Saturday, 20 February 2010

Beware the silly horse, bearing (unwanted) gifts

Here’s the deal: I own a horse, you have a big stable. So you look after my black beauty and hire him out to make money, and I get a trot or a canter when I want one.
A fair arrangement? I think so.
Now let’s suppose, unexpectedly, you write to me and say, “we have made available, carefully selected to suit your lifestyle, a menagerie consisting of six goats, three rabbits, a brace of pheasants and a duck. All of these are potentially of great value to you, and therefore we now propose to charge you substantially for the stabling of your horse, which we will continue to hire out for our profit.”
At which point I reflect that I have no use for goats, rabbits are three-a-penny in the marketplace, pheasant is a delicacy I disdain, and I already sourced my own duck.
What should I do next?
Moving on, here’s a letter I received this month from Lloyds Bank, about an account I opened a few years before the start of the ultimate quarter of the last century (coy, moi?):
Dear Mr Wintle
Your gold account gives you access to a range of services worth up to £452 a year that can help you save time and money. Up until now you’ve been enjoying
[no, I haven’t] the extra benefits of your account without paying the standard [???] monthly fee, but as the costs of providing these services continue to rise we will now need to start charging you the standard [???] fee of £12 a month [or you could say, £144 a year]...
We’ve carefully designed your gold account to complement the way you live. In fact, every two minutes one of our added value account holders is rescued at the roadside thanks to the breakdown cover provided through their [sic] account [I have no car; don’t drive; but besides, who is this unhappy klutz whose car breaks down thirty times an hour? and why don't Lloyds save themslves time and money by supplying him or her with a vehicle that works?]. We’ve negotiated with some of the UK’s leading market brands to make sure you’re getting the best quality products and services, including...
Well, it’s a fistful of insurance policies, in fine, which I either don’t need or have already got elsewhere, plus an airmiles scheme “with 6.5% cash discount on holiday bookings”. Wow, gosh and golly.
I’d like to have been an eavesdropper at the brainstorm when this tosh was devised. There clearly wasn’t the collective mental firepower around the table to fool a five-year-old with the three card trick.
But it does occur to me to ask why they couldn’t have written something like this:
Dear Mr Wintle,
We screwed our business so badly with a lousy acquisition and shoddy lending policies that you and the rest of the UK’s taxpayers had to bail us out and now own 41 per cent of the company. We’re still on schedule to lose £-billions this year and we’ve got to pay the boss, Mr Eric Daniels, a fat bonus on top of his £1-million salary. Help! Can you spare us £144 a year?

(Answer? “No”.)
Footnotes - February 22, 18:20: the BBC just announced that Mr Daniels has agreed to forfeit his bonus of £2.3-million. February 26, 08:25: Channel Four reports that Lloyds has revealed pre-tax losses of £6.3bn for 2009, after taking a £24bn hit on bad debts.

Monday, 8 February 2010

Worshipful Guild of Media Trainers: AGM

The Annual General Meeting of the Worshipful Guild of Media Trainers was held in the upstairs chamber, the Lens & Pen Inn, London EC1.
Members present included “resting” actors, former political advisers, sidelined PR practitioners, “life” coaches, redundant BBC presenters (female; over the age of 35), sundry other superannuated reporters and camera-people and the usual phalanx of casualties from Mrs Thatcher’s bargain-basement ITV auction of two decades ago (most still smarting from, and whining about, the injustice of it all).
Addressing the meeting, the President, the Very Worshipful Bro. A. Djing-Hack, said it would be no exaggeration to say that the profession, or craft – for so he preferred to describe it [applause] – was facing the greatest crisis in its long and venerable history.
He was referring, he explained, to the recent appearance of the former Prime Minister, Mr Tony Blair, at the Chilcott Inquiry into the war in Iraq.
The President continued: “In the welter of commentary and analysis that followed, one observation became a refrain: that Mr Blair was now so skilled in the art of performance – indeed, had been coached to become so consummate an actor – that it was impossible to tell whether he was lying or speaking the truth.”
Members of the Guild needed to assess the impact on their techniques of what now appeared to be an incontrovertible truth: that the end of their craft, once perfected with any client, would always be to produce a spokesperson in whose performance no-one believed.
A member interrupted to argue that this la-di-da "performance" business was all very well, but it was the job of a media trainer to get the client to memorise three key messages and rotate them against whatever question he, or she, might get chucked at him, or her.
The President said he was well aware that the Worshipful Bro. belonged to the PR school which asked whether clients had been “media trained” in the same tone of voice that a spinster aunt, invited to look after her sister’s toddler, might ask, “has he been potty-trained?”
However, he was missing the point that whichever school one adhered to, the final objective was to generate the impression of sincerity, and it now seemed that however skilfully it was done, the public had rumbled the difference between an impression and the real thing.
Another member agreed. She said that only the other day a fully-trained spokesperson from a wildlife charity, having used the correct opening gambit with properly furrowed brow, “I don’t know if you know this, but we’ve lost over half of our ancient woodland,” got in reply: “No I didn’t. Have you tried looking under the stairs?”
The President thanked the Worshipful Sister for her useful digression, or rather, underscoring of his argument, and said he would like to develop a debate on this thesis: that while it was possible for, say, Mr Ian McKellen, whether playing Estragon or Gandalf, or Miss June Brown, whether playing Dot Cotton or Nannie Slagg, to achieve truth and sincerity because they were acquiring and asserting a character other than their own, it was impossible to achieve truth and sincerity when attempting to act the part of oneself.
There was something Faustian about this, but he wasn’t quite sure what it was.
The first member re-interrupted to say this was what happened when you started using highfalutin words like “craft” and “performance” – you ended up vanishing up your own never-mind-where, blathering about Faust. What was needed were three key messages which could be rotated...
The President, with use of the gavel, silenced the Worshipful Bro. and said he was repeating himself [member: "that's the point!"], adding that if he (the Worshipful Bro) had no interest in the theoretic aspects of the craft, he (the President) couldn’t see why he (the Worshipful Bro.) bothered to attend the AGM.
The Worshipful Bro: “theoretical aspects of the craft [accent], my a***. Go to hell.”
The President: “This is hell, I think.”
The AGM adjourned in some confusion to the downstairs bar.