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Sunday, 26 August 2007

Be fair to the plods!!

My partner read what I wrote earlier - and made a good point.

"The police don't bother because what's the point of arresting the dealers? They get let out anyhow. It's not like they're going to jail. They'll be out on the streets in no time."

True. But if there were a few police visible in Camden, wouldn't it make a difference?

Which brings up the point that the jails are full to bursting. Why?

One big reason is that Gordon Brown refused to pony up the cash when he was Chancellor. He preferred to have it invested on more important things, like Lesbian, Bisexual and Equal Opportunity Managers in towns up and down the land.

Another big reason is no sense of priorities - jailing people like single mothers or old age pensioners for trivial offences while villainy in front of everyone's noses is ignored.

"To govern is always to choose among disadvantages" said De Gaulle. But surely some choices are not that complicated.

Dozens of chirpy crack dealers – but no police, naturally

If you’ve been reading this, you may recall my fond reminiscences of happy days with A, retired party girl, failed carving knife artiste and reformed meth fiend.

In those days if you were an addict you could sign up and get your junk on prescription. However, as someone wisely observed, “there is no situation so bad that politicians cannot make it worse.”

So the idiots in charge (yes, just as thick as the current lot) stopped this sensible arrangement.

My friend A was no fool. She told me: “This change is bloody stupid. It will bring in the villains and create all kinds of misery.”

And so it came to pass.

Two weeks ago when she was leaving our office in the West End late at night a man approached my partner and asked her if she was “All right for Charlie”.

After he’d finished a gig last week my son Nick was approached quite openly not by one but by a succession of crack dealers near Camden tube. As he commented, “If I can see it that easily, what’s stopping the bloody police?”

Good question. Well, I’ll tell you.

The police are just too busy. It’s a tough life, driving round like a maniac, sirens blaring - when you’re not filling forms that ensure equal opportunities for arseholes. With all that going on, how can you find time to do what you’re paid for?

Talking about arseholes, they’re far too busy to get out and see what’s happening.

Cameron is busy wondering why his impression of Bliar isn’t working (hint, David: everyone thinks the man was a complete fuck-up); Brown is busy working out how to screw Cameron, and wondering if anyone will notice that he’s agreed to sign us up for Europe without a referendum (yes, friends; he’s just as deceitful as his predecessor; he just doesn’t smile when he lies).

How can these great men possibly find time to take a walk round any street in any town in this country and see what we’re worrying about?

The West End isn't quite this bad - yet. Give the politicians time, though

P.S. Thanks to the gentleman who told me I had wrongly consigned Ludovic Kennedy to an early grave: the old chap is still puttering along. I was confusing him with that pompous ass Robin Day.

Friday, 24 August 2007

Lively Scenes from an Opera Buffa in Verona

Even the most casual reader will have noticed that I am a bit of a buffoon. But you may not know that I also love the opera.

So, let me tell you what happened after the last entry in this sorry tale, which was about a business meeting to Italy on my birthday. And let me remind you that Opera Buffa means comic opera.

Getting there is half the fun, they say; but it’s often much more than that with us. So, my partner set things up in fine style by working through the night, then driving us to Stansted at 6 a.m. (Among my many other shortcomings, readers, I cannot drive a car).

An hour of Italian bravura driving followed, which she told me later she remembers nothing of. Just as well she slept on the plane, because she drove for another hour to a most beautiful restaurant overlooking Lake Garda.

Only when she handed me a box – which you see at the top of this entry – did I realize that this was not a business meeting. It was a birthday present. The box was handmade by my partner with a bit of help from my PA. Inside was a specially printed and written booklet describing each restaurant we were eating at, the hotel we were staying at, and the opera we were to see that evening in the Arena at Verona.

Recitals of great meals are boring, so let us go to Verona, the largest outdoor opera house in Europe, set in an old Roman amphitheatre … where it was raining, for a recital of what happens when you piss off Italian opera lovers.

The rule at Verona is as follows: If, because of rain, the opera does not begin after 150 minutes (yes, two and half hours) you get your money back.

If it starts before that time, but then stops, you don’t get your money back. What happened was this. After about an hour it was announced that the opera might begin – so we shouldn’t go away - but it couldn’t begin if there was the slightest amount of rain, as the instruments would be damaged.

Here is a picture of me waiting to find out.

Being an Italian, my dear partner said that the organizers would play a few notes, then stop and take our money.

Guess what happened? After two hours, with many announcements about consultations with the local meteorological office about the “current meteorological disturbances”, and a few glasses of wine, it was announced that things were going to get better, and the show would definitely begin.

And indeed it did; for about two and a half minutes.

Then it stopped, but an announcement was made that it would restart. Now at this point, the average English audience would say “They’re taking the piss”. The Italians (thousands, by the way) said the same thing but rather more ferociously.

“Vergogna!” many shouted. (This means “Shame.”) Many others shouted “Buffoni” (This is the plural of Drayton). A man with a good sense of humour shouted “Pagliacci” – which opera-loving readers will know means clowns, but is also a famous opera. One man, purple in the face and shaking with rage – shouted, “Carabinieri! Come quickly! Thieves here!”

It occurred to us that a British audience at that point would have said what an absolute disgrace it was and threatened to write to the paper. The Italians, God bless ’em, kept shouting until the authorities gave in and said we could have our money back.

The next day we did have our business meeting – but that was not NEARLY as interesting

Wednesday, 22 August 2007

Happy birthday to me

It is 1.28 a.m. on the morning of my birthday, and I have a very early plane to catch to Milan.

“What the hell am I doing still awake?” you may wonder. The answer may not make sense, but it does to the two Italian ladies I live with.

Please don’t get excited or envious. It’s not a ménage a trois – just my partner and her sister. Being the people they are - that is, slightly crazy – it made perfect sense to them to wake me up just before midnight with a cake covered with candles, a bottle of Moet, a walking model of Shaun the Sheep and a map of Worcestershire as birthday presents. (We have a running joke about how to pronounce Worcestershire - and I love Shaun)

My God, how I applaud this sort of thing; and how sorry I feel for people who stick to the expected.

My mother and I once talked about what kind of life we both wanted. We agreed that whatever else we didn’t plan to end our days asking ourselves “What did I do with my life?” Better to do a few mad things than always do the right ones.

(She was an astonishing, beautiful woman whose life and loves I shall talk about eventually – another promise that I’ll have to keep).

Anyhow, why are my partner and I off to Milan, that least appealing of Italian cities? For a meeting with my friend Ales from Slovenia, with whom we are working on a pretty ambitious pan-European project.

It is my partner’s idea, and I think it is going to come off. When it does, I’ll tell you more.

Ales Lisac is alarmingly talented and reads this epic, which is just about understandable as he has a warped sense of humour and works in marketing, but I just discovered that his wife Natalie reads it, too.

She is a bit of a masochist I fear, as she spent about five months translating my book Commonsense Direct Marketing into Slovenian. You may wonder why that is such a chore. Well, if you’ve read it you know it has quite a few laughs but is a bit technical in places - hardly anybody has giggled their way through the chapter on testing.

The trouble is, you see, that there are lots of words like “insert” that have no Slovenian equivalent, so she had to reshape her native tongue to get the job done. Anyhow, I certainly owe her a vote of thanks, though I was just a little piqued to hear that after reading the last episode about the failed stabbing she decided I have bad judgement.

It’s true. The secret is out. Actually, I have appalling judgement.

And how fortunate that is, because otherwise my life would have been infinitely duller.

Which brings me to the matter of the receptionist who caught my eye all those years ago. Do you remember? I was lured by false promises to do with a lack of undergarments.

(Incidentally, I’ve read more than once that women didn’t wear any underclothes until some time in the 19th century – a thought which goes a fair way to explain why they had so much fun in earlier centuries, and fills me with mingled delight and regret.)

But, the receptionist, J, was one of the many examples of a subject I promised to talk about in an earlier piece: immigration. She was (and is) Polish.

This country is nothing more than a collection of immigrants. The fact that the people who run things with such breathtaking incompetence are unable to manage the process is a different matter. But if you look round and ask who is responsible for an astonishing percentage of the achievements around us, you won’t go far before you find that a disproportionate number have strange foreign names.

Let’s take London’s sewage system and the Thames Embankment. Why not? Who was responsible, 150 years ago? Bazalguette. Doesn’t that sound a trifle foreign? Or what about Isambard Brunel, who created the Great Western Railway – and his father, Marc, who built a tunnel under the Thames that is still being used today. Yes; also foreigners. And how about the many Nobel prizes we’ve won over the last century? Largely immigrants, I’m afraid, friends.

People who emigrate have more get up and go - literally - than the people who stay behind. And now, when there are so many barriers to overcome, those who have done so are special.

We should welcome and include them, because they are probably more special than we natives; and I think many of our current problems come from not having done so.

Enough philosophy – and not enough about J with the short skirt and how we got involved in a punch-up in the Q club on Praed Street - but I really must get to bed.

Wednesday, 15 August 2007

Drivel of the week

When I wrote a column in Marketing magazine some years ago, I read something that struck me forcibly.

It suggested that if you make your stuff controversial enough, your readers will write your column for you by agreeing, complaining or commenting.

So I was pretty pleased when, year after year, my inflammatory stuff got more comment than that of all the other columnists put together, till I upset someone important and they fired me.

I was reminded of this recently. Ken Jones, a clever chap in Wales who reads my 51 Helpful Marketing Ideas sent me a glowing example of the thriving “how much self-centred tripe can we cram into one message” school of creativity.

Here it is: a firm explaining the natural wonders they think their name conjures up. You just couldn't make it up - but somebody did.

"Why Meltwater? The term ‘meltwater’ refers to droplets of water resulting from the melting of snow or ice. Glacial meltwater forms streams and rivers which carry rock material away from active glaciers, before re-solidifying and becoming a larger, stronger entity than before.

The name Meltwater recognizes our humble beginnings, our contribution towards re-shaping the traditional archaic notions of media monitoring, and our objective to become the preferred choice across the global market we service. We continue to invest in research and development, to produce cutting-edge solutions at a cost-effective price, and thus – consistent with Meltwater fluidity – we develop our offerings to bring our clients increased value for money.

Indeed, you will come to recognize the Meltwater brand as being synonymous with innovation, inspiration, and integrity. The global re-branding marks a new era for Meltwater in 2007:

* To enhance our media monitoring capabilities
* To deliver you more unique, valuable features
* To open more offices across the globe
* To bring you more sources and content
* To provide you an even higher standard of client care
* To diversify and launch new product divisions under the Meltwater brand

At the heart of our service, we place great emphasis on establishing and maintaining a healthy, accessible relationship with our clients. We will not sacrifice the ‘personal touch’ in pursuit of these objectives, nor will we deviate from our client-oriented ethos. This is a very exciting time for Meltwater and we hope that you will be part of it.

Thank you.

The Meltwater News Team"

I just love it! Sheer unalloyed, rib-tickling delight from start to finish.

But I come not to scoff.

These chaps are doing quite well, thank you, which is no doubt why they can take time off to congratulate themselves on their wonderful name.

I think this goes to show that like calls out to like. Just as boring people are happy with other boring people, so those who love jargon are compatible.

They spend countless happy hours being mutually proactive, innovating, finding new paradigms, interacting and interfacing with each other, pushing the envelope, strategising, cascading things down the line, thinking outside the box, giving each other feedback, putting people in the loop, examining their silos, looking at the downside - and so on and so on and so on.

When my son - with whom I stayed last week in Brooklyn - showed me "The Office" years ago I didn't even smile.

"This is how it really is, Phil. You can't parody it."

Thanks, Ken

Monday, 13 August 2007

“The new Peugeot 207 – the drive of your life”

Do you ever wonder, as I do, why copywriters come out with such utter tripe?

It would do them good if they were forced to sit with their customers and see how their stuff is greeted, night after night, by normal thinking human beings.

For instance, the line above about a pretty ordinary little box on wheels got this reaction from the love of my life last night

“F*** off - “the drive of my life”. Not a Ferrari, is it?”

Saturday, 11 August 2007

I’m writing this in the clammy heat of Brooklyn, where my eldest son lives. I come here often to see him and my youngest daughter who lives in New Jersey. (Don’t panic – despite their astounding good looks I am not going to show you family snapshots.)

Tomorrow, I’m being interviewed by Clayton Makepeace who may be the highest paid copywriter in the world. Among other things we’ll be discussing the greatest sins marketers make.

The e-on commercial I was rude about is a pretty good example of one: losing touch with your customers – and reality. My comments drew a response from my old partner Glenmore – a copy of one of the most famous advertisements ever. Here it is.
This was aimed at business advertisers, obviously. But it’s peculiarly relevant to the e-on folly. Incidentally, in the very first edition of this rambling monologue, I showed some saucy pictures of Glenmore’s trip to the Royal Enclosure at Ascot. He still hasn’t told me how he managed it.