Monday, November 24, 2008

Ray Durgnat Remembered

I’ll always have fond memories of my film theory lectures at the University of East London. The promise of watching cool French New Wave movies had me eagerly scampering through the less-than-lovely environs of Plaistow to the art dept. at Greengate every Wednesday.

Most of all I used to love listening to the lecturer waxing lyrical about the revolutionary days of the 1960s, where films were not merely entertainment, but weapons that would bring down capitalism and replace it with some kind of Maoist utopia.

His name was Ray Durgnat (we called him Ray Donut of course - oh, what wits). He was a slightly shambolic, eccentric little guy in big horn-rimmed glasses and a beard. He wasn’t particularly charismatic or forceful, but his knowledge of film had me captivated.

He hung out with Jean-Luc Godard when radicalism was at its height – and Paris was briefly convulsed by glorious anarchy - in 1968. His anecdotes from the period were full of wry observation, but he never traded on them like some would.

And I just found out that he died. Six years ago.

So I’m a bit late with this, but Ray Durgant I salute you. Your books on Godard and the Nouvelle Vague (which I found accidentally in Scoob Books) are bloody great and I loved your lectures.

Here’s Ray’s obituary for those interested in this modest, brilliant man

Friday, November 14, 2008

Dip Into

I wrote about a while ago, after a bit of a fiddle with that particular music community site. They’ve improved the interface a bit, but I never got hooked on it. I am, however, now totally addicted to

The best way I think of describing is that it’s like twitter with songs. You can search a huge database of songs, play them and ‘blip’ them – share them with other people on the site along with a pithy comment. So instead of sharing tweets, you’re sharing songs. You are the DJ.

You can select favourite DJs to join your ‘song stream’ or just listen to what everyone around the world is listening to. It’s really, really cool.

The other great thing about it is that it’s stupidly easy to export a link to a song into Twitter or Facebook.

If you haven’t given a go, then hop over there now. I’m MysticTris if you want to hear what I’m playing on the ‘wheels of steel’. I’ve adopted the persona of a Terry-Thomas character circa 1955. I’m not really sure why…

Monday, November 10, 2008

Justified Ancient Records of Mu Mu

Continuing on my musical nostalgia trip this weekend I alighted in the lost land of the Mu-Mu. I dug out the White Room by the KLF, otherwise known as the JAMS or the Justified Ancients of Mu Mu. I’d forgotten just what fucking brilliant ideas they threw at an unsuspecting listening public in the early '90s.

Combining situationist pranks, a self-referencing mythos based on the Iluminatus! Trilogy, massive irony and epic videos, the KLF are the kind of act that I can’t imagine getting into the charts now. I listened to their collaboration with Tammy Wynette, ‘Justified and Ancient’, with my elder two kids the other day and the joyful whimsy of lyrics had them giggling– particularly ‘they're Justified and they're ancient, and they drive an ice cream van’.

Afterwards I was depressed by watching the ’50 biggest selling singles in the last 10 years’ on 4Music. Will Young was at number one and the top 50 was littered with X-Factor singles, like budgie shit at the bottom of music’s misery cage. How depressing that more acts with the KLF’s imagination and playfulness haven’t appeared in the mainstream since they retired to burn money.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Pipes of Shit

After reminiscing about one classic album I loved and lost, it’s time to confess to one that I loved and have no desire to rediscover. In fact, I am now terribly, horrifically embarrassed that I owned it. It’s aural equivalent to admitting that I once spent good money on pig excrement and adored smearing it over myself in my bedroom.

Yes, my old friend Steve has blog-tagged me again. This time the challenge is: name your most embarrassing record ever!

Well, I’ll cut straight to the chase. I once bought and enjoyed ‘Pipes of Peace’ by Paul McCartney (or ‘Fab Macca Thumbs Aloft’ as Smash Hits called him at the time). Not just the single, but the whole bloomin’ album. I think I was 13 at the time. I’d done well up ‘til then, with a diet of ska and stuff like Buggles, so I still can’t figure out why I lapsed so badly. Since I vaguely remember having a weakness for Billy Joel shortly afterwards, the paucity of taste continued with worrying regularity.

I suppose my current guilty pleasure on the iPod is a smattering of ELO. But, come on, Mr Blue Sky is rock genius…

So, Paul, when can I meet the kids?

Monday, November 03, 2008

A Nostalgic Ramble on the Subject of Renaissance: the Mix Collection by Sasha & John Digweed

I had Goosebumps this morning. And they weren’t caused by the chill November winds. After searching for ages, I finally tracked down a copy of Renaissance: the Mix Collection by Sasha & John Digweed. This was the soundtrack to my rave era back in ‘94 and ‘95. As soon as I listened to the opener – ‘The Song of Life’ by Leftfield – I was transported back to a time when I could wear a fluorescent lime green t-shirt, dance for 8 hours solid and not feel like a twat or, indeed, a knackered twat. It was a time in my life marked by Ecstasy, wind machines and deafness.

Although I went to raves before then, I first took E at a Megadog at the Rocket, Holloway. It was revelatory. It was liberating for someone as buttoned down and English as me to just go nuts on the dance-floor and make instant friends with complete strangers.

At no other moment in my life, for instance, can I imagine dancing frenetically with a topless scarified S&M freak with chains hanging from his pierced nipples. In fact, I must have looked freakier than my new pal because the security guards kept bringing me cups of water. I thought they were being lovely and kind, but a friend pointed out afterwards that they were worried I was going to collapse from dehydration.

Before that E, I could take or leave dance music. I was still into Blur, Nick Cave and indie in general. Afterwards, however, my brain was entirely rewired.

I suddenly ‘got’ house. I could see how the music fed the experience – that you needed E for it to get its hooks into you. The music brought on the rush and the rush informed the music. The best moment of a club night for me was when the music was banging away, then suddenly paused; the wind machines came on; everyone stopped dancing and stood with their hands in the air; then the beat would slowly build again, my rush building at the same time. Then the music would kick in and everyone would go mental. It was genuinely as good as sex.

Then, in someone’s front room on a Sunday morning, we’d share a spliff and listen to the Renaissance Mix Collection. Then I got it on tape and listened to it EVERYWHERE. Just trying to replicate a little bit of that high from the Saturday night before (especially on Wednesday when my comedown would hit rock bottom).

As you can imagine, listening to it for the first time in 10 years, even as I walked through Welwyn Garden City, gave me a real high. I’m just hoping the comedown won’t be quite so savage.

Footnote: Of course the downside of ecstasy is memory loss - it literally took me 30 minutes to drag the word 'Megadog' from my addled brain just now. And that was a watershed night in my life!

Friday, October 24, 2008

Come, Friendly Bombs...

Is it wrong to want to call in an airstrike against the River Cottage? This is a rhetorical question of course, as the answer is undoubtedly ‘no’. Having watched River Cottage Autumn last night, it seems like a far better use of military resources than bombing innocent Afghan villagers.

Obviously SAS observers in the hills over the enemy base would have make sure that Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall was on site, perhaps being fellated by one of his rare breed pigs.

Mind you, who’d need the SAS? I’m sure the locals in neighbouring Axminster would be quite happy to shop the overbearing Old Etonian be-jerkined satchel-mouthed tosspot to anyone willing to put an end to his wholefood tyrannical rule of their town. Yes folks, it’s time for ‘regime change’ in Spermy-Shittingstool’s manor.

Last night we saw him bullying poor people into acting as his serfs on an allotment and patronisingly force-feeding them the vegetables from it. He then browbeat his pet baker into making rolls made from spelt for his ‘vegetable’ themed night in another offshoot of his empire, the River Cottage Local.

A vague sense of drama was generated by the uncertainty over whether the spelt rolls would be ready in time. You’ll glad to know that they were. If they hadn’t been, I’m sure Lord Cocking-Fittingtool would have had the blighter soundly flogged (with a cat’o’ninetails made from the same organic leather as his jerkin).

So, OK, carpet-bombing River Cottage may be overly ambitious, but I’m surprised a resident of Axminster hasn’t already set a roadside bomb to obliterate Hugh’s ostentatiously rustic Land Rover. Now that’s one jihadi video I’d want to see…

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Six Me, Me, Me Facts

My old friend Steve has passed on a 'blog-tag' which challenges me to tell the world 6 random things about myself. Since there's no subject I'd like to write about more than myself, this has prodded me into blogging despite work busy-ness:
  1. Stirling Moss was my landlord for a while. He was a right stingy old git. When I moved out of the modest bedsit in West Kensington, he took £50 off my deposit for a lost teacup and some scuffed paint. After haggling over this for 10 minutes, he wrote the cheque for my deposit using a Coutts chequebook.
  2. I have a fantasy about what I’d wish for if I met a genie. The wish I’ve thought out in most detail is this: duplicating the Earth in an equivalent orbit on the other side of the sun and populating it with friends and family. A fresh start for the planet and an amazing adventure for everyone I know. Obviously it could be really shit if we starve to death before figuring out how to grow food and, admittedly, friends and family might not be up for a Ray Mears-style survivalist paradise…
  3. I once shared a flat in Finsbury Park with a member of the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain. They were very big in Japan, apparently.
  4. My left foot is half a size larger than my right foot. This is a common thing, which has led me to suspect that there’s a business idea in selling shoes individually rather than in pairs.
  5. I used to cry at old Bette Davies weepies as a child – and yet, miraculously, I’m not gay!
  6. My cholesterol level (score, rating or whatever you call it) is 9 – which is rather high according to my doctor. Sob, no more steak for me!

Monday, October 06, 2008

Credit Crunch and Advertising: My Predictions (For What They're Worth)

In the weeks since I last wrote a post on this blog, I’ve been extremely busy at work and the West’s economy appears to have imploded. (I tend to think the two are unrelated, although I did have to refuse to take calls from Gordon Brown a couple of times).

It leads me to the question of which creative agencies are likely to ride out the fiscal apocalypse and which are likely to die on their arse. I now work at an integrated agency, Rapp (freshly rebranded from WAVV Rapp Collins), which used to specialise in direct response advertising and direct mail (DM). An increasing proportion of our work is now digital, which is why Simon (my Art Director) and myself are here.

It seems to me that, in tough market conditions, clients are going to demand real results in terms of sales, rather than brand-building. This means a shift from TV to DM and online.

I’m therefore betting my family’s financial welfare on RAPP being able to survive because it’s experienced in producing work that makes a measurable difference to revenue.

This mean getting the audience strategy right - targeting the right consumers with apposite messages in the right places - is as important as brilliant creative. For online agencies this means less ‘experience’ websites that win awards and more exploitation of distributed content, social media and, of course, search.

I also tend to think that network agencies will lose TV work to smaller, leaner agencies – including those that used to be thought of as digital. Having seen how big agencies operate with TV budgets, I can see how clients would cry out for slimmed down production. It’s possible to make great ads without having to pay for art buyers, big-name directors, a shoot attended by 15 account flunkeys on Blackberries, and crippling post-production costs.

It’ll be interesting to see whether I’m right in my predictions, based as they are on second-hand opinions and biased observation. Not just as an academic exercise - if I’ve got it wrong, I’m probably fucked!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Welwyn Garden City and the Art of Foraging: Blackberries in Sherrards Park Woods

Since I was a kid, I’ve loved scavenging. My mum used to despair of the stuff I’d pull out of skips and bring home. That also extended to blackberry-picking and (more illicitly) scrumping apples. Oh, the lure of free things!

Nowadays, most people seem to have lost the art of foraging. Emily, the kids and I went for a walk through the woods yesterday, along a path lined by brambles. The path is a popular haunt for walkers, so I was amazed to find the blackberry bushes were still full of ripe fruit. Free food! Being ignored! It’s crazy…

The family collected a good haul of the delicious morsels. I made a rather nice blackberry crumble that evening. Thank you to everyone else for ignoring them!

Contrast this with Brittany, where we recently went for a break. Every beach was full of French families ‘foot fishing’ – carrying little picks, trowels and baskets, looking for mussels, cockles and other fruits de mer.

Maybe as the UK sinks further in recession, the art of foraging will see a revival?

The woodland path and the bridge where kids obviously hang out at night.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Sarah Palin's Kids Names - Are You Thinking What I'm Thinking?

Track, Bristol, Willow, Piper, and Trig. Not a luxury range of bathroom fittings! The names of McCain running mate Sarah Palin’s kids. It’s Trig I feel sorry for – at least the rest of the brood have proper words as names. What happened with Trig? Could she just not be arsed any more?

Equally, there’s no over-all theme – now that’s just lazy. ‘Track’ could have led to a set of kids named after thoroughfares – Track, Road, Street, Alley and Cul-De-Sac, for instance. Maybe they’d still get the piss taken out of them at school, but at least it’s a concept!

Anyone know of a Sarah Palin kid name generator? Surely there’s one online somewhere? If not, I’ll just come up with a few:

Range, Brick, Plane, Blah, Gink, Book, Trowel, Spec, Dunt…

Any more suggestions?

In a world where voiceover artists die...

Having found out the original ‘deep-voiced movie trailer voice-over guy’ Don LaFontaine on this very blog, I was sorry to hear he’s just gone and kicked the bucket. Having recorded over 350,000 voiceovers, I can only assume he died of over-work.

Still, here’s to you, Don – trailers won’t be the same without you…

Friday, August 01, 2008

Pointless primer #1: gaming comfortably

One of my favourite pointless activities is gaming. I’m a useless gamer, but I feel great when I get something right and achieve something within the game. However, as that achievement will not actually bring me any material, spiritual or long-term emotional rewards, what’s the fucking point? Still, that doesn’t make gaming any less enjoyable. After all, at a deeper philosophical level, real life is fundamentally pointless too.

Anyway, if you’re going to do something pointless, you might as well do it comfortably. Here’s my optimum gaming position – arrived at after months of experimentation:

Friday, July 25, 2008

Sunglasses, Cynicism and Terrorism

How nice to find that there are honest people in London. I drunkenly dropped my sunglasses in Potion on Maple Street last night and only figured out that I was missing them this morning. When I popped up to Potion, someone had handed them in AND none of the staff kept them for themselves. I suppose that the vast majority of people are honest, otherwise society would simply break down. My cynicism level is now officially reduced to ‘substantial’.

Incidentally, the Home Office’s national security threat level is currently ‘severe’, which means ‘an attack is highly likely’. Wonder if it ever gets lower than that?

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Carphone Warehouse Woes

From my cursory online research, it seems that few companies are as reviled as Carphone Warehouse. Having had dealings with them over the last few weeks, I can see why. It’s been a while since I’ve felt an entirely rational desire to petrol bomb the headquarters of a major UK Corporation (since my Virgin Media vendetta last year), but I’m definitely getting the urge right now.

It started with 2 faulty phones (the apparently extremely unreliable Sony Ericsson C902) and a desire to cancel my upgrade contract within the stated 14 day cooling off period. I haven’t got time to go through a blow-by-blow account, but my experience has so far included dishonest salesmanship, woeful customer service, misinformation both deliberate and through sheer ignorance and lack of joined up IT infrastructure. Individually people have often been helpful, but the Carphone Warehouse system seems designed to block anyone wanting to take money back out of it.

One thing to bear in mind – once you’ve put the SIM that comes with the upgrade into your phone, that’s it – the contract is impossible to get out of. They don’t tell you this anywhere in their literature, but if you’re at all unsure of the deal being offered do your homework BEFORE you upgrade. If I’d done that, I wouldn’t be stuck with a fault-prone blingphone and an 18 month contract I don’t want through a company I hate.

GTA4 3 Leaf Clover Guide for Crap Gamers Like Me

I feel an enormous sense of achievement today, the quiet shit-eating satisfaction of a job well done.

Bank job that is.

Last night, aided by an Irish-American cokehead gangster and his IRA-supporting heroin-addicted brother, I robbed a bank and shot dozens of police in a pitched battle before making my escape with a cool $250k in cash.

Yes, you’ve guessed it – this isn’t the blog confession of a psychopath (I tend to define myself as merely sociopathic), I’m playing Grand Theft Auto IV and managed to complete the ‘3 Leaf Clover’ mission.

Now, I don’t mind admitting I’m a bit of a rubbish gamer, frankly. It took me at least 20 attempts to complete this mission. The Xbox360 must be a robust thing, as it survived being repeatedly thrown down in disgust as I died AGAIN or one of my fuck-witted AI cronies jumped onto one of my grenades.

So here’s my guide to the 3 Leaf Clover bank job mission for crap/elderly gamers like me:

  • Buy body armour before the mission – the fire-fight with police is merciless and you’ll need it
  • Be careful with grenades, as Packie and Derrick tend to get accidentally blown up
  • Use cover as much as possible and follow your AI buddies rather than leading the way
  • Go for headshots on the police by shifting your right stick up slightly when locked on with auto-aim
  • Pick up as much combat rifle ammo as you can from the weapons left by dead cops
  • There’s a bulletproof jacket to pick up from the left of a police car as you run through Chinatown and a health pack down a corridor at the bottom of the stairs of the Subway service tunnel
  • When you’re making your getaway in the hideously bouncy Chelsea Tractor (it’s conveniently parked near where you emerge from the subway), drive north and ignore the satnav route. The police have barricade the bridges, so it’s better to lose your wanted level BEFORE leaving Algonquin

Now I’ve completed the mission, I’m not sure how I’ll spend my cash – although the combat sniper’s rifle looks tempting. Oh, the morality-free entertainment that is GTA4! No wonder our teenagers are stabbing each in the streets…

Friday, July 18, 2008

I Dreamt a Song Last Night

I can still remember some of the lyrics. I was improvising with a rock star while interviewing him outside the ruins of my old university building in West Ham. We were both riding those big black bikes you find in Amsterdam. What does that symbolise, I wonder? Any psychoanalysts visiting?

Here are the words I can still recall:

There was a road,

And along that road,

There was a field,

And through that field,

Ran a river of blood,

It flowed,

Deep and wide,

No one knew where

Along that road,

Along that road

Thursday, July 17, 2008

The Horror of Genoa

I was disturbed and angered by a report of the police brutality during the 2001 Genoa G8 summit in this morning’s Guardian. It’s written by a reporter named Nick Davies and is based on evidence gathered by Italian public prosecutor, Emilio Zucca. I was, at the time, vaguely aware that the Italian police had been violent towards protesters, but I was unprepared for the unremitting horror described in this account. It reminded me of 120 Days of Sodom by the Marquis de Sade with act after act of viciousness and humiliation in a world where morality is replaced by brute force. No doubt I’ll get back to trivia in my next post, but in the mean time I urge you to read this story…

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Scurrilous Cbeebies Theories Ahoy!

Cbeebies kind of dominates the morning at our house. Stan demands it by repeatedly saying ‘Beebies pleeeeease’ almost as soon as he’s downstairs and we’re happy to oblige so we can get on with getting ready. This is possibly the worst kind of parenting, but at least Cbeebies is wholesome and advert-free. One does, however, become strangely fascinated by the chirpy rollcall of presenters – Pui, Chris, Sid, Andy, Boogie Pete and Justin – who must spend every blighted day pretending to be both enthusiastic and mentally subnormal. They’re a regular topic of conversation in our house, spawning a wide range of frankly scurrilous theories about them. These include:
  1. As Chris sings the good night song he looks so pained around the eyes as he smiles. Could it be that a sadistic director is twisting his testicles and pointing a gun at his family with the explicit threat that he doesn’t keep smiling despite the pain the bollocks will come off and his folks will be executed?
  2. Did the same sadistic director take ‘the gang’ out to film the summer song segment on the coldest, greyest day of the year, so they got pneumonia by splashing each other in the sea, then added some unconvincing lens flare and filters in post-production to make it look like it wasn’t actually buttock-shatteringly freezing?
  3. Has Pui (formerly the actor inside the Po suit on Tellytubbies) had a nosejob and is she getting it on with Chris? Was it HER twisting his melons after she caught him fluffing Sid in the men’s toilets?
  4. Is Andy really so simple that he can’t tell whether you use pliers, a screwdriver or a hammer to bang in a nail?
  5. Are the ‘Green Balloon Club gang’ part of a nihilist conspiracy to put us all off conserving the environment? The woman and kids in it are so sickly-sweet and fake that every time I see it I step on a hedgehog’s head and burn a 300m high pile of tyres.

Any Cbeebies theories from other parents out there?

(c) BBC 2008

Monday, July 07, 2008

Recession Boxed Set

Like most of the world, I’ve been thinking about the prospect of a recession. I suppose having experiencing three recessions so far in my life (the early 80s, the Lawson boom-and-bust, and the dotcom crash) I’m pretty philosophical about the present economic meltdown.

That’s not to say I’m not feeling the pinch or oblivious to the possibility of joblessness. The rewards in advertising are reasonably high, but you’re always insecure during a downturn. Marketing budgets are always the first thing that businesses hack back. And copywriting is the first thing that’s lopped off project budgets as marketers think they can do it themselves.

What has struck me each time a recession has arrived is the speed with which things go sour. It’s always a matter of weeks between everything being cool, with a few clouds on the horizon, to full-blown economic typhoon.

I remember being made redundant during the dotcom crash – just before 9/11. It was scary – two kids, mortgage, no job. I had a surreal day watching the twin towers come down on live television from my sofa. My friend Louis (who had also been laid off) was watching it too and I remember us talking to each other on the phone as we took it all in on Sky News, stunned by what was going on. It felt like I was living in a Godzilla movie.

Of course, the dotcom crash was a localised storm in a sense. Sure, investors got their fingers burnt, but it wasn’t the huge global crisis that we’re experiencing now. 9/11 proved to have a more lasting impact. Possibly contributing to the economic problems we have now.

So, having lived through a few, recessions do not surprise me. They do however always seem to surprise governments and big business. Now as much as I’m unsurprised that another recession has arrived, I wouldn’t have predicted it. You would, however, expect a better performance from the super-intelligent policy wonks and economic analysts who control our lives. The majority of these masters of the universe seem to get caught up in their own hubris until it’s too late. Every single time an economic crisis hits. Now that really is fucking scary…

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Daily Dredd

Anyone who works with me will know that I draw at least one Judge Dredd a day, usually doodled in a meeting or conference call. So I thought it would be cool to stick my drawings on the web to create a mega-scrapbook of Mega-City's legendary lawman. Go on, take a look citizen!

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

LazyTown, a Social and Philosophical Tour de Force

When one thinks of ideal communities, the mind wanders back to the immortal treatises in which great men have strived to imagine a harmonious and fair society. There’s Plato’s Republic, Thomas More’s Utopia and, of course, Magnús Scheving’s LazyTown.

LazyTown, unusually for a serious philosophical work, is aired twice a day on CBeebies and features a number of puppets. It is set in the fictional village of LazyTown, governed by the bumbling but benign Mayor Milford Meanswell. The mayor is one of only two adult citizens, the other being his unrequited love Bessie Busybody. All the other citizens are children with various stereotypical faults – Ziggy is addicted to sweets, Trixie is a trickster and Stingy is stingy (you get the point). It’s obvious that Scheving is setting up a subtle Swiftean satire through this device. Especially when the plot introduces forces of good and evil into the children’s world.

On the side of good are pink-garbed Stephanie, the Mayor’s active and well-meaning niece, and Sportacus, the town’s athletic self-appointed guardian who lives a monastic lifestyle in an airship.

The force of evil is represented by Robbie Rotten, the idle, Machiavellian schemer who lives under the LazyTown in some form of nether-house.

One can perceive the influence of the Christian mythos in the dialectic of good coming from above and evil below. Like Milton’s Satan declaring war on Heaven, Robbie repeatedly seeks to overthrow Sportacus and enforce his order upon the universe. However, he is frequently undermined by his own failings as much as Sportacus’ intervention.

Perhaps in a nod to Manichaean dualism, the equilibrium of the LazyTown universe is restored at the end of each episode and Robbie is never punished. How this particular policy affects LazyTown society is clear – Robbie repeatedly causes trouble, upsetting the town’s harmony. Does this suggest that society needs evil in order to evolve and have meaning? It’s surprising that the failure to punish crime is never raised as an election issue in Lazy Town’s democratic process. If a custodial sentence is out of the question, perhaps Robbie should at least be tagged?

The other intriguing subtext of LazyTown is that Spartacus’ life is actually entirely empty. Aside from his interactions with the inhabitants of LazyTown, he lives in solitude, trapped in iron routines that would test the sternest ascetic. Does this suggest that pure good is as undesirable as pure evil? Or that the gods only have a point to their existence when they interfere in human affairs? It is these ambiguities that keep me returning to LazyTown morning after morning, like a pilgrim seeking spiritual revelation in a candy-coloured world.

Sportacus: symbolises the facile nature of pure good

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Microtrends of the World Unite...

As a creative, I’m reliant on a good brief from a planner. Where briefs often fall down is in the audience research, which often lacks incisive analysis. If I can get my head around who I’m aiming stuff at, it helps massively. I’m not a creative who goes off on a flight of fancy. I like to communicate properly with my audience. A pen portrait that gives me a few quirks or a peek into their lives is the kind of ammunition upon which I thrive.

With this in mind, I’ve enjoyed reading ‘Microtrends’ by Mark J. Penn (the pollster who left the Hillary Clinton campaign earlier this year). Penn’s hypothesis is that sub-groups of people that from less than 1% of the population can provide a big enough customer base for specialised companies and kickstart bigger changes in society. The book is made up of pen portraits of the nuanced marketing segments he’s identified, like older moneyed single women (‘cougars’) dating younger men and ‘pro-semites’ from other faiths bagging eligible Jewish husbands and wives.

I work in the online world, so I can see how internet-based businesses can position their products to meet the needs of these niche audiences. I’d like to see a lot more of Penn’s combination of statistical trends and creative ‘pen portraits’ in my brief. I’m imagining online ads with different executions to appeal to specialised audiences and sophisticated media placement strategies, as opposed to the ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach of many campaigns.

For instance, a mobile phone company can’t exist selling to 1% of the population, but it could tailor its packages to many of those 1% segments and build up its aggregate market share. Given that the ‘new economy’ is meant to be based on ultra-agility, I’m continually surprised how lumbering most marketing of larger businesses is…

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Another Lady Judge

I think they're getting better - she's a little statuesque maybe - I was channelling Helmut Newton at the time...

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

TV Mania Continues

Still on the subject of tellies, I guess yesterday’s tale of screen-lust illustrates that, even while food and fuel prices are going through the roof, electronics still seem to be getting cheaper. I may starve to death, cold and shivering, but at least I’ll be able to buy the latest iPod or HDTV. Well, that’s the priorities in my life sorted out! Phew!

(Until high oil prices mean that the plastics and transportation involved mean that electronics become more expensive too, of course, but let's not venture there...)

The whole need to buy new stuff to replace old stuff that’s actually OK is definitely the latest manifestation of capitalism’s need to keep the economy continually expanding. My mum’s old telly lasted for 20 years, whereas I bought a new one after 3. Not because the old one broke down, but because the old one just wasn’t hot enough dammit!

Anyway, the old one is up on eBay now. I paid £700 for it – I reckon I’ll be lucky to get £200 back…

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Demented Weekend of TV Psychosis: Blog Therapy Begins after Retail Therapy Goes Wrong

I’ve been forced to take a long hard look at behaviour I’m doomed to repeat over the Bank Holiday weekend. I’m no psychoanalyst, but I can tell that my consumer urges are particularly demented. Am I typical or is my shopping psychopathology commonplace? This is the question I repeatedly ask myself.

This long weekend’s madness started with GTA4. We have a perfectly serviceable 26 inch (funny how tellies have remained Imperial) HD TV, but I was having to get up close to it to see the game properly. This pops a little thought into my head: “Need a bigger telly”. Once it got in there, the usual pattern of behaviour begins. It starts with the online ‘research’ and idle searches on Amazon and This goes on for a couple of weeks.

OK, fast forward to the wet miserable Bank Holiday; 3 kids running wild around the house. Nothing to do in Welwyn Garden City except look around the shops. I find myself nosing around the televisions in John Lewis, the Sony Centre and Argos. Set myself an imaginary budget. The desire begins to build. Is it going to be the Sony with its Bravia Engine or LG with 1080 ‘true’ HD input? Do I really understand what a 7000: 1 contrast ratio actually is? Should I spend more at John Lewis for the 5 year warranty? I circle dementedly like a squirrel trying to get at nuts in a bird feeder.

Frankie, my astute 7 year old son, summed up my state of mind when he said that once I’d got the new telly I’d keep buying bigger ones until I had to buy a bigger house to accommodate them. He knows me far too well!

Matters are brewing nicely by the time we all go out to a coffee bar for breakfast yesterday. My wife seems to have accepted that my urge is unstoppable and wisely sanctions the purchase. I opt for the Sony, but the Sony Centre hasn’t got the right model in stock (even though it’s the headline item in their display, with balloons all over it screaming ‘Bank Holiday deal!’) and then the salesman pisses me off by trying to push a more expensive model.

So it’s back to Argos, but Stan is getting fed up with being in his pushchair. Em suggests we head back to the house to release the irate toddler, but my consumer lust is so strong I get shirty with her for cramping my style. Can’t she see I must have a new TV to the demented exclusion of all other considerations?! Unforgivably, I have a subdued tantrum, but head back grumbling anyway, like a big sulky only-boy child…

…only to make another foray to Argos in the afternoon! Following additional online research, I buy the Sony, then Frankie, Mila and I cart it back to the house in a shopping trolley.

I hold the joyful unboxing ceremony in the living room, plug the shiny new TV in and switch it on. Nothing happens. I try plugging it into another socket. Dead. Jesus, after an entire weekend of growing obsessive mania, my chosen television doesn’t fucking work! Not only that, Argos is about to shut and I have to get Mila and Frankie back to my ex-wife in London.

I pack the TV up again in a frenzy and rush back to Argos in a panic. Anxiety is enhanced by the rain starting to pour down when I’m halfway there. I imagine an invalidated warranty due to water damage.

I make it safely to Argos, where a disinterested member of the sales staff limply goes through the returns process. They haven’t got any more Sonys in stock (but I must walk away with a TV NOW!), so I go for the LG (1080 input). Wheel it back, exhausted by anxiety and physical exertion. Thank god, this one works and the picture looks great!

Of course, now I’m getting cognitive dissonance over my choice. I now find that 1080 input doesn’t mean it’s ‘true HD’, so maybe I should have waited for the Sony with 9000: 1 contrast ratio?

That’s the trouble with psychosis – it’s never bloody over!

Friday, May 23, 2008

Judge Dredd: Justice Department Equal Opportunities Policy

There are plenty of female judges in Mega City One. Why, even the Chief Judge is a woman! Here's a doodle of a lady judge I drew this morning...

My (Short) Career as a Teacher

I feel like I’ve had a tough couple of weeks. It’s all work wear-and-tear, so I can’t complain really. It’s not like my children under rubble in China or my home has been swept away in Burma. In fact, when things in my working life get me down, I try to keep that kind of perspective on things. In the bigger scheme of things, I’m doing pretty damned well.

Actually I do have one thing that keeps me on the straight-and-narrow when I’m stressed. When I left teaching, I always swore that I’d never forget how cardiac arrest-inducingly, arse-bendingly stressful that job was and it would help me calm in any subsequent work environment.

My career in teaching was short-lived. I taught adults at Kingsway FE college while I was studying my PGCE at the Institute of Education and did well there. Then I went to a 6th form college in Grays, Essex and it all went tits up. To be fair, I was pretty crap teacher in terms of paper work and the job made me miserable. I was good in the classroom, but even that used to terrify me at times. I was only in my 20s, too young to impose discipline on students with the same weird hair (mine was pink at one stage) and piercings as me. I incurred the displeasure of the Principal with my freewheeling (i.e. disorganised and rubbish) approach to lesson-planning.

In the end, the 1997 election ended my teaching career. I stayed up to watch Portillo getting kicked out and drank champagne until 4am (very New Labour). The next day I was close to death. When it came to my afternoon GSCE English class, I sat waiting for my students, feeling like a badger was trying to excavate my brain with its big front paws. After 20 minutes, no one turned up, so I thought ‘OK, I’ll fuck off home to die’. Then I did.

Unfortunately shortly after I left, one student turned up and my Head of Department happened to walk past, finding a lesson with no teacher. Needless to say my contract was not renewed.

Luckily, by then, I’d discovered the internet and eventually found my niche as a copywriter. It’s amazing how much easier a job is when you love it!

Footnote: my GCSE English students got higher marks than the Head of Department’s, so there.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Betty Blue Memories

I went back to Leamington Spa over the weekend and, for some obscure reason, it triggered memories of Béatrice Dalle. Not the stunningly beautiful French actress has any associations with Leamo, other than in my head.

I remember going to see Betty Blue at the Warwick University cinema with my best friend Amy Gladdy. I must have been 17. I was in love with Amy at the time (sadly the feeling wasn’t mutual), but by the end of the film I was also in love with Béatrice Dalle. I suppose I actually fell for the character of Betty, wild, unpredictable and, ultimately, tragically damaged.

I think Betty may have even influenced my choice of women afterwards, drawn as I was to the unstable ‘femme fatale’ (or, more objectively, ‘fuck-up cases’). This was a joyless situation, as neurotic or self-destructive people are generally self-obsessed and fundamentally unable to form an equal partnership with anyone.

Talking of the Dalle influence on my taste in women, I have also just realised that my wife and ex-wife both have gappy teeth – just like Béatrice! Spooky!

Anyway, back to Dalle. More than any other actress, there was something about her that resonated for me. Perhaps it was the rebellious waywardness in her real life (I Seem to remember she was done for shoplifting) as much as her beauty, a flawed earthy beauty that bizarrely teeters on the edge of ugly at times. Sadly, apart from ‘Clubbed to Death’ and ‘Night on Earth’ I haven’t really seen her in any other film since. Maybe her stuff just doesn’t get released in the Anglophone world. Perhaps it’s a good thing, for her to live on in my mind as a timeless icon of teenage memory…

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Random Thought: Nick Cave's Balding Head and Moustache Mystery

Some people just seem to be above reproach in the blood-soaked, victim-strewn fashion arena. While Madonna gets torn to pieces for wearing fetish gear at 50 and Paul McCartney gets slated for dying his hair chestnut brown at 98, some people can just get away with anything. Well, when I say ‘some people’ I actually mean Nick Cave.

Don’t get me wrong, I venerate Nick Cave as one of my all-time favourite rock gods. However, the moustache/balding pate/lank long hair combo is never a good one. I watched agog as his scalp shone under the studio lights during his performance on Friday Night with Jonathon Ross and reflected that there must be a more dignified way to respond to male pattern baldness. After all, any ‘look’ epitomised by Mick Fleetwood circa 1989 can’t be excused. Yet somehow the usual media bitching is oddly mute. Is Cave somehow so innately cool that he can do no wrong?

What’s that? Yes, he is? Shit, you’re right…

Nice hair, Nick!

"I woke up this morning and mah hair was gone..."

Thanks to LRobin on Flickr for pic

Wednesday, April 16, 2008 Usability Grumbles

I’ve been playing with some more, done some scrobbling (I now realise that can just tell what you’re playing on iTunes and adds it to the data it has on you) and tried to find my way around the site. I use the word ‘tried’ advisedly because as lovely as the interface looks, navigating is a fucking ‘mare.

For instance, if you want to see your list of friends, you’d think it would be shown somewhere in the ‘Users’ section – which is, after all, about people. But, oh no, you have to click on ‘Dashboard’, then ‘My profile page’ and finally the ‘Friends’ tab. Similarly if you want to search for existing members of, you have to go back to ‘Users’ and use the search window there. Surely including it on the ‘Friends’ page makes more sense?

You’d think that after CBS bought for £140 million, they’d be able to afford some decent information architects…

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Social Catch-up Continues:

My Johnny-come-lately adoption of social networks continues today with I’ve been listening to stuff on there for a while now, but have never got into the social side of it. However, my friend Pete and my wife’s cousin Jeremy both invited me to hook up with them in the last week, so I’ve finally acquired 2 chums! Hurrah!

The coolest thing about, apart from laughing out loud at the moody US Emo kid profiles, is called ‘scrobbling’. God, I’m sure you already know this stuff – but, for those who don’t, scrobbling is adding the songs you’ve got on your hard drive to the database in order to better to judge your musical tastes, recommend music and suggest musical compatibility with other people (I bet algorithms come into it somewhere, hey kids?). This could be considered social suicide if all you have in iTunes is ‘Crazy Frog Presents Crazy Hits’ (or, indeed, the follow up smash ‘Crazy Frog Presents More Crazy Hits’. This is, of course, why I haven’t scrobbled yet.

Other interesting bits are the fact you can build and share playlists and leave messages to people in their dirtb – sorry, shoutbox – which performs the same function as the wall on FaceBook.

I’ll report back again after I’ve scrobbled on the MacBook at home. I was only joking about the Crazy Frog, honest…

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Belatedly Twittering On...

I’m beginning to worry that I’m not surfing the interactive zeitgeist. Indeed, I’m also concerned that I’m suffering from a shortage of memes. I’ve only just started using Twitter, for instance. I mean, talk about being late to join the party. Mind you, very few people I know use it, so there’s not much of a party going on. Does this mean they used it and then went away, having realised that it is essentially pointless?

For those even further behind than me, Twitter is a microblogging service that allows you to tell people what’s going on in your life in 140 characters or less. It appeals to me as a copywriter, since economy with words is a skill to which I aspire. However, if you haven’t got a big network of people linked to you all doing the same thing it gets boring very quickly; the online equivalent of muttering to yourself on the tube. This is always the risk with any online community – lack of critical mass. If you could peek at what random unconnected people are up to in an immediate way, instead of having to search for people, it may be more fun.

Having said that, I like the widget that you’ll see on the right – particularly as I can feel less guilty about not posting on my blog…

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Stan's Morning Commands

Now that Stan can talk a bit, he's enjoying issuing commands. It must be pretty cool - he can now tell us what he wants, whereas he used to wail, bibble or grunt and it was pot-luck whether we guessed the request correctly. In the morning, there's a set list of one word commands in his repertoire. Here they are in chronological order:

  1. "Buk!" (may I have book to read?)
  2. "Milkel!" (I want a bottle of milk)
  3. "Mummy!" (my dummy has been misplaced and I demand it's immediate insertion after removal of bottle)
  4. "Coat!" (remove my gro-bag, I wish to be mobile)
  5. "Cuggle!" (give me a cuddle)
  6. "Bek-fast!" (I wish to eat now)
  7. "Cake!" (no, not that substandard fare - give me cake)
  8. "Choc-la!" (actually, give me chocolate instead)
  9. "Shoes!" (I'm ready to have my footwear put on)
  10. "Coat!" (ready my outer garment for me)
As Stan appears to be entering the 'terrible twos' early, god help you if you don't comply quickly, let alone say 'no'. There's an indignant fit of tears and fury. It's hard to refuse him, as he is very cute, but we're teaching him that he can't always get what he wants, especially if he forgets to say 'please'. We'll no doubt be dealing with a fair few tantrums before that's fully sunk in!

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Ashes to Ashes: Oh the Glory of Bowie in Days Gone By

I've taken to screen-grabbing random images from videos on YouTube, tarting them up in PhotoShop, then using them as desktop pictures. Here's today's: a shot from Ashes to Ashes, possibly Bowie's last truly great single...

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Oedipus Strikes!

I’ve noticed that I have to re-bond with Stan every weekend at the moment. Sadly, I'm used to that with Mila and Frankie, as they're at their mum's 11 days out of 14. However, it seems that even with Stan, his mum is a more consistently present figure in his life. My access to him is limited to an hour or so in the morning, where I’m concentrating on ironing shirts and finding my wallet as well as giving Stan the attention he needs. By the end of the week I feel I’m a bit of peripheral figure and he’s a little stand-offish, but by the end of the weekend, after I’ve chased him around pretending to be a monkey for hours on end, he’s really cuddly and affectionate.

Admittedly he’s currently going through a bit of an oedipal phase, so mummy is very much the parent de jour. Like a lion separating a wildebeest from the herd, he physically tries to keep me away from his mum and gets rather miffed if I do get near to her. For instance, when he’s in Emily’s arms, he actually pushes me away so he has her to himself!

Mind you, Stan’s stereotypical male obsession with big machines – cars, trucks, trains, diggers and planes – suggests that he’ll soon be enthusiastically joining the patriarchal order!

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Wired at Lunchtime

The more time one spends with the internet, the more boring it seems to become. That’s perhaps because my exploration of the content on offer runs in ever diminishing circles, limited to whatever’s in my bookmarks. It could also be down to the fact that most of the web is full of trivial crap – probably featuring Lindsay Lohan.

However, I recently rediscovered the Wired website and I’ve got to say that there’s a thought-provoking article on there every day. The one that caught my eye today (as I ate my standard-issue Saatchi canteen fodder at my desk) is an article on why people do evil things in institutionalised environments, specifically Abu Ghraib. Take a look and wander around the rest of the Wired site. Genuinely fascinating stuff…

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Madonna's New Album, Short and Sweet

I’m interested to see that elderly pop-maven Madonna’s next album is going to be called ‘Hard Candy’. Strangely enough, this is the title of a very dark crime novel by a favourite writer of mine named Andrew Vachss. The eponymous Candy is described as ‘a whore with a heart of cyanide’. Hmm…

Monday, February 25, 2008

Lindsay Lohan Fetish: A Confession

Lindsay Lohan is by far my favourite fucked-up celebrity. For someone who professes to hate the ‘Heat’ culture of celebrity-watching, I must admit to a bit of a Lindsay Lohan fetish. There’s a weird kind of pull that a story about Lindsay Lohan has. I wouldn’t go as far as describing it as an obsession, just a vague sense that she’s actually rather attractive and a low level curiosity about what she’s up to.

So what does Lindsay Lohan get up to that’s so interesting? Oh, just normal girl-stuff, you know. A typical week seems to consist of: going into rehab, coming out of rehab, substance abuse, rehab again, inappropriate men, car crash hit-and-run, back to rehab, alcoholism, ankle tags, more rehab and then a day of rest on Sunday.

Note that acting doesn’t appear to feature. At least Britney Spears managed to get an album out in between that unfortunate visit to the hairdresser and being admitted as a psychiatric patient. Lindsay Lohan doesn’t appear to do anything but conduct a completely dissolute life in front of the paparazzi. Sounds like an easy living, apart from selling one’s soul sliver by sliver to the insatiable media bacon-slicer.

I suppose part of the reason I have a soft spot for Lindsay Lohan is that she reminds of the sort of women that I used to fall in love with as a lad. Pretty, kooky, whack-job girls used to really ring my bell. The more damaged and hardcore head-fucked the better. They held a magnetic fascination; despite the fact their company was tedious, as they were so relentlessly self-obsessed. I really bought into that ‘I can rescue her’ romantic bullshit.

On the other hand, I might be fascinated by Lindsay Lohan because I dig girls with freckles. God, why do I have to over-complicate everything?!

Lindsay Lohan, clearly in need of rescue

Friday, February 22, 2008

The Worst Video on YouTube EVER!

Obviously, as a creative at the razor-sharp bleeding cutting edge of digital communications, I'm keen to project an innovative multi-format online presence. Therefore Pete Costello, our freelance art director, and myself made a totally awesome movie yesterday and posted it on YouTube. It has since gone viral with a massive 20 views. It's also charted as the 74th most discussed movie in the Automotive section! We rule!

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Demons and Pitches

Apologies for the lack of posts over the last week or so – I’ve been involved in a pitch and between that, family and Devil May Cry 4, time has been at a premium. Mind you, most visitors to this blog are arriving via Google having searched for Conan the King and then going away disappointed when they discover that I’m talking about my old gym trainer. I therefore suspect my lack of posting isn’t causing much wailing or, indeed, gnashing of teeth.

On the subject of pitching, I think it’s my favourite type of work. You build a great camaraderie with your fellow pitchers as you all sweat to bang it out on time. The ridiculous deadline is attractive - the job is nicely, neatly finite. Another benefit is that you’re not constrained by crushing brand guidelines or, er, reality. In a way, the work is as good as it can ever be – before limited budgets and endless rounds of amends bite. Of course, you never know when your idea is going to sink like a battleship recycled from colanders, but that’s part of the fun.

Oh dear, I realise I’ve written a thoroughly positive post! I’ll be back to my curmudgeonly ways in the next one.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

iPod Shuffle: Resurrection

A year or so ago I had the sad task of writing an obituary for my 4G iPod, but today I can happily report a resurrection. After a 30 degree wash cycle, my iPod Shuffle seemed doomed – but, no, it came back to life!

I use my shuffle at the gym, listening to a mix of Old Skool Hardcore dance music (The Ratpack and DJ Slipmatt seem to give me a lift on the treadmill). I left it in the pocket of my shorts and slammed them in the washing machine without thinking. I suppose the trouble with Shuffles is they’re just TOO small, at least for a forgetful idiot like me. I thought I’d lost my last one, but found it in a drawer after buying a replacement.

So, anyway, I came home from work last night to see the slightly battered Shuffle laying forlornly on a kitchen work surface. My fears were confirmed when my wife Emily told me the sad news about its unfortunate interaction with the washing machine.

After a futile initial attempt to use the Shuffle, I did not surrender hope. And, after an hour in its little charger, my optimism was confirmed. The little green light shone and the unmistakable beat of Take Me Away by Jimmy J & Cru-L-T blasted from the Apple headphones (which also survived the wash!)

Amazing! I know many Infinite Loop fanatics think that Steve Jobs can walk on water, but last night I witnessed a genuine Apple miracle.

Monday, February 04, 2008

On Me Tod

I’ve just had a Weekend of Solitude. When you’re a dad (and, moreover, only child), this isn’t as terrible as it sounds. As much I love my wife and children, look forward to coming home to Emily and Stan every night or spending weekends with Mila and Frankie, it’s a release to have some time purely to myself doing things that only I would want to do. I think most dads can empathise with this. It’s why we have sheds.

So what was I up to while Emily and Stan were up in Manchester visiting my sister-in-law? Gaming, the gym, liver and onions (Emily hates liver), ‘I Am Legend’ at cinema (enjoyably dark for a Hollywood blockbuster and Will smith single-handedly and brilliantly carries the film), bloody-as-hell steak and sautéed mushrooms, taking over the entire bed at night and sleeping in until (gasp!) 9am…you get the picture.

Of course, ultimately it’s an empty freedom to have – I missed Emily and Stan terribly – but for a few days it's a priceless luxury...

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Funny Art Foundation?

This morning I was reading about an exhibition of humorous modern art, which has sparked a debate about whether art can be funny. It reminded me of one particular evening, many years ago, on my art foundation course.

(A brief bit of background on my foundation course at Mid-Warwickshire College circa 1987: it was, undoubtedly, the most disastrous thing I’ve ever done in my life. It started badly, as I’d cut my own hair badly and was covered in hives after becoming allergic to a virus. So much for first impressions. I also had a feud with another student that led to my becoming an outcast. Then, finally, there was the course itself. At 18, all I wanted to be was a comic strip artist. I was totally focused on this. The lecturers were all abstract expressionists and surrealists who thought comics were crap. This led to me attempting, half-heartedly, to adapt to their thinking and failing. Add demotivation to extreme laziness and it became inevitable that I was going to drop out.)

Anyway, the flipside of the foundation experience was another student who was revered by the lecturers as a prodigy. I forget his name now (possibly Paul something), but he’d got the whole modern art thing right. The zenith of his work, for me, was a performance art piece that he staged for the lecturers and other students one evening.

Picture this: a large branch, some may call a bough, from a tree resting in a large pool full of mud. Now imagine the prodigy naked, his skin plastered in feathers perched on the bough. The 80s video camera, at least the size of a small car, is rolling. He shivers and mimes a tentative preparation for flight, momentarily lurching forward and then rocking back.

Unfortunately from where my friend Amy and I were sitting, we could see that a twig on the branch was poking his balls every time he rocked. Then he repositioned and the errant bit of wood was working its way up his arse-crack. We were both fighting a massive fit of the giggles as everyone else was sitting there taking it all terribly seriously. Every time he rocked, we had to avoid each other’s eyes and cover our mouths as the twig poked deeper where it shouldn’t.

The performance reached its denouement when the bird-man finally did jump from the branch and mimed dying in the mud. I suppose the message is “we all long for freedom, but we’re also all doomed to fail”. This serious subtext was lost on me, however, as I sat hyperventilating, desperate to suppress my laughter.

So can art be funny? I’d say only when it isn’t trying to be…

Monday, January 28, 2008


I was humbled yesterday by our neighbour, who I spotted hauling a load of bags back from church. I offered to help and found that she was collecting clothes for inmates (detainees?) at the local Immigration Detention Centre nearby. I knew that conditions were scandalous in these places and made a note in the ‘Guardian reader’s outrage’ lobe of my brain without bothering to do any more about it. I do this with most things that trouble me morally, yet never anything practical or even symbolic about it. Yet the congregation of the local church in a staunchly Tory area are mobilising to help. I feel ashamed of myself.

It’s possibly a hyperbolic analogy, but I suspect that there were people in the communities around Nazi death-camps who were morally – but passively - offended about what was going on nearby or just chose to ignore it for the sake of a quiet life.

What I find most shocking about what my neighbour told me was not that entire families, including babies and pregnant women, are kept in appalling conditions. It’s the fact that the detention centre is run by a private company. Someone in a boardroom somewhere is making a fat profit from keeping families – people who have committed no crime – in squalid captivity.

So what am I going to do? Well, I’ve just joined Amnesty International, I’m giving clothes to the church and researching which organisation I want to join to campaign against these centres. It’s not much, but it’s better than my usual complacency…

Friday, January 25, 2008

After Conan Comes Mr T

"Work that butt, fool!"

After having King Conan as a trainer at the gym, I now have Mr T. Jan appears to have gone back to the Czech Republic, so they came up with Neves as a replacement. He's a short black cuboid of muscle with a stutter and he's caused me a world of pain over the last week or so.

He basically decided that Jan was 'going too easy' on me and that I needed a more rigorous, challenging programme. As he showed me through my new circuit of the gym I began to realise that the man was a vicious sadist and I was politely submitting myself to a self-imposed cycle of torture. It's strange how, as a man, one goes along with the alpha personal training male while inwardly thinking 'you're deranged if you think I can do this and a number of your jokes are highly inappropriate but I'll smile sheepishly anyway'.

I'm now expected to go round practically every machine in the gym. The worst machine is the one that exercises your arse. You have to lay on your stomach and push your leg outwards and upwards like a stroke victim going for a swim on dry land. This exercise is necessary, according to Neves, so I can 'have a butt that your wife is going to love'.

Anyway, the next time I went to the gym, I thought that maybe I'm being too negative and Neves has the measure of my capabilities. I did everything in my new programme. Afterwards I could barely move my mouse across the mouse mat and I ached for 3 days like I'd been cage-fighting with Jabba the Hutt.

It's enough to make me nostalgic about Jan!

Monday, January 21, 2008

The Decline of Western Civilisation Part Deux

Sometimes I do think that Al Qaeda may have a point when they rail against the decadence of western civilisation. Not that I think that a caliphate would be a good thing either, particularly for women, homosexuals or anyone who enjoys freedom of expression. However, occasionally, I am given pause for thought. I had one of those moments this morning, walking from King's Cross. I passed a newspaper kiosk and caught a glimpse of a porn magazine tucked into one of its racks. The name of this illustrious periodical? 'Arse Wrecked'.

One assumes that the title is a reference to anal sex, of course (and not, for instance, actually a medical magazine aimed at people who suffer with piles). Now I'm no prude, but how bankrupt and debauched is a culture that can produce a commercial publication named 'Arse Wrecked'? Jesus, if this is freedom of expression, I say bring back Victorian hypocrisy and repression...

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

First Capital Disconnect

I sometimes consider myself to be a little bit unlucky. Indeed, to paraphrase Shakespeare: "As flies to wanton boys are we to the gods; They piss us about for their sport."

Take this evening:
  • I cycle to Kings Cross from Charlotte Street and congratulate myself for reaching the station in time to catch the 18.36 to Welwyn Garden City
  • Find, to my chagrin, that all services in and out of Kings Cross are suspended due to "massive signal failure". I'm told to make my way to Finsbury Park, where services are now terminating and departing.
  • I count myself lucky having my bike with me, as they've closed the tube station at Kings Cross due to overcrowding (no doubt due to the masses of people trying to head north via the underground).
  • Start cycling up Caledonian Road to Finsbury Park, passing kids on mountain bikes trying to destroy a bin by ramming it with their vehicles
  • Get to Holloway Road, thinking that at least I'm getting some extra cardiovascular exercise, and my fucking tyre gets punctured
  • Cursing like a Tourettes sufferer with piles sitting on a spike, I trudge up the Seven Sisters Road to Finsbury Park
  • Get to the station and find police turning passengers away. A copper tells me that no trains at all are running from Finsbury Park. He has no suggestions for what the fuck I do next
  • I see loads of people still getting into station, so nip past police and get to platform
  • The announcer seems as confused as everyone else, but tells us that there IS now a bloody train running from Kings Cross - rendering my cycle ride and walk entirely pointless
  • Fold up bike, train eventually arrives and I join the crush of people desperate to get home. Despite the train already being rammed, we all make it onto the carriage
  • Finally - two hours later - get home
Now, what infuriates me is not this country's crap transport infrastructure, it's the muddled communications and sheer cluelessness of First Capital Connect. I wonder if they're planning to form a partnership with Virgin Media?

Wired at Work!

Wires and chargers are taking over my life. It’s like a snakepit of cables on my desk at work, with headphone wires, charger cables and leads for USB devices tangled together like an electronic version of the Gordian knot. It’s no different at home, where I have two stack-and-stores full of cables and chargers for various devices around the house, probably half of which are phones that we don’t actually own any more.

I suppose it may indicate a geeky addiction to electronic consumer goods (as they call them in marketing), but I have a feeling that everyone except the most ascetic individual is experiencing the same thing.

So what’s the solution? Well, we now take wireless internet and bluetooth for granted (gone are the days when I had to run a 20m cable from the phone socket to my bondi-blue iMac upstairs!) and there’s been talk of wireless delivery of electricity to devices for a while. Ah, imagine it – an entirely wireless household!

I suppose the other solution is to simply own less stuff, but I’m not quite ready for that at this precise moment!

BTW: Fuck me, isn't the Apple MacBook Air breathtakingly beautiful?

Thursday, January 10, 2008

TV Chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall is on Channel 4 in a Ghoulish Chicken Cruelty Experiment and I Hate Him Even More Now

Against my better judgment, I watched Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall abusing chickens and patronising poor people in Hugh’s Chicken Run (Channel 4) this week.

As one could easily guess, Hugh thinks battery-farming chickens is a BAD THING and sets about persuading the hoi-polloi in Axminster, the town near his River Cottage ‘holding’, that they should give up their £2.50 supermarket chickens. Of course, it came across as the Lord of the Manor attempting to be matey with his serfs, but then that’s what we expect from Hugh. You’d think Channel 4 would steer him away from interacting with the public. His dalek-like Old Etonian speech patterns seem even more irritating when they’re directed at ordinary people.

But that’s not the concept on which the show has ghoulishly been focused.

The premise – or gimmick, if we’re honest Channel 4 – is that, because Hugh wasn’t allowed access to any intensive chicken farms, he builds his own to demonstrate just how awful and cruel it is.

Now, you may think this is a bit like Simon Wiesenthal creating his own Auschwitz on his allotment to show us just awful and cruel death camps were. Or Amnesty International torturing Big Brother contestants. Or animal rights activists donning the hunting pinks to pursue a fox. Surely if you’re against cruelty you don’t actively engage in it?

However, all morality and common sense (not to mention a few thousand chickens) are sacrificed on the altar of sensationalist ‘good television’. Now I notice that Jamie Oliver has imported a chicken abattoir into a TV studio for Friday’s crusading 9pm slot.

I have a suggestion for a sequel to this demented nonsense:

‘Hugh and Jamie’s Bargain Bucket’

The two TV chefs are locked naked in a cramped man-sized KFC bucket for a month with only chicken feed to eat and a grille underneath them to shit through. If they survive (obviously Channel 4 will hope that one eats the other, in order to show just how awful and cruel cannibalism is) the people of Axminster can then decide whether to have them executed in a replica of a US-style gas chamber (to show just how awful and cruel capital punishment is) or just stone them to death (to show just how awful and cruel biblical punishments for being a cunt were). Either way, that’s one series finale I’d definitely tune into…

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Virgin Media Broadband Problems Continue

Following on from my last post: broadband went down again on Sunday and hasn't been reconnected since. I rang up the call centre again and, although they've apparently sorted out the billing problem, they've now lost my modem registration so that they can't reconnect.

I did ask why they obviously had that information on Saturday when we were briefly reconnected, but had now lost it, but no answer was forthcoming. I now have to ring them again from home tonight to read out the registration number on the bottom of the modem!

Now add the phone call yesterday into the mix, where I was assured that my connection was OK and there was technical issue, so would I read their 25p-a-minute support line again...

The confusion and witlessness are exasperating.

Still, here's a photo of Richard Branson's arse. Which is what Virgin Media is obviously talking out of.

Monday, January 07, 2008

More Virgin Media Idiocy

Long-standing readers of this blog will know that I have a long-standing hatred of Virgin Media, having been repeatedly let down and inconvenienced by the Frankenstein's Monster of entertainment and communication providers (see this, this and this post for starters). You'll be glad to discover that absolutely nothing has changed - the fuck-ups continue.

Our broadband access went down on Friday night and, having tested the wireless router and modem, restarting laptops and all the usual solutions, it stayed down. OK, network problem maybe? Whatever the problem, it was still down on Saturday. I had work that needed to be done, so I had to tramp into the freezing Saatchi offices in London. Once there, I found the Broadband helpline number (25p a minute!) on the Virgin Media website and the 'technical expert' couldn't help (after £2 of prevarication).

Eventually my offices were too cold to continue working, so I went home. My wife was beginning to suffer from Internet withdrawal , so she rang the helpline again. After £3 worth of 'help' she was told that we'd been cut off because our account was in arrears. In actual fact, we're in massive credit because the idiots charged me twice for 6 months.

I now ring their normal customer helpline and discover that, even though I've rung and complained about umpteen times ever since we moved house, they still haven't closed the broadband account for our old address. Which was why they'd been charging me twice. They'd stopped the direct debit but their system now showed me as defaulting on payment.


A very nice woman in the call centre appeared to have sorted it out and reconnected us. Then the broadband went down again yesterday. Utterly maddening - and, of course, as a consumer, I have no way of getting recompense for their continually dire performance.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Crack Squirrel Sighting

Body tensing like a furry spring, eyes filled with whatever passes for insanity in the rodent world, the creature crouched and then leapt in a zig-zag path across the pavement and then in front of my bike. Yes, I was cycling along the Euston Road and encountering my first Crack Squirrel.

Crack squirrels are an urban myth started in Brixton, where apparently squirrels rove red-eyed and demented, tiny grey hoodies ready to strike, due to ingesting rock cocaine that had been buried or abandoned by dealers. I always dismissed the idea until I witnessed the bizarre behaviour of that tremulous tree-rat yesterday.

The squirrel was leaping about - not just scuttling - and had a look on its face that reminded me of Pete Doherty emerging from rehab after a month of cold turkey and finding a dealer taunting him with a needle that's - always - out - of - reach. After I braked abruptly and narrowly avoided hitting the thing, it jumped under a bus, survived to emerge on the far side, then scampered under another car. At this point, I lost sight of it after that. Did it survive? I hope so. Had it really nibbled on a 'rock' discarded in the graveyard of St. Pancras Church or was it going crazy for some other reason (perhaps it had just heard that Leon Jackson was at number one?) Sadly, without its flattened corpse and a drug testing kit I'll never know...

Wahay! I'm off my nut on crack!