Saturday, October 30, 2010

Dateline London earlier today

Watching Dateline London earlier today I was puzzled why they regularly have a correspondent from Le Monde and yet never seem to have anyone from Le Figaro.

Also, why this obsession throughout the media with the American mid-term elections? They will have little practical effect on us. Is it because British journalists want an excuse for an expenses-paid trans-Atlantic trip?

The American elections in 2008 saw virtually every senior journalist rushing over to America (including the entire panel of This Week, with the programme broadcast from a sort of bar or cafe where everyone seemed to be sitting on uncomfortable-looking stools).

Since we are constantly told globalisation is going to change everything (everything) presumably there should be reduced coverage of American affairs and more emphasis upon the BRIC countries. This Week and Newsnight and Channel 4 News should be doing extended live editions from Brasilia, New Delhi and Moscow during their respective elections. And also covering in depth the lack of elections in China.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

The whole de-industrialisation process will have to be reversed

Above: I was very encouraged by reports earlier in the week that Business Secretary Vince Cable is going to make it harder for foreign take-overs similar to Kraft's raid on Cadbury. The takeover of Cadbury was done with leveraged finance (ie the deal was loaded with debt) and the debt paid for by exporting British jobs to cheaper parts of the world. Unpleasant, unacceptable face of capitalism, as they say.

Above: a selection of Eurochoc - what does it matter if the chocolate we eat is made in Poland or Belgium or Ireland since globalisation is good for everyone.

Mind you, even Jonathan Freedland on The Long View tried to maintain that the Cadbury take-over was nothing to get bothered about (unless of course you are one of those who have been made unemployed).

Globalisation is inevitable and good for everyone.

But what happens in say thirty years time when salaries in the Far East and Europe are roughly equitable (the Chinese ones rising, the European ones absolutely plummeting)? There will then be no advantage in making manufactured goods in the Far East - they may as well be made close to the local European markets to save the cost of transport. So the whole de-industrialisation process will have to be reversed.

In the meantime a few (comparatively very few) people will have made huge amounts of money out of globalisation while everyone else is going to pay.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Unguarded snapshots

I'm not really sure where this new project is leading, but we are continually told that the BRIC countries are going to have a big impact upon our lives. So I have a vague feeling that I ought to make an effort to find out about these places / peoples / political philosophies. But how do you do that?

In one sense you could just stay in London and the world will come to you. And if anyone from a BRIC country wants to meet me for a coffee in London just send me an e-mail ( But how much will that tell us (for instance, the minority of Americans who make the effort to come to Europe are not at all representative of the general American population).

You could physically visit the countries, but I don't have the time, and don't really have the money, and how much do you learn about a country from a superficial trip?

Therefore I have started dipping into flickr, looking at unguarded snapshots.


A car on a dusty road. Tropical vegetation. Low sun - is this the swift twilight of the tropics?

I think this is in Acre in north-west Brazil. The capital is Rio Branco. The Amazon rainforest covers all of the state.


I love this photograph - the simple colours, the natural light, the sense of ennui.

It is taken in Moscow, but the photographer comes from Perm in the federal region of Perm Krai on the western European plain. The city is first mentioned in the 12th century chronicle Povest vremennykh let. In Pasternack's Dr Zhivago Perm is fictionalised as the city of Yuriatin (Юрятин).

The photographer has also travelled in Adygeya (in the Caucasus). It's a land of forests and mountains. There is a "national epic" - the Nart of Adygei



A scene in Andhra Pradesh in the south east of India. The man in the foreground looks as implacable and immoveable as the stones around him. His scarf seems to match the shirt of his colleague.

Andhra Pradesh includes the beautiful city of Hyderabad. Telugu is the official language. The culture has produced many notable poets including Gunturu Seshendra Sarma.



The photograph was taken at the Shanghai Expo but the photographer comes from Anhui (安徽). I like the ultramodern look to this urban view - they could be in the tube station at Westminster. I also like the expression of quiet contemplation on face of the girl on the left.

Anhui (安徽) is a state in eastern China. The Yangtze river runs through it. Mount Huangshan (first celebrated by the poet Li Bai) is a World Heritage Site.


Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Not an impartial observer

On the Today programme this morning Peter Mandelson appeared. He was asked about a survey carried out by the Legatum Institute which monitors "international feelings of wellbeing". Apparently the United Kingdom is not scoring very highly on this index, which seems to record the propensity of national populations for whistling in the dark.

Peter Mandelson was then asked about domestic politics and he did his usual trick of pretending to be impartial while at the same time being extremely partisan.

The interview then discussed Hannah Rothschild's forthcoming television documentary on Peter Mandelson. Although ostensibly a factual record, it is apparently a highly edited and mediated hagiography. The Review Show (formerly Newsnight Review) said that Hannah Rothschild was not an impartial observer - her documentary could more accurately be described as propaganda.


Monday, October 25, 2010

Sky Press Preview

Above: Wayne Rooney is presenting a new series on Sky 1, so it was unusual for him to get such negative coverage in the Sky Press Preview.

Last night, as I was prevaricating about whether to go to bed or not (this was about 11.30pm), I switched over onto the Press Preview on Sky News.

Guardian journalist Julie Bindel was giving the review, chatting to the Sky presenter (whose name I didn't catch) about the Daily Mail. Then they changed onto the topic of Wayne Rooney, and rubbished his recent performance as a footballer (Julie Bindel coyly hinting she might be a Manchester United supporter, although she refused to confirm this when pressed). Both the presenter and Julie Bindel said they couldn't see the point of hanging on to Wayne Rooney (ignoring any cultural significance he might have).

Is the Guardian newspaper waging some kind of campaign against Wayne Rooney?

Noises off

This morning as I listened to Evan Davis interview Business Secretary Vince Cable on the Today programme on BBC Radio 4, there were "noises off" - thuds, thumps and what sounded like shouting. I wondered if protesters had managed to infiltrate Broadcasting House and were attempting to get on air. I discounted the possibility of an attempted coup.

Sunday, October 24, 2010


Above: after lunch I drove to the south west of the county. In one of the churches was this tremendous monument which seemed to be an example of the "northern renaissance" (the moment when the medieval world became modern). Debased classic pilasters, medieval heraldry, archaic inscriptions.

Above: the Steward let me go into the Sanctuary to look closer at the heraldry. Notice the double helmet above the coat of arms - this arrangement is more usually associated with German heraldry (indicating that the knight held more than one fiefdom). These sorts of "closed helms" are often associated with jousting.

A cup of tea was offered, and then a big slice of home-made raspberry jam sponge cake (the jam home-made as well). We discussed the way the rood staircase was built into the thickness of the north wall. Church finances were a problem ("It costs about four thousand a year to run, which is getting expensive, but some years we can raise up to fourteen thousand so we mustn't grumble...").

Above: at another church they had an actual knight's helmet, kept very high up on a ledge (I had to clamber up on top of a table tomb to take this picture). It was part of a full suit of armour that had been found in one of the tombs about a hundred years ago. The helmet type is known as bascinet.

Above: the various forms of knight's helmets. Wealthy knights would often have several suits of armour - fighting armour, jousting armour, showing-off armour. You had to be physically very fit to function in a complete suit of armour.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Feeling guilty about the disruption I had caused - the past week at work


I got up feeling cold, the weather damp and chilly.

I decided last night to leave my job (which I have only been in for a couple of weeks), and resolved to definitely hand in my resignation today. I wondered how it would be received. In some ways I hoped I would be ordered out of the agency so I could go home again.

My usual train was cancelled so I got to the office half an hour late.

Everyone at the agency was busy and my late arrival went unremarked. On my desk I found a brief for a press release which I drafted in about an hour. Account Exec Sara told me about Sunday evening - she had got mildly drunk with friends and then gone to see The Social Network ("I had double-vision so really I saw it twice...").

I felt very apprehensive about resigning. It was unnerving trying to catch Villy (Director and Owner of the agency) on his own. Eventually I had to ask straight out if I could talk to him and we went into the Conference Room.

He was astounded by the news I was leaving, and tried to talk me out of it, saying he would match any other salary I had been offered. Eventually I convinced him I was serious and he asked me to work until the end of the week. As we stood up we shook hands.

"Being indecisive is not one of your problems" he told me (if only he knew the truth!).

Back at my desk my new business cards had arrived - I surreptitiously put them in the bin.

Lunchtime I walked round the local shops and bought a huge piece of bread pudding from a bakers. I took it into the little park to eat (standing up as all of the cast iron benches were wet). When I went back to the office I could tell that everyone knew about my resignation.

In the afternoon I wrote copy for a brochure about an innovative new piece of office machinery.

When 5pm arrived it was a relief to get away from the agency - feeling guilty about all the disruption I have caused.


Most of the day I continued writing the brochure copy. At one point I rang the client to ask questions ("it's the guts of hi-tech office automation" he told me). I discussed the overall design of the brochure with art director Tranter - typically he wanted the brochure to be all pictures and hardly any copy.

In the afternoon account executive Maery asked me to do some copywriting. She pointed out the flat in the parade opposite where she had lived with Villy when they had been "together". Whenever I went into the downstairs office the two women looked at me reproachfully, as if I had betrayed them.


The chilly weather makes changing trains unpleasant. I have become dependent on coffee bought from the little kiosk as I wait fifteen minutes. Drifts of soggy golden leaves everywhere.

Bored most of the day.

I talked to Sara in the kitchen about our what each of us would do after we had left the agency.

The afternoon I spent thinking up headlines with Villy - I praised his efforts even though they were not very good.


Another press release waiting on my desk when I arrived. I tried to string it out as long as possible so that I would not have something more boring to do. I went out to Starbucks mid-morning.

Unexpectedly the IT client at my last agency returned my call and asked me to take a brief tomorrow. This pleased Villy a great deal (I suppose he thought some good would come of my time at the agency). We got various publications to e-mail the ads the IT client had placed recently.

In the afternoon some media research.

In the evening was the annual agency staff dinner (they have it in October as things are less hectic than at Christmas). Both Vinny and Maery insisted that I was still part of the agency and should join them, which was kind. I waited around uselessly in the office for an hour before travelling up to central London.

At The Capital hotel in Knightsbridge I met the others in the bar and Villy ordered champagne (£60 a bottle). Into the restaurant which was a long cube. I sat between Maery and Sara (who had somehow made her blonde hair stand up on end).

Villy decided we would all have the "tasting menu" (£70 per head, paid for by the agency). This meant eating the foi gras with truffle sauce, which I would not normally touch since it is so cruelly produced. But what could I do? I could hardly offend them by refusing it when they were being so nice to me. I was treated as if I were the guest of honour. Again I felt guilty about leaving.


Most of the morning Maery and I spent talking to the IT client from my ex-agency. I had forgotten what a slob he was, sitting in his office surrounded by attractive young women. I knew exactly what sort of ads he wanted to run and was not surprised when he awarded us the campaign.

"You were brilliant" said Maery afterwards, but I have learned to discount her exaggerated praise.

Back at the agency I spent the afternoon writing the copy for the ads.

Then five o'clock arrived. Everyone was extremely nice about saying goodbye. It was a relief to be finally out of the place, feeling guilty about the disruption I had caused.


Despite my ban on working at weekends I got up at eight to read up on my new job - skim-reading heaps of reports.

I stopped at 12.30 to watch Dateline London; Michael White attacking Wayne Rooney (what's Wayne ever done to upset him?).

Afterwards the weather forecast with Tomasz Schafernaker, the first time he has appeared (that I have seen) for weeks. He gave a perfect performance, frequently leaning to one side so you could see the whole picture, using his arms to indicate the rapid movement of rainclouds. Slightly accented pronunciation of some words ("Monday" and "next").

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

White horses

Recently I have been thinking about white horses.

Above: earlier in the year I was driving with a friend through some of the more obscure villages of the north of the county. We came down a gentle hill and saw these two white horses in a field on the edge of the lane and we had to stop and go up to them. Which has made me ask ever since: what is it about a white horse that arrests the attention.

They are beautiful, but other horses are also beautiful.

Is there some encoded message in our culture that tells us to pay attention when we see a white horse?

Above: ancient thatched pub in a market town in the centre of the county. The pub is called Ye OLDE White Horse, indicating it was old even by the reckoning of our forefathers. Much work needs to be done on the origin of pub names, but often they were the meeting places of retinues, factions, gangs, secret societies, fraternities, guilds etc.

Did some prehistoric clan of the white horse have its drinking hall on this spot, by this important river crossing, ten or eleven millennia ago?

Above: paintings of white horses in a display of amateur art. Why are white horses so favoured? Even the sun throws down a kindly ray of light upon these representations (obviously white horses become dazzling in full sunshine).

Above: the white horse used as a brand name. As a whisky drinker I like the blended versions. Apart from Isle of Jura I don't really care for the single malts.

Above: pictorial representations of white horses have been carved into the sides of chalk hills throughout the southern half of England. Their ritual maintenance is associated with a significant body of folklore. Again one has to ask: what is going on here?

The Uffington white horse:

1960s children's series (black and white)


Monday, October 18, 2010

Winter fuel payments

Interesting article on the Institute of Fiscal Studies website about winter fuel payments:

The benefit is interesting in that it is universal, is payable to households, and is also specific in purpose.

However in the arguments for and against the authors Thomas Crossley and Cormac O'Dea overlook the point that the benefit indirectly encourages families to look after elderly relatives (instead of selfishly off-loading them onto the state). In that respect it contributes to family cohesion. It would be interesting to see studies that asked whether increasing the benefit would result in more elderly relatives being looked after in a family context.

PS although in favour of universal benefits I am not sure people on salaries of £44k pa need to get child benefits. Also Ed Miliband should not be using PMQs to argue for RICH people (as those on £44k undoubtedly are) to get even more money. As a sob story it was entirely unconvincing and sounded opportunistic.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Repetition builds reputation

Returned from the conference.
I drove back with Sara (Account Exec), in her car.  The journey took nearly four hours, and every ten minutes or so she played Joe McElderry's Ambitions ("let's just play it one more time...").  So I have heard this song about twenty four times.
A fundamental premise of advertising is:  Repetition builds reputation
I'm not sure I had any thoughts about Joe McElderry before today.  I don't watch X-Factor, and don't like the disposable way Simon Cowell picks up proteges and then drops them.  But I am impressed that Joe McElderry can make a reasonably intelligent woman of twenty-two play his song repeatedly in a way that can only be described as obsessed.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010


As well as being overwhelmed with work at the moment, I am going to be at a conference in the north west (on the coast) for the next few days.
So no blogging.
Staying at conference hotels is the only time I allow myself fried bread for breakfast (with sausages, fried eggs, fried bacon, black pudding etc).

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Sheep Fair

Note: I wrote this at great speed yesterday, which is why I have to keep going back and correcting errors. It also has not really conveyed my true feelings about the event. On Question Time two weeks ago Professor David Starkey said that politicians had generally stopped "venerating the Shires". This is a big mistake, as the majority of English people mentally live in the Shires (including suburbia in the classification "urban" is culturally ignorant - the whole ethos of suburbia is anti-urban). If Ed Miliband is serious about connecting with "middle England" he needs to be seen at events like this (David Cameron does this already). And give serious support to the Rare Breeds Society.

Above: this is a blog post that is a week late, and relates to my visit last Sunday to a Sheep Fair in the south east of the county. The Fair has been held annually for the past seven hundred and seventy-two years. The Fair is held in a small village on the stone belt (Jurassic limestone).

Above: on the way to the Fair I was a bit concerned about how "authentic" it would be. Many village festivals have become tourist attractions for townies trying to get in touch with their "roots". As I parked my car in a bumpy field I was reassured by the amount of mud everywhere - it seemed to be a guarantee of "authenticity".

Above: I got there about 3pm when the light was already beginning to fade (the rain clouds made the sky overcast, adding to the gloom). I looked at the various signs, wondering what I should see first. Very fine light rain (hardly noticable) was falling.

Above: I walked through the funfair which was brash and gaudy. Hundreds of children. I was reminded of Scott Fitzgerald's comment about the magical appearance of funfairs when seen from a distance at dusk.

Above: this stall selling "old fashioned fairings" did make me wonder if the event was becoming a self-conscious heritage parody of itself. But this was the only twee item I saw all afternoon. Also most of the people seemed to be locals who knew each other (perhaps I was the only outsider?).

Above: in the church hall was a demonstration of spinning. All of the spinners kept sheep. One sheep farmer (out of shot) told me "When I started I had two Norfolk Horn sheep - which was twenty per cent of the total in existence!" We talked about the Rare Breeds Trust.

Above: there was a display of wool from the different sheep. I was interested in the Jacob wool as we have several blankets at home made from Jacob wool. There were also samples of raw wool and explanations about how it is processed.

Above: I walked on to the market place where there was a big representation of a sheep on the official Fair stall surrounded by vases of flowers (this picture was taken from the back of the stall). Sheep have always been important to the economy of the south east of the county. Seeing this arrangement made me think of the golden calf set up by the Israelites on Mount Sinai.

Above: to one side of the market place the drummers were drumming. Ritual drumming has been practised since Neolithic times, and is supposed to drive out evil spirits. According to Sir James Frazer drumming was also used to initiate higher states of consciousness.

Above: a band of black-faced morris assembled. They wear costumes made from coloured ribbons with pheasant feathers in their hats. The rain had stopped by this time.

Above: as the band began to play two lines of morris dancers, holding staves, began a performance. They went on for about half an hour. I was impressed by the antiquity of this scene - such dances have probably been performed on this spot since the first Sheep Fair nearly eight hundred years ago.

Above: I walked along to the church, which was on a ridge of ground overlooking the village centre. Described by Pevsner as a Perpendicular and Decorated ensemble. The dedication is to St John the Evangelist.

Above: inside it was decorated for Harvest Festival. Every ledge and flat surface held arrangements of vegetables, fruits and autumn flowers. Improving texts accompanied the displays.

Above: the great east window had a representation of Jesus as the Good Shepherd, carrying a lamb and a shepherd's crook.

Above: on the walls of the nave, just below the clerestory, were medieval wall paintings featuring shepherds and their sheep. These paintings, discovered in 1939, are of international importance. Obviously the keeping of sheep was (and is) of great cultural significance in the locality.

Above: walking back down to the centre of the village I saw this stall selling mutton stew. I briefly considered trying some, then decided against it (I only had limited time to spare). The supermarkets are obsessed with selling lamb - there is no reason why they should not also sell mutton.

Above: as I walked back to my car I saw the sheep pens in the fields ready for the following day.

Above: later at home I reread Hardy's Sheep Fair.

Saturday, October 09, 2010

The office plays Magic Radio - the past week at work


Only five hours sleep.

In the agency I finished some copywriting then continued the process of 'phoning my former clients, with mixed results. As I expected, my financial services newsletter client has come over. I feel a little guilty about all this since I really don't expect to be in this job very long.

Director Villy not in today, which made things relaxed.

Trainee account exec Sara, who is on notice, was very bitter about how Villy has treated her ("He just expected me to leave without any notice but I told him I wasn't having that..."). From comments made by the other staff it seems that Villy and Sara had a brief relationship about six months ago and now can't work together. I listened to what she said but don't want to get involved.

Account executive Maery asked me to do some copywriting for her insurance client.

"It's brilliant" she said, when I gave her the finished result.

However the copywriting hadn't been brilliant, and I had struggled to do it. So why did she seem so pleased with it? It seems I can do no wrong where Maery is concerned.


Director Villy was already in the office when I arrived, panicking over a campaign that had just come in ("It's big and bloody"). Compared to Yvette's hysterical rantings this little performance from Villy was relatively mild. Nevertheless I have become wary of people who can't control themselves.

Everyone in the office became involved in getting the campaign booked and the creative rationale worked out.

Later, when I was alone with Sara, we discussed Villy's tantrum. "I think he's schizophrenic" she said. Certainly he seems to over-promise to clients things his agency can't really deliver.


Most of the day spent with Sara discussing her clients (I am taking over her client list when she leaves).

The only coffee in the office is decaffinated, so I broke a personal rule and went out to Starbucks.


Copywriting most of the day.

The office plays Magic Radio all day, which is distracting.

Director Villy had an argument with arrogant Art Director Tranter.

Later in the afternoon I didn't have much to do. I thought about the agency and decided I didn't want to stay there. So how do I extricate myself?


Just as I got to my desk this morning my mobile 'phone rang. Unexpectedly I was being offered a job (from an interview I went to several weeks ago). I went down to the street to continue the call.

Friday, October 08, 2010

Pelt her with creme eggs

Above: Beeches chocolates are hard to find but worth the effort. Fabulous chocolate taste. As soon as you take one chocolate you have to keep going until they are all gone.

The Today programme this morning reported that the predatory Irene Rosenfeld, CEO of Kraft and despoiler of chocolate companies, has slunk into the United Kingdom on a "low profile" visit to Cadburys.

Is no-one going to pelt her with creme eggs?

Thursday, October 07, 2010

The future?

Did the people of the Middle Ages speculate about how lives would be different in the future?

No, they believed in a static society.

Even though the period from 1100 to 1480 (fairly arbitrary dates I know) saw huge technological, economic and social changes, this didn't register in the popular mind.

Society was perceived as timeless and eternal (and as Marshall McLuhan said, perception IS reality). People believed they lived in the best of all worlds. And that is probably why they were a lot happier than we are today.

Rebecca West defined the paradox: is it better to let someone continue in a dreamworld where they are happy or wake them up into the real world where you know they will be unhappy?

And what is the real world anyway? Perception is reality. And in advertising we know how evanescent perception can be.

PS the other historical enigma is the Roman period. Huge empire (all the "known world"), vast timespan (27BC to 410AD ) and almost no technological progress. And yet no-one could call the Romans primitive.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

A Good Read on BBC Radio 4

Work is non-stop at the moment.

Almost no time to myself.

I suppose when you start a new job you have to make an effort.

I know I am lucky to have a job (but there is this persistent feeling that it is the wrong job).

Anyway, travelling between meetings I listened to A Good Read on BBC Radio 4.

Shirley Williams was very perceptive. Sue McGregor was sincere about her likes and dislikes. Sathnam Sanghera was entirely unconvincing (and how egocentric, as well as shallow, to use popular song titles as the chapter headings of his memoirs).

Friday, October 01, 2010


Doing some research on Romania currently.

The country has a bad press in the West.

They are just ordinary people trying to make the best of things.