Saturday, December 31, 2016

A Gong for Ray

Ray Davies was awarded a knighthood in the New Year honours. If the name means nothing to you then read no further. For those of us of a certain age, he was the perfect antidote to the (mainly American) manufactured pop singers of the 1960s. Unlike almost all of his contemporaries on either side of the Atlantic, Ray wrote songs about Britain and sang them in an English accent. The Kinks were never as musically brilliant as the Beatles, as exciting as the Who or innovative as the Pink Floyd but they produced a body of work (nearly all written by Ray with some by brother Dave) that spoke directly to me as a teenager growing up in the sixties. Ray would never have written a line like "JoJo left his home in Tucson, Arizona" (Get Back, The Beatles) or droned on about how he missed Massachussets (The BeeGees) or claimed to have met a "gin-soaked, bar room queen in Memphis" (Honky Tonk Women, The Rolling Stones). He sang about people trapped in poverty dreading the knock for the rent (Dead End Street), the fragility and charm of English culture (Village Green Preservation Society LP) and the simple pleasures of seaside holidays, football and beer (Autumn Almanack). His heroes did not find glamour in New York, LA or Paris - they met amidst the crowds outside a tube station (Waterloo Sunset) and his antiheroes chased the moment in vain (Dedicated Follower of Fashion) or found success unbearable (Sunny Afternoon, End of the Season). And who has ever written a love song based on meeting your girl for a cup of tea (Afternoon Tea)? Ray Davies, Sir Ray, did.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Still with us

A lot of famous people seem to have died in 2016, several unexpectedly. Let's try to balance out the picture by remembering those who are still with us and who will surely be green in our memories for a long time to come, if not forever. [Poetic exaggeration allowed, as it's Xmas: Ed].
  • What's 'is face, you know, the big bloke off the telly. Wears suits. He's still going strong. Isn't he?1
  • That girl who plays kooky characters in those US sitcoms. Or was it straight characters in kooky US sitcoms? You must know who I mean. Her mum played golf.2
  • The comedian, you must know him, does a lot of ads for floor polish.Terribly funny. Everyone knows his catchphrase - "Good evening ladies and gents". Brings the house down.3
  • That really famous politician, brought out her memoirs last year, catchy title like "Why I should be Queen" or something. Won an election with the slogan "Vote for me".4
  • That band, you know, jump and up down in time to the music, some of them can actually mime quite well, had a really fantastic tour of  that country, where is it now? you know the one, quite hot but lots of sandy beaches.5
  • The footballer, scored a goal once, funny hairdo, says "er" quite a lot. Unforgettable.6
  •  That woman, you remember, over the papers a couple of years ago, comes from Bootle. Or was it Barnstaple. Anyway, it began with a 'B'. Or was it a 'D'? Might be Droitwich now I come to think of it. Wore a dress. Black tights. Or was it a trouser suit? 7
  • Oh, that terribly witty chap, always on chat shows and has this wonderful daily column in The Sun. Or was it dropped? Actually, might have been The Telegraph. Or am I thinking of The Telegram? Or Gramophone. One of those really up to date titles.  Got loads of followers on Twitter. Or he used to have, not sure if he does it now. Didn't he change sex and then leave all his clothes on a beach and go off to Australia? Or was that his look-alike?8
Anyway, they're all still gracing us with their presence (or is that presences?) and they can't take those wonderful memories away from us no matter how many dodgy referendums they hold.

[Just to show some of us are still capable of doing some proper research, even if we've been sent on unpaid gardening leave during the so-called festive season: Ed]

1. He was the dodgy policeman who got knifed at the start of "Send for Inspector Blackthorn", episode 3.
2. Handicap of 73. Favoured a number 7 iron but tended to hook a little.
3. Also was the voice of that animated towel in the ad for Hildebrand's Towel Softeners
4. Currently writing her new book of inspirational speeches, provisionally titled "Listen to me"
5. Not Peru. Definitely. One of them got a stomach bug in Columbia and they cancelled the Machu Pichu gig.
6. Also used to look into the camera as the teams came out at the start.
7. Or a kilt.
8.No, it was him. His look-alike went to Morocco by mistake.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Those awful advertising slogans - no. 12 - Let's play buzzword bingo

Rather than pick up on any one nauseous ad, I thought this festive offering could be a bit different. We'll be exploring some of the words used by admen to describe products and, perhaps more crucially, the progenitors of the products. And then we can play an exciting game for all the family as we rack up points by seeing how many words we can find in the ads of our choice. Yes, it's time for Buzzword Bingo! [Er. I know you asked me to look into copyrighting this phrase but what with the budgie's cold and waiting in for the gas man* and trying to work out who sent us a rather odd Xmas card, I haven't actually got round to it yet but I'm sure it will be OK: Ed]

  • Passion - you cannot simply want to make something in order to earn a living and pay off the mortgage. You must do it with passion. Apparently people who farm tomatoes or make olive oil have this passion. Or so the ads tell me. I don't believe it.
  • Craft and/or Crafting - nobody in ads ever makes anything. They craft them. The idea is to divorce the process of design and construction by hand (good) from mass-production manufacturing by low-paid (probably Chinese) workers in huge soulless factories (bad). Beer made in small breweries is now routinely described as craft beer. Even though it is brewed in exactly the same way as in large breweries, just in smaller vats.
  • Excellence - Many years ago an influential  business book called In Search of Excellence helped propel this word into the limelight. The company I happened to work for at the time was one of those cited. Whatever it meant then, it is now routinely applied to everything and the the word has been devalued into meaning nothing other than a vague desire to be about as good as most of the rest.
  • Vision - All founders of any business are attributed with vision. The fact that most new businesses tend to fail, even though their owners had as much vision as those that succeeded, and therefore that luck is a key factor, is conveniently ignored. 
  • Natural - ah yes, the wonders of the natural world. Often found linked with Pure. Some natural things are good. Others are deadly. Who remembers when Perrier from a "natural" source was found to be contaminated with pure, natural Benzene? There is no virtue in being natural per se.
  • Pure - The purest product of all is distilled water. Since it tastes of nothing, you don't find it on the shelves (other than for topping up car batteries). Instead you find "mineral water" which contains all sorts of additives but it's all right because they are Natural (see above).
  • Perfection - How many times has something been described as perfect and then been Improved?
  • New / Improved / Just got better - Ad speak for something that is smaller than it used to be but costs more, or where the name has been pointlessly changed (big fee for the ad agency) and longtime customers are irritated (but ignored), or where nothing at all of any importance has happened but the Marketing Director is desperate to show her sceptical colleagues that she is doing something. Important - where something is said to be improved, on no account explain why it wasn't better in the first place. At this time it is fashionable for many perfume ads to appear - look for the strapline "the new perfume from ..." and ask yourself what was wrong with the old ones, because there must have been or why launch yet another into a very crowded marketplace?
  • Premium - adspeak for more expensive than something similar which is sold in less costly packaging.
  • Luxury - see Premium
  • Exclusive - adspeak for expensive. Always misused. Nothing described as exclusive actually is based on exclusion, other than ability to pay, because if it was then all sorts of laws against discrimination would be broken. Genuinely exclusive entities (such as golf clubs) don't advertise. Frequently applied to housing as in "Exclusive Development" when what they really mean is "Development".
  • Executive - The Civil Service used to be divided into three grades - Clerical, Executive and Administrative. In those days executive meant people who carry out the instructions of those making policy (and it was the Administrators who had the highest status not the Executives). It has changed meaning to something that becomes more vague and useless the more one thinks about it. We have imported the phrase CEO (Chief Executive Officer) from the US where previously Managing Director or General Manager were used to denote the bloke at the top but the word Executive is otiose - Chief Officer conveys exactly the same meaning and takes less time to say. You will often find ordinary detached houses for sale described as Executive and you will be none the wiser as to what distinguishes them from other ordinary detached houses.

I think that's enough to be going on with.

HOW TO PLAY BUZZWORD BINGO© [I did tell you it isn't actually copyright yet, didn't I? Ed]

The players flip through a magazine and select an advert each using some suitable method that will cause the minimum of argument.

Score: 1 point for each buzzword.
Score: An additional point if 2 buzzwords are used in the same sentence
Score: An additional 5 points if 4 or more buzzwords are used in the same paragraph.

The winner is the person who first wades through the advertising copy, announces his score and manages not to vomit.

* [I'm the one waiting in, not the budgie. Just thought I'd make that clear. The budgie tends to wait in anyway on account of how we've put him in a cage. Ed]

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Seasonal musings

I was strolling from the local park toward Eastcote the other day, as part of what passes for vigorous exercise these days in the Commuter household, when a lady of advanced years walking the other way (whom I did not know) said brightly "Isn't it strange how sunny and warm it is, with Christmas only two weeks away?". I made some commonplace remark and moved on. It's nice that total strangers have the confidence to make comments, (or perhaps I looked so downcast she thought I needed cheering up) but she was wrong. I posted on this very blog more than ten years ago to point out that we no longer suffer cold weather at this time of the year. Indeed, should the forecasters suggest that the temperature may drop towards 10 or 20 above zero just for a couple of days, you can be sure that the Daily Mail headline will read "Arctic Blast To Batter Britain" with a follow-up on "Celebrity top tips for avoiding a cold nose" or somesuch. It is not strange to have mild weather at this time of year, it would be snow and freezing temperatures that would be out of place.

But in our memories November was always chilly, brightened up by Bonfire Night and the smell of backyard fires as our fathers removed the leaves the non-ecological way; December was cold, wet and increasingly icy with sparkling clear nights that promised frost and left strange patterns on our (un-centrally heated) bedroom windows. You could seriously speculate about a white Christmas. We no longer do so. When I started commuting for the first time, going to school by train, in 1962 the winter was seriously cold, so cold that one day our train was held at North Harrow with a frozen track ahead. I cannot recall this happening since.

All of which makes the sort of stuff supermarkets insist on playing over their PA systems as you ponder between the Luxury, Premium and Special Gold nut selections all the more bizarre. Has anyone ever seen a one-horse open sleigh, let alone dashed through the snow in one? Does anyone round these parts go into "the meadow" to build a snowman? Is anyone really "dreaming" of a white Christmas or simply the dreading the horror of filthy slush and frozen snow heaped up at the side of roads, masking black ice for us to break our ankles over (assuming we have not been run over by a skidding car first)? And must they play "last Christmas you gave me your heart" as we walk past the meat counter? Or is Dr. Frankenstein the man putting on the CDs? I think we should be told.