Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Have just watched on Newsnight a discussion about the Wolf report into vocational education.

It is difficult to avoid the suspicion that the teaching profession has corrupted the education system to ensure their schools get better ratings in the School League Tables - apparently they were putting children on courses that led nowhere and resulted in worthless qualifications.

https://www.education.gov.uk/publications/standard/publicationDetail/Page1/DFE-00031-2011 

Black XS L'Exces features punk star Iggy Pop
















Paco Rabanne's new commercial for Black XS L'Exces features punk star Iggy Pop.

I'm sure they have researched the market and tested the concept and talked through endlessly all the various scenarios.

And I understand they want to attract a young audience by being shocking.

But if I asked you the simple question:  "what does punk rock smell like" what would you say?

Iggy Pop himself is no doubt a very clean and fragrant person.

And  I know many agencies discount the idea of subliminal impressions.

Nevertheless I come back to the question:  "in your mind what does punk rock smell like" ?

"Reactionary and divisive"




















Ed Miliband has attacked the SNP's policy of nationalism from an intellectual standpoint.  It is about time someone challenged Alex Salmond to defend nationalism as a political philosophy.  Ed Miliband called the SNP "reactionary and divisive".

Nationalism has been discredited in western Europe since the 1940s.
Lunchtime - watching Jo Coburn interview people about the growing crisis in the Falkland Islands (BBC2).

The Argentine government is sabre-rattling and has imposed an economic blockade on the islands.  As Argentina is an unstable country the fear is that some volatile part of the Argentine military will launch a freelance attack on the Falklands.  The British government has sent HMS Dauntless to the south Atlantic (specifically to destroy Argentine aircraft should an attack be attempted).

Personally I think if Argentina were to attack Britain a second time we would be justified in destroying military bases on mainland Argentina (and ideally imposing a demilitarised status on them).



Monday, January 30, 2012

Rachel Reeves, Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury, was floundering on Newsnight tonight.  "As Tony says... as Tony says... as Tony says..."  Not having anything original to say suggested she had not prepared properly for the programme - always a fatal mistake.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Numinous





















Above:  drab day, overcast and cold.  In the afternoon a drive to a village in the south east of the county.  Half a dozen houses, a ringwork "castle" and a stone church outwardly medieval but actually 1865.  I had to get the key from a cottage opposite.  Large number of mud-encrusted wellington boots outside the back door, lying any old how.  The churchwarden, an elderly lady, accompanied me round the church - coughing with the cold air.  The graveyard spongy underfoot.



















Above:  the old rectory could be seen from the graveyard, monstrous in appearance.  This is the back which is dated 1804 - the front was put on in 1888.  Fragment of a Saxon cross used as a garden ornament.




















Above:  the interior was untouched Victorian.  Plastic coverings everywhere because bats live in the building (and as a protected species cannot be ejected.  I was very impressed by the candelabras either side of the altar.

A numinous building.  I am glad I made the effort to visit it.  The congregation is tiny, so who knows how long it will remain open.
In the Observer today I read Andrew Rawnsley writing about the Scottish referendum.

Has Alex Salmond really referred to Scotland as an occupied country?  What an idiot.  Occupied by whom? 

"Steampunk"?















Above is a screen print from the BBC website.

Watching Andrew Neil's Sunday Politics earlier today I noticed the programme's logo.  It is actually a logotype with a font that must have been especially created for the programme.  Is this font "steampunk"?

Saturday, January 28, 2012

I try to be well-organised - the past week at work

Monday

Most key people were out the office today.

I wrote an article for a publication, listed my key objectives for the next 12 months, talked to John Johnson (IT assistant).

But mostly I was bored.

Tuesday

Back from holiday was Denise Cavendish who I had not yet met.  Admin assistant and a silly woman, always gossipping (not in a nice way).  Because she sits near me she is difficult to ignore.

A meeting with Senior Campaigns Manager Keith Chandler.  Working with him is very stressful.  He is badly organised and leaves things until the last moment.

Lunchtime I went to a new supermarket that opened today.  It was almost completely empty of people with only a few shoppers wandering through.  The aisles too high so that it had a claustrophobic feel.

In the afternoon I continued with the marketing plan.

Wednesday

For the third night running I woke from a deep sleep at 3.30 then found it difficult to get back to sleep.  Eventually I got up at 7 not at all rested.  Consequently I was tired all of today. 

Most of the morning I was in a meeting with a list broker, trying to segment various populations.

In the afternoon a discussion with Campaign Manager Callum Smith about the merits of direct mail as opposed to digital communications (direct mail costs more and is less easy to evaluate but gets better results over the long term).

Thursday

I try to be well-organised, but this is no guarantee I will not feel stressed (which for me occurs when I am not in control of things.

Because I had a deadline to meet I left the office (too many interruptions) and went with my laptop to a coffee shop in a local mall.  Coffee and Bakewell tarts.  On sofas nearby were three young business women drinking coffee and talking office politics.  I had no idea where they worked, but I understood immediately the situations they were facing.  Eventually they tottered off on their high heels carrying ridiculous handbags (one covered in fur).  When they had gone I was the only person in the coffee shop apart from the assistant.

Having sent my article off to a magazine I felt able to relax in the afternoon.  I tried to establish a better relationship with Keith Chandler and talked to him about Newcastle United FC (he claims to know Mike Ashley).  Also I talked to the Institute's Director Vijay Singh about the Balochi people in Iran.

Friday

Nearly two hours this morning replying to e-mails.

Then into a meeting with Deputy Director Lois Cooper.  We were supposed to be discussing the launch of new campaigns, but often we talked about psychology, history, and the cultural legacy of the Jewish people in eastern Europe.  We got on so well that I didn't like to mention that her marketing plans were completely unrealistic.

When I got home this evening there was a new moon in the sky and the church bells were ringing (practice).
Having read in the Times Literary Supplement about chick maceration (the decimation of baby chicks by feeding them live into grinders) makes me seriously question whether I can go on eating eggs.

What further horrors has the world of factory farming got to reveal?

It's one thing after another.

Article by Vikram Dodd on the front page of the Guardian

Disappointing article by Vikram Dodd on the front page of the Guardian today.

By giving credence to the claim that the Metropolitan Police are "institutionally racist" without investigating the charge dispassionately Vikram Dodd is just indulging in lazy journalism.  It makes no difference that he was repeating an accusation made by Doreen Lawrence.  He has a duty to compare and contrast the stop and search statistics he quoted, and balance them against the London crime figures by ethnic origin.

Otherwise the Guardian risks being relegated to the status of a sensationalist newspaper (intriguing perhaps, but without value).

Giving extended coverage to the views of Doreen Lawrence also presents difficulties.  Obviously one can sympathise with a mother who has lost a child.  But we should not expect someone suffering extreme grief over an extended period of time to look at the world rationally - any more than Mohammed Fayed was rational over the death of his son, or the parents of Stuart Lubbock were rational over the death of their son.

Certainly we should not allow emotion to decide public policy (which is where the 1997 political reaction that led to the MacPherson Inquiry and its aftermath made so many fundamental mistakes).

It is possible that the murderers of Stephen Lawrence were uniquely evil monsters created by the inherent racism of the British state (the MacPherson report singled out the Civil Service, local governments, the National Health Service, schools, and the judicial system) and that this requires a total cultural revolution to purge British society of "racists" at every level.

Equally it is possible that the tragic death of Stephen Lawrence was just another stabbing, among hundreds of other tragic stabbings, in a complex and pernicious pattern of gangs and gang-related crime that permeates London housing estates.

By allowing emotion to sway the arguments we risk going off at tangents and therefore not tracing the crime to its root cause.

I am also not happy at the way politicians jump on the Stephen Lawrence bandwagon - whether it is Diane Abbott and her Twitter posts or Jack Straw (on the Today programme talking to James Naughtie) shooting his mouth off about "racism" in football.

Friday, January 27, 2012

"Dogs of British imperialists"

A leading academic at "Peking" University (not Beijing, even though the report appeared in the Guardian) has accused the population of Hong Kong as "dogs of British imperialists". 

This is flattering to the United Kingdom in a number of ways. 

1  It assumes we still have some kind of hegemonic imperial influece in the Far East, whereas in reality those days are long gone.

2  Two thirds of the population of Hong Kong do not feel any affinity with Mainland China, which indicates they prefer the old colonial set-up which ended in 1997 (being exploited and oppressed by the arrogant colonial British is preferable to the "liberty" and "freedom" of independence - someone should tell Alex Salmond this!).

3  In the days when China was genuinely communist the United Kingdom was routinely described as "top hat imperialist running dogs" but this new accusation indicates we now have running dogs of our own, which presumably is a promotion of some sort.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/jan/24/chinese-professor-hong-kong-dogs

Melanie Phillips

Question Time yesterday included Melanie Phillips on the panel. 

Melanie Phillips is a writer for the Daily Mail newspaper and won the Orwell Prize for Journalism in 1996.

She is routinely attacked and characterised as a strident (to the point of hysteria) apologist for the extreme right.

But last night I thought she argued coherently and was logical and across all the questions (four or five - Iran, drugs, benefits culture etc) she made a lot of sense.

They need to refocus by placing the customer at the centre of their attention

I don't often go into Tescos, but on a recent visit I noticed that the checkout assistant no longer hands you a receipt when you have handed over your money.

Instead you have to take the receipt from a dispenser at the end of the checkout.

Why have the stupid idiots done this?

They should be seeking to maximise interaction with the checkout assistant, who is representing Tesco and MUST say a proper "thank you" (and perhaps smile if they feel like it) when a customer has just spent £80 or £100 on their weekly shop.

Now the assistant just expects you to go away at the end of the transaction and by the time you take your receipt they are already directing their attention to the next in the queue.

Tesco recently reported a fall in sales and its worst performance in twenty years - they need to refocus by placing the customer at the centre of their attention.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Coriolanus

















On Monday I went to see the film Coriolanus at the Odeon in Tottenham Court Road.

I have never seen the play, so was not sure what to expect.  The film is directed by Ralph Fiennes who also stars as Caius Martius Coriolanus.  It is a very professional piece, credible and engrossing throughout.

In particular Vanessa Redgrave is magnificent as Volumnia.  When you consider she is in her mid-70s, she has the energy, charisma and authority of someone in her thirties.  This was a very great performance.

The film was set in contemporary times, but this did not intrude on the interpretation.  In any case, in all his plays Shakespeare is exploring the human condition in Elizabethan and Jacobean England, and almost all the themes of Coliolanus (family, loyalty, patria, honour, political manipulation, the right of the majority to be wrong etc) are relevant to the United Kingdom today.  Everything about the film is assured.

Coriolanus is two hours long, and before going into the cinema I wondered if I could endure it.  Shakespeare done badly can be unendurable.  But from the first moment I was entirely absorbed in the drama.

There is a good review in this week's Times Literary Supplement.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Am watching Press Preview on Sky News.  Both Zoe Williams and Iain Dale think Alex Salmond's proposed referendum question is "leading".  Perhaps the Electoral Commission will intervene and insist on a neutral question.

SNP consultation paper on a referendum for Scottish independence



















Above:  this year we are trying a vegetarian haggis (bought from Sainsburys) plus a bottle of Bells whisky.

Today is Burns Night - an annual celebration of the life and work of the poet Robert Burns.

This year the day has been hijacked by the Scottish National Party who have chosen to use today to launch the SNP consultation paper on a referendum for Scottish independence (they supposedly plan to hold the actual referendum on the 700th anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn 1314 although it is not clear they will be allowed to affiliate a historic anniversary for electoral purposes, especially as it would mean holding the election on a Sunday).

Therefore I think it is important for ordinary people throughout the United Kingdom to reclaim Burns Night from the SNP - great artists and poets are the inheritance of all humanity should not be retrospectively co-opted into nationalist programmes.

Probably any referendum will just be confined to Scotland, and people in the rest of the United Kingdom will not be involved (not even people who were born in Scotland).

However the ordinary people in the rest of the United Kingdom can go over the heads of the SNP and talk directly (via Facebook, blogs, Twitter etc) to the ordinary people of Scotland.

Therefore as someone who is entirely English my Burns Night message to the people of Scotland is: don't leave us.  Stay with us in the United Kingdom.  Let us continue to share our common island home and (I sincerely hope) share our common Parliament at Westminster.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Alex Salmond interviewed on Newsnight

Have just watched Alex Salmond interviewed on Newsnight by Jeremy Paxman.

Why is this person so popular in Scotland?  It is inexplicable.  Or perhaps he is not popular, the other party leaders were so dire they made him look good (all the other main parties now have new leaders so perhaps the position will change).

Throughout the interview he was sarcastic and flippant and said "Jeremy" in almost every single sentence - presumably an attempt to patronise.




Echoes 2




















Above:  Alfred Moore's Midsummer normally in the Russell-Cotes Museum in Bournemouth (one of my favourite museums).  Young woman in a white robe and orange cloak sits on a heavy wooden throne, head wreathed with flowers.  She is attended by two women wearing white robes and orange cloaks.

The image is available:  http://nl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bestand:Moore_Albert_Midsummer.jpg 















Above:  still from Lana Del Rey's official video of Born To Die.  Young woman in a white robe (no orange cloak) sits on a heavy wooden throne, head wreathed with flowers.  She is attended by two tigers, white and orange stripes.

Official video:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bag1gUxuU0g&ob=av2n

The best way to absorb magnesium
















I have a family history of heart disease and so have to be careful about my health.

Someone advised me that putting Epsom Salts in a hot bath is good for you - not just for the heart but for all sorts of health issues.

So I bought some tubs of Epsom Salts (99p each) and put them in a bath and laid in the water for about fifteen minutes.  It's supposed to be the best way to absorb magnesium, which many people are deficient in.  Certainly made me feel very relaxed.

You would never get this advice from the NHS - any treatment the drug companies can't make a profit from they are not interested in.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Two superb photographs by Tom Jenkins in the sports section of yesterday's Guardian.  He has a knack of isolating elements so that they convey personality.  The first picture made you look at the eyebrows of a soccer player; the second drew attention to the light on the hairs on a rugby player's arm (as well as outlining his profile with a subtle nimbus).

I waited and waited

After lunch a drive to a village on the flat plains.

Windy day, but the air balmy and mild.

I had been to the church before, some years ago, and had obtained the key from the village stores.  This time however the girl behind the counter looked at me blankly and had to ask someone "out the back".  A middle aged woman directed me to the churchwarden's house, a confusing complicated route along local lanes.

Eventually I arrived at a farmhouse, but the churchwarden and farmer was in the packhouse - more confusing directions down rough tracks to a collection of remote barns.

In a prefab cabin I found a young man in grey overalls and asked for the farmer.  He asked me to wait.  I waited and waited.

After about twenty minutes the farmer appeared, a short wiry man aged 65 or 70, grey hair and a largish nose (enlarged pores).  He was formally dressed in a light brown suit, white shirt and a tie.  However the suit was smeared with large black grease stains covering about fifty per cent of the cloth and so ingrained that they were obviously of some age - layers upon layers of grease.

I asked for the key and he asked why I wanted it.  I explained I was writing a book on the history of the area (not untrue, I do plan to write something eventually).  He asked whether I had been confirmed and when I said yes he went over to a desk (unbelievably untidy and heaped with papers) and from a drawer produced a big heavy key, about a foot long.

On Andrew Neil's Sunday Politics discussion of Ed Miliband's personal rating being only 4% among Labour supporters.  Chuka Umunna MP anodyne and ineffectual in response.  He should have pointed out that years away from an election the Labour party needs a policy wonk like Ed Miliband in charge developing ideas for 2015, not a rabble-rousing Neil Kinnock type who will make a lot of indignant noise then fall flat on his face.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

It all seemed to go well - the past week at work

Monday 

The "highly confidential" excursion last week was a flop.  Friday morning I did some freelance work, then early afternoon drove to the northern home counties and booked into the hotel, meeting Keith Chandler (Senior Campaign Manager).  We seemed to have the hotel to ourselves.  Half-bored half-excited we walked around the ground floor rooms, not daring to go out into the gardens in case "the balloon goes up" (an expression Keith Chandler used frequently).  Director Vijay Singh arrived and fidgeted non-stop.  At 7.30 we had dinner, then waited around some more.

At 3am it became clear that the meeting was not going to go ahead, so we all went to bed.

I the morning when Keith Chandler and I met at breakfast we found that Vijay Singh had already left.  I asked Keith Chandler if this sort of expedition was typical.  He told me no.

When I got to the Institute Monday morning Vijay Singh was in his office all morning and not to be disturbed.  When we met at midday I half-expected a debrief about the failed presentation, but nothing was said.  When I asked Keith Chandler what had gone wrong he told me "best not to ask".

The team that had gone to the exhibition on Friday asked Keith Chandler where he had been.  He told them he had been ill.  I spent the day writing Campaign Plans.



Tuesday

Most of the morning a briefing from telephone research supervisor Abi Reed (large young woman, black hair, pugnacious manner).

In the afternoon a briefing with the archive team downstairs - I tried not to appear bored.

Long discussion in the afternoon about magistrates' courts and whether they work properly or not.

An unannounced visit from the large "sister organisation" the Institute works for.  Alec Nussbaum is supposedly a trouble-maker, always interfering in the Institute.  On this occasion he rifled through our campaign plans rubbishing our efforts in a way that was highly offensive ("I'm inwardly seething" Campaign Manager Callum Smith told me quietly).

When I went home I tried a new route - there were no traffic hold-ups, and the scenery was nicer, but I didn't get home any quicker.

Wednesday

In my new position at the Institute I have considerable purchasing powers.  I decided to hold a review of printers and designers the Institute uses, and invited Joey (a designer I worked with some years ago) to quote.  Although he is based in south London, the projects are sufficiently large for it to be worth his while to travel to the Institute.  He arrived this afternoon waddling into the office with his familiar bow-legged walk.  Returned from an overseas holiday so that his face was almost black (no exaggeration).  He talked about various football injuries he had experienced.

News that I had reviewed suppliers must have spread quickly, as the managing director of the main print and design company used for our reports came to see me in person later in the afternoon (I wonder who at the Institute had tipped him off).  I told him he would still receive commissions but would no longer be the sole supplier.  He hinted he might go over my head.

I had to hang around until well past 6pm before I could talk to Deputy Director Lois Cooper.  We discussed an article that is to be "placed" in a magazine.  Then I sat at my PC and drafted it, got approval from Lois Cooper, then sent it off.
 
Thursday

A whole day spent on databases - integral to the Institute's work.

Friday

I find myself drinking more coffee in this new job.  This is mainly because people keep offering to make me one, and it seems ungracious to refuse.  But I want to get back to drinking two litres of water a day.

At 3pm Callum Smith and myself presented a Campaign Plan to Director Vijay Singh.  This was a key moment for me, as most of the plan was my work.  It all seemed to go well, and the questions were interested ones rather than the critical pulling-apart that Vijay Singh is renowned for.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Echoes




















Above:  I was interested to see this picture in The Guardian yesterday where one of their writers has recreated a painting by Van Gogh.  Not sure why this sort of thing has an effect on me, but it does.  You can see other echoes of great art elsewhere in the media.











Above:  for instance, a recent TV commercial for Benylyn cough mixture showed a man in bed with an incubus on his chest.  It seems to echo Henry Fuseli's painting The Nightmare.  It's very effective.










Above:  And the video for Aviici's Levels (a remix of Flo Rider's Good Feeling) shows an office worker pushing a rock up a mountain in an echo of Titian's Sisyphus in the Prado (copyright on this picture has expired).


Good Feeling is one of those songs that just goes round and round in my mind.  Not sure how it got there.  It's not the sort of thing I would choose to listen to.

The Levels video is fascinating (I think so anyway).  A bored office clerk in a sort of "living death in the Buying Department" existence begins to behave erratically and is eventually tasered by Security.  Hospitalised in a sort of Quincy MD facility, he vomits foam in the shape of a white flower.  Two hospital attendants become contaminated by this foam and infected by the disorder.  The infection spreads to a nurse who appears absolutely terrified (this is great acting!).  Senior consultants literally run for their lives along the drab 1970s corridors.

It's a classic!  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_ovdm2yX4MA&ob=av2e

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

John Bell is a "useful fool"

Very biased pro-independence Thought For The Day broadcast on Radio 4 this morning.  John Bell from the Iona Community told us (in very thinly veiled language) that the SNP's political programme was "holy", which suggests John Bell is a "useful fool" (in the Lenin sense).  There seems to be an unusual and unhealthy link between religion and the SNP, with Alex Salmond claiming divine endorsement for his policies (which lets him off the hook of having to justify them on rational grounds).

What is unacceptable is that the BBC should allow this sort of thing to go out in the middle of a referendum campaign (presumably they are going to balance this with a pro-Unionist Thought For The Day?).

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Reading














Above:  have finished reading Howards End and have now started Disputed Land by Tim Pears.

For all the quasi-socialism and proto-feminism of Howards End, basically EM Forster seemed to be endorsing the permanence of farming families living in a sustainable relationship with the land.

Appalled by the state of Knole and have just sent them a donation.  Knole is inseparable (in my mind) from Vita Sackville-West's Knole and the Sackvilles (although the book is effectively a work of imaginative fiction).  How can the National Trust just let the place fall down?

What is wrong with the Labour Party?


















Above:  policy chart drawn up by Tom Clark for the Guardian in June last year (if you click on the image you should be able to read the text).  I have often looked through this chart, as it places on a single sheet of paper all of Labour's policy options.  A matrix of this kind is essential to effective PR - to my mind Ed Miliband is being let down by his PR operation.

I am currently watching Channel 4 News (I'm hoping to see a report on the YouGov poll for Channel 4 News on the Scottish referendum).

Have just seen Jon Snow interview Ed Miliband who dismissed Jon Snow's sneers that he was in the power of the union "paymasters".  Ed Miliband seems to be coming under a lot of unreasonable criticism at the moment.  What is wrong with the Labour Party?  Do they seriously think that the party can have any effect on government policy so many years away from the election?  All they can do is plan for the future, concentrating on innovative and attractive policies in each of the areas of the above chart.  Anything else is just meaningless posturing that will count for nothing in 2015.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Royal Yacht

Currently watching the Press Preview on Sky News.

Kevin Maguire from the Daily Mirror has just made an attack on the purchase of a new Royal Yacht, in what seemed an old-fashioned spiteful politics-of-envy spasm.

The project is to be financed by private donations, and the numbers are not great:

Eight people donating ten million pounds each; or eighty people donating a million pounds each; or a million people donating £80 each.

I am happy to pledge £80 to the Royal Yacht fund (and this is not taking money away from other good causes - I already give £70 a month to charities in direct debits and a further £14 a month to CAF for ad hoc donations).

Thank you Kevin Maguire for annoying me sufficiently that I am now motivated to support this fund.
Various people seem to be of the opinion that if Scotland becomes independent the United Kingdom comes to an end.

This is not my understanding.

When southern Ireland left the United Kingdom in 1922 there was no change in status of the United Kingdom (the new title United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland being affirmed in a 1927 Act of Parliament).

Therefore the United Kingdom will continue, whatever the result of the Scottish referendum.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Overnight stay



Above: overnight stay at a country-house hotel in Buckinghamshire. The house has a long history, and was once used by an exiled French king. Arrived late afternoon, the damp January day adding a melancholy air to the beautiful landscape.



Above: on a nearby knoll, as if it were a garden ornament, was the local parish church dressed in Strawberry Hill gothic. It was not raining, but there was a persistent drip of water from the trees, condensed droplets from the mist.  A cold damp melancholy day.




Above:  inside the rooms were very grand.  Hardly any other guests, so it seemed as if we had the place to ourselves.  After dinner I walked the enfilade of state rooms looking out at the gardens ethereal in the moonlight.



Above:  fabulous gothic staircase.  One of the waiters said the hotel is used as an overflow for Chequers (no idea if that is true or not).  Another waiter said Margaret Thatcher came here to write her memoirs (again, no idea if this is true).



Above:  I slept well, and waking the next morning I drew back the curtains to look out at the view.  I could have sat on that window seat for hours, so mesmerising was the countryside.  Although the morning was cold the freshness of the air was exhilerating.



Above:  drawing back more curtains I found a narrow door that led onto part of the roof.  Pot plants and garden furniture.  Despite the dampness I made myself a cup of coffee (UHT milk) and sat out in this private little terrace.

Then I showered, dressed, and went down to breakfast.

How can they use another country's currency?
















Above:  statue of Ariel (from The Tempest) on top of a cupola at the Bank of England.

Earlier today I watched Andrew Neil's Sunday Politics which discussed what currency an independent Scotland might use.  The SNP insists they will use the Pound Sterling ("Sterling is a convertable currency and we would be using it" said an MSP interviewed on the programme - I didn't catch his name).  But how can they use another country's currency?  What are the mechanics whereby notes and coins are going to find their way into Scottish banks and cash points?  Are they going to buy pounds from the Bank of England?  If so, presumably they will have to pay for them in gold?

Or will they have their own version of the Pound (the "Poond" as suggested in yesterday's Guardian), print their own banknotes and fix the value to the Pound Sterling?  This will presumably cause them a lot of problems as Alex Salmond's administration is a big spender.  A PWC report in 2009 said that the public sector in Scotland was 50% of GDP - what will the credit rating agencies make of all this?

The SNP's strategy is to steer discussion away from issues such as the currency and focus on the process of the referendum.  For instance there is currently a lot of sidestepping about when they are going to talk to the Westminster government about the legality and fairness of the way the referendum will be run.  If there are to be extra questions on the referendum paper then surely a question on the currency must be a priority?

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Mostly a "tarting up" of existing campaigns - the past week at work

Monday 

When I arrived at the office this morning I was met by Campaign Manager Callum Smith and talking to him took up the first hour.  Then a drive across the city to a digital printer who was producing another of the Institute's reports.  Because many of the reports are quite specialised they have small print-runs and limited distribution.

When I returned from the printer it was to go into a meeting with Campaign Managers Callum Smith and Keith Chandler and the Institute's Director Vijay Singh.  I was conscious of not having much to contribute.  One of the items they discussed was whether to do more press releases ("we find we are more effective when we work behind the media instead of putting our stuff in the media").

I rang my last employer (the NGO) to remind them I had not had my final payment.

The afternoon was quite hectic as I prepared for the exhibition the Institute is attending this weekend (I will not be going).  A problem was the stream of wrong information that I kept getting from Keith Chandler.  He is not a "details" sort of person.
 
Tuesday

The warm weather prevented me from sleeping.  I woke at 3am and just dozed until 7.  I have even turned off the heater in my bedroom and removed the eiderdown from my bed. 

In the morning a meeting with Vijay Singh to fix my priorities for the rest of January.  It is a relief to work with someone who is consistent.  He is a mysterious character, saying little about why he is involved with the Institute.

Lunchtime I went to a service (half-hour Holy Communion) at a local church - cavernous and High Church, with lots of Marianist touches.  Holy water just inside the door.  The altar-piece was Edwardian - a Madonna and Child (Mary holding a pomegranate) with nasturtiums and what looked like periwinkles).

Work on the Institute's various databases of opinion-formers.

Wednesday

During the morning a meeting with Campaign Manager Callum Smith.  We got on very well and outlined the various campaigns he wants to take place over the next six months (some new initiatives, but mostly a "tarting up" of existing campaigns).  Then we were called into Vijay Singh's office to watch a presentation about a problem area he wishes us to address.

In the afternoon I finally got the literature done for the exhibition this weekend.

Thursday

The leaflets for the exhibition were delivered by the digital printer (we had to pay rush charges to get them done in time).  Several compliments about the leaflets from various people.  A rehearsal for the exhibition held in Vijay Singh's office (I just sat at the back and watched).

In the afternoon there was little to do so I allowed myself to relax (and do nothing).

Friday

Because most people from the Institute had aready left to go to the exhibition I took today as holiday.  At home I used the day to catch up with my work for two freelance clients I give marketing advice to.  These two clients pay me more than the Institute, and only take a few hours each month, but the work could end at any moment.

Joan McAlpine will be Chairing the Committee on Un-Scottish Activities

I watched the Parliament Channel while waiting for Dateline London to come on.  It was a session from the Scottish Parliament.  And there was Joan McAlpine in the notorious incident where she says people who do not agree with the SNP are "anti-Scottish".

Presumably if Scotland does become independent Joan McAlpine will be Chairing the Committee on Un-Scottish Activities.

However, the incident does identify one flaw in the SNP - Alex Salmond does not have complete control of his party and various individuals are liable to make embarrasing off-message remarks.

How many of these remarks will be necessary to bring his party down - the number is not great.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Douglas Alexander made Nicola Sturgeon squirm over some statement about patriotism made in the Scottish parliament "by Alex Salmond's aide".

Not sure what this is all about, but it made the Deputy First Minister squirm.
Nicola Sturgeon rather wasted her opportunity to talk about Scottish independence by joshing with Kelvin McKenzie and making silly comments about the World Cup (she is not good a humour).

Question Time

I am watching Question Time - David Dimbleby has just made Kelvin McKenzie look a complete idiot over whether Labour needs its Scottish seats to form a government.

John Swinney just huffed and puffed

At lunchtime I watched the BBC's Andrew Neil interview MSP John Swinney about the Scottish referendum.

John Swinney was unable to answer any of the questions put to him.

It was a pathetic performance.

So far the SNP ministers have just had deferential local media to deal with.  To have someone of the stature of Andrew Neil actually in the Edinburgh parliament building asking them hard questions is an entirely new development.  John Swinney just huffed and puffed.

The referendum campaign is going to last until "autumn" 2014.  It will be a bruising experience for the SNP, and one they may not survive in the long run (unless they get their policies seriously sorted out).  One thousand days of squirming and trying to change the subject is going to make them look ridiculous.

Alex Salmond's contemptuous rejection of David Cameron's offer of a referendum within eighteen months may prove to have been a miscalculation.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The referendum campaign has begun in earnest












Above:  Alex Salmond is supposedly Scotland's most popular politician, but to my eyes he appears pompous and very slightly camp.  His party have appropriated the Scottish flag as their emblem, although this is clearly an improper use of the saltire.  Because Scotland is such a small world politically, it is difficult for a critical press to operate - "difficult" journalists tend to get frozen out.

It would appear that David Cameron set a trap for the SNP and Alex Salmond walked right into it.


By making an issue of the timing of a referendum, David Cameron has provoked the nationalists into announcing (in a way that brooks no argument) that the plebiscite will be in the last quarter of 2014. Now that the date has been announced the referendum campaign has begun in earnest, and all the areas that the SNP has so far preferred not to discuss (border arrangements, Euro membership, debt allocations etc) are going to come under intense scrutiny. The length of the campaign is also likely to count against the SNP as there are a number of contradictions in the independence argument that they are now obliged to address in some detail.

The date of the referendum, the number of questions to be asked, the electorate that will qualify to vote, and the electoral monitoring authority are all areas that are now being prised from Alex Salmond’s grasp.

To look at these in turn:

Although a late date for the referendum is supposed to be to the SNP’s advantage this is not necessarily so. The “arc of prosperity” (central to SNP economic policy) is not likely to return any time soon, and a longer campaign is going to tell more heavily on the nationalists than on the unionists. Also, by provoking the SNP on an issue of relatively minor importance David Cameron has made Alex Salmond appear obdurate and unreasonable.

The number of questions on the referendum paper is a crucial element, and it is by no means certain that Alex Salmond will get more than a simple Yes or No question. Although the SNP won a mandate for a referendum on independence, they do not have a mandate to ask additional questions. And if more questions are to be added, why just one additional question on “Devo Max”? Why not ask whether an independent Scotland should join the Euro, or become a republic, or indeed whether the new country should remain in the EU (since in the last poll on the subject a majority of Scottish people wanted to leave the EU)? Alex Salmond says that the wording of the question needs to be decided “in Scotland” but this is not entirely correct. The Coalition government has a legal duty of care to ensure that the referendum is carried out fairly and democratically. Alex Salmond cannot complain that Westminster has this duty of care as the “reserved power” over constitutional issues was in the Devolution settlement of 1997 which Alex Salmond himself campaigned for. If Westminster failed to exercise a proper duty of care then they would be open to legal challenge and the referendum itself could be declared by the courts as invalid. So it is very far from certain whether the SNP are going to get their way over the wording.

On the issue of whether 16 and 17 year-olds should be given a vote in the referendum, this appears (to my eyes) as a blatant attempt at gerrymandering and may well backfire on Alex Salmond if he insists of the point. In any case, young people do not tend to vote. And if the point if conceded that the electorate should be widened, why not also include people born in Scotland who now live elsewhere?

The issue of whether the referendum should be monitored by the Electoral Commission or not is another area where public opinion is surely going to favour the status quo (the alternative would be to risk Scotland looking like a banana republic where dodgy electoral fixes take place).

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Adela Quested


















I have seen the film Howards End many times, but I had not read the book until last week.

In one of the early chapters EM Foster describes a luncheon of blue-stocking women, and one of the party is referred to as "Miss Quested" who plays an unidentifed musical instrument.

Is this the same Adela Quested from Forster's A Passage to India?  If so, it helps to explain the development of one of the most complex and enigmatic characters of twentieth-century literature.  Howard's End was written in 1910 and A Passage to India in 1924, so assuming Miss Quested was 20 in the first book, she would have been 34 in the second - just desperate enough to go out on the "fishing fleet" to India.

A Passage to India is on one of the satellite channels on 29th January.

Monday, January 09, 2012

Watching Nicola Sturgeon on Newsnight, she is saying that the proposals on the independence referendum have "backfired" on David Cameron.  That the government is in "disarray" over the issue.  That it is already back-tracking.

And yet everything we know about David Cameron indicates he has probably laid a trap for the SNP.

Sunday, January 08, 2012



















It's been a week since I made my New Year's Resolutions, which included not buying any books for a whole year.

And yet I still find myself hanging onto book catalogues which continue to entice me.


A World History of Nineteenth-Century Archaeology - Nationalism, Colonialism, and the Past by Margarita Diaz-Andreu.

Ancient Rome as a Museum - Power, Identity, and the Culture of Collecting by Steven Rutledge.
   
Rural Settlements and Society in Anglo-Saxon England by Helena Hamerow.


I wonder if other addicts have this craving?

Saturday, January 07, 2012

"This is of course confidential" - the past week at work

Tuesday

The long Christmas and New Year finally over.  The weather, a loud storm, kept me awake so that I didn't get much sleep.  When I got up at 6.30 the storm was still raging although the temperature seemed fairly mild.

Thirty mile drive to my new job, which is at an Institute located in an office on an Enterprise Park in a nondescript city.  I was immediately welcomed by Office Manager Bridget O'Farrell (tallish, slim, aged about twenty-five, fair curly hair cut short and boyish, green eyes, very freckled face and arms).  She showed me my new desk, brought me some coffee, told me all the general office things I needed to know.

A tall young man (a boy really) came up and introduced himself as IT and Accounts Assistant John Johnson.  He gave a rough overview of the technical facilities available.  He then set up my new work e-mail (I declined the offer of an official mobile phone as I can barely keep track of my own one).

Then Bridget took me on a tour of the offices, introducing me to the twenty-nine staff who were in that day (the Director of the Institute was out all day).

A programme of briefings had been arranged for me, and I spent the rest of the morning talking to Development Manager Tim Watts (aged about thirty, short ginger hair, very pale blue eyes).  He was hesitant and unsure about what he should tell me.  Everything he said was prefigured "this is of course confidential".

In the afternoon a briefing with Campaign Manager Keith Chandler (aged thirty-eight, ex-RAF, very hearty, well-built, double-breasted dark suit, moustache clipped short in the military style).  He gave me a not entirely coherent description of forthcoming projects.  He told me I would enjoy working at the Institute.

When 5 o'clock arrived I went home.

Wednesday

The new journey to work is congested, so that I had to wait in a line of traffic just to get into the city.

I was due to have another meeting with Keith Chandler this morning but he put it off, while at the same time giving me vague requests to produce some literature.  I rewrote a letter of his that needed some care in drafting.  Then I looked through the library of reports produced by the Institute over the years.

In the afternoon a briefing meeting with Lois Cooper, Deputy Director (aged about fifty-five, fairly stout, no-nonsense attitude).  She had started at the Institute about ten years ago as a PA and gave me a history of the organisation - a tremendous start, then some years of stagnation, and then the current regime.  She explained that funding was key and when the money ran out (as it sometimes does) everything stops until they can get some more.

Broadly the Institute researches areas of interest, develops policy ideas, and promotes these ideas in various campaigns.

Thursday

Limited parking spaces at the Institute so that I have learned to arrive early.

At my desk I began to plan the layout of a booklet, and also plan an exhibition stand (both of these were for Keith Chandler).

Then into a meeting with Director Vijay Singh (aged about forty-five, chubby face with glasses, very shrewd).  He gave an overview of the Institute's work and how he wants it to develop.  He then talked about what my contribution would be - research, literature production and PR.

The meeting with Vijay Singh lasted all of the day, and when it ended I went home.

Still the mild storm rages.

Friday

Most of the morning I spent compiling a newsletter which is to be given out at an exhibition.  This entailed a lot of discussion with Keith Chandler, who is so disorganised he is infuriating.  Vijay Singh interrupted one of the meetings to give me a list of people at a "sister organisation" he wants me to cultivate.

Drama when the bickering on the Accounts desks (other side of the floor from me) broke out into swearing and shouting.  Marcia Walsh, who supervises the section, ordered the two miscreants (who included John Johnson) into an empty room close to my desk ("Get into that office NOW").  Through the thin partition I could hear sobbing from the female Accounts clerk and lots of self justification. 

Although it was a trivial scene, and soon over, it was at variance with the sober, almost staid, image the Institute has.

Another long meeting with Vijay Singh who explained the complex relationship we have with a big national organisation that currently provides most of our funding.

As I came out of the meeting John Johnson crept past me into Vijay Singh's office, presumably wanting to get his version of events in first before any recriminations begin.












Not sure who is advising Yasmin Alibhai-Brown on her personal style (perhaps no-one is) but she should avoid wearing eliptical glasses with pointy sides.  They make her eyes look spiteful, and that is surely not what she wants.  Especially as many of her comments are barbed.

Thursday, January 05, 2012

When I turned over onto BBC2 this evening I caught the end of Never Mind The Buzzcocks with a loud-mouth presenter screaming out the f-word.

Then Newsnight began and Emily Maitlis (in a quotation) used the b-word.

The second incident seemed by far the more shocking.

Difficult to see how Diane Abbott can retain her post in the Shadow Cabinet



















Difficult to see how Diane Abbott can retain her post in the Shadow Cabinet following accusations of racism on social media.

Have just watched BBC News 24 and the presenter Matthew Amroliwala pointed out to Keith Vaz MP that Diane Abbott had admitted the comments were offensive by apologising for them.

Diane Abbott is of course a much-loved national icon, but this will not save her.  As we have seen with another much-loved national icon (an icon possibly more loved than Ms Abbott) all it takes is for a mischief-maker to send a simple e-mail of complaint to the Metropolitan Police and the police MUST take the complaint seriously, investigate it formally, and arrest Diane Abbott.  I emphasise the word "must" as this is what the law absolutely requires.

Given the partisan world which Diane Abbott inhabits it is inevitable that an e-mail of complaint will be sent to the Metropolitan Police, that she will be arrested, and subsequently there will be months of uncertainty while the case proceeds to court.

As critics will complain that Diane Abbott cannot properly perform her duties as a Shadow Minister while under criminal prosecution the pressure for her to go will be irresistible.

Therefore it is difficult to see how she can retain her post.

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

On the Today programme this morning former Home Secretary Jack Straw and BBC presenter James Naughtie linked John Terry's name with the Stephen Lawrence murder trial as if the two were connected.

It happened in the last eight minutes of the programme.

John Terry is supposed to be innocent until proven guilty. How can John Terry possibly have a fair trial when a supposedly responsible politician and a leading BBC news presenter have broadcast to millions, through the respected institution of the BBC, that he is no better than the murderers of Stephen Lawrence? This was a disgraceful smear, and makes it very unlikely that the John Terry trial will have any credibility.

Someone in the legal profession needs to ask these two clowns to explain themselves - perhaps they should be called into the trial (whenever it is held) to explain their contempt for the legal process?

Tuesday, January 03, 2012












Books I have read over the Christmas holiday (I'm still reading Howard's End).

The surprise was A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian by Marina Lewycka.  I was given this some years ago and put off reading it - because it had tractors in the title; because it was set in Peterbough (a town I know only too well); because it was recommended by someone who has very middle-brow tastes.  But its very funny and full of insights about the big themes of life.

Monday, January 02, 2012

There seems to be a persistent connection between trainers (sneakers) and violence



















Above:  one of the news items over the Christmas holiday was the fatal stabbing of a young teenager in a Foot Locker shop in Oxford Street.  The motives for the stabbing are unknown.  However the report caught my eye as there seems to be a persistent connection between trainers (sneakers) and violence.



















Above:  one of the more bizarre aspects of the London riots is that the rioters did not on the whole steal food, or rob money, or target the institutions of the rich and powerful.  Instead they looted trainers (as reported in this article by Tessa Hadley in the New Yorker as well as many other news reports).  Why are trainers so desirable that they are worth risking a 12-month gaol (jail) sentence?














Above:  obviously trainers have been integral to youth culture for about thirty years (Chris Brown even starts his video for Yo Excuse Me Miss in a sports shoe shop - no idea what the hand sign means).  But the obsessive nature of the trainer cult seems at variance with other fashion trends which come and go as each part of the body is fetishised.  It's as if footware became sexualised and fetishised round about the year 1980 and the frenzy has never been switched off.














Above:  a Foot Locker TV commercial in which a young couple play out a sexual fantasy which involves the girl beating her partner with a succession of trainers.  What is happening here?  Why has violent contact involving trainers (in the context of harmless role-playing) become a substitute for more routine sexual contact?

















Above:  if we accept that trainers first became mass consumer items circa 1980, what else happened at that date that might be relevant to this discussion?  Football (soccer) emerged at that time from a generally working-class spectator sport to a mega-consumer industry encompassing all social groups and with a 20% female following.  A report by the British Social Issues Research Centre revealed that 70% of Spanish football fans prefer watching the game to making love, which indicates some form of sexual sublimation (and obviously football is a game that is focussed on feet).







Above:  finally there is the 1998 study by Giannini, Colapietro, Slaby, Melemis and Bowman that links the fetishisation of feet with the prevalence of venereal disease.  The study only looked at the sexualization of the female foot, but I wonder if there is a correlation with the male foot also.  The venereal disease that became prominent in the early 1980s was of course AIDS, and fear of this disease has never really gone away.

So is there a connection between the arrival of AIDS, the associated fetishisation of feet, the subsequent consumer cult around trainers and football, and the increasing violence that is associated with sublimated homoerotic sexual frustration, particularly of young men? (note: stabbing is a form of sublimated penetration by one male of another).

Caveat:  these are just my thoughts.  I have no evidence for any of this.  I could well be wrong.