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Saturday, 26 February 2011

The logic of the carthorse - and more of the joys of BT

The Trades Union Congress has been a figure of fun since my childhood, when its stubborn stupidity inspired the great cartoonist Low to portray it as a carthorse.

It was a carthorse with a kick. In 1970 most of the respondents to a poll believed one union leader, Jack Jones, had more power than the Prime Minister. Compelling evidence suggests he was also a Russian spy. As you might expect, he was a great hero to the Bloated Toad Brown, whose wife's unintentionally hilarious memoirs suggest nothing so much as The Memoirs of a Nobody.

The current TUC general secretary Brendan Barber is keeping up Jones's good work.

He's so worried about the £29 billion of unpaid overtime people have done in the past year that Friday was named Work Your Proper Hours Day, or in more down-to-earth language I'm Fucking Off Home Day.

Among other unconsciously hilarious statements he claimed that the people who work the most unpaid hours are in the public sector. Pull the other one, Brendan. I'd love to see the dodgy research you got your figures from.

But this magnificent initiative reminded me of what happened when I rang a BT engineer last Tuesday.

True, BT is no longer a public service, but the ethos lingers on. Service remains alien to them, though no doubt the word is often uttered piously as they doze their way through meeting after pointless meeting at their various offices.

If you read this stuff you will know my last blog but one commented on a surreal conversation my beloved had with some BT nitwit who refused to tell his own engineer that nobody would be in when he called to install the long-delayed broadband here on the grounds of security.

The engineer left a plaintive message asking why nobody was there when he came. So I rang him on Tuesday to apologise and explain that he had been messed about not by me, but by his own crapulous colleague. The conversation was short. He said, "Why are you ringing me? This is on my time" - and cut me off. It has never occurred or been pointed out to to him that his time at leisure is funded by the time I pay for.

To the witless Mr. Barber and all who follow him, may I point out that this is a cruel, cruel world? If you don't want to do any overtime, plenty of others will . Some live in other parts of the world. Many risk their lives to come to Britain, quite rightly thinking that if people here can't be bothered to work, they will.

That is why most of the jobs vacancies here are filled by immigrants.

This is called the principle of supply and demand. What Mr. Barber is talking about is called idiocy.

The last time I was in Shanghai I was told that people there get a simple message from employers: "Work hard today, for if you do not there will be no work tomorrow."

I feel lucky to have work. In most places the idiots in charge would throw me out as too old to be any use

Nobody sane would employ me anyhow. The solution for most of my life has been to employ other people who are willing to put up with my eccentricities, but I do not think we should have to put up with those of Mr. Barber. Let him work the number of hours that suit him - which on the evidence seems to be none. No doubt he has a fat pension to look forward to.

On the matter of public servants: we now work nearly half the year to pay the taxes which pay them. This period is likely to lengthen because the current government is - despite all the hoo-ha - NOT reducing spending. It is only reducing the rate at which it increases.

That's neat. The country is going to be ruined. Cameron and his rich friends are just slowing the process down slightly.

It is all down to bad, bad management.

Friday, 25 February 2011

Why does the internet breed so many lying bastards (and bitches)? - And by the way, here's what to do with your precious mission statement

This morning whilst recovering from a quick jaunt to Athens (don't envy me: it was pissing down with rain and I saw nothing except a good view of the Parthenon) I went through my emails.

One headed "Re: Conference call" was from someone called Lita Geller

I know no Lita, though I used to lust after the singer Lita Roza when I was in my teens and the only Geller I know of is the mastermind of direct marketing in the 50s and 60s, Dave Geller.

But I am curious, so I open. There is no reference to the conference call at all. After saying "Hi, I hope you are doing well" it goes on to try and sell me mailing lists.

This is irritating, stupid, dishonest and pointless.

At least the crooks who run lines like "My cretinous cousin made $3,467,232 in 24 hours - free webinar" stick to the point and follow up with more lies on the same theme.

But I wonder why the internet seems to produce an endless stream of rogues. Maybe it's because it also produces an endless harvest of trusting mugs. As a crook I knew many years ago used to say. "In ths life they only pass but once - and as they pass, fuck them."

Now that I've got going, here's another that caught my eye: it was headed Our Goal: World-Class Service on Every Flight.

Guess what? I don't give a flying fuck what your goal is. I am, rather oddly, mostly interested in how you can help me.

I remain astounded at the number of people engaged in navel-gazing marketing.

When I was speaking yesterday I asked the audience how many had read or even noticed the mission statement the organisers (one of the most famous brands in the world) had stuck at the start of the programme.

Nobody had.

How is it possible that the vast majority of senior people in marketing haven't got even a scintilla of a clue that it is about offering people benefits? Astounding. Have they studied nothing?

Another interesting paradox: as a rule, the bigger the company the greater the number of ignorant buffoons. Maybe it's easier for them to hide among the crowds.

By all means have a mission statement if your leadership is so poor that nobody knows what you're trying to do. But keep it to yourself. It's boring (and usually VERY badly written in a series of meetings by people who don't have real work to do.)

Monday, 21 February 2011

Jerking off at Cannes ... and British Telecom's brilliant new "fuck the customer and lose money” service

I see there is to be a "global debate on creativity" at the Cannes Lions Festival - the ad-luvvies giant exercise in mutual masturbation avec cocaine that occurs every year.

Perhaps they can discuss the French Connection ads which won the top prize in the UK at another Adwank. They feature models looking like idiots - as shown - with brilliant headlines like "Are you Man?" in a sort of pidgin English.

French Connection's U.K. sales are down 8%, and no doubt the usual drivel is being poured out by the agency "Oh, it takes time for these campaigns to work, your Majesty. May I kiss your arse again? Left buttock or right?"

Lucky for the client that their sales are up everywhere but the U.K.

This reminds me of my time on the Ogilvy Worldwide Board. We once wasted a whole day discussing "What is good advertising?" I wondered how everyone got on the board without knowing the answer. And since David was there, they could have asked him.


Actually, if you want model idiots, look no further than
British Telecom.

They have found a brilliant new way to fuck customers and their own staff around simultaneously.

This is vintage stuff, so pay attention.

The love of my life rang to tell them that nobody would be home at the time we had arranged to have the new broadband (finally) installed, because I was cracking jokes in Ljubljana and she was working.

The idiot at the other end said, "I can't do that until you give proof of identity."

Uh? Uh? UH? Who the hell would know BT were coming round except the customer, shit-for-brains?

Then he asked her for details of the email they had sent making the arrangement. She said, "I can't. I've changed jobs - I have a new email address."

She added, "Look I'm just trying to help you. You will have a man hanging around for an hour, wasting his time and your money".

Sorry, no can do unless you give me proof of identity. "How much was your last BT bill?" was the inane request.

Well, of course she carries the bill round next to her heart everywhere she goes.

And so it came to pass: some poor engineer hung around pointlessly last Friday - because of corporate stupidity.

What overpaid dickhead is responsible for this? Does anyone there think?

Can you imagine how many millions these fuckwits add to everyone's bills whilst demotivating their engineers - through sheer stupidity?

I have a theory large corporations recruit staff by running ads headed, "Wanted: Morons Who Hate People."

They probably win awards,

I was reminded by this of Dryden’s lines about the Poet Laureate Shadwell - which destroyed his reputation forever.

Dryden imagined the God of Stupidity looking for a worthy successor among his sons, and wrote:

Shadwell alone my perfect image bears,
Mature in dullness from his tender years.
Shadwell alone, of all my Sons, is he
Who stands confirm'd in full stupidity.
The rest to some faint meaning make pretence,
But Shadwell never deviates into sense.
Some Beams of Wit on other souls may fall,
Strike through and make a lucid interval;
But Shadwell's genuine night admits no ray,
His rising Fogs prevail upon the Day.

All you have to do is substitute the name of someone senior at BT for Shadwell and there you are.

Saturday, 19 February 2011

Big surprises and strange miracles in a small country - and my friend the stand-up comedian

Slovenia, where I am now, is one of the smallest and most beautiful countries in Europe. Great skiing (and cheap).

Its people - about 2 million - must also be one of the most knowledgeable about marketing, largely because of a man called Ales Lisac.

Ales publishes books and writes them, runs seminars, advises on marketing, makes speeches, writes terrific copy and is an amazing promoter. Three years ago he got 4,000 people to attend a direct marketing event here.

If you got that percentage of the population to turn up to something in the UK you'd find it hard to find anywhere to stage the event.

I get Ales to speak at my EADIM event every year and people love him because he is also extremely funny. So much so that he has entered a contest to find the best new stand-up comedian. I bet he wins.

He got me to come and talk to a small audience by his standards - only 460. No simultaneous translation, so they must either speak pretty good English or be too polite to say they didn't understand a word of it.

Then we did a half day with 43 people talking to them about their business problems. When I say "we", Ales, among his fine qualities, is a cunning fellow, so I did all the work. I guess they knew all his jokes and wanted some new ones.

People seemed to love the morning - in fact I may have two new clients.

This reminds me that a few weeks ago I said I might do some mentoring. I'm not sure about that but if anyone's interested I will do in London what I did here. I did something similar in Chicago last year with Ken McCarthy and Perry Marshall and it seems to work.

There were two products that fascinated me. One is called Flaska. It is a bottle that purifies water - actually changes its structure and makes it healthier for you. Really. It is scientifically validated and they call it "living water". I predict the man behind it will make millions. It's already doing very well and I have three samples. I will tell you what happens for me.

The second, believe it or not, was an electronic candle for churches with a machine that measures how much people are donating. This does very well here and in Italy (Slovenia once belonged to Italy). I love weird products, and they certainly qualify.

Yesterday I met some guys from a Reggae Dub band on tour here - and had one of those small world moments. One goes to the same church as my daughter in New Jersey. They put me on the guest list for their show but I was too late after dinner to make it.

Talking of which my neighbour at dinner makes and sells a crystal holder for i-phones. It does extremely well in Japan and the U.K. Some people even buy it despite the fact they don't have i-phones.

Who understands people? Not me.

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

“We’re better, connected.” No, we’re not. We’re bloody livid. Plus a rather nasty couple of hours

When I first started writing copy nobody – as I noted a few days ago – had the vaguest idea what I did and trying to explain to someone normal like Tommy Cochrane, the barman at my parents’ pub, that one got paid for doing such a silly job was hard work.

Almost invariably, whoever I was talking to would say, as the mists of disbelief cleared, “Oh, you write them slogans, then.”

Among the legion of masturbatory slogans that afflict us with their boastful flatulence, “We’re better, connected” - O2’s contribution to the corporate world of “me, me, me” - has always struck me as outstandingly irritating.

You can just see the writer hugging him or herself with glee as they inserted that coy little comma.

In our new place in Bristol none of the internet providers, despite their boasts, seem able to get us broadband in this millennium.. So I have had to resort to getting a Dongle.

My partner Al who specialises in all things that relate to the internet warned me it would drive me mad.

It has succeeded in spades.

Using it reminds me of countless hours in those dear, dead days when I used to sit in hotels around the world sticking wires into my computer and screaming abuse at it as I failed to get connected with the big, wide wonderful World-Wide Wank.

This morning as I get ready to fly off to Slovenia I’m failing to get connected to O2 – again. A brief message pops up which ends by telling me that if all else fails I can call a help-line which is (wait for it, friends) on my bill.

Where is the bill? I have no idea. Oddly enough I don’t carry the bloody thing round with me. Or is it electronic? Again, I have no idea.

I was going to say you couldn't make it up - but this sort of thoughtlessness is quite common.

Does the boss of Telefonica – who own O2 - ever try to use their damn Dongle service? People like that should get their arses out of the meetings they waste their days on and try being a customer.

You can talk and boast as much as you like (and all these big firms do like, a lot). But believe me, an ounce of competence beats ten tons of bullshit any old day

When I talk about branding in a couple of months the subject of slogans and why almost all are a complete bloody waste of time is one I shall cover with considerable pleasure.

Anyone who listens may well save themselves a small fortune, as they will when Andy Knowles reveals the reasons why people don’t choose your brand when they wander down the aisles at Tesco or Walmart.


I promised to tell you about my most embarrassing moment a week or so back. I will eventually but in the meantime, I had a good one yesterday.

I had to do a two hour session on how to write better.

I spent some days playing around with my slides, looking for the ones that would tell the best lessons or raise the loudest laughs.

The body of what I intended to talk about revolved around five letters and six emails which I planned to dissect, explaining why I had written what I had written and why one of the letters had been rendered useless by a simple failure to think. There were also some ads and mailing which I admired, and intended to talk about.

When I got to the meeting room, I learned that the presentation, which had been emailed by the radiant Chloe, hadn't arrived. It was too big and had been automatically stopped by whatever machinery my client has in place to guard against I know not what. So there I was, bereft, with two hours to fill.

Just you try to explain in detail how to write better copy with absolutely no visual aids whatsoever. It's happened to me two or three times before. Hard work, but they seemed to like it. As a spectator sport it's hard to beat watching someone else trying to haul themselves out of the shit.

Sunday, 13 February 2011

My big fat gorgeous Greek rip-off: Amnesia rules at AOL ... and Arianna laughs all the way to the bank

Many years ago there was a highly articulate, pretty little blue-stocking at Cambridge called Arianna Stassinopoulos who went on to appear on TV and lived with one of Britain's best and funniest journalists, Bernard Levin.

They parted and off she went to the land where money grows on trees and married a politician called Huffington who turned out to be bisexual, a happy state of affairs which Woody Allen pointed out doubles your chances of date on Saturday night.

This is why the Huffington Report is called what it is. I have commented on the wily Greeks more than once, but Arianna has pretty much out-wiled them all by selling her business to AOL for ten times its revenues. She spun her web, and in they walked.

Gary Halbert famously observed that the essential ingredient in marketing success if you run a restaurant is a starving crowd. In the same way, if you want to rip people off, you need a big, fat, stupid mug.

Arianna, bless her, needed to look no further than the buffoons at AOL whose last bit of stupidity I recall was to squander a fortune on redesigning their logo - a classic piece of masturbation marketing.

Perhaps the best book ever written on investment folly is "Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds", written by Charles Mackay in 1841. The first (and best) half is little more than a catalogue of the ways in which people repeatedly succumb to mass hysteria and invest in silly things. The property bubble is the last example, but before that was the great internet cock-up.

I have read somewhere that it takes 40 years for people to remember their last act of collective lunacy, but it is not nearly that long since Time-Life pissed away millions by overpaying for AOL. You would think somewhere in the shell of that mishap someone might have bethought themselves of this before doing this new deal

As Santayana remarked, "Those who ignore the lessons of history are doomed to repeat them."

Arianna was voted"Greek of the Year" by the US Chamber of Commerce" a few years ago. She now deserves to be crowned Greek of the Decade.

You go, girl!.

And as for the CEO of AOL: You go, too - with the usual fat package for screwing things up.

The way these fat cats flourish like poisonous weeds whilst the incomes of the middle and lower classes stagnate or fall is a disgrace. Will we ever rise up in protest?

Saturday, 12 February 2011

George Bernard Shaw was funny - but not always right - and news about the Great Mystery Branding Event

Over 40 years ago my first book was published.

I sent it to Bill Melton, one of my old teachers at Trent College, with thanks for his help in shaping me.

Modestly he quoted George Bernard Shaw: "Those who can do; those who cannot teach."

I replied that Shaw forgot about those like him who were bloody good teachers.

The other day I got a kind message from a man who helps people pass exams and went to look at his website.

I wrote in my bossy way saying he should not just say what he does, but how he helps people, and I asked why he didn't use testimonials

He replied more or less saying he thought that was a bit too pushy and commercial.

From the abyss created by my years of folly I wrote this:

Don't be so bloody English and "I don't want to sell, it's so vulgar"

So here is advice from the echoing Gorge of Senility.

Ask yourself why people come to you.

What reward do they get? What misery do they escape?

They get the reward of success and escape the misery of failure.

They pass that dreaded exam. They get the job because they're qualified.

They get real, practical benefits - but these have great emotional meaning.

They succeed where they might have failed.

Your work is quite possibly the difference between happiness and despair.

And they will only believe you can do this if they see you have done this for other people.

If you wish to help people succeed (and if not why bother to live?) then you should do everything in your power to do so. You must sell.

If you don't sell what you can contribute, you are limiting your ability to do so - and the good you can do.

In the end you don't feel as though you have done what you could have done with your life.

That's a shame.


On another subject, I plan to run the branding event I mentioned a while back over a weekend in conjunction with De Montfort University.

This will not be one of those hot air fests where big shots from well-known brands stand up and bray about their successes, with dreary presentations put together by their agencies ... then you wonder what exactly you have to do.

It will feature James Hammond, who has written one of the best books about this in the Sunday Times series, Rory Sutherland, President of the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising, who talks entertainingly about it. Also Andy Knowles, who has more intelligent things to say about design and how it affects sales than anyone I have ever heard.

The highly entertaining Ian Mulingani of Brandscape will reveal some startling facts about how experiential marketing can have an extraordinary impact on attitudes to brands and, more to the point, sales. He has done some remarkable stuff with people like Mercedes.

There are some others I am talking to, all of the same calibre - and bringing up the rearguard, me.

All things are subject to change, but it will be a 2 day event, the first day speakers giving you insights into how you build a brand and the second a workshop, where you go into exactly how you build YOUR brand, following a unique 4 stage process developed by James - a modest man whose work deserves to be better known.

It won't be cheap, but it won't be extortionate.

I'll keep you informed.

Watch this space, then

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

“Don’t tell my mother I’m in advertising – she thinks I play the piano in a brothel"

I think that title, from Jacques Seguela, is the most entertaining of any book about advertising, closely followed by Jerry Della Femina’s “From those wonderful folks who gave you Pearl Harbor”.

But when I inveigled my way into the ad business, hardly anybody was interested in being a copywriter, because hardly nobody knew what a copywriter was and nobody cared. Indeed, one of my late friend the very talented Bill Jayme’s many good jokes was, “Have you ever been able satisfactorily to explain to your mother exactly what you do for a living?”

But I am stunned and shocked by how many people today either are copywriters or want to start on this self-destructive path, paved as it is with unspeakable horrors like Compliance Departments, Art Directors who think 50 words is long and clients who think any fool can write a letter - and proceed to give a live demonstration .

All that preamble leads me to an email I got two days ago from Johnny Cullen who said he was compiling a report called “What makes top copywriters tick (and why)?”

He excluded the obvious answer, which is "other writers". That made it a challenging question. Here is my reply – far less entertaining than the two titles above, but you may find it interesting. Since I was as usual too damn busy I dashed it straight off and was surprised to see it made sense.

I am inspired by:

Desperation --- the knowledge that I HAVE to come up with something.

Fear --- that this time I will fail (and I sometimes do).

Fascination --- with new things and people. Every time I learn something new or meet someone interesting it makes me happy and starts me thinking.

Example --- whenever I see someone who does something well, even if don't have any skill in that area, it goads me on to do better. Years ago I saw a masterclass by Casals. I can't play any instrument, but that cheered me up no end.

Oddities --- I rejoice in them. Never stop looking out for them. They lead to interesting ideas, I suspect.

A sense of inferiority --- I think what I do has little merit, but at least I can try and do it well.

Fury --- it maddens me to see how many people settle for second or even
third best. Why bother to live if you feel that way?

Since I wrote that list, three other things came to mind. I find going for a walk gives me ideas, as does the demon drink and its nasty aftermath, the hangover. I do not recommend the latter two courses; the evidence is in the picture on this page.

Johnny Cullen has a very good website indeed - www.eustondoyoucopy.com. He is a real student of advertising and you can reach him at johnnycullen2005@gmail.com.

Monday, 7 February 2011

“It’s the same the whole world over – ain’t it all a bleeding shame"

This wonderful old song line came to mind when I read a story in Malaysia’s Advertising and Marketing magazine about a pitch for the Tourism Malaysia account.

The mag – which is excellent, by the way – comments that “Half the town is pitching for the account, and there has been a lot of frustration with Tourism Malaysia holding their cards too close to their chest.”

The incumbent agency was pissed about so much that they resigned the business and the story is running and running.

If I know anything about Malaysia – and I do as I have spent a lot of time there – the chances of this being a straightforward process are negligible. The politics will be unbearable and in Malaysia it very often really is a question of who you know.

But memory transported me back 40 odd years to my first big job in the mid ‘60s - as Copy Chief, then Creative Director of the London agency for the British Travel Association. Satisfying them was a nightmare as there was always a battle between the various regions about who got the most mentions.

This was hardly helped by the fact that we had to present to a committee. The chairman was Lord Manfield, a distinguished former Cabinet Minister whose knowledge of and interest in advertising was, I imagine, sketchy at best.

We also had the Greek National Tourist office account. In their case at least I knew I could never be accused of knowingly telling lies as I wrote the ads without ever having visited the place. Anyhow, the chief problem with them was not advertising. It was getting them to pay.

They had a marvellous line I wish I had written, “Greece greets you warmly” – one of those rare slogans which encapsulates the right message. Of course, they stopped using it. Fools.

As Bill Bernbach observed, one average campaign run for ten years is better than ten brilliant campaigns, one a year. But that was a brilliant line. The trouble with most clients - actually, most people - is that they mistake change for improvement.

Sunday, 6 February 2011

Antediluvian antics at Barclays Bank. Stumbling across a good idea they make their staff’s jobs impossible. What else is new?

How can one single out a particular bank in for incompetence, rapacity and all round folly? It is hard; but I have always had a soft spot for Barclays.

They had a series of loopy marketing directors, all of whom as far as I can see went on to other good jobs after being found out, as is the way in the potty world such people inhabit.

One thought it a good idea to run commercials featuring the actor Samuel L. Jackson wandering around aimlessly talking to a pig, perhaps in the bizarre belief that an American actor, at that time famed for violent roles, was a convincing authority on the realities of British domestic finance.

Another started plastering the banks with matey slogans on the grounds, I imagine, that for instance calling an ATM a Hole in the Wall would endear the bank to customers. The signs and accompanying paraphernalia for this little conceit must have cost millions - with further millions to remove.

But somebody at Barclays had a good idea recently. They started sticking electronic kiosks in the branches where you can do all your transactions without having to queue at a counter.

My beloved, a born masochist - she puts up with me - banks with Barclays. She made a payment through one of these kiosks in London before we moved to Bristol then went to check her account at the kiosk in a branch here. It could tell her nothing.

Puzzled, she went to the counter to enquire. The girl pulled her details up on a screen to see what was going on, first checking name and address.

This proved challenging.

“Your address is 51, Ables Road?” No, it wasn’t. The poor girl couldn’t read the address that was there before her eyes on the screen. And even if she could it wouldn’t have helped, because believe it or not, the system doesn’t allow the people in the branches to get full details of what happens via the kiosk. Only head office can do that.

However, the girl at the counter did have a tag that gave her first name – let’s call her Dolly – under which was written “loves cats”. This was clearly a residue of the attempt to render the bank and its staff loveable.

It is hard to see how knowing which animals Dolly likes is any help when all you want is that she can read, write, handle transactions and tell you what you need to know. I don’t want to love the people in my bank. They can be infatuated with giant Peruvian rats for all I care. All I want is they be polite. Years ago, when they had some authority, being friends with them was a help. But now that everything they do is controlled by the dimwits at the centre, it’s of no use whatsoever.

Since Dolly who loves cats was unable to oblige we went to a bigger branch to discover that here too the kiosk would reveal nothing. The evidence suggests it may have been upset at being asked: it crashed.

It then transpired that even the lady managing the branch couldn’t find out the necessary details. So forty years and more after banks started having databases Barclays’ masterminds still haven’t grasped that you need a central one everyone relevant can look at - let alone that the people who really need access are the poor souls who deal with customers.

How bloody sad is that? My heart goes out to the manageress and all the underpaid people in banks who suffer from the ill-thought-out “strategies” of the head office boobies. If like Dolly who loves cats I had to work in a branch I fear I too would lose the ability to read.

Peter Drucker said years ago that there is only one profit centre in business: your customer. But that profit is only made possible by your staff. Why make their lives so difficult? Why not give them some control? Oceans of research show that people who feel in control do a better job.

But then the only thing that appears to interest those who run banks is their grotesquely swollen pay packets. In less forgiving times or more excitable societies they would have been strung up for incompetence. Only professional sportsmen and pop stars are so insanely overpaid. But at least they entertain us.

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Neither Spick Nor Span - Just rather sloppy like my spelling, but more infuriating

I'm sorry, but this is all going to be rather tedious, so let's start with one of my favourites:

"We can always bear with equanimity the misfortunes of our friends" - De la Rochefoucauld.

Since it takes weeks to get internet broadband here in my new home town - really an old home town as I shall explain - I'm in a charity cafe (what a good idea) typing this.

Things did not improve after the failure to get our couch into the flat. Being nitwits we had no idea how to turn on the heat, so the weekend was spent at around zero degrees. But the misery was exacerbated by the negligence of a firm called Spic n Span - if that's how they spell their name.

The previous occupants of our flat had cleaned up afterwards, but She Who Rules This Cranky Old Bird's Roost wanted it immaculate. A really deep clean, costing 60% more per hour than the cleaning done in London was arranged. So when we arrived, exhausted, it was dispiriting to find traces of dirt here, there and everywhere.

The lady supervisor was summoned, expressed dismay, and said it would be fixed. But it wasn't. We (that is She Who Rules etc.) spent two hours cleaning shelves, tops of cupboards etc. while I watched and took incriminating photos - sample left above.

This time the Supervisor sang a different tune. "Anyone could have taken those pictures," she said. And indeed anyone who had nothing better to do could. To which was added, "You didn't allow enough time for the job."

Since she was the one who said 16 hours would be enough ...

Well, this is getting to be a bore.

But I was amazed that cleaners in London could do a better job for £10 an hour than they did in Bristol for £16.

I like Bristol, though. The reason I feel at home is that a fair bit of it is named after my mother's family - Colston. But they have a really odd bus service, which seems to involve a mandatory tour of the city wherever you're going.

Oh, and I see I misspelt embarrassing in my last piece. Oh dear.

Anyhow, here's something else for you from De la Rochefoucauld: "Good advice is something a man gives when he is too old to set a bad example".

I can really relate to that.