Possibly the naughtiest puppy in the world.

Getting a puppy is a life-changing decision. And a garden-altering, property-depleting, carpet-ruining, income-reducing one too. But for all the challenges they bring somehow we forgive them.
Lola is a four-month old Labrador and she loves gardening and is naturally attracted to water. The result is chaos at plant watering time.

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Open Letter to Vodafone (or Where’s the Edge?)

vodafone03Dear Directors of Vodafone and those responsible for the service to us, your bill-paying customers.

I have been a customer of yours for around 20 years.  I founded a business and ran all (hundreds of) my phones through you. My Family have all been Voda customers for as long as I can remember and for this I have paid my bills faithfully but now I’ve had enough and here’s why.

I pre-ordered a new Samsung “Edge” in February.  You failed to deliver on the target launch date (9th April) so I called to discover you had no stock – despite a national advertising campaign to say the phone was available.

I rang again a week later to discover still no stock. Would you call me when stock arrives?  No Sir, we can’t call you, you have to call us.  At an average call duration of 30 minutes, (I’m the man, I’m the man, I’m the man, – what does that song even mean?) I called every Tuesday and Thursday (stock delivery days at Voda distribution) for four weeks to discover still no stock was available.

Finally, after a lifetime of calling twice a week to be told Samsung had let you down I got a phone – the wrong phone.  More calls – oh, sorry, the order was incorrect; so we’ve fixed that – we’ll send another handset next week.  Please accept 2 months tariff free by way of compensation; don’t leave us.

Three weeks later I did get another phone – another wrong phone – £1,450 of smartphone tech sent late and without explanation leaving me to arrange returns.

More calls to discover how such incompetence could have arisen. Gushing apologies from your customer services but please could I wait another 5 days and pay £9 for another delivery.  This amount was later refunded but no, you couldn’t offer more compensation nor could you sort this out in 24 hours – “that’s not how the company works”.  Clearly.

Four days later a text arrived to say the delivery was postponed by another day.  A courier will “uplift” (sic) the wrong phone and deliver the right one.  He did arrive – empty handed, asking for “a pickup”. I ticked the box saying “pickup not ready”, bid him a polite goodbye and called Voda.  I was disconnected after 20 minutes holding for the returns department. Rang back; 1 hr 24m later, 5 different depts. (security at each step), no stock at HQ so they rang round their stores to find…no stock in the stores either!  And so it goes on.

So far, (and its not over yet) you have cost me three days at home waiting for deliveries that have not come and around 5 hours of telephone calls and a half hour queue at the post office.  You’re marketing a phone you don’t yet have, from a manufacturer you blame for not delivering, sending out wrong phones to your customers not once but twice, offering platitudes and paltry compensation.   Access to your support is an assault on the senses, taking not just 30 minutes but the very will to live.  Your agents make the same promise – to “own” my problem yet I need to recite my problem to each one and they’ve all failed to resolve it.

Twelve weeks after my order I still do not yet have my new phone. And as your competitors encircle me for my business let me tell you this.  You do not deserve your licence nor any customer loyalty. Your customer service is inept, you have broken too many promises and I have lost trust in you.  You have failed me completely and you show little care for my plight.  You are a broken brand.

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Just how social is social media?

There was a time when advertising was just that; advertising.  You took a brand and you presented it in a relevant and appealing context then you poured yourself a whiskey, lit a cigarette and sat back waiting for your audience to notice it and act upon it.

marlboroman

Then along came Social Media and spoilt the party.

Look, I’m a fan of the genuinely social aspects of Social Media as I sit here writing my blog which will go to Facebook, Twitter and Linkedin…  But how influenced are you, the reader, by what I have to say?  I have some experience of brands and advertising but you didn’t know that and you don’t know how much either.  Why would you act on my recommendation?

I learned this week that one ad agency’s social media department has risen from three people to twenty.  And what are they all doing?  They’re creeping about the web helping us make decisions about what brands to buy and where to find them.

But is a paid army of professional advocates contributing to social intercourse or are they just social agents provocateurs?  In the pub, you’re offered a pint, there are four to choose from and a bystander says “that Rusty Bucket Pale Ale is mighty fine – I’d get one of those!” you might listen and give it a try.  But if that person was on duty for Rusty Bucket Ales Ltd and was on commission for every customer he converted you might a) feel a little compromised and b) be a little less likely to buy that beer.

Social Media has surpassed critical mass. It’s the no-brain channel of choice for brands and its effects are subtle, effective, mostly free and often invisible.  But I regret the latest morph of Social Media.  It’s become more insidious than influential and brands will come a cropper if they abuse their social credentials or are seen to compromise their social channels.

The Marlborough Cowboy died of cancer and I hope social media doesn’t catch its own cold.

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The birthplace of memories.

This week I went to visit my mother’s empty house.  Now aged almost 93, she’s moved into a full time care home.  She’s happy enough there, she’s well, thankfully and safe too and probably more sociable having lived alone for the last decade.

The house will be sold and the furniture, the pieces that are not destined for recycling, will either be shared amongst us siblings or auctioned off to help pay for her care.

gags and me crop

It’s an emotional time of life for us all, the moment when you realise that a generation is transitioning.  It reminds you of your place in the process; mortality.

When I visited her in the house, I only saw her; I never really saw the house and her belongings.  Without her there to draw my attention, the stage she played out her life upon fell into view.  Battered cooking utensils, rigid teak furniture, faded rugs and sun-bleached photographs surrounded me, all pleading silently for rescue.

Items that had use, that were used regularly, that had purpose, sat idle and forlorn.  Time had stolen their utility just as it had stolen the youth of my mother and would one day would steal from us all.  New fashions and technologies that seeped unheeded around her slowly took the breath from her modest possessions.

The future, when it arrives, consumes all that it encounters and its only output is memories.  Mum’s memories will be of a good life, a long and happy marriage and a caring and healthy family.  I think to myself as I lock up the house and load a few dusty relics into the car that these, together with her unswerving faith, will give her comfort in her new home.

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The Jack Jackson Recording Studios

There are museums that specialise in all sorts of things if you know where to find them – I saw an extraordinary collection of vacuum cleaners at Knebworth House and once I was taken to the Erotic Art Museum in Hamburg.  There’s diversity for you; two types of sucking on two continents.

In deepest Buckinghamshire there is a museum that finds, moves and rebuilds interesting buildings called The Chiltern Open Air Museum.  The work they do is very specialist and preserving heritage buildings is a costly and time-consuming business.

So when they asked me to do a short video of their campaign to restore the Jack Jackson Recording Studios, I jumped at the chance.  This funny little brick cottage, a former cowshed built in around 1745 saw both George 2nd and Lemmy from Motorhead on the throne (slightly different ones) during its extraordinary lifetime.  Elton John, Ian Dury and many others used it and Jack Jackson himself who claimed it for music was crowned “Father of DJs”.

The studio is currently a pile of bricks but with the funds raised by the museum and this campaign, the idea is to restore it completely and fill it with vintage recording equipment. In time, Shure mics will gleem, needle gauges will flicker and valve amps will glow once more as the next generation of popstrels discover what it was like to record in the punk era.

For more info or to donate go to http://www.digventures.com/projects/jackson-studios-revisited/ 

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“Nice”.  Small word, big meaning.

Someone told me recently that when they were writing essays at school they were told never to use the word nice.  What kind of a rubbish teacher was that to say such a thing.

Probably this took place in the context of when they were asked to write an essay about what they did at the weekend, like “we had a nice trip to the seaside with Mummy and Daddy”.  No doubt the teacher said “Don’t use that word! – take a whack! It’s a short, useless, unimaginative little word and will serve you no good whatsoever.  It’s over-used by people who can’t be bothered to think of a better word to use and I won’t have any of your nice in MY classroom”.

Fire that teacher.  Nice is good.  Nice needs a break.  Nice has a place, it’s just our challenge to find out how best to use Nice and that teacher failed.

Nice works well in places where other words just don’t stand up.  Its brevity carries an impact that a sentence with more than one word (let alone other words with only four letters) just wouldn’t have.  Nice is flexible too; it works as a positive word when something is completely fitting (Did you see that catch? Nice!) and as a negative word when it’s not (My Daughter swore at me – Nice!) .  Nice is chameleon; Nice can wear sarcasm like a second skin.

And even in its benign and standard form we know exactly where we are with Nice. She was just, well, nice…”.  Its mediocrity is the linguistic equivalent of the perfect colour beige and while this may not be a desirable attribute there isn’t another word in the English language that can do this.

So let’s hear it for Nice.

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The Down Under tour

It’s been so long since my last blog I’ve almost forgotten how. Almost. But I’ve been busy; travelling in fact, and now that I’m back I’m happy to share a few observations on what was a delightful family holiday in Singapore, Australia and the Indonesian island of Bintan.  I made a video too …

Singapore is a great place.  Can’t say enough nice things about it.  My old mum was there in 1945 and she said I should have a Gin Sling in Raffles so, we did.  Although the city has developed at a pace, not much has changed about Raffles (it’s been lovingly restored) except a beer and a cocktail cost $52 which would’ve been a month’s salary for a Red Cross nurse in those days.  Mum loved the place too but she said “There were a lot of Americans there after the war.  They were nice, but they were very noisy…”.  No change there, then.

Gardens By The Bay

Gardens By The Bay

Today Singapore is urban, busy, modern, clean, efficient, humid.  And very friendly too.  One of our team bought three bricks of cigarettes on the plane and took them through the Red customs channel at Changi Airport only to be asked how many he had and casually ushered back through the green channel by the smiling customs man. “Not enough” he said.  Choice.

Highlights other than seeing Raffles for the first time included a sunset dinner at KuDeTa in the SkyBar and Lau Pa Sat (Food Courts) or Satay City as I called it. Oh, and cold Tiger Beers and Fu Nan: Digital Life shopping mall; hundreds of electrical gadget shops on six floors.

On to Brisbane, staying with rellies. We had a topsy-turvey Christmas in 35 degree heat; with crackers, 20-plus people on the deck, prawns like flamingo heads, Bundy and Coke, kids in the pool followed by an epic game of yard cricket.  We spent a few days in Mooloolaba and Noosa (an hour’s drive north) where we rented a “unit”.   sony aus 234We played in the surf, had dinner at Fish on Parkyn, lunch at Hot Pipi’s, visited the seafood market and took a jog along the seafront (soon to appear on http://www.joggingroutes.org/).

I love Australia. I loved the steaks at The Breakfast Creak Hotel. And I love The Aussies too, for their humour, their directness and their fortitude. Such a young country still presents boundless opportunity as exemplified by lovely Emi Kamada’s new and incredibly popular Bird’s Nest Yakitori bar where we spent a very enjoyable evening eating every part of a chicken, cooked over white hot Vietnamese charcoal. Culturally, Australia may be behind the curve but the Aussies enjoy life probably more than we ever will.

sony aus 787Finally back to Singapore and on to Bintan Island – an hour’s boat ride from the harbour. Stayed in The Banyan Tree where we had intimate contact with giant centipedes and saw baby Green Turtles.  It was a nice chill out phase but it’s an expensive way to see the Monsoons and it did rain a lot. They’re building an airport on the south side of Bintan and they’re already developing massive swathes of land, murdering ancient trees to make way for golf courses and holiday homes.  Although I sponsored it by going there I can’t help feeling sad to see such a paradise of an island slowly asphyxiating in a slurry of concrete and international cash. We may be the last generation to see it as it was and for that at least I’m grateful.

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