Posts Tagged ‘Work’

The many Poker players among you will already have scented what my theme is.

I have been advised (a number of times) that I have a set of “tells” which announce a set of different emotions on my behalf.

I have seen this in others, of course. In Best Friend, it is the planting of both feet at shoulder width to announce “You and I are going to fall out, sunshine.”

With Old Friend at Work it is the simple words “Are you joking?” to announce “The next fifteen minutes are going to be the worst of your life – and I shall fill each one of those with such invective as could take the paint off an ocean liner.”

With me, they are as follows:

  • Emotion: “Disregard for your intellect/the content of what you’ve just said”
    • Tell: “It’s like shutters coming down over your eyes” (to quote someone who’s seen it).
  • Emotion: “Warm Anger”
    • Tell: “Lion Hands” (fingers splayed, and bent back into “claws”)
  • Emotion: “Cold Anger”
    • Tell: “Shark Eyes” (to quote Old Friend at Work’s assessment, followed by the qualification – “I would rather be dead than have those shark eyes turned on me”).

In my line of work, of course, it’s the first that’s the most dangerous, as I have to spend a fair (or, as I would argue warmly, an unfair) amount of my time doing my “nodding and encouraging and “I’m sure there’s something in that” face – and yet it is that first tell that I have been advised/warned of most often and most consistently.

I wonder if I was born with it?

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The G.K.Chesterton experiment continues – and I am enjoying it – but I became aware not that long after my first steps into Lake Chesterton, that I would want something else to complement its cool, lapping and soothing waters: that “something” has turned out to be George Steiner.

Steiner is a long-term hero of mine, ever since I came across “The Death of Tragedy” whilst at school and (predictably for a teenager) was obsessed with the misery, woe, self-centredness and formality of the genre. Steiner’s book wasn’t (isn’t) a simple education in precedent, form and structure – but it was (is) magnificent, ambitious, wide-ranging and (most importantly) of high seriousness. I have read everything he’s published ever since, being particularly fond of “Real Presences”, “After Babel” and “Tolstoy or Dostoevsky” – or I thought I had, until I came across “George Steiner at The New Yorker”, a collection of his essays for that great magazine.

It was in the excellent introduction (by Robert Boyers) that I came across the following passage, wherein Boyers makes the point that so many of Steiner’s colleagues and peers (from so many diverse fields) view him as “exemplary”:  ” “He thinks, ” Sontag noted in 1980, “that there are great works of art that are clearly superior to anything else in their various forms, that there is such a thing as profound seriousness. And works created out of profound seriousness have in his view a claim on our attention and our loyalty that surpasses qualitatively and quantitatively any claim made by any other form of art or entertainment.” While there were those, in the American academy especially, who were all too ready to reach for “the dismissive adjective ‘elitist’ to describe such a stance, Sontag was more than willing to associate herself with Steiner’s commitment to “seriousness”… His efforts to discriminate better from best continue to draw the epithet ‘elitist’,”

Now: I am neither so arrogant, nor so stupid as to even begin to draw a comparison between myself and the truly great Steiner – but I am also struggling under the “epithet ‘elitist’.” Needless to say, his metier is that of the true polymath, his consideration of greatness (in literature alone) spans Dante, Shakespeare, Homer, Sophocles, Tolstoy and Dostoevsky – whereas mine is the very shallow world of advertising. But still: the JOB is to discard the better and reach for, and build, the best. I am unshakeable in this, but it’s getting me into a lot of trouble – there is a prevailing current of “no such thing as a bad idea” (palpably untrue, as scanning the theatre listings, bookshelves, cinema showings and television schedule should make it more than apparent) and “everyone’s voice is equal”. Well: RUBBISH.

What are inarguable rights of humanity (equality, representation, self-actualisation etc.) are simply not transferable to the realm of ideas: and I don’t see why that’s problematic. Indeed, it seems to me to be incredibly dangerous to assert that all ideas have equal weighting, all voices have equal resonance, all thoughts have equal brilliance: if you can’t say “That idea is poor in quality”, “that idea can be improved upon”, “that idea can be liberated by cutting away the dead wood that’s shadowing it” then what hope is there for great ideas? However, my enthusiasm for the great (and I will be honest: my dismissive treatment of the palpably sub-standard) is getting me a reputation of “only wanting to work with people he thinks are good” and the classic “he doesn’t suffer fools gladly” (show me someone who does, and I’ll show you a fool).

In the words of an infuriated Hanif Kureishi, during a Radio 4 interview at which he was surrounded by preening, specious, post-modern egalitarian pussies: “I’m sorry, but opera IS better than “Just Seventeen”. It just IS.” This captures my attitude precisely – but I am astonished at the number of people who are prepared to take the opposing side as they finger the toenails that protrude from their Birkenstocks, and adjust their bejewelled beanies, purchased at Womad or the fucking Innocent Village Fete or some such hell-hole of wilful ignorance.

I really don’t know what the antidote to this is, but my first act of defiance has been to put a poster above my desk with “Elitist at Work” written on it – and in quite an inaccessible font, too. I think we all know that Steiner would see this and think “mon semblable, mon frere.”.

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My Favourite Lift

The glass and steel monolith from which I survey the cashmere-swathed denizens of SW3 is served by a bank of lifts, and of the lifts, there is only one to whom I am faithful: whose “ping” of arrival I long for above all the others – the secret lift.

The secret lift is not like the others. Where her sisters are brassy and artificial (lit like a dentist’s chair, chrome handrails and mirrors gnashing), the secret lift is demure, hidden – almost coy.  Her siblings may spew their occupants forth onto a glass gantry which exposes them to the view of all of those in the reception – but she drops her lucky travellers into an altogether more private location on each floor, hidden from public view and shielded from prying eyes by the corners of the protruding offices. She is the only lift for the late arriver, the long luncher, or the early fleer: your secret is safe with her, she will tell no-one – and I shall celebrate her for it until I can speak no more.

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This has been an absolute shitter of a week, with so much to do that I have started workdays at 5am, and finished at 11pm on three occasions. Add to that a trip to Milan, and it’s no surprise that I’ve just had 14 hours’ sleep, and am looking forward to this Bank Holiday Weekend like a man looking forward to the end of his gaol sentence.

Tuesday sees me going up to Port Sunlight for a meting, and then to Paris on Wednesday and Thursday for research groups. On the decided plus side, I’m staying at Le Crillon and Wife is coming with me, while the children are looked after by my parents – so she is currently planning an itinerary that would make the Bank Manager blench…

I went out for drinks with Old Friend At Work after we finished up (now that she has been elevated to the Worldwide planning group, her office is opposite mine, so we can do semaphore for “Let Us Leave This Place In Search of Champagne” through the glass walls), and with pleasing predictability, we ended up sobbing about Shakespeare and comparing different plays, as we shouted out iambic pentameters.

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Sunday, 20th April 2008

While I was relaxing in Scotland, news of The Big Win was released by our client – it seems to have been announced to the incumbent agency the day before and us on Thursday, along with the bitchy industry rag “Campaign”.

The mood is buoyant in the Agency: this is the second big win from the same client for us this year, and on the back of another one, from the same client just before Christmas. They’re really hard work (demanding and minute in their observations) but they certainly are the best clients I have ever worked with – and they do buy very, very good work: two of our ideas for them have won the Cannes advertising festival’s Grand Prix for the last two years. And you can’t say that for many multi-national companies.

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