Dolce & Gabbana’s pants

Blokes in pants

They’re just pants, originally uploaded by Thoroughly Good.

Dolce and Gabbana are cashing in on the Christmas shopping frenzy (if there is one) by launching their latest poster campaign on the London Underground. In this perennial effort, D&G are hoping to turn heads and sell a shed load of pants as well.

The posters are certainly turning heads – well, at least one. In fact, one commuter can be observed shuffling past the revolving poster display hoping to catch a glimpse of the same poster a second time before he has to run off to catch his Central line tube.

It’s shameless titillation on D&G’s part. And they’re everywhere. And they’re treading a fine line between titillation and intense bitterness and resentment.

What exactly are they trying to sell?

They’re selling pants by showing the latest range modelled on a collection of butch (Italian) rugby players. (The photo shoot was totally above board, by the way, you can see a behind the scenes video on the D&G website. I’ve done the research, so you don’t have to.)

The men look good. They look irritatingly good. They have fantastic bodies and wear their pants very well indeed. One of them even looks like he might possibly slip off the bench he’s perched on. I trust there wasn’t a nasty accident. I wouldn’t like the idea of him having suffered any pain during the photo shoot.

After a number of sightings of the poster over the past few days, I’ve come to ponder one very important question about D&G’s advertising campaign.

What exactly is D&G saying?

Is it:

1. You can look as good these men if you buy a pair of D&G pants?

Believe me, I can’t.

They might enhance the crotch, but one look at those waistbands and I know they’ll grip uncomfortably around my waist and reveal an unsightly layer of puppy fat. In short, I will be wasting my money.

2. You can only wear D&G pants if you’re built like these men…

It doesn’t matter how much protein I shovel down my throat or how many times I go to the gym. I am NOT going to look like them. I don’t do either at the present time, so that’s another reason not to buy them.

3. You can only play rugby if you wear these pants.

Such a statement leaves me feeling like a complete failure.

4. You have to be Italian to wear these pants.

Then why advertise the damn things in London? Surely your target audience is going to be quite small. Or, if this is the case are D&G just rubbing my nose in it, so to speak?

5. All rugby players in Italy wear D&G pants.

So?

6. If you give these pants to your partner at Christmas he will also look like one of these rugby players.

I might be gullible, but I’m not a twat.

Once I go through this rigorous process, I’m still left wondering. If the vast majority of people don’t have the kind of bodies these blokes have who look good in what must surely be over-priced, brand heavy undergarments, what the hell is the point in advertising them?

They’re just pants. Why not sell the poster instead?

This is visualising radio

Radio was the reason I wanted to work at the BBC. That was my “way in”. At least that’s what I thought when I came out of the second session of my radio production training course.

I enrolled myself. It was an evening course at Morley College. Three former World Service types ran the course for a knock-down rate.

They evangelised. They inspired. They charged very little money.

Aside from a tricky beginning where it appeared that neither the college hosting the course nor the tutors actually knew when the course began – something us students were a little put out by initially – those ten weeks spent discovering the fundamentals of making a radio package and “producing” a live radio programme were a real joy.

Something clicked, you see. As soon as I sat down in the studio and peered down at the script below the foam head of the microphone I suddenly felt at home. Radio was for me.

The key to breaking into the radio industry was, according to the lead tutor, in persuading various radio producers at the BBC that your radio package was the one they absolutely needed for their programme. An entire lesson was devoted to the art of pitching to producers, the art of persuading BBC producers. There was even special attention given to how to navigate one’s way around that very special type of producer who refused to answer emails and loathed picking up the telephone. Pity they didn’t prepare me for the ones who – apparently – had absolutely no concept of what to do when faced with an MP3 file.

In my confident if misguided eagerness I did frequently come up against some quite bizarre responses from those who I thought were the ones who held the keys to my future success in radioland. Some had no idea what a podcast was. Some didn’t know where to put a CD into a computer. Some, shamefully, didn’t possess a pair of headphones.

You won’t be surprised to learn that aside from a brief stint working with Sandi Toksvig on LBC, radio has remained an unrealised dream.

Part of the problem has been what I had believed was the death of the radio package. Shortly after I started work at the BBC I noted with a slight amount of irritation a conversation between two people on the work message boards mourning the passing of this much treasured audio format.

I was doomed. I’d spent £100+ on learning an art form which I felt really comfortable with and reckoned I could do quite well with if only I could have a break. Here I was, on the periphery of the BBC and it turned out that my skills wouldn’t be required especially as some reckoned it was on its way out.

Only today however, I stumbled on this, an audio slideshow featuring audio from a woman who hasn’t worked ever – nor anyone who lives in the house with her – accompanied by photographs of a lady who, in the business, is callously referred to as “the contributor”.

Why am I blogging about it? Well, there are a number of reasons.

First, is the joy that seeing this on the BBC website provides me with. Listening to the audio (even without the photographs) reminds me that far from the negative comments conveyed by those message board postings back in 2005, the radio package isn’t dead. This is high quality audio, mysterious, robust and engaging. It doesn’t need a commentary because the person speaking is engaging. I end the oh-so-brief 1 minute 47 seconds wanting more. That is the mark of brilliant radio.

Second, is that this is another example of a new development of what I think I’m right in referring to as “visualising radio”, that dangerous development where radio producers dare to join pictures with audio.

Thirdly (and perhaps most importantly), it means that contrary to what some people think, sticking images with audio isn’t bad TV. It isn’t radio trying to be TV either or, worse, radio trying to be bad video on the web.

Instead, it’s a series of thought-provoking images accompanying an already punchy piece of audio, leading the listener into an interesting journey.

This stuff is great. And, thankfully, it means that maybe that training course wasn’t the waste of money I thought it was three and a half years ago.

Beware the perils of Christmas cards

Gocco Christmas Cards, originally uploaded by coreymarie.

Did artist John Calcott Horsley have any idea what he started when he agreed to draw a Christmas card for Sir Henry Cole in 1840? Almost certainly not.

Three years later Sir Henry saw the potential and exploited it. One thousand cards were printed using the same print. One of the originals he sent to his grandmother fetched a mere £8,469 in 2005.

There’s reassurance to be found in the motivation Sir Henry Cole had in commissioning that first design. The idea of writing letters conveying best wishes for the season seemed demanded a more efficient alternative.

Henry Cole was pragmatist. With only a pen a paper, the prospect of writing letters to all his friends must have seemed like way too much work for him. I’m inclined to agree.

I look on the first Christmas card illustration with surprise. There’s a space for the recipient and a space for the signature with a fairly cold “A Merry Christmas and a happy new year to you” in between. Compared to writing a letter, all Cole had to do was write two names. Quite a cold process.

It’s not entirely dissimilar to the experience I have today.

Christmas cards loom over me in the first few weeks of December. It’s a task which absolutely needs to be done, seems like the nicest, easiest thing to do at Christmas and seems like the most daunting Christmas-related task of all. All that writing. All that organisation. All those addresses.

Year after year I try hard to trim down the Christmas card list. Ever since the heady days of school, I’ve strived to edit the recipients. Back then it was about receiving what seemed like year long tokens of friendships from contemporaries. Now, it’s about sharing heartfelt wishes amongst those I feel most close to. The fewer the better. It’s not that I hate people. I just rather like the idea of not being seen as too shallow. If I like I’ll wish you a happy Christmas to your face. If I don’t I won’t.

The problem comes as we get closer to the big day. What started off as pragmatic and cost-effective list of recipients quickly develops into a long guilt-fuelled list of people I’ve forgotten or callously crossed off. I don’t like that situation arising. I always feel so very dirty come Christmas Eve when the inevitable stragglers on the list of names stare up at me. “There’s no chance now,” I’ll think, “maybe I could send them a new year’s card instead?”

Better to start the process early. Get the cards distributed as early as you can to the beginning of December. And yet, do that and you risk imposing the same sense of guilt on your recipients. Maybe, you’re someone who relishes the thought of your friends and associates scrabbling around like mad in the run up to the final posting day as they desperately try to avoid any Christmas-related guilt. Whilst I might occasionally be fuelled by bitterness and resentment there aren’t any people I’d wish that on.

In years gone by I have, I confess, followed the easy path – the one established by Sir Henry Cole. Pictures of cats padding through the snow or stylishly crafted cards from WHSmith normally hit the spot. Set aside two or three evenings to write the cards and envelopes (factoring in a good week to source the addresses) and the job is done. But is there any joy in it?

There isn’t. Merely sitting down and writing the recipient’s name before signing my own name and dutifully passing it on to my partner to sign his makes the process a long and drawn out affair.

Surely, if I’m going to this trouble to send season’s greetings to people I haven’t been in contact with the rest of the year, shouldn’t I be going to the trouble of personalising the message? Otherwise, what exactly am I doing? And for whose benefit exactly? The card will be opened, blue-tacked to the wall for the Christmas season and then recycled (if you’re lucky). A year will pass before the next communication and so it will continue year in, year out.

Over the past few years I have gone to the trouble of making my own cards. Like pickling, there is an undeniable pleasure in constructing your own, especially when the subject of the card is one of your own cats. But having read over the results of a few other, slightly more organised Christmas crafters and considerably more labour-intensive card creations, I’m fearing the prospect of homemade Christmas cards may be one task too many this year.

Unless of course I could make use of a few tasty pictures I’ve found from Flickr today. Keep an eye out for your mail. I am making a list and will be checking it twice before the holiday season is over.

Commenting? Follow my advice …

Tom van Aardt, Communities Editor at BBC’s Future Media & Technology department works terribly hard. I know because of his various twitter updates and because from time to time he and I have meetings. (He’s terribly busy, terribly effecient and frightfully reliable by the way).

Just this weekend he’s been working on a blog posting about the future of commenting across BBC Online.

Just how should the BBC cater for members of the public to comment via the BBC’s online provision? What does the audience think?

I hesitated before I left a comment, partly because I was reading the posting shortly after he’d published it, partly because as BBC staff it may look a little odd if I’m the first person responding, but mostly because the thing uppermost in my mind was the best one minute of radio I’ve ever heard from comedy gods Mitchell and Webb.

Not only did I hesitate before posting a link to a YouTube video which I think perfectly sums up a few people’s preoccupation with finding out what the audience thinks, the blogging technology used by the BBC actually prevented me from including any links too. Thank God for that. My job should be safe (for the time being at least).

Still, Tom’s question got me thinking about the very same issue I’ve been confronting since Christmas 2007. Do I allow comments after I’ve approved them? Do I allow them automatically? Or do I prevent anyone from leaving comments full stop?

Last Christmas I was a serial Yahoo 360 blogger. There was a network attached to it. I established what felt like strong friendships with a number of random people across the world. I loved my Yahoo blog. People started leaving comments for each posting. I felt encouraged to blog more. I grew to appreciate the network of friends I established on it. One hand washed the other.

But something went wrong around Christmas 2007. In the run up to my most sensitive time of year I began to read quite a few sneery remarks being left by a handful of people. I hated that. I was caught between being painfully aware of my own ability at projecting emotions and having to grapple with the very real possibility that there were some people out there who relished the opportunity of leaving derogatory comments on my posts.

I was only writing to satisfy my own creative urges, not to satisfy an audience. So to read those potentially (almost certainly) negative comments pissed me off no end.

If you’ve not got anything nice to say don’t say anything. Don’t attack me. I’m only writing this stuff because I like writing.

Inevitably, I dealt with the situation in a fairly predictably *adult* way. I disabled all commenting and shut down my blog. I’ll lick my wounds, I thought. Sod them.

A few months went by. I start realising I miss blogging and then I set up this wordpress blog making sure I tick the “don’t allow comments” box when I set it all up.

It’s only recently I’ve unchecked the box, pressured into doing so by an internal voice urging me that if I don’t I’m unlikely to get any links back to my blog and thus will spectacularly fail in driving any traffic to my work.

It was a difficult decision to enable commenting. What if noone left a comment? Would people drop by my blog, read a posting and then think “Well, he’s obviously not very good at what he thinks he’s good at .. he’s got noone commenting. If he’s got noone commenting then noone can be reading this twaddle.”

That’s how I’m gradually seeing commenting, you see. It’s one way of an audience measuring just how popular a blogger is. It’s a way of determining whether this blog you’re reading is really worth reading. After all, if noone else is reading it, what’s the point in sticking with it?

But there’s another, slightly more worrying aspect to commenting and audience interaction which I’ve observed in the past twenty-four hours.

Only yesterday a newly-discovered blogger left a comment on a posting of mine about Mumbai. Despite my protestations, my heart races when someone does leave a comment. There is, quite unexpectedly, a flutter when you see that someone – for what ever reason – has felt they want to leave a comment. It’s a stroke, an encouraging gesture. It flicks a switch in the back of your head which says “keep looking around for stuff to write about.”

As someone who loves writing that feeling is terribly important. But given that I am my own worst enemy and one who understands himself better than any psychiatrist, I’m at pains to point out that the blogger/reader relationship may seem useful initially, but it will only lead to a dangerously dependant relationship in the future.

Frankly, I’d prefer to be self-sufficient.

Christmas: Mother better eat the picalilli

Mother better eat the picalilli, originally uploaded by Thoroughly Good.

A pungent combination of white wine and malt vinegar gently simmering on the hob is producing a gaseous nightmare in the kitchen. It is, consequently, completely out of bounds on matters of health and safety. Thus, I remain in the lounge warmed by a glowing fire updating on this year’s Christmas preparations, waiting for the toxic smell to dissipate.

This is the final phase in a weekend production line which has seen the kitchen window-sill fill up with jars of marmalade, Christmas chutney, cucumber pickle and lethal chilli jam. The last part of this year’s Christmas hamper is the piccalilli.

Had I been born female, I am almost certainly someone who would have chosen to live in the country so as to be able to join the Women’s Institute. My pickles and preserves would have been the stuff of legend had been able to join the WI.

Previous years have seen me knuckle-down for the Christmas holidays indulging a slightly odd interest in candle-making. Refusing to get sucked into purchasing all of the vital equipment, I gingerly melted candle-wax and stearin in a bain-marie and poured the resulting mixture into old ramekins. The results were reasonably successful, although a search deep in the under-stairs cupboard would reveal a number of unlit candles, possibly because those I tested didn’t burn terribly well.

Following my own advice, I’ve embraced pickling and preserving in the run up to this year’s festive season.

There’s something reassuringly therapeutic about the whole process. First there’s the research – hours spent curled up on the sofa reading over recipe books or browsing the internet.

What quickly became apparent reading over Gary Rhodes’ New British Classics (the place to go for piccalilli), Delia Smith’s Cookery Course and this month’s BBC Good Food magazine was that the process of preserving in advance of Christmas is only any fun if there are some unsuspecting people to give the finished product to.

Imagine the hideous situation where your first batch of marmalade looks good in the jar but, but the first taste confirms it isn’t up to much. Then you find yourself lumbered with a cupboard of reasonably attractive looking preserve which should really have a warning label on it: Don’t Eat This.

That’s when a distribution network is vital. If you’ve made fourteen jars of the stuff at least you can experience the joy of gratitude on thirteen other people’s faces when you dish it out in the weeks before Christmas. At least that you’ve only got the one jar to get through or throw away if it doesn’t turn out to be terribly good.

With a distribution network decided upon (mine started off being quite grand but has quickly been de-scoped to feature only my parents – my sister, if she’s really lucky) there is, inevitably the need for a test-phase.

The piccalilli I spoke of earlier was tested a few weeks ago. Sadly, I failed to dry off the cauliflower and cucumber sufficiently well. Hence the two oversized jars in the fridge have vegetables sitting in a yellow sauce with a layer of water sitting on top. Believe me, they don’t look very appetising.

Still, it provided me with the opportunity to go through the process early and thus legitimately extend the Christmas preparations earlier than in previous years.

But perhaps the thing I’m most looking forward to – and perhaps what has driven this surprisingly pleasurable process over the past few weeks – is the opportunity to serve up what my own mum did when I was younger.

When I was in my teens it was my mum who would set aside two days before Christmas day to start cooking and baking like a demon, making cakes and Christmas puddings and jams and bread before placing the results of her handiwork in a festively decorated box. It was then left to me and my older to distribute the gifts amongst various lucky recipients in the village.

Both of us hated the task, partly because we weren’t necessarily the best company for one another but also because I wanted to be at home following the very full tele-viewing schedule I had drawn up using the Radio Times. Delivering food parcels to recipients in the village was not something I wanted to be doing.

Obviously, things have changed somewhat now. The growing realisation that I’ll probably never be very good with money has shifted focus. I realise now I’ll never feel comfortable aimlessly wandering around a shopping mall for hours so I can shuffle home laden with ridiculously oversized bags. I want to derive pleasure from my Christmas giving.

I’ve spent too many Christmases agonising over whether I’ve got the appropriate value present for a particular individual, worrying whether I’ve got too much or too little, or thinking about how big that credit card bill will be in the new year.

Now, as the kitchen window-sill fills up with jars of goodness for this year’s Christmas, I stand back with my arms folded and the pungent gases in the kitchen gone and feel just a little bit smug.

Next Sunday I’ll deliver a box full of stuff I’ve made for my mum. She tells me her diabetes won’t be a problem for any sweet stuff I have in mind. Apparently the drugs work really well.

And frankly, it doesn’t matter if she doesn’t like them or can’t eat it. If the jars remain unopened in a cupboard before they’re thrown away, I won’t care. It’s the process of making and giving the stuff I’m interested in. And, if she’s tasted one and realises she can’t eat them without risking a diabetic coma, she can always give them to someone else. I won’t mind.