Archive for the ‘File under Personal’ Category

I can remember exactly where I was as the 9/11 atrocity unfolded.

I was in Edinburgh then Brussels.

The Brussels trip was for a pan-European advertising pitch on 10/11.

As Gerry (creative director), Giles (bag carrier) and I dashed out of the agency, an account manager came dashing in saying, “A plane has crashed into the World Trade Centre.”

At the time we lacked the imagination to assume that it was anything other than a tragic accident involving a Cessna. Pilot and passenger dead and hopefully no-one hurt on the streets below.

At the time we also lacked the mobile wherewithal to investigate further en route to the airport.

Check-in and security at Edinburgh passed without incident.

However, once we were flight-side, things started to get more odd and slightly more disturbing.

British Airways was broadcasting announcements asking passengers travelling to Heathrow for connecting flights to the States to contact a member of staff.

Then my wife phoned and pretty much begged me not to fly.

I don’t remember her being aware of the full extent of what was happening in New York. She just knew that something terrible had happened involving aeroplanes. And she believed that I would be in grave danger if I boarded the plane to Brussels.

At this point we still had no idea what was going on. There was nothing on the public TV screens. Indeed there may not even have been public TV screens back then.

And it was a pan-European pitch for God’s sake. Those things don’t grow on trees.

No way were we not flying to Brussels.

As it happens I think we were pretty much the last flight to leave Edinburgh that day.

No announcements regarding the situation were made during the flight.

So we were unprepared  for the utter chaos that greeted us in Brussels Airport.

(Brussels Airport is more or less next door to NATO European HQ we discovered later).

It took hours to collect our bags and get through security.

And we were both white.

It was conspicuous that anyone with the slightest amount of non-Caucasian skin pigmentation was being shepherded into a separate queue, having their bags more or less ripped apart, and being subject to heated interrogation. We moved quickly by comparison.

It was only, finally, as we checked into our hotel in the early evening that we saw a commercial airliner fly into a skyscraper.

There was a throng of delayed latecomers in the reception area. And we collectively convinced ourselves that we had indeed seen what we had just seen.

When we left Edinburgh we lacked the imagination to envisage this. And, along with our fellow guests, we struggled to comprehend then recalibrate our notions of the possible.

We made contact with the potential client who confirmed that the pitch would be going ahead as planned the following morning.

Under normal circumstances we would have eaten a quick meal then rehearsed, rehearsed and rehearsed again before getting an early night.

Instead we huddled around the TV and drank into the early hours in a crowded bar full of dishevelled euro-businessmen, top shirt buttons undone and ties loosened.

The next day we half-heartedly pitched regardless.

Pan-European pitches don’t grow on trees.

But we should have walked away from this one.

We should have walked away when the potential client proudly told us that he had spent the evening recreating the attack on his flight simulator PC game.

Sick fuck.

My parents’ generation can all remember precisely where they were and what they were doing when they heard the news of Kennedy’s assassination, and when man first landed on the moon.

For me the death of Diana (taking coffee back to bed on a Sunday morning and remarking to my wife that it was odd for Radio 1 to be playing solemn classical music) and 9/11 assume the same significance.

I don’t think there’s any other day from the last decade that I could document in the same eidetic detail.



Read Full Post »

This Lancashireman is struggling to compete with the extreme, and extremely competitive, privations described by the four Yorkshiremen.

Working a twelve hour overnight shift in the (now defunct) Rathbone’s Bakery in Wigan may not be as bad as licking a motorway clean before breakfast, but it felt pretty close at the time.

It was an Easter holiday student job, which promised to pull in a tidy sum by the standards of the mid 80’s.

My shift ran from 6pm to 6am, punctuated by a couple of short rest breaks.

My job was to move bread from the end of the production line to the waiting trucks in the loading bays.

The baking, slicing and packaging of said bread was a fully automated process. And said bread came off the end of several lines in plastic pallets containing, from memory, about sixteen loaves.

Along with several others I collected these pallets using a manual trolley-cum-forklift. You slid the forks under a pile of pallets, used a foot pedal to raise the bread tower off the ground, and wheeled the lot round to the lorries with a quick stop en route to weigh a random sample of loaves to ensure that they were within the prescribed tolerance levels.

Whilst (I assume) the production lines were state of the art for their day, the building itself lingers in my memory as a red-brick, Victorian, dark-satanic mill of a prison to which I was sentenced for twelve hours of hard labour every night.

And high on the wall behind the production lines was a large, Victorian clock with Roman numerals.

A round trip from the production line to the loading bays and back took around two minutes.

So this clock had the drip, drip, water-torture-like effect of breaking twelve hours into 360 two minute segments.

There were no Walkmen in those days, let alone iPods.

No music, no podcasts, no talking books to alleviate the monotony.

So I devised a coping strategy based on repeatedly lowering my personal best time for a round trip.

But this strategy was brought to an abrupt halt before I’d had the chance to really push the envelope of what was achievable.

My coping strategy had drawn attention to me.

I felt a hand on my shoulder.

The shop steward looked me in the eye and said, “Slow down son. You’re making the others look bad.”

I hadn’t been looking to increase productivity. I’d been looking to stay sane. And now I was fucked.

I think I lasted no more than three nights.

But it was the best piece of university-of-life learning I’ve ever had.

I determined to always have a job that would have me bouncing of of bed in the morning. Life is way too short for any other attitude to work.

Indeed that bakery job is why I did a handbrake turn straight out of university from engineering to advertising. And I can genuinely count on the fingers of one hand the number of days in the last twenty three years when I haven’t wanted to get out of bed.

Unfortunately this sample-of-one personal experience has also deeply coloured my attitudes to trade unions. But that’s another story.

Everyone should have a “worst job I ever had” story. What’s yours?

Read Full Post »

11.30 pm Heading to bed. Light on under the door to eldest daughter’s bedroom.


11.31 pm WiFi modem on. Flickering LED light indicates that bandwidth is being used. Coincidence?


11.32 pm WiFi modem switched off.


11.33 pm Light under bedroom door goes out. Assume that iPod Touch, rendered useless for the purpose of communicating with other 14 year olds by the lack of WiFi, has also been switched off. “Busted” as they say.


11.34 pm Proceed to bed. No words exchanged.

Read Full Post »

Culling is usually only required when natural selection, or more precisely nature itself, fails to control relative populations of species in an ecosystem.

It’s either natural selection or culling.

One or t’other.

Well I’ve used both to reduce the number of people I follow on Twitter.

One of my favourite ever clients, a lovely lady from Belfast, used to tell me to “catch yourself on” whenever I wasn’t getting it in her eyes.

And I had a “catch yourself on” moment earlier this year when thinking about Twitter in the context of me in social spaces.

It’s so so easy to get sucked in to watching and nurturing your follower count. But when I stepped back and thought about how Twitter has worked, when it has worked at its best for me, it has very little to do with quantity and almost everything to do with quality.

Following the right people (regardless of whether they follow back).

Sharing the right kind of content from the right kind of people.

At the right frequency.

Having the right conversations.

Building relationships beyond Twitter, be that at real life events or via RSS and blog comment threads.

Indeed I wrote a post back in January about the relevance of RSS to me, which got me thinking about the strength of ties in social spaces rather than just the number of ties.

Cutting to the chase, I’ve reduced the number of people I follow from 968  to 770 in the space of a few weeks.

Here’s how that process looks when charted by Twitter Counter.

That’s a 20% reduction in the number of “friends”.

A 20% cull.

In fact the actual number culled is higher than this because I’ve continued to follow new, interesting people throughout this period. 20% is the net reduction.

And, as mentioned above, I did this the hard way but the right way.

Natural selection, for which read quality control or survival of the fittest for purpose.

Natural selection was a relatively painstaking manual process, as a result of which I’ve had a close look at every single person or organisation that I was following.

Would I miss their content?

Have I “engaged” (ugh!) with them?

Was I likely to want to engage with them?

In some, but very few, cases were they still active?

I never made a decision to unfollow based on whether anyone was following me.

It took quite a while but it was an enlightening and highly worthwhile exercise.

No disrespect but God I was following some dross.

The proportion of practitioners and originators amongst the people I’m now following is much higher than it was.

The proportion of theory-mongers and self-styled gurus much lower (tending to zero in the case of the latter).

I assumed that I’d suffer a significant reduction in the number of people following me as a result of this exercise, on the basis that a fair few people would be actively tracking and monitoring and maybe even automatically reciprocating for unfollows.

(I’ve never been bothered with that level of “sophistication” myself.)

Here is what has actually happened.

The scale of this graph is not the same as the one above but there has been a 1% drop in followers from the peak to today.

20% reduction in “friends’, 1% reduction in followers. Anyone had a similar or markedly different experience to this?

This has been a valuable exercise on a number of counts.

  • It’s no bad thing to step back and think about what you’re doing in these spaces once in a while.
  • The laborious process of manually reviewing everyone I was following was enlightening and instructive in all sorts of ways.
  • This naturally selective cull has acted as a catalyst for a number of other developments. These include some thinking on how I can make better use of Twitter lists (I’ve tended to use Tweetdeck columns as a surrogate for lists proper). And I’ve had a similar spring clean of the blogs to which I subscribe via RSS.

Everyone has their own personal answer to “what is Twitter for?”

And that answer probably evolves over time.

That evolution can lead to a discrepancy between your objectives and your actions. It did for me anyway.

Have you asked yourself the question recently?

Read Full Post »

F*ck, sh*t, p*ss, c*nt.

People are overly coy with their use of vowels in four letter words on Twitter.

To avoid the risk of upsetting people, and (woe of woes) becoming the victim of a mass unfollowing, they replace said vowels with an *, or a £, or a $. Or even a %.

All this actually does is draw more attention to the word. Instead of going with the flow of a sentence, your brain has to stop, reverse a bit and fill in the blank represented by *, £, $, or %. What was an almost subconscious process suddenly becomes very conscious – “Oh right, he means ‘fuck’.” More often than not you’ll then say “fuck” to yourself several times before reading on.

I don’t get it. Unlike Facebook we’re all adults on Twitter aren’t we? My followers certainly are.

And I’m not aware of anyone losing half of their followers as a result of some judicious swearing. Are you?

The only long term viable approach to Twitter is to be yourself. If your natural “voice” includes the occasional use of a a four letter word for literary effect, that’s cool. And the people who follow you should be cool with it too.

If they’re not cool with it, you’re probably better off without them.

F*ck ’em, the c*nts.

Read Full Post »

This blog is not immune to turn-of-year introspective reflection.

And if collating your favourite posts of the year is good enough for BBH Labs, then it’s good enough for me.

But I thought I’d do it with a bit of a twist.

The Labs guys curated the ten posts that they felt encapsulated the most important and most often recurring strategic themes of 2010.

This is a little different. I offer below my top 5 post headlines and my top 5 opening lines of 2010. Both lists are in no particular order.



None of these are necessarily my “best” posts of 2010. Indeed the two most highly read (by a mile) posts of the year are not represented here.

In my own tin-pot way I try to write, on this blog at least, like a journalist. Headlines should be engaging, yes, but primarily an accurate description of the story beneath. I don’t like cryptically “clever” headlines. Although ironically the headline for this post flirts with that territory more than I’d usually allow. And, rather than adopting a beginning/middle/end structure to blog post storytelling, I try, and sometimes succeed, to summarise the entire post in the first few lines. And I do like to start with a bang.

I’ve just flicked back through the year in posts and, if I say so myself, I think that whilst practice is certainly not making perfect it is making better. I hope I’m allowed to say something like that once a year.


Read Full Post »

Norman Mailer told me to stop being a fucking pussy.

I went to see him speak at the book festival and asked him a question at the end.

What did he most regret doing, what did he most regret not doing, and which was the bigger regret of the two?

I figured that if learning from somebody else’s mistakes is a rare skill, then the opportunity to learn from the regrets of someone with as many extreme life experiences as him would be doubly valuable.

He agreed to answer candidly but only if I shared my biggest regret with the audience first.

So I recounted a story from when I was 18 that, 26 years later, still lands a punch to the solar plexus of my shame, leaving me emotionally winded.

In return he surprised everyone by saying that he would give his answer to me privately over a bottle of whisky after the lecture.

Then it all gets a bit hazy. I have no recollection of his regrets (fuck!) but at some point in the proceedings before we rolled, steaming and stinking, into Centotre the following morning he definitely told me to stop being a fucking pussy.

The last thing I remember is Tim Read intervening to stop us being thrown out. Fortunately he recognised who I was with and pointed out the social media and associated SEO benefits of having one of the 20th century’s greatest authors on the premises.

Ripple dissolve…

What the hell does this dream mean?

More generally what the hell does it mean when you can remember a dream in such vivid detail?

Here’s how I think my bitter and twisted subconscious put the pieces together behind my eyelids.

1) I have been a fucking pussy over the last few days. Way too prone to stifling end of year introspection, with over a week still to go until Hogmanay.

2) I recently read this blog post – Stop Being A Fucking Pussy. The In Over Your Head blog is my most recent RSS subscription. Thanks to Rach for pointing me in it’s direction. You should check it out.

3) I gave a book to someone I care about. We had a brief chat about favourite books and Norman Mailer’s The Naked And The Dead would be somewhere in my top ten. Although the book I actually gave was this one.

4) A client sent me a link to an idea that was very similar to one that we’d discussed earlier this year. Someone else had executed it. We hadn’t. The client described it as an “ah well” moment. I replied that 2011 should be about avoiding “ah well” at all costs. Regret avoidance has been on my mind.

5) Where else but Centotre would you go after an all night whisky drinking binge?

6) I have no fucking idea why my brain flicked through its mental Rolodex of EdCM regulars and decided that it should be Tim that stepped in to help us.

What (the fuck) else could this dream mean?

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

%d bloggers like this: