September 29, 2010

Freddo just left a comment in my last post, asking why I hadn’t addressed this hilarious live TV blunder from Australia’s Next Top Model.  Poor Sarah Murdoch!  You can see the precise moment that she realises what she’s done: 39 seconds in she gets the most brilliant ‘oh SH*T’ expression on her face.

Given how horrendous that situation was, I think that the three people on stage handled it incredibly gracefully.  (We’re not actually up to this series yet in the UK, but watching it when it is eventually televised here will take on a whole new dimension, knowing how it ended).

Another excellent blunder yesterday involved Harriet Harman and David Miliband at the Labour conference.  For those of you lucky enough to avoid being subjected to UK political news, David Miliband lost the Labour leadership race over the weekend: the victor was his younger brother, Ed.  David was the front-runner for much of the race, but Ed won the support of the unions and that tipped the balance.

It would appear that David is not in a Good Mood as a result and isn’t afraid to spread some cheer, as this clip shows: he call out Harman for clapping Ed’s ‘the Iraq war was wrong’ comment by asking her what she’s doing, given that she voted in favour of the war at the time.  If you don’t want to sit through the entire 4+ minute clip you can whiz through to the 3m30s mark to see it. 

The clip is a good account of Ed’s first speech as leader, though.  Although I know absolutely nothing about the guy (it’s fair to say that I’ve paid no attention to the leadership race, beyond hoping that the loathsome Ed Balls would fail), he seems fairly sound if this coverage is anything to go by.  Towards the end of the Blair/Brown era it seemed that the Labour government were Tories in all but name, so centralist in the policies that there was nowhere for left wingers to turn (hence people voting Lib Dem, I think).  Ed seems keen to reclaim the left-of-centre ground and I think it will make him popular with more traditional Labour voters.  He’s also keen to ensure that the unions don’t mistake his support of them for tacit approval of whatever hare-brained wildcat strike action they might plan in response to Government cuts in the public sector, and thank goodness for that.  At some point soon I’ll tell you exactly what I think of the strike supporters, with particular focus on the total and utter dickhead who is Bob Crow, the head of the transport workers’ union.

BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE!  Check out this excellent collection of photos of David Miliband looking like a loon, courtesy of the website Enemies of Reason (and discovered by me because of a link posted on Facebook by the lovely Anthea).


The September Issue

September 5, 2010

This morning I watched the documentary film The September Issue (for the first time, even though it came out a couple of years ago).  It was fascinating to see what goes on in order to create a huge issue of Vogue (and handy for me, as there’s a magazine-related sub-plot in the book I’m writing).  Anna Wintour seems to be freakishly controlled as a person, but the real star of the film was the fantastic Grace Coddington, the magazine’s creative director. summed up what happened very well (and it’s a good review of the film, if you haven’t seen it): Wintour agreed to the film being made, but Coddington became the star when she demonstrated through her interactions with designers, models, Vogue staffers and the camera crew that she is passionate, real and warm.  Wintours suffers by contrast: she comes across as very focussed, but strangely dispassionate.  And she seems to be entirely lacking in personal charm.

A great moment occurs when Coddington decides to feature members of the film’s camera crew in a photo shoot.  Wintour likes the resulting photos, but she can’t resist making a snide comment about the less-than-svelte figure of one of the cameramen (while the same guy is filming her), telling him that he needs to go to the gym.  She really gives the impression that she’s somebody who has been indulged to the extent that she is now slightly cruel just for the hell of it.  It’s very unattractive – and she does it with a little smile on her face, as if she thinks that she can claim that she was only joking, if anybody takes offence. 

Anyway, the cameraman is there when Coddington checks in to find out what Wintour thought of the shots.  He mentions that Wintour asked for his stomach to be Photoshopped smaller and Coddington expresses such exasperation at Wintour’s attitude and the lack of recognition that normal people don’t look perfect (and that this isn’t a bad thing).  She tells the cameraman that he doesn’t need to lose weight and she totally overrules Wintour regarding the re-touching, and gets her way in the end.

I particularly liked Coddington because she reminded me a great deal of my friend Sarah, who works with me at the firm.  Sarah is older than me and has had a more interesting media background than mine.  She’s worked at the firm for several years and is responsible for our in-house magazine, published four times a year.  I like her enormously because she has all the qualities which made Coddington such a hit in this film: she’s hugely intelligent; she approaches her work with real integrity (it would be easy just to fill a law firm’s magazine with dull puff pieces, but Sarah takes her work seriously and always strives to create issues with genuinely interesting and well-written stories: similarly, Coddington seems to approach every part of her job with passion, wanting each photo to be beautiful because beauty is a worthy goal in itself, as far as she’s concerned); and she’s wonderfully droll and dry, always giving you the impression that she’s watching everything unfold around her and finding it gently amusing.  It’s an admirable way to be; although she gets annoyed about work issues at times, it seems that she manages to keep things in perspective for the most part.  And Sarah is a really nice friend and colleague – thoughtful, kind and interested in the people around her.

So I enjoyed the film very much, but a large part of the reason why was because it reminded me of how fab it is to know Sarah!

Tony Blair’s memoirs

September 1, 2010

I have no great interest in politicians as individuals and am unlikely to buy any ex-PM’s memoirs, but in the case of Tony Blair’s effort (all over the newspapers today) I’ve come over all ‘literary critic’ because the extracts are a bit of a worry :

Despite their personal relationship, Blair admits that from the moment he was told of her [Princess Diana’s] death, he was “trying to work out how it should play”.

“I know that sounds callous,” he reveals. “I was genuinely in grief … but I also knew that this was going to be a major national, in fact global, event like no other … I had to work out how it would work out.”

‘I had to work out how it would work out’?  A firmer hand needed by the editor, I think: that’s a really clumsy sentence and sounds like it was written by somebody with a limited vocabulary (which obviously isn’t the case).  ‘I had to work out how it would unfold’ would have been better, or ‘I had to work out what might happen’.  Give me the manuscript and a red pen and let me get to work, Mr Blair.

Literary criticism aside; good on him for giving all of his royalties and profits to the Royal British Legion.  And to anybody who digs for an ulterior motive or sees the gesture a the sign of a guilty conscience at work (which certainly doesn’t seem to be the case, given that Tony Blair still thinks he did the right thing with regard to deploying British troops), I say the two things that I invariably say in the face of cynicism about the philanthropy of others:

Firstly:  Motives don’t matter when it comes to making a charitable donation.  If a celebrity donates money to a cause in order to get column inches or a company sponsors a charity to get positive PR, the result is the same – people get helped.  And people who need the help of charities couldn’t give a toss about the reasons why the philanthropic gesture was made.  People use this fear of how motives might be analysed as an excuse to do nothing.  In the UK I think that the horrible, cynical media has a big part to play in this – they love nothing more than to cover a silver lining with the grey clouds of their waspish criticism.

Secondly:  Nobody has a right to judge the philanthropic gestures of others.  In particular, I have noted a bit of correlation between cynical attitudes about philanthropy and cynical attitudes about charities in general: often, the people who bleat about the Beckhams giving money to a children’s charity because it will get them on the front of Hello magazine are the same people who will complain because the Chief Executives of large charities earn suitably large charities, as befits their role as the head of a large and complex organisation.  And in many cases I suspect that the cynics do nothing philanthropic themselves, and they make themselves feel better about their own miserable natures by criticising everybody else.  I appreciate that I’ve made a bit of a sweeping statement there, but (without naming names) I have personal knowledge of people who would fall into this ‘be critical and cynical about everything’ category.

Let’s face it, everybody could do more to help the less fortunate people in society.  Take me as an example: I donate money to charities on a monthly basis through my firm’s payroll giving scheme; I sponsor friends and colleagues when they take on fundraising activities for good causes; I’m a trustee of two charities; I’m heavily involved in the local operations of another charity; I’m a governor at a primary school; and I send my professional life encouraging other people to support good causes with their time, skills and money.  In many people’s eyes this might seem like a pretty decent effort. 

However, let’s not forget the following:  I get paid a decent salary for the work that I do; the volunteering I have taken on does not cause me any great inconvenience beyond giving up a few evenings every month for meetings;  the money that we donate to charities each money is a fraction of what we save into my pension and our ISAs (and a fairly small fraction, at that); and we don’t do anything more hands-on, like actually spend our weekends helping people.  I’m not down-playing what I do already – I know that it’s fairly respectable – but it shouldn’t give me the right to criticise what anybody else is doing or not doing. 

I know that I have made fun of celebrities for this very reason in the past, like when I read that the model Laura Bailey (who often mentions her charitable endeavours) spends £1,000 each time she gets a hair cut.  That’s a flipping expensive hair cut and she could do a lot with that kind of money, but again: I really have no right to judge her.  People could judge me just as harshly because I spent a lot of money on a posh handbag earlier this year and that money could have sponsored several children for the year, instead.  And now I feel quite bad about buying that handbag, thinking of it in those terms.  And also quite bad about judging Laura Bailey: after all, I don’t know how that compares to the amounts she might donate to charities every year, and in any event it’s none of my business.  And now I wish that I hadn’t written anything to out myself as occasionally cynical about the philanthropic gestures of others, but I’m going to resist the urge to delete the previous few sentences in the interests of demonstrating my point.  And as a lasting reminder to myself to not be such a dick in the future (in judging others, not in outing myself in this manner).

If anybody chooses to do something to help the wider world – by donating money, volunteering, working for a charity or whatever – we should collectively celebrate it.  We shouldn’t grumble about whether or not they’ve given enough money or why they might have done it.  That attitude is hardly likely to encourage more philanthropy, is it?

Boastful PM

August 31, 2010

Sometimes New Zealand really cracks me up. This article tickled my fancy: this quote from John Key (NZ’s Prime Minister) in particular:

“In the first instance what we get is personal relationships so if I needed to ring up the President of the United States I could do that and he would take my call.

“And that’s partly because I have developed a personal relationship from getting to know him at Apec or the nuclear security summit.”

He said that was true of other leaders too.

He was making the point that it is necessary for him to spend a lot of time abroad in order to develop good relationships with other world leaders, but I loved the way in which he sounded like a kid boasting about his cool friends.