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Mad Men September 30, 2010

Posted by normanmonkey in In the news, QPR, Single London.
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There’s a number of ways two young, single, professional gentlemen at the cut and thrust of the London PR scene can spend their evening. Start off with cocktails at The Ritz, dinner at The Wolseley, maybe a private members club or off to Bungalow 8 before retiring to their respective penthouse suites with the women of their choice. Modern day Mad Men.

I wager that few would choose to spend it in an alcove of a football ground in  Shepherds Bush with slightly unhinged, lagered-up middle-aged ‘geezers’ who also happened to be two of Millwall’s ‘Top Men’ (and I don’t mean in the boardroom) as riots and pitched battles flared up outside.

Come to think of it, that wasn’t exactly how DT and I envisaged spending our evening at the Rangers either: grinning inanely and taking deep breaths upon hearing yet another rapid-fire yarn lamenting the good old days of mindless acts of violence.

That was all made possible by Blewett who thought it would be a nice touch to introduce two regulars from a former pub of his to the club restaurant where we were dining so we could enjoy a live recital of The Football Factory.

This somewhat undermined the military precision planning and leaving work early from Bermondsey to be inside the ground at 6pm to escape the hooligans outside the ground only to discover our own mate had arranged for them to come to us. Of all the measures taken, that was not one I’d calculated for. Nice one, Blewett. I’ve never felt such gratitude and relief upon having my hand crushed in a farewell handshake goodbye.

I think we heard about 200 anecdotes unbroken for a pause for breath and all of them containing the words ‘Tear up’ (usually prefixed with the ubiquitous ‘proper’ or ‘right old’). Believe me, it’s exhausting this whole trying not to get a bottle of Becks banged on your head business – survival instinct kicks in.

The strategy when confronted with two men of a certain age for whom a broken nose is a term of endearment is to agree with everything they say and not to mention that you work in the media, have close friends who are French, use a personal trainer, read The Guardian, dislike lager, drink espresso martinis and, in DT’s case at least, you live with someone who has just competed in a Ladyboy of the Year competition. Actually, there’s no acceptable social context for the latter. He’s just going to have to soldier on alone with that one.

The football was largely inconsequential. As we were reliably informed by our acquaintances it was all about the tear up. Apparently liberties had been taken and a lot of old faces were coming out of retirement for this one. They weren’t wrong. Shepherds Bush was a battlefield in places and the violence made international news (USA Today, The Australian, The Ealing Gazette).

If Blewett was bang on the money with one thing it was better to have them inside with us, than for us to be outside without them. I see the logic, but I’d still sooner have swapped them for Penelope Cruz and Megan Fox, but maybe not for Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall. I’d have probably taken him and his chickens, covered them in QPR memorabilia, lobbed them in the away end and turned a blind eye to that one.

After all that tension, we naturally needed to escape the war zone for a couple of  late night cold drinks to calm down. From Romper Stomper to Old Compton Street in thirty minutes. How;s that for varied night out and we’d have almost certainly got a pasting for mentioning that as a potential destination. Anywhere to avoid a beating. Better to be hit upon by a man than hit by one  is my new motto.

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Play your cards right September 27, 2010

Posted by normanmonkey in Friends, Music, QPR.
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Waking up to a jolly cretin on the local radio station announcing that the train you’d rather been hoping to catch into town has been cancelled – along with all those that follow it – is a surefire way to kickstart the working week.  The only positive was the arrival in the post of the credit and debit cards I managed to lose over the course of 24 hours last week with depressing predictability just prior to a date with a woman who appeared to be both fussy and high-maintenance.

She had the good foresight to cancel the date hours before, but my being forced to subsist from a Friday to Sunday night on the company card is going to reveal to our Financial Director, at the very least, the itinerant lifestyle a West Byfleet dandy.

It’s all laid bare with spectacular predictability: Village East cocktails, Waterloo cash withdrawal at 8am on Saturday morning,  the train fare to Queens Park Rangers, Threshers, Sunday lunch in Weybridge and a Chinese takeaway. One thing that didn’t get a reduction on the card was the offer of a discount on a good bottle of Morgon from a shop proprietor on Bermondsey Street on the condition I give him a kiss. Friday had been one of those nights.

Latterly, I even managed to restrain myself from buying the 5disc box set of Bowie’s mid-70’s masterpiece Station to Station (according to legend The Dame was so out of it during recording, living on a diet of raw peppers and milk, that he is quoted as saying he only knows he recorded the album in LA because more reliable people have told him so). That particular gem has now been ordered as the first purchase on the new cards.

Two weeks of almost unceasing gym activity and abstinence from the grape always feels like two weeks too many when you’ve been stood up and Levi is grinning at you from the entrance to Village East. It was a fine evening and the company excellent as always. The next doorway I encountered in the light of day was the entrance to Loftus Road and a meeting with Blewett and Robbie Gale for a good lunch, three goals and three points before retreating back to the Wisley with the latter to celebrate another weekend at the top of the league that has left many people staggering around Shepherds Bush in shock.

Sunday evening’s subsiding mood was lifted by a text from DT that simply read ‘I’m at the Ladyboy of the Year 2010 with my new flatmate. He’s in it’. At least I knew there would be an illuminating conversation over morning coffee prior to getting down to the business of public relations. He’s gone from living with  70 year old landlady  to a twentysomething landladyboy. While the former cooks a far better roast beef  dinner, the latter clearly wins hands down in a head to head Beyonce lookalike contest.

There had been a sense that perhaps a return to the gym was what was required this evening. However, nodding off on the train back from Waterloo was probably a sign that tea and rest was required. Tomorrow I’ll need all the energy I can get as I may have to break my record time for running a mile. QPR are hosting Millwall. West vs East. And DT and I have to take the same route into Shepherds Bush from our Bermondsey office as the all nutters and their nuttier mates from the New Den.

We’ve talked about leaving work early for the journey so we can do our new business pitch the next day with our own teeth. We reckon 10am should be about right.

Leaving Marbella September 15, 2010

Posted by normanmonkey in Food, Travel, West Byfleet.
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San Pedro, Marbella

There was a time when four days in Marbella was defined by emerging mid-morning from nightclubs, blackouts, coming to on golf courses, sleeping through the daylight hours and on at least one occasion, knocking a girl backward off the port wall in Puerto Banus harbour during an Errol Flynn style embrace.

A mid-morning stagger across the ninth hole in a party shirt whilst trying to ask in an advanced state of dehydration where and whom I am is certainly the closest I’ve come to playing a round of golf. The last night here, of which there has been many, has almost always involved incidents that one can largely place in the file charitably marked ‘Regrettable’.

Yet, this trip has been defined by long walks on the beach, grilled fish, the memoirs of Christopher Hitchens and spending the last night indoors listening to Ipswich-QPR on the internet with a single glass of rose. Normally listening to QPR would be good cause to go out and end up waking up in a bunker the next day, but times have changed. Another 3-0 win and still top of the league. The rest of the bottle of the rose had to be consumed to help numb the shock of looking at their standing in the Championship.

In fact, that’s one of the few things that will make returning to a rain-sodden West Byfleet and Bermondsey bordering on bearable. That and the matter of a night out tomorrow courtesy of 72 Point who are celebrating the opening of their London office. They’ve rightly gauged what will entice me from my post-holiday malady and it being the word ‘bar’ rather than ‘seminar’ .

The invite decrees that invitees are drawn from the London media set: journalists, opinion formers and the major players in the PR industry. Plus me and Dan Turner making up the numbers. In fact, Turner wangled an invite sometime after hearing about mine and I swear we’ve commissioned far more surveys than necessary around the time he was angling for an invite: we’ve probably got data on how slavery may come back into fashion, France being the country the great British public would must like to bomb to take their minds off the recession (come to think of it, one for the Daily Mail) and the Taliban’s favourite rom-coms of all time (Four Stonings and a Funeral?).

Whichever way one cares to at it, that’s tomorrow night sorted and Friday ruined. I hope last weekend is more successful than the last. Against better instincts a friend and I ventured to a crappy West Byfleet Italian restaurant by the name of Trevi where I’d been once before an served off-skate that tasted heavily of ammonia.

Just to prove a point I again ordered skate. One thing their kitchen could never be accused of is inconsistency. Again the skate was off and inedible.  Ideally the  portion of the evening which immediately wouldn’t have been spent locked in that toilet thanks to a jammed door. Thirty minutes is a long time in a cubicle, especially so when you were irate in the first place, your wine is getting warm and would actually be quite welcome not only to lift the spirits but wipe away the unshakable taste of ammonia.

After some time negotiating and explaining my predicament to an assortment of aging Italian waiters on the ‘other side’ I started to empathise with the predicament of the Chilean miners except for they got served far better food down a tube 2km underground.  The sound of a serious voice intervening with the words ‘Let me sort this. I’m a builder’ capped my night out. It seems the the skills endowed at building school on freeing a trapped media type from the karsi consists of trying the handle repeatedly (if only I’d have thought of that) and then beating the sdhit out of the door when the handle failed, something I’d been doing for some considerable time.

There were no well wishers, camera crews or garlands of flowers to greet me when I surfaced. Just a bewildered looking friend and a bill.  Not even a brandy on the house. Instead a grinning waiter said ‘You must be really embarrassed’. Well as a matter of fact yes I was rather and not as much as they should’ve been, but I’m glad he found it funny. Poisoned, incarcerated,humiliated and left for dead: who did they think I was, Rasputin? Which reminds me – not only is the Boney M track on him a great pop song, it’s also historically accurate. Stay in, check it out, avoid Trevi and spare yourself the indignation.

A Place in The Sun September 9, 2010

Posted by normanmonkey in Consumer PR.
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The front page of PR Week today featured a picture of two self-consciously earnest looking gentleman with black thick rimmed glasses who stared into the lens as if they were about to gravely inform you Basildon had been destroyed by a single explosion. And they’d caused it. Because they could. And it was all done by telekinesis. So we should take them seriously because they can read our minds and make us submit to their whims. We don’t know what their next move is going to be, but it will involve world domination so prepare to be dominated.  PR, you see, is a very serious business.

As first in at work today and with a copy of PR Week in the mail, theirs were the first other faces from my industry to greet me. Then, for want of a juxtaposition, our lot started to shamble in with their stories, diatribes, trite observations, put downs, insults, embraces and rapid fire innuendos. Stick them in front of a respectable trade magazine photographer, it would be impossible to get them to keep still, let alone look serious. They’d almost certainly pout or probably much worse. Yet, open the papers today and our handiwork is all there from the Daily Star to the FT. Something must be working and and we do so with a nod and a wink.

You’ve got to admire the talent pool in the office. A survey of the shop floor looks more like a remake of the Dirty Dozen (make that two dozen), not so much just  the waifs and strays of the PR industry that no one else can handle, but a handul too much for decent, right-minded society as a whole. Yet they get the job done with tenacity just like Telly Savelas in the war film referred to – even if it does mean a few scars and scrapes on the way.

One cast member whom regular readers of this blog will identify rather quickly set off for a week-long holiday to Portugal on Monday afternoon with a sneer, a nod and a ‘See ya!’ Later that evening he missed his flight, blew his top and had to be escorted out of Terminal 3 by security. He then booked a flight for the next day, went home, overslept, dashed to the airport, missed that one for good measure and was back in the office today as if nothing had happened. One thing you can be sure of the chaps on the front page of PR Week: not only board their plane before those on Speedy Boarding, they do so dictating in the captain’s ear the precise destination to fly to or face the cunning consequences, especially if they lose their wi-fi signal in the process.

Meanwhile back at Ground Zero, there is the struggle to compose oneself writing a strategy document as a gay Welshman acts out the latest new boutique for Bermondsey Streeet called Dooshenfist (‘Hello, Douchenfist, how may I help you?’) which in a split second and flick to a Teutonic accent transmorphed into a German footwear brand:

– Vot is zat you are vearing?

– Zis iz ze new Dooshenfist sandal for ze Autumn season! Isn’t it amaze, ja!

Not despite, but because of this chaotic, frenzied atmosphere the creative output and the results appear to be hitting new heights. One can think of some former colleagues who’d be turning in their alphabetically ordered progress report at all these goings on. For a start, they would require translation to understand half the stuff being talked about and then carried out in a stretcher when they did.  They too will always be first on the flight out and the front page photo while we instead will have to content ourselves at our desks with our place in The Sun.

I’m done now with the office for a week. There’s the matter of an early Sunday morning Gatwick flight to Marbella – and therefore the distinct possibility, going by our current form,  that I’ll be staring out at the drizzle from my desk come Monday morning. Cows it seems, like the adage about pigs, just aren’t meant to fly.

Catalogue groom September 6, 2010

Posted by normanmonkey in Friends, Single London.
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Summer only came to a close last week and already there is the urge to hibernate. This is all despite attempts at a makeover in my week off: personal training, haircut and new Autumnal wardrobe of natty threads at no small expense. Ladies of London watch out, was the theory. They’ll be shoveling up swooning women all the way down Bermondsey Street. Despite all that and being told on my arrival at Village East that I appeared ten years younger, it inevitably took only a card behind the bar the bar and a few hours to achieve the look of being twenty years older.

Still, this investment in my personal appearance hasn’t gone unnoticed and the comments have come trickling in. Only the other day our office manager told me as I stirred my morning coffee among a group of colleagues I looked ‘Like something out of a catalogue’, which is enough to stop a man about town in his tracks. This was, she explained, a compliment. As another colleague hearing the comment succinctly put it, the look I was striving for was Milan, not Matalan.

Given it was the office manager I fear the catalogue she was referring to was of the Ryman variety. I can see myself in my new threads holding a variety of multicoloured folders or elbow resting laconically on a franking machine looking seductively into the distance waiting for the post.

With all this underwhelming reaction to my makeover it is now pissing down with rain outside with a three day tube strike thrown in for good measure. A short trip to Marbella next week for a few days of sunshine, grilled seafood and observing  the embarrassment that is the English abroad will help to revive flagging spirits and for me, no doubt, to be more Matalan than matador.