Friday 30 July 2010

The power of a pantone reference

In my industry - 'pre-press' - we used to describe ourselves, rather archaically and ungrammatically as being part of 'the print'. Sometime in the 90's when Apple Macs replaced paste-up and PDFs replaced film colour-separations we slipped into becoming a part (sort of) of the design industry.

So increasingly  I've come to understand how real designers like to distance themselves from the commercial consequences of their actions: Look in the coffee shops of Hoxton where all those young creatives have a copy of Noami Klien's No Logo in their messenger bags next to the latest Mac laptop. They're grabbing an over-priced Americano before returning to the studio to knock out another piece of work for some brand that's getting fat on the sweat of off-shored labour somewhere.

Here in London, today is the launch of the Barclays Cycle Hire Scheme. As has been said elsewhere it is probably going to turn into the most all-pervasive corporate branding deal we've ever seen. From a professional point of view I can't help noticing that the colour of the  branding that  appears all over the West End is that old favourite 'Pantone Process Cyan'.  

Conveniently  Barclays' corporate blue was there all along in TFL's own corporate colour palette. Was that convenience or conspiracy ? And what came first the branding or the deal ? Did the whole sponsorship/partnership spring from the mind of an executive with a design background ?

Sometimes I wish I wasn't associated with design - and its bastard offspring of branding - and that I could just get back to being 'in the print'.

Wednesday 28 July 2010

Small but necessary beginnings

Went to the meeting of our new local anti-public sector cuts alliance last night:

There's talk of these alliances mushrooming into a movement to re-energize the Left - and  analogies are being made with the anti-poll tax movement of 20 years ago. Maybe. I hope so.

It's a fairly modest start at the moment but it's easy to forget that there was a definite period of 'phoney-war' before the anti-poll tax unions took off. And  that there were distinct differences of opinion - over non-collection by council workers, or a boycott of non-registration, until the clear non-payment platform emerged. Even then it wasn't until the court summons were going out and ballifs were calling that the movement really spread beyond the usual activist suspects. 

I imagine it may well be the same this time around. This is complicated by what has been done to the public sector since the last recession - the insidious and diluting rise of quangos, agencies and voluntary sector bodies has made it harder to  see where the services are actually coming from. And there's no denying the ideological triumph of private good / public bad' that has conned a layer  of working class people into being turkeys looking forward to Christmas.

But these complicating factors are eclipsed by the simple truth that inner city areas like my own, with industries long gone and a crumbling and overwhelmed social infrastructure, need public services. Desperately. Taking away what is already inadequate could just  be lighting the touch-paper that ignites a movement.

Until that happens it will be a case of patiently laying the ground work and getting the structures of resistance prepared - much as it was in the early days of the poll tax. This isn't necessarily going to be easy - if TUSC was euphemistically called 'a fragile coalition' - then this could be doubly so.

Even last night I saw Labour Lefts who were upset every time it was mentioned that it was a Labour council who would be administering the cuts, anarchists who were strong on community networks but flinched at the idea of a trade union sponsored conference, and of course enthusiastic Swoppies who  everyone else suspects will hang around  only until a better offer comes along from another campaign.

Maybe it's just  a case of keeping this hanging together for a few months - events have a knack of overtaking everything else...    

Friday 23 July 2010

Cop-killer v killer-cop

I'm struck by the ironic juxtaposition of the Raoul Moat case and the refusal to prosecute PC Simon Harwood - the killer of Ian Tomlinson at the G20 demo:

Raoul Moat was enraged with a grudge against the police - hence the  unprecedented mobilisation of armed police to hunt him down in the almost farcical replay of 'Rambo - First Blood' that obsessed the nation for  a few days. (Although  as events unfolded I couldn't help noticing that the same newspapers carried footnote stories of more 'expendable' inner-city youths stabbed in  parts of the country where the crack police units and their media entourage conspicuously weren't).

On the other hand PC Harwood gets a free pass from the CPS,  despite  being so psyched-up and spoiling for a fight that he assaulted an innocent by-stander who wasn't even on the demo he was supposed to be policing.  

And despite having all this captured on camera - and witnessed all over the world - there apparently isn't even a case to answer. Nor has there ever been for any other police officer in this country who has  killed a member of the public.

Tuesday 20 July 2010

Sleepless sportster owner seeks fix

I'm prone to insomnia at the best of times. These muggy Summer nights don't help. But I'm also somewhat obsessive about my bikes - if one isn't working it gnaws away at me in the small hours. 

Following the 10,000 mile service on my grey bike it was running sweetly and I thought I'd treat it to a bit of TLC. A thorough clean (that doesn't happen often) and a bit of cosmetic tinkering - including re-locating the tacho. And then when I came to fire it up in the evening -  nothing. A quick check showed no spark at the plugs. Fuck-ety Fuck  Fuck -  I hate electrics.

Seat off, tank off, check all connections, spray them all with WD40 - still nothing. Get out the multimeter and the service manual and pretend that I know what I'm doing. There's power getting to the coil but still no spark. Maybe's there's water in the coil from where I washed it. Leave it overnight - but still no spark in the morning. In the evening  start looking at replacement coils on ebay. Go to bed - can't sleep.

Then it comes to me. What happened in between it sparking and not sparking ? I'd only been thinking of washing it and the possible introduction of water somewhere it didn't belong. But I'd moved the tacho' too - what if something was wrong there ? It's an electronic item so it is linked into the bike's main circuit - could a short there trip the ignition ? I'd like to say that I checked the wiring diagram but I have to say that I tend to find these as useful as hieroglyphics. But I do remember the Sherlock Holmes axiom though: 'when you eliminate the impossible whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth'.

So  I got up early in the morning. Took the tacho apart. Put it back together. Flicked the starter - and bingo. Fuck yeah - I can't recall being so pleased with myself for a long while... then I remembered that it was my own  initial cock up that had caused the  problem in the first place.

Monday 19 July 2010

Multi-culturalism up close ?

The other day we were invited to a family barbecue party. The couple hosting it are a 'mixed marriage' - he's Jamaican and she's Bengali. Both cultures big on extended family and hospitality - hence a large party with lots of kids playing on a water slide in the garden - and mountains of great food brought by the guests. And also two cultures superficially on an apparent  collision course: The Jamaicans  loud and extrovert - the women colourful in skimpy summer finery. The Begalis decidedly quieter -  separating into distinct pockets of men and women - with the latter dressed in varying degrees of modest Islamic dress. But in fact  just  enjoying a bit of rare sunshine, tucking into the food and watching the kids enjoying themselves managed to  cut across any divisions and everyone just got on with having a good time.

This is what multi-culturalism looks like in practice and it's such a typical everyday scene in most parts of London that I wouldn't ordinarily even bother to mention it. But then this weekend I see that some   of the Sunday tabloids were cheering on the French ban on the hijab - and claiming that there is a consensus to follow suit in this country (presumably following a quick straw-poll taken from the regulars at the 'Racist's Arms' somewhere in Middle-England-shire). 

Personally I feel pretty strongly that religion - in all its forms -  is mad, bad and often both.  But I'd challenge anybody who advocates any sort of state  ban on its expression - whether a racist bigot fretting over the erosion of 'English-ness' or a crusading secularist liberal - to come and spend a sunny weekend in North London and enjoy a dose of simple live-and-let-live. No apologies  if that sounds soppy and naive; the consequences of living any other way just don't bear thinking about ...

Friday 16 July 2010

Raoul Moat - rogue male ?

The Rauol Moat saga continues. Pop psychology/sociology would have it that the bizarre solidarity shown for him in death (30,000 fans on Facebook and piles of tribute wreaths) taps into some kind of alienation of an emasculated white working class. I find this deeply depressing. 

In fairness no one with a healthy distrust of authority couldn't help, initially at least, to see the funny side of hundreds of paramilitary keystone cops failing to find a lone nutter hiding in a small area they had thoroughly surrounded. But then as Moat's  back-story emerged other reactions took over: On the one hand, displaying a-sinking-of-the-Bellgrano-like sensitivity the red-tops reacted to Moat's death with triumphant 'Got Him' headlines - as if a rabid dog had been dispatched. And on the other hand the myth-making started in certain quarters as Moat emerged as an everyman folk hero.

But the whole point of the myth of the romantic outlaw (and it's the myth that matters here) - be it  Robin Hood or Jesse James -  is built upon the idea of the home-loving, peace-loving man who is forced to take up the sword in pursuit of righting some perceived injustice. Moat -  a  bullying inadequate, self-pitying and misogynistic, a wannabe fantasist obsessed with weapons and body-building, with a revenge psychosis fed on a steroid addiction, and  a record of domestic abuse including an attack on a nine year old girl - hardly belongs in this pantheon of folk heroes.

The argument that he was  a victim of a syndrome affecting the post-industrial working class male who has lost his role in society, or some kind of metaphor for our  times, belittles the vast majority of ordinary men who  struggle to find their way through economic and personal hardship, suck it up  and just try to do the right thing. Without attacking their loved ones or any other innocent who happens to cross their path. And it's these working class men - and women - not middle class liberals, who have to share the same estates and town centres on a Saturday night with violent  lumpen-ised nutters like Moat.

Monday 12 July 2010

It's not every man that can live off the land*

I took a day off for what has become my annual pilgrimage to the Fens - it's our version of  vast open spaces and big skies in this little country: A bit of an overhaul for the 'grey bike' and a chance to catch up with my  friends who have swapped their inner-city custom bike shop for a small-holding up there.
My friends aren't unique - there's a whole little economy  of small-holders, making a living by trading with each other, supplemented by  odd bits of casual work  (such as working on Harleys). They also support each other - one of their neighbours  was hit by a car whilst I was there -  and everyone was rallying around to help tend his animals whilst he was act of action. 

You could call it a  kind of localised communalism or mutual self-help. It's not necessarily about hippies or townies fleeing to the country. Most of them seem to be ordinary people with connections to the area - possibly returning after some time away  - or after farming has skipped a generation in the family. They are not middle class drop-outs like Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall.  They just want to promote a traditional way of life and do something 'real'.

There's  an ideology that goes with this that's suspicious of big business, mass production and factory farming and  promotes local small producers, 'real' products and low-intensity agriculture. The Fens is an area where cheap Eastern European casual labour in agri-industry is well established so it could easily be  xenophobic or racist -  but actually it isn't. Animosity is mainly directed at the supermarkets who are forcing the race to the bottom. There's  a  definite disdain though for a generation of 'native' locals who are prepared to go along with this, and lack the gumption to do something for themselves.

It's not a lifestyle  for everyone. Politically it isn't a viable alternative on any meaningful scale to the rat race. But  I'm damn sure that my friends get more satisfaction from their work than I am getting from mine at the moment. 

* Every time I visit I'm reminded of the scene in Easyrider when they stop over at farm to fix a puncture and share a meal with the family. Wyatt turns to the farmer and says: 'It's not every man that can live off the land, you know. You do your own thing in your own time. You should be proud'.

Wednesday 7 July 2010

Dated but still true

I found myself staying up last night to watch BBC4's documentary 'To Kill A Mockingbird Turns 50' - followed by the 1962 film version of the book. I hadn't seen it or read it for many years - becoming a standard text in schools or featuring in  lists of 'must reads' is a death sentence for any book: 

My memories of the film (and the story itself) are of of it being very dated: The brutality of Southern segregation undeniably  sanitised for genteel consumption - very much anti-racism through the lens of the white middle class.  I'm pretty confident that history shows that justice - social or racial - doesn't come through benevolence  or enlightenment but from struggle and self-emancipation.

But emotionally, the simple message of the humanitarian need for empathy cuts across this sophistication. On a practical daily basis, when forced to rub along with every kind of -ism, small-mindedness and ignorance you keep coming back to the simple wisdom of Atticus  Finch; You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view... Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.

Which is why an old cynic like me found himself slightly choked up at an old black-and-white film in the small hours of the morning.

Friday 2 July 2010

'Leave them kids alone...'

There's been a regime change at my daughters' school. Dressed up in modern management speak about 'outcomes' and 'milestones' it seems to be a profoundly reactionary attempt to turn educational values back thirty years. Most visibly evident in a new uniform code that requires pupils to wear blazers and staff to wear 'smart office dress'.

Rather more sinister though is the creation of a biometric database of the pupils. To allow cash-less payment for meals in the school canteen. For fuck's sake! Whatever happened to 'dinner money' ? Or, if the intention was to save the humiliation of those pupils who get free school meals - then how about a pre-paid swipe card system ?

As I get older I get more paranoid about the creeping pervasiveness of authority's surveillance and control. Collecting and digitizing kids' fingerprints to create a database  suggests a normalisation of this kind of thing under the guise of a seemingly  innocuous pretext. In a couple of years we will probably next see an introduction of RFID tagging of pupils on the grounds of monitoring their  health and safety. 

Education has always had a large component of socialisation  - and it seems that kids are now being conditioned in their formative years to accept the Big Brother state. 

Judging by the small minority of parents who have opted to take their kids out of the scheme it looks depressingly like that sinister shit is working.