Leonard. Oh, Leonard.

You have left us.

But you have left us the music. Leonard Cohen, fare well.

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Canary Wharf

TESM exhibited at the ServiceNow NowForum at Excel in London docklands recently.

Having worked on the promotional material I was invited to the after-show drinks at Canary Wharf. These are a couple of snaps taken on my way there.

(Wouldn’t have been a good idea to look up this precipitously on the way home)
Grid


 

Ripeness is all

I’ve been reading Thomas Hardy’s Return of the Native for a walk I’m leading. The strange thing about Hardy is that you seem to feel the need to offer an excuse as to why you’re reading him, or maybe that’s just me. But anyway –

Clym Yeobright (the ‘Native’) has recently returned to Egdon Heath, where he was born, and has just told some of the local inhabitants, denizens of the heath as he was, that he plans to remain close to the heath and open a school. Whilst they say nothing, they are clearly taken aback; Why would someone who had escaped the heath and become a diamond-seller in Paris choose to return to this poor, backwater of a place – a place that everyone else dreams of leaving?

Thorncombe-3-web

The answer is that Clym has become an idealist.

Yeobright loved his kind. He had a conviction that the want of most men was knowledge of a sort which brings wisdom rather than affluence.

However, because of his studious time in Paris, he was far in advance of his erstwhile fellow inhabitants of the heath – ‘the rural world was not ripe for him.’

‘A man should be only partially before his time: to be completely in the vanguard in aspirations is fatal to fame [ … ] Successful propagandists have succeeded because the doctrine they bring into form is that which their listeners have for some time felt without being able to shape.’

Doesn’t this just perfectly describe Steve Jobs, by the way, and in particular the iPad? Just enough ahead of the game, and able to fulfil aspirations that people were only dimly aware that they had.

But, unlike Jobs – at least in his speeches – Hardy is scornful of idealism:

‘Was Yeobright’s mind well-proportioned? No. A well-proportioned mind is one which shows no particular bias … It would never would have allowed Yeobright to do such a ridiculous thing as throw up his business [he was a diamond seller in Paris] to benefit his fellow-creatures.’

Yeobright dares to dream – and is punished for it.

By this time in his life Hardy had endured scorn and rejection himself – in people’s low expectations of the kind of job he might aspire to, and in the way his (now) in-laws had looked down upon him as the suitor of their daughter. Despite winning the woman and succeeding in the career he had set his hopes on – to be a writer – he allowed these early slights to colour his whole outlook.

Incidentally, not wholly unlike Picasso who, as John Richardson recounts in his biography of the artist, never forgave the lack of interest from dealers during his early years in Paris. But I digress.

Hardy damns Clym’s idealism, and throughout his novels those who aspire to escape the position into which they are born tend to pay a heavy price. Just think of Jude. And Clym.

I wonder if the reason Hardy feels so unfashionable right now is that in contradiction to today’s (welcome) mantra of ‘Yes you can!,’ Hardy seems intent on saying ‘No, you can’t’ and insisting on the insignificance of the individual. Despite the fact that he made it all the way to the top.

He is buried in Westminster Abbey – except for his heart. That’s back home in Dorset, in Stinsford churchyard, close to his birthplace. And the heath.

Are cards taking over the web?

Have you noticed how cards are gaining traction as a new web design standard, a response to the need to make content work across the widest range of formats, from desktop through tablet (landscape and portrait) to mobile – and potential new devices such as Google glass.

twitter cards

Benedict Evans pointed to the changing face of Twitter, and the potential it opens up for content marketers, in his post Twitter, canvases and cards:

Then Twitter pivoted … and took control of the interface. The obvious thing that it did with that was to deliver a predictable offer for advertisers. But the more interesting thing to me was that it created a canvas – which is now turning Twitter from a protocol to a platform.

Twitter is turning ‘Twitter cards’ into a platform. You can embed video, or slides, or music – all sorts of things. You can embed a call to action that will harvest the account’s email address. And, increasingly, you can drive acquisition – of Spotify users, or apps, or customers. And thanks to retweets these cards can end up anywhere on Twitter, far beyond the original poster’s network.

What are cards?

Cards give a quick shot of information, a summary, with the ability to link to more content. You can also mimic cards in the physical world, with content on the reverse, turning the card with a click.

Cards can be used to provide an aggregated approach to content, a screen filled with nuggets of information (i.e. cards) assembled by the site according to your previous interactions, very much like Pinterest which provides a different home screen for every user, based upon your previous pins.

This is easily adapted to the mobile screen by using a ‘deck of cards’ structure. As described by Insideintercom:

This [mobile] is driving the web away from many pages of content linked together, towards individual pieces of content aggregated together into one experience.

Google+ cards

Google has also moved in this direction, with a frequent appearance of a right hand panel in Google results and the re-design of Google+.

Cards offer scalability, flexibility and a clean look from desktop to mobile. A way to provide the user fast access to the information she wants, whilst also allowing space for serendipity – for putting content in front of the user that he didn’t know he wanted. Not wholly unlike the kind of experience (that used to be) offered by flipping through the racks at a record store.

Self promotion follows!

Want to know more? Or need a copywriter who knows how to make a modular approach to content work for you? Then do get in contact.

Lunch and art: The fictional and real

Renoir Boating Party Luncheon

I’m reading Edmund de Waal’s brilliant memoir ‘The Hare With Amber Eyes’. Very late, I know. But, better late than never. I’ve had the book for quite a while, a charity shop purchase, but every time I picked it up the picture of the netsuke on the cover put me off. I’m still not sure I actually like the netsuke but, as so often, a good book finds you when you are ready for it.

No doubt any day now – perhaps already – editions will include access to reproductions of the objects being described. But even reading the old style printed paperback all you need to do is google and… there is Renoir’s Le Déjeuner des Canotiers, (The Luncheon of the Boating Party), in front of you, as you read the story within the story:

A red-and-white striped awning protects the party from the glare of the sun. It is after lunch in Renoir’s new world of painter, patrons and actresses, and everyone is a friend. Models smoke, drink and talk amongst the detritus of the empty bottles and the meal left on the table …

The actress Ellen Andrée, in a hat with a flower pinned to it, raises her glass to her lips. Baron Raoul Barbier, a former mayor of colonial Saigon, his brown bowler hat pushed back, talks to the young daughter of the proprietor.

Her brother, straw-hatted like a professional oarsman, stands in the foreground surveying the lunch. Caillebotte, relaxed and fit in a white singlet and boater, sits astride his chair looking at the young seamstress Aline Chaigot, Renoir’s lover and future wife.

The artist Paul Llhote sits with a Proprietorial arm around the actress Jeanne Samary. It is a matrix of smiling conversation and flirtation. And Charles is there. He is the man at the very back, in the top hat and black suit, turning slightly away, seen glancingly. You can just see his red-brown beard. He is talking with a pleasantly open-faced, poorly shaved Laforgue, dressed as a proper poet in a working man’s cap and what could even be a corduroy jacket.

The ‘Charles’ is Charles Ephrussi, cousin of the author’s great-grandfather, art collector and the first owner of the netsuke collection de Waal has inherited. Charles Ephrussi was also a friend of Proust, and part model for the aesthete and dandy Charles Swann.

De Waal draws our attention to this intriguing extract in which Proust’s fictional artist, Elstir, reflects upon the real painting (above), and the real Charles:

A gentleman … wearing a top hat at a boating party where he is clearly out of place, which proved that for Elstir he was not only a regular sitter, but a friend, perhaps a patron.

The wit and wisdom of Keith Richards

The 50th anniversary of the band’s first gig hasn’t brought forth the Rolling Stones themselves, but there’s a slew of memorabilia and merch available (as well as, to be fair, some great bootlegs now available for official download from the Stones website).

In addition, there’s plenty of biography action, both of the band and at least two forthcoming biographies of Mick, as well as the reissue of the ‘classic’ Stanley Booth account of the 1969 tour, finally published in 1984 after the author had successfully navigated bouts of depression and time devoted to LSD.

Cannily Keith (or should that be, Keef) got his retaliation in first with his autobiography Life. He is very well served by his ghostwriter James Fox (author of the excellent ‘White Mischief’ ).

Reading the book is like having Keith there, talking to you (in the audiobook literally so for the first section).  It’s a brilliant read, very dry and very funny – although his occasional references to women as ‘bitches’ is jarring, especially since the book reveals that, if it were ever in doubt, he is a man of highly attuned sensibility.

It is hard to think any of the current crop of books, authorised or not, will capture the flavour of the band anywhere near as well. Here the wit and wisdom of Keef is on good form:

On the fifties
England was often under fog, but there was a fog of words that settled between people too. One didn’t show emotions. One didn’t actually talk much at all. The talk was all around things, codes and euphemisms; some things couldn’t be said or even alluded to. … [But] People really do want to touch each other, to the heart. That’s why you have music. If you can’t say it, sing it.

Always ready with a surprising example –
But if you want to get to the top, you’ve got to start at the bottom, same with anything. Same with running a whorehouse. I would just play every spare moment I got.

Knowing where it came from…
I forgot to say that to play the blues was like a jail break out of those meticulous bars with the notes crammed in like prisoners, like sad faces.

… And why it’s always moving on
They wanted a frozen frame, not knowing that whatever they were listening to was only part of the process; something had gone before and it was going to move on.

Taking a stand, insisting Exile on Main Street should be a double album
And anyway, if you don’t make a bold move, you don’t get fucking anywhere. You’ve got to push the limits.

And who would want to be without Keith’s recipe for bangers and mash –
‘4. […] Throw them on low heat with the simmering bacon and onions (or in the cold pan, as the TV lady said, and add the onions and bacon in a bit) and let the fuckers rock gently, turning every few minutes.
5. Mash yer spuds and whatever
[…]

Go mash! If you haven’t read it already, get to it now.

Waiting for the Barbarians

I have always loved this poem by C P Cavafy, about the fear and confusion of change, of the new, of having to take responsibility.

The poem has a light touch, sympathetic yet taut and uncompromising, and perfectly satisfies Ezra Pound’s definition of poetry as ‘news that stays news.’ It’s never seemed more timely. This is the best translation I think. Read it here.

Song for Adam

A desperately sad day, but a beautiful day also, and a beautiful ceremony. This poem, and the violin solo, brought tears to the eyes:

It is not growing like a tree
In bulk, doth make men better be;
Or standing long an oak, three hundred year,
To fall a log at last, dry, bald, and sear:
A lily of a day,
Is fairer far in May,
Although it fall and die that night;
It was the plant, and flower of light.
In small proportions we just beauties see;
And in short measures, life may perfect be.

Ben Jonson

The merry merry month of May

I have been meaning to write about the merry merry month of May, and its derivation, since April. But I’ve come to the conclusion that I haven’t written about it, not simply because I’ve been massively busy with new work, but because it’s just not a question that interests me enough. Look around you is probably the answer, and perhaps one of the poems in Thomas Dekker’s The Shoemaker’s Holiday, published in 1600:

O, the month of May, the merry month of May,
So frolic, so gay, and so green, so green, so green;

So the poem for this month is from (the poet laureate) Carol Ann Duffy’s collection Rapture. I have chosen the poem ‘You‘; you can read it here.  Then buy the book. You won’t be disappointed. Incidentally, isn’t ‘Rapture’ a beautiful word? The sound of the word alone carrying its meaning.

Also what made me sit up this week was the South Africa Today series of articles in last Sunday’s Observer, which I have just caught up with. The piece by Rian Malan is wonderfully caustic, the article by Albie Sachs full of quiet beauty, but best of all the farewell note written to Margie Orford by Rashied Wewers, the oldest member of her writing class in Victor Verster maximum security prison:

I am

A book with a damaged cover, but what is

Written between the lines could save a country

From a disaster.

Realism and disappointment

On the art of non-conformity facebook page a few days ago: ‘Every time someone tells you to “be realistic” they are asking you to compromise your ideals.’

The election results for the Liberal Democrats were as ‘disappointing’ as Nick Clegg described them as, after all the speculation the election landscape remains a two horse race with the electorate declining to signal decisively in favour of electoral reform.

Why did the Lib Dems fail to translate breakthrough in the opinion polls into breakthrough in the real poll? I think their campaign ran out of steam after the second week. Putting on my amateur psychologist hat, the reason for that, I think, was because Clegg was determined to remain ‘realistic’ in expectations – prompted partly, I suspect, by fear of having the equivalent of David Steel’s ‘Go back to your constituencies and prepare for government’ clip following him around for the rest of his life. But this time was different and he should have grasped the nettle, particularly after the second debate, and concentrated on what he and the LibDems would want to do, in terms of policy and action, not simply repeating the (negative) formula ‘we’re not the other two’.

The difficulty is to know when a bit of realism might be a good idea – and when not.

Incidentally, my take on Tony Blair and the Iraq war – history had a similar role to play: the fear of repeating Chamberlain’s ‘here is the paper’ mistake (combined with the desire to emulate Thatcher and the Falklands). Hopefully the fear of repeating Blair’s mistake (combined with lack of funds) may rein in enthusiasm for new foreign adventures for a while.

Congratulations, incidentally, to Harvey Taylor for a consistently positive contribution to the election, as an Independent candidate in Bournemouth West.

Kisses on the bottom

English is such a rich language for ambiguities that you can have almost as much fun trying to write a sentence that cannot be misunderstood, as writing lines that deliberately exploit a play on words.

And characteristically, the way we most commonly describe a play on words is ‘double entendre’ which, of course, is not English at all (which, incidentally reminds me of one of my favourite jokes; you know the one…).

The flexibility of the language has often been brilliantly exploited by lyricists, especially in the classic Broadway era in the thirties and forties.

The authorities in some states were in no doubt that Joe Young had more than the bottom of the page in mind when he wrote, in the song “I’m Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter”

I’m gonna write words oh so sweet
They’re gonna knock me off my feet
A lot of kisses on the bottom
I’ll be glad I got ’em

and banned the version released by the Boswell Sisters, who had the first big hit with the song in 1936.

Ben of the Spikedrivers recounted this tale when introducing the song at Mick and Deborah’s wedding – and hopefully it’s true. Deb’s sister went on to give a spellbinding version of the song.

Madeleine Peyroux also has a good version, but check out the Bozzies on Youtube.
(And may all your letters come with kisses on the bottom).

The path turns

the path turns

don’t follow it
wait to feel
the lure of it

Thomas A Clarke

It’s been a busy, strange (with all the ice and snow) and somewhat challenging start to the year due to a fault on the phone line which has severely depleted broadband communication. Hopefully to be fixed – soon, please! – at which point I’ll add more on Thomas A. Clarke and the very wonderful things he manages to do with words.

Hello darkness my old friend

Down here the first week of November has been suitably wild and stormy, with a sharp, bright, beautiful full moon occasionally visible, hanging low over the trees in the darkness, and casting its quiet, implacable glow against the scudding clouds blown across its face. A view like an old negative held up to the light, ethereal and mysterious.

What to do with all the extra darkness? Embrace the intensity.  That’s the message of two excellent articles in the ‘Guide to the Night’ supplement with the Guardian and Observer last weekend – Sarah Hall on night swimming and Jeanette Winterson on evenings by candlelight – ‘when all the lights are on, people tend to talk about what they are doing …  in candlelight or firelight, people start to talk about how they are feeling’ – and making love in the afternoon:

To begin as the afternoon light is fading, to wake up, warm and heavy, when it is completely dark, to kiss and stroke the shared invisible body, to leave the person you love half asleep while you go and open wine … then the moment of standing barefoot in the kitchen, just a candle and two glasses to take back to bed, and a feeling of content like no other.

and concluding

Food, fire, walks, dreams, cold, sleep, love, slowness, time, quiet, books, seasons – all these things, which are not really things, but moments of life – take on a different quality at night-time, where the moon reflects the light of the sun, and we have time to reflect what life is to us, knowing that it passes, and that every bit of it, in its change and its difference, is the here and now of what we have.

On night swimming Sarah Hall brilliantly describes the visceral shock and the intensity of physical sensation as you enter the water:

At first the sensation is electric, almost unbearable, yet bearable. Lung and nerve and blood mechanisms go into shock. Your body enters an elation of rage, because an extreme thing is happening. An andrenaline supernova follows, a burst of emergency energy. After a second or two your system recalculates, adjusts; there is a brief physiological acceptance.

And then you are swimming. There may only be a minute’s worth of swimming … but that minute is a rare, certain period in life. You are extraordinarily alive during it.

Inspiration enough to join the OSS swim at Parliament Hill lido on 5th Dec. It’s daytime, but it’s a start. See you there.

I had hoped to link to the full articles, but couldn’t find them on the net. You’ll have to make do with Sarah Montague’s interview with Will Self and Ralph Steadman on the Today programme. It becomes increasingly surreal and hilarious as Steadman gets involved.