One year ago, I was looking at the sunshine in Spain. This year I am looking a gloomy London suburb yet I really do feel content to be spending a few days at home. Still, it’s a shame that it’s not summer as the view is more interesting!
I have driven down from the north of England today. The traffic was chaos for much of the journey – it really is quite alarming that one of the backbones of transportation in the UK – the M6 motorway – was running no faster than 40mph for much of the journey today. The one relief in the journey was our use of the new M6 Toll motorway – which bypasses much of Birmingham – and certainly saved me some time today. I am not sure what I think of paying for road use when I already pay my road tax, but today I was more than happy to part with the money to speed my journey.
On this day…
No other posts on this day.
Is the run up to Christmas always a mad panic for everybody? It usually is for me but – right now – things seem a little calmer than they usually do. I suspect something will happen out of the blue tomorrow.
I’ve been looking around this site a little bit today and it has stunned me how much I have really written – considering I think of this as something I do when I get a moment (maybe I just had a lot of moments). Interestingly, January has the highest number of posts this year – maybe I should try a beat that in 2004.
Whenever I spend a few moments looking around the site I tend to find some things that I had forgotten writing. Then I look at what other people are reading.
I see that the top three searches that brought people to this site so far (exclusing the Man of the Moment project) are:
- paris photographs
- steve strange
- radio era
I am not really sure if that’s interesting or not!
On this day…
I have spent most of the last week in the United States – in Raleigh, North Carolina to be exact. It brings home to me the many differences between two cultures that, in other ways, are very similar: from the price of fuel to the availability of public transport; from the car culture to the size of the food portions.
All of these have been discussed many times by many people. It is, however, the American approach to customer service that is the constant surprise to me. The whole “Hi, how ya doin’ today?” in all its smiling insincerity is always the biggest shock upon landing almost anywhere in North America. It really is a delight.
I don’t think it’s my British cynicism that allows me to acknowledge that it’s not really meant – it’s taught and it’s expected. So what? It’s so much nicer than the grumbled, stumbled approach in many shops in the UK. Any kind of service from the rental car place to the hotel, from Starbucks to the bar was from somebody smiling with a confident and welcome approach to their job. For my tastes it is, sometimes, a little too much but I can’t help and wish that a little more of this faux-friendliness made its way into shops in London.
And while on the subject of customer service, I would be surprised if there are many around these parts that have not experienced the appalling service of parcel delivery providers this Christmas. My own gripe was is with the inability of the Royal Mail to be able to cope with the increase in parcels. My local postman (who is a very friendly guy, by the way) delivers a card when the parcel doesn’t fit the letter box. The sorting office need some time to process that. Currently, that seems to be 48 hours. They only open for collections from 8am to 1pm (how useful is that to anybody who has a job to commute to in London?). For several weeks the Saturday morning queue has been so long as to be down round the block. Friday morning’s queue was equally long and at 12.45 nobody else was allowed to join the queue – which lead to several arguments along the lines of “I was here before One and this is the last day to get my parcel”. The response, from the lady with the road cones to stop more people joining the queue, was typical of the can-do helpful attitude around here,
“What do you expect me to do about it?”
On this day…
I’ve worked for American companies for a few years and never really grasped what the thanksgiving holiday was all about (apart from some very obvious things). This year I actually started to look it up:
The first Thanksgiving was celebrated between the Pilgrims and the Indians in 1621. That first feast was a three day affair. Life for the early settlers was difficult. The fall harvest was time for celebration. It was also a time of prayer, thanking God for a good crop. The Pilgrims and the Indians created a huge feast including a wide variety of animals and fowl, as well as fruits and vegetables from the fall harvest. This early celebration was the start of today’s holiday celebration. Like then, we celebrate with a huge feast. [Source: holidayinsights.com]
I would like to wish anybody passing by Listen to Musak a very happy holiday.
Of course there is always an alternative view.
On this day…
Well, Mr Bush has headed back to the US. The anti-bush protestors got in my way as I headed homeward one night and that was sufficient to annoy me (that and the litter they left behind). The strangest thing was that I’m not pro-bush so I should have been on the demonstration but I didn’t believe in the marches/marchers. It’s a very strange mix of supporting the cause but not them. Nevertheless, I will be following George Bush’s progress over the next year just to see what happens in the election and if things like this (from here) have any impact on American voters.
Bush strode around an empty village and eventually spots a couple of people to shake hands with. Okay Okay the woman had a vast stars and stripes knitted into her sweater, but it did the job. Suddenly there were five apparently ordinary mortals for him to be photographed with. Look out for it in Time Magazine and most certainly in some bout of electoral literature. After that he spotted another lone figure in the village and paced across to grab his hand too…never mind that it was the Prime Minister’s press spokesman.
Ah well, he’s gone. On the upside, you would never have known the Queen listens to Radio 2 if George hadn’t paid us a visit!
On this day…
I am always interested in British tradition and heritage and where we get some of our customs from. Reading the European edition of The Independent last week I learned there has been no state visit by a US President to the UK before. This seemed very odd as, I would imagine, almost all US Presidents in living memory have been to Britain but, usefully, The Indy explains all. Apparently, there are only two state visits to the UK each year (it’s an honour, you see) and other visits by a head of state in the same year are treated as guests of the government and not state visits,
Names of the state heads can be proposed by UK ambassadors and the royal household. The visits are discussed by a series of committees and the final recommendations go to the Queen, but the Foreign Secretary makes the ultimate decision. State visits are reserved for those who hold the title of ‘heads of state’. Thus, the French president qualifies for a ‘state visit’ but not the French prime minister.
In June this year, President Putin of the Russian Federation was the last head of state to receive the honour.
On this day…
2005: The Token Gay Friend
I am several days late with this one. Last Saturday, I went to Battersea Park in South London for the fireworks – and truly spectacular they were too. They all started with a saxophonist suspended from a crane and fireworks going off on the cables that came down from the crane to the floor. The whole 5th of November thing got me thinking about Guy Fawkes and The Gunpowder Plot and I realised that I knew very little about it. I was fascinated to know that it can be traced back to Elizabeth I’s persecution of English catholics. The BBC has an interesting summary of the event which has a description of the 1605/6 punishment for high treason:
… the Attorney General lay principal responsibility on the Jesuits, before describing the traditional punishment for traitors: hanging, drawing and quartering. They would be hanged until half-dead, upon which their genitals would be cut off and burned in front of them. Still alive, their bowels and heart would be removed. Finally they would be decapitated and dismembered; their body parts would be publicly displayed, eaten by the birds as they decomposed [BBC History]
On this day…
I wanted to follow up on my time-shifted media post. Although that was written some time before this one, I imagine that they’ll end up being posted together.
As in many of my posts, I was looking at the concept from a personal point of view. I do believe that the ability to watch what I want when I want to is – on the whole – an advantage to the way I consume media.
When SkyPlus introduces Tivo-style learning about my viewing habits then I will, most likely, find the need to consume television as a linear medium wholly redundant. I am, however, not convinced this is a good thing.
The technology and the concepts are great but there are some things that this personalisation of the media experience will destroy and it won’t all be for the better.
To start with, shared-experiences will be dead. With the introduction of multi-channel television they are almost dead now and I don’t think that’s good. The use of the shared experience should not be underestimated in our ability to socialise. The common ground we used to share about last night’s EastEnders will be gone. I may watch it, but my machine has stored it for a time I see fit. Increasingly, as society fragments into smaller units, this lack of the common ground will reduce the ability (and the appeal) of socialisation. Now, I’m not trying to paint any kind of doomsday scenario where people live in individual bubbles with no other human contact, but this lack of experience can not be ignored. Any community starts with a common ground and that common place may just be last night’s 8pm BBC drama.
Similarly, an ‘appointment to view’, as the broadcasters call it will be useless when my machine records only what I am interested in. This will make broadcasters – traditionally governed by ratings – panic. Without a ratings scheme their whole models crash and burn. Ratings are the justification of much of what they do (even dear Auntie Beeb). Why would you want to own a TV channel if viewers have no loyalty (this of course can lead to a whole new discussion where the BBC is but a programme maker and not a channel, but that’s for another time)?
Broadcasters will also argue that a passive audience allows experimentation. If I am drawn to a new drama by the existing schedule (and millions of pounds are spent researching schedules) then I can love/appreciate it. If I have no prior knowledge than my personal media won’t include it. The results? Broadcasters fail to experiment or sink to attention grabbing lowest-common denominator programming. That can not be good but it is not a wholly convincing argument.
Finally, the passive viewer should not be discounted. Generating my own schedule with any kind of time-shift media is something I will have to put effort into (learning and refining the technology). People will, of course, try this and new systems will be developed but it’s not easy. If you have a mobile ‘phone, pda or computer – how many times have you had to repeat something when the basic concept was supposed to make your life easier? I do not want to re-teach a machine when it forgets because somebody unplugged it. I do not want to have to re-browse a broad selection of programmes again because the machine forgot.
There are, of course, examples of this non-passive media. Video Networks supplies programming on demand. I would. however, be interested in the statisics about who views what. I suspect that in many cases it is in addition to (rather than a replacement for) traditional linear channels.
Many viewers want to remain passive. They want a simple schedule where they watch the familiar and are, sometimes, caught out by the unfamiliar. Teaching a system is effort yet media consumption, particularly television, is designed to be entertaining; almost deigned to be passive. The success of time-shifting will be down to the numbers who reject the passiveness of the existing system.
The skill of the schedulers should not be under estimated. Keeping an audience throughout an evening with a mix of programming designed to appeal is a challenge. Without it we are left with the specialist channles (who, I acknowledge, have their own scheduling issues) but I am in favour of mixed channels with a range of programming that can be viewed as a whole.
You may have noticed that one of my pet mediums, radio, is really excluded from my discussions, Radio rarely has an appointment to listen (Radio Four the exception as a channel, with a few great shows on the others stations). Radio is also much more of a background medium – it doesn’t need (although it may deserve) the attention required by television. Radio is a pointer or a guide to my day: Wogan tells me it’s morning, Daryl Denham tells me it’s almost time to leave the office and Dr Pam says I should have been at home but am stuck on a train. Time shifting that would not work. Having said that, my SkyPlus is full of recorded radio that I want to listen to so maybe I need to consider some more.