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Believe in Buda November 23, 2010

Posted by normanmonkey in Friends, Travel.
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James Daly, personal trainer to the stars, the middle-aged and my sorry arsed self, is never short of a motivational mantra or two. These usually involve attainment to greatness, fulfilling potential and then exceeding it, belief, strength, focus and the triumph of the will. I suspect that if he were alive today Nietzsche would almost certainly have been not a philosopher but a master of the squat thrust and attending to the paunches of Cobham housewives.

It was with every best intention that I’d go to the gym this evening. All those little mantras flew around my head like gnats in Scottish summertime from the moment I woke up, all through work, on the train journey home and right through until I walked through the front door and was stopped in my tracks by a box of Marks and Spencer mince pies.

So much for self-discipline and good intentions.  The gym was supposed to have made up for recent lax form on my part where there had been a significant absence of focus of belief or strength in a sterile gym atmosphere in Weybridge. That being the Cow PR 10th anniversary trip to Budapest where our entire company of 28 was unleashed upon one of the great European capital cities for three days.  The locals haven’t seen anything like it since the Soviets sent the tanks in back in ’56 and at least the Red Army wasn’t wearing silly hats and charging around with a large tea urn singing ‘We’ve won the cup!’

Someone who has joined recently spoke of a similar trip to Madrid with a previous agency. All that was achieved was transplanting the cliques, animosities, hierarchies, frostiness that was all pervasive in the office to another part of Europe so people just traipsed round, supped beer and scowled and pointed at the occasional landmark to kill time before posing for the obligatory picture to PR Week to show just how fabulous they were.

Not our lot. There’s a lot of love, a lot of colour, a highly developed sense of the absurd, dumb hats and a few smart dance moves. An ex-Cow, Russell Williams, visiting from his new life as an academic in Paris compared the photos of our visit to ‘The Benny Hill Show as written by Bret Easton Ellis’ and that is taken as a compliment.

Turner placing a copy of Men Only over Good Housekeeping in the women’s lifestyle section of WH Smith at Gatwick, my being propositioned on the flight by a middle aged Thai widow from Llandudno (‘My husband, he die’) on a hen trip and Gloria dropping her own passport in the ladies loo before flushing at Budapest airport on our arrival arrival pretty much set the tone for the trip. When Cows take over a dancefloor of a highly respectable nightclub is like watching a scene from an Attenborough documentary, particularly when an intruder from outside the ranks attempted to muscle in with dance moves of his own and was unceremoniously ushered back to the fringes in a broom sweeping motion by Big Al that Michael Jackson couldn’t have choreographed. The same could be said for any deluded Hungarian approaching Liz Beswick and not realsing they stood little chance unless they not only came from the Home Counties but owned a large portion of them as well. As for whomever thought leaving that tea urn out on display by the hotel lift was a sensible idea only has themselves to blame.

Come Monday morning back in my desk in Bermondsey if asked what the greatest evils of the 21st century were I would say in no particular order: the perils of an unregulated banking system, the global inequality of rich and poor, terrorism, religious fundamentalism and two nights in a row on Jagerbombs – in no particular order except for the latter at number one (and possibly a space for people who use multiple exclamation and question mark in punctuation).

Later in the week and the tables were turned. James Daly was staggering around the gym, in the manner I am often prone to do so on his account, upon hearing about the goings-on. If the Jagerbombs was a left hook, the upper cut was hearing that several of our party consumed seven BK Whoppers in three days.  Between meals. ‘One or two in a YEAR is acceptable’, he gibbered uncomprehendingly, ‘but…seven…are you sure?’. I might as well have said murders and not burgers. It just goes to show, what one man sees as weakness, others see as focus, dedication and beating all odds.

It can’t be denied that yet again my route to beefcake has been blocked by a solitary mince pie, but tomorrow we start anew. If we believe we may reach the promised land. James and his weights and his wise words of wisdom will be waiting and there will be neither mince pie or a tea urn in sight.


Tangled Up In Briefs November 4, 2010

Posted by normanmonkey in Blogging and social media, Consumer PR.
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Like most people, certainly those whom have accompanied a girlfriend on a shoe shopping expedition, own a QPR season ticket or been stuck in a room with a social media ‘guru’, I’ve contemplated my own death.  It could come at any moment, purely by chance or some act of my or someone else’s stupidity. Chances are that it will be long and lingering and I still wouldn’t have got round to collecting that rug and I ordered from Habitat one weekend.

I hadn’t suspected, though will be on future guard, I could be killed by my own scarf entangled in the door of a West Byfleet mini-cab. Fortunately I managed to bang on the side just as he was about to pull away.  Tonight was almost my night and rest assured from someone who knows, it’s not a dignified way to end another 12-hour working day, let alone expire.  My very own Isadora Duncan moment and no one would’ve been there to witness it. Instead my decapitated body would’ve been found by a neighbour and I imagine they’d have written a letter to my house complaining about bringing down the area by not having the decency to use the correct bin.

It has been that kind of day, hovering somewhere between life and death, as I’d been to Slough. All that’s left is to slump at the keyboard listening to Graham Taylor talk in geriatric parables on Channel 5 Football as I type with a cup of tea to face another day. November heralds a frantic six weeks of preparing 2011 campaigns for your clients and it can be taxing on the temperament. Today Gloria and Talullah even went to the lengths of lighting candles at my desk and playing whale music, really, they did, but even then any hint of calm was blown away as I nearly set myself  alight.

Everything happens all at once, new clients, potential clients and you are effectively writing the script of success and failure for the coming year. It’s energetic, all-consuming and done with the warning that ill-conceived ideas will come back to haunt you down the line so it requires application, attention to detail and a lot tea because are effectively laying your own professional minefield and will have to retrace those steps over the coming year.  I’ve seen scenes at other agencies where there are a number of inquisitions as to “Who the HELL…?”‘ thought that was a good idea (terrorist reenactments, replacing the face of Big Ben with a giant crisp packet, or changing the natural laws of physics, that kind of thing).

Someone once told me of an experience at an agency they’d just joined where there was a tactic in the time line that involved Nelson Mandela doing a dance. They’d even budgeted it at £5,000. That’s the same price as Michaela Strachan and you won’t even get a dance for that. (Lest we forget our peers  at one agency some time back who actually did go through with the idea of a Jack the Ripper display at the London Dungeon using ‘real life prostitutes’ – that made national news alright, but unfortunately for them the words ‘misogyny’, ‘gratuitious’ and ‘exploitation’ weren’t in the key messages)

In the course of research we were assessing the social media strategy of a client competitor today.  I was particularly taken with the link to a Twitter feed on their homepage which led to their Twitter account and consisted of a grand total of zero tweets and one follower. It’s a start, I suppose.

To my annoyance I didn’t check whom that one follower was. What keeps them hanging on in there in hope they might get a tweet from a fast moving consumer good? And what could this fast moving consumer good ever have to say for itself? That  it’s good with chicken? Or, like all of the women winked on me when I trialled Match.com, permanently to be found on the shelf?

A driving school had a slightly more substantial feed, but came across as being like a pervy Uncle at a family barbecue. Asking young people what music they liked, their favourite festivals and did they know a good place to watch a sunset? All to a wall of absolute silence, but on they persisted.  ‘At least they are trying to do something’, said Gloria, but by the same measure, so is pissing into the Grand Canyon and thinking you’ll get a swimming pool.

On the note of chatting into a digital wilderness, that’s somewhat rich coming from a person blogging about being choked on his scarf in a residential street in West Byfleet.  Goodnight.

The Palace of Norman Wisdom November 2, 2010

Posted by normanmonkey in Friends, Home.
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William Blake wrote ‘The road of excess leads to the Palace of Wisdom’. I don’t know about that, in my case it led to being incapable of movement in my kitchen for the entire duration of a Saturday afternoon and realising that I’d been watching the Travelshop Channel for about three hours.  It remains to be seen if a middle-aged woman at the low ebb of an insignificant presenting career bleating about a  cruise round the Canaries or a nine day break in a three star resort in Agadir is what Blake had in mind, but from where I was deposited there was no palace and even less sign of wisdom.

Saturday was the day after the Cow Halloween party. That’s the thing about living alone. Absolutely nothing of note can happen for months on end to the point that one’s father letting himself in on a Saturday morning when one is reading the Guardian in one’s pants to report a blocked gutter like both our lives depended on it becomes a memorable event to the point there’s an urge to photograph it. Then before you know it there’s a herd of champagne fuelled PR types including a gay Welshman in a sailor suit running round your house like newly liberated simians in a science research lab.

We witnessed some sights there that would’ve sent the dead scurrying back to their graves, I can tell you and its only a relief the trick or treating children didn’t come a night early. Not in my lifetime and certainly not in my Poggenpohl kitchen.  The spectacle of the aforementioned gay Welshman deciding he looked much more ‘Amaze!’ in nothing but his Sloggy pants and the sailor cap is indicative of the way things went.  He wasn’t so certain of that when the carefully selected (on grounds of public decency) photos went up on Facebook. It only took five minutes before I had a voice of the valleys on the phone in utter dismay ‘OMG! This is so not amaze…’. Like a vampire, there are certain photos that will never see the light of day.

Without doubt it was the best night had so far in the house and you can always count on the Cows for that. Discovering that Ella T, in her pursuit of uploading one song by Swedish Dance Mafia to my iPod had in turn wiped the 3,000 tunes that had been on it was a set back (‘So, we can listen to any music we like, as long as it’s Swedish House Mafia? And one of their songs?), but apart from that it was waking the dead (and most probably the living in proximity) till dawn.

Come the mid-morning and with everyone set to go I decided that i couldn’t be left alone among the debris so I too would join them on the return journey to London. That was a stupid decision as everyone was planning to head to bed. The result was pacing around Waterloo undecided what my next move should be with a copy of the Telegraph tucked under my arm and all the trains to West Byfleet down due to a signal failure. With tiredness and anxiety creeping in the feeling was of being trapped in a J.G Ballard novel, trapped forever on the concourse among transient tourists and Chelsea fans.

It was witnessing a middle aged woman squat, hoist up her skirt and relieve herself at one of the world’s most famous stations that helped me make a decision to get back by any means possible.  She even had two toddlers with her and what sort of life is that going to set them up for, certainly when it comes to a trip to Waterloo in 20 years time with the love of their life they are going to walk past that forever soiled spot on the cusp of Upper crust and forever shudder at the shame that was their mother. I mean, I know there’s a recession on and 30 pence charge for the loo might be a bit steep for some of us in these troubled times, but surely the price of dignity is higher than that.  Actually, there’s a Welshman to whom we may all pose the same question.

If watching a woman squat from my table in Costa Coffee was reality, then I was ready to head back to the surreality of West Byfleet. I wasn’t even aware I was watching the Traveshop Channel. It was just there and i was content to drift along on it’s positive, sunny, discounted vibes. Movement was to be discouraged. Every room heralded its own horrors. Half empty bottles of stale beer, dismembered plastic fingers, fragments of pumpkin and the question of how to get red wine out of marble.

If this is the Palace of Wisdom, William Blake should try explaining that to the cleaner.