time afterwards I kept trying to recall where I might have seen this before.



Above: then I remembered The Bride by the symbolist painter Johan Thorn Prikker. Nuns are known as the brides of Christ (and they are another group that wears veils). Note the white flowers that resemble skulls ('til death us do part).



Above: John Taverner called one of his most famous works The Protecting Veil. I listen to this CD all the time. He was inspired by the Orthodox Feast of the Protecting Veil, which reminds us that the Muslim practice of wearing veils was originally copied from the Byzantine Greeks.

Anyway, I have no problem with Muslim women wearing veils. I think Jack Straw was playing politics with the issue. He was up for re-election in a seat which has a strong BNP presence, and he no doubt wanted to outmanouvre them by attacking immigrants but without admitting that the Labour policy of unrestricted immigration has been a huge mistake and done a lot of damage to wage rates among the D and E socio-economic groups.

Interesting Demos discussion on the issue: http://www.demos.co.uk/blog/illegalhairandtheburqaban

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Doddington and Rollo estate



The Doddington and Rollo estate in south London.

Built in the late 1960s and early 1970s. There is no sense of community here. It represents a failed social structure.

Gangs of youths congregate near the shops - these young people have been identified as impetuous and confrontational (drug abuse, truancy and crime are endemic). Community resources open, run for a short period, then close (closed retirement home, closed housing support office, closed counselling centre, closed job club, locked play areas, garden closed due to "health & safety" etc). There is however a public library which MUST be retained.

A failed social structure, but not absolutely collapsed. The failure is one of vision and leadership, with no "establishment" figures living among the people. Political activity (not that there is much) seems to consist of perennial protest - and this resentment theme encourages residents to see themselves as victims.

Sport, culture and a drive to national integration could redeem this community, but too many vested interests want to keep things as they are.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Communal culture

Afternoon visit to a village located in the northern "wilderness" of the county.



Above: In the centre of the settlement was an ancient hall. There has been no systematic study of domestic rural architecture in the county. Although now we are used to regarding large houses of this kind as quasi-aristocratic residences, in past centuries they would have supported a considerable community, with the manorial family a "first among equals".

The layout of the larger houses gives clues to a particular village ideology - marriage arrangements (and the hierarchy of family alliances), allocation of space for procreation, and displays of family wealth.



Above: the church is medieval but thoroughly restored in the 19th century. Instead of a bell tower there is this little turret, guarded by gargoyles. The landscape is pastures studded with clear pools, expensive-looking horses very prominent.



Above: the recumbant effigy I had come to see was in a chapel in the north east corner. Medieval priest, the features a little worn. Note on the side the heraldic escutcheons that place the priest into his religious, territorial and family context.



Above: also in the chapel were stones from local excavations. As you can see, the stones include what appears to be part of the shaft of a Saxon standing cross. In the 6th century, before the building of churches, crosses were put up in most settlements, with travelling priests using them as gathering places for preaching and open-air services.



Above: a surprise in this church was an exhibition of local history, with the historian herself giving out cupps of tea and answering questions. Her work was extremely thorough. This is a map of land-holdings in the parish (although this relates to the post-enclosure period, there were also wells and even specific trees held in common ownership).



Above: lists of surnames related to the parish. Surnames and their promulgation through the generations demonstrate the patri-lateral nature of village society. The choice of first and second names for children also reveals a family's self-identity and admiration for historic, religious or mythological figures.



Above: I admired the way in which each farm and cottage had been researched. The community would have visualised itself as a network of families and individuals rather than an arrangement of buildings. The location of the structures reveals the culturally-coded social interaction of the village.



Above: even into the 1940s a pastoral lifestyle was preserved, although perhaps not strictly necessary given the increasing mechanisation of agriculture. Pastoralist ideology was probably retained in the county (is still retained?) because it provided a framework for social organisation, values and beliefs. In this respect the knowledge systems of the pastoralists acquired a cultural and ritual significance.



Above: place names indicate Templar activity in the area (there was a preceptory in the next village). Village communities were united by oral traditions that emphasised common ancestry (even when these traditions were not really true). In an era when remote settlements had to make their own entertainment, travelling story-tellers would bring news, play music, and flatter their audiences with mythology about their ancestors.



Above: recording local stories is of great importance. I am always astonished at how much is still extant. Not just stories, but folk-songs and melodies.



Above: here you can see the folklore of the village laid out geographically. Venerable traditions, half-remembered historical events, cherished love stories - all combined into a unique culture for each of the county's villages. It was this communal culture that gave the villagers a perception of themselves, and contributed to their strong sense of identity.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

I then left the building - the past week at work

Monday

As I was going through my post this morning Yvette (agency head) came up to my desk and accused me of reading a magazine. "I can't possibly be reading it, it's in German" I told her. The accusation, and the aggressive way it was delivered, made me feel very angry, and I felt like resigning immediately.

But I didn't.

Mid-morning Julie (account executive) and I were called into Yvette's office for a share-out of Andrea's clients (Andrea was formerly Account Director who resigned a couple of weeks back and is now working her notice in the PR division upstairs). I got two nice clients, new girl Lisa is to get a lot of the rubbish. Julie got the rest, and I suppose is now equal in rank to myself.

We had a talk about new business, and I was critical of the way we do things. Yvette told me I should move if I didn't like the way the agency was being run. I told her that I might do that.

Andrea's car has also been allocated to me, although I have already said I don't want it. I said I would keep it in the mews car park at the back and it can act as a pool car. Later in the day Neil (graphic designer) and I used the car to take some surplus office furniture to Neil's flat (he was buying it from the agency). Neither of us could get the back seats to go down. Eventually I drove it to a garage near Baker Street and a mechanic simply pressed a lever and the seats went down, making me look very foolish. I offered to pay him for his trouble, but he said it was free of charge.

Later in the afternoon I walked round to Covent Garden to give Lisa her new contract of employment. She seemed quite happy in her current environment. Should I have attempted to warn her?

Tuesday

Andrea's last day today. We had organised a collection for a present, Yvette refusing to contribute to it. When we gathered to go upstairs to see Andrea's send-off Yvette sprang out of her office and said we couldn't leave the floor unattended (although she was there). Later Andrea was allowed to come down to say goodbye. She hugged each of us (not Yvette obviously). I was sorry to see her go.

Wednesday

Lunchtime I went up to the Boardroom to watch the One O'Clock News. I was joined by Terry (MD and our ultimate boss) and a political friend of his. "We've lost touch with the man in the street" said Terry. They then tried to define who the "man in the street" was. Eventually they were forced to admit to themselves that they did not know any men in the street. "I suppose that proves we've lost touch with them" said Terry's friend.

In the evening we all stayed on for another of the Jess Lewis training sessions (Jess Lewis is a former Personnel Director and an old friend of Yvette's). New account exec Lisa attended the training and seemed very keen. The rest of us appeared bored. Jonathan (copywriter) continually insulted by Yvette. We had a sort of buffet meal half-way through, with various cheeses and pates. Jonathan and I sat by the wine bottles.

Thursday

I had been expecting a quiet day at the agency today, but this was not to be.

As soon as I arrived (a few minutes late) I heard Yvette complaining about the way everyone was dressed, even attacking her favourite Julie. Unknown to the rest of us she had invited a potential client to visit the agency, and was now saying that we did not look presentable. As it happened, this was one of the very few days when I was not wearing a jacket (I had a raincoat with me because of the threat of rain, and a raincoat on top of a suit jacket is too much in this weather).

We were all summoned into Yvette's office to discuss our sartorial shortcomings. She started with me, and I deflected her anger by saying I would go out and buy a jacket before the client arrived. She then turned her attention to Jonathan and Neil and raged (not too strong a word) about how scruffy they looked and how untidy the Studio was. Jonathan attempted to defend himself by saying that creatives were expected to be casual. Yvette became almost insane with fury, telling him repeatedly seven or eight times to "shut up". It was as if she was having some kind of fit.

It was at this point that I decided to go. I walked out of Yvette's office and went upstairs to see Terry. He saw me almost immediately and accepted my resignation (he asked me to think about it, but I said no).

I then left the building and went home.

Friday

I wanted to sleep late, but I was woken at 9 by a phone call from Jonathan asking how I was. He told me he was going to complain to Terry later today about Yvette. He said that in the end the potential client had not turned up, so the storm had been for nothing.

Mid-morning came a call from Katharine (Terry's PA) asking how I was. She described the aftermath of my resignation ("Yvette came up to see Terry shaking like a jelly"). I asked her to clear my desk for me.

Twenty minutes later came a call from Rachel (PR exec in the upstairs offices) asking me to dinner in her flat in Maida Vale this evening.

During the day I calculated my finances, and I am better off than I realised, so no immediate need to panic about getting a new job.

Late afternoon I caught a train up to London.

Maida Vale and the familiar flat. Probably the last time I shall see it as Rachel moves out in two weeks. The meal was savoury crepes followed by profiteroles, with white wine to drink.

We talked long into the night about everything.



Above: I thought I would put a picture of Yvette up, at least for a short while. So here she is. This is Jonathan's photo, not mine. I took a photo of his laser-printed photo, so not good quality. She's not a bad person. But she has done many bad things.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Wonderful Life by Hurts



This has been going through my head all day. Wonderful Life by Hurts. They even manage to reference Temple Meads station in Bristol (a Tudor-gothic manorial edifice).

http://www.youtube.com/watch?annotation_id=annotation_889449&feature=iv&v=PIJXqOvXb1A

Is this a pastiche of 1980s culture? Or is this 2010 culture in a 1980s style? Or is this genuinely 1980s culture that just happens to be produced in 2010?

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Shell



Above: entrance to the Shell Centre in London which is one of the two headquarters of the Anglo-Dutch Shell company. Shell started in the 1830s selling seashells to Londoners. It was when one of the owners of the company was collecting rare shells on the coast of the Caspian Sea that he realised the potential of oil deposits in the area.

Supposedly Shell is now the eighth largest company in the world.

In 1953 Shell was involved in Operation Ajax which took control of Iranian oil after British and American forces imposed regime change on the Iranians.



Above: the main tower of the Shell Centre seems to be undergoing refurbishment. While I was taking this picture an unbelivably officious little security guard came out and told me to stop taking photographs. He was incredibly obnoxious. I told him he was an idiot. I called him a ridiculous little buffoon. I asked him (rhetorically) if we were living in a police state when any little person in a uniform can order people about.

Then I turned my back on him and walked away (although secretly I wanted to smack his face).

Going back to the architecture, I think we need a by-law in London that requires all buildings more than seven stories to be clad in Portland stone.



Above: Shell uses as its logo a scallop shell. This shell is an emblem of considerable antiquity and in heraldry symbolises the act of holy pilgrimage. It is also a symbol of Christian baptism.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Artistic

I'm afraid I can't get very enthusiastic about the "empty plinth" in Trafalgar Square.

 

It has been an open-air venue for various artistic endeavours, although to me they seem to be alternating stunts, gimmicks and self-indulgent trash.

 

Yinka Shonibare' ship in a bottle seems a particularly asinine piece of work.  Has public money been spent on this?  If so, how much?


Sunday, August 15, 2010

Not easy to find

Driving from the south to the north of the county, I stopped en route to look round a village in the central hills.



Above: by the side of the road is the old Butter Cross. Farmers would bring their butter and other dairy products in from the surrounding countryside. From a marketing perspective I am surprised that villages do not do more to encourage specialist productions from their particular area - the more of a story you have to tell, the more people will buy.



Above: the path to the church was not easy to find. It was on a prominence above the village, screened from the road by dense trees. Note the picturesque mixture of stone and brick in construction of the tower.



Above: the dedication is to the Archangel Michael, "Great Prince" of the high places. Churches dedicated to St Michael are often on hilltops or geographic eminences. I am not sure I believe the theory that they are all connected by ley lines.



Above: the angelic theme is continued under the tower where three wooden angels look down from below the bell chamber. Note the crude representation of feathers on the bodies of the angels (clicking on the image will enlarge it). They looked like angel-shaped balloons filled with helium that had floated up there and got stuck.



Above: old Bibles laid out on the altar.



Above: I have long been interested in the farms in this area. The tradition (at least until the beginning of the last century) was that only the strongest of a farmer's sons would succeed his father, although he would hold the land as a common family resouce for the other members. This produced over time a farming community that was exceptionally hardy and with notably impressive physiques, able to withstand all climatic conditions and produce above average crop yields.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

The past week at work

Monday

So late was I in getting ready for work that I had to put my tie on while waiting for the train, a cup of coffee balanced on the bench beside me.

I felt tired all day, so that I had to find easy things to do.

I nearly fell asleep in the weekly planning meeting.

Tuesday

Again very tired. Now that I have made the decision to leave the agency I cannot seem to motivate myself to go there. Today I arrived at 10, and made no attempt to explain why I was late.

Most of the afternoon I spent talking to Eleanor (trainee account executive, had been due to leave but now persuaded to stay on). Neither of us had much to do. She described her divorce (some years ago, but the memory obviously still rankles).

Wednesday

In the morning Yvette (agency head) and Julie (account executive) went off to see our car hire client. I was left alone in the agency as everybody else was either out or off. I looked at medical sites on the internet to see why I might be so tired - the time rushed by while I was doing this.

In the afternoon Julie's brother Martin came in to the office and sat in the account execs room talking to her. England football shirt, jeans, clean white trainers. Until a couple of weeks ago he was going out with Andrea, who is now working in the PR division upstairs - no-one knows why they broke up.

He talked about his army cross-country running ("eight mile runs, some five-minute miles..."). He talked about his planned holiday in Grand Canaria. He mentioned he was born in Cyprus (his father had also been in the army).

He stayed for about two hours, handed round a packet of soft mints, then left.

When he had gone Eleanor asked Julie: "Is he stalking Andrea?"

This led to an outburst of invective from Julie about how badly Andrea had treated him and how she didn't want them to get back together. There is certainly a disparity between them - Andrea is nine years older than Martin, has probably double his salary, they have almost no interests in common. "She was just using him" said Julie, "and now she's bored she won't even talk to him."

Thursday

Extremely quiet in the agency today. I think everyone was bored in various different ways. Yvette very blase about the collapse in business.

The only person to be occupied was Eleanor. She worked on an ad for our IT client, and it was obviously too much for her. Rather than ask for help she struggled with it, becoming red-faced and starting to swear.

I openly read newspapers. Jonathan (copywriter) openly read a book of short stories. Julie played games on her computer.

Lunchtime I went to look at the books in Waterstones, which always cheers me up.

Returning to the agency I was in time to see Yvette make an exhibition of herself. She rang Julie complaining that she was unable to park her car in the tiny space in the mews at the back of the building (it is closed by an automatic gate and is only for people in our building). She wanted Julie to go upstairs and find out who owned two cars and tell them to move them. She was shouting so loudly that everyone could here what she was saying. While Julie went upstairs the rest of us crammed ourselves into the toilet lobby where from the window you can look down into the mews. We saw Yvette in her car, the top down, vainly trying to manouvre her sportscar into a space that was over-parked by the cars either side. We saw Julie go down to her and explain she couldn't find out who owned the cars.

Eventually Yvette left her car in the middle of the mews, blocking in almost everyone. We heard her coming up the stairs telling Julie what she was going to do to the two car owners when she met them. Her arrival in the quiet agency was like an explosion.

Later I briefed Jonathan on some copywriting. He is an odd character. He told me very seriously "I really envy people who have incurable diseases as they have such a desire for life whereas I couldn't care less."

Friday

Fridays always seem to bring a sense of relief. I went straight to see my Financial Services client before going into the office. The River Thames looked lovely as I crossed Hungerford Bridge.

What a boring day. Mid-morning I went out to a florist to arrange for flowers to be sent to one of our more important clients (it's her birthday). The flower shop seemed a quaint comfortable world (it is a business that seems to be recession-proof: "People always want flowers" the owner told me).

Later I wrote some copy, and did some research for our toy client. Time seemed to be passing excrutiatingly slowly. I stopped drinking coffee for the rest of the day as it was making me feel ill.

The final stage of the afternoon was completely dead. I talked to an Irish girl who is temping upstairs. And I read more of Hemingway's Fiesta.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Normans on BBC2



Above: writing about the programme in The Guardian, television critic Lucy Mangan says she "swallowed it whole", which is an unsettling image.

I watched the second in the series The Normans on BBC2 last night. Last week's programme I thought was a fairly workmanlike production but oddly old-fashioned. It seemed to be a rehash of the Victorian view that the Norman Conquest was an absolute dividing line in English history, with the ubermensch short-back-and-sides Normans utterly dominating and subduing the backward long-haired Anglo-Saxons (this view was popular with the Victorians as it provided a justification for 19th century colonialism).

The "Conquest" theory of history has been comprehensively debunked by many distinguished historians, so it was strange to see the presenter Professor Robert Bartlett putting this forward as a credible thesis. It was as if Professor Henry Loyn (that gentle intellectual giant) had never lived. It was as if Professor Robert Bartlett had never been put in an invigilated room and asked to write for three hours on the topic The Norman Conquest - continuity or change? Discuss.

Anyway, I watched the second programme last night and realised that for all its heavyweight endorsements this is not a serious production. Professor Bartlett was telling us Anglo-Saxon culture was eradicated (when in fact both the Domesday Book and the Bayeux Tapestry were almost certainly produced by Anglo-Saxons); that Scotland was a multi-ethnic state (Scotland in the 11th century was many things, but it was not a cosmopolitan society); that the Normans in Ireland were developing a blueprint for "colonialism" (when in fact they intermarried and went native within a couple of generations).

This is not a serious production. This is a stealthy attempt at diversity-awareness propaganda. My suspicians were reinforced when I saw that the producer was Fatima Salera (whose body of work includes Black Women the experience of Muslims around the world; and Southall Stories).

And on Domesday (also last night) I almost laughed out loud when historian Michael Wood told us the Anglo-Saxons were "economic migrants".

To paraphrase Margaret Thatcher, the subtext seems to be: there was no such thing as Anglo-Saxon society, there were only immigrants.



Above: not all historians are media whores re-editing and politicising the narrative of history with an abandon that would shame Orwell's Ministry of Truth. In the latest Transactions of the Ancient Monument Society there is a fabulous article on Medieval Muniment Rooms by John Steane. This is history at its best.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Coleridge and the Anglican Church by Luke Savin and Herrick Wright



Above: Coleridge and the Anglican Church by Luke Savin and Herrick Wright, published 2010.

Have just finished Coleridge and the Anglican Church by Luke Savin and Herrick Wright. Not an easy book, but rewarding if you stick with it. If you think Coleridge is all Kubla Khan and The Rime of the Ancient Mariner then this book will surprise you.

This book made me realise how profoundly Anglicanism influenced the Tory Party in the 18th century, and (this is my interpretation) how Coleridge's philosophy can be seen in the Big Society policy we have today.

Quotes:

"...the standpoint in any debate: do the participants and their actions live up to the expectations of a Christian nation and a Christian society?"

"...the two entities of Church and State actually constitute one organically unified society given that each person in the nation is a member of both." Note in theory this is still true - the Established Church of England in law encompasses the whole population, although complete religious freedom and toleration is also practised.

"A people is the association of a multitude of rational beings united by common agreement on the objects of their love."

"...shift the burden from the macro scale of the state acting for society to the micro scale of individual Christian persons acting charitably."

"The Poor Laws exerted a demoralising effect both on the poor and on the classes paying for them."

"Take the maintenance of the indigent and destitute out of the realm of the state and place it within the realm of the church." Note via Establishment the Anglican Church in England still has a responsibility to minister to the whole population, whether they identify themselves as Anglicans or not.

"A disbelief in the efficacy of private charity and a total reliance on a system of state measures was the essence of a new blasphemy."

"The only proper way to administer relief to the poor is through love." Note it is axiomatic that there is no love displayed by the administration of state benefits and services.



Above: article by Polly Toynbee very critical of the Big Society (Polly Toynbee is an agnostic).

The Big Society policy has come under sustained attack since it was announced. Is this criticism based on reason? Or is it because the critics do not understand the philosophical tradition that underpins it?



Above: article on a new report by the Prince's Trust.

This has nothing to do with Coleridge, but I was interested in newspaper reports about a new study by the Prince's Trust about the way in which young people from jobless households have low expectations.

As someone who spends a lot of time looking at society (albeit from a marketing point of view) it is clear to me that a good twenty per cent of the population needs looking after. These are people who for a variety of reasons cannot establish themselves as productive "consumers" able to pay their own way in society and support themselves (they may have no confidence, or low intelligence, or have no attention span etc etc). At the moment these people are being shunted onto state benefits, and increasingly under pressure to "get a job".

This pressure is pointless.

Bullying this sector is not going to turn them into self-supporting "consumers" - it will just push them deeper into poverty, misery, petty crime, drug and drink dependence, anti-social behaviour and social unrest.

We ought to accept (cross party) as a nation that twenty per cent of the population needs to have housing provided for them, and a social structure that includes subsidised employment opportunities (transport perhaps, or manufacturing enterprises protected by import tariffs, or public utilities). The cost of doing this will not be as great as the present welfare structure, nor will it be as dehumanising and demoralising as the current system. The import of cheap labour also needs to be drastically curtailed to protect this vulnerable sector.

You might say: why should I pay taxes to support these "idle" people. You should support them because your children and grand-children and great-grand-children WILL include individuals who will be classified as "inadequate" and unless they are looked after will fall into destitution (unless you are very rich and can project your wealth down through several generations). If you look carefully enough at any family you can identify people who would "go under" were they to be left on their own.

This is not a political point, and certainly not an attack on the Tories. Nothing disgusted me more than people in the last government (Caroline Flint springs to mind) bullying inadequate members of society through an ever harsher regime of prescriptions. The JobCentre Plus pogrom against the unemployed (delivered by organisations such as A4e) was a disgrace.

Note added 17th August:

What I am really saying though is that the ten million inadequate people will always be with us. Let's just budget for it and accept it is not going to change.

And the political opportunity is: Labour have bribed this sector for decades. But since 1997 they have turned against the "working class". The Conservatives, if they work out a distinctive "nanny state" solution of their own, now have an opportunity to bribe them and get their votes for decades (for decades because these people are not going to go anywhere).

Monday, August 09, 2010

House of Dorchester chocolates



I read about House of Dorchester chocolates in the Guardian (in an article about town planning by Tom Smedley).

You can buy them in Waitrose (but unfortunately there isn't a branch of Waitrose within 30 miles, not that I want another supermarket plonked down in the countryside).

Interesting flavours, smooth texture, satisfying size of chocolates. I can testify that you can eat twelve of them at one go without feeling sick. Unfortunately they don't seem to do bars of chocolate.

With the right marketing this is a brand that could take on Cadburys and win.

More:
http://www.hodchoc.com/chocolates/
http://www.guardian.co.uk/money/2010/aug/07/victorian-style-model-towns

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Simon Hoggart made an attack on single people



Above: Simon Hoggart is a senior journalist with The Guardian (and used to write for Punch from the evidence of this paperback which has been lying around the house for at least twenty years). His words, despite their surface humour, carry weight. Unlike for instance Euan Ferguson where you just say "Self-indulgent garbage" and turn the page.

In The Guardian yesterday Simon Hoggart made an attack on single people. As if they do not already suffer enough discrimination (single "supplements" on hotel rooms, paying tax to educate other people's kids, last in the queue for any state handouts etc). Based on a reading of the Ziegler biography of Ted Heath, Simon Hoggart told the Guardian's readers that single people brood on things too much, have no sense of perspective, and because they live alone are likely to make poor decisions.

A look at the last two premiers demonstates how faulty the Hoggart theory is:

Gordon Brown was "living with someone" but was notorious for his brooding, his sulking, his bullying, his pushing-secretaries-off-chairs, his stabbing of car seats, his gratuitous insults of elderly grannies who disagree with him etc.

Tony Blair was "living with someone" (Lady Macbeth no less) and yet managed to be one of the most evil and dishonest holders of the office of Prime Minister.

Neither of these two can be called well-balenced individuals with a good sense of perspective and able to make good decisions.

So Simon Hoggart's theory is in tatters.

Saturday, August 07, 2010

An air of finality - the past week at work

Monday

For some reason I woke at 3.30 and couldn't get back to sleep again, knowing I would be tired the rest of the day.

At the agency it was the birthday of Yvette (agency head). She made lots of references to it during the morning. The rest of us made a collection, and Chris (Accounts, working her notice) went out and bought a bottle of Marks & Spencer champagne which we presented to Yvette. The big woman sat at her desk with a towel wrapped round her head (she had just washed her hair, water dripping onto her blotter).

Most of the day was spent working on a presentation we are due to give to a potential construction client (Crane). I had to do a lot of media research for this. My other clients were all quiet, which gave me the time to get it finished.

Lunchtime and I met PMF (an old sort-of friend) at a City restaurant. We had one of the balcony window seats, the windows open to give a view of the sparkling Thames. The restaurant was nearly empty so no-one overheard PMF's scandalous comments about the son of someone in the government (impossible to know if she was making it all up).

Late back to the office at 3pm, but it was okay as I had pre-arranged this.

Yvette, Julie (Account Executive) and Eleanor (trainee Account Executive) left at 5 with a group of clients they were taking on a theatre trip - Phantom of the Opera.

I stayed until nearly 9, working on the Crane presentation with Neil (graphic designer) and Jonathan (copywriter). We had a bottle of wine sent over from the Italian restaurant, putting it on the agency's account. Jonathan went through Yvette's desk and discovered a reference Yvette had written for Duncan (trainee, dismissed for incompetence) - we were all shocked at how spiteful and bad the reference was.

Tuesday

A rush to get to the agency on time this morning as I knew the morning would not be easy.

What chaos! What hysteria! The hours up to 11 o'clock were almost insane, with everyone's efforts aimed at producing and collating materials for the Crane presentation.

Yvette was the biggest problem, constantly preventing people from getting on with their work due to hysterical outbursts, accusations and torrents of bad language. The main target was Eleanor, and a massive clash was only narrowly avoided (you could see each of them choking back their angry words). Katharine (PA to Terry, our ultimate boss) came down to help us, and she typed up the main presentation report while I read out Yvette's appalling handwriting to her.

At last Yvette and Julie rushed off to the Crane offices.

The rest of us were left with feelings of exhaustion and mild shock.

Andrea (former Account Director working out her notice as a lowly admin assistant in the PR division upstairs) came down to see what was going on.

Eleanor complained bitterly about Yvette's false accusations, saying "She's just trying to cover her arse".

"There's a lot of it to cover" said Andrea.

I felt so tired I could do very little for the rest of the day. Everyone else also seemed exhausted and subdued. We all left early.

Wednesday

During the morning I had to rewrite various invoices that clients had challenged. This was a very tedious task and involved trying to remember work I did three or four weeks ago. This is not always straightforward, as campaigns change so suddenly and frequently that you have to constantly keep notes.

Crane (the potential construction client) rang up Yvette and told her she had not got the account. Yvette transferred the call into her office and closed the door. We could see the red light on the 'phone - the call lasted half an hour, and Yvette was obviously trying to talk them round.

Later we heard the reasons the presentation had failed - Yvette had been too dominant, Julie had been too quiet.

Yvette stayed in her office with the door shut for most of the day. Eleanor described Yvette's likely mood: "She's suffering from shock at the moment. This will turn to maudlin self-pity and then irrational anger".

For lunch I had some pastries, too many pastries, knowing that I was comfort-eating.

Jess Lewis (trainer who is leading a course on teamwork) arrived but Yvette cancelled the training. Jess Lewis went out and bought us all some cream cakes. After so much food I felt bloated.

The afternoon was slow. I worked on three routine ads. Then I went home early - no-one seemed to notice or care.

Thursday

Katherine is now working in the agency, and brings a calm sanity to the offices. She is still doing some of Terry's PA work, and disappears upstairs for hours at a time. Yvette cannot complain about this as Katherine is popular with Terry.

A planning meeting this morning. It is very noticeable how quiet Andrea's former clients have been. Yvette played this down, telling us the market was quiet at the moment.

Most of the day I spent on a series of ads, not difficult but time-consuming.

Yvette went home early.

After she had gone Terry came down and wandered through the offices looking anxious.

At 4.30 Julie's brother Martin arrived. He only comes to the offices when Julie is not there, so presumably she has told him to keep away. As usual he was asking for Andrea, who he used to go out with (he knows she works upstairs now, but he won't go up there).

I rang Andrea's extension, and when she answered I told her Martin had arrived. There was a long pause. Then she put the 'phone down without speaking.

Expecting Andrea to come down I asked Martin to sit down. He was wearing grey trackkie bottoms and a T-shirt that said British Army Training Unit. He talked about his army career ("...want to be a sergeant at least before I come out..."). From where he sat he could look out into the stairwell. I heard the staff upstairs begin to leave for the evening, and Martin watched them carefully, suddenly leaping from his seat and rushing out onto the stairs. I heard him arguing with Andrea ("Leave me alone" she shouted at him).

Friday

For me the agency has an air of finality about it. I have decided not to work beyond the end of August. Also I do not intend to work any notice, but just leave (I have enough holiday owed to me to cover this).

I have a number of campaigns running at the moment, which kept me busy for most of the day. Kennedy, one of the PR execs upstairs (aged about forty, thin, good-natured), wanted to place an ad for one of his clients. He made so many amends to this ad that all records were broken (we keep a score on the studio wall).

Yvette flirted with Kennedy, telling him she had lost nearly a stone in weight.

"Did you drop one of your rings?" Kennedy joked.

Again I left early.

Friday, August 06, 2010

Superman



Above: there are lots of positive reviews circulating for the new Sherlock Holmes series with Benedict Cumberbatch. Like Mozart's Marriage of Figaro in Armani, the drama has been updated to modern times. I haven't seen it yet (no time) but everyone says it is good.



Above: Sherlock Holmes is more than just a Conan-Doyle fictional character - he is a phenomenon. This is the Sherlock Holmes statue in Baker Street. The previous television series starring Jeremy Brett had huge audiences.



Above: there is also a West End play on until September.



Above: not to mention numerous and spontaneous expressions of affection from ordinary people.



Above: which makes me ask why this character is so popular. A comment I read in a national newspaper (I forget which) summed it up best - Sherlock Holmes is a superhero you can believe in. Which in turn raises the question: what does a desire for the existence of superheros say about society in 2010?