Wednesday, March 30, 2011

2011 national census



Above: cover of the 2011 Census booklet, with the United Kingdom represented as a double-decker 'bus (symbolising class divisions presumably). A demographic interpretation of this illustration would assume the United Kingdom population was 66% female, 60% aged under 35, and 25% Black & Minority Ethnic. Is this how civil servants in the Office for National Statistics subconsciously see the country?


The 2011 national census was carried out in the United Kingdom on Sunday. Every household was asked to complete a booklet containing 56 questions (or complete the questionnaire on-line). Participation in the census was compulsory.


Although intended to help the government allocate resources, the information from the census is very valuable to market research. Questions about occupation, property ownership and age allow estimates to be made on the size of potential markets for products and services. Questions on self-identity allow profiles to be created that can be developed by other information sources.


Census is data only really useful on a macro level. For more nuanced analysis the census data has to be overlaid with many other filters such as lifestyle and behavioural data. The more complete your data, the more you will be able to understand the people you are targeting.


Once you have analysed your target audience you have two options:


Good marketing will study the target audience, work out their wants and needs, and develop products and services to fulfill those needs.


Bad marketing will study the target audience, work out their weaknesses and fears, and develop products and services that will assuage those fears (at least in the mind of the consumer).

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Lady Gaga is the reincarnation of Akhenaton?


All Lady Gaga’s videos are interesting, but in the latest one for Born This Way there are some intriguing stylistic references. Which raises the question whether (in the creative drama of her video) Lady Gaga is the reincarnation of Akhenaton? Some examples:


Above: her bouffant hairstyle seems to resemble the khepresh or war crown of the Pharaohs (left Lady Gaga in an inverted double pyramid; right head of Akhenaton in the Louvre).


Above: Lady Gaga’s heavy blue eye make-up resembles the wall paintings of the Valley of the Kings.


Above: Lady Gaga is wearing something on her chin – is this meant to be the postiche or sacred beard that was a symbol of the Pharaohs? (left Lady Gaga; right statue of Akhenaton in the Cairo Museum, note that the postiche could be either long or short and was occasionally worn by female rulers).


Written by Lady Gaga, Executive Producer Vincent Herbert, Directed by Nick Knight, Choreography by Laurie Ann Gibson: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wV1FrqwZyKw


Note on images: all the pictures in this post are screen shots (and are small areas of the originals); page references supplied on request.

Monday, March 28, 2011

The film Howl


Above: recently I went to see the film Howl. It was on at the Renoir cinema in Brunswick Square which is one of my favourite movie theatres. Despite the brutalist architecture, and the resemblance to an air-raid bunker, I only have happy memories of this cinema (perhaps because they tend to show such good quality films).


Above: I was inspired to go and see the film after reading this article by Emma Brockes in a weekend colour supplement. A profile of the actor James Franco, the article made him sound an interesting personality - a competent actor, a writer, an intellectual studying for a PhD in English literature. He seems to be one of those people who can do everything well.


Above: the film was mixed media including animation, performance and drama. The best parts of the film are the sequences when James Franco (as Allen Ginsberg) is sitting in a study in a bright gold light and just speaking directly to the camera. The whole film could have consisted of these monologues and still be worth watching.


I'm (sort of) interested in the Beat writers mainly because Kerouac's On The Road was a revelation to me when I first read it. I'm not sure the poem Howl is as good as Kerouac's work. I have even visited the Cafe Reggio in New York to try to trace the vestiges of Kerouac's former presence.


The Emma Brockes article described James France as an actor, a student, a writer, a model, an artist, a post-modern performer etc.


It was a list that reminded me of the Flash Febreze Freshness commercial, one of the best ads on TV at the moment: http://www.tellyads.com/show_movie.php?filename=TA12561

Sunday, March 27, 2011

A relatively inaccessible high rock

Hilltop village in the south west of the county. The settlement is on top of a rock that towers above the surrounding countryside. The road up to the top is hard to find and is a single track of such extreme gradiant that I wondered whether my car would make it.


The village now consists of twenty houses, although previously there were many more. Most of these residences are on the steep twisting road up the hill. On the summit is a big farmhouse (stone barns), an even bigger manorial hall, and a small church with a broach spire.


These three buildings are cramped together on the hilltop, the spaces between infilled with trees. Because of lack of space I had to park my car in the farmyard (no-one seemed about). Cold wind blowing.


The hill is of interest as it is the location of a local battle between a Saxon chief and Danish invaders (the Saxons won). It is possible that a commemorative church was built on the summit, although the present structure is thirteenth-century. The votivkirche theory is attractive, and would explain why the village was located on such a relatively inaccessible high rock.


Above: inside the building there is a small south chapel. This was almost certainly a chantry chapel where prayers would be said perpetually (up until the Reformation when the chantries were closed). Would this chantry be a successor to the original Saxon foundation, continually offering up prayers for the victory over the Vikings?


Above: the church contains a rare Judas Bible, dated 1611.


Above: lots of Saxon stones litter the hilltop, including grave markers either side of the door.


Above: the Saxon grave markers include a saltire cross of elliptical shapes, inside a circle. The atmosphere on the hilltop was made up of a sense of mystery, an intense silence, a steady cold feeling (the combination not unpleasant, but you couldn't tolerate it for long).

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Tour, lunch, meeting - the past week at work

Monday

A telephone engineer made a mess of the cables this morning so there were no incoming or outgoing calls. Because I am the closest manager to Reception Shirley kept coming to me to ask what to do (there were various stages to this crisis). The engineer was pathetic, only accepting responsibility for his own very specialist area of expertise.

Today was a struggle, and nothing seemed to go well.

In the afternoon a review meeting was held in the Board Room to discuss the work of the Innovation department. It was a discussion of the most arid kind. My boss, Tom D, kept making irrelevant interruptions.

Afterwards Tom D asked me into a side room and explained that there are problems with the copy for the NGO's report. I feigned concern, but actually I was pleased as the report is being produced by a design agency I intensely dislike (they have been very slighting towards me). I said I would sort it out for him.

Then Tom asked me to work late as he wanted me to give a presentation on marketing to the NGO's board, which was meeting at 6pm. The time was already 4pm and obviously I had nothing prepared. I spent the next two hours putting a Powerpoint presentation together, only just managing to complete it in time.

I felt uneasy about addressing the Board, but once I was in the room it was okay and the presentation seemed to go well (by which I mean nothing went wrong and no-one criticised me). Operations Director Ryan M asked some helpful questions. While I was talking the Board (which included the ten non-executive "stakeholders") ate sandwiches and pastries. Tom D woolfed the food down, CEO Alec Pressberg left his crusts, Ryan M ate surprisingly delicately.

Didn't get home until nearly midnight.

Tuesday

More problems associated with the NGO's involvement in International Women's Day, mismanaged by my deputy Meryl P. It's a complete failure, with a lot of money wasted. Meryl was very contrite as she briefed me on it this morning.

Complaints from Jamie in the Operations department that he was not seeing press releases before they go out. His short frame was shaking with anger. As he is not on the distribution list he is not entitled to see the press releases, and in any case he should be complaining to Ryan M, not me.

Wednesday

Another of the pointless Marketing Team meetings. At least this time more people contributed to the discussion. And the office reorganisation is finally to go ahead.

In the afternoon with Tom D and PR Officer Josie to a radio station to discuss a possible documentary on the work of the NGO.

Then to an early dinner at a local hotel. The occasion was a "farewell" dinner for Rev Caleb H who is moving to another part of the country.

Thursday

A very satisfying meeting with the design company who are producing the NGO report, and I was able to severely tell them off. Then a meeting with CEO Alec Pressberg (not my favourite person) to go through the report copy and make factual changes. Later I wrote a new draft.

Lots of staff issues today. Meryl was very sullen about having to give up her keys (being a key holder is seen as high status). Marketing junior Leo inscrutable, I have no idea what he is thinking most of the time.

A meeting with Tom D to review our PR strategy which has come in for a lot of criticism. He is very naive in dealing with the media, but there is a limit to the number of times I can point this out to him. I stressed that Josie should be given more responsibility.

Jane N from the design agency producing the NGO report arrived to go other the new copy. As usual she talked far too much. I left her in no doubt about my role in supervising the report (a petty gesture I know, but one I enjoyed).

Again I had to work late, delivering a presentation to one of the Consultative Committees. Also giving a report at this meeting was Jamie from the Operations department (he was in a suit, having gone home to change). We had to hang around until 8pm for the meeting to begin.

Jamie delivered his presentation leaning against the wall of the board room, his hands in his pockets. Although aged in his early thirties his appearance was quite juvenile. At one stage he was speechless when someone asked him "What do you do all day".

I felt nervous when I stood up to deliver my presentation, which was the same one as I had prepared earlier in the week. For some reason it was a triumph. The Chairman of the committee asked for copies of the Powerpoint slides ("My marketing manager is going to get his ear bent!").

Friday

An "on-site" meeting at an institution the NGO has set up. When I got there I was surprised to see Ryan M, who was surprised to see me. Tour, lunch, meeting and then home early.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Like the layers in an archaeological excavation

I saw this photograph on a Chinese Flickr page http://www.flickr.com/photos/gaobo/

The scene is in Shanghai.

I like it because of the layered effect - the roadside kiosk, the traditional-style red brick building, the modern structure, the soaring tower off to the left.

It's like the layers in an archaeological excavation (Kathleen Kenyon's tel at Jericho perhaps).

Also interesting is the use of the word "NEW" in the hoarding. It leaps out at you. And I didn't realise that the English language is so widely understood in major cities in China that English words are used in advertising.

Most fascinating are the people. Who are those people on scooters? Who are those people walking on the pavement (and will they buy anything from the kiosk)? What are their lives like? Where are they going? What is just round that corner...

Bradley Manning feature on Newsnight

Interesting feature on Newsnight yesterday about Bradley Manning, the person who is accused of giving away secret American data to Wikileaks. It sounded like a variation of Ibsen's Enemy of the People. Whether he is guilty-and-damned or guilty-but-morally-innocent is hard to judge.

It's a dramatic story with a palimpsest theme (the argument of each side mirrors that of the other, so that everyone is claiming moral authority and everyone is accusing "the others" of being corrupt).

Also it is not clear that the revelations (which were vast in scale) have actually harmed American interests - there is a strong argument that they make American diplomats look reasonably competent.

Presumably Ken Loach will want to make a film of this.

More: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/programmes/newsnight/9434978.stm

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Ad for NEFF ovens



Above: double page spread for NEFF - you might need to click on the image to see it properly.

I really like this dps ad for NEFF ovens.

Firstly I applaud the way the designer has gone for black and white, using size (a double page spread) to achieve impact rather than colour. There must have been a strong temptation to use colour, but given that the product is stainless steel and black, the monochrome image on the left was an intelligent choice. The only colour in the ad is the dull red of the logo, carried through into the copy on the opposing page.

Therefore you are immediately presented with a sense of balance - the creative treatment does not overwhelm either the product or the client's logo.

I also really love the sense of symmetry throughout the spread. Especially the way the longer you look at it you discover more symmetries. The human eye and brain is conditioned to see symmetry as beautiful, and so the use of elegant symmetries is this ad is exceptional (the way the dark head on the upper left is balanced by the dark product on the lower right; the way the copy panels carry across the central page division; the way the vertical lines on the right created by the justified edges of the text are mirrored by the very subtle vertical lines in the photograph especially the line created by the gaze looking straight down through the finger and the fork etc).

I admire the way that the photograph has been used - on the left and ostensibly looking out of the magazine. The obvious thing would be to use the image on the right so that it carries the gaze towards the copy of the opposing page, but that would have created an ad so predictable it would risk being banal. The designer here has been confident of the tension in the ad, realising that the photograph has such impact that most people are going to want to seek out more information (which is provided on the opposite page - and this gives a clue as to the target audience since well-educated high-income consumers are always more persuaded by an ad where they have been given some work to do).

The choice of photograph is inspired. The photographer seems to have caught the model at a moment of total absorption. This ad is not selling an oven, it is selling the promise of culinary perfection.

More: http://www.neff.co.uk/ovens.html

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Dr Giles Frazer, Canon Chancellor of St Paul's Cathedral, on Thought For The Day

I listened to Dr Giles Frazer, Canon Chancellor of St Paul's Cathedral, on Thought For The Day on BBC Radio 4 this morning at 7.45am.
 
His hectoring short sermon was an example of an increasing phenomenon in the Church of England whereby senior clerics try to prove their macho credentials by beating up their own congregations.
 
He doesn't seem to realise that it is not the fault of the existing congregations that there are not more multicultural people in the Church.
 
If Dr Frazer wants more multicultural people in the Church of England he should get off his fat arse and convert some.
 
Not that he will.  Senior clerics are more concerned with playing church politics than with leading missions among the people.  Forcing congregations to sing 1970s doggerel choruses (which personally make me cringe) and abandoning the King James Version on the pretext of "inclusivity" is no substitute for proclaiming the eternal truths revealed in scripture and giving absolutely clear and logical moral guidance on right and wrong.
 
It is not good for my health to get so angry early in the morning (and in the middle of Lent).
 

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

John Terry is back as England captain



"Personally I'm glad John Terry is back as England captain."



"I'll second that. He's... just the type we want, if I might say so."

Aged 31. Described as "bionic". Belittled by the press, his reputation among other professional football players is extremely high.

On a wider cultural level his influence is significant, especially among C2, D and E social groups (and also among the large "C2 plus" category - individuals whose income and status might be high, but who psychologically regard themselves as "working class").

For many individuals John Terry represents an ideal: in terms of achievement; in terms of ambition; in terms of physique and body image; in terms of hegemonic masculinity; in terms of leadership and courage; in terms of generosity.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Wonders of the Universe presented by Professor Brian Cox



Last night I watched Wonders of the Universe presented by Professor Brian Cox.

I have to force myself to take an interest in science. Not sure why this is. I think it must relate to when I was at school and anything to do with physics seemed incredibly boring and tedious.

Wonders of the Universe was beautifully filmed. Every sequence seemed a work of art with Professor Brian Cox standing on the summit of snowy mountains, looking over the edge of deep crevices, levitating excitedly in gravity-free plummeting aircraft. It was as if Casper David Friedrich lived today and had become a television director.

The programme seemed a bit too USA-centric - doesn't the United Kingdom have any of those gravity-free plummeting aircraft (and if not, why not?).

The series seemed to be telling us, in cosmological terms, that man is the centre of the universe and demonstrating this ideology by showing us Professor Brian Cox in every conceivable environment and from every possible angle (including following rather too close behind as he clambered up a steep slope). His enthusiasm was boundless, and there seemed nothing he would not do to show us how the universe worked. At one point he was striding beside a fast-flowing river and talking about swimming against the current, so that I expected him to suddenly throw himself in and demonstrate this to us (he didn't).

Towards the end of the programme he came to a stopping point he called singularity - "the place where our understanding of the universe stops". Having already told us that gravity was the great creator, this seemed a bit lame (if we don't entirely understand the universe how do we actually know gravity is the great creator?). Also the bit about the black hole seemed highly improbable - I know many eminent minds have endorsed this theory, but to me it still seems ridiculous.

Professor Brian Cox told us that he over-uses the word "beautiful", but that description was entirely appropriate to this production. It was beautiful in every way (visually, audibly, conceptually etc). A beautiful and engrossing study about a subject that (if I am honest) I don't care about very much.

More about Wonders of the Universe: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00zdhtg

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Coverage of Libya on BBC News 24 this afternoon

I was watching coverage of Libya on BBC News 24 this afternoon, and was very impressed by Andrew North's report from Washington (at 17.15). Concise, informative, analytical. A natural communicator.

Just my speculations

In the afternoon a visit to a "castle" in the extreme south west of the county. Actually it is just over the county boundary, but this is an area where the county bleeds away, so it is disputed as to where exactly the line should run (obviously the county boundary has been fixed by the Ordnance Survey, but in medieval times the common lands were intermixed so that it was impossible to say where one parish ended and another started; also the river at this point is so shallow and meandering that it is not a reliable guide; also there is no tradition of beating the bounds which indicates the bounds were not certain). I have put the word castle in inverted commas because I am far from sure that it warrants the description.



Above: the site is private property, but looking over the wire fence I could see earthworks that may be Norman but equally could be far older. Ten Bronze Age hand axes were found in the field next to the earthworks, aerial surveys reveal Bronze Age round barrows dotted across the landscape, and an Acheulian hand-axe (25,000 years old) pushes settlement back to the Palaeolithic era.

Also compelling is the site - it makes no sense for the Normans to have put a castle here on land easily overlooked (archers on the ridge of land above would have been able to easily fire arrows into the castle) and with soggy ground liable to flooding by the erratic river. Probably we are looking at a prehistoric ringwork that was reused by the Normans and then abandoned when the unsuitability of the site became apparent. The name of the village is Saxon and it is mentioned in Domesday Book as being held by Bardi.



Above: here you can see the ditch around the inner enclosure. There is no record of a castle being built here. The Victoria County History merely lists the holders of the manorial lands.



Above: within the second ringwork is a stone building now used as the parish church. Traditionally it was the chapel of the castle (but if some of the castle was in stone we would expect to find other stone remains?). You can see the ridge of high ground on the right - anyone standing on that ridge can see right down into the earthworks.



Above: the entrance to the church is decorated by ancient carvings which are either Saxon or Norman (it is not always easy to tell, since most of the sculptors in Norman England were Saxons and on a local level carried on the Saxon artistic styles).

In my view the earthworks probably represent a ritual site used and reused over millennia. These centres were almost certainly the venue of "performances" designed to mark the phases of the agricultural year and give a unity to local tribal society. It was also probably a quasi-military compound where the males of the community prepared for hunting expeditions and parochial warfare (this usage would perhaps account for the oral tradition that it was a "castle").

Reciting poems and folksongs about ancestral warriors; consumption of ritual foods (meat, especially hares?); psyching each other up to display courage and audacity etc.

Just my speculations. Who really knows what went on at these places. Despite the drab day the breeze blowing through the trees was wonderfully mild and enervating.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

You never really know who you are talking to - the past week at work

Monday

My boss, Communications Director Tom D, was expected to come into the office today but despite several phone calls of "I'm just on my way" he never actually arrived.

I set myself several deadlines, and spent the whole morning writing drafts of campaign plans.

My deputy Meryl has begun a "Positive Thinking" class at lunchtimes in the boardroom - I sent the Rev Caleb H (one of the NGO's "partners and stakeholders") to gatecrash and see what it was all about, but he was forced to withdraw ("they all glared at me").

Mid-afternoon I drove to a lovely Tudor mansion on a hilltop just outside the city. It is now occupied by an institute. I lingered in the great hall, wanting to look around ("it was restored in the nineteenth-century" said the receptionist, "the family plundered half the churches in the surrounding district for medieval carvings").

I was shown into the institute's Library, which was in a modern utilitarian block at the back. Round a long table were about twenty people, including Tom D and the NGO's Operations Director Ryan M. The meeting was already underway, so I had to quietly walk round the table to the only free chair, which was next to Ryan M (he was wearing a bit too much aftershave, but this did not completely mask an unpleasant hint of body odour).

Opposite were the three old biddies, a trio I had heard about but never met before. They are senior members of the institute who are opposed to working with the NGO. Most of the meeting consisted of listening to their complaints, and I realised why I had been asked to the meeting - Tom D and Ryan M want to delegate onto me "liaison" between the NGO and the institute.

"Bung the documents through to me and I'll grab Andrew and get him to go through them" said Ryan M. "We'll be blue-skying and all that stuff." He smiled engagingly at the three old biddies but they remained impervious to his charm (which can be considerable when he wants something).

I left the meeting early, going out through a fire door which was open to let some fresh air into the room. I walked round to the car park, and as I fumbled for my keys I found that Ryan M had followed me out. He wanted to praise some work done by PR Officer Josie S (one of my marketing team) and told me oddly that she reminded him of Avril Lavigne (I can see the resemblance, but it stills seems an odd thing to say).

Tuesday

I attended a very alarming training course.

Wednesday

Because the launch event for Special Projects is under-subscribed the NGO has decided to use a sales company to recruit more "partners". The organisations we need to attract are quite specialised, so the sales operation needs to be sophisticated. Most of the morning I sat on a panel that included CEO Alec Pressberg and Special Projects manager Carmel as we interviewed three sales agencies (one of them run by a former actress).

Thursday

A day spent writing a report, interrupted by: more complaints about my deputy Meryl (the International Women's Day debacle); Carmel ranting about the distribution of tickets for a concert with private buffet the NGO is sponsoring (the NGO has twenty free tickets which I allocated randomly); a status meeting to discuss the directory project (thank goodness something is going well).

Friday

A debrief following the training course I attended on Tuesday (the course had been disturbing, although I kept these thoughts to myself - I have begun to realise that you never really know who you are talking to in the NGO).

A review meeting to tell Tom D how things are going in the department - also in this meeting was Felix S who heads Research. Gerson P, manger of the Training & Direction department joined the meeting to request a big campaign - Tom D just said yes to everything without any thought as to whether we have the resources to deliver it. At the end of the meeting Tom D told me he was not happy about the standard of work produced by department junior Leo, so I will have to give him a warning on Monday.

Big full moon.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Leader of the free world?

Question put to me this morning:  given the prevarication, hesitancy and sense of abdication by Barack Obama over the Libyan crisis, and given the speed with which the United Nations Security Council coalesced around British proposals, does this mean David Cameron is now the leader of the free world?

Thursday, March 17, 2011

St Patrick's Day



Above: I saw this man selling the Big Issue outside Russell Square tube station. He had gone to some trouble to decorate his stand for St Patrick's Day. Originally I just wanted to photo his display, but he insisted that I took his portrait as well in case anyone "back home" would see it who might know him.

Today is St Patrick's Day. In southern Ireland the saint is called Padraig, which is ironic as he was actually Romano-British and presumably would not have pronounced his own name with an Irish accent. St Patrick is buried at Down Cathedral in Northern Ireland.

Ten per cent of the British population (6 million people) have at least one grandparent who had/has Irish ethnicity. Occasionally you come across small communities which are identifiably "Irish" but most of these immigrants are completely absorbed into the main population leaving only surnames as a clue to their ethnic origin. Often they become "more English than the English".

An article in the Guardian late last year speculated that as many as 120,000 Irish people could be planning to migrate to the United Kingdom due to the severe economic climate in southern Ireland.



Above: the usual celebration of St Patrick's Day is related to excessive drinking.

Patrick Bergin and Jessica Grist appear in Steve Mac's Paddy's Revenge:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pl6vZ0POzZY

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steve_Mac

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

American foreign policy

There was a report on the Today programme this morning about American foreign policy. Apparently it has become so inscrutable that no-one really knows what is going on. The French foreign minister has been openly critical of this dysfunction.

The fact that interpreting American foreign policy seems to be developing into a science similar to kremlinology is mildly interesting in itself, but has an importance in the United Kingdom given the reliance the Foreign Office places on trans-Atlantic links.

Which leads to the question: what are we trying to achieve in the world, other than follow the lead of others?

Robin Cook's "ethical foreign policy" proved to be an exercise in hypocrisy, even before he resigned.

Blindly following NATO and the Americans has led to two unwinnable wars (and a British defeat in Iraq, although no-one seems to be acknowledging this).

Participating in a joint European foreign policy is flawed because there is a democratic deficit over the Lisbon Treaty (which has not been legitimised by a democratic vote of the British people).

So what does our foreign policy amount to?

This is a crucial question for the self-identity of the British people collectively, and for the self-identity of all of us as individuals (and therefore, in a tortuous roundabout way, affects marketing since you cannot communicate with people unless you properly deal with the issue of identity).

Monday, March 14, 2011

L'Heure d'été (Summer Hours) on BBC4



Above: screenprint of a review of the film.

Last night I watched the 2008 film L'Heure d'été (Summer Hours) on BBC4. Directed by Olivier Assayas and starring Juliette Binoche, Charles Berling, Jérémie Renier. The film was expertly constructed, composed of many exquisite scenes, and extremely well acted.

Dealing with themes of memory, loyalty, family, possession, loss, and the meaning of art, the film was able to convey complex ideas through a relatively small number of seemingly-ordinary conversations. There were so many concepts being discussed that the work probably needs to be seen several times. The lighting of the film was exceptional.

It also seemed to me that the film was a metaphor for the decline of French culture - a melancholy home filled with beautiful objects increasingly seen as irrelevant by younger generations.

Out of the three distinctive European cultures France has maintained an impressive degree of cultural integrity, but it is increasingly hard work for individuals to live in that culture and still operate in the wider world. English culture has gone to the other extreme and has become so accessible that its cultural expressions (language, literature, systems of government, economic theories, ideas of justice, societal values etc) have become so widespread and universal that they are no longer recognised as specifically English. In terms of cultural stamina I'm not sure which strategy (assuming they are deliberate strategies) is going to perform better over the longer term.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

So decayed they were unrecognisable

First Sunday of Lent. At the Family Service a long sermon about temptation. During the prayers in an act of humility the priest came down into the congregation and knelt in the central aisle facing the altar.



Above: in the afternoon a visit to a remote church in the south west of the county. The leafless trees were stark and beautiful. Interesting mounds in a nearby field.



Above: brief survey of the graveyard revealed an old family called Templeman. This surname has (supposedly) crusader origins. Leicester University is attempting to link patrilineal surnames with DNA.



Above: when I looked at the area on an Ordnance Survey map later I found intriguing "Temple" references.



Above: disappointed that the medieval wall paintings I wanted to see were so decayed they were unrecognisable. This is meant to be the Last Judgement. Notice beyond the altar rails a fine 18th century throne chair which was worth seeing.



Above: unexpected find was this ancient stone tomb in a recess of the north wall. The carved cross appears to incorporate a design of fleur de lys. It makes you wonder who is buried here - some Merovingian or Carolingian princess possibly?

Saturday, March 12, 2011

"Blue sky" meetings - the past week at work

Monday

Because the temperature fluctuated so much during the night (I guess because sometimes there was cloud cover, other times clear sky) I found it difficult to sleep. Eventually I got up at 5am and made myself a cup of tea. I decided to go into work early rather than just hang around at home.

An early meeting with my boss, Communications Director Tom D. Lots of minutiae, then at the end he produced a written complaint from a university college about my deputy Meryl P (she had misled them about an event for International Women's Day). Later I had a formal meeting with Meryl and told her off.

Then with Tony from the Operations Team to a meeting with a subcontractor. I am amazed at the amount of co-operation I am getting from the Operations Team - after months of obstruction they are now including me in everything they do. Perhaps this inclusion is going too far, as the meeting was boring and pedestrian, and I would have preferred to have missed it.

In the afternoon a dreadful meeting with a representative from the Department of Business, Innovation & Skills. The civil servant produced a huge stack of booklets and went through them one by one. After he had gone I was left with yet another mountain of paper.

Tuesday

During the morning Tom D off-loaded onto me a meeting with a representative from local government. This person was so rude and sneering to me (about the validity of marketing) that I almost lost my temper. Later in the meeting I tried to smooth things over, not wanting him to cause any trouble (public sector managers have a tendency to be vindictive). Later still I saw one of the NGO's partners, Louise M, through the glass door and called her into the meeting. Louise M is aged about 55, formidable, outspoken. She is also openly contemptuous of the public sector, and as I hoped she devastated the local government person.

Then a meeting with a rep from a new magazine, wanting the NGO to advertise with them.

Then a meeting with Special Projects Manager Carmel W, and we admitted that we were getting nowhere over finding a celebrity for her project launch (mainly because the budget has been cut).

Then there was a lull when I thought I might finally be getting things under control.

Towards the end of the day photographers Perry and Martin, managed by graphic designer Jane N, came to take a picture of the Special Projects team. Everything this design company does irritates me. I suppose if I am honest this is because they only liaise with Tom D and ignore anything I say to them.

Wednesday

As soon as I arrived at the office I was caught up with arranging interviews for a well-known news magazine which is doing a feature on the NGO. However, when I was passing the office of CEO Alec Pressberg he called me in and expressed astonishment that we were going ahead with the feature as it had been vetoed at the Management Awayday. I told him as diplomatically as I could that Tom D had made the decision and I was just carrying it out.

Interminable meeting with Barry H. He was extremely pedantic. Yet more projects added to the total needing my attention.

In the afternoon I went through all the paper on my desk making a list of all the things that needed to be done. PR Officer Josie helped me with this and volunteered to take on some of the projects. We also discussed rearranging the office so that we could communicate more effectively (of all my team she is the most useful, and yet she is located in another part of the building as it was the only desk spare).

Thursday

The meeting began with all the NGO staff crammed into the Board Room on the top floor for a general meeting. The senior managers were sat at the table, but most people were standing. Alec Pressberg told us how serious the situation was and that there would have to be sacrifices.

Then a long meeting with Research Officers Jeanne and Meredith about the directory project. This is a formidably large and involved operation, and yet everything seems to be on course and everyone is working hard. In the middle of the meeting my deputy Meryl came into the room looking worried - her huge mailing connected with International Women's Day was going horribly wrong at the mailing house (I asked Josie to sort things out).

Mid-afternoon and Operations Director Ryan M asked for a meeting to discuss ideas for an awards scheme he wants to launch. He also asked if Josie could be included ("she seems very bright and an ideas person"). We held the meeting in one of the tea rooms on the top floor, sitting on sofas round a square coffee table. The room was excessively warm - almost sweltering. At one point Ryan M took his shoes off, not bothering to undo the laces. He is a very small man, and looks so young that it is easy to forget he is my senior and runs the most important department in the NGO. We talked without any real structure, and nothing particularly important was said. I felt the meeting was a bit flat, but Ryan M was effusive in his thanks, saying we should have more "blue sky" meetings. He gave the impression he was lonely and vulnerable - not at all the ruthless operator I previously thought him.

Friday

Nothing notable happened today except that during the morning I got a call from Tom D wanting me to meet him urgently at a local stately home the NGO often uses as a venue. As I drove the nine miles to get there I wandered what the crisis was about. However when I got there I found that Tom had merely made an error over a Consultation committee and wanted me to send out an e-mail campaign correcting this.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Roehampton

Recently I went to Roehampton to look at housing estates.

Because the tube only goes as far as Putney Bridge I had to continue by 'bus (an experience sufficiently rare for me that I feel I should record it).

The Dover House Road Estate

I have wanted to see the LCC Roehampton Estate (now called the Dover House Road Estate) since I read Alan A Jackson's case study. The estate was built in the 1920s and early 1930s as part of the "homes fit for heroes" programme that followed the First World War. The estate was laid out on a sloping site and incorporated many of the ideas developed by Ebenezer Howard (founder of the Garden City movement).



Above: the housing of the Dover House Road Estate is deliberately picturesque and imitates (in an industrial format) the cottages of rural farmworkers. Pitched roofs with low-hanging eaves, dormer windows (including casements), landscaped sylvan setting with common areas of grass and trees augmented by the small gardens of residents. It was felt by the advocates of this style that it would appeal (perhaps on a subconscious level) to a population that was only two or three generations removed from a multi-millennial rural existence.



Above: the design of the estate incorporates small closes laid out around little greens - no through traffic, playing areas for children easily kept under parental observation, the grouping of houses intentionally fostering the development of communities.



Above: observe the sense of intimacy and privacy created by the simple elements of this townscape. In the early days the estate was maintained to a very high standard, and although the GLC subsequently allowed the area to decline it is still a very popular place to live. I was aware of an impression of working class dignity quietly exuded by every part of this settlement.



Above: crucial to the social philosophy of the estate was the provision of playing fields and allotments, giving rise to sporting associations and gardening clubs. Physical health was to be safeguarded by exercise and the consumption of home-grown organic vegetables. Sense of community was to be encouraged by team sports and mutual horticultual admiration.

The Alton Estate

Very different to the Dover House Road Estate is the Alton Estate. Laid out in the late-1950s, the township was an exercise in optimistic collectivism. Planned on an heroic scale, low-rise modernistic terraces alternate with gigantic monoliths intended to inspire socially-aware feelings about the triumph of the post-war social compact.



Above: as I walked out of the shadows of Roehampton High Street I looked across busy Roehampton Lane to the edge of the Alton Estate. The tremendous bulk of this block, completely dwarfing the public library, was both awe-inspiring and depressing. No-one in the 1950s, looking at the pharaonic scale of these constructions, could have doubted the exultant authority and permanence of socialism.



Above: the ridge of Roehampton Lane edges the estate, allowing views across the futuristic commune. This vista represents an unadulterated vision of 1950s planned existence. The scene is both wonderful and terrible.



Above: Highcliffe Drive is the most famous part of the Alton Estate. The five blocks (now listed Grade 2) are supposedly inspired by Le Corbusier's Unite d'Habitation. As you can see, the concrete that created a "radiant city" in the south of France becomes dull and oppressive when assailed by the English weather.



Above: occasionally on the edges you can see an interesting mixture of modern and Georgian styles, but generally throughout the estate brutalism is everywhere in the ascendant. Poor transport, few shops and moderate employment opportunities have meant the estate has struggled to establish itself as a viable community. Perhaps there is a connection between the lack of traditional family homes and the breakdown in traditional family life?

Thursday, March 10, 2011

In Beijing



One of the amateur photographers on Flickr I like to follow is Gong Shore in Beijing (although not from there originally).

http://www.flickr.com/photos/27708011@N04/

This picture is typical of the glimpses you get into ordinary life in China.

I like the youthfulness, the sense of optimism, the bustle.

No idea what the text 可不可以,你就恰好喜欢我这个样子,不改动我一寸,我也不改动你一尺。 says. I've tried putting it into an auto-translate but it doesn't translate logically. Also, why is the central figure wearing a red armband?

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Ash Wednesday



Today is Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent.

I went to the 7.30pm service at the great minster, where a Trollopian atmosphere remains intact.

The choir gathered at the extreme west end to sing the introit, the sacred noise booming through the shadows and gothic arches of the darkened nave to where the congregation sat in the candlelit chancel.

The priest reminded us "we are only here for a short season". Marking with ashes ("dust thou art and to dust thou shalt return"). Holy Communion.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Shrove Tuesday

Today is Shrove Tuesday.

In ritual terms this is a significant week - Collop Monday, Shrove Tuesday, Ash Wednesday.

Shrove Tuesday was/is a day of gluttony, amateur theatricals and sport (especially football - Hutton mentions "silver sports" presumably related to the trophies awarded).

Out of the Lent Eve feasting of the past only the pancake remains as an example of ritual food.



Above: pancake recipes were in almost all newspapers this year, and famous chefs took seriously a simple peasant dish intended to use up scraps.



Above: pancake parties continued to be celebrated in village communities - an example of the Big Society (except that they pre-date the Big Society by centuries).



Above: I have also noticed restaurants celebrating Pancake Day with pancake races, complete with prizes (not exactly silver trophies, but the same idea).

Sooner or later he will over-reach himself

What should we make about the current media coverage about the Duke of York?  Am I alone in thinking this is all vacuous hot air?  What exactly is the accusation against him?
 
There is an unsettling piece by Rachel Sylvester in The Times today.  Entirely made up of innuendo and trashy prejudice.  This rubbishy journalism is one of the reasons Rupert Murdoch operations are so unacceptable in a civilized society.
 
Aldous Huxley in the 1930s identified that people (he actually wrote "the masses") crave sensations, and that a tabloid press was emerging based on sensationalizing the content of their newspapers irrespective of truth or decency.  The genius of Rupert Murdoch is that he has not only perfected the tabloid as a conveyor of sensations (as with the C2 D and E orientated Sun and News of the World) but that he has also taken the sensationalist format (I could almost say ideology) and put it into The Times and the Sunday Times where established brand names and fine writing give it a veneer of respectability and acceptability, opening up new audiences of As Bs and C1s.  Thus you have respected journalists and public figures writing pieces that have a disguised subtext of cruelty, bullying, salacious eroticism, destruction for its own sake, violence for its own sake, envy etc.
 
The only consolation is that sooner or later he will over-reach himself (perhaps he already has with the 'phone-hacking scandal).  

Petulant threats from the banking community

Since the unrest in the Middle East there has been an end to the petulant threats from the banking community that if we dare to tax them sensibly they will simply move their operations to "tax friendly countries like Dubai".

Monday, March 07, 2011

Peter Mandelson at Jewish Book Week



Above: after the talk Lord Mandelson signed copies of his new book.

Yesterday I went to a talk by Peter Mandelson at Jewish Book Week.

Didn't think I would actually get there since it was a busy day and I was running late, but I managed to scramble in just as the talk got going.

Darkened auditorium, floodlit stage, Peter Mandelson in brown jacket and black shirt (no tie) being interviewed by Nick Cohen.

Most interesting points he made were as a series of asides, talking about the ways in which the "centre ground" of British politics can be occupied.

He talked blithely about "the Blair, Brown, Mandelson era" as if he had been a Prime Minister himself. He told us "I am not an aspic person" (when discussing the legacy of New Labour). He candidly analysed "being in government is office politics writ large", creating a ripple of sympathy and recognition throughout the audience.

When someone said "now you are out of politics" he told us very deliberately "I'm NOT out of politics".

He talked with affection about his father (an enthusiast for the preservation of Hampstead Garden Suburb) and grandfather (a legacy of political cartoons in a Lambeth pub).

Asked by Nick Cohen about his Jewish background he said he was an atheist and didn't grow up in a Jewish culture. Asked if he had ever suffered anti-semitism he said that other people had analysed some of the things said about him, particularly by Polly Toynbee, as close to the negative way in which Jews are traditionally portrayed ("a cancer" etc). Asked if he is hurt by the personal attacks made against him his urbane style almost slipped, and he condemned with some feeling "the nasty tone... of insidious character assassination".

Although I have seen Lord Mandelson many times on the broadcast media, in person I had been unprepared for the empathy which he created, making a room filled with hundreds of people into an intimate occasion. I was also very impressed with the carefully crafted way in which he spoke, so that although he talked at a normal speed all his sentences were elegantly balanced and coherent (unlike the stuttering of Nick Cohen) which indicates a mind working at tremendous speed working out what he wants to say and how he wants to say it. An impressive performance.

Saturday, March 05, 2011

Not bothering to do any networking - the past week at work

Monday

Away for a couple of days visiting an elderly relative (she described meeting Billy Bragg at a petrol station in West Bay and how he had helped her with the petrol pump: "It just shows you how wrong you can be about people...").

Although it was a little holiday I had taken with me the marketing presentation I was to present on Thursday. I worked on it in the evening, and was pleased with the way it was developing. I regarded the presentation as a chance for me to convey my ideas to the rest of the NGO.

Tuesday

I went straight from Dorset to the office this morning, arriving about noon (I had the morning as holiday).

Chief item of the afternoon was a meeting with the design agency that is producing the NGO's annual report. The head of the design agency, who is called Graham, was so infuriating in his refusal to follow instructions. I was so annoyed that I wrote a memo to my boss Tom D, listing my complaints (not that he will listen - he and Graham are old friends).

Carmel, manager of Special Projects, came to sit by my desk to talk. As she talked she consumed a large pot of natural yoghurt into which she had mixed strawberry jam. Her son Leo, who works in Marketing, was within earshot and looked anxious when his mother talked about her marital problems.

New PR Officer Josephine is so competent that whenever I give her something to do she does it immediately.

Wednesday

A hectic day. I can set priorities, but nothing ever seems to get done. Leo rang in sick, which was annoying - I gave his work to my deputy Meryl (she complained it would interfere with the Union work she was doing).

Increasingly I am relying on Josephine, and I thought that in a few weeks I might put forward the idea that she becomes my deputy instead of Meryl.

A meeting with the all-women ad agency we occasionally use. They have been producing a number events related to International Women's Day on Saturday. Meryl sat in on the meeting, and we were all very serious and drank herbal tea.

In the afternoon a meeting with Felix S (manager of Research) and our boss Tom D. We discussed the launch of a new national award and Operations director Ryan M joined us. It was unusual to have him in a co-operative mood.

Then I went over my presentation for tomorrow. The Powerpoint slides were not entirely right, despite Meryl spending a day over them. I stayed late making corrections.

Thursday

The day of the Management Awayday. Although I am on a temporary contract and have no real future at the NGO I felt nervous as I drove to the venue. Nervousness mixed with a sense that it was a holiday.

The Awayday was held at a hotel in the country. The building had formerly been a 18th century watermill, and the waterwheel was a working feature (churning away at the end of the dining room). Cups of coffee as everyone arrived.

The sessions were held in a meeting room around a large square table. Thirty people present, including the NGO's "stakeholders" and five civil servants. I had asked Josephine to drop in some new bound presentation documents, so half-way through the first agenda item the door opened, she handed me the documents, then silently left.

"That's risen you by several levels" said Ryan M, as if I had performed a conjuring act.

The morning was very boring concerned with the NGO "reshaping" itself in response to the cuts in our budget. Only a few people did any talking - mainly because only a few people really knew what was going on. I felt myself stifling yawns, which is a horrible experience.

Lunchtime I sat opposite Yasmin (Personnel manager) and we talked about various films we had seen. After the lunch we had more coffee and most people took their cups through the French windows, down a few steps and onto the lawn. I felt in a detached mood, not particularly concerned about the future of the NGO, so I sat on the steps enjoying the sunshine and drinking my coffee and not bothering to do any networking (one of the main objectives of the Awaydays).

To my surprise Ryan M came over and sat down beside me. He was so close that his leg and arm were touching mine. This is someone who had been rude and obstructive towards me since the day I had joined the NGO, and his closeness made me feel very uncomfortable.

He talked continually, not waiting for me to respond. He said he had plans for the NGO and wanted to work with me on some "papers". A lot of what he said seemed gibberish ("...it's like a paper aeroplane we are setting off into the air to see how far it will go..."). He tapped my thigh at various times, emphasising various points he wanted to make. Then he talked about his love of football, following Chelsea, the amateur team he plays for. Although he is aged about thirty his short stature and youthful appearance make him seem like a teenager. I was very relieved when we were called back into the meeting and I could get away from him.

In the afternoon there were updates on what the NGO was currently doing. A few departments had been asked to prepare formal presentations, and this was when I gave my Powerpoint talk. Very surprised at how well it was received (and also secret satisfaction that Felix S's presentation fell rather flat, although I clapped loudly at the end).

The rest of the day was taken up with minutiae. I hardly took any of it in, as I was reliving in my mind the success of my presentation (odd really, since I don't really care about the NGO). As we were leaving Tom D came over to me and praised my contribution to the day.

Friday

The glow of yesterday's success continued today. I was not even annoyed that Meryl had taken the day off sick. I asked Leo to write the press releases for the day, but he is not really up to the task.

The senior management team were continuing to "evaluate" jobs in the NGO. Tom D emerged from this meeting and told me: "We spent half-an-hour just talking about you and another half-hour talking about the job itself". This puzzled me, and it didn't seem to make any sense (unless they are going to offer me a permanent job, and I am not sure I would want that).

At the end of the day I was talking to Josephine about International Women's Day and Ryan M came up to discuss statistics, an entirely pointless discussion.

Friday, March 04, 2011

Prince from Western Libya

This has been going through my mind all this week:

Aristomenis, son of Menelaos,
the prince from Western Libya,
was generally liked in Alexandria
during the ten days he spent there.

In keeping with his name,
his dress was also suitably Greek.
He received honours gladly,
but he didn't solicit them;
he was unassuming.

He bought Greek books,
especially history and philosophy.
Above all he was a man of few words.
It got round that he must be a profound thinker,
and men like that naturally don't speak very much.

He wasn't a profound thinker or anything at all -
just a piddling, laughable man.
He assumed a Greek name, dressed like the Greeks,
learned to behave more or less like a Greek;
and all the time he was terrified he'd spoil
his reasonably good image
by coming out with barbaric howlers in Greek
and the Alexandrians, in their usual way,
would start to make fun of him, vile people that they are.

This was why he limited himself to a few words,
terribly careful of syntax and pronounciation;
and he was driven almost out of his mind, having
so much talk bottled up inside him,

Constantine P Cavafy

Although he wrote mostly in Greek, Cavafy has had an enormous impact on English poetry.

NOTE: Professor Starkey admitted on Question Time last night that the LSE "sells" worthless degrees to overseas students. The director of the LSE, Howard Davis, has resigned because of an association with Libyan blood money. Even Shami Chakrabarti, head of Liberty and member of the LSE Council, is tainted by this association.

More: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-12644802

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Jeremy Hunt

I'm not at all happy that Rupert Murdoch is being allowed to extend his control over BSkyB.

This is the first time that the Coalition government has taken a decision that has seriously alarmed me.

I don't want Jeremy Hunt in the government at the next election. He is an idiot. He needs to go.

Not all that keen on Francis Maude either.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Diesel



Diesel print ad which ran last year promoting Diesel’s range of clothing (specifically jeans).

This ad is an unusual choice for me, as although I have worked as a copywriter in the past, I much prefer ads with strong visuals. Also I am of the opinion that all ads should include people (this would be the unique selling point of my agency, were I to found one). It is my belief that if you add the human form to any advertisement it instantly increases the awareness levels (I have no evidence to support this, it’s just my own irrational opinion).

But to get back to Diesel, I can see what the campaign was trying to do.

There are a number of problems related to selling premium priced fashion to men (I am guessing that the key target of this campaign is men). There is always the suspicion among purchasers that an interest in fashion is unmanly. There is also the far worse fear that buying a particular fashion brand will unwittingly identify you as light-weight, trivial or camp.

This ad is double page, stark black and white, text in monotype placard bold.

This ad is not actually telling people to be stupid (which would be a suicidal strategy). It is aimed at people who are intelligent enough to appreciate what an expensive fashion brand can do for them, but are wary of exposing themselves to ridicule by investing in clothes that could be interpreted as flippant or over-priced. Therefore by making stupidity a key brand attribute Diesel are telling purchasers that the accusation of stupidity has been deflected and dealt with.

The copy also relates to a deep-seated prejudice in the United Kingdom that sees the “working class” as stupid. Coming from an East End family, I know that this is not true, but the idea persists that people who are simply uneducated are somehow also “stupid”. In parallel with this prejudice the male working class is admired for qualities of manliness and masculinity, and “stupid” becomes a shorthand way of conveying this.

“Smart may have the brains but stupid has the balls”. This line of copy opposes images of over-educated weedy egg-heads with a colloquial reference to a crucial part of the male reproductive organs. Purchasers of Diesel products are probably going to be fairly well educated (usually you don’t get high disposable incomes without at least a university degree and a desk job) but they may well feel inadequate in terms of their masculinity and the ad is telling these people that they can compensate for their inadequacy by buying a pair of Diesel jeans.

On the whole this ad represents a high-risk strategy (in my opinion). Not because it will not work (the logic is sound). It is high-risk because the client may not understand it, the client’s colleagues will not understand it, and there will be lots of opinions and feedback from people who are not the target audience but who will feel the need to criticize the use of the word “stupid”.

The ad agency was Anomaly.



Not sure if Anomaly were involved with the ads for Diesel fragrance but there seems to be a continuity.

The bottle design is of a clenched fist wearing “chav” jewelry.

The TV commercial features Sam Way: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hgOcoVpz1Jo&feature=relmfu

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

St David's Day



Today is St David's Day.

The Utah Saints video for Something Good 08 is set in a South Wales working men's club (the Dowlais club perhaps) on St David's Day 1989 and supposedly captures the moment when the Running Man dance craze was invented: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oMLCrzy9TEs

The video was directed by Eran Creevy: http://www.myspace.com/video/vid/29295709

The minimal lyrics were sampled (but with a different singer) from Cloudbusting by Kate Bush (in turn referencing the autobiographical work of Peter Reich, son of controversial psychologist Wilhelm Reich http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cloudbusting ).

The Eran Creevy video is a revival of late-flowering decadent 1980s creativity - lush, romantic, and subtly seditious.

PS have been away for a few days.