Monday, November 30, 2009

Premature Decoration

Last week, around the 23 November, I noticed the first house in our street with Christmas decorations proudly displayed in the window, festive lights-a-flashing.

We're accustomed to seeing this in the shops, but in your house-come on; it's still almost 5 weeks before the day.

Today I noticed quite a few more.

One person had a Christmas stocking as well as lights in the window.

Another had their tree fully decorated standing in their window.

Looking at the houses displaying early Christmas cheer, they usually look as if some sparkle in their life is desperately needed.

I tend to put my decorations up around the weekend before the weekend before Christmas.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Walk This Way, Old Street

Having turned the corner, I'm into the second section of my walk to work.

The road looks amazingly clear, but it is a busy road leading into the City (via Old St, straight on to Moorgate and then to Bank). But I am not walking at my normal time - it is round about 11am.

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Thw walk to work takes me past a mix of housing, traditional estates and modern build.

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I'm following the curve of the glistening road.

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Here you can just see peeking between building and tree one of the Barbican's three towers.

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It may be raining, but there's still someone taking the fresh air on the balcony.

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Buildings always in a state of flux. I'm not sure if this is exactly where the zone ends. Certainly it's around here that the second section of my journey ends. Though, we will see Old St again.

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Perhaps it ends when I've crossed over here from East Road to City Road...

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Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Why Does God Make All The Beautiful People Gay?

If I had my life again, I would want to come back gay.

Oh for sure life is challenging and so very difficult. I've faced prejudice at school and at work.

In my family life it has caused pain and distance.

Before I came out I led a double life. Then a split double life. My friends knew I was gay, but my family did not. So, not only did I have to tend towards fiction with my family, sometimes, so too did my friends.

One of my very good friend's mother knew my aunt very well. I would take my bf to my very good friend's mother's for tea, meals and yet when she met my aunt she had to make the effort of my making to respect my sensitivities and not reveal my hidden life.

So, others knew of my happiness and my whole. But not my parents. The people who really deserved to share...

Another very good friend is gay. But he is in the closet - sometimes to himself - and that has made life so difficult for him.

When we meet at the airport I have to shake his hand. Just in case a colleague is there who will recognise him.

Yet, as difficult as life may be, I have met the Mexican Ambassador, the Olympic Representative, the Czech Millionaires and the Underground Criminal Millionaire Who Was Pardoned. I have met rent boys (in a non-professional capacity) at parties with nth generation royalty.

I chatted with the Original Tennis Iconic Lesbian when I found myself standing next to her. The Knighted Stonewall Actor has wished me well.

I have sipped champagne under the stars with the Unhappy Film Star on a beach in Ibiza, until 7am.

Dinner has been taken sitting next to a Right Royal Correspondent in the flat of Maggie's famous Times Correspondent.

I've had sex with the Someone Who Is Overexposed (true to that tag I visited our new local deli on the day of writing this. The radio was on, and there he was discussing his work-life balance).

I've dined and drank with Eurovision contestants when we went to the contest and found ourselves in the same hotel as many of them. I wouldn't even have thought about going to Eurovision if I weren't gay.

If I were straight here is what I predict my life would have been:
  • same place 1992
  • 1992-1996 get serious with a girl
  • 1999 get married
  • 2001 first child
  • move to 3 bedroom house in town
  • 2003 second child
  • 2006 third child
  • 2007 move to very big house in suburb
I'd still be in or about Aberdeen. I'd have a huge house for the family, a loving wife and 3 children making my parents so ever-so happy.

My work would be a little challenging, and I would rarely come across the challenges I do now.

The transactional stuff would be far less value and profile.

I'd be bored. I am currently, but I'd be so much more bored there. The opportunities would be infrequent.

Sexually I would probably be far less experienced.

With sexual encounters comes learning. For me it has not just been physical. It has been cultural, self-validating, self-liberating and learning about myself.

I've loved and suffered as much as I would have had I been straight.

Yet, if I had my life again, I'd want to come back gay.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Walk This Way

Every morning (unless it is totally teeming down with rain-in which event I must leave extra-early to have a chance to get on the bus) I walk to work.

It gives me the chance to think about the day ahead of me. To plan. To reflect.

Part 1

I walk out the door and see the plant I bought the weekend I moved in. I love that it changes colour with the seasons. Rusty brown in the Autumn, luminous green in the Spring.

When I turn to lock the front door, I see the site next door. Currently it looks like a Gormley work in progress.

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Heading down the street there's Seaview Cottage, which hasn't. More traffic jams. This occurrence comes only 3 weeks after last roadworks finished, allowing only the briefest respite for smooth flowing traffic.

I cross the road. I've never gone through here. I look to the greenness beyond the gates most mornings. I think it is an artists' collective.

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Artists are never far from Hoxton.

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I could cut across the park, the hypotenuse, following the path your eye is taking you down now. But I never do.

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Instead I go through the park, with this on my left.

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Hackney pushes into Islington, and I find myself walking in the second borough of the day. Rats and razor blades, research and evolution. I always wonder what they're about. The other half of that block is entirely residential. It's a strange mix.

So I continue through (rather than across) the park. Straight ahead in the 2nd picture below.

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That's a photography studio on the other side of the rock to my right, with Shoreditch proudly emblazoned on my left.

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Pub. Decent homes. Polish car wash. London's version of England.

The walk to work is compartmentalised in my mind, broken into different sections. Some feel and look different, but there is no hard and fast defining difference.

It's all about how it feels.

When I turn the corner I'm on the second part of my walk to work...

And while I'm walking, I might be listening to some music.


On this one skip to 3.30 to get the incredible Almost There. Go to 6.30 for the money-shot music equivalent.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Farenheit Twins @ The Barbican

Last night mon C and I went to see The Farenheit Twins at the Barbican.

The play is based on Michael Faber's short story of the same name.

As I've read before, Faber's writing is difficult to categorise.

His 2005 Farenheit Twins collection consisting of 17 short stories has genres as diverse as the locations they are set in.

Told by an Idiot bring their rich and inventive style of storytelling to Michel Faber’s unsettling and poignant tale.

Adapted from the dark and fantastical short story by acclaimed author Michel Faber, The Fahrenheit Twins tells the tale of a brother and sister who live with their scientist parents on a remote arctic exploration station. They spend their days racing huskies across the wintry tundra, rolling in the snow and recording key events in The Book of Knowledge. Their existence is unusual but very content, until one day their mother unexpectedly takes to her bed and life for the twins is never the same again.

Funny and savage, The Fahrenheit Twins is a tender tale about childhood interrupted by life’s cruel turns, and the irreversible progression towards becoming an adult.
from Barbican.org
All the references to a sweetly chilling fairy tale are clearly signposted.

The set, imposing and looking like a Tate installation, is thoroughly effective and adaptable (rather like actors Hayley Carmichael and Paul Hunter who portray the abandoned twins), as much fun to anticipate as the twins frolics are to watch.

Sound effects are also used extremely well in Matthew Dunster's production.

At just under 1hr 20m with no interval, it was far more endurable than last week's Architecturing.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

The De Beauvoir Deli Co.

Serving De Beauvoir with the finest bread, meats, cheese, smoked fish, antipasti, coffee, and wine

The De Beauvoir Deli Co. recently opened in our area.

Their website isn't yet operational, but they do have a facebook presence. I'm not on facebook, so I'm not sure whether they have more information available about their organisation - particularly the background and experience of those who run it.

In the absence of any, this review only hazards a guess based on my experience as a customer.

Our time is now

The first few weeks of opening for any retailer is a critical time. It is in that time that customers will form an opinion. That opinion will in turn determine whether they might continue to provide their custom, or not.

In that time I experienced 3 significant issues. Limited opening times, limited stock and thoughtless (rather than intentionally poor) customer service.

Times, they are a-changing

On their first week I turned up twice, only to find the owner/manager sweeping the floor and offering nothing more than a genuinely apologetic shrug. I had to wait until the following weekend before I could spend some money there.

The problem was that they closed at 7pm, which seemed to me an incredibly shortsighted strategy.

I don't think that I'm wrong in guessing that their target market is the upwardly mobile professional. Location and pricing would support that assessment.

Less than 6 minutes and about 2 miles from the heart of the City, De Beauvoir and the Islington environs around the deli are home to many City professionals. Like myself, (especially when Xfe's not here) many of them will return home of an evening, picking up something en route for dinner at home on their way.

But, as with my own experience, it is unlikely they'll be getting home before 7pm during the week.

Being a new, sexy-looking venture on my doorstep I really want to support the shop, if only because it's an antidote to the Tesco Metro that had opened only a few months earlier about 500m further down the street from the deli.

But I felt incredibly frustrated having made the deliberate decision not to stop in past Waitrose on my way home, and to buy something for dinner from the De Beauvoir Deli Co. instead, only to find it closed.

I couldn't leave a comment on their facebook wall, so instead I phoned the owner/manager (I did ask if he was either and he told me he was, so I don't know which he is; but let's just call him Peter) and told him the closing time was too early.

He tended to agree with me - his own experience in the hour he shut-up shop and tidied up had been that 7-8pm would certainly be a busy time given all the people who had called in past only to find the "closed" sign when they got off the bus on their way home from work.

They now open until 8pm which means that I am able to catch them before they close when I get home some weekdays.

I'm guessing Peter had done his research, but hadn't really thought it through sufficiently to put it into effective practice in that critical opening period.

Plenty of good intention served with a pinch of business naivety, perhaps.



Invite me to buy something I don't want to buy

A low and limited stock during my first few visits suggested a limited cash-flow on start-up, (or a rush to open - a bad strategy to open with low stock).

Fresh produce was lacking. Preserves and longer shelf-life products were more apparent. That's understandable - shrinkage hurts the bottom line.

That suggests that Peter's pockets are not so deep; of course it's not the best climate to open a new business with financiers being less supportive when it comes to borrowing.

Happily on more recent visits, stock levels are looking up, but there is still far less fresh stock than a deli (in my experience as a consumer) typically seems to offer.

Know your product, attend the customer

Some 3 or 4 weeks after opening, it is the sometimes service that still frustrates me.

Today after waiting to be served....

...and waiting....

....patiently, fume level rising, I started to be served by Ophelia (names have been made up to protect the innocent) when in the middle of serving me, two friends of Peter asked if they could leave a note they had scrolled on a napkin or a brown paper bag for him (instead of finishing serving me, Ophelia decided to tell Peter's chums all about recent events. Peter who has gone head first through a windscreen, is ok it transpires, with only a nasty gash on the forehead but no serious injury) which she then took and disappeared off with - leaving me in the lurch still waiting to pay for my chilli jam and bottle of wine.

On the point of walking out.

On the point of walking out for the second time in 3 weeks, I was contemplating leaving my purchases on the counter. And leaving.

Then, insult to injury, Ophelia came back and abruptly went off to clean up some pâté following an interruption from the other girl behind the counter. No apology, no explanation.

This was after, first time around waiting to buy a coffee, I had to wait while server 1 was attending to someone, and Ophelia went off to speak to someone else (who had made some produce for the deli - still warm - instead of serving me or any of the others waiting patiently and politely in line).

Sometimes service at the De Beauvoir Deli Co. is not a problem. Often it is.

Take heed. That's sometimes -vs- often in the wrong proportion for success.

In particular

  • the system for serving those who wish to purchase stock while coffee is made and served from the same counter doesn't work; though the coffee is delicious, those waiting simply to buy their bread sometimes have to wait and wait. Even though it might be the finest bread, there's only so long people will stand while one person froths the coffee and another wipes up around them or waits to make another.
  • staff do not know the produce.

The De Beauvoir Deli Co. have a rather nice Chilean Merlot that I rather like. When it wasn't on the shelf one Saturday afternoon (a busy time when sales could be maximised) I asked if they had any in stock.

The server told me she didn't even know what that was. I told her it was one of the red wines they stocked. So even before she went off to look for it I suspected her efforts would lack success. Needless to say she came back empty-handed having failed to find any of what she didn't know she was looking for in the first place.

Indeed it is the service that betrays the most amateur aspect of the De Beauvoir Deli Co.. It has the feeling of a co-operative run by well intentioned but ineffective friends who have got together because opening the deli seems like a good idea.

Deal or no deal?

Two weeks ago my forecast was that Peter is definitely going to go out of business.

There are, happily, improvements of recent, but I still fear that there is a more likely than not probability that could happen. I hope not though.

I really want the deli to succeed (of course if Peter doesn't someone else will step in and pick up the pieces; only I'd rather it retained the independent charm it currently has).

They are an enthusiastic bunch at the De Beauvoir Deli Co.; they just seem to lack consumer service awareness. Something that is easily sorted.

Retail therapy

In another life I used to manage a restaurant (for 2 years, having worked in it for 2 years before that). I worked as a waiter in the US for 6 months, where service is everything (I even had to stop wearing the cologne I used at the time because it was too distinct, so I was told).

I miss being hands on. I'd love to go back "behind the counter", though only for a guest appearance. Maybe I could spend a day or two at the deli just showing them stuff, pointing things out, from the customer's perspective.

It could be fun to spend a weekend in the deli, helping with strategies and solutions more likely to result in a successful outcome for their business.

I'm not Mary Queen of Shops, but in my working life I advise retailers and landlords. My job includes having to listen to experts advise on, and to consider with clients, what works and doesn't work for a wide range of retailers.

Unfortunately in the current climate most of that is given too late - either post-mortem, or as crisis management for survival.

I've opened 650,000sq ft of retail/leisure in the last 18 months (as an advisor, not my own!) and even in that time we have seen a number of business failures.

Recent trips to retail industry conferences in Manchester and Cannes have included up to date market intelligence on retail failures with analysis, and practical advice for retailers attempting to survive the recession by getting their business model right, or adapting it.

Part of my job involves understanding service levels in the retail sector, how to make the business work (or, most recently in the current climate, how to try to avoid it failing) and analysing classic failure models for start-up retail businesses.

Although I have a little more than average knowledge I'm still a consumer.

And consumer, as customer, is king.

Friday, November 20, 2009

New Ood, Old Master

I've borrowed this strip of screen grabs, without permission though I have asked, from Dan's Project 76 blog.

Two reasons:

1 spot the new Ood; and

2 isn't there something very Deadly Assassin about the Master. Did you notice?

Accidental or quite deliberate? Perhaps we will find out that the Master's cheating death yet again is linked to events that occurred after he had reached the end of his regeneration cycle (which is why he looked so poorly in the Deadly Assassin).

And isn't Donna still the best latter day companion?

Still In Cannes


Another day, another morning with the sun shining and it's going to be 22C.

Cannes this week, Manchester last week, somewhere else next week...

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Arichiwhatwasthatallabouting?

On Saturday night we went back to the Barbican, this time to see the National Theatre of Scotland's co-production with New York based theater company TEAM of Architecting.

Architecting is a musical, multi-media time-bending epic peopled with Scarlett O'Hara pageant contests and anarchistic architects.

It rockets from the American Civil War and the subsequent Reconstruction to a desolate bar in post-Katrina New Orleans where literary legend Margaret Mitchell and presidential grandchild historian Henry Adams watch the country change under their feet.

We were left wondering what it really was all about. We just didn't get it.

It was well acted. But it felt like two plays, or a play that should have been presented in two parts over different nights - each half was over one and a half hours long. (Xfe said, if it was presented in two parts, over two different nights, you wouldn't come back for the second part).

Clearly we were not the only ones who struggled to concentrate and deal with very numb-bumbs, having sat in the same seat for 1hr45m before the intermission, then waiting another 1hr30m after that for the play to end.

Good Morning


I am feeling forever plaid. There is a reason...

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

From M To C

This time last week it was raining, and I was here:



Now I'm here, (and that is the hotel I'm staying in):



If you're bored, feel free to guess either location.

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