The Great Race: first across the line for an inclusive and rich society

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(Probably won’t be the UK…)

Ten facts about Gherkin. Ignoring a pretty sizeable one.

The chaps in capes, blue tights and questionable boots might manage. And the women wearing copper headbands and bodysuits might well cope too.

But unless you fall into the superhero category, Britain seems incapable of serving the whole of society. Making all areas accessible; being inclusive.

“You simple-headed gherkin!”

Ever seen the film The Great Race? Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon. Natalie Wood and Peter Falk. The Great Leslie and Professor Fate… And the downtrodden Max.

Well the quote comes from that film. The not-so-smart Max gets yelled at (again) by Professor Fate when trying to concoct a cunning plan to foil the competition. It’s not the most well thought-out plan: the plan fails.

This genius design element presumably also excludes the elderly, those recuperating from any major surgery, new limb amputees, anyone without the strength or wish to scale a long flight of stairs.

From now on I’m adopting that word (gherkin) as an insult of the basest sort. Why? Because designers of our London ‘landmark’ have managed to construct this ‘iconic’ building without provision for the disabled. Toilets and access to the very top floor is by stairs only.

This genius design element presumably also excludes the elderly, those recuperating from any major surgery, new limb amputees, anyone without the strength or wish to scale a long flight of stairs.

How has this happened? In the 21st century. Can we continue calling this a landmark building? Nope.

So the Gherkin (let’s just call it 30 St Mary Axe eh?) is exclusive and thereby excluding. How proud we should be. A magnificent part of our capital. How tourists must be in awe of it. You can keep it. It’s a disgrace.

This leads me seamlessly on to the whole disabled access catastrophe.

Ramps where the entrance itself is stupidly impossible to use. Public conveniences that anyone with a stick, any spine or leg weakness, breathing or balance issues simply won’t tackle. Staircases with no bannisters… Inclusive my eye.

This is paying lip-service. Just scraping through regulations. Box ticking for some myopic clerk. It’s not a working way of ensuring people with movement difficulties can remain part of mainstream society.

And do you know what that means? That a swathe of brilliant people cannot take part whether in work or outside work.

And do you know what that means? That we might be making do with the least capable. The less talented. Those who have been chosen to do certain jobs just because they can scale stairs to use the loo, talk to the director, do presentations in the board room. That horrifies me.

Whether we’re in or out of Europe, Britain must have an intelligent, 21st-century approach to disability. It’s no good thinking that an able-bodied person must be right for the job. That’s idiocy.

This is not the way to be great again. And goodness knows we need that more than ever. We’re asking to be overtaken. Ruled by those who have catered for all parts of society and who can access the brilliance of all its members.

Those who have provided opportunities and ensured that the most able (and I use that word in its true, broad sense) are picked for the job. A gifted economist who has a calliper. A talented teacher who needs wheelchair access (to all areas in the institution.) A musician who sometimes needs assistance and well-thought-out planning. Chefs, nursery staff, researchers and innovators…

Can you imagine an interview like this?

“Hello. Welcome. You have a glowing and highly impressive CV. You’ve been at the forefront of ecological research. It says you’ve found a way to save the planet.”

“I have indeed. Twenty-three years of my life’s work.”

“Just the person we’re looking for. You can start Monday. Can you work on the top floor?”

“Of course. I can work anywhere.”

“Can you tackle twelve flights of stairs? There’s no lift for the top floors.”

“Then no. Not without a lift”

Next!”

“Come in Dave . Now. can you tackle twelve flights of stairs?”

“Of course I can. I’m a professional mountaineer.”

“You’re hired.”

It’s economics and in the interests of national GDP, preservation of our status and standing in the world. And that’s worth fighting for. So let battle commence.

As it is we’re struggling with zero hours contracts, minimum wages and an array of employment challenges. The solutions aren’t easy but they’re worthwhile.

I know of one forward-thinking company that employs a chap with autism. A specialist. They’ve moved the office around a bit, ensured he can work comfortably. Other staff have been briefed on some of the new issues each might face and been advised on the best ways of working together. Why all this trouble and expense Because he’s the only man that can do the supremely technical job he has to do. ‘Nuff said.

Whether we’re in or out of Europe, Britain must have an intelligent, 21st-century approach to disability. It’s no good thinking that an able-bodied person must be right for the job. That’s idiocy. Cater for all individuals as best as you can and see how successful and enriched the country becomes.

We owe it to ourselves. It’s not charity. It’s not something for nothing for the undeserving. It’s not a thinly disguised tax hike or quiet removal of services. (We seem not to mind these…)

It’s economics and in the interests of national GDP, preservation of our status and standing in the world. And that’s worth fighting for. So let battle commence.

Lose the accent!

How advertisers use stereotypes to sell

This time it’s about voices. Accents in particular.

How would you sell to people who lived here?

Are ad makers still using northern English accents to denote frugality? Trustworthiness? Close-knit communities and old-fashioned standards. And American accents to hint at some sort of old-age freedom? (Before the newcomers hadn’t yet slaughtered all the native people.) Or mob-type approach.

Then I wonder whether the ad is trying to appeal to the growing swathe of ‘silver surfers’. Don’t they want to feel that the world hasn’t really changed?

The PlusNet ad seems want the web to seem homely and safe. Doesn’t that instantly make it suspect? Don’t we want our internet connections to be fast and reliable? And cheap.

Then I wonder whether the ad is trying to appeal to the growing swathe of ‘silver surfers’. Don’t they want to feel that the world hasn’t really changed? That you can still pop over the road and leave your door unlocked, be kind to strangers calling at your door sort of thing.

Well Mrs. don’t leave your internet connected and your door open. Someone will creep in and steal your bank details, send rude emails to all your contacts, run off with your jewellery and leave a list of questionable sites in your history. (“Oh! How did she get there? She needs a vest on. Looks chilly…” )

There’s something they’re not telling the old folk and I disapprove. Don’t be fooled by the northern accent: the internet can be ugly and unsafe.

The token female suggests there are girls who don the hi-vis jerkin and heave steel tubes about. I don’t think they do

Almost worse than this is the money supermarket ad with a female site worker. Looking like they’re challenging all the prejudices about women working in this ‘man’s’ sector (are there any?) but relying on stereotypes anyway. She’s built big, has been made to look angry and doesn’t actually do anything remarkable with her body (like the male actors do). Why?

The token female suggests there are girls who don the hi-vis jerkin and heave steel tubes about. I don’t think they do. More fiction from the media industry. So again, just a stereotypical view of what sort of woman might work on a building sire. Will this help the ad?

And then there’s the Open University. Ahhh, almost more predictable than all the others. Which area to better represent brains than Scotland? For me, this one works. Doesn’t matter whether it’s a Scot talking about cooing, money, pet care or politics, there’s something innately smart-sounding about the accent. (Sorry to admit my own prejudice here…)

As for the Trivago TV ad… I don’t know where to begin. Some antipodean chick in a terrible set of mismatching clothes (did she buy all Liz’s stuff from eBay??)

And Ikea, well, might be my small world of travels but to me the chap sounds like Antonio Banderas in Zorro/Puss in Boots: ‘the wonderful every day. Señor…’

Oh dear. Changes the whole sense and mood, doesn’t it? Suddenly PlusNet is targeting wealthy widows with a fat pension, offshore investments and live-in staff.  

What would the eBay ad sound like with the Ikea actor’s voice? “Hotel? Trivago.” “’Otel? Treebargo.” (That’s a Spanish/Swedish accent.)

And could the eBay ad find a new audience by using Richard E. Grant’s voice? Plummy. Posh. Pubic school. They’d have to change the names. Possibly the script too. “Oh Jemima, you do so like to stockpile your old paraphernalia…” Probably wouldn’t have the same feel to it. The Open University promoted by someone with a Leeds twang…?

PlusNet using Emilia Fox’s voice? Could she get away with their slogan? “We’ll do you proud.” No. So they’d have to change the slogan to something like, “A service any mature and immensely patriotic northerner would be glad to use…”

Oh dear. Changes the whole sense and mood, doesn’t it? Suddenly PlusNet is targeting wealthy widows with a fat pension, offshore investments and live-in staff.

I’m not in the business of creating ads so can’t come up with any workable options. And I do see that older beliefs about nations are slowly being smashed and rehashed. The Irish are now showcasing their lovely culture and country. And their accent is the sound of poetry, music and an erudite population.

But would those who make a living out of it, try and steer away from old stereotypes? It just makes the ads dull and passé.

I don’t think northerners are any more trustworthy than anyone else. Or female site workers are all frightening, slightly butch with badly bleached hair. The Swedes may well have an identity crisis and aspire to be Spanish and the Australians possibly do have appalling taste in clothes and a penchant for cheap hotel stays.

And maybe (and this costs me a lot to say) the Scots aren’t any cleverer than the rest of us. But I’ll hold on to that prejudice til I’m proved wrong.

What’s on TV: joined up thinking

From fondant, filo pastry and fine finishes to  pig swill and scraping the barrel

 

It’s been about a week since The Great British Bake Off concluded, and we’re already being treated to all the Victorian Bakers has to offer. This is BBC gold.

You only need to watch a clip from Victorian Bakers to notice the poor light, the cramped spaces they worked in, the rudimentary equipment (where’s the Kitchen Aid stand mixer eh?) and exhausting physical demands of the work.

It’s no good older people telling us we’re lucky. That things were harder in their day. Money tighter, food pricier and much more limited. Sometimes we have to see it for ourselves.

In contrast Bake Off was staged in a well-lit tent in an area that could house a Victorian slum and the finest, most reliable equipment. I’m not slandering either programme: they’re both unmissable.

Was this light historical underlining on the BBC’s part? Look how far we’ve come. Look how lucky we are. If so, they’re forgiven even though it’s not their job. We need that sometimes.

It’s no good older people telling us we’re lucky. That things were harder in their day. Money tighter, food pricier and much more limited. Sometimes we have to see it for ourselves.

When I shop and store and think up what to cook for my family’s meals or ponder ways of using up leftovers, I can feel smug and smart. If I start pricing up what our meals have cost per head. I can be intoxicated with how wonderful I am. I do pretty well.

But watching the Victorian bakers literally put their backs into kneading, heaving sacks of flour abut and working in those small, hot spaces, I’m soon put into my place. What I do is nothing compared to what went on in last century.

Feed your children something edible food and eat animal fodder yourself (can’t afford to feed the whole family). Who in Britain has to make that decision today?

But deciding to show this programme right after the wonderful indulgences of 21st-century contestants was the right thing to do.

Bake Off was the broadcasting of skilled people showing off and playing with food really. (How many creations went wrong and were binned?)

Victorian Bakers is a sudden but tender jolt telling us what the poor endured. Feed your children something edible food and eat animal fodder yourself (can’t afford to feed the whole family). Who in Britain has to make that decision today?

Both programmes are important. Both entertaining. Though I begin to be plagued with guilt when considering that watching what people endured is providing me with mere entertainment… that can’t be right.

While I don’t want to see any TV channel moralising or sending sinister messages through programming, I see nothing wrong in this kind of contrast. To me, that’s all it is.

Halloween: don’t darken my doorstep

It’s that time again and boy do I resent it.

BEWARE OF THE WITCH…

I’m obliged to carve pumpkins and buy sweets for other people’s children who – masked and disguised – turn up at my door uninvited after dark to… well… beg for sweets.

Sure, I don’t have to display a pumpkin but my young would like to take part and help carve one. This is the part I like. Mine tends to win on the horror scale (unplanned).

It’s the doling out of sweets to people I’ve never met I resent. But today, while shopping for junk to give to other people’s children, I had an idea. Break the habit.

Healthy treats. They’ll never return. So everyone’s happy.

So as a deterrent, here’s my solution. Stock up with fruits and berries. Carve the said pumpkin and display as required.  But… when the little ones stand there expecting a whole tub of chocolates, offer them fruit! I can tell they need it. Berries, slices of apple and pear, chunks of coconut… Healthy treats. They’ll never return. So everyone’s happy.

And anyway what’s the meaning of the horrible whiny taunt, ‘Trick or Treat’?” ?Well, it’s vague at best and has been contorted by… um… guess who… the US.

This site tells us:

Although it is unknown precisely where and when the phrase “trick or treat” was coined, the custom had been firmly established in American popular culture by 1951…

(Ah, that explains a lot.)  And a little further down

Poor people would visit the houses of wealthier families and receive pastries called soul cakes in exchange for a promise to pray for the souls of the homeowners’ dead relatives

http://www.history.com/topics/halloween/history-of-trick-or-treating

When I ask for a trick, none of them oblige. Their whole purpose is to dress up and amass sugar.

I quite like the idea that the origins of Halloween aren’t clear but like the notion of honouring our dead on that night (our very own Día de los Muertos) And like it even better (makes more sense to me) that it goes back about 2000 years following Celtic traditions.

I always thought that the ‘Trick or Treat’ meant that I supply a treat or if I don’t’, they play a trick on me. When I ask for a trick, none of them oblige. Their whole purpose is to dress up and amass sugar.

And what have we done with that rather spiritual tradition? Disposed of the spirit of it, capitalised on the buying/eating aspects and ensured it’s lost all gravity and any reference to what could be an honourable and meaningful date. We’re good at that.

And it’s the little spongy faces with the downcast eyes, their disappointment/disgust barely disguised when they see what I’ve offered them

So there’s my guide. Sure, have some pastries but in return go and pray for my deceased loved ones.

And it’s the little spongy faces with the downcast eyes, their disappointment/disgust barely disguised when they see what I’ve offered them. Four Celebration chocolate?! Is that it you tight old lady? Don’t you realise we’ve got to share bootie equally between all seven of us? And we’ve already got Celebrations anyway…

Ok so this year kiddies, it couldn’t be clearer: if you like autumn fruits and berries on sticks, you’re all welcome. I’m happy to offer soul cake but be clear what I required of you in return.

I may be displaying a horrifically carved pumpkin outside but this isn’t a free-for-all sugar station. You’ve been informed and warned.

All Grown Up!

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Wearing the right clothes; carrying the right handbag, look I’m an adult…

When I was about seven, I thought if I had a handbag, a shiny red one preferably, I’d be a grown up woman.

A little after that when playing with Barbie dolls, my sister and I agreed that since they lived alone and had a split-level apartment, they were real women.

At about twelve, I thought make up would do it. Between about 15 and 18, I was sure that if I had a car and could drive, then I’d be grown up.

Oddly enough, I never considered children to indicate ‘grown-up-ness’. Part of my inherent immaturity no doubt.

What can I say? I’m what any rational young person would call grown up, yet I promise I don’t feel any different.

These days, I play the piano, knit a little (a very little), cook nice things to eat, garden a little and sometimes put a pair of heels and make up on and act all grown up in a bar or restaurant.

So what makes us adults?

Yes, having children is a sort of ‘adulthood landmark’. But not just giving birth to a baby. (“I gave birth. I’m now all grown up.” Ha!)

Now, I can say with an almost biblical oath that paying bills, dealing with organisations and councils and agents and other grown-ups (who are usually much more grown up than I am) comes close to defining an adult.

Yes, having children is a sort of ‘adulthood landmark’. But not just giving birth to a baby. (“I gave birth. I’m now all grown up.” Ha!)

The ensuing physical challenges (fatigue, stamina, mental agility all under the shadow of severe sleep deprivation); social and moral dilemmas, the choices where you don’t know what the outcome might be for another human life you adore until about fifteen , twenty or thirty years down the line; the shaping of answers to difficult questions, these begin to define the adult I believe. Because they rely on self-knowledge and introspection. Without those, we’re barely human.

…I’ve been confronted with children who have asked me how I am, asked about my own child’s exam results, asked about my husband… What?! Go and play little one!

So what is it I see these days? A disturbing phenomenon. Infantadults. And of course, the other symptom: Babies in Adult Bodies!

In the last three days, I’ve had encounters with children (yes, persons of 8, 12 and 13 are to my mind most definitely children) who’ve been shoved into adult roles and have (obviously) not done it with finesse, elegance or actual knowledge.

So I’ve been confronted by children who have asked me how I am, asked about my own child’s exam results, asked about my husband… What?! Go and play little one!

The parents would define themselves as ‘professional’ and ’mature’ I think, yet somehow they relinquish parental duties and hand them over to their children. It more than bothers me. I find it unsatisfying and insulting. And I find myself having adult conversations with little ones who have only just learned to tie their shoelaces, ride a bicycle or tell the time. As you’d expect, I have a theory…

Like enormous toddlers – unfit to govern themselves or anyone else.

The parents of these precocious little darlings (late-thirty-early-to-mid-forty-somethings) had career parents. So as little ones they had to take on responsibilities: Get themselves to school in the morning. Let themselves in after school by the time they were six, look after Mummy and Daddy because they were exhausted after a day’s work; answer the phone, do little errands… These little people were all grown up by fifteen. Precocious, resentful and burdened with the weight of a childhood lost too soon for no good reason.

So what do they do? They partner up and have their own wee ones. ‘Aaaah’ they think, ‘another few years (let’s say five) and I’ll have someone to take care of me: my children!’ On it goes…

My heart breaks for them even though these arrogant, little know-alls are immensely annoying.. Like enormous toddlers, unfit to govern themselves or anyone else. But at the start, quite beside themselves with the honour of being thought grown up. That’s the child in them: Mummy and Daddy say I’m grown up because I can answer the phone. Yeah, Mummy and Daddy are outsourcing their duties, dearie.

Their future? Much the same as their giant, media-fed neurotic child-parents. Be a grown-up at seven, get a job; partner up; breed; spend six months being a parent (maybe); offload their young onto another organisation; treat them like adults by the time they’re in first school… And let society deal with the fallout. Aggravating but ignorant people.

Real children are charming: fully formed adults can be fascinating. A messy combination of the two is just trouble lying in wait.

Santana had a song, Let the Children Play. Maybe someone will redo the theme with Get the Children to Work or something.

One last word: please keep your young people away from me unless they behave in an age-appropriate manner and at nine years old are knowledgeable about climbing trees, playing chase, making huts, fighting, dressing dolls, making weapons out of sticks or chasing around the neighbourhood armed with tubs of water.

Real children are charming: fully formed adults can be fascinating. A messy combination of the two is just trouble lying in wait.

Undecided… stay put or get out?

This isn’t a marital problem… Though the similarities are uncanny.

I’ve been in this relationship a long time. The way it functions is familiar to me. There’s a degree of stability. I’m comfortable. Everyone tells me I’m doing well.

But there’s this nagging at the back of my mind and it forces me to ask some questions. Could things work better apart?

The EU debate is probably over most people’s heads. We can only decide given the information provided. Most of it feels like propaganda. (A bit like the church telling me marriage is sacred. Ordained by God. ‘Til death do us part…)

So how would everyone fare if we separated?

We talk about a nanny state here. It’s nothing compared to the overseeing of everything we do that Europe does.

This is a very personal feeling. About governing myself. Making decisions in the small group I belong to. Someone highly intelligent compared the EU membership to India’s Home Rule campaign. If that wasn’t infantilising a people, I don’t know what was. Isn’t this similar?

We talk about a nanny state here. It’s nothing compared to the overseeing of everything we do that Europe does.

My way of seeing it is this.

When we make decisions in the family, my husband and I talk. We share the same hopes and goals for our unit (the family). Now the children are older, we involve them a little more.

If we had to ask both sides of our families too and the neighbourhood and perhaps their children… I suspect nothing would ever be decided on. We’d have to choose a smaller, representative group to lead the family. And trust they’d know what they were doing. And would be working in our interests.

So everyone makes compromises. Some more than others. Usually in any group, some voices are louder. What about the neighbourhood bully? Or the one with more financial clout? A louder voice? What about the individuals who are shy and don’t speak up? What about their voice?

Without the EU, we forged the NHS, the Welfare State, police force and BBC.The country has the resources, the intelligence and drive to achieve great things. Small is beautiful.

If we as a group/neighbourhood had to pool finances and make decisions on expenditure, I can’t see any sane way forward. There would inevitably be red tape. Rules and clauses and sub-clauses. Most of us wouldn’t get to see them or agree with them. But that’s the price of trying to make a large sprawling group work.

Many against staying in the EU have immigration as their prime focus. As the daughter of two immigrants who have done incredibly well, this isn’t my issue.

Without the EU, we forged the NHS, the Welfare State, police force and BBC. Without doubt, institutions that are cited as world class when talking about the UK. This country has the resources, the intelligence and drive to achieve great things. Small is beautiful.

And from what I see there’s an increasing desire for small groups to break off and rule themselves (Wales and Scotland come to mind) becoming even smaller.

Well it might seem childish but Britain does have friends. Again, we weren’t part of the EU when either of the World Wars broke out. But we had allies.

It feels as though ‘squaring up’ to the US or China (economically and militarily) are the main reasons for remaining in the EU.

Well it might seem childish but Britain does have friends. Again, we weren’t part of the EU when either of the World Wars broke out. But we had allies.

It feels a bit like joining a group of people at school whose principles you don’t really agree with or personalities you don’t get on with. But you’re protecting yourself against being bullied by another gang. What about our own ethics and principles?

Isn’t there something to be said for governing the group from the inside? Making decisions in small units? Using people who also know how that unit is made up?

I keep thinking about all the member states. I’d have to trust that the leaders were supremely informed about rural Lithuania, urban Spain, remotest Estonia… Are they?

I feel we can still be a good nation: strong, creative, economically and culturally successful and progressive. And that other nations will still want to deal with us.

A recent BBC debate on the subject threw up a fascinating question by a member of the public: why do we feel the EU has the moral high ground? Aren’t they people like ourselves? Don’t they have prejudices just as we do? Don’t they also have their own interests and agenda – for themselves and their own nation – at the centre of things like we do?

In all this muddle is the overriding feeling that we can do it ourselves, thank you. Not even counting the fact that remaining in could prove detrimental to my family’s businesses or our own, I feel we can still be a good nation: strong, creative, economically and culturally successful and progressive. And that other nations will still want to deal with us.

A layman’s point of view but no different to the majority of vaguely informed voters.

I welcome opinion, disagreement, another perspective, so do respond with thoughts and ideas. Because in this strange and long-standing marriage, I want to do the right thing.

Restricted mobility? Might as well stay at home.

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How Britain pays lip service to those with difficulties.

 

The BAFTAS the other day seemed to have two related themes:

  1. Don’t dare get rid of the BBC and Channel 4. Apparently some MP mentioned this in earnest
  2. TV and film-making needs to keeps funds so they can continue to be diverse – both with subject-matter and those they can employ.

Do we really need to be saying this in 2016? Seems so.

Readers familiar with my posts might ask, What’s she going to rant about this time?

Ramps, parking, help at airports, general support for those who struggle. Are we that callous that we refuse to accommodate them?

London? Forget it. Your blue badge means nothing. A disc to assuage the do-gooders’ sense of guilt that the system doesn’t really work.

This is the reality. Difficulty walking? We’ve put a ramp near the toilets so you can use them. What no one has thought of is the five flights of stairs (part of the way with no banister) to get to the loo. How the hell is this supposed to work?

There can be few who are unfamiliar with uneven paving. Round our way (Bucks – glorious, educated, middle England… pah!) it doesn’t matter anyway: drivers mount the kerb to get where they’re going. One day very soon, a parent pushing their child or someone in a mobility scooter is going to be hurt. Badly.

In the meantime, anyone using the pavement (on foot) is going to be challenged. Children, those whose sight isn’t what it used to be, anyone whose mobility isn’t what some bacon-headed councillor thinks it should be, older people, those who are recovering from illness or injury… We’re denying an awful lot of people access.

London? Forget it. Your blue badge means nothing. A disc to assuage the do-gooders’ sense of guilt that the system doesn’t really work. Can’t find a disabled parking space. Can’t park in double or single yellow lines. Like those plastic funfair tokens: I want to go on the big wheel again! Sorry love, should’ve got here before half five. Not valid now

Looking like we’re doing the right thing by disabled and less able citizens, well,  we seem to be able to get away with it. What we’re doing is depriving everybody.

What are we really saying to the people in this country – both able and less able?

If ethnic minorities or children or older people were stopped from taking part and contributing to society, we’d probably be hauled in front of a European court. Looking like we’re doing the right thing by disabled and less able citizens, well,  we seem to be able to get away with it. What we’re doing is depriving everybody.

If a teacher was prevented from working because of this, half-baked ‘awareness’ of the needs of the less able, who would lose out? The teacher and the students. Same with everyone in the creative, legal and medical professions. Those who are homosexual, heterosexual, depressed, have hearing or speech difficulties… And in fact anyone with skill in any profession or service. How can this be allowed to happen? Access all areas? Only if you’re young, fit and able.

When there really isn’t equality between those who maybe have full use of their movement and those who don’t, we’re failing. Failing the population and as a country.

Making do with second or third best just because those people can climb stairs/ walk on raised paving slabs or see without help for example. Great Britain? I don’t think so.

We’re paring our society down horribly by not doing enough to include the many who find getting about harder. We’re dismissing talent and ability by not catering for those with mobility problems. We’re not using their gifts. Not using the best, most able and qualified people in their field. Making do with second or third best just because those people can climb stairs/ walk on raised paving slabs or see without help for example. Great Britain? I don’t think so.

This grates on me. We’re holding a referendum next month on whether or not to stay in Europe soon: a big topic. What I want to see is the country taking care of its own. Caring for them. Using their wealth of skill and knowledge. Accommodating its people and making sure everyone has access to all the facilities the country offers.

Too much to ask? Let’s drop the ‘Great’ then and just say it like it is. A small, little island that is, as Ofsted might class it, improving. I think even that’s optimistic.

Music that sells

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The building of the Forth Bridge: couldn’t be done with half-baked imprecise ideas…

 

Who’s choosing music for ads these days? Because they haven’t got it right.

With close family members successfully working in the music industry, I know something about how it’s done well.

My current gripes are B&Q http://www.diy.com/ and Thomson http://www.thomson.co.uk/ Probably if I was up later, I’d see plenty more.

Thomson sells holidays. B&Q  sells DIY stuff. So why is Thomson using Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody and B&Q using George Benson’s Give Me the Night to get their message across?

Let’s cut this into bite size pieces. Thomson sells holidays and flights. The first line of Bohemian Rhapsody (after the evocative piano section used in the ad) is, Mama, just killed a man/ Put a gun against his head/ pulled my trigger now he’s dead. Great. And you want to sell family holidays? Where to? The sunless 6’ x 6’ cell you imagine the perpetrator to inhabit the rest of his life? Thanks, but I’ll pass.

The track conjures a series of bleak images and puts them to music. Genius. An opera, a novel and the most varied piece of music I know (others will gleefully correct me, I’m sure.)

I’ve gone through the whole song in my head trying to find any parts which enhance the travel company’s message. Nothing.

Did the hip, young employee choosing music for this ad not understand the brief? Was there some communication breakdown? Did the chap in charge of choosing music (let’s call him Jason) return from his coffee break to find a post-it note on his desk? Music for sad teddy, abusive child and sun please. Jason thinks, This is pretty dark. (Except for the sun bit.) Oh well. I’m a cool guy in my rubber flip flops. I can do this.

I’ve gone through the whole song in my head trying to find any parts which enhance the travel company’s message. Nothing.

They range from: I don’t wanna die / I sometimes wish I’d never been born at all (obviously been on a Thomson holiday before) and I’m just a poor boy from a poor family (don’t book with Thomson then.) to Easy come, easy go, will you let me go?  Bismillah, no! We will not let you go! (See above). And worse, Too late, my time has come /send shivers down my spine, body aching all the time… (ah, time to go back home.)

Nothing in the song’s lyrics helps build the image of happy family holidays. (Do you think you can love me and leave me to die?) or Just gotta get out, just gotta get right out of here.)

It’s possible Thomson is deeper than I am. They might have chosen this piece of music in a perversely anti-iconic, trans-genre attempt at dismantling of the historic imagery of the song… I swear anyone older than 19 who knows this track will never associate it with sandy beaches and happy children.

Music matters. It engages and includes. Or alienates and confuses. In these ads, for me, the latter.

Let’s have L’Oreal using Love Yourself And Match.com could use Somebody’Else Guy. I don’t know…  (Hours of fun with this subject alone.)

The story of the teddy bear my mind verges on plagiarism anyway. It brings to mind Mick Inkpen’s moving children’s book, Nothing. Maybe that was the idea. (I understand you can’t copyright an idea… but this feels like more than that.)

But back to the topic. The only thing the B&Q ad makes me think of it that the staff can’t wait for closing time. Gimme the Night? Who decided on that one? And what did they think we’d think? Ah, night time, I’ll do some decorating. Or, Can’t wait for the sun to go down: I’ll get to B&Q Or maybe, Did a really bad job with B&Q paint, it’ll look better in the dark.

Music matters. It engages and includes. Or alienates and confuses. In these ads, for me, the latter.

It’s similar to book covers. Some very decent books have done badly because the covers were wrong. But I suppose people will still buy from Thomson and B&Q even if those companies can’t put a decent ad together.

Just makes me think some marketing teams have too much money and don’t know where to look for talent. Yes, the marketing team is separate from the shop. But I thought that it was a whole package: a TV ad to bring the product to the audience’s attention. Done by marrying good visuals with appropriate music.

The new approach seems to be: if you can’t convince, confuse. How many good purchases have you made when you’ve been confused? ‘Nuff said…

Why we travel. How we travel. What we gain.

What are we supposed to get out of moving about the world? And should we have the same mind set whether on our summer holiday or using our time to just be somewhere else for no particular reason?

My last trip seems to have brought this pondering on. Would I come back with some knowledge that I couldn’t gain in my own country? Are people really so different around the world? Why was I there?

A young girl of about eight tried to take my camera and a homeless lady with bags and bundles of clothes was permanently stationed outside Gucci.

The tour companies play on the fact that we all work hard and need a break. Fine. But do we need to go abroad? Take all our neuroses to other innocent people and claim we’re there because we deserve to be. Seems to be what we do.

Because I was in Naples, people asked, ‘Did you see Pompeii?’ ‘No.’ ‘Vesuvius?’ ‘No.’ ‘Did you have a day in Rome?’ ‘No.’ ‘The amphitheatre?’ ‘No.’ I saw Naples in action.

A young girl of about eight tried to take my camera and a homeless lady with bags and bundles of clothes was permanently stationed outside Gucci.

The vision and expectation is always less than the reality of being somewhere new.

Small differences like the way I was tolerated when standing in an awkward place to take a photo; or how staff exercised patience when I couldn’t get across what I needed to because of the language barrier but was still treated with civility (to my face at least); and the way drivers would sound their horns persistently when stuck at rush hour. These seemingly small courtesies and cultural differences are what I brought home. And they make me think about what they say about the country/town.

We ate with natives and jostled in the markets where Neapolitans shopped for food, shoes and underwear.

Is this travel enriching the individual? It feels like a sort of ‘Been there, done that’ log. Consumed the entire country with one sloppy image. What’s the point?

You can see the place you’re in by looking, not by doing the sights. There were senior and elegant women in chunky boots, socks and bold dresses. The young people didn’t seem to adhere to any teen clothes’ rule: some wore flares, slim jeans, others skirts over trousers; flowing dresses, high heels, masculine shoes, the elegant mingled with the casual and individual. And I was relieved to see women with a hair colour other than blonde.

They talked a lot and had an ice-cream/sweet and coffee break around 4.00pm. Crossing the road requires a pioneering spirit and you almost need to do it alone: drivers seem to cater for one person crossing at a time. Red lights? They’ll choose whether to stop at them.

This is the essence of travel. I may one day see the historic places in Naples. I might not. I don’t think it will embellish my few days there or enlighten me about the character of Naples.

Neither am I ready for the Ray Mears approach. But I don’t think travel needs to contain a list of ingredients and if they’re not in there, we haven’t got the whole experience.

I have an acquaintance who travels much more and much further than I do. I get Facebook updates many times a day. Some of the images posted break my heart. Like one from Kathmandu showing a small group of old gentlemen outside a temple. Is this travel enriching the individual? It feels like a sort of ‘Been there, done that’ log. Consumed the entire country with one sloppy image. What’s the point?

Well that’s a bit harsh. Neither am I ready for the Ray Mears approach either. But I don’t think travel needs to contain a list of ingredients and if they’re not in there, we haven’t got the whole experience.

I have another acquaintance who won’t go back to Spain after staying in Benidorm for a week. Aw, didn’t they invite you for tapas and offer to pay for all the beer you can hold then put on a flamenco show and offer to babysit your unappealing offspring? Well, how rude of them. Especially when the travel brochure talked of Spanish hospitality and their commitment to family. (Their own, I might add.)

We can all be a bit haughty about travel – we probably all think we do it is right. And sure, there’s no on right way to travel. We’re unbelievably lucky though and for that reason should ask ourselves what we hope to get out of any travel.

Discard your prejudices and don’t blindly accept what travel guides and Trip Advisor buffs say.

Then I promise you will enjoy yourself!

“La, la, la… I can’t hear you…” Or: Tesco’s new shopping experience

I know what they’re up to… but read on.

Picture this. You’re on a train. Something like London to Inverness. You’ve dozed a little. It’s a long journey. The train pulls in to a station. You’re looking for the sign that tells you where you are.

You look out the window. Nothing. As the train pulls away, you see the sign. Sideways on to the carriage. The further the train moves away, the more you’re likely to see it. Your cheek and brow and eye socket are all squashed against the window. Nothing.

An innovative station manager decided to hang them sideways. (“Cool!” he says. “I’ve had enough of the same old, same old… Let’s try something different!”) People on the platform can see it OK. Just not you.

Same in Tesco. I thought it was just my local one. Out here in the sticks, it could be some wealthy merchant’s offspring who’s never shopped in his life and thinks this would be exciting. Make his mark on the world of shopping. Find his niche. His calling in life.

Or (as it’s always blamed on them) a recent grad who’s never shopped in his life. Or even a seven year old. “Aw my little Octavia/Romulus/Godwin is such a clever child. Let them reorganise your shop.”)

The result is a failure.

The only way you can see the damn signs is when you’re in a main aisle that crosses the ones that actually have goods in them. Once in the aisle itself, forget it. All you see is the edge of these signs. You’ll have to walk back to the end of the aisle to know whether or not you’re in the right aisle or not. Inspired thinking.

You might think (from reading previous posts) that it’s just me. I see innovation and complain. Well you’d be wrong (this time anyway).

Staff members feel the same. ‘Talk to management…’ they’ll sigh with a fatigue that can only be described as heartfelt. Almost medical. They’re suffering from CMI: chronic management intolerance. And there’s nothing they can take for it.

So why persist? The answer is coming.

But before that, there’s more. The aisles are now labelled by absolute imbeciles. Probably the same deficient management team (that never goes shopping) sees it fit to use labels that read, Ingredients. Meat. Meat and Fish. Meat and Pies. Sauces

What in the name of large scale out of town, glorified barns with fancy lights are they trying to achieve?

As someone pointed out to me, virtually the whole shop is full of ingredients. So why not hang a sign at the entrance that just reads, ‘Stuff’.

Looking for risotto rice? Ha! You idiot! You thought it would be in the section labelled ‘rice’. It’s not. It’s opposite all the other rice huddling next to the pasta… who in their right mind would look for rise next to pasta in the aisle labelled rice? Need I say more…?

It’s now not possible to do a quick, efficient shop any more.  Ahhh, but that’s the whole point.

Tesco doesn’t’ want you there at all. It’s trying to eliminate people (shoppers) and move over wholesale to online shopping. The only ones who will (we hope) understand the codified aisle system are insiders (staff). Though I doubt it.

This week I asked a staff member (loutish, over-confident for one who merely counts ham slices and puts them into a bag with tongs) where I could find fresh fish stock. The sort that’s already made up. Fresh. Liquid. Not in a congealed cube. Fresh.

He brazenly directed me aisle number 6, was it? Stock cubes. You unworthy, unshaven clot who dares to claim a salary with your stinky cloth shoes and blue plaster over your probably septic, oozing piercing. Don’t you dare handle my food! was my though as I approached the Knorr/Oxo shelf.

Tesco gives me an excuse to leave the house. (We need to eat and I don’t yet grow my own.) At the risk of running into someone I know (and don’t like), I still go. There are other people who might feel the same.

What I suspect Tesco aims to do is this.

Once they’ve got rid of real shoppers, they’ll move over to online shopping only. Then they’ll turn off most the lights and turn down the heating. The staff is usually freezing anyway, they won’t quibble about another drop of two degrees.

And we, the consumers/customers? Well we’ll have to put up with the incompetent and chilly staff bringing us whatever they can find in the freezing and dark warehouse that once was a Tesco superstore.  It’ll end up as vengeance shopping. Some stubbly staff member who can’t find his way around the shop in the dark , has frozen puss stuck to his brow throwing what the hell he likes into your trolley because… well… he’s angry.

I can’t bear the thought.

My mother has told me to shop at Wairose for years. I’ve been smug telling her that Tesco has the same products and is a bit cheaper. It was truse but I can see that’s not all that matter. Time to listen to Mother… (“Yes, Mummy. You’re right…”)