The Confessions of Gordon Brown

The Confessions of Gordon Brown

The Confessions of Gordon Brown

Kevin ToolisThe Confessions of Gordon Brown is playing at The Old Court House on Church St  and I went along to the 2pm show on Sunday. This monologue debuted at the Edinburgh Festival in July, moved down to London and then to Brighton for three days to take advantage of the sea air and the Labour Party Conference.

Toolis starts as he means to go on with Ian Grieve playing Gordon Brown ranting and pontificating on power, betrayal and how his leadership was made impossible by fools, bastards and everybody else in the world. With a keen eye for bathos Toolis has Brown contemplating Napoleon and then defining the prerequisites of political leadership as hair, height and teeth (for a smile). Grieve’s portrayal of Brown is the one we have grown to accept from numerous TV comedy shows. Angry and arrogant Grieve carries the audience easily and is funny from the start. The blurb claims that that Toolis based the monologue on extensive interviews and research with figures close to Brown and the picture that emerges is of a capable and hardworking politician, destined for great things but betrayed by Tony Blair and consequently eaten up by his thwarted ambition. The play was entertaining and thought provoking especially near the end where Brown muses on the role of a leader as little more than a figurehead to allow the public to believe that someone is in control.

After the Sunday evening show Kevin Toolis was joined by Dan Hodges of The Daily Telegraph, Quentin Letts of the Dail Mail and Iain Dale, publisher of Damian McBride‘s controversial new book about the new Labour years. A discussion took place and questions were taken. The general feeling seemed to be that Gordon Brown did have a moral streak but that, in practical terms, he was no more moral than Blair. The seediness and spin that surrounded New Labour was a tone set by Blair and Brown and that Brown’s failure was to define himself as an alternative to Blair.

The Confessions of Gordon Brown runs at the Old Court House from 22nd to 24th September 2013. Tickets are £15.

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Going for an Italian

Gavius

Gavius

Was in Rome a couple of weeks ago and stayed at the OP Hotel on viale Oceano Pacifico again. Fairly close to EUR. As I have blogged before this hotel is very satisfactory with a sort of art deco feel. However, I feel I have undersold it’s Gavius restaurant and may even have been guilty of opining that it’s too “ponsified”. I take this back. My previous assertion followed the observation that, after a day’s work, an Englishman needs good solid British food like Lasagne or Spag Bol. Food that can be whipped up in a jiffy and stuck in front of him without delay. On my first visit the food seemed to take an age to prepare and, when it arrived, though exquisite, wouldn’t have satisfy a gnat. This episode may have been an aberration.

On my recent visit the food was beautifully prepared, impeccably presented, ample and prompt (BIAP in the jargon). It got me thinking that I have been taking for granted the excellent food I enjoy while in Italy. I have previously praised the Girasole trattoria on Via dei Minatori but this is just one example of how your Italian takes his food seriously. Quality ingredients, care in preparation and care in presentation.

There’s another one on viale Cesare Pavese who’s name escapes me, but which serves good plain food like Buffalo Mozzarella, ham and potatoes. The coffee in the morning is good too and your money is taken by a jolly woman who, when asked if she speaks English, says “yes” very assertively but when pressed for more merely laughs effusively.

On the Thursday evening I visited Eataly.  This is an old railway station which has been converted into a cathedral to worship Italian food. Several floors laid out like a super market with small restaurants around the edge. All the food organic, local and wonderful. Row upon row of pasta. Giant hams. Fresh Mozzarella. Gorgeous!

Eataly

Eataly

Eataly

Eataly

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The Shard, The Oxo Tower & the ernest young urbanauts

London Bridge Station

London Bridge Station

Up The Shard Friday night. About 8:15pm. Well trained and enthusiastic staff shepherded us into one lift and then another. Then out and up a flight of stairs and we’re in a roofless area with high glass walls looking out over London. Very impressive. In the centre The Shard continued up. Great views, possibly due to the height and the walls being made of glass. St. Paul’s Cathedral, London Bridge station with the black shadow of the railway snaking it’s way back to Brighton. London Bridge itself and Tower Bridge with Canary bloody Wharf in the background.

Then on to The Oxo Tower for dinner in the Brasserie. Again, very good. The same ernest young urbanauts shepherded us to a table. Modern London, Fashionable London. Smart and casual. The city as an amusement park. Hard work and commerce will redeem us. Am reminded of Seize The Day by Saul Below: “…the great, great crowd, the inexhaustible current of millions of every race and kind pouring out, pressing round, of every race and genius, possessors of every human secret, antique and future, in every face the refinement of one particular motive or essence – I labor, I spend, I strive, I design, I love, I cling, I uphold, I give way, I envy, I long, I scorn, I die, I hide, I want. Faster, much faster than any man could make the tally….”. That passage has been rattling around my brain for years and now, finally, it has fallen out. Mr. Below was speaking of New York of course but, to my mind, London is becoming more and more like New York.

Great views and excellent food. If I had a criticism it would only be that, in the fairly cramped conditions, the waiters were too interventionist, insisting on pouring the beer and placing everyone’s glasses. Call me curmudgeonly but I prefer serving staff to keep a low profile and would rather pour my own beer if it meant the bloke with the large tray standing in my way would bugger off. But this is modern London where service is king and while a bloke banged about on a piano the room was full of lively conversation.

Then, sadly surprised that I am now a provincial visitor, I glanced at my phone and realised it was time to head home to avoid the nightmare that is the interminable early hours train down that dark shadowy path south. Short walk to the fantastic new Blackfriars station which they have extended out over Blackfriars Bridge. I tell, you, I am coming around to this design and commerce doctrine.  What a fantastic idea! So bloody obvious that it takes someone very clever to suggest it.

Of course by the time I reached East Croydon to change trains the effect of the past 20 years had evaporated and we were back in the ’80s. Cancelled trains, flicking fluorescent lights and a closed cafe. Endless waiting while an irritated and irritating railwayman stomped around trying to ignore everyone. A young girl lay prone on the platform. We picked her up and trundled her to a chair in the waiting room where she slowly came back to life,  then abruptly stood, walked back outside and vomited. Ah, London, you can’t beat it.

St. Paul's Cathedral

St. Paul’s Cathedral

Rail Line South

Rail Line South

London Bridge

London Bridge

Tower Bridge

Tower Bridge

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Domestic archaeology

The Great Seal of The State of Oklahoma

The Great Seal of The State of Oklahoma

Having a bit of a clear out. Rummaging through draws and opening old biscuit tins. Found an old tin which had originally held a little bottle of Jack Daniels. A present I’d received a long time ago in America. These days it contains old reels of cotton, needles and a small pair of scissors. Strangely it also contains a small china rabbit, a tiny plastic horse, a badge  supporting Hackney Ambulance workers and a button emblazoned with the words “GREAT SEAL OF THE STATE OF OKLAHOMA 1907“. I think the badge is from a London ambulance worker strike, the little horse looks like it came from a cracker but the rabbit and button must have belonged to my parents or grandparents.

Surprising the ephemera that we carry down the years. I think there’s a metaphor in their somewhere.

Time Travellers

Time Travellers

st malo beach

St Malo Beach

Influence – The Psychology of Persuasion

Influence

Influence

I have just finished a book named “Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion” by Robert B. Cialdini in which the author discusses the psychological tendencies which we humans have evolved over millennia to give us short cut decision making capabilities so that we don’t sit mulling whether to fight or fly while a tiger bites our head off.

The obvious example is “Social Proof” and by this is meant to look to the behaviour of others as a guide to our own behaviour. In the wild, if all the humans around us suddenly drop what they are doing and run like hell you can bet it would be a bloody good idea for us to do the same. If our decision to run proves wrong we have lost nothing, if the decision was right we may have just saved our lives.

Mr. Cialdini explains how many of these tendencies have been identified by boffins and he outlines some of the extraordinary experiments which have taken place to prove the power of these tendencies. He goes on to explain how our sub-concious automatic responses are now being exploited by sales and marketing people to get us to do what they want without thinking. Often this is to part with our dosh but these days it might also be to give them personal information.

The tendencies he identifies are: Social Proof, Reciprocity, Commitment/consistency, Liking and Scarcity.

Many of us may think that Mr. Cialdini is Talking Bollocks and consider ourselves much too clever to fall for this sort of thing but cleverness has nothing to do with it. If we didn’t have these tendencies we would not be able to function and would spend most of our lives standing on street corners wondering what to do next………..You do spend your life standing on street corners wondering what to do next? Oh………..well then this book is not for you.

We are all human and so we can all be caught out by the techniques developed by those who would manipulate us. A lot of what Mr. Cialdini discusses may seem obvious once brought to our attention but it is the honing of these ideas into techniques and the relentless exploitation of these techniques when we are off guard that means we too often are taken in. Mr. Cialdini points out that these techniques can be used honestly to steer us toward a decision which may be in our best interests. For example a company may hire a legitimate expert to explain that their brand is identical to the best selling brand except much cheaper. This is useful. If we believe the expert then the company earn sales and we save ourselves some money.

However Mr. Cialdini is more interested in when these techniques are misused, for example, by employing fake experts who make misleading claims. In this world of ubiquitous advertising and one click purchases forewarned is forearmed (as Ganesh would say) and this is the theme behind Mr. Cialdini’s book. He advises us to educate ourselves about these techniques, recognise when they are being misused and then make a conscious decision to reject the automatic subliminal impulse to comply.

An example given is “reciprocation”. We all have a tendency to look favourably on anyone who gives us a gift and we tend to reciprocate. This plays out in the street when a charity worker giving us a flower and then talk about their charity. When the times comes for her to ask for a donation we are already well disposed toward her. Mr. Cialdini’s suggestion is that we consciously recognise that the gift giving was a ploy. We may want to donate but we should realise that we have just been tricked and so we should feel no obligation.

We have these tendencies all the time and our behaviour is, to a large extent, governed by them. Stand at a pedestrian crossing when the sign says Don’t Walk. When there is no traffic one brave soul will start to cross against the light and like lemmings everyone else follows.

Mr. Cialdini does have a tendency to labour his points and sometimes strays off into questionable examples but these sections can easily be skipped without diminishing one’s understanding of the ideas.

Here then are the techniques used to manipulate us according to Robert B. Cialdini.

Social Proof

A psychological phenomenon which all of us fall back on when we’re unsure of what to do. We look around and check the behaviour of others. Walk into a restaurant, want to get served? Do you walk straight up to the bar o wait for a waiter? If a few people are loitering around by the door you will probably wait with them.

Examples of misuse: TV commercials with unknown actors pretending to be members of the public answering questions about a toothpaste or detergent.

Reciprocity

If someone has done you a favour you’re more likely to do something for them.

Examples of misuse: We’re given a flower in the street by a charity worker and then have difficulty telling them: NO! I will not donate.

Mr. Cialdini points out a fascinating variant on this technique in which a seller opens a discussion over a possible transaction by over asking and then falls back to a lesser request. Psychologically we feel as if he has given way. He has given us something by pulling back from his first demand and are therefore more likely to give in to a lesser demand which may have been his intention all along. The example is when a charity worker asks us if we’d like to sign up to pay a fixed amount every month. Most people do not sign up for this as it is too big an ask from a cold sale but when the guy asks for a one off donation we give them some money and hurry off feeling like we’ve had a lucky escape.

Commitment/Consistency

If we’re already publicly stated our opinion about something then we’re less likely to act against that opinion even privately. It’s thought that this is because consistency is a respected quality in people. We don’t like people who flip flop so we don’t want to be seen as ditherers, we’re strong, decisive leaders aren’t we?

Examples of misuse:  Surveys given by pretty young women that lead us into bragging that we earn lots of money, are unstoppable socialites, adore Italian cuisine and would grab the first chance to dine at the new Italian restaurant in town and then, lo and behold, the pretty young woman is selling tickets to the opening of a new Italian restaurant. How can we say no?

Authority

If the expert says it’s true then it probably is. We depend on authority every day. We depend on taking instructions from the earnest copper at a road accident when he guides us out of harm’s way or when our doctor tells us that lump needs to be X-rayed.

Examples of misuse:  Men in white coats in toothpaste commercials. Men in sharp suits trying to sell us anything.

Liking

If we like someone personally we build up a rapoor and are more inclined to do what they want.

Examples of misuse:  Salesmen asking about our families and using our first name too many times. Loveable rogue beggars in the street. Popular actors in TV commercials. Our tendency to buy when our friends run some kind of sales event such as a Tupperware party.

Scarcity

If something is scarce then we’re more likely to desire it. It’s reasonable. If we don’t get it now we may not get another chance.

Examples of misuse:  Closing Down sales in shops that last for years. Attending a house sale along with other punters. Auctions. Those shopping channel shows where they tell you they only have 100 in stock and then you see the counter ticking down as people buy.

Influence is accessible in style yet goes much deeper than my brief overview and covers various other aspects of marketing such as “perceptual contrast” and “because”. A must read for anyone suspicious of the hyper-comericalisastion of the 21st century.

The web site Take Back Your Brain has information on all sorts of marketing techniques and sections on each chapter of Mr. Cialdini’s book. To quote from the web site “Take Back Your Brain teaches you how to wrest your attention away from commercial marketing and other distractions and focus instead on achieving whatever is most important to you. How will you do this? By advertising to yourself!”

Worth a look.

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