My blog

Back In Time

L.P. Hartley’s novel ‘The Go-Between’, opens with the words “The past is another country. They do things differently there.” To me, the memorable past is the 1970s, and at this remove, it feels more like another planet. Albeit a planet I rather miss.

In the mid-seventies, on Angel Row in Nottingham, there was a kiosk. Commonplace in all city centres, kiosks were walk-up shops selling sweets, cigarettes, newspapers and the like. This one was run by a couple of Indian brothers and they sold something called ‘Bengal matches’. Essentially, these were tiny fireworks. As with the familiar red-tipped matches, they came in a stiff card box, but were half-coated in a black substance. On striking they would ignite into a blaze of red, blue or green and burn for ten seconds or so. They were quite brilliant, and I felt incomplete if I didn’t have a box in my pocket. Anybody could buy them, and only the most timid of parents objected. Eventually, some pyrotechnics legislation outlawed their sale, and like that decade, they were gone forever.

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Reflections On The Death Of Robin Williams

Since Robin Williams took his life, around 17,000 people will have done the same. Because of our tendency to filter all human experience through celebrity, and because most of us know his work, our focus has been on Robin.

It was a terrible thing to happen. For the majority it was perplexing and perhaps, shocking. For Williams’ wife and children, his death will have been utterly traumatising – to the extent that the wound may never fully heal. We cannot possibly say what it meant to Robin. A British coroner would state that he ended his life ‘while the balance of his mind was disturbed’, but this is euphemistic. It is just as likely that he took the action in a moment of determination and sudden clarity. Self destruction can be a longed-for release as much as it can be the compulsion of utter despair. We can speculate endlessly; but we will never know.

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Love Will Tear Us Apart

‘Love Will Keep Us Together’ – that’s what the Captain and Tenille told us, and who are we to argue with a naval officer and his good lady? Actually, as Tenille divorced Captain earlier this year, perhaps we could construct a decent argument against their assertion. Indeed, the evidence is everywhere: nothing destroys a friendship, partnership or romance like a career in popular music. For every Ben Watt and Tracy Thorn, there are dozens of Jones and Strummers, collapsing in acrimony, accusation, jealousy and bad blood. What is it about rock and roll? How can such a creatively free and potentially rewarding activity have such a pernicious impact on human closeness? I’m no Relate counsellor, but I’d point to ego, confusion and emotional overload.

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Not So Fast

“Superfast broadband is much faster and more reliable than standard broadband. It lets you make video calls, do homework online and stream music, all at much higher speeds – and all at the same time.”

That’s what the Government says, and they’re right too. With online activity driving everything from booking a flight to publishing a novel, the faster one’s internet connection the more satisfying and productive one’s personal and professional life will be. For businesses, a nippier net would be a marked advantage, bringing greater efficiency and healthier revenues. There’s no downside to this – jobs will be created, economies will be invigorated, funny pet videos will be uploaded at an even greater rate. And it certainly seems a better investment than the tens of billions we’re going to be spending shaving seventeen minutes off the journey from Sheffield to St. Pancras. Indeed, ministers are so animated about the new-fangled rapid broadband, they’ve splashed out on a snazzy advertising campaign to promote it.

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The Corruption Culture

Around eighteen months ago, I visited the Sinai. The bus taking me from the airport to my desert hotel was stopped by soldiers, at the entrance to the peninsula. Our driver jumped out, and after some protracted arguing, handed over a fold of notes to the guards and we were waved through. Exactly the kind of bribery we associate with the developing world, but fascinating to see, as it appeared so removed from Western conventions. I say ‘appeared’ because I’m not sure we can actually take that moral high ground. Granted, we’re not forced to proffer baksheesh when boarding the Isle Of Wight ferry, but on a larger scale duplicity is all around us.

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Public Image

A few years ago, the politician and journalist Matthew Parris made a film for Channel 4’s ‘Without Walls’ strand, in which he declared public relations to be an utterly pointless industry, without merit or use. He was forced to eat his words, a couple of days later – when it emerged he was a client of at least one PR consultancy – but was onto something? If PR didn’t exist, would anybody bother to invent it?

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Apple Pips

Of all the things Apple do well, creating a hullabaloo is one of the best. Despite ongoing wars and Scotland’s bid for independence, the launch of a new product still performed well in the news agenda on Tuesday. Live from Cupertino, the world’s hippest tech company put on a show to rival the biggest movie premiere, presidential inauguration or royal wedding. In terms of global audience, it was an unrivalled success.

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No Thanks

I must be getting old. I’m still in my forties, but something fundamental has changed in the creative business; something I don’t recognise and don’t much like. I was a punk, when that was a thing, and I was certainly a truculent teenager, but for all of my adult life I’ve believed in common courtesy: saying (and writing) ‘please’ or ‘thank you’ when you’re asking or receiving. These aren’t disposable niceties reserved for fuddy-duddies, squares and maiden aunts, they’re the very stuff of social interaction and mutual respect. And they’re vanishing.

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Simply Cred

I consider the punk rock era to be the most exciting and stimulating period in popular culture. However, punk did bring an unwelcome and tiresome side-effect: the notion of ‘credibility’. Nothing better than inverted snobbery, this was the notion that some records are inherently better than others, simply because they emanate from artists equipped with the ‘correct’ accoutrements.

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Stage Invader

This modern world has brought us a swathe of unusual job titles. Certainly our grandparents wouldn’t have a clue what a Social Media Manager does, much less an SEO Executive. So how about a Professional Fence Jumper?

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