Wednesday, November 30, 2011

George Osborne, Chancellor of the Exchequer, gave the ten past eight interview on the Today programme this morning.

It was an impressive performance.

At no point did he wobble, hesitate or get caught out.

Either the interviewer (Evan Davis) had failed to prepare properly, or George Osborne gave a genuinely flawless performance.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Heseltine is currently talking on Newsnight.

He is such a pompous idiot.

He told us he is in charge of regional growth fund - what idiot gave him that job?

When I see Heseltine I seriously start to question whether I will vote Conservative again.

Elephant & Castle

Above:  the Observer last Sunday thought that the Autumn Statement might refer to the redevelopment of Elephant & Castle district.  Although several major spending projects were announced, Elephant & Castle was not among them.  The area is already so blighted by modernist architecture that it is difficult to see how it can recover.

Above:  an example of the intellectual arrogance that has divorced public design from popular appreciation is the Faraday monument in the middle of the roundabout at Elephant & Castle.  Obviously the idea of a monument to Faraday in the form of a Faraday Box is very clever.  But how many of the thousands of people who pass by this roundabout each day get the joke?

George Osborne's Autumn Statement

At lunchtime I watched Chancellor George Osborne's Autumn Statement to the House of Commons, broadcast live on BBC2.

"Live within your means" was one of his opening remarks (with the unspoken Thatcherite rebuke: if you can't afford it you can't have it).

He told us the United Kingdom was the only major western economy whose credit rating has improved recently (and is still triple A).

He said that yesterday we were even able to borrow from the money markets at a cheaper rate than Germany (which presumably implies the money markets regard the United Kingdom as a safer place to put their money than even the sober, boring, excessively-hardworking Germans).

Personally I am not impressed with the view that Germany is responsible, prudent and restrained in their spending.

The PIG countries (PIG = Portugal, Ireland, Greece) are condemned as spendthrift wastrel nations, splurging on things they could never realistically afford, paying for it all with borrowed money, and now trying to default on the loans.

But the Germans have also been extravagant in their national spending, buying vanity projects at enormous cost and making (implied) promises to pay that they could never hope to keep.

The difference is that instead of pouring their money into sub-prime mortgages for very low income social groups (like the Americans) or a bloated public sector to soak up the unemployed (like the Greeks) or vast number of silly consumer goods that no-one really wants (like the Irish) the Germans wasted their financial reputation on a white elephant called the Eurozone.

They would like you to think that the Eurozone is simply a rational currency system set up by agreement with the rest of the EU.  In reality it is a vanity project, of no more practical value than the British Crown Jewels in the Tower of London (beautiful to look at, of immense symbolic significance, but of no real value unless you break them up and sell the component parts).  The Eurozone is the German equivalent of the Millennium Dome or the Athens Olympics or the new city of Naypyidaw.

Of course the Germans have been very careful not to actually commit themselves to paying for the Eurozone project.  But everyone knows that the Euro would never have got underway unless backed by theoretical access to German financial assets.  And sooner or later they will have to either back the Eurozone debts or share in the defaults (for if the Eurozone goes down German credibility in the field of financial planning will evaporate).

Monday, November 28, 2011

An image of Peterborough cathedral tattooed onto his arm

Above:  picture from the Daily Mail website.  Not sure why the camera flash is reflecting off the arm.  It makes it look as if the skin has been covered with some kind of gloss varnish.

According to the Daily Mail Aston Merrygold has had an image of Peterborough cathedral tattooed onto his arm.  Aston Merrygold is an X-Factor finalist (winner? participant? bore? not sure how you would describe these people).  Yet another example of the X-Factor sub-culture forcing itself into the media you might think.

But this story attracted my attention for several reasons.

Firstly because the west front of Peterborough cathedral is one of the glories of world architecture, and yet hardly anyone knows about it.

Secondly because references to Peterborough cathedral in popular culture are rare.  Betjeman mentions it in his 1929 short story Lord Mount Prospect.  Erasure's Andy Bell (himself a former resident of Peterborough) might be referring to it in the 1991 song Am I right? ("I can see the old cathedral. But I have to play it down").

But otherwise Peterborough cathedral is unknown.

The third reason is that I know the building extremely well.  After I left university I worked in Peterborough for two years and every working day would have to go into the centre of the city (we had a very demanding client).  The city is an unbelievably ugly place, with no redeeming features of any kind, except for the cathedral. 

Whenever I walked along Bridge Street (which was virtually every day) I would always turn right through the medieval gateway into the cathedral close and walk around for a few minutes (sometimes going into the great church itself, sometimes looking at the remains of the monastic ranges, picturesquely incorporated into later styles of architecture). 

I must have walked around the cathedral close several hundred times and can still picture every part of it.

What I most liked was the surreal sense of going from the ugly modern world into a half-hidden paradise.

I suppose that is also what I like about this story - that someone from the X-Factor (which is a fairly ugly and intrusive TV show) should permanently honour one of our national artistic treasures.

Sunday, November 27, 2011


Above:  because I have been ill this weekend I was not able to go to the seminar yesterday organised by the Egypt Exploration Society.  The seminar was about the excavations at Naukratis in the Nile delta.  Naukritis is important as it was a centre of Greek culture and influence in Egypt (supposedly this influence goes back to pre-Minoan times).

Above:  the Review Show on BBC 2 on Friday looked at the refurbished Egyptian galleries at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford.  One of the panellists, Sarfraz Manzoor, told us in all seriousness that the new galleries showed the influence ancient Egypt had on surrounding civilizations.  This sounded suspiciously as if he was advancing the discredited "Black Athena" theory (described by Professor Lefkowitz as incompetent). 

Above:  a few weeks ago I went round the Petrie Museum of Egyptology at University College London.  They currently have an exhibition of Flinders Petrie's work analyzing foreign influences in ancient Egypt.  Far from being some kind of "pure" well-spring of civilisation, it appears that ancient Egyptian society was a beneficiary of multiculturalism.

Above:  sculptured heads of different ethnic groups.  One of the things I love about the Petrie Museum is the way everything is crammed into a few small rooms so that you are intimately pushed up against this ancient culture.  Also the labels are either typed (on a real typewriter) or handwritten, adding to the "authentic" experience.

Above:  the famous "Hebrew head" is tiny, and you almost stumble across it.  In any other museum it would be given a room to itself, with acres of explanatory blurb and security guards warning you not to touch the cabinet.  Not sure how long the Petrie Museum is going to survive without a "makeover" - you should go and see it while it is still untouched.

Above:  the Greco-Romano mummy portraits discovered by Petrie were an influence on the painter Alma-Tadema.  You can see similar portraits at the British Museum.  They are important because not a great deal of ancient Greek painting survives (these are clearly examples of Greek culture, whatever Sarfraz Manzoor might tell you).

Above:  "identity politics" has blighted archaeological research in recent decades.  Bonnie Greer (who is a trustee of the British Museum and ought to know better than to make political statements) has publicly and provocatively told us that there are no indigenous inhabitants of the British Isles.  What the Petrie exhibition demonstrates is that there are no indigenous people anywhere if Ms Greer's strictly pedantic interpretation is to be applied. 

Saturday, November 26, 2011

I wondered whether everyone was going to be swept away - the past week at work


All this week I suffered from a cold, which made sleeping difficult.  As soon as I laid down in bed I struggled to breath, and after about an hour of this torture I would get up and go downstairs to sleep in an armchair, covered by a blanket.  On average I had about five hours sleep per night over the week.

When I arrived at the office PR Officer Josie S was already there.  She told me that she had a premonition that something unpleasant was going to happen to her.  I just told her she was imagining things.

Boring day at work, and I created a reason to go and see a local government agency just so that I could get out of the office in the afternoon.


All of today I was at a training course for the NGO's managers about the media.  Very little I didn't already know, although the other managers seemed fascinated by it.  We had to interview each other on radio in the morning and then television in the afternoon.

Very poor lunch, and afterwards I had three whiskies at the bar. 


One month from today will be my last day at the NGO (I am on a fixed term contract which is not being renewed supposedly due to lack of funding, although who knows the real reason).  I have hardly anything to do, and fill in my time at the office by a number of self-imposed tasks.  If I stopped working entirely no-one would notice.

After months of stalling by the Finance department I was finally given a budget to buy an office camera.  I immediately drove to a local town and bought a Nikon D5100.  Back at the office I showed it to Josie S and Marketing Officer Ron J and we spent the rest of the afternoon taking pictures of each other.


During the morning I held a team meeting with Josie S, Ron J and Research Officer Jane B.  We discussed a marketing project for the Innovation department.  We generated a lot of good ideas and soon had a strategy in place.

Half day holiday in the afternoon, and despite my cold I joined Felix S and Ryan M (Operations Director) for another golf session.  The course we go to has a resident trainer and he gave us half an hour tuition in chipping and putting, and then we played nine holes.  During the game Ryan M took me aside and said that Josie S had been "stalking" him in the office (they had an affair earlier this year, which Ryan M ended).  Stalking is a gross exaggeration, but I knew that she had been hanging around the Operations department and finding excuses to talk to Ryan M when he clearly could not be bothered with her.  At first I had tried to dissuade her from doing this, but nothing I could say would influence her (you cannot help someone who does not want to be helped).  Ryan M has complained to CEO Alec Pressberg who has agreed she should go.

I wish he had not told me this as it means I now have to pretend I don't know.


Nothing to do today.  My cold, which had been getting better, is now a lot worse.  So few tasks are being given to the Marketing department that I wondered whether everyone was going to be swept away in the new round of economies (I am going anyway).

Fox & Friends

Not sure whether I have a cold or 'flu.  I know it's easy to inflate the common cold into influenza to get more sympathy from people, but usually I resist doing this.  But after a difficult night I finally got to sleep about 4am and didn't wake again until 11am.

Feeling very weak, it took me nearly an hour to get washed and dressed and go downstairs to an armchair in the sitting room, with the electric fire on full. 

Didn't really want any lunch, so I just had cups of tea, one after another.

I watched Dateline London and then drifted through the channels to Fox & Friends, which is an American morning television news show. 

Reports of the sales in America, including frantic scenes at various branches of Walmart and an overhead film of hysteria at one particular store showing a large woman's trousers falling down in the melee (the commentator, who I think is Alisyn Camerota, told us "consumer spending seems to be robust").

Most interesting item on the show was a Gallop poll that revealed 81% of respondents wanting a third party Presidential candidate (independent of the Democrats or the Republicans) - this does not seem to have been picked up by the BBC.

There are three presenters to Fox & Friends each of them talking loudly and very fast.  Of the three Dave Briggs is the most compelling.  Whatever the subject he manages to speak with sincerity which creates trust in what he is saying (which is a valuable asset for a news presenter).

Friday, November 25, 2011

Deputy Prime Minister Chris Clegg was interviewed on the Today programme on BBC Radio 4 this morning in the prestigious ten past eight slot.

His performance was weird - haltering and stuttering and repetitive.

At one point the interviewer told him "you've made that point many times".

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Newsnight (the first half), then Question Time, and now I am watching This Week.

Thanksgiving - a national holiday in America and part of the American ritual year

Above:  today is Thanksgiving - a national holiday in America and part of the American ritual year.  Obviously it is an American event, but since New England was an English creation the day has made me wonder if there are any corresponding influences on England we can trace (I'm talking about the specific New England cultural identity rather than the more general influence of American culture).   There is certainly evidence of absence - the original colonists left behind memories, preserved in local traditions.

Above:  the Pilgrim Fathers memorial on the east coast.  I took this photograph just as the sun was coming up.  Hardly any American tourists come to look at this pillar, probably because it is so remote.

Above:  a few yards away is the salt water creek where the Pilgrim Fathers planned to set sail. Bleak but also beautiful.  Lots of place names in the area have correspondences in New England.

Above:  Sweet England is a folk song about a family emigrating to America and everything going wrong and how they long to come back again.  I listen to this CD all the time in the car.  Shirley Collins has an amazing voice.

Above:  I never watch X-Factor so all the performers that everyone else seems to know about are usually a mystery to me.  But usually once a week I watch the top 10 videos on MTV and this week One Direction suddenly appeared at No 1 (or No 3 depending on the chart).  Although the band is British the look is unmistakeably New England, set in one of the small colleges the area is renowned for (I know Lake Placid is technically New York state but it was in the old Dominion of New England).

Above:  I am not sure who the director is (a Google search produces nothing).  Ostensibly simple, the video has a subtle brooding quality.  If I had to guess I would say the video was directed by John Urbano (who did the band's previous video), written by John Knowles (author of A Separate Peace) and based on a poem by Thomas Parke D'Invilliers.

Stephen Fry is to be the voice of the Olympic mascot

Above:  at the top of my In Box this morning was an e-mail telling me that Stephen Fry is to be the voice of the Olympic mascot.  Why Stephen Fry?  Are we so bereft of talent in this country that Stephen Fry has to appear in EVERYTHING?

Or was he just the safe option chosen because every other creative director chooses him for every other voice-over?

"Approval of what is approved of, is as false as a well-kept vow" (Betjeman quoting Oscar Wilde).

Above:  the first thing visitors from Paris see when they arrive in London by Eurostar are these giant Olympic rings.  Personally I am already bored by the Olympics, especially as all the tickets have gone (I did try to buy some for the boxing).  For me it is just going to be a television event.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Time to own your own history

Starting with the Today programme on Radio 4 this morning and continuing throughout the day the news has been dominated by a report produced by the Equality & Human Rights Commission absolutely damning about home care services for the elderly.

Commentators on the report have been so shocked that I can hardly add anything to the outrage already expressed except to say that I am also shocked beyond belief.

However I hope I can be forgiven, in this unimportant little blog that hardly anyone reads, for pointing out that we have been continually lectured about how the care services "would collapse" in the United Kingdom without large scale immigration, particularly from the Indian sub-continent and the West Indies.  We are endlessly told, whenever anyone attempts to discuss immigration, that "we wouldn't have any carers in this country if it wasn't for the hard-working immigrants".  Therefore if the apologists for large-scale immigration are claiming the care profession as a triumph of "hard working immigrants" presumably they must also share responsibility for the evil behaviour that has taken place.

This is not to construct some tenuous connection that doesn't exist.  The local council caring professions have already been claimed by the pro-immigration lobby.  To quote Gary Younge, it's time to own your own history.

And doesn't this episode illustrate just why large scale immigration is so pernicious?  Carers need to be well-paid, well-motivated and well-supported (as they largely were in the 1950s).  Instead, the importation of cheap labour willing to do "the dirty jobs" for next to nothing has allowed councils to shirk their responsibilities, cut local taxes, and at the same time sanctimoniously praise the imported carers as a model to be emulated by the lazy work-shy indigenous population (and if anyone tries to protest they are called "rascist").

Difficult to see what can be reclaimed from this mess.  But perhaps next time immigration is discussed in a serious context possibly we can do without the lectures about the caring professions "collapsing" if it wasn't for immigration.  The caring professions have already collapsed if this report is to be believed.

Hugh Muir, Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, Darcus Howe etc - time to own your own history.

Stuffed chine

Plate of stuffed chine which is a great delicacy in the county.

Pork shoulder cured, then stuffed with various herbs including onions, parsley, thyme, celery, borage, lemonbalm, applemint, dandelion leaves and whatever other herbs happened to be in season (the taste varying with the seasons).

A famous farmhouse kitchen dish, it is best when freshly made - which is probably why you do not find it in supermarkets.

Usually served as a cold meat with salad and boiled potatos (buttered).

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Channel 4 film about Alan Turing Britain's Greatest Codebreaker

Last night I watched the Channel 4 film about Alan Turing Britain's Greatest Codebreaker.  Really interesting piece of work, with even the dramatisations done sensitively (for once).  Not sure however that Alan Turing would want to be remembered for his sexuality (which seemed to be one of the subtexts).

Almost by accident I have been carrying out an informal study of British intelligence activity during the Second World War.  My brother gave me the David Garnett book on the PWE - a comprehensive and conscientious piece of historical writing.  Also very familiar for anyone working in PR today, especially the in-fighting, office politics and monomaniacal empire building. 

I also have a desire to visit Bletchley Park to see for myself where much of this secret work took place.

Above:  not sure why I keep press cuttings.  Usually I tuck them into books I have on related subjects.  This obituary appeared in The Times on 25th July 2008 and is about the capture of the Enigma machine in 1940.
The Scottish National Party has been given a million pounds donation by a Lottery winner.

It somehow seems appropriate since that party appears to be made up of political chancers promising get rich quick policies.
Interesting article in today's Guardian about the Sami people of northern Scandinavia.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Why Mahler by Norman Lebrecht

Above:  Why Mahler by Norman Lebrecht - how one man and ten symphonies changed the world.

The challenging complexities of classical music… a world of feeling and ideas… Nikolai Korndorf wrote the 1990 Hymn in Honour of Gustav Mahler  Thomas Mann did not expect anyone to recognize Mahler as Aschenbach in Death in Venice  Ken Russell's film Mahler (1974)...  Mahler’s music is a fast track to deep-core emotion and a way of connection with true self…  Mahler offers depth and breadth to the thought process…  the Mahler fortress becomes a private refuge…  the symphonies are dauntingly long and the songs are in German…  The Vienna of Freud, Mahler, Mach, Wittgenstein, Schnitzler, Herzl, Trotsky forged the world we know today - a meeting point of individualism and collectivism, of egotism and idealism, the erotic and the ascetic, the elevated and the debased...  the most popular and influential symphonist of our age... 

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Another weekend when I have been disappointed by the books section in both the Saturday Guardian and the Sunday Observer.

Given the huge number of books that are published each year, why are the reviews so patchy in quality and few in number?

Eventually we will see the emergence of a Chinese George Orwell

Martin Sorrell, CEO of WPP, was interviewed on Sky News this morning about the economy.  WPP was one of the original "predatory" companies of the 1980s, using leveraged money in a hostile takeover of J Walter Thompson.  So Mr Sorrell's credentials as a respectable commentator are somewhat flawed - he represents part of the problem, not the solution.

Anyway, this morning he was complaining about the amount of "China bashing" in Europe, telling us (in that obnoxious I-know-everything way of his) that our only hope was growth in China (with India and Brazil mentioned as an aside).

Was he referring to the short term or the longer term?

In the short term the BRIC economies will continue to grow and globalisation-predators such as Martin Sorrell will no doubt make a personal killing.

Over the longer term the West would be unwise to become economically dependant on countries such as China until they have reformed their political systems. 

Each of the BRIC countries contains serious contradictions that must inevitably lead to social revolution (in which case stable economic growth and overseas investment will evaporate).

To take China as an example, this economy now contains millions of newly-enriched middle classes with relatively large disposable incomes (compared to the majority of the Chinese population who are still living in poverty).

Martin Sorrell is presumably hoping that this money is going to be spent on consumer goods (cars, refrigerators, televisions etc), the purchasing decisions of the Chinese consumers fuelled by advertising presumably provided by advertising agency subsidiaries owned by Mr Sorrell and using media channels owned by Mr Murdoch.

However we know that one of the first priorities of family expenditure is on education, with the aspiration of university education for their children.

How is it possible for millions of university-educated students to be co-opted into the totalitarian system that runs China?  A genuine university education will teach them to look at the world critically which will include looking critically at their own system of government.  Eventually, and soon one would expect, they must bring the system down, in which case economic growth is going to be a casualty (as it always is in times of social revolution).

It might be possible for the Chinese to develop a non-critical university system, but docile compliant graduates are not going to deliver economic innovation necessary for growth.

It might be possible for some of the graduates to be incorporated over the short term into the ruling elite, but even among these there will be rebels and eventually we will see the emergence of a Chinese George Orwell, challenging the system from within - perhaps thousands of Chinese Orwells.

Therefore China must either transform itself into a democracy or cease to grow as an economic power.  But it cannot transform itself into a democracy without a huge number of "losers" among the current ruling elite who are going to fight their impoverishment.  That is why we cannot say that China is a safe place for long-term investment.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

All the innovative (but irrelevant) things the NGO is doing


I've had a cold all this week, so have had hardly any energy.

Anyway, the aches and pains of the illness, together with a slight shortness of breath, made rising at 5.30 this morning more than usually difficult.  In the dark I sat on the edge of the bed and thought without enthusiasm about the day ahead.  But once I was downstairs and drinking a cup of tea I began to feel more optimistic.

I was one of the first to arrive at the office.  As I am leaving at the end of the year I can sense that my influence in the NGO is dwindling and that I am becoming irrelevant.  This morning I went through all the projects I am responsible for and began to cancel those I will not be able to finish.

In the afternoon a long meeting with a contractor who is carrying out some telephone research for the NGO.  She seemed rather mad.  "I like working late at night" she told me, "as the air isn't cluttered up with other people's thoughts."


For some reason I enjoy driving in the complete dark of early morning.  It is an experience worth all the effort of getting up.  It also means I can leave early (the NGO operates flexitime).

Arriving at the offices at 7.35 I was able to listen to the radio (on my PC) until 9, working through the files on my desk.

Today the reorganisation of the ground floor took place with all the Communications personnel now in one place.  This move was so disruptive that it took almost all the day.  Not sure if I like my new desk (but I didn't dare say anything considering the arguments there have been over who is going to sit where).

In the afternoon everyone went up to the Operations department to see Jamie given his leaving present.  Operations Director Ryan M gave a speech that was meant to be humorous but actually fell flat and was too much about himself.  A film was played on YouTube showing Jamie very drunk.

I left the office at 4pm.


Because I had to visit the dentist this morning I was able to stay in bed until 9am.  Even then I was too early so sat around the house reading until time to leave for the appointment.  I was only a few minutes with the dentist - she said there was absolutely nothing wrong with my teeth.

I got to the office at 1pm.  Walking into the new Communications department I was surprised at how untidy it already looked.  I was not in a mood for work, although there were a number of long telephone calls I had to make.

I briefed a freelance designer on a series of posters.  These are the idea of CEO Alec Pressberg.  Personally I think they are pointless, but I am past caring - if he wants to waste the NGO's money who am I to argue.

PR Office Josie S told me she had been given a written warning by our boss Tom D.  This annoyed me as she reports to me and I had not been informed or involved.  I wrote an e-mail of complaint to the HR manager (but no-one will take any notice of it, my voice has ceased to count).


The new office layout means we are cold most of the day (the front door opens into the area, and Reception is just behind a flimsy screen so the damp air comes in constantly).

In the afternoon another golf session with Felix S and Ryan M.  I used the woods much more, which totally changed the experience.  I was trailing far behind as usual.  When it started to get dark we abandoned the game and had a drink in the clubhouse, and I detected tensions between Felix and Ryan (Felix has started work in the Operations department).  We were all matey together, but I know they are not really my friends.  After I leave they will not give me a second thought.


The only notable occurance today was a visit from a journalist.  I talked to her in the Board Room, mechanically listing all the innovative (but irrelevant) things the NGO is doing.  Afterwards I took her to lunch at a motel, accompanied by Marketing Officer Ron J (he has multiple sclerosis and from the car park to the motel he limped furiously to keep up with us, although if we had slowed down and waited for him he would have become angry).

Friday, November 18, 2011

Frost Moon

It is the middle of November.

The Frost Moon is already waning.

And yet so far this year there has been no frost.

In the moonlit garden swathes of giant white nicotianas, somewhat shabby, are still in flower.  Rows of white Sweet Williams.  Even the pale blush Souvenir de Malmaison roses.
Watching the Weather forecast, John Hammond is an excellent presenter.
John Reid is absolutely right to say working-class people are under-represented in positions of power, particularly the House of Commons.
Mehdi Hasan - sneer sneer sneer.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

This Week is now discussing European democracy.

No-one seems to be aware that German French and Italian democracy only goes back to 1945, Greek and Portugese democracy only goes back to 1974, Spanish democracy only goes back to 1975, eastern European democracy only goes back to 1989.

The tradition of democracy in most of Europe is very short and slight.

So why are they so surprised that there is no real commitment to democracy in the European Union?

This Week

I am now watching This Week.

Dan Snow, pseudo historian is giving a silly perfromance about democracy.

How can a despotism grin with glee?

Cliche after silly cliche.
How on earth can Chris Bryant not know his own mother's electricity was cut off for a whole winter?
Cheers from the audience when wind turbines were attacked.
The panel is now discussing the Euro.

Every one (apart from the Chairman) seems to be duplicitous.

Question Time

Watching Question Time discussing youth unemployment, Will Hutton ran a mile when asked about the correlation between the employment of foreigners and the unemployment of young people.  He seemed to have a sort of breakdown.  He was literally bouncing up and down and speaking in a rant and avoiding eye contact to avoid being reasked the question.

Ed Miliband's speech on the economy

Above:  I was in Guilford Street recently and saw this memorial to Sir Charles Parsons, inventor of the steam turbine (it is set in the wall of a wonderful Sir Herbert Baker stripped-classicist Wrenaissance building).  The United Kingdom has always excelled at innovation and discovery (including digital computers, the World Wide Web, and joint mapping of the human genome).  This innovation has been in spite of, not because of, the British education system.

At lunchtime I watched (despite warnings that it would give me indigestion) Ed Miliband's speech on the economy, broadcast live on BBC News 24 earlier today.

It was an excellent speech and condemned the predatory Kraft takeover of Cadbury, stressed the need for more vocational training of young people, and even hinted that schools were not equipping their students with the right skills.

This last point, mentioned sotto voce by Ed Miliband, was one of the most important things he said.  Among the most intractable vested interest groups in the country are the unionised teaching professions who refuse to allow effective management of teachers and refuse to countenance any suggestion that a large number of teachers may be lazy and incompetent.  The Labour Party's Academy School's programme and the Coalition's Free Schools programme are convoluted and expensive ways of trying to get round the fact that teachers in the state schools cannot be managed in the normal process of performance appraisal (and certainly cannot be dismissed).

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

One of the more stupid actions of the incompetent Major government (1992-1997)

Youth unemployment was discussed on the Today programme on BBC Radio 4 this morning and it was encouraging to hear that more emphasis is being given to engineering.

One of the more stupid actions of the incompetent Major government (1992-1997) was to allow Polytechnics (and other colleges of Higher Education) to "upgrade" to university status.  The network of polytechnics was originally set up to provide practical courses such as engineering, construction, electrical skills etc.  When they all became universities the leadership of these institutions largely became "academic" and uninterested in vocational courses, which have on the whole been neglected.

Also it was disappointing to hear David Miliband on Newsnight yesterday say that future jobs for young people were going to come from financial services and the City of London - this sort of unbalanced economy has contributed to our current difficulties.

Also I feel I need to keep drawing attention to the fact that we have one million unemployed young people and one million mainly young Polish people in the United Kingdom (having all rushed here over the last five years).  To ignore this obvious correlation is asking for social unrest.  Why is Poland in such an economic mess that its brightest and best young people are literally running away from the place?  Given the filthy squalor that most Poles and Latvians live in when they come to the United Kingdom, what on earth must conditions in Poland be like?  Why is no-one in the British government remonstrating with the Polish authorities and telling them to get their economic act together?  Has the Polish government no shame that economic migration from their country is taking place on such a scale?

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Newsnight went on to discuss the crisis in the Eurozone and whether the United Kingdom should take a leadership role among the ten non-Euro countries.

Historically British foreign policy has always been to maintain the balance of power in Europe and prevent any one grouping achiving hegemony over the continent.
A song-writing course is surely impractical? 

Maybe they offer it at the University of East Anglia in their creative writing department. 

Engineering is more sensible.
David Miliband is misreading the mood of the debate - he is coming across as very petty.
Newsnight is discussing youth unemployment (at this moment).

No-one has yet mentioned that there are a million Poles in the country taking the "starter" jobs.

Monday, November 14, 2011

With all this talk about the Euro and the importance of being "at the centre of Europe" no-one has explained why being in a geo-political bloc is so essential.

Surely globalisation will make monolithic groupings less relevant in the future?

In the same way that the internet made monolithic corporations less relevant.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Baynards Castle

Interesting double-page feature in today's Observer about the new "floating park" planned for the north shore of the Thames.

I am particularly interested in whether it might give new perspectives of the site of Baynards Castle (now completely covered in concrete and brutalist buildings).

I once attended a lecture by Professor Caroline Barron in which she talked about this corner of London, and I have been fascinated by it ever since.  The idea that there was a building equivalent to the Tower of London, now almost completely forgotten, seems to encompass all the romantic elements of history and archaeology.  Eventually the site must be redeveloped, and when that happens the area must be thoroughly investigated.

I have attempted to walk round the area, but the castle was on the waterfront and access is very restricted.  So I am hoping the new park will allow me to see the area from the river.  More:

Saturday, November 12, 2011

To appear on the BBC without a poppy does seem inexplicable

Newsnight yesterday discussed whether the wearing of poppies was becoming a "political act".

Presumably if the wearing of poppies is deemed (by some people) as a political act the non-wearing of poppies must also be a political act?

Therefore the non-wearing of a poppy by the Newsnight Economics Editor Paul Mason appeared to be some kind of political demonstration - very brave (or foolish) for a BBC employee to attempt, no matter what supporting arguments he might attempt to marshal.  His lack of a poppy was so blatant that it completely eclipsed whatever he had to say.  All one could do was to look with fascination at the blank area on his left lapel and wonder how many people it was going to annoy.

It is also ironic (and perhaps a little bit hypocritical) that most of these non-wearings are being carried out by people associated with the Left.  The Iraq and Afghanistan wars, which have poisoned debate for so many years, were waged by a Labour government ("a LABOUR government" as Neil Kinnock might say).  It is therefore rather distasteful for figures from the Left to now say that the wearing of poppies is a political act.

The Review Show followed Newsnight, and although the presenter was wearing a poppy, none of the four guests were.  Although I can believe one or two of them might have decided independently not to wear a poppy, the fact that all four of them appeared as "non-wearers" suggested some degree of collusion.  Again, they seemed to be using the BBC for some kind of non-verbal statement.

Does this matter?

Not particularly.

Except that one of the guests was from the Independent newspaper - which was a cheer-leader for Tony Blair (and his political wars).

And another guest was James Purnell, former Cabinet Minister and Tony Blair crony.  James Purnell specifically voted for the Iraq war in the House of Commons.  Therefore for him to appear on the BBC without a poppy does seem inexplicable.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Armistice Day

Above:  today is Armistice Day, although Google has wrongly called it Remembrance Day.  Remembrance Day is on Sunday when there will be the big national ceremony in Whitehall and thousands of smaller ceremonies across the country.  In the office earlier today the phones were switched off at 11 o'clock and everyone was silent for two minutes.

Armistice Day and Remembrance Day are big events in the United Kingdom's ritual calendar.  Few people question the significance of the days although there are letters to the Guardian about "poppy fascism" and Jon Snow on Channel 4 News ostentatiously refuses to wear a poppy (is this because of his personal convictions or is it because he wants people to notice him? - for all his dry-as-dust persona Jon Snow is something of a popinjay with his garish ties and socks).  Anyway, what I mean to say is that these ritual days are so much part of society that few question them or stop to ask why they happen.

Above:  military cap badges from the First World War.  These badges demonstrate the profound affinity and connection between regiments of the British Army and places within the British Isles (also sections of society such as medical personnel, religious personnel, engineering personnel etc).  The Great War and the Second World War were total all-encompassing events that had such a huge impact on national life that you cannot understand modern society without reference to them.

Above:  all my life I have known people who served in the First and Second World Wars (and when I was a child most people in authority, in every section of society, had fought in one or other of these wars).  Then there was a moment in the mid-1990s when the Great War veterans had largely all died, and the conflict became an historical event rather than a continuing reference point for living people.  It seemed possible that in time the Second World War would also fade into history and society would once again change.

The Second World War has undoubtedly passed into "History" (and dominates the history TV channels) but has society changed?  If anything there seems to be greater reverence and respect for the armed forces.  What evidence can we find to try to understand what is happening?

Above:  earlier this week General Lord Dannant, a former head of the army, gave a public lecture on the interaction between society and the armed forces.  In the 1960s and 1970s such a philosophical statement would probably have been laughed and jeered at.  This week it was received courtesy and consideration, and, as you can see, was even given reasonable coverage in The Guardian.

Above:  although subject to tremendous cuts, the armed forces still maintain a largely intact reputation as a respected institution.  Possibly the only institution (apart from the monarchy) that still commands respect in British society (it is not corrupt, it has not made any major mistakes, it has not become sidelined as irrelevant etc).  The Territorial Army in particular is very popular, even with people you would never suspect were "military" (is this because conceptual experiences such as "honour", "duty" and "service" are being actively sought because of the psychological benefits they deliver?).

Above:  a notable manifestation of popular support for the armed forces has been the public demonstrations of silent mourning held at Wootton Bassett in Wiltshire whenever a fatal casualty from Iraq or Afghanistan was returned to the United Kingdom via the local RAF base.  Although a minority of commentators dismissed the Wootton Bassett phenomenon as an unhealthy "death cult", the size and spontaneous sincerity of the roadside vigil is evidence of very significant respect for the military in the general population.  The repatriation of casualties has recently been moved to an alternative RAF base, and it is unclear whether the level of popular support will be maintained.

Above:  politicians have not been slow to associate themselves with the new resurgence of interest in military remembrance and commemoration.  Both the previous Labour government and the new Coalition have been very vocal and prominent in condemning anti-remembrance activities (usually by Muslim groups).  Minority community groups (again usually Muslim) have persisted in attacking what they describe as British militarist aggression, and the heckling of marching soldiers in Luton led to the formation of the EDL (a provocative group which campaigns against "Islamisation").

Above:  "hopes and dreams" of primary school children pinned up on the wall of a school classroom.  As you can see, the aspiration of one child to go into the army is equivalent to the wish of another child to be a professional rugby player.  Is this is evidence of the high status of the army among young people?

Above:  I was in central London last summer and found the Mall blocked by a long procession of young cadets (all three services).  There seemed to be thousands of them.  They were watched and applauded by thousands of other young people, which is at variance with the accepted view of young people being uninterested in the military.

Above:  this painting apparently caused a mini-sensation when it was exhibited at the National Portrait Gallery.  It shows a younger generation of the Royal Family in the traditional role of army officers (part of the historic role of the monarchy is to act as a warlord).  It was the personal intervention of the Duke of Cambridge that changed the policy of the international organisation governing world football, allowing England players to wear the image of the remembrance poppy on their shirts.

Above:  medals of a Second World War hero, preserved in a military museum.  The Military Cross is second from the left.  The influence of the Second World War generation has been so all-encompassing that we hardly notice it.

Above:  what legacy will the current generation of military heroes have on British society?  Will the conflicts they served in fade away into forgotten "little wars".  Or will they continue to influence attitudes far into the future, in ways that we cannot currently comprehend?

Just my thoughts on Armistice Day.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Fatal diseases start in the gut

I am interested in the idea that almost all fatal diseases start in the gut.  Eighty per cent of our immunity comes from gut bacteria.  Death starts in the gut one way or another.

I'm not a doctor, so I have no idea whether these statements are true or not, but they are interesting concepts and have made me restart taking Yakult (which has an indescribable taste - I suppose it's a Japanese taste).

Also I am aware that I eat too fast (I was the youngest of three brothers - you had to be quick in our house or the cakes would be gone).  When you eat too fast apparently too much undigested food gets pushed into the gut where it is fed on ferociously by the "bad bacteria" and this causes inflammation and can cause holes in the wall of the gut.  Frightening stuff (but again, I am not medically qualified, so I can't validate this).

Also I was advised that whenever there is bright sun in a clear sky, even in the middle of winter, I should take my shirt off and go and stand in it for five minutes.  This is because the "deep infrared" of the sunlight is very good for the body.  As I am not an exhibitionist I am not too keen on this one.

News International a "mafia"

Earlier today, as James Murdoch was giving evidence to a House of Commons Committee, Tom Watson MP called News International a "mafia".

It needed to be said.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

This ad for Gucci is for their new shop in London

This ad appeared in The Times yesterday.

It's a fabulous print ad, full page and full colour (in what is still a mainly black and white publication).

Advertising depends for its effectiveness on repetition ("repetition builds reputation"). Consumers buy from brands they trust. Consumers trust brands that are familiar. Therefore to get consumers to buy from your brand all you have to do is make your brand name so ubiquitous that consumers are very familiar with it and start to trust it. That is why even companies with an awful product offering can manage to keep going simply because they have a big familiar brand. Unfair I know, but it is the way the human mind works.

The problem with repetition in advertising campaigns is that consumers can become bored of seeing the same old ads all the time. The repetition principle will still work, but the brand personality might pick up undesirable attributes such as "boring", "samey" and "tired". The job (part of the job) of the creative department is to encode the ad with so many intriguing and enticing narrative and design devices that you can look at the same ad twenty times and still see something new and interesting. Many of these devices are likely to be subliminal, so you may not see them at first glance (and may not even see them after careful study). But subconsciously you will see the colour interactions, the choice of fonts, the layout, the narrative (all ads have a narrative, whether deliberate or not), the art historical style, the multiple layers of meaning etc. A really great advertisement is one you can look at time after time and it still has an impact on you.

This ad for Gucci is for their new shop in London. But they do not show the shop. They do not even show the things you can buy in the shop (I would guess the Gucci dress in the ad is haute couture rather than off-the-peg but I might be wrong about this).

So what is going on here?

The photography is superb. A print ad is static and two dimensional, but this image has a shimmering dazzling quality that appears to move. The use of shadows gives the image a wonderful sense of depth and realism.

Whatever Hadley Freeman might tell you, people who buy fashion (real fashion, not High Street stuff) are sophisticated and well-educated. Often they have studied art history. So can we detect any art-historical references at work here? My immediate thought on turning the page was to visualise the 1926 painting La Belle Dame Sans Merci by Frank Cadogan Cowper. Also the shimmering quality (which first attracted me to the ad) reminds me of the post-Impressionist work of Henri-Edmond Cross, particularly his ground-breaking Apres-midi a Pardigon (probably my favourite painting of all time, even though I don't really like the post-Impressionists). Obviously these references might be accidental, but they work for me, and indicate the creative thought that has gone into the art-direction of the ad.

Strong sense of narative in the ad.  Why is this young woman sat on a stone bench in the hot afternoon sun?  Who is she looking at (those eyes have an almost cruel intensity)?  Her mouth is slightly open, as if she is gasping with the emotions she is feeling.  And yet she holds herself absolutely rigid as if she has calculated the best angle she wants to be seen from.  She looks very uncomfortable (in more ways than one), but her beauty and the beauty of her Gucci clothes, outshines even the Bougainvillea flowers tumbling over the wall behind her.

I also like the way the text in the ad is subtle and understated, almost apologetic.  The Gucci brand name is overlaid in white so that it does not compete with the main image, the text about the shop is at the foot of the page - it's importance is indicated by the fact that is is on the central axis, but you have a look carefully to see it. This is presumably because messages we discover for ourselves are more compelling than the messages that are shoved in our face.
Despite what I said earlier about the repetition principle, it is unlikely that this ad will run as many times as it deserves.  Probably just once or twice in a limited number of publications.  This will be the fault of the client - very few clients have the courage or nerve to repeat ads sufficient times so that they really begin to deliver.
The designer (who I suspect is a genius) has compensated for this limited media repetition by producing an ad that you want to look at again and again.

The Home Secretary and the Border Agency

Not sure what to make about the current fuss around the Home Secretary and the Border Agency. Andrew Porter on Newsnight seemed to think it was a serious situation. Keith Vaz MP (also on Newsnight) and Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper (on the Today programme this morning) were also talking the issue up.

But on the whole I can’t see that the Home Secretary is in any difficulty.

Unlike say Kenneth Clarke on prison sentences, no-one is going to believe that Theresa May was secretly “soft” on immigration. As a narrative this is simply not credible. Also no-one is going to be upset about the sacking of a senior civil servant (as a group they are widely assumed, perhaps unfairly, to be devious and manipulative liars).

The grey area seems to be around the nature of the “pilot” that the Home Secretary had introduced and which Brodie Clark (the sacked pseudo civil servant) is supposed to have manipulated and extended without authority.

Was this pilot some kind of clandestine “profiling” of potential terrorists? Profiling at entry points is not currently operated. All arrivals from abroad are treated exactly the same, often leading to long queues at airports and calls for more staff to operate the checks.

If the pilot scheme was a test of profiling then there would be an outcry from civil liberty groups (although the effectiveness of the main pressure group Liberty has been weakened because of tenuous but embarrassing links between its Director and the former Libyan regime).

However it is unlikely that the Home Secretary would be damaged by accusations of civil liberties infringements. If anything, it would enhance her reputation in the popular mind. To paraphrase Wallis Simpson’s famous saying on wealth and dieting – a British Home Secretary cannot be too hard or too ruthless.

PS  I am not a great fan of Evan Davis, presenter on the Today programme.  He seems to lack the professional scorn of John Humphrys or Jeremy Paxman.  But he managed to pin down Yvette Cooper on the issue of entry to the United Kingdom via Dublin (where presumably profiling is in full force?).

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

The private lives of lawyers acting for clients in the Phone Hacking Scandal

Yesterday's Newsnight looked at the way News International used private detectives in a brazen attempt to collect material about the private lives of lawyers acting for clients in the Phone Hacking Scandal.

There can be little doubt that if the detectives had uncovered material about the sexual behaviour of the lawyers or their families (teenage daughters were being followed and photographed!) this would have been used to blackmail the lawyers to back-off from News International.

I am not a lawyer myself, but presumably this amounts to an attempt to dispose of evidence?

In which case it is presumably an attempt to pervert the course of justice?

Am I right in thinking that in the United Kingdom attempting to pervert the course of justice carries a maximum sentence of Life Imprisonment (although most serious offenders only seem to get ten years)?

The funny thing is that I don't even like this sort of music, but this song is stuck in my head:

The accompanying video is scuzzy but all too realistic (unless you avert your eyes and walk past quickly).

Monday, November 07, 2011

The Ides of March is an American film written and directed by George Clooney

On Friday I slipped away from my interview weekend (we had some free time before the dinner) and went to see Ides of March at the Odeon in Leicester Square (not THE Odeon Leicester Square, the other Odeon cinema down by Panton Street ).

I asked for the best seat and was given a ticket for Row L Seat 18 (it was the 6pm showing, so the place was only about half full).

The Ides of March is an American film written and directed by George Clooney (who also appears as one of the characters).

I am full of admiration for this film which is so well put together it appears flawless.

The mark of a great work of art is that there is nothing superfluous and absolutely everything contributes to the main narrative – for instance, the number of times the main character appears in a white shirt; the treacherous ice everyone is walking on outside (where even a small slip can be fatal); the way the glasses of alcohol are intimately placed at the motel etc. In The Ides of March all these different narrative, symbolic and expressive devices are integrated together into a seamless whole. It’s a very accomplished piece.

Many ideas are illustrated in the film. The nature of idealism, the insidiousness of corruption, the mechanics of a fall from grace. It was also a film about power – the way men exercise power over men, the way men exercise power over women, the way women exercise what little power they have over men.

I was intrigued by the way the main character (played by Ryan Gosling) did not actually do anything morally wrong himself (the intern propositioned him, the intern made the decision over the abortion, the intern committed suicide before he was aware of her intentions, the rival candidate’s campaign manager propositioned him with a job offer, the rival candidate’s campaign manager betrayed his confidence, the rival campaign manager tried to destroy his career etc). All the main character did was respond to a changing situation as it presented itself to him.

Ryan Gosling is an exceptional actor with an economy of expression that is subtle, ironic, and understated. “Idealism” is a difficult quality to convey, but he does this perfectly. I especially liked the ironic way he illustrates how the Stephen Meyers character loses value as he gains experience (the character’s initial idealism is discounted by everyone around him who assume he is as corrupt as they are – but when he is actually corrupted, he starts working for himself rather than others).

George Clooney is a generous director.

In my opinion the film is comparable to All the President’s Men. The construction, dialogue and theme reminds me of Scott Fitzgerald. The film is good enough for the Palme d’Or at Cannes.

Casey Stegall on Fox News

Watching an item by Casey Stegall on Fox News yesterday, he said that many companies in America are recruiting social media marketing professionals, and that this is a growth area in a generally subdued economy.  He also said that the emphasis was upon content rather than technical expertise (substance rather than style).  Starting salaries are around $50k (£31k).

PS I don't just watch Fox News, I also look at the news on CNN and I like Amy Goodman on Democracy Now.

Sunday, November 06, 2011

An Institute no-one has ever heard of

Above:  the hotel they put us in was horrible - tiny cramped attic room on the top floor of a hotel near one of the mainline railway stations.  I think it may have been a test, to make sure we were not just interested in the money.  Four flights of stairs up, and no lift.  En suite shower room so small it was like a cupboard.  The blind on the window was stuck, so I had to undress in the dark.  I was hardly able to sleep - the room too hot, the bed uncomfortable (I tried both of the beds but they were equally hard), my thoughts too active.

For the last few weeks I have been sort-of looking for a new job for when my current contract comes to an end.  Have just attended a recruitment weekend for a post at an Institute no-one has ever heard of (but connected to a big organisation everyone will know).  Four candidates for one position.  The lead came from Terry, who is head of a PR agency I used to work for.  Arriving Thursday evening, each morning we went by cab to the Institute for tests, interviews, role playing (ugh).  Weird questions suddenly asked (sharply pointing at me:  "give five reasons why you like coffee... if you were a dog what would you be... what things are you bad at...").

Didn't particularly like the other three candidates, so I suppose I failed the socialising test.

Dinner at a restaurant on the Friday evening with various panjandrums attending (never seen them before, but they knew all about me).

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Giles Fraser, former Canon Chancellor of St Paul's cathedral, has his own agent

Disappointed to learn in yesterday's Guardian that Giles Fraser, former Canon Chancellor of St Paul's cathedral, has his own agent (as if he were a football star or an X-Factor winner).

Does that explain why, when the protesters started to wander down from Paternoster Square to the front of St Paul's and the police looked as if they were going to keep them moving, Canon Fraser rushed forward to be "provocative" and "controversial" and all the other things his agent must be urging him to be?  Was a desire for headlines behind his impetuous statements on that day when he ordered the police off the steps of the cathedral?  Has the Chapter of St Paul's and the diocese of London been plunged into chaos to advance Giles Fraser's media career?

The cult of celebrity corrupts every part of modern society.  Previously limited to the entertainment industry, we now have celebrities in every conceivable walk of life (cooks, lawyers, historians etc).  Even, it seems, celebrity vicars.

The worship of celebrities corresponds to the veneration of idols in a pre-modern pagan society.  Often celebrities are openly described (without irony) as idols.  Often commentators such as Marina Hyde (who perhaps aspires to celebrity status herself ) openly describe themselves as "pagan".

The Church of England is still Established in England.  This is still officially a Christian country.  But if it is going to regress to a pagan society, has anyone given any thought as to what that pagan society is going to look like?

Will it be deadly dull earnest debates at Kings Place with Richard Dawkins pontificating about the new humanist ascendancy? 

Or will we have animal sacrifices on top of Parliament Hill (I am assuming human sacrifices will not be allowed); entrails consulted before important decisions; continuous teenage vampire dramas on TV etc?

Tuesday, November 01, 2011


Above:  I am totally mesmerised by the idea that the North Sea was once solid land ("Doggerland") and a mesolithic society stretched from Britain to Denmark, complete with villages, stone circles, and all the other attributes of the middle Stone Age.

Above:  whenever I go over to the North Sea coast I look out for fossils that might emerge from the eroding shore.

Above:  I found this book a bit too technical.  Hardly any thought is given to protecting the archaeological remains that must lie on the seabed.  Would we allow dredging and gravel removal from Flag Fen?

Above:  this book was more accessible. 

Above:  recently I went to Kings Lynn Museum to look at the remains of Sea Henge, a wooden circle that was found on the Norfolk coast (although originally constructed on the tidal marshes, the site was subsequently covered with sand which preserved the circle).  I know Sea Henge is Bronze Age, not mesolithic, but it gives you an indication of the fabulous remains that must exist on the seabed of Doggerland.  I asked at the British Museum if they had any artifacts from the North Sea and they just looked at me blankly.

Above:  in the centre of Sea Henge was a massive upturned oak tree.  The museum didn't present the Sea Henge artifacts very well, and some of the museum staff were off-hand.  The captions to the items were sometimes bizarre - you got the impression that they had dumbed everything down for visiting school parties instead of concentrating on the academic aspects of the display. 

Above:  the History Channel showed a programme on Doggerland called Stone Age Atlantis, which is an excellent introduction to the subject - you can see it again on YouTube.

Above:  so when you are next on the North Sea coast, instead of straight-away plunging into the freezing cold water (although I know what a refreshing experience that can be) spend a few minutes considering what archaeological treasures lie at your feet, and how our mesolithic ancestors walked this land before us.