Archive for the ‘Reflections’ Category
I’m a Londoner born&bred. A total Londonphile. I’d have a London passport if I could. And my hobby is being a flaneur with a camera, wandering around the city aimlessly taking photos.
Today I’m taking a staycation and headed off for Paddington. I’m now sat on the bank of the Grand Union Canal a bit beyond Little Venice in the Spring sunshine.
When I went on a similar (un)mission on Saturday it struck me for the first time that London really is in danger. I headed to Borough as a starting point. I really couldn’t find any real people to photograph – just sheepish tourists in queues at a market with no proper stalls selling largely non-local food. I remember enjoying eating in the shadow of Southwark Cathedral not that many years ago – I couldn’t even find where that was. There were just wall-to-wall visitors chowing down legs crossed, penned in. I couldn’t find anything worth eating.
I retreated onto London Bridge and headed over into the weekend City. It was punctuated with cranes. Building sites everywhere. Fox, a shop established in 1868, with its silver Art Deco frontage was empty.
I bussed out to The Angel to the canal. Rammed with French speakers (and I’m happy London is now the 5th or 6th biggest French city) adding, in the lack of variety, to the feel of a city being smoothed over and having the edges knocked off. I managed to get some good shots with the camera I just bought the Enfants Terribles but it was an unusual struggle.
On my way out today I picked up a copy of Time Out. The cover was Save London. So it’s obviously not just me feeling this vibe. This is the first time in my life London feels under real threat on a Blitz scale. Property developers who don’t care; dirty money playing Monopoly; Euroblandness; buy-to-let neglect; chain everything death by consumerism; a wash of global sameness from the Internet age and Capitalism eating itself.
The city I love is in real peril. Better a Dornier than a Subway.
A special evening at the Phoenix
Originally posted on Dr Sue Black:
Having spearheaded the most recent campaign to save Bletchley Park and being part of the campaign to get Alan Turing on a banknote I was very apprehensive about seeing the new film “The Imitation Game” starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightley. The Imitation Game is based on Andrew Hodges biography of Alan Turing and his codebreaking work at Bletchley Park during WW2.
I spent several years of my life trying to raise public awareness of Bletchley Park and the contribution of the more than ten thousand people who worked there and have learnt a lot along the way. I’ve had conversations with several people who knew Turing, including his nephew and nieces and have spoken to many Bletchley Park veterans over the years.
I was apprehensive about seeing the film because I really didn’t want to see a film like “Enigma” again, a film which I’ve never actually managed to…
View original 1,320 more words
Passed a poster on the street of the president of Uruguay – he looks like a friendly granddad. Seemingly he lives in a modest house in the country, drives a VW Beetle and has a dog with three legs. After a harsh Mandela-like imprisonment for years, he came to power and leads what I understand is a benign, liberal regime. Certainly the city has a good vibe, a bit slower than Buenos Aires, sunny disposition.
Another thing I saw on the street was ‘mate’. People young and old were walking along with a small, rounded glass in one hand holding a silver spoony thing with perforations and in the other a thermos of hot water. Nothing like a nice hot cuppa sitting in a car park with a blanket on your lap. This is the world of trendy students and enamoured young couples and they’re all sucking at their infusion of dried leaves of yerba mate.
Talking of leaves, we took ours of Uruguay before noon, back on the boat. Luckily there’s still some proper old-school bureaucracy in Argentina/Uruguay so I’ve managed to amass a decent set of stamps in my new passport. The immigration officer I just encountered had a slightly daunting look with Amy Winehouse type tattoos on her upper chest and knuckles – turned out to be as charming as can be.
As we pulled out of Montevideo we got to see the ‘monte’ in question, a green hill overlooking the city, now surrounded by favelas. I didn’t see much poverty on my visit but that’s tourist life for you – I often heard references in MV and BA to areas being safe or not. A bunch of Mexicans were playing a raucous game of cards on the boat back, adding a bit of analogue to the digital life of cameras and phones around them.
Took my leave of Damian back at the Hotel Plaza. Saw a sepia image of it with the Graf Zeppelin flying above this morning. I’ll catch up with Damian again in London when he comes over for Power to the Pixel and Mipcom in a couple of weeks. Also said by to Vale, who may be over in London in a while. Great trip, fine travel companions.
For my last half-day in South America for now I headed over to Palermo Hollywood, the chi-chi quarter of cafes and design/clothes shops. Had a late lunch which turned out to be the best meal I ate in Argentina – coated chicken in orange and tequila sauce. Combined with some cool jazz, a bit of birdsong and a great people-watching crossroads at Borges and El Salvador everything aligned for a beautiful meal. Wandered the tree-lined streets after taking a few pics and looking for a couple of gifts for the Mrs and the Enfants Terribles.
Headed back to the Plaza for a quiet evening and a not too late night. Very comfy beds by the way if you’re into sleeping equipment.
South America Day 9 – BA-LHR: Adios Amigos
So here I sit at Puerto 9 awaiting the plane home. Nothing much to report – pack, breakfast, taxi, airport. It’s a grey day in Buenos Aires so ideal for leaving.
What do I take away with me?
This is a (surprisingly) friendly country. Everyone I met here and in Uruguay was invariably warm and polite. They do this one cheek kiss all the time which beats a handshake. All friendly except a single grumpy taxi driver who can kiss my Irish arse ;-)
There’s a terrific enthusiasm for learning and competing, developing and pushing the boundaries in digital media and beyond. Whatever the economic pressures, it seems a well organised country which should have everything it needs to thrive, not least a terrific younger generation.
Bottom line, a fabulous trip sweetened by lovely people.
And then the sun came out…
And then I got three empty seats in a row on the plane…
Argentina is separated from Uruguay by the River Plate, which from the shore looks like a sea. On the Argentina side it is muddy brown. On the Uruguay side, a bit bluer. It takes around two hours to cross by boat. Valeria, Damian and I boarded from the modern passenger terminal in Buenos Aires, built only two years ago, complete with a wall of falling water.
I spent much of the journey doing my Spanish lessons on Duolinguo. Lo siento, no hablo Espagnol. Funnily enough, I got to use that phrase on Uruguayan television later in the day.
The journey is a flat expanse of calm river, punctuated with the odd vessel but otherwise without features. Eventually the Uruguayan mainland looms into view, and then Montevideo, a largely low-rise city. On disembarking we passed pretty much the whole of the country’s navy in port, grey hulks labelled 1 to 24 under huge yellow cranes.
We were picked up by a colleague of Damian’s from TV station Estudio 9. She drove us along the coastal road, the Ramblas, a crescent promenade bordering the river-sea. We went first to Channel 10 where Damian did an interview on a daytime show. He was preceeded by Chico Novarro, a famous Argentine romantic singer of boleros, and his leather-trousered son, a well-known actor. The two presenters and crew were really welcoming and friendly, especially the older host who couldn’t have been warmer.
Everyone in the crew, cameramen, sound, the works, were on their phones the whole time they were shooting. I watched a voice-over artist at the side of the set do the sponsor presentation live, delivering each bit perfectly and on time then returning to his magazine the second the mike went off.
The set was a comfortable house with living room, kitchen and (fake) garden beyond the French doors. Damian chatted in the kitchen with the younger host (with whom he made the multiplatform show Conectados a couple of years ago) and efficiently got across his activities with Mediamorfosis.
We left the beautiful shade-dappled side street where Channel 10’s studio is located for a hotel in the city centre, not far away, it’s a bijou city. After dumping our stuff, the three of us walked ten blocks to the old city centred on Independence Square (this is Uruguay independence from Argentina). It is defined by the old theatre Solis, a strange masonic tower and a stone arch – very atmospheric and typically hispanic.
We had a late lunch outdoors (a lovely fresh white sea fish steamed with carrots and onions). Then I dragged them in to a beautiful late 19C book shop with high shelves, a book-lined balcony, a stained glass window half-way up the stairs and a café up above. If I lived in Montevideo, this would be my HQ.
Also at my request we popped into the Torres Garcia museum next door in a tall old townhouse, five or six narrow floors high. Joaquin Torres Garcia is Uruguay’s most famous Modernist artist. The early work on display (like Adam & Eve) shows the influence of Cezanne, Picasso and Gauguin. He lived in Paris, Barcelona and New York. Other roots seem to be Klee (searching for a symbolic universal picture language) and native South American Indian art (flat hieroglyphic planes). He was clearly both a restless experimenter and a relentless theorist. Note to self: pick up a book about him on my return.
We then headed off to El Observador newspaper in a quiet, more industrial quarter, beautifully designed offices in black and white, stylish. I had a look around the newsroom, then got roped into an interview despite my Duolinguo Spanish. That’s when I got to say “Lo siento, no hablo Espagnol” on air. We talked about the future of TV and media with a similarly stylish young journalist with blue glasses (Dame Edna Everage-style but dialed down and cool).
Off for a siesta listening to Kind of Blue (= perfect siesta length, finishing on flamenco vibe) then over to Estudio 9 where Damian and I were doing a two-hander evangelising transmedia. The venue was a black-curtained studio, subtly lit in the beautifully lit and decorated former dance hall. We had fun doing it, it seemed to go down very well.
From the studio we headed out for a suitably late a l’Espagnol supper in a former market with various folk from the British Council Uruguay office. In the corner of the open-to-the-air market (a bit like Spitalfields market) was an enclosed space with windows housing a tango school. Tonight was tango night so I got a chance to watch some regular couples at work. I liked their ambition. When I eventually got back to my 8th floor room I realised what I was looking down on was the corrugated iron roof of the mercado. So I fell asleep in Montevideo listening to the sounds of tango from below.
It’s been a good while since I’ve been on a plane with propellors. This one was quite magical. It flew low (i.e. in clear sight of the ground) out over the River Plate / Rio de la Plata, a rich muddy brown colour, as extensive as a sea, Uruguay visible only as a thin strip in the distance on the other side; along the muddy water (which of course is silvery or argentine in the sunlight) into the enormous delta region; and on over water-level land bisected by the meanders of the river (Rio Parana) and divided by myriad channels, very little sign of habitation or human presence.
We landed in Rosario, Argentina’s second city, 50 minutes north-west of Buenos Aires. It’s largely a human scale, two-storey urban sprawl, all in square city blocks, with very varied architecture (very little sign of any planning control or heritage building restoration). Some very elegant buildings among the hideous blocks. My companions Damian, Valeria and Robert and I landed in one of the class ones – the El Cairo cafe, once the cultural and literary hub of Rosario thanks to the writer Roberto Fontanarrosa, El Negro, a son of the city who hung out every afternoon with his compadres to talk culture, politics, football and all the stuff of life. Damian once optioned some of his short stories but found them impossible to realise in practice due to their fantastical nature – Mars is not an easy location.
A couple of doors down is the El Cairo cinema, a beautiful 40s art deco picture palace decorated with palm trees and orientalist details, redolent of Casablanca, Rick’s, the Blue Parrot, all those usual suspects. It has a huge screen and a rich crimson womb-like vibe. The boss of the cinema, the charming Arielo Vicente, took us down to the old railway station by the river. In the British-built, red brick railway terminal, which was specially opened for us, is now a fabulous children’s project, a space for children and their parents to come at no cost to hang out together and do arts activities from making clothes to welding scrap-metal sculptures, from manufacturing paper to reflecting on memories.
Adding to yesterday’s list of things that have cemented themselves in my head about this place and its people:
- Argentines think a lot about what’s public
- The advent of democracy in the mid-80s is a major watershed in their consciousness
- They are very good at crafting attractive environments
- They seem remarkably friendly and warm to each other too (I watched an emblematic scene in the airport today of a man and woman returning the mobile phone of an old fella who hadn’t realised he’d lost it – lots of goodwill and smiles).
There were lovely details in the old railway building – a glass wall at the tracks end creating a compelling view along the still extant tracks, the old ticket windows, some well worn wooden stairs up to the first floor (where there’s an animation workshop with a refreshingly analogue, hands-on focus).
We had a drink at the riverside (Rio Parana) before returning to the Cairo where I followed Damian giving a talk to an audience largely of students and young Rosarians about what’s exciting about ‘transmedia’. The queue for the event was out the door and down the block. Really enjoyed chatting to the young folk afterwards and joining them in their selfies.
As the red neon El Cairo sign illuminated (a distant relative of the Phoenix sign in East Finchley) Arielo took us back to the river, beside some massive, beautifully painted grain silos (now a modern art museum) to a fantastic modern restaurant where I ate paku, a river fish that really tastes of river, a fascinating muddy aspect to the taste which I enjoyed more than the natives (not to be confused with pako, the cheapest, nastiest derivative of cocaine, which was the subject of my attempt at Spanish wordplay, feeble but given how little Spanish I know not altogether unworthy. I started learning Spanish today in the footsteps of 20.2M other Duolinguo users. I’ll try it out on my Argentine amigos on Monday.) Washed it down with a beer, the right drink at the right time, although no native cerveza to be had.
Though no beer was really needed, we all felt buzzed by the positive response to the El Cairo event and the youthful energy in the air.
Wow, where did that come from? One minute I’m walking along with three charming lunch companions, the next minute the rain and hail is so intense I can’t even see across the street to the Audio-Visual District HQ in an old market building, open to the air. As previously reported, it’s Spring here and seemingly that means extreme shifts of weather. This time yesterday I was sunbathing on a stone seat – now I’ve ducked into a cosy but lively café, the Decata, with thunder and lightening punctuating the background music in here.
Lunch was very enjoyable in a German-owned place which gave me the chance to switch from my Spantaliano to Deutschpagnol. My three companions were a young TV presenter-producer who fronts a show in Venuezuela, a fella from Colombia who loves punk (Pistols Tshirt yesterday, Clash today) and a translator-scriptwriter. They filled me in on the harsh realities of the closed economy here (pretty much the opposite of London and what makes it tick – advantage of being an island, where trading is second nature) and I felt their frustration at how it hemmed in their creativity, natural entrepreneurialism and energy.
This morning I went back to Mediamorfosis to listen to a session on multiplatform history by Alvaro Liuzzi. His project on the Malvinas conflict 30 years on was particularly interesting. Veterans joined in the Twitter narration by publishing extracts from their long-forgotten war diaries. A journalist found an undeveloped Kodak disposible on the islands and used the project to help track down the soldiers who showed up in the developed photos.
Next up was Robert Pratten of Conducttr, an East Ham man who talked through the very interesting and well integrated Twitter game he developed for Canal Plus in Spain for Game of Thrones. He had some keen observations on patterns around transmedia which were great food for thought. He, like me, places great emphasis on the centrality of the audience.
Damian Kirzner who organised Mediamorfosis is the long lost twin of my friend Jim Dwyer in Dublin. I’m going to make a point of engineering an opportunity for them to meet face to face. Damian pressed his two teenage sons into service as well as his good lady wife making the whole thing a delightful family affair, lovingly crafted. The two boys couldn’t have been more solicitous in taking care of dad’s Brit mate.
The storm has somewhat bollocksed my planned flaneur activities for the afternoon so I’ll sit here Hemingway-like on the trusty Air (in my head a portable Halda) and rethink…
The solution was meat.
Two and a half days in Argentina and no red meat. I had to do something about it. I headed across town with Robert and a taxi load of super-friendly Argentine women from Mediamorfosis to the Teatro Picadero where, beside a newly and beautifully restored theatre, warmly lit throughout, was steak. Not the stake of stakeholders and other arts jargon from subsidised theatre. Steak as in the two truckloads of cows I spotted on Day 1 coming in from the airport. We had dinner hosted by Marina Marchesotti, boss of the Picadero, along with people from the British Council, the Picadero and Direct TV from LA. Red wine flowed. A pile of meat duly arrived. The evening flowed happily.
A couple of things that have cemented themselves in my head today:
- Argentines do a single kiss – consistently (no European double, even men do it much of the time on other men)
- Argentines commonly have Italian names
- Apart from the grumpy taxi driver on Day 2, everyone here is genuinely friendly and warmly welcoming.
The sun has put his hat on. The tree-filled Plaza San Martin looked the business as I taxied across town past the main station and through much more impressive neighbourhoods, greenery, space and Euro-elegance.
I spent the morning at Mediamorfosis, a progressive transmedia conference lovingly arranged by my friend Damian Kirzner, a producer and passionate advocate of multiplatform story-telling. We first met at the International Emmys in Cannes a couple of years ago, both nominees. We tried to hatch an ambitious Anglo-Argentine multiplatform environmental project focused on the South Atlantic but it floundered on the rocks of British realpolitik. Shame because the sea-life there is seriously under threat.
At Damian’s invitation I did a turn trying to get across what’s exciting about transmedia and where the opportunities lie. It seemed to go down well so hopefully it may inspire a Latin or two to come up with a multiplatform creation which works this side of the water.
Took a long hike across the city with a Columbian student along tree-lined streets of two-storey European-style buildings through the extensive area known as Palermo. Reminded me of similar streets in Toronto, Tel Aviv and Paris. We talked drums, jazz, politics – thoroughly enjoyable wander. One highlight was a beautiful bookshop of high wooden shelves with a tranquil cafe secreted at the back – where I would definitely hang out if I lived here. The only book in English I saw was by Jamie Oliver.
Which brings me to Shakespeare. I’m still in the garden near his bust as mentioned on Day 1. I’ve had a fine siesta in the sun. Read some more ludicrous stuff about Nazis in Lisbon. And am about to head off on the hour walk back to have cocktails in the media district.
If you ever wanted to know the value of Scottish-English union it’s perfectly captured in John Martyn – born in England, educated in Glasgow, genius fruit of the union of an English mother and Scottish father – and if you voted today in the Scottish Independence referendum I hope his words guided your hand:
Can’t you see it in my eyes? I’m saying
Don’t you go
So many reasons you should stay here, baby
Don’t you go, don’t you go
So here I am sitting in a land colonised by Scots (at the Beech Hill in Derry) following the outcome of today’s vote. I’m genuinely and deeply concerned about how things turn out. As I watch this non-television let me set out 4 of those ‘reasons you should stay here’, 4 reasons why it would be a shame (in its true sense) for this family of nations to be torn apart…
1. The history of the world is one of the ebb and flow of the scale of our nations, seeking the optimum size to organise ourselves at. Roman Empire too big. San Marino too small. Scotland is too small too. It is not a substantial enough market to thrive. You only have to look south from here to the Republic of Ireland and, for example, to my industry, television/media to see that 4-5M people does not enable you to compete effectively or have a stable base from which to work outwards. 63M constitutes a really good market from which to radiate.
2. Diversity strengthens, tribalism diminishes. Genetics makes this very clear.
3. If Scotland leaves the UK, by definition it becomes a competitor and although a neighbour, effectively only on the same basis as Ireland, Norway or France. Any business with a UK remit will no longer have any duty or strong rationale to buy from Scottish suppliers.
4. There’s so much conflict and shit in the world, we need to find family and friendship, unity and co-operation wherever we can.
Here’s hoping unity and being greater than the sum of our parts wins the day.
Update 06:08 19th September 2014
The voting results have reached their conclusion. We remain together, for which I’m grateful. My hopes are these:
That the incredible energy released by this exemplary exercise in peaceful democracy with its turnout of a standard-setting 86% is channelled into [Alex Salmond is just making making his speech of defeat as I write – he just used the words “at this stage” with reference to Scotland’s decision, typifying once again his weasel nature, given his promise to respect the result] is channelled into making the future of Scotland an even greater success.
That Scotland with all that energy becomes a powerhouse alongside my own native London in driving this union forward.
That the massive issues facing our united kingdom of inequality and poor representation, the need for social justice and sustainable living get tackled by all our populations. As a lifelong non-Tory, non-Labour voter I’ve never had a vote that truly counted.
That we do not take one another for granted as nations and revel in our strength together.
The Great Escape (1963)
This one (from the year I made my debut on earth) is for me his most memorable role as an actor – as Bartlett, who can forget that tragic end, machine-gunned in a field by the heartless Nazis alongside his stalwart Scottish buddy, MacDonald (played by the ever dependable Gordon Jackson)?
In Which We Serve (1942)
His fresh faced debut, already a screen presence to be reckoned with. Directed by David Lean and Noel Coward, a suitably English place to start.
My hero well captured by the talented young Robert Downey Jnr. under the assured direction of Dickie.
Cry Freedom (1987)
I remember this one opening my eyes to the outrages of apartheid South Africa back in my university days. Denzel Washington was powerful as Steve Biko and first came to international prominence under Dickie’s direction.
Richard Attenborough was instrumental in the establishment of Channel 4 – Deputy Chairman from 1980 to 1986 as it got on its feet and Chairman from 1986 to 1992 through its golden age.
He was also a key leader in BAFTA, associated with the Academy for 30 years and President for over a decade.
I interviewed Lord David Puttnam about him recently for my book, When Sparks Fly. I was thinking of including him in the Film chapter (Choose Life) which focuses on Danny Boyle. With its central theme of the creative rewards of openness and generosity, Attenborough struck me as the cinema embodiment of British public service values. Channel 4 and BAFTA are just two of many appointments which demonstrate his prodigious energy and unfailing commitment to public service media/arts, from the brilliant Chickenshed Theatre to the Mandela Statue Fund.
There’s something about trains that’s very conducive to thought.
But let me back track. The last time I wrote about the progress of When Sparks Fly was over a month ago when I was in Toronto. The way I’m working on it is not as I’d planned – a regular pattern, albeit less concentrated, like when I was on sabbatical. In practice what’s happening is that I get fits of inspiration, often after reading something stimulating, and I’m writing in intense bursts. So I’m switching now to monthly reports.
During Month 4 of the post-sabbatical phase (i.e. May) I went to meet a big publisher – the first I had approached. It was a good meeting, good chemistry and strong interest. What became evident from the meeting though is that I need to start the book slightly differently. I wanted to plunge in in media res of a striking story about murder, drugs, guns and writing. To suit this publisher I’d need a more conventional intro. I started work on the intro on the train up to Sheffield for DocFest last Sunday as referred to in History Boy.
Today I was headed in the other direction to Bournemouth to visit the university with Enfant Terrible No.1 who is interested in Advertising and in Digital Media. Despite it being an early start for the weekend I had the double delight of (a) finding that the first half of the intro I wrote last week (when a bit drunk on champagne from a party just before travelling), which I thought was a bit of a stream of consciousness blurt, was actually pretty coherent and (b) finding an elegant way through to the end of the piece which flowed well into Chapter 1. So by the time we got to Bournemouth (stopping occasionally to watch the England-New Zealand rugby test on ET1’s phone) the intro had been wrestled to the ground and I had a complete draft with which I was contented, even excited.
After the university visit I walked down to the sea with Enfant Terrible No.1 and came out by chance where my grandparents used to have a flat, at Elizabeth Court by the cliff lift. Quite a nostalgia trip. Took photos of the building and its view on my phone, conscious of the fact mobile phones were scarcely invented last time I was in that spot.
Off the back of the visit I got an invitation to come and talk about the book and its Advertising chapter on Paul Arden as a visiting lecturer. That will be fun to do pre-publication to road-test the material.
As part of the response to the publisher I also changed the sub-title. He advised that I broaden the scope from a tight focus on Creativity. I had no problem doing this as that was inherently in the text. So I altered it from “the creative rewards of openness and generosity” to “the creative & personal rewards of openness and generosity”.
This week I’ll revise the Proposal document accordingly and send the intro and revised Proposal back to the publisher. And carry on writing the Film chapter on Danny Boyle. A couple of DVDs arrived in the post on Friday including, neatly enough, Film4’s Trainspotting.