Saturday, May 27, 2017

Last brief post from Israel with a few more pictures…

Israel – Ben Gurion Airport, Day XVII (or something)

I’m on my way back tonight and turned up at the airport a few hours early after being warned that because of unprecedented security measures, I should give it all plenty of time. So I did, only to discover that although by no means lax, the Israelis are far more relaxed about security than their British colleagues in Gatwick and Luton.

Unlike there, where you pretty much have to get undressed – take your belt off, take all the change out of your pockets, make sure all your shampoos, soaps, deodorants etc (and never more than 100ml) are all in the same transparent plastic bag (and a pretty small one at that if you use one of those supplied free by Her Majesty Comptroller of Airports and Sundry Modes of Transport (MCASMT) – all that needed to come out of my bag was my laptop and iPad.

Change stayed in my pocket, belt stayed around my waist and there was none of the British fake cheerfulness which makes perfectly clear that ‘if we have any trouble with you, sonny me lad, and I mean any, we’ll delay you for so long that not only will you miss your flight by several hours, but you’ll shit in your pants and be charged for clearing up the mess. So watch it!’

Mind, it is Saturday – shabbat – and there aren’t that many of us around, although when I mentioned this to one guy checking my passport (‘your friends who say security will take forever have got it wrong. Tell them that’), he said, no, it’s pretty normal today. What Terminal 3 here at Ben Gurion Airport most certainly has nothing in common with, at least not today, is the cattle market Gatwick is which makes any travel abroad so dispiriting.

. . .

Yesterday, I took off to have a look at Haifa up the coast from Tel Aviv, but when I got there, I realised that the nature of the city – it is strung along a hillside and did not appear to have a centre as such, although I’m sure there is one – meant I wasn’t really going to see much. So a quick look at Google Maps showed me that Acre (which you will have heard of from your dim recollections of the several crusades – it’s one of the many places where Christians gained years off purgatory and gained an awful lot of God’s ‘grace’ by slaughtering as many ‘heathens’ as they humanly could. And if you think I am making that up, head for your history books) was just up the road.

So I mosied off there and spent a few hours wandering around the Old City (which I have to say is pretty much like any other old city in the Med – 1,000-year old stone arches, extended by breeze blocks, with a satellite dish here and there and sitting between tumbled down ancient walls and modern wire fences. Still, I’ve been.

. . .

Finally, here are a few of the pictures I took in Jerusalem a few days ago.


and the one I like best (he’s in a world of his own)

Thursday, May 25, 2017

I make it to the Western Wall along with several thousand young Jewish folk celebrating their country’s survival. As for becoming a master at bartering, I’m not even off the starting block, but at least my stepmother gets her crucifix (made of olive wood with just a dash of ‘holy sand’)

Israel – Day 3: Jerusalem

Well, actually that was yesterday, and I am confusing myself. If I arrived at 19.30 on Monday and got to my hotel an hour or so later, that would be, by this reckoning, Day 0, but I had that only to keep myself on the straight and narrow. ‘Cos although the title says ‘Jerusalem’, that was yesterday. With me? Does it matter? No, not really.

I picked an interesting day to visit what I shall diplomatically call the capital of Israel and the capital of Palestine (although, as yet, no Palestinian state exists. And I’ve decided - well, realised - that pretty much always the best course to take is not to take sides. I admire both sides, but support neither in their conflict).

Even though I had hired a car (and eventually got to pick it up courtesy of a photocopy of my driving licence), I realised it would be far simpler and easier to take the advice of the Jewish accountant I met in Luton airport and take the bus. Easier and simpler? You bet. It’s just a ten-minute walk from my hotel to the bus station next to Tel Aviv rail station and once aboard the 480, you are in Jerusalem central bus station 50 minutes later for just 16 shekels (£3.45/$4.48), which is value in anyone’s currency, and the buses run every 20 minutes throughout the day. But that’s enough trivial detail.

Once in Jerusalem, I then had to get to the Old City. So: how do I get to the Old City? I asked a burly security guard next to the light railway (i.e. tram - who calls a tram a light railway? Well, the Israelis do. Oh, and sadly, though understandably, burly and not so burly security guards are thick on the ground in Jerusalem). He told me, so I jumped on the tram and within minutes found myself in conversation with Albery/Albury - don’t know the spelling - who now an Israeli, was born and raised in Glasgow before moving to Israel once he graduated.

I told him I was heading to the Old City. and he said ‘come with me, I’m going there, too, so I’ll show you.’ It turns out that although he was a teacher, he was also a volunteer guide to the Old City, and he gave me a lot if good info on the way. We entered through the Jaffa Gate, and he
passed on all kinds of information along the way. I was on my way to the Western Wall and we parted company just before. The day was interesting to visit because, as my new Scottish/Israeli friend told me: the Old City will be jam-packed with people, especially young people, celebrating the 50th anniversary of Six Day War in 1967 which was a stunning success for Israel. And I should point out that on that occasion Israel was attacked on all sides by its hostile Arab neighbours, an attack it thwarted quite superbly.

There were young folk everywhere, all wearing white T-shirts and in a hell of a good mood. And given that the country’s very existence was at stake in 1967 and they were celebrating the thwarting of the threat to their country’s existence, who can blame them? There is far more that might be said about the ongoing Israel/Palestinian conflict, and I must add that I am not completely ignorant to its complexities, but I shan’t pontificate about it here. I shall only add that ‘not taking sides’ ever, but being open to hearing what both sides have to say is, for me at least, pretty important.

. . .

The Western Wall is, well, the Western Wall, the holy of holies of Judaism, and although this idiot is now that curious sort, a man who believes in God, but nothing at all beyond that, I do respect those who have another faith, unless, of course, they subscribe to any creed - or rather and better the bastardisation of any creed - that involves the misery, death or destruction of non-adherents. It’s notable that pretty much every faith in its purest form has as one of its central tenets goodwill to all mankind, irrespective of race, colour or creed, and that only the nutters - of whom there are far too many - take a minority view.

So there were many devout and I should think even not quite so devout Jews at the Wall milling around and praying. I myself went up and touched it, but I have to say I didn’t say a prayer of any sort.

After that it was off through one of the exits and then I found myself in the warren of very narrow alleyways with ‘shops’ selling pretty much anything and everything. And it was here that my bartering skills show themselves to be not just in their infancy but pretty much stillborn.

. . .

Just before I left Cornwall, my stepmother, an Irish Roman Catholic who still takes communion and all the rest, rang me to ask me to bring her back a crucifix made of olive wood. Well, why not? So sauntering along past row upon row of shops selling all kinds of what I have to describe as - sorry - Christian kitsch I spotted crosses and crucifixes. (The difference is a
crucifix has the added figure of Jesus nailed to the cross). ‘Interested?’ asked the seller while I was looking at his array of crucifixes in all kind of different sizes.

How much is this one?’ I asked, pointing to a medium-sized crucifix. 200 shekels, he told me, and pointing to a small window at is base added ‘real olive wood, it has holy sand’. Well, that was too steep. 100, I replied. 150, he came back. OK, I said, do you have any without holy sand? Ah, well, he said, in that case you will want just a cross, and he picked one up.

How much? I asked. 80 shekels (£17.27/$22.38). Still a bit steep, I thought (and I must admit that the ‘80’ still rather frightened me, although it was shekels. (NB Charged 16 shekels that morning in a cafe in Tel Aviv for a large cappuccino, I remember thinking ‘well, that’s a bit steep. Maybe they have price and tourist prices. Well, no they don’t - 16 shekels is actually a not at all exorbitant £3.45/$4.48 in Western money and pretty much what you will pay in Old Blighty.) ‘I’ll pay 40 shekels,’ I said. ‘Done,’ he said, and there my duty to my stepmother seemed fulfilled.

Here, just to conclude this account of my pitifully poor battering skills, I must jump forward a little. Later, after I had visited the American Colony Hotel and negotiated my way back from East Jerusalem jam-packed with huge numbers of heavily armed Israeli and Palestinian soldiers, I found myself back in the warren of dimly-lit alleyway and walked past more ‘shops’ selling everything and anything. And there I saw some more crucifixes (the ones with the figure of Jesus).

These were just as big as the ones I had seen and even had the, I suppose obligatory window of ‘holy sand’. I was approached by the shop owner. 'You Interested?’ he asked. How much? I asked. 50 shekels, he said. 2o, I replied. ‘Oh,’ he said, ‘you are (I must now paraphrase) cutting my throat! 25 shekels and I’ll give you a small gift.’ I agreed. I paid up my 25 shekels and received my small gift - a tiny cross, about 3cm tall by 2cm across. Bargain!

So let us here reflect on the economics of such a difference in price: 200 shekels in one shop, but just 25 shekels in another barely a quarter of a mile away, and, furthermore, one which is identical and which was most likely manufactured in the same sweatshop in Nablus, and one, I should imagine, of 2,000 produced in any given working day? What factor is at play here? Simple: the stupidity - call it gullibility if you want to be charitable - of the punter/tourist. Oh, well.

. . .

I jumped forward, of course, so here I’ll jump back again. Once I had reached the Damascus Gate which leads into East Jerusalem, I consulted Google Maps and headed for the American Colony Hotel. Although I had long realised that staying there was way out of my price league, I decided I could still visit it, have a beer or two and ring my stepmother from its interior restaurant courtyard. And this I did. And there I also treated myself to my second plate of hummus and pitta bread (pretty much all I have eaten so far in the past few days, but I’m not complaining).

An hour or three later, I decided to visit the Al Aqsa mosque and was persuaded by the front desk that taking a taxi rather than walking was the best way to get there. There was a taxi waiting outside, which I assumed had been ordered, but which, in fact, was waiting for custom. Yet there was no sign of the driver. He was eventually discovered (I hadn’t actually spotted him) dozing on the back seat. But before you conclude - and as I was about to write - that cliches abound in real life as well as fiction, I should point out that the taxi wasn’t parked on some dusty street in downtown East Jerusalem but outside the exceptionally plush American Colony Hotel. As for the dozing, well, he explained that he was cleaning the back of the cab. Why not? It’s what I would do, too.

We took off for the Al Aqsa mosque, but didn’t get very far. The roads were blocked off by armed Israeli soldiers - the women rather fiercer than the men, but, I have to say, twice as attractive (what is it with women in uniforms?) - so it was out of the taxi and onto the street. Again consulting Mr Google I slowly made my way back to where I had come from (and then came across the ‘shop’ selling crucifixes while again negotiating the warren of shops) trying to find my way back to the Jaffa Gate, although only because that was where I thought I should be able to catch the tram back to the bus station.

On my way I came across the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and dutifully - I am, after all, a tourist - stopped off there. The name of the church was known to me and might be to you, too, just as we are all dimly aware of other global landmarks such as Robben Island, Buckingham Palace, Greenland, Ayers Rock and I don’t know what else. But I had to consult Google to remind myself - oh, all right, to read up on its significance. Well!

Apparently the church was built in the 4th century on the spot where, it is said and believed by many, Jesus was not only crucified but, quite nearby, buried. Well, dear reader, I find that just a little hard to believe. Sorry, but I do. I really can’t imagine that the Romans crucified convicted men quite so close to everything else, and it also rather stretches credulity to accept that the corpse was then entombed about 2oft away. But as I have pointed out, I am at pains not to step on too many toes in these here blog entries, so if that is your conviction, good luck to you. And I have to say there were a good many who do have that conviction, notably many faithful of Indian heritage.

Then it was a slow schlepp back home. Slow, because by now, towards the end of the afternoon the crows of celebrating the glorious anniversary had grown substantially and there were No Trams. None. Not one. Google insisted it was just an 18-minute walk from the Jaffa Gate to the central bus station, but...

I later consulted my iPhone health app and was assured I had walked 11.9km overall. You might be accustomed to walking far further (and, please, no bragging emails telling me and implying just what a sodding wuss I am) but I am not.

Oh, one last thing. Just as two or three years ago in Mallorca I became thoroughly fed up carrying about with me all kinds of shite - my cigars, my mobile phone, my iPad (which I am now using to write this outside the Bell Cafe in Jaffa - a power pack, a novel to read (why for God’s sake, I never read it), reading glasses, sunglasses and I don’t know what else) I bought a ‘man bag’ in a street market (which was stolen from my car just months later, along with my brother’s ashes, though that is another tale), I spotted a bag shop in the warren of underground shops I was walking through and bought another - fake leather, natch and cheap, but who cares. It’s a lot easier than juggling all kinds of crap.

So there you have it: one idiot’s guide to Jerusalem. Today I took the bus downtown to Jaffa and tomorrow I shall, I think, head off to the Sea of Gallilee and try out my water-walking skills. Well, you have to don’t you, just as many Brit tourists have lost their lives in Spain trying their hand at bullfighting.
. . .

But bugger all that. Best news yesterday: Manchester United beat Ajax 2-0 to win the Europa Cup but, more important, qualified for next year’s Champions League. Yes, even for this convoluted, confused semi-atheist there is a God!

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

. . . . and a plate of hummus to end the day. You can't do better than that

Israel – Day 2: Caesarea

Best news of the day is that I got my car after all, which means I don’t quite have to curtail my plans as I thought. A quick phonecall to my son on Monday night got him to find my driving licence, scan it and send email me a pdf of the scan which the front desk printed out. Then it was off to the branch of the rental firm I was with at 114 Ha-Yarkon St to see whether, you know, this might just be a photocopy and not the real thing, but…

My hopes were not high (and to be honest and given the advice about the very efficient public bus services in Israel I wasn’t really that bothered) but that old Roman Catholic, public school, size nine shoe, 32 waist charm worked and I was given a car, though I did have to wait 90 minutes for one to become available. So it wasn’t till gone 2pm that I was able set off and my destination was the Sea of Gallili. The satnav I had decided to rent from the car firm turned out to be an 8in iPad using Google Maps with some kind of magnetic device which was supposed to clip onto the car’s air vents. But it didn’t. Every time I clipped it on, the weight of the tablet made it turn pretty much face down so you couldn’t actually use it. And I have Google Maps on my iPhone anyway.

I looked at Google maps and saw, or thought I saw that the 20 was the road north, and after taking the wrong turn-off and heading south on the 20, I was on my way. Well, kind of. The traffic was just bloody awful: if we weren’t – all three lanes – crawling along at 5kph bumper to bumper, we were crusinging along at a very speedy 40kph until we hit the next traffic jam.

This went on for an hour till we finally joined the 2 north and I realised what had been going on – we had been driving through what, if it wasn’t one big building site developing the road, was a series of several big building site developing the road. When I saw a sign for Caesarea, I decided enough was enough and as visiting the ruins there were also part of my plans, I decided, along the admirable lines of ‘adapt, adopt and improve’ to got there instead. But I was not looking forward to the journey back to Tel Aviv. Not at all.

. . .

I like ruins and find them interesting though I have to say ruins without those crucial signs (in this case in Hebrew, Arabic and English) explaining what is what they might not be quite as

interesting. Then, after the culture came the beer and cigar and a plate of delicious hummus and pitta bread (pictured).

Today, it’s off to Jerusalem, by bus as advised, then back in time for the match – at 21.45 local time of the Manchester United v Ajax final in Stockholm of the Europa League final. It might be shown on one of the 200-odd channels my room TV set screens, but I also know I can watch it on BT Sports using my trusty Zenmate app. I have to say that, to adapt Fergie’s famous phrase, it’s always squeaky bum time when watching United, but here’s the best.

I really can’t mention the team without mentioning the appalling bombing a day ago: why do the deaths of children hit us even harder. As the father of two, my prayers go to the parents of those young ones who died.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

My trip to Jerusalem (home of the legendary Jesus Christ ©Harry Harris) and other matters. Buses, for example

Israel – Day 1: Vital Hotel, Tel Aviv

The dateline might surprise you, but it shouldn’t. As part of my welcome drive to expand my mind and discover more to life than just the sweetie counter in Denis Lusby’s shop cum post office in St Breward, North Cornwall, I have washed up in Israel with a view to seeing a bit of the country. I mean, why not? Over the years I’ve seen quite a bit of – in no particular order as folk are rather sensitive about such matters – the West Midlands, Tyne & Wear, Italy, France, Germany, Wadebridge, Kensington & Chelsea, most of what you can see from the driver’s seat of Surrey, Hampshire, Wiltshire, Somerset and Devon, and, of, of course, dear, dear London, now cleaner than it ever was thanks to a steady supply of immigrants from the newer members of the EU (so Lord knows what will happen when that tap is turned in March 2018. Can’t see too many Brits jumping in to fill the breach and doing on honest day’s work for rather pitiful pay, not in our nature). So why not Israel?

It is something I have planned for some time. Seriousness apart, we hear so much about the achievements of Israel, the Palestinian conflict, the urge of many on the country’s borders to be neighbourly (have I got that right?) that I have long thought it would be worthwhile to come to see the country for myself. A generous Christmas gift from my stepmother made it possible, although I did have to make some changes to my original plans. (‘You must stay at the American Colony Hotel in Jerusalem,’ she said, ‘Tony [my father] and I stayed there and it was wonderful.’ Well, I don't doubt it was wonderful at around £230 a night.

As it happens my stepmother, once ‘Paddy O’Keeffe’ before she married my father, used to produce BBC Radio 4’s From Our Own Correspondent and had arranged for the BBC’s Jerusalem correspondent at the time, Asher Wallfisch, to make a series of talks. So it was off to Jerusalem for a few weeks with my newly-retired father in tow at the BBC’s expense.

I duly checked out the American Colony Hotel and its price for a ten-day stay, but blanched at the cost which was well over £3,500. I then spent more time on the net looking for something cheaper in Jerusalem, but quite rapidly realised that if you wanted somewhere half-decent, that, give or take a grand, was what you must expect to pay. I would very easily have settled for a cheap, though clean B&B, but tracking one down proved surprisingly difficult. I suppose it’s because Jerusalem ‘has history’ or something like that. In the event it occurred to me that reducing my stay to one week, basing myself in Tel Aviv and hiring a car to get around might well mean that I could come in on budget. And that is what I did. Though there has been one fly in the ointment.
. . .
Everything was going swimmingly. At Luton I fell into conversation with an elderly Jewish accountant with dual British/Israeli nationality who commuted every week to and from Jerusalem, and on the flight I sat next to a Jewish couple from Tiberias on sea of Gallili and got quite a bit more information from the wife (toda is thank you), who was immediately next to me. (They had spent the week in Tredington in the Cotswold’s with Australian friends who had rented a cottage, if you are interested. ‘Quite a few older and old people in that part of the country,’ she told me. Well, I could have told her that, and wealthy to boot.) I arrived at Tel Aviv airport refreshed by three gins and tonic and two bags of nuts and once passed passport control – not the inquisition I had been warned to expect – headed off to the car rental desks to collect my car. And that’s when it all went a little less swimmingly.
. . .
I cannot explain why, but just yards from the desks, it dawned on me that I had forgotten to bring my driving licence. As one does, and knowing full-well what the outcome would be, I searched and searched again every pocket in my jacket, jeans and luggage for that bloody licence, and, of course, didn’t find it. I went ahead and – again knowing full-well what the outcome would be – tried my luck to see whether I could pick up my car anyway despite not having my licence. ‘No,’ you can’t,’ they said, ‘sorry’. I told them that I was certainly no boy racer (though I’m sure they knew that just by taking a look at me), that I drank sparingly, had often been tempted to vote Conservative (and, who knows, might well do so in the future), that I was married with children, came from good stock, had more than once thought of donating to charity and was generally an all-round regular guy. ‘Sorry,’the said, ‘not dice.’

One last possibility is that I might be able to show them a copy of my licence, so I rang home and got my son to scan it in and email me a pdf. Just now while writing the above I have been on the phone to Expedia through whom I booked the whole trip, but it seems I can’t get my meny back from the rental company. I should have cancelled 24 hours before departure.

But there is, as always pleases me, an irony here. While chatting to the old accountant from Jerusalem – we bumped into each other again after the flight – I mentioned I intended to drive to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv. ‘Don’t do that,’ he said, ‘get a bus. The bus services are exceptionally good in Israel and anyway you’ll never find anywhere to park in Jerusalem and especially nowhere near the Old City.’ That advice, dear friends, later went some way to soothing the irritation I felt about fucking up my car hire arrangements.

However, the plan – it is still only the first full day of my break – was not just about visiting Jerusalem but also seeing a bit of the country, touring around, that kind of thing. I especially wanted to visit Caesarea and the Sea of Gallili. Well, I suppose that kind of thing is still possible by bus, but a car would have been handier. There is just one small glimmer of home. I shall get the front desk here at the hotel to print out the pdf of my driving licence and see if I can’t persuade Alamo to give me the car I paid for. Fingers crossed.

Last night, I went for a stroll, a beer and a cigar along I do not know where. Here is a picture I took.

NB I couldn’t think how to work it in so I shall just tack it onto the end here: the Daily Mirror once had a football correspondent called Harry Harris. He once flew to Israel to cover a match between Israel and England in Jerusalem. And the intro to his piece is a classic of schlock journalism: ‘Jerusalem,’ he wrote, ‘home of the legendary Jesus Christ.’

Friday, May 19, 2017

Getting the lowdown on human frailty - why we are all suckers for wanting to teach the world to sing (and making Coca Cola even wealthier). But who cares: it's art

I’ve often thought that if I were to have my time all over again, I’d have tried for a job in advertising and marketing, or ‘advertising/marketing’ as I think it should be called as the two are so intricately entwined that I’ve come to the view they are just two sides to the same coin.

Obviously, none of us can have our time over again, and equally obviously I am talking as a man who, over the years, has learned much, not least about himself and who now judges a lot rather differently. (Incidentally, one of the things I like to think I have learned is that the only really stupid people are those who do not learn from their mistakes. If you don’t learn from your mistakes, you have no one to blame but yourself when yet again things go tits up.)

What I mean is if, at 18, I knew what I now know, I would have worked far harder at university and taken the whole thing a lot more seriously, and then upon graduating with a far better degree than I did get headed straight for the advertising industry to find whatever toehold I could to get started. (I sat for an MA Honours in English and philosophy, but was awarded an MA ordinary - the English department wanted to fail me after a college career of doing hardly any work, reading hardly any of my set texts and turning in essays which were at best puerile and at worst utter rubbish. That I got a degree at all is down to the philosophy department insising that as I had done reasonably well for them, I should get some kind of degree. (And thank you Neil Cooper for passing on that snippet.)

I know there are some, if not many, who regard advertising and marketing as perhaps the shallowest of all shallow professions, but I disagree profoundly or rather to some extent. That criticism of advertising, the suspicion that it is essentially venal and mucky, is neatly summed up in a description I heard recently (and I can only paraphrase) that advertising/marketing ‘delves deeply into the surface of things’. But I have come to regard it as something very.

I was reminded of all this when I came across a series of ten 15-minute talks on BBC Radio 4 recently by one Rory Sutherland called ‘Marketing: Hacking The Unconscious’, a series the BBC describes on its website as ‘Rory Sutherland explores the story, and psychology, behind the most influential marketing campaigns in history’. That very neatly sums up why I am interested, and it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say fascinated, by advertising/marketing: examining what makes people tick, getting to understand their behavior as individuals and in groups, and then applying the knowledge gained to creating advertising.

OK, using the insights gained to, as cynics might have it, sell to people crap they don’t need might not be the most noble human activity, but the ‘selling’ is not what I am interested in: I am interested in the doing, the thought and creativity that goes into marketing, as well as the oddities in human behaviour it throws up. I am bound to admit that I - although apparently not a great many others - feel that much of the creative work in advertising can often come far

closer to being ‘art’ than a great deal of what we are presented with as being ‘art’ in self-conscious ‘art’ exhibitions (although I should add that I don’t much, if at all, subscribe to the hi’ falutin descriptions of ‘art’, its purpose, its imperatives, its consequences and principles. But I shall leave that for another time.)

I am attracted to the deep thought that goes into creating an ad campaign. I am attracted to, and impressed by the subtlety, the vision of many ads, the analysis of human behavior, and I don’t restrict this to television ads, but to posters and photography. I readily acknowledge that many, a great many, might be put off by the purpose of advertising: simply to get more people to buy a certain product, and I concede that there is nothing necessarily noble in that. But it is the preceding processes involved in thinking up an ad and an ad campaign which capture me and which I cannot deny I admire and respect.

I have recorded one of those 15-minute programmes by Rory Sutherland and you can listen to it below. Perhaps they might convey just why I am fascinated by the industry and its work.
Here is the one:

Rory Sutherland on advertising, excerpt 1

. . .

It is surely no fluke that some of some of those who worked in advertising went on to become artists in a different realm: the novelists Fay Weldon, Elmore Leonard, Dr Seuss, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Salman Rushdie, the filmmakers Jonathan Glazer, John Hughes and Ridley Scott, and artists Andy Warhol – famously — and Norman Rockwell. I suspect there is something about the discipline necessary in copywriting and graphic art which is conducive to make the transition from the one ‘venal’ realm to the far more hi’ falutin world of ‘art’. Or perhaps I’m completely wrong: they would have progressed anyway and the fact that they worked as advertising industry ‘hacks’ is coincidental. But I don’t think I am wrong. That isn’t to limit art in any way and that most certainly isn’t to promote all advertising as akin to art – there is quite a bit of dross out there, too.

Obviously, as there is quite a bit of dross in about any sphere you care to look at. But the best advertising is, at least for me, quite fascinating. I have spent that past 43 working in the newspaper industry, first, comparatively briefly as a reporter and then as a sub. I wasn’t outstanding as either. I was by no means a bad reporter and, I must add modestly, possibly better than some because there really were and are some clunkers out there. But my heart wasn’t in it. I disliked the bullshitting involved and realised that to progress and get to the top you either had to really believe in ‘news’ and ‘the public’s right to know’ and ‘writing the first draft of history’, or you simply had to be a real cunt, someone who really didn’t care about trampling over others. And none of that fitted the bill.

I turned to sub-editing because I was equally interested in the whole process of producing a newspaper, and reporting was only the first step. And there I remained, not a particularly good sub-editor, though one who knew what I should be doing, but nor was I outstandingly bad either. I coasted (and I have to say coasting is pretty much the story of my life). But there is also something in the discipline of sub-editing which could give an insight into the production of ‘art’ (and sorry, but I really can’t resisit those inverted commas).

For example, for five years, from 1990 until 1995 I lived in London and ‘did shifts’ for a variety of newspapers. One day I could be working on The Times, the next on the Evening Standard, then back on The Times, then the Daily Express, or the Daily Mail, or the Sun. Some were broadsheets, some were tabloids, but each demanded a certain style. And I have to say that boiling down several hundred words of agency copy into four or five short paragraphs, or reducing a welter of rather boring copy into something reasonably interesting did teach you a lot.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

As Sam Goldwyn observed ‘if they liked it once, they’ll love it twice’, so with little to entertain you with today, here’s a rerun – all the rage these days are reruns – of a previous blog entry about smut and double entendre

I’ve nothing much to say today (did someone say ‘as always?’ Quiet at the back), but earlier this evening I was chatting to a guy at La Pappardella in Earls Court, and we were talking about – or possibly I was talking about – seaside postcards (by Bamforth & Co and later Donald McGill), music hall humour and double entendre, and I said I would send him a link to one entry of this blog (posted on just under two years ago in Augist 2014).

It contains a recording by actor Arthur Bostrum who in the BBC’s sitcom ‘Allo, allo’ played an Englishman in wartime France pretending to be a French policeman but who, unfortunately, spoke French very badly. Don’t know what ‘double entendre’ is? Well, let me explain by way of a joke: a woman walks into a bar in Paris and orders a double entendre. ‘Certainly,’ says the barman, ‘I’ll give you one.’

Anyway, having nothing much to say today and given the current TV fascination with reruns and compilations and reruns of compilations and reruns of reruns, I thought why not, what’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. So without further ado click here to read my entry, or re-read my entry, celebrating smut. I love smut. The recording is in four parts. Just - well, I am sure you know the drill.

. . .

PS The character I was talking to, one Jim Harman, a man with quite some experience, now 77, who was in the RAF, then worked as a telecoms engineer for an oil company in Nigeria after previously working in Angola and Portugal and who splits his year between Old Blighty and Ausatralia, had a fascinating story to tell.

It seems that last Thursday he went for a check-up with a private dentist after root canal treatment when his dentist found that there was still some infection in the wound. He injected him with bleach but forgot to dilute the bleach. Because he was in such pain, the dentist injected him with anaesthetic which calmed it for a few hours, but then it got worse again.

After a day of agony, he returned to see his dentist who immediately sent him off to A&E at the local hospital where where he was found to have renal failure: the anaesthetic had shut down his kidneys, spread the remnants of the infeciton and his lymph system had been poisoned. After a day’s worth of treatment of steroids and a saline drip to clear his kidneys, he was told by the medics that they had found odd antibodies in his blood which had countered the infection which they couldn’t explain: had he at some point ever been bitten by a snake? Yes, he said, three times, in fact, over the years he spent in Africa. Ah, they said, that has saved your life. The antibodies helped to counteract the infection.

Well, reporting it now, it seems to me that some of the story doesn’t add up, but that might have been me not getting all the details. Anyway, that was his story.