Archive for February, 2009

I sort of made a vow to myself that I wouldn’t let this blog become a Bill Cosby-esque “Kids do the funniest things!” site for cute reminescences – but I tell you something: kids do the funniest things.

While I was away in Langkawi, Wife was left on pancake and Lent patrol at home, where she patiently explained to the children (two of whom are four, one of whom is six), the meaning of, and customs around, Lent. She explained that it was customary to sacrifice something for its forty days – and she canvassed opinion on what they might like to choose.

Eldest Son has elected (one imagines with quite some encouragement from Wife) to give up answering back.

Daughter has agreed to give up her babies (not in some terrible Ken Loach sort of way – but the dolls she plays with most often).

And then Wife asked Youngest Son what he would like to give up for Lent.

“I would like to give up God.” 

If I felt that this was offered in the spirit of sacrifice shown by his siblings, I would feel rather torn. As it is, I imagine it is simply a heartfelt confession from a little boy who saw Lent as a great opportunity to make some important changes.

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There are many things to warrant a feeling of worthlesness on refelction that one has not measured out one’s life with coffee spoons, but with granulated, freeze-dried-for-greater-aroma-and taste-coffee. Nescafe, MasterCard, Carling – this is what I have “done” – and many brands less celebrated (and some, rather more so). And then there are the people: by and large, they’re ghastly – and so the good and the kind shine all the more brightly in this naughty world.

And in the realms of the good, Jeremy Bullmore, must take poll position.

This is from “Campaign” (the advertising industry rag) a couple of weeks ago, and it deals with a question from an – anonymous – reader questioning the role of NABS, a charity that gives help and advice to people in the communications industry.

Q: How do so many people manage to phone the Nabs Help Line when no-one knows what Nabs does?

A: If you will allow me to say so (and even if you won’t), your question is wholly typical of all smug, self-centred and insensitive people who, however bafflingly, continue (at least for the moment) to survive in this trade of ours; a trade that demands precisely the opposite qualities and characteristics. People who are best at our trade have a deep and instinctive understanding of what it’s like to be people other than themselves. They don’t use the word empathy because they think it poncy – but that’s what they have, in spades. You clearly haven’t. I’m forced to conclude, therefore, that you’re not very good at what you do.

You’re also dumb. As anyone of intelligence would realise, the reason so many people phone the Nabs Help Line (0845 602 4497) is because they’re in need of help: in real need of real help. And people in real need of real help will always find where to find it. So they do: and they call 0845 602 4497 or they log on to support@nabs.org.uk. And they get it.

This year, for gratingly obvious reasons, more people will be in need of more help than for a very, very long time. (Come to think of it, such is the scale of your solipsism, you may be the only person in the country unaware that we’re now in the foothills of the most savage recession for more than 100 years. Source: Ed Balls.)

If you honestly don’t know what Nabs does, go at once to nabs.org.uk. Then exercise such imagination as you possess and try to understand what it feels like to be out of a job, bullied at work, baffled by application forms, bowed by bereavement – or desperately needing to share a flat so that you can afford to accept the place you’ve at last been offered.

And finally, if you’re at all interested in redemption, join in. Give your time, your interest, your support, your public enthusiasm and a great deal of money. Recruit such friends as you may have retained.

When you’ve done all that, I much look forward to hearing from you again.

What a magnificent reply. Everything that makes Jeremy Bullmore the greatest advertisement for a career in advertising is here: his admiration for the industry, his code of conduct – and his beautifully styled riposte to the hideously self-involved individual who (no doubt) thought his comment was “a right laugh”. As a (not very good) advertising campaign has it: it’s good to have standards – and it’s even better to have heroes…

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“…how noble in reason, how infinite in faculties, in form and moving how express and admirable…”

So: Sean Penn won the Oscar – and although I haven’t seen “Milk”, I have admired him unreservedly in everything that I have seen him in. And then he goes and makes a speech like this – and one realises what qualities we should all look for in a man in the public eye.


The Oscars, for all the opportunities that the speechmakers have are still typified by selfishness, sentiment and declared (but often phoney-sounding) pronouncements of personal faith. Penn, by contrast, is noble, gracious and generous – and not one note rings false – and I think it’s because he praises van Sant in terms utterly suited to a director, Rourke as a fellow actor, and he’s self-deprecating without being self-effacing at one and the same time. And when he chooses to make his political point, he makes it (after reading Richard T Kelly’s excellent biography of him, in what seems typical of the man) as a personal point: “the shame in their grandchildren’s eyes” is an extraordinary image – and all the better for that.

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I’ve just returned from the Malaysian island of Langkawi: a ludicrously idyllic spot where we held a conference – or what American Diva Planning Friend refers to as “Fearless Leader’s Prom” (and it is true that Fearless Leader approaches it with all the excitement and soon-to-be-disappointed expectations of a young girl trembling on the doorstep before Mitch comes to collect her, dance with her, and have a damned good go at fingering her).

Joyously, neither Travesty Of All Things Gay, Smiling Assassin Planner, nor Planner With Austrian Hair were in attendance, so I had a great time with The Smallest Media Planner in the World, Enthusiastic Account Guy, American Diva Planning Friend, Old Friend at Work and many other thoroughly good sorts. The only down-side was that the first day of the conference fell on Ash Wednesday (a day of abstinence for me and my Church of Rome followers, as well as many other Christians) – so I approached this with commendable even-headedness and decided to get absolutely twisted on Shrove Tuesday.

Reader, I managed it. I got absolutely cunted between the hours of 7pm and 3am, crowning the evening with a 3am swim in the (apparently) jellyfish-besieged bay with French Account Guy Who Wants To Be Spanish, Planner As Tall As I Am, and The Smallest Media Planner in the World. I then went back to my villa and fell asleep, waking ten minutes before the start of the conference programme, which I attended, looking like Mickey Rourke in “Barfly”.

Rather worse, though was the fate of Old Friend At Work, who had come on a different flight and arrived much later – so she had spent about 32 hours travelling. She believes it was this exhausted state that contributed to her sleepwalking that night: and it was her sleepwalking that contributed to her falling down a flight of pebble-dashed stairs, waking up outside her room, covered in blood, naked and terribly bruised. Needless to say, it was the strangeness of the location and her vulnerability in it that scared her most – but then the pain and the extent of the damage she’s done to her face and body took over.

She’s a remarkable woman and displayed huge courage and bravery in how she coped with the pain and the fear, attending every interminable minute of the conference and joking about her plight and appearance:. She saw a doctor and will be fine, but the startling combination of bruises and grazes and cuts on her face were painful – and painfully noticeable: sometimes the worst thing about an event like that is the endless repetition of the explanations to well-meaning, but eventually exhausting on-lookers… She’s home now, with her husband – and it’s a mark of her humour (if not of her political correctness) to record that she intends to make him take her to the supermarket tomorrow, specifically so that she can flinch every time he makes a sudden movement towards her, or puts something in the basket…

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I am alarmed.

Deborah Warner and Fiona Shaw’s “Mother Courage” is now being written of in terms of a Summer slot at the National Theatre – that means an average of one Fiona Shaw London production every eighteen months, and as I have written before, on that basis, she is not going to get through the workload that I have got in mind for her (especially not if her involvement in film continues to strengthen).
She’s been in Brecht before, of course (also at The National) in “The Good Person of Sichuan” – and very good she was too. But I am not sure how excited I am to see her do “Mother Courage” – I can see the fit too well, and there is something inevitable about her playing it (but then, there was about Hedda – and she blew me away to such an extent that I can remember every second some twenty years later).

However, I suppose I should count my blessings: a piece arrived from The National, confirming that the production was actually happening – so it is very good news. I just want to know that she’s having serious thoughts about Mrs.Alving, Volumnia and Martha – and a timetable wouldn’t hurt either…

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Oh happy day! Travesty of All Things Gay appears to have been hoist by his own petard!

The client from whose business Travesty removed me with such haste has contacted me and asked me out to lunch. According to Enthusiastic Account Guy, when informed by Travesty that I was off their business, the immediate response was: “What have you done to him?” – so there, at least, is good news. Also cheering was the fact that when told my successor’s name, Client’s response was “Never heard of her.” When reminded that he had, in fact worked with her previously, Client added (fairly – and to my ears, musically) “Obviously made a big impression…”

Anyway: the call is coming in to set a date – and while I can’t reveal the true extent of his horrible dealings to the Client (as opposed to H.R., with whom I had a humdinger of a meeting), I shall, at least, be able to put a few misconceptions straight…

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Trumping The Jesus Toy

I think Wife has excelled herself.

Yesterday, Eldest Son revealed another in the list of “things we’d like to erase from his character before it’s too late”. He and his class were changing for P.E., when Youngest Son saw one of his friends – one of his best friends, in fact – wearing what Youngest Son deemed to be “a girl’s vest”. This bit of gender-specific mockery saw said friend reduced to tears (he’s four – and whatever one’s gender politics might be, four year old boys don’t like to be told they’re wearing girls’ clothes) and Teacher For Whom I Buy Duty Free Cigarettes told Wife about this rather nasty incident.

Wife created a brilliantly unique and apposite punishment: she made Youngest Son wear one of his sister’s dresses, photographed him in it and sent it to the friend.

The photograph in question is now just about my favourite thing in the world – and it was mightily effective in making Youngest Son realise quite how unpleasant it is to be made fun of because of what you’re wearing: because Eldest Son fell into what Wife described as “the longest, happiest laughing fit of his life”, and Daughter (coming into the scene, as it were, “fresh”) just said: “Oooh, you look nice!” sounding like one Notting Hill Wife complimenting another on her new highlights and slimmer figure. I am fairly convinced that Youngest Son won’t be so keen on making fun of others again (for whatever reason) – especially now that he knows that the woman behind The Jesus Toy is also capable of this level of refined torture…

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