You could be seeing a great picture here
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Charles on… anything that comes along

Wednesday 30 July 2008

Filed under: — Charles @ 9:54 pm

Silly season? Yes, I may have heard of it

You may have heard that, now Parliament has risen, that it is what newspapers refer to as the “silly season”, meaning that any old bollocks will find space awaiting it in the paper. Or so some people hope, it would seem.

But can it be so? Let’s look at some email titles culled from my inbox at work:

  • “Rage Against the Machine - PC rage overtakes road rage”
  • “Text Message Injuries (TMI) - The Solution - Interview Opportunity”
  • “Wireless broadband to exceed two billion customers by 2015, says Analysys Mason” (OK, not particularly silly, but completely fits the standard analyst prediction: far enough away that nobody will call them on it, large enough that people say “Oooh, 2 billion!”)
  • “Northeast Blackout Anniversary Pending - Experts Available for Comment” (an anniversary of a blackout? Now that’s desperation)
  • “Bebo tries to beam messages to Earth-like planet” (transparently pointless. Sigh.)

Update: ooh, another one: “Research published today shows that men are becoming more domesticated than technical and find it more difficult to set up a PC than follow a recipe or assemble flat packed furniture.” I so completely believe you. (Except when was there ever a time when setting up a PC was more complicated than today? It’s a complete pain - home networking, user vs admin accounts, secure passwords, and all the rest.)

And that’s before we get onto “makeup for men” ( every paper, courtesy of some PR agency for some cosmetics firm which is trying, as it does about every, oh, December and July, to persuade us that guys will wear slap). Uh-uh. Ain’t gonna happen (reason being: women wear makeup to look young, which is an evolutionarily determined attractant; for men to look young isn’t attractive in evolutionary terms). Sorry, but the cosmetics industry is not going to double its turnover overnight. Or at all.

So, got a favourite silly season story so far? C’mon, share. At least I didn’t name the PR firms involved here..

Tuesday 29 July 2008

Filed under: — Charles @ 12:44 am

Real Dan Lyons gets it right on the Real Steve Jobs health question

Amidst all the back and forth about Steve Jobs’s health, and whether it matters, Dan Lyons - aka Fake Steve Jobs - has hit the nail totally on the head by pointing out (on his real blog) that calls like Jobs made to Joe Nocera of the New York Times aren’t accident. They’re totally planned. And for Jobs to demand that the conversation’s content should be off the record is more control:

How many times do you think Jobs rehearsed that opening line before he dialed (or had Katie Cotton [queen of Apple PR] dial for him)? I’d say he practiced it one hundred times. And I’d say Katie was definitely on the line with him, though she probably pretended not to be. Furthermore, I’d bet a signed dollar bill that Apple recorded the phone call, just in case Nocera decided to run the stuff that Steve gave him under their “off the record” agreement.

And more:

If down the road it turns out Steve was [purely hypothetically, you understand] lying and someone from the SEC or some lawyer in a civil suit wants to find out what was said in that conversation, they’ll have to subpoena Joe Nocera, and the New York Times will fight that request. Even if Joe Nocera wants to tell the world what Steve Jobs told him, he can’t. He made a deal. He went off the record. Even if Steve turns out to be lying, Joe Nocera is stuck.

Thus Steve Jobs gets to protect his stock price and give Wall Street the message that he wants them to hear, and should any of this turn out not to be true, well, Steve and Apple now have Joe Nocera and the legal department of the New York Times to act as their ally and firewall.

It’s really well-argued and to the point. He also asks: what would happen if Steve Ballmer were to do the same? He’d get roasted in the press. So why does Jobs get an easy ride? Because there are tons of unthinking Apple fans who will descend on any site that they think doesn’t accord their beloved company the vast amount of praise they think it deserves. And that can be a pain to deal with.

And John Gruber is, for once, totally wrong, because he’s not a professional journalist. Lyons is, and he knows the ins and outs. Gruber says:

Lyons is implying that if Jobs is actually fine, then there’s nothing he shouldn’t be willing to talk about on the record regarding his health. But that’s only true if the full story isn’t the least bit embarrassing or private. In Jobs’s case, it seems clear that whatever it is that’s been bothering him this year, it is related to his digestive and intestinal system. Even if he’s recovering fully from this problem, set to live a full life for decades to come, is it any wonder he might not want to speak on the record about digestive problems like, say, extreme diarrhea? diarrhea? Fuck that.

But that misses the point about why Jobs made the call at all, if he didn’t want to explain it. If you want to tell people, tell them. Don’t do it in this off-the-record sneaking about way.

Plus, you’re wondering how Jobs knew to call Nocera? Because Nocera had obviously been calling Apple asking for its response. Word filtered up. That was totally planned.

Couple of other interesting things: Lyons says that Apple was always completely closed off to him:

For what it’s worth, [John] Markoff [at the New York Times] may be one of the only hacks left that Apple PR can count on. A couple of the guys at Fortune used to be considered friendly until their colleague Peter Elkind produced a botched hatchet job on Steve Jobs earlier this year. It’s likely that Apple has now gone dark on everyone at Fortune as a result. Goatberg is friendly to Apple but he’s a gadget guy and doesn’t do news, and anyway the Journal went after Jobs on options backdating so they’re likely on the Katie Cotton shit list too. Forbes? Um, right. Even before I created Fake Steve, Apple wouldn’t let anyone at Forbes do any interviews with anyone at Apple. We had a whole bureau in the Valley, 30 miles from Cupertino, and for ten years we didn’t set foot inside Apple. They’d send us review units and that’s it.

Two things from that: how is Lyons going to fare reporting on technology - including Apple - at Newsweek, where he’s replacing Steven Levy, who used to get stuff ahead of time? Will Apple be able to hold its nose and give him the early interviews and time to play with the gadgets, or will he be stuck in the outer darkness like, I don’t know, the most-viewed online paper in the UK?

And secondly, I can imagine it could be pretty dispiriting being a journalist in San Francisco trying to get an interview with Apple. Imagine it just going on and on like that. It’s a company with serious PR issues - and the weird things is it thinks it’s doing just great.

Wednesday 23 July 2008

Filed under: — Charles @ 2:06 pm

Kieren doesn’t like the US TV news. We’ll explain why right after this message!

Poor Kieran Kieren. He’s over there, stuck in front of a screen, and he knows that there’s better to be had. [And I can’t even spell his name right. Duh! Thanks Sally.]

US news: utter utter rubbish:

“People often say that the news in the US is terrible - and it is, it is appalling. But it hit home this lunchtime when I flipped between different news channels while eating lunch. CNN, Fox, MSNBC, and god knows how many other channels. And all of it absolutely dreadful. I know for example from listening to the BBC’s Radio 4 Today programme first thing this morning that one of the world’s most wanted war criminals Radovan Karadzic was arrested late last night. I also know that a possible huge breakthrough has been made with prostate cancer.

What else do I know from this morning? Well, that India’s government may have survived a vote of no confidence; that Mugabe is talking with the Zimbabwe opposition about possible power-sharing. I know there has been some kind of attack in Israel.

Having watched an hour of lunchtime TV news in the US I know that: there are two US presidential candidates and one of them is abroad at the moment; that people have made video parodies of the two candidates and posted them on the Internet; that a TV news host appeared on a TV chatshow last night; and that someone made a stupid comment about autism on some other TV show.”

You know when you think about it, it really is pretty scary. It gets even worse; people paraphrasing conversations that you’ve just been shown, so that your poor brain won’t be troubled by having to actually listen to the original people and try to figure out what they were really saying. Let us paraphrase it for you so that you don’t have to think.

Which leads naturally to…

It is, in short, unwatchable. I can pick up more real information in five minutes online than in an hour watching television. I am seriously thinking of cancelling my cable subscription. What’s the point?

And it seems that a lot of Americans are discovering much the same. The cause lies not in the stars but in us, Brutus. (Is that the quote?) Anyhow, the US TV media’s surely looming death is thus caused by being too shallow; the print media’s impending doom (though not death) by being too dull.

My forecast for US print media: their newsrooms will shrink so they have the same staffing level as UK ones. If I only knew how many UK staffers there were per newsroom, I’d be able to give you numbers. But I can’t.

Still, one looks at the Papercuts blog (which is mapping job losses) and sees that the total is stretching into the thousands. Wow. Now, a word from our sponsors…

Monday 21 July 2008

Filed under: — Charles @ 2:15 pm

The Lotus Notes hating just goes on… and on: it’s the Marmite of the IT world

I’ve written before (here and of course in the Gdn Tech section) about the amazing outpouring of hate that comes from users whenever you mention Lotus Notes. And here it is again..

We’ve been pretty much told that when the Guardian moves to King’s Place, as it will from September or so, that we’ll be moving to a more collaborative system.

We were definitely told that there won’t be limits on email (presently, officially, 50MB - beyond which you are told by the system that you cannot send email.)

This would be good, because Notes’s web interface has a brilliant trick for those of the Max Mosley persuasion: you write an email - composing it carefully, putting links and careful arguments in - and click Send.

It throws back a screen saying “You have exceeded your storage allowance. Your email was NOT sent. Please delete some messages from your inbox so you can send mail.”

Now, apart from the fact that it’s stupid that you can’t send mail when it’s your inbox that’s full, there’s another wrinkle: if you go off and empty out some emails (a pretty dire thought in these days, though often I’ll find that the offending item that’s pushed me over the limit is a 3MB attachment of some company’s new laptop bag that they could have perfectly easily hosted on their website), and then hit the “back” button on the webmail to recover that long involved message… it’s disappeared.

AAGH!!

So anyway, we’re all hoping very much that Notes will not be in evidence at King’s Place.

But there’s always that nagging feeling it might. But I still haven’t come across such a hated end-user product. Here’s the Twitter search such as “Benefits of leaving TW: no frickin Notes!”

And I’ve just come across a new (to me) site: I Hate Lotus Notes which, um, does pretty much what it says on the tin.

What’s always interesting though is that pro-Notes people who will leap into these pits of hating and try, vainly, to tell people that the fact they’re hating Notes is because (1) they haven’t had enough training (2) it’s not an email program, it’s an application development platform (3) they’re using an old version - the latest version, v. [What you’re using +2] solves all those problems (4) it’s better than Outlook, anyway (5) all of the above.

I think it’s still telling that Notes 6.5.5, which dates from December 2005, still doesn’t support the scroll wheel on the mouse on OSX - which has done so from its start, a mere four and a half years earlier.

But you have to admire the determination of the pro-Notes brigade. They’re like people defending the right to smoke in crowded spaces: everyone else is wrong, it’s just them who can see the right way to run the world.

(Later: I’ve added the “Marmite of the IT world” to the title, since I realised - when I wrote the comment below - that that’s what it is: you love it or hate it. No in-between. No “It’s OK, you know..”

And John Naughton adds his insight:

To me, the product seems so dated and kludgy: it’s the epitome of 1980s, DOS-inspired software. And yet the True Believers are deeply attached to it in the way that Jehovah’s Witnesses are to the Watchtower. They are unfailingly courteous and willing as they patiently explain that Notes can be made to do virtually anything you want; but when one explains that a teaspoon can also be used to dig one’s garden they look blank: they don’t get it.

There, that’s a nice circular bit of referral for Google to chew over..)

Monday 14 July 2008

Filed under: — Charles @ 10:39 pm

Ken Livingstone not exactly going gentle into, well, anything

One forgets what a consumate politician Ken Livingstone is - meaning that he has that fantastic ability, when he speaks, of persuading you (just for those moments) that anyone who holds the opposite position is a complete and utter idiot.

Wonderful to be reminded on Dave Hill’s blog watching the Greater London Assembly of how he does it. Such as his response to an invitation from former Sunday Telegraph editor Patience Wheatcroft, and now chair of some committee or other, who invited him to come along and be cross-examined by their “independent” committee. Oh yeah. Sounds like a chicken being invited to come and see the new bathing pool by the crocodiles.

“Dear Ms Wheatcroft,

You are a member of the Conservative Party. Two of the other members of your body are members of the Conservative Party - Stephen Greenhalgh and Edward Lister. A fourth, Patrick Frederick, is Chairman of Conservative Business Relations - South East England & Southern London, and therefore presumably a member of the Conservative Party as well. How can any body of which 4 out of the 5 members are members of the Conservative Party be considered impartial and objective in any way? It is evidently not independent or objective but a Conservative Party body.

I note that when you were appointed you did not bother to state that you were a member of the Conservative Party, nor did you state it in subsequent television interviews. Your membership of the Conservative Party was revealed only in your Declaration of Interest to the GLA. It is evident that it if it was intended to have an independent investigation into any matter it should not be headed by a member of a political party. Any person who wished to lead, and wished to be seen to lead, an objective and impartial enquiry would clearly have refused to chair a body with such a composition.

Think he’s getting narky? He’s only just warming up.

I also note the further irregularities that have occurred during your being chair of this body. First your son Kelham Salter was appointed to a post in the GLA – even though journalists have been informed he is not paid this is not an action of the type that would be expected from the chair of an independent ‘forensic’ body. You attended the Mayor’s Press Conference on 3 July, held to defend Ray Lewis, sitting in the front of the audience with Tim Parker, First Deputy Mayor, and also a supporter of the Conservative Party – not an independent chair.

There were clear irregularities in the procurement of PWC to do £50,000 of work for your committee. The contract was awarded by your committee which includes Andrew Grove, who is a partner of PWC – a clear conflict of interest and meaning that the auditors used were not independent of the Committee. No other companies appear to have been invited to tender.

In light of this it is evident that one of your recommendations should be that the amount paid annually to PWC in consultancy fees in the last four years be published and a record of how much is paid to PWC in consultancy fees each year in the next four years should also be published.

Hear that? A smooth engine purring into life, reaching the top of its acceleration.

I also note that the genuinely independent inquiry into issues raised in regard to Lee Jasper headed by Rabinder Singh QC, of Matrix Chambers, was abolished by the Mayor to be replaced, as stated, by one in which 4 out of 5 members were members of the Conservative Party.

I am of course completely willing and keen to work with any genuinely independent body, such as the London Assembly or independent auditing companies, which are looking into any matters of public interest that relate to the time I was Mayor. In regard to present matters they would record, for example, that I suffered only one enforced resignation of any of my most senior officials during eight years – a record that compares very favourably to national governments of both parties, while the present administration has suffered the enforced resignation of two of its most senior officials in only two and a half months in office.

Just coming around the curve now…

Such objective investigation would also reveal the incredible costs being imposed on London by the new administration which far exceed any issue you were asked to look into – the £30 million a year extra cost to TfL for implementing the cycling programme now that the income to cover it from the £25 a day CO2charge on gas guzzling cars will not be received, the embarking on a programme for a new Routemaster bus with conductors which all independent transport experts estimate will cost over £100 million a year, the loss of £15 million to pay for half price travel for those on income support from Venezuela with the result Londoners will have to pay for any scheme for subsidised travel, and the £400,000 legal fees paid to Porsche. As a result of this Londoners will be hit by tens of millions of pounds worth of unnecessary new charges.

To cooperate in any way with your purely Conservative Party dominated body would be to lend it a facade of independence and objectivity which it clearly does not possess. I regard the fact that your body has no objectivity and independence as a matter of public interest therefore I am releasing this correspondence to the press.’

…and past the finish line. Chequered flag, everything.

Ah, Ken. Surely it was you who started the stuff which Porsche sued over? But aside from that, wonderfully put.

Sunday 13 July 2008

Filed under: — Charles @ 11:17 pm

What if there was a football team that never played football?

David Mitchell wrote the second of two terrific sports comment articles for the Guardian on Friday (could be he’s going to do more, certainly hope so). In I want a long rest from a game that never sleeps, he notes that

Despite the fact that no matches are being played, football still dominates the press. And what are they talking about? Transfers. Essentially, “Human Resources”. So-and-so is reported to be meeting what’s-his-name about a new job. AN Other is in talks with thingummy about a move down south. I mean, what’s next? Reports on clubs’ heating bills? In-depth analysis of a damp problem in one of the stands at Anfield? Even for football-lovers, those who don’t find the game dull and alienating, this transfer guff must still be pretty boring. So why is it so avidly read?

Bloody good question. (Though it does beg the question - that is, assume - that it is avidly read. Is it?)

Are other sports so hated and inadequate that their actual matches are considered less interesting than football’s behind-the-scenes admin? Is football really such a “beautiful game”, such an all-consuming passion for everyone except me and a tiny number of other freaks, that the majority cannot bear to be parted from thoughts of it even for a few weeks? If everyone loves it so much, am I being cruel for disparaging it at all, and not accepting its media domination as rightful?

Yeah, well, I wonder this too. But then I saw a picture in the Observer today, which showed a picture of Bill Nighy in front of some giant letters.

The way he was in front of them, the letters seems to spell out “AC NOW”. Hmm, I thought, sort of like AC Milan.. except this would be AC NOW, the great giant media creation with players so famous that they’ve moved beyond being famous for actually playing football. You know, like David Beckham, who - if I’m remembering this right - occasionally turns up for practice sessions with LA Galaxy, though nobody cares if they live, play or vanish off the face of the earth.

Well, why not have that? Why not a football team whose stars are all so famous they never actually play any matches? They’d just be the subject of eternal press conferences about who was going to join them, or leave them, or where their new manager - some celebrity in his/her own right - would appear in endless press calls talking about how their strategy would move forward now.

Of course there’d come a reckoning, when they’d have to play. But that’s OK: for the boss who runs the club, which makes millions from merchandising, finding ways to not get a match played is incidental. Oh dear, the groundskeeper sprayed weedkiller all over the pitch. Dangerous even to play. Oh hell, the lights failed. And so on.

I see it as a TV series - a sort of Trevor’s World of Sport, but in a football milieu. Seriously. Come on, it’s asking to be sent up. Get in touch..

Thursday 10 July 2008

Filed under: — Charles @ 2:07 pm

Roger Highfield leaves Telegraph to edit New Scientist: end of an era

Wow. Roger Highfield, who has been at the Daily Telegraph for 22 years, is leaving to edit New Scientist (for which I still have a lot of residual affection, having written for it during one of my years of freelancing, and worked there from 1992-95).

NS is a great mag: it’s one of four that I read regularly, every week. (The others are Business Week, the New Yorker, and the Economist.)

But the fact that Roger’s going - wow. It’s perhaps indicative of the Telegraph becoming a place he doesn’t want to work at any more (after all, it’s not often that one leaves a job because one is completely satisfied). Though of course I’m sure he felt this was too good to pass up.

The quote in the press release is interesting:

I am especially grateful to my editor, William Lewis, for the exciting and unprecedented opportunities he has given me to explore what the web has to offer journalism.

Though he may have decided that what the Telegraph had to offer science journalism - after the integration of the Sunday and daily science desks - wasn’t quite to his taste. (I don’t know, because I haven’t spoken to him. Come on, Roger, tell all.)

I’m intrigued, though: was the job advertised? Or was this done on the quiet?

Roger though was always the person who, at the exhausting week-long British Association for the Advancement of Science festival in September would be first there on Sunday night - usually having filed a story or two on the way - and one of the last there on the Friday, when he’d also organise a collection for the tireless workers in the backroom who kept the whole BAAS machine, especially in the press office, ticking over. You can argue about whether the BAAS is worth going to (doesn’t produce real stories) but the people who kept it going and served up scientists and speakers for us hacks deserved huge medals.

(And don’t doubt that the BAAS is exhausting for hacks. A week of 8.30am starts, in which you’ll do at least three stories per day, with press conferences every 30 minutes, and then a big boozy party thrown by someone or other in the evening.. and then come back and do it all again the next day. I did once do it on my own. A pleasant experience it was not. I was knackered.)

Two questions, then: will the Daily Telegraph replace him, and if so with who? Roger had enormous respect from scientists around the UK, because stuff he wrote tended to get in (although I’d have to say that Steve Connor at the Indie is far better at finding dramatic, original and important stories - he was one of the first journalists anywhere, I think, to recognise the importance of RNAi - the Indy site doesn’t seem to have that story, which is from September 2002).

I wonder if Will Lewis is considering trying to tempt Steve over now that Roger “F***!” Alton has taken over at the Indy? I’ve not heard anything about how it’s going, but I can’t imagine he’s made things worse. Then again, has he made them better?

Saturday 5 July 2008

Filed under: — Charles @ 11:08 pm

If newspapers were written by astrologers and psychics…

One of the enduring tales about “what readers want” in newspapers is that they want the astrology columns - take them out and people will either complain, or silently switch to another paper - and that they do respond to the “psychic help line” adverts (otherwise, why are there so many of them in papers?).

Building on the excellent work of the Churner Prize in running to ground precisely what the self-proclaimed psychic Patrick Hutchinson actually did in helping secure the conviction of an alleged paedophile (it turns out that Hutchinson, by his account… well, here’s what he told Churner Prize:

Suffice to say, when I gave the girl in question the reading at the demonstration it was directly to her, personally, giving the name of her grandmother and details of the abusive situation etc. There is, obviously, no way my conversation with the grandmother in spirit can be used as evidence because, even if everyone believed in the Spirit World, it would still be in the third person which is inadmissible in court. Having said that, the demonstration was referred to all though the trial as being the reason why the girl had been forced to tell her mum and in turn decided to report it and also why the other girls had felt able to speak up and come forward as well. Therefore, in the trial it was pointed out that if I hadn’t given her the message from her grandmother and in front of her mum then it would never have come to trial..

So, translated to what someone who doesn’t call themself a psychic might describe it as, he said something equivalent to “You know, you really have to tell these police about it.”

Yes, well. The Churner Prize (it’s about churnalism - geddit?) points to the papers that lapped up the tale of “psychic reading convicts paedophile” (is Mr Hutchinson in a hurry to correct their errors of fact?).

But I wonder: if this is so popular with readers, why not write the papers that way? And so here we go…

SOMETHING IS WRONG HOW IT AFFECTS YOU
By R. Psychic
A senior politician whose name begins with M, or possibly G, or knows someone like that, will face serious problem arising from abuse - perhaps of their expenses?
By Ann Astrologer
You may feel that this MP’s bad behaviour has affected you seriously. But a chance encounter at work, or before or after it, will show that you were right all along.
ECONOMICS: GETTING WORSE ..OR MAYBE BETTER STAR TRAUMA
by Gimeda Munny
Economics figures that will come out tomorrow show that your grandfather, who is watching this over your shoulder - look, just there - see? - was right when he warned that it’s all going.. it’s fading.. no, he says it’s bad, and Doris wants her tea. Was his wife not called Doris? Ah, perhaps it’s someone he took up with on the spirit side..
By Gimeall Yumuny
Your great-grandmother on your father’s side says you’re better off than ever she saw, the likes of it - does her name begin with a P? - they didn’t have the internet. No, I don’t know how she knows that it’s called the internet, given that she died in 1921. If you’d like to call my consultancy number on 0901 0901 0901 then I can explain fully, though.
A celebrity who is a Pisces [find a pretty one for cutout pic - Ed.] will suffer a shock in her [make that a female one - Ed.] life, and money troubles will add to the problems - a baby may be involved. [Just make sure it’s someone like Britney Spears and not somenoe who might sue - Ed.]

I don’t know why nobody’s thought of it before. Is it because psychics and astronomers astrologers (oops, ta, G) actually cost more than journalists? And if it is, why is that?

Friday 4 July 2008

Filed under: — Charles @ 8:01 am

To Downing Street, to see people. Such as Gordon Brown (out of a window)

Courtesy of Tom Watson, Cabinet Office minister, I was invited on Thursday night to 11 Downing St (I’d been in No.10 before, when Alastair Campbell stalked the earth). The occasion: a reception for “digital entrepreneurs”, though also - it turned out - to give a namecheck to the Free Our Data campaign as an inspiration to said minister, who says he wakes up and thinks “How can I free another dataset?”

Was I impressed? You betcha.

But while we stood listening to the speeches, I noticed (with someone else) that below us, on a patio, there were two people sitting in some chairs, with two bottles of wine and two half-poured glasses on the table in front of them. One of the men was wearing a open-necked light pink shirt, looked vaguely like Simon Cowell (slightly younger) from that distance. The other was.. blimey, it’s Gordon Brown, dressed in dark suit, dark shoes. Is there a prime ministerial uniform, then?

We couldn’t hear a word that was being said - too far away, through a window - but the hand and body language was fascinating. The younger man was a shoveller: hands together on one side, then both move across and push, or come together and push forward.

Brown listened intently. Once or twice he took a note, dragging a piece of paper from a jacket pocket. Once the other guy pulled out a single piece of A4, folded twice, blank on the back, and gestured at it as though it were a short list of things that weren’t quite right. Neither drank from the wine glasses while I was there. Brown sometimes leant forward, sometimes sat back. His body language was listening; then he began talking, and his hand movements were also shovelling, but they seemed like defensive shovelling: the palms turned outwards, as if trying to get something away from him. And then he too did the move-and-shovel routine. Take it from here, put it over there. Shovel, shovel, push and push.

There was something about the tableau that felt fragile. I could have taken a picture with my mobile, but it would have felt intrusive, rude -especially since we’d been asked not to take any pictures inside No.11. (Describing it here is different from a picture, which is just wrestled out of its context; here you have to imagine the scene yourself rather than have it presented.). It was a beautiful summer’s evening, the sun forcing through the trees wet with the heavy showers that had fallen earlier on. And two men discussed.. something, surely important.

It was fascinating to watch; we couldn’t figure out what they might be talking about. Policy? Spin? How to reach voters on some topic? What the effect of oil prices would be? Whether the NHS should impose choice? Who knew? But it was interesting as much as anything because it provided a picture of someone prepared to have a long, detailed talk, listening as well as talking, clearly accepting that he didn’t know everything about the topic. You don’t often see politicians in that unguarded state; only when you get inside the compound, beyond the razor wire, and see them at their ease do you get that insight.

Then they got up and went inside, still not having (in the time I’d watched) touched a drop. Perhaps Gordo prefers a whisky..

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