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Archive for July, 2009

1. It was recently end of term, and so the children’s classwork was all returned to us in their book bags. One of the year’s projects had been “When I grow up…” and Youngest Son had played fairly true to type with “I want to be a vet and look after sharks”. His twin sister had slightly less esoteric ambitions: “When I grow up… I want to do the ironing.” –  a report which Wife had a mixed response to: on the plus side, it will be nice to have the help; on the negative side, we may have to do something to raise Daughter’s ambitions a little higher over the parapet.

2. In the religious part of the syllabus, Daughter had acquitted herself rather better (which is not that surprising, as she can often be heard, striding down Chiswick High Road with us, bellowing out sentiments such as “Oh Mary! How we love you, and we love Jesus your son!” to the amusement/horror of the townspeople); but Youngest Son was slightly less evangelical, it would seem. The subject in question was “The Good News”. The comment (admirably pithy, but somewhat disconcerting) was: “Even when pressed, he was unable to think of any good news”. Thanks.

3. It was (also recently) the twins’ fifth birthday. One of Youngest Son’s female classmates sent him a card with the following message: “I like you. I know you want to marry me. I love you.” Now – whether or not this is an indication that all it takes for “like” to turn into “love” is a declaration of desire to marry, to one side – I can’t help feel that Youngest Son will be lucky indeed if his future female inamorata are as transparent and easy-going as this. Fingers crossed.

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Fear not: I am not in Catholic evangelist mode, and preparing to offer a treatise on camels, eyes of needles, birds of the field and so on – no: this is a diversion on the subject of retail brands, as related by Wife.

She has used three very different stores recently: IKEA, Tesco and John Lewis, and as a mother of three, there is always the extra fun of trying to keep an eye on all of her children while she shops.

IKEA gets round this obstacle for their customer by creating a children’s play area, forbidden to adults. When your child goes in, they are “tagged” with half a device, you keep the other half: if they pass a certain point in the play area, the doors lock, and it is only your half of the device that can free them. Brilliant: simple, confidence-inspiring (and on a more consumerist note) guaranteed to leave you giving full attention to your shopping.

Recently, in John Lewis, a woman with two children was having them fitted for new shoes: concentrating on the sales assistant and on the child being shod, she lost sight of her daughter. A quick run around the shoe department confirmed that her daughter was missing. The sales assistant alerted Security, who lowered all the security grills in the store: no one could get in or out (with all the implications that had for business/ customer satisfaction) and the whole store was combed. The little girl was found in the men’s loo. Her shoulder length hair had been cut, so that she could pass for a boy and her clothes had been swapped for boys’ clothes. She was unharmed, but scared. The abductors were caught and the child was returned – and how that mother must have felt about that moment, and about that store whose actions had surely saved her daughter from a terrible fate can hardly be imagined.

Wife was in Tesco yesterday. Daughter went strolling off alone (given her weirdly adult tastes, no doubt she was in the sun-dried tomatoes and olives aisle), and Wife on discovering this started calling her name. A security guard approached her: you might think (especially given the John Lewis story above) that he would offer assistance, or ask for a description – to try to help, in other words. Not a bit of it: he had come over because Wife was “disturbing the other shoppers, could she please keep her voice down?”. Wife’s response was to draw a little closer to him and bellow Daughter’s name at the TOP of her lungs, and to carry on, until she was found fingering jars of harissa…

As an example of brands where behaviour springs naturally from beliefs at the core of the business (John Lewis, IKEA) versus those who are now just consumerist hangars (although Tesco clings grimly on to its “Every Little Helps” slogan), I can’t imagine this being bettered. Certainly it’s guaranteed life-long loyalty to John Lewis and IKEA, and a total shunning of Tesco. Who says that brand’s emotional values don’t convert into hard cash?

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I was talking to Matey Planner, about how things were going at work.

Having spent the first half hour of what was meant to be a friendly and relaxed discussion over a coffee sounding off over the terrible experiences with Travesty of All Things Gay and various other wounds, we turned to things that I might be interested in pursuing. I mentioned my book, and how I wouldn’t mind some time off to do that (which he didn’t respond to with hollow laughter – so that’s a win…), but gave me the usual (and expected) “You Should Talk to Kind Boss about that” – as indeed, what else could he say?

But then, he asked me if I would be interested in “adopting” a region to focus on and help nurture the network’s Planning talent in. I felt that I couldn’t suggest “London”, and probably should steer clear of other highly developed markets (as saying that I’m fascinated by the challenges of bringing Planning rigour to the wild and untamed shores of North America rings false even to my ears), but then my mind went blank – or nearly, because all that my mind flashed to me was “Not India. Just Not India. Don’t Pretend That You’re Interested in India. You’re NOT.” And I’m not – specifically, I am not interested in landing at Mumbai airport and going through to Arrivals, as this is one of the experiences that I have done many times and is as near as feasible to the central circle of Dante’s Inferno that one could find on earth.

So: the upshot is that I am to become Grand Emperor of Planning for China – which is far better, but far from what I actually WANT to do (but given that what I actually WANT to do is go on expensive holidays with my family, and out with Wife, that’s not that surprising, I suppose). So, I am off to Shanghai next week, where I shall meet the throngs of people who are infinitely better qualified to be Chinese Tsar of Planning(not least because most of them are Chinese and have worked in the region for the last ten years), but do not have the immeasurable advantage of having been born in a tiny island on the other side of the world. This should lead to a harmonious and happy working relationship, with its exciting echoes of imperialism, colonialism and racism: I shall keep you updated.

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You wouldn’t fucking BELIEVE it, would you?

After the lengths that I went to to cleanse our garden of the horrors of Bamboo (including digging a trench so deep and wide that Wife actually accused me of having joined a Somme re-enactment society), the shitting stuff has returned! Much like that other plant that we seem to be nurturing throughout our garden (Convulvulus), it seems to resist everything known to man. I wouldn’t be surprised to learnt that the four survivors of nuclear holocaust would be germs, cockroaches, Convulvulus and Bamboo…

Anyway, I have decided to make my peace with it. I am channelling a new, more peaceful, “roll with it” strain of my personality – and it’s making me much happier over all, and so I see the return of the Bamboo as God’s final test of this determination to be a better man – and I shall rise to the challenge, by tipping the Bamboo a cheery wink, as I prune it down to the ground, but fall short of tearing it out of the accursed ground with my hands and then setting fire to it…

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There was a point, relatively early on in my courtship of Wife that we were watching “Roman Holiday”, the story of how a Princess visiting Rome (Audrey Hepburn at her most transcendent) is able to go incognito and enjoy life as it is lived by the passionate, animated and cliched folks of Rome’s lower orders, guided by journalist Gregory Peck. In the end, she turns her back on a life of selfish pleasure and freedom in order to return to the duties she was born to.

“NO!” bellowed Wife, when she realised that the photogenic pair would not end up together living in Gregory’s picturesque (but undeniably non-palatial) attic rooms.

She was furious, and quite deeply upset – her sense of cinematic justice had been wronged and she was spitting – to the extent that she demanded that I re-wrote (and draw key frames for) an alternative, “correct” ending in which the Princess turns her back on duty in order to live a life of pleasure. I obliged, and she professed herself happy: content that justice had been done, and that good had triumphed over evil.

So it was with a sense of deja vu that I witnessed Daughter’s reaction to the ending of “Bridge to Terabithia”. I don’t want to ruin it for you – but I’m going to (so look away now): one of the characters (a child) dies. Her role within the plot is to bring the concept of imagination and escapism through creativity to the attention of the hero (and ultimately, to bond him closer to his adoring, but snubbed, younger sister) – and once she’d done that, she goes to the big artist’s studio in the sky.

Daughter (not yet five years old) didn’t blink at that bit: she had seen films like this before and she knew what was coming.

Or she thought she did. As the final sequence began, with her brother-bestowed crown of twigs and wildflowers transforming into a (much nastier) silver crown and the wooden bridge over the stream transforming via the glory of CGI into a cross between one of those Art Nouveau Parisian Metro entrances and the hideous Queen Mother’s Gates in Hyde Park, a crowd of fabulous creatures emerged from behind the trees and came forward to meet their new Princess. BUT the dead child did not return from beyond the grave, with a laughing smile and unnaturally shiny hair to gambol once again with her play-mates – and that is where Daughter went ballistic. She HOWLED: “No! No! No! No! No!” and was inconsolable, with tears streaming down her face as she came to realise that this film had not ended right.

Of course, Wife and I assured her that the little girl HAD been there – she had been hiding behind a tree in order to play a game, but WE had seen her – but she was having none of it, and took a long time and, to be honest, bribery, in order to cool down.

So: two different films, two females with twenty five years’ age difference between them at the time of the critical “incidents” – but one reaction. And what lessons can we draw from this, gentle reader? Don’t let your young children watch “Bridge to Terabithia” (at least not if they are sensitive souls, Daughter’s twin brother reviewed the whole thing without so much as a furrowed brow…), and don’t let your wives watch “Roman Holiday”, unless you’ve got a flip book and a black marker pen  – and your imagination – handy.

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Mummy Pig

Wife has got Swine Flu.

Hot on the heels of Eldest Son’s recovery, she has hit the buffers and gone down hill very quickly, spending the weekend in bed and unable to eat anything (or at least, to keep anything down) for the last four days. Like Eldest Son, she is now on Tamiflu, and likely to make a good recovery in the next couple of days – but it’s horrible for her in the meantime. Fortunately, the children are at school for another three days before they break up, so she has got some chance of getting some rest and making a recovery.

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Fuck me, but I have seen some shit ideas in my time.

In my line of work, it’s inevitable –  but some that stand out were an idea for a brand of Bitter which consisted of a procession through the streets of Derby, led by a chimp with the followers of the town marching behind him (their ranks swelled by other luminaries such as Jordan) and chanting “Beer Monkey, Beer Monkey!”; and then there is Wife’s all-time advertising nadir of the French cheese that chose to advertise via two baguettes having a duel against a mock chateau background, with sub-Clouseau accents; not to mention the heart-sickness I felt when I read a script that began “We open on a Gandalf”. I read no further on that occasion, responding simply with “No, we don’t”.

Anyway, it turns out that Permanently Exhausted Creative Director (the man behind “We open on Gandalf”) has managed to come up with something (or rather: one of the teams under his guidance have come up with something) so scrotum-shrivellingly awful that I would chew on broken glass to return us to the world of the Tolkien magician. It’s not going ahead, need I say, so I can relate it in all its awfulness.

In the pursuit of advertising dish-washing liquid with an anti-bacterial action, the idea was to have singing cutlery proclaiming (to the tune of Leonard Bernstein’s “America” from “West Side Story”): “I’m not afraid of bacteria!”, “He’s not afraid of bacteria!”, “We’re not afraid of bacteria”, “We are in a cafeteria!”.

I’m not joking.

Thank God the work was delivered by e-mail as I don’t think I’d have been able to keep the look of horror and contempt out of my eyes, but as it was, I managed to rein it in and take it into a new direction that doesn’t make me want to self-harm. They have a week to do something amazing. Fingers crossed that they don’t fall back on a certain wizard…

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