Monthly Archives: December 2009

Ballet all weekend…!

It’s really been a week full of ballet for me. I did go to see the Royal Opera House Nutcracker back on December 2nd. I love the ROH production. The tree is just the best in the world. It rises into the rafters of the ROH and I never fail to get excited by seeing it once again.

But, last weekend I went to see Matthew Bourne’s production of Swan Lake on Saturday and then the Birmingham Royal Ballet’s Nutcracker on Sunday.

I remember being at the premiere of Bourne’s Swan Lake back in 1995 with Adam Cooper as the Swan and Scott Ambler as the prince. I saw it several times back then, I saw it on tour, I saw it when Simon Cooper replaced Adam at the Piccadilly theatre, and I saw it when it returned to Sadler’s Wells about two years ago… this is a show I have seen a lot. And I only had cheap seats for this performance, but it was magnificent.

The show has not aged. In fact, after watching it again I started appreciating the dance more than ever before. There are a couple of really beautiful waltzes and pas de deux in this show and sometimes the humour and musical theatricality of it can detract from the ballet. But this time when I watched, I really noticed the dance above everything else and that really cheered me.

Matthew Bourne has choreographed some other fine shows. He is an amazing talent, but he must surely be able to die a happy man knowing that this production is getting better as it gets older. And I was such as fan of Adam Cooper before he started dancing for AMP, back in his Royal Opera House days, so it’s surprising to think it could be bettered.

Then, on Sunday I jumped on a train from Euston in the morning so I could see the BRB Nutcracker at lunchtime.

One of the things about matinee Nutcrackers is that they are often filled with kids, and this was no exception. The Nutcracker is a show filled with Christmas spirit and many dancing children (the BRB show featured kids all the way from Elmhurst), but I just love the score. Sometimes I’d really love to hear the entire Tchaikovsky score without listening to kids munching on Monster Munch or asking their mum ‘Who is that magician guy?’ or listening to a mother telling her child that the Arabian dancers are Egyptians…

I’d be moaning too much if I suggested that I didn’t enjoy the show, and the atmosphere in the crowd is also one of Christmas fun with all those kids around, but even so. I guess if I want to enjoy the music I can just listen to the ROH recording on my iPod anyway.

The dancers at the BRB were good though. I don’t really know any of the BRB dancers so I was not being selective in who I saw. Momoko Hirata was the Sugarplum fairy when I went. It was extremely good and surprisingly I really liked Act 2. I usually prefer the dance in Act 1 much more than Act 2, but the BRB show was special from the moment Clara appeared after the interval, flying across the stage on a huge swan.

So, I really had a weekend full of dance. And now I am off on a trip to Brazil. Guess which show I am going to go and see on Saturday at the main theatre in Sao Paulo?

The Nutcracker!

Journalists – what a pain!

A journo recently asked me about a book I wrote two years ago: Building a Future with BRICs. He was interested in writing about it, so I got the publisher to send him a copy.

He then sent me a long list of questions – several pages long. I started working my way through, writing answers to him, but it was dumped into my draft folder most of the time as I had a lot more urgent things to get done. He chased me. I told him I was working on it and would get it back to him as soon as possible…

He never gave me a deadline, so I assumed it was OK to just keep on filling it in bit by bit and to mail it to him before the Christmas break. A deadline and some sense of how urgent it was would really have helped, but I thought it was OK to keep answering slow and steady…

However, I got a mail from him yesterday saying:

“Disregard my interview requests.

My editor has decided rightly that it’s not worth keeping the story on
the docket since you appear to have no interest in talking to us. I
now have no interest in talking to you.”
Well, Dennis I’m not the joker sending out question lists without a deadline so I’m really not interested in talking to you either.

84-year-old hoodies

Sometimes I wonder if there are people out there who were born without any common sense at all. Take a look at this story about a shopping centre in Cambridge. The shopping centre has a ‘no hoodie’ policy. So a security guard instructed an 84-year-old woman that her hood had to be lowered. She was shopping with her husband, also 84. Did they appear to be a threat to other shoppers?

I remember facing the same problem myself last year in Manchester. I was with a friend and we had been out to see Ricky Hatton’s comeback fight at the Manchester City ground. The fight was over by around 10pm, so we went into the city to get a drink and have a chat. I had a hoodie on, but I don’t think I’m all that threatening… and I’m closer to 40 than 20. But we found it so hard to get into the pubs with their ‘no hoodie’ policies that I just had to take it off and walk around in a T-shirt.

Everyone seems to be covering their back with the blanket enforcement of ridiculous rules. The age checks for alcohol sales are another example. I can understand stores having a policy of checking people who look under 25. That’s sensible and protects their staff, but why do some places have a blanket enforcement policy – no alcohol sale without ID? Take a look at this BBC video. There are stores out there with blanket bans on serving people without ID, even if they are clearly in their 70s!

When did people in the UK lose all common sense whatsoever?

Is it a crime to be a ghost?

As I scanned what my Twitter friends were saying today I saw a tweet expressing shock at hearing about ‘corporate ghost blogging’. I noticed a few tweets mentioning the subject today, probably as a result of the discussion going on at the Dell B2B huddle in Bracknell.

Ghost blogging elicits a shocked response from many in the online community, who believe that it’s no longer real or engaging if a corporate blogger has had all the work done for them by a writer.

It’s certainly true. There is a lot of corporate spam out there – particularly on Twitter. Accounts that just advertise various products or services are not what I’m focused on at all – or interested in.

What interests me is where do you draw the line and say that a blogger is no longer a ‘real’ blogger because his/her material is ghosted?

I work with companies in several sectors, including IT, law, consulting, and in many cases I am involved in drafting blogs. I see it really as an extension of the corporate writing work I’ve been doing for ages. Companies used to ask writers like me to come up with ‘Thought Leadership’ or material they could use in ‘white papers’.

For corporates, blogging is a natural extension of this earlier thought leadership. They want to be seen with a voice, an opinion, and some knowledge about the industry in which they operate – and all without a direct sales pitch.

So when we talk about ghost blogging online in shocked and horrified voices, let’s start drawing a distinction. When I do it, I’m taking rough blog drafts from executives and turning their copy into something worth blogging, making their use of language more direct, making the comment more open-ended to encourage debate. I’m not writing the blog for them, I’m just polishing up their own efforts because most execs either have a shortage of time or a shortage of writing experience. To a journalist, cranking out 200 words is easy. To a busy exec with no journalism experience, that’s half a day sitting and writing then improving the copy.

Sometimes I will write an entire blog, but that will be based on a conversation with the exec – who is normally rushing around somewhere in a taxi or limo. It’s not crafted from the depths of my own mind.

So, if I’m polishing up some executive thoughts and making them worth blogging, then is that really cheating?

If people think it is, then they might want to have a look at the serious press. Take a look at all those guest columns where captains of industry have sent 800-words to the editor on a burning issue. Do you really think that CEO sat down and crafted the newspaper column without running it past someone to tidy up?

Twitter is another topic entirely. As many companies have found, it’s difficult to create a corporate account and expect thousands of avid followers to come and follow a stream of press releases. Executives making Twitter work well are doing so because it’s short, direct, and personal – and written by the person on the profile.

So where do we draw the line with ghosting and blogs?

Rat in mi kitchen

The Z-list celebrity Gino D’Acampo (who he?) has won the TV reality show ‘I’m a celebrity, get me out of here.’ Moments after winning, he was arrested by the Australian authorities and charged with animal cruelty for allegedly killing and cooking a rat during his time on the programme.

He has claimed that the strict rice and beans diet while being ‘in exile’ forced him to catch and kill the rat, so he and his fellow contestants could have some meat with their food.

The reaction in the British press appears to be one of indignation. Puns on the word rat are being bounced around, and no doubt this will only increase Gino’s marketability… he is a TV chef after all. Though, I’d never even heard of him before this event, so as far as I am concerned he is just a TV chef who cooks rats.

There is a lot of surprise being expressed online on the blogs and in the media. How could cruelty to a rat be an offence when people like Rentokil are paid to round up and kill vermin?

Yet, the one thing many people are not asking is when did killing animals for fun become prime-time TV? These celebrities were not suffering. They were not lost in the outback starving to death and in desperate need of this rat. They just calculated that by killing and cooking a rat, it would get a few more column inches. It would serve to increase their own popularity by creating additional controversy.

They calculated correctly, but I hope their plan backfires in the long run.

This TV show uses the ‘Bush-tucker trials’ as tests, to see how far the celebrities can go to earn food or other rewards. These trials often involve being forced to eat insects or other live animals, or being covered in live animals. Since when did this abuse become entertainment?

I predict that in five or ten years, TV critics will cast an eye back on ‘I’m a Celebrity…’ and shake their heads at what we once considered entertainment for a weekend evening, rather like looking back at old footage of the Black & White Minstrel show today.

I just got a new niece today!

Last night, at about 12.23am, my sister gave birth to a little girl at Frimley Park Hospital – Elsie May Symes. It’s the same hospital I was born at, though when I was born it was much smaller and on a site down the road from the present location.

Congratulations to both Jamie and Caroline and I’m really pleased to hear that the labour and birth all went well. I haven’t heard the full story from my sister yet, but I did hear that there was a fear of complications so she was rushed into theatre. Fortunately it was all OK though.

Elsie weighs 3.4kg, which is a pretty good birth weight and it’s all especially pleasing because she is about two and half weeks early.

Dad Jamie will be pleased at the early birth though. He had pledged to not touch a drop of alcohol in the last couple of weeks of Caroline’s pregnancy, so he could always be on standby for the big event… which would mean a few football games without a pint. And the danger with that pledge was also that if the baby was a few days late then he would have an entire Christmas without a single glass of advocaat!

Fortunately the baby chose to be born earlier and mother and baby are both well. Now dad has an excuse to crack open some Champagne today!

Aftermath of the second Ealing Tweetup

On Friday night we had the second Ealing Tweetup, at the Rose & Crown pub.

We managed to block together a few tables and a good crowd came along to talk together in person, rather than just on Twitter. It was a really good evening and a chance to catch up with some people from the Tweetup last May as well as find some new friends.

There was quite a political flavour in the air this time as Lib Dem councillor and Ealing parliamentary candidate Jon Ball came along for a pint as well as Julian Bell, Labour leader of Ealing council and researcher for Ealing MP, Virendra Sharma.

Regardless of the fact we managed to end up with Labour and Lib Dem politicians, we all had a good time. Possibly that was because we never had any Tories joining the party 😉

Each time I’ve arranged this now, I’ve just kind of put it together almost randomly. When I’ve tried to get a consensus on date and venue I have struggled because there are so many people who might be interested in joining, so I’ve just personally decided on the pub and date and hoped that people would come along. I think it might be a good idea to try deciding a date well in advance for the next one though, so we can get more organised and can even try promoting it further with some ads at the local stations or something.

How about a Sunday afternoon this time? Sunday March 28th… one week before Easter. How does that sound to everyone? We can continue to use the same venue as they have space, and a garden in case the weather is nice that day… plus they do nice Sunday lunches so that might be an additional attraction 🙂