Grammar can cause problems when we’re writing.

Some people still like to refer to arcane rules that were taught to them in the dim and distant past. They refuse to understand that usage of language changes over time. (Don’t get me wrong – I’m not trying to excuse poor use of language or ignoring grammar rules. Rules are there for a reason. But sometimes we use them to tie ourselves in knots.)

So, what are the rules when we’re trying to work out how to communicate?

Well, that depends.

There are lots of books to reference when checking how to use grammar.

One area that constantly seems to infuriate people is apostrophes.

Generally they’re fairly simple to use (if you write for a living).

But then you get the odd thing that causes consternation.

Laura Waddell spotted a really badly-placed apostrophe on a sign in her local Waitrose, so she popped it up on Twitter.

It looked like this:

Apostrophes Twitter 1

Which is pretty poor.

It reminded me of a traffic sign where I live that had a misplaced apostrophe on it. So I shared it on Laura’s post:

Apostrophes Twitter 2

I thought the sign was incorrect and didn’t need the apostrophe.

95% of people who saw it on Twitter laughed and enjoyed the joke.

Apostrophes Twitter 3

However, couple of people said they thought the sign did need the apostrophe.

So I got out my Chicago Manual of Style, The Economist Style Guide and Fowler’s Modern English Usage and had a look. I couldn’t find any reference to using apostrophes in plurals of initialisms. Seems (from a pretty deep Google search) that it was taught in schools a long time ago. However, I’m no spring chicken and I don’t ever remember it being mentioned at school.

Which leads me on to the fact that language evolves. If you read something from many years ago the language used can seem odd. (Same thing happens if you read the Daily Mail – you start thinking it’s 1917.) I think we need to move with changing usage and adapt how we write.

Even though some people on Twitter had a meltdown about the fact that the sign is (supposedly) correct with an apostrophe, I’d still argue that it’s wrong.

The purpose of the sign is to communicate clearly and simply that HGVs should turn right. In most people’s eyes that means no apostrophe. There’s no misunderstanding if you omit the apostrophe. So let’s ask it to do one.

In amongst all the debate, I did love Banana Armour’s response:

Apostrophes twitter 4

I guess what I’m saying is that a grammar debate can be a bit dull. But always remember the point is to communicate.

And it’s best to do that simply, while avoiding complicated words, in a manner that your reader is comfortable with.

The Economist has a fantastic style guide. It gives insights and solutions to things few people would give time to thinking about. And they refer the reader to George Orwell’s six rules for writing (from Politics and the English Language). The sixth of which reads:

Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

To my mind, using an apostrophe in the HGV sign is just plain wrong. To use Orwell’s phrase, it seems barbarous to me. It seems to go against the commonly-held understanding of how apostrophes work. And I’d go further to argue that if professional writers are disagreeing over this, then we need to do something to simplify usage before we all disappear up our own backsides.

Say no to apostrophes for HGVs.

P.S. I do get that it’s just a sign and regardless of the position of the apostrophe HGV drivers will most likely ignore it anyway.

apostrophe

I’ve avoided making any comments at all on the forthcoming EU referendum. I’ve done it deliberately.

There’s been no rational debate. Just mud slinging, name-calling and fear-mongering.

From both sides.

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A major problem with the debating process

It’s been like listening to a group of kids in a school playground where the loudest voice is king.

So if you say anything on social media you get people telling you you’re wrong.

Seriously!?! I’m wrong for holding an opinion?

Surely that’s the whole point of debate (and, you could argue, democracy).

People are allowed to hold a different opinion. (And I’ll let you into a little secret – an opinion is all it is. It’s all based on arbitrary figures, dependent on a person’s methods, beliefs and influences. So it’s, at best, just a decent guess.)

Something else I’ve noticed clearly is that people don’t listen to understand.

They listen to respond.

So there’s never any point where they consider the other side’s view.

They just think of a bigger / scarier / more outrageous fact to throw at their opponent.

It’s sad. It’s divisive and it’s not acceptable any longer.

We need to stop people preying on fear.

Where are all the intelligent arguments for the positives of staying or leaving the European Union?

It’s been very difficult to find any commentator who has been rational and forensic about the forthcoming vote.

It will have a huge impact on the future of our country, perhaps for generations.

If you can’t see your way to a sensible, non-hysterical debate try thinking of your children.

Imagine them in the room as you start frothing at the mouth.

Hopefully that should help you maintain a modicum of common sense.

We should all be free to vote however our opinion tells us to.

That’s the power of democracy.

Layout 1

The basis of a free democracy

Respect each other. Even if you disagree with each other.

Our ancestors fought wars for the right to vote and for the right to freedom.

We, currently, show no respect for their sacrifice.

We have turned into a country unable to have a rational debate. We’re in danger of creating a schism in our society we never fully recover from.

Don’t listen to the loudest voices.

Listen to the quietest ones.

Because they’re confident in their beliefs so they don’t need to shout about it.

If you only ever listen to the loudest voices you’ll live their life.

If you listen to the quiet ones you’re free to choose the path you want.

I almost signed off by saying may the best campaign win. But, sadly, I think that would mean no one would win.

Each of us can make a difference to the debate.

We can behave reasonably.

Remember to respect each other.

And remember there are no absolutes.

It’s all just a big mess of grey.

Cast your vote how you want to.

And remember when it’s all over, just because someone didn’t vote the same way you did, that doesn’t mean they’re a bad person. They just have different views to you.

An outstanding story of selflessness and believing that you should stand up for what is right. It’s something we can all learn from and be inspired by.

In 1996 the Ku Klux Klan held a rally in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

It was a strange choice of location, as Ann Arbor is a multicultural place, where extremists like the KKK are generally not supported or welcomed.

Much like any KKK rally, there was a large police presence. And a huge number of people gathered to demonstrate that far-right views were not welcome.

It started like any KKK rally with the police (in riot gear armed with tear gas) keeping the small number of Klansmen separate from the protesters. There was a fence separating the opposing sides too.

Then one of the protesters noticed a man wearing a Confederate flag t-shirt in amongst them. The Confederate flag is often seen as symbolic of far-right views and has unsavoury connotations. The man also had an ‘SS’ tattoo on his forearm.

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The KKK ‘undercover’ man is spotted

A shout went up from the crowd “Kill the Nazi”. The man started to run. He was knocked to the ground. The mob surrounded him and started hitting, kicking and beating him with their placard sticks.

And the pack mentality took over. When part of a group, people often behave in a manner they never would if they were on their own. Things looked bleak for the middle-aged white supremist.

Until a teenage girl, who happened to be black, decided to make a stand. So she did the only thing she could think of to save the man. She threw herself on top of the man to protect him from the blows.

_70763345_kt_struggling_464

Keshia protects the KKK man

The photographer who captured the images, Mark Brunner, could not believe what he was seeing. He said: “She put herself at physical risk to protect someone who, in my opinion, would not have done the same for her.”

_70763343_kt_onground_464

Selflessness in action

The teenager who performed this amazing act of bravery and selflessness was Keshia Thomas. She herself had experienced violence and had always wished there had been someone there to help her – to make it stop. She said: “Violence is violence – nobody deserves to be hurt, especially not for an idea.”

She never heard from the man whose life she saved. But she did have an amazing moment a few months later. She was sitting in a coffee shop when a young man approached her and said: “thanks”. When she asked what he was thanking her for he told her that the man was his dad.

That meant so much to Keshia. She realised that she’d not only helped the father, but she’d potentially stopped the son from following down a path of violence. Now, 20 years later, she tends not to think about the incident. She prefers to look forward.

In her own words: “I don’t want to think that this is the best I could ever be. In life you are always striving to do better.”

You can read more about her story on the BBC site.

At a time when the world is changing faster than ever before we should all try to be more tolerant. To be more understanding of other people’s views.

In short, we should all try to be more like Keshia.

 

 

All images © Mark Brunner

Last week, my friend Julie bought a cover for her new phone.

She bought it in Carphone Warehouse.

Unfortunately the cover didn’t actually work.

It cost £40 and offered “some functionality of your phone through the touch sensitive front cover”.

The cover didn’t stay shut, so it was useless as a product.

uk_EF-ZG935CSEGWW_001_001_silver

The offending Samsung cover

She returned it to the shop where she bought it only to be told “we don’t do refunds”.

She pointed out that the cover wasn’t actually able to do the job it was sold for and that she thought that meant she was entitled to a refund.

The shop told her she was wrong and that all they had to offer was an exchange.

So she told me what had happened.

She thought I might be able to help.

So we sat down together and called Carphone Warehouse on their customer service number (0370 111 6565).

Our first call was answered by a man called Khanyo.

I explained that the phone cover didn’t work and explained that we’d like a refund.

He told us they only do exchanges.

I pointed out that UK consumer law, under the Consumer Rights Act, states that faulty goods are eligible for a refund for 30 days.

He repeated that they only do exchanges.

So I asked to speak to his manager.

He told me that his manager would just tell me the same thing.

I pointed out that I’d asked to speak to his manager, not asked him to guess what his manager would say.

I had to ask five times before he finally relented and went to get his manger.

We spent six minutes on hold.

Then Khanyo comes back and tells me that his manager had told him to tell me that they don’t do refunds.

I bit my tongue and asked him to please get his manger to come to the phone.

If nothing else, I thought he might be interested that their interpretation of company policy broke UK law.

So he went away again.

This time only for two minutes.

Then Khanyo’s manager came on the line.

He was called Fabian.

Layout 1

Trying to use humour to create a connection

I then patiently explained to Fabian that the cover wasn’t fit for purpose and that the Consumer Rights Act states that Julie should be given a refund.

He then asks if I’m an attorney.

I replied “I’m sorry, we’re not in America.”

He then asked if I was a barrister.

I told him I didn’t make coffees.

He didn’t get it.

I then spent eight minutes basically arguing with Fabian.

I kept asking him to ask someone in the company who knew the law if we should get a refund.

He continually refused.

So I asked if I could speak to his manager.

He refused.

Then he told me his manger was on holiday.

But he did give me her name.

She was called Shereen.

But he spoiled it slightly by telling me that even if she was in he wouldn’t let me speak to her.

I asked him if he was serious.

Then the line went dead.

I swore a wee bit.

Then I called back.

This time Glenville answered the call.

I asked to speak to Fabian.

Fabian told Glenville to tell me that he wouldn’t come to the phone.

I asked Glenville to ask Fabian to have the common decency to come back to the phone.

He went off to ask again.

He returned to tell me that Fabian had gone for lunch (with, apparently, impeccable timing).

Glenville refused to put me through to a manager.

So I hung up and called Carphone Warehouse head office.

And remarkably I got through to the same office as the previous calls.

This time, however, we get to speak to Aneesa.

She was a star.

I explained the story about the cover, the previous phone calls and the fact that the law states Julie is entitled to a refund.

And she agrees.

We are entitled to a refund.

She’s very apologetic (and also pretty disappointed with her colleagues’ behaviour).

She takes a few details and asks if we would mind taking the cover back to the shop Julie bought it in.

I asked if she would mind if we called her when we got to the shop, as I was pretty sure the manager of the shop would still refuse to give a refund.

Aneesa agreed. (That’s what customer service should be about – making sure the customer’s expectations are met.)

So Julie took the phone back to the shop.

When she got there she called Aneesa. (The person who answered refused to put Julie through for almost three minutes!)

Aneesa came on the phone and asked Julie to hand the phone to the shop manager.

So she handed the phone to the shop manager with the words: “It’s for you.”

She only heard his side of the conversation.

But his opening line, after establishing who was on the phone, was: “We don’t do refunds.”

Aneesa put him right.

So Julie got her refund. Eventually.

There’s a really simple lesson for companies here.

If you empower staff to make decisions on your behalf, make sure they know enough to not be actively breaching UK consumer law while they’re doing it.

Or at least have an escalations system that ensures your customers’ fate isn’t down to the randomness of where a call to a call centre ends up.

With social media allowing people to share bad experiences to a wider audience than ever before, it’s increasingly important to get things right.

Come on people – it’s not that difficult. Put yourself in your customers’ shoes and you’ll find the answers present themselves.

The flip side is when people go that wee bit further to keep their customers happy. Like this example from Chester Zoo. Imagine how you’d feel about the zoo if you returned to your car and found this.

Excellent customer service

Great customer service can really make people love your brand

Hats off to Chester Zoo’s car park team. Customer service really isn’t that difficult. As long as you don’t put people in charge who don’t actually want to help customers.

And thanks to Aneesa at Carphone Warehouse. She’s what all your staff should aspire to be. And if her manager happens to read this, give her a raise and promote her. She’ll do more for your brand than you can imagine.

The government seems to be unsure of how to educate children nowadays. They seem to think that constantly putting children under pressure is a good way for them to start life.

Everybody is a genius

We should all aim to inspire, whenever we can

Don’t get me wrong, learning to cope with pressure is an important part of any person’s development. But having children learn about things that are completely unnecessary is counterproductive. It harms confidence and can lead to children thinking they’re “not smart”. Everyone is smart – they might just be better at things that don’t involve knowing what a fronted adverbial is.

Yoda Star Wars Education Fronted Adverbials

Yoda channels the force of fronted adverbials

My own daughter is now at secondary school and I’m seeing for myself the sometimes disjointed approach to learning. And it’s tough as a parent to not react to some of the crazy decisions that are made. Don’t get me wrong – there are a huge number of teachers who do a great job. But the government’s ‘test everything to death’ approach surely doesn’t help? I spotted a clarion call against this sort of madness on The Writer website (which is always worth a visit). They looked at the requirements of the SATs that kids sit. And the English test looks like a) a nightmare and b) a bit of a waste of time.

They quite rightly point out that many, many writers (OK, almost all of us) don’t know every granular detail of grammar. They also point out that spelling and grammar are important – they’re the basic fundamentals of how we communicate when we’re writing. But being a good writer is more than knowing the rules. It’s connecting with your audience. Giving them something they’ll be interested in. Writing it in a way that appeals to them. And it’s fun. It really is. (Or it bloody well should be.)

So here’s The Writer’s article, reproduced in full. If you have a child taking SATs you really want to read this. Then give your kid a hug and let them read it too.

 

A letter to primary school children in England

Dear kids,

We’ve heard all about the spelling and grammar test you have to do as part of your SATs. We think it sounds pretty tough.

Not just the test itself, but all the months you’ve spent learning about things like fronted adverbials and expanded noun phrases and subordinating conjunctions. We’re willing to bet you wish you’d spent a bit less time doing that, and more time making up funny poems, or writing your own adventure stories.

Well, there’s something we wanted to tell you.

We asked our team of 15 professional writers whether they knew what a fronted adverbial was. How many do you think said ‘yes’?

One. And that’s because she has a daughter in primary school, just like you.

The rest of us didn’t have a clue. Remember, we all earn our living from writing, and helping other people to write better. And we’ve all managed to get this far without the words ‘fronted adverbial’ ever entering our minds.

We did try, honest. We looked up ‘fronted adverbials’ online, and spent a good few minutes frowning and scratching our heads. We couldn’t really understand it, and then we decided not to worry about it anyway, because fronted adverbials make sentences sound a bit weird, like they were written by Yoda from the Star Wars films, and we went off to make a cup of tea instead.

All this isn’t to say spelling and grammar aren’t important

They are. Our writers all know where to put apostrophes, and what semicolons are for.

And we understand how grammar choices can affect how writing comes across to the reader. Like how passive sentences can be unclear or – worse – make it seem like you’re trying to hide something.

But we don’t know what every single little grammar thing is called. And we don’t need to.

Trust us. We’ve helped thousands of grown-ups all over the world get better at writing. And we’re going to tell you the same thing we tell them: it’s okay to sound like yourself when you write.

You don’t need to use long, complicated words to sound important. You don’t need to use fronted adverbials or expanded noun phrases to be a good writer (we think you’ll be a better writer if you don’t). And it doesn’t matter if you wouldn’t recognise a subordinating conjunction if it clonked you over the head.

If you find those things hard, it doesn’t mean you’re no good at writing.

What makes someone a good writer?

You’re a good writer if you sound like a human being, not a robot. (Unless, of course, you’re writing a story about robots.)

You’re a good writer if you’re kind to your reader: if you don’t write long, boring sentences, or bang on for pages without getting to the point.

You’re a good writer if you have something interesting to say, and you’re not afraid to say it.

You’re a good writer if you make your reader change their mind about something. Or look at something differently. Or do something they might not have done otherwise.

You’re a good writer if you can make your reader feel happy. Or sad. Or indignant. Or motivated. Or reassured.

You’re a good writer if you can keep your reader interested, even if you’re writing about something really boring, like gas pipes, or tax.

You’re a good writer if you can take something really, really complicated, and explain it so simply that your granny could understand it.

And, most importantly, you’ll be a good writer if you enjoy writing, have fun with words and even break the odd rule now and again.

Don’t worry about the test. Really.

Love,

The Writer

 

And to all those who think it’s disgraceful that people don’t know every detail of grammar, I point you in the direction of the genius that was Dr Seuss:

Dr Seuss Cat In The Hat Truer Than True Youer Than You

He was pretty successful and had an astonishing connection with his readers. He made up words, constructed sentences with fun in mind and blew a giant raspberry at dull writing. Long live creativity and writing that sets out to entertain and engage. And, as for teaching primary school children about minute intricacies of grammar, well I’m not at all in favour of it.

Father Ted Down With This Sort of Thing Craggy Island Protest

Careful now

 

This is one of the funniest things I’ve come across for a quite some time. It concerns a designer called David Thorne. He’s an amazingly humorous designer, satirist and man you don’t want to start having an email discussion with.

His website is outrageously amusing. He documents email discussions with people. Which sounds fairly normal. But his emails are always slightly off-kilter. You’re often not sure if he’s serious or messing with you.

He tried to pay an overdue bill (for $233.95) by sending a picture of a spider that he had drawn. He notes in his email “I value the drawing at $233.95 so trust that this settles the matter.” Needless to say it wasn’t the end of the matter. It was just the start of a beautifully bizarre exchange with a lady called Jane Gilles. It’s very much worth a read.

One of my favourite exchanges on his site is with a secretary in his office. She asks him to make her a poster to help her find her missing cat. On the surface it’s just him messing around after a secretary in his office asks him to make a poster to help her find her missing cat. This is known online as the ‘Missing Missy’ case.

If you read a wee bit deeper into it, I think it’s a great example of what can go wrong if the person briefing you doesn’t think enough about what they actually want. I see it as a searing indictment of people’s inability to think things through properly and write a proper brief.

The best way I think to show you how the conversation progresses (and how David uses exaggeration to make his point) is to just show you the conversation.

So here goes. Buckle up.

Missing Missy 1

Missing Missy 2

To be fair, his tone and heavy use of sarcasm should alert us to the fact that this isn’t going to be the normal polite email chit chat.

Missing Missy 3

Shannon, the secretary, comes back with a couple of questions. And David answers them. I love his negative space comment.

Missing Missy 4

As a small aside here, if you’re asking someone to do you a favour saying “That’s just stupid.” is unlikely to aid your request.

Missing Missy 5

Again, he’s followed her instructions to the letter. Which starts to show why writing a loose, poorly-though-out brief is asking for all sorts of trouble. Guess what? Shannon’s not happy with his amends either. I, however, am loving his work. Especially when he points out that “I don’t come downstairs and tell you how to send text messages, log onto Facebook and look out of the window.”

And so it continues. (I defy anyone not to laugh at the next image.)

Missing Missy 6

Again, he’s followed her brief to the letter. (Granted he’s not followed the spirit of her request, but he has answered her brief.)

Missing Missy 7

Shannon’s patience seems to be beginning to wear thin.

Missing Missy 8

Hands up who spotted that’s not Shannon’s cat?

Missing Missy 9

Surely he’ll send her what she wants this time?

Missing Missy 10

Shannon thinks she’s finally got across to David all that she wants in the poster. But we know better.

Missing Missy 11

Again, he’s followed her instructions. And she’s still not got what she wants.

Missing Missy 12

I love that he’s deliberately messing with her to prove his point – unless you think about what you’re asking someone to do it’s unlikely to end well.

Using the creative work to refine the brief is a crazy way to work. It’s lazy, disrespectful and shows you don’t actually care about the work your project will ultimately produce. You’re pretty much the nightmare client.

If only we were all as brave as David, then perhaps the people who write really terrible briefs would get their just desserts. Unfortunately, most of us are far too polite to actually point out the lack of clarity in other people’s thinking. Certainly more than once or twice on any single brief.

If you’re on the secretary’s side you’re most likely someone who writes terrible, terrible briefs.

There’s an old saying that people get the work they deserve.

So when you’re writing a brief, think hard.

Always try to communicate one single idea.

I promise you’ll get better work if you write a better brief.

If you don’t, give me a call and I’ll answer the brief for you.

And a final salute to David. Hats off to you sir. Your whimsical response to a shabby brief should be an inspiration to us all.

 

The UK government announced last year that they’re going to fast-track fracking applications in England and Wales.

The Energy Secretary, Amber Rudd, was on UK media pontificating about how local councils are dragging their heels over applications. (Her statement also seems massively at odds with the Tories stated aim of devolving power to local people, but that’s a discussion for another day.)

I have no idea whether councils are, or aren’t, dragging their heels.

But surely the only questions that should be relevant are:

  1. Is fracking safe?
  2. Does it benefit local people?

The answer to question one is that we don’t know yet. So surely doing a bit more research into this is the best way to go?

It’s another simple demonstration of why I think that governments are, generally, morons.

Fracking. Fracking idiots. Stop fracking. The Simpsons. Mr Burns.

Excellent. Or is it?

 

This situation reminds me of when Phil Woolas (a member of the previous Labour government) said “it is now down to the opponents of genetically modified food to prove it is unsafe.”

What a chancer. That’s like saying we can see that smokers suffer higher instances of cancer, but it’s up to them to prove that smoking causes cancer.

Sadly, due to the level of duplicity practiced in the UK by politicians, I no longer believe what they say. I read the Phil Woolas quote as “we can make a bucket-load of money if we allow GM crops”.

And it’s the same with this stance by the current crop of idiots (no pun intended).

Fracking is in the middle of a huge argument between scientists, power companies, governments and rich people. Surely we should listen to what the scientists say? Otherwise it’s the same as looking at the engine of a broken down car and asking a greengrocer to fix it.

Fracking. Frack off. Fracking idiots. Fracking protest. Stop fracking.

Excellent. Or is it?

Here’s a great quote from a US politician (there’s a sentence I never thought I’d type!):

But just to the west, natural gas development is dramatically changing the landscape. Drilling rigs are running around the clock in western Pennsylvania. Though buoyed by the economic windfall, residents fear that regulators can’t keep up with the pace of development. “It’s going to be hard to freeze-frame and say, ‘Let’s slow down,’?” Sen. Robert P. Casey Jr., D-Pa., said last fall. “That makes it more difficult for folks like us, who say we want to create the jobs and opportunity in the new industry, but we don’t want to do it at the expense of water quality and quality of life.”

Fracking. Fracking protest. Stop fracking. Anti-fracking protest.

US protesters making a pretty good point.

On a human note, do politicians not tire of making every decision based on money? Do they not wake up at 3 o’clock in the morning thinking: “I’m a horrible, soulless person?”

They bloody should.

Back to the UK Tory politician who has most recently advertised she’s sold her soul, Energy Secretary Amber Rudd. She’s quoted as saying: “delays in decisions on fracking don’t help anybody”. She’s got to be joking, surely?

How can so many people in the UK keep on voting for these self-centred heartless maniacs? Can she really not see that a delay might benefit all of us if it’s proven that fracking is environmentally unsound.

Some of the issues that are currently being debated are:

  • the amount of water required to carry out the fracking process
  • the loss of methane during transportation
  • the ‘dirty’ power used (diesel engines and generators) to extract fracked gas
  • water contamination (from leaks, not the actual process)
  • does fracking fluid contain carcinogens (like benzene and methanol)?

I’m no expert in energy production, nor would I claim to have an extensive knowledge of fracking. But after spending a fair amount of time reading both sides of the argument it appears that there are still significant debates occurring. So would it not make sense to pause for a moment, assess the facts and then move on in a manner that is safe for this generation and future generations to come?

I’d love Amber Rudd MP to see this and to respond. It would be fantastic to hear her try to explain her stance. I’m guessing it wouldn’t just be “we love money”. Unfortunately that’s what seems to drive most politicians these days.

I’m pretty certain that this signals the launch of the open season on fracking in England and Wales. However, as I live in Scotland things are a little different up here. The Scottish government has ordered a moratorium on fracking. They’re investigating to see if the benefits outweigh the negatives. Their stated aims are to:

  • undertake a full public consultation on unconventional oil and gas extraction
  • commission a full public health impact assessment
  • conduct further work to strengthen planning guidance
  • look at further tightening of environmental regulation.

Which seems like common sense to me. It’s the fact that politicians seem evasive that makes people think they’re trying to hide something. And the fact that companies refuse to reveal what their ‘secret ingredients’ are that erodes trust between them and the general public. Communicating isn’t difficult. Tell the truth, simply. Not. That. Hard. (Unless you have another agenda.)

Fracking. Stop fracking. Fracking is dangerous. Chemicals in fracking.

The mysterious approach of being economical with the truth.

What’s astonishing about the situation in Scotland is that politicians are using their brains to do the right thing (and not just the thing that makes rich people richer).

I’m pretty apolitical, but I’m proud that we seem to have a group of politicians who are driven by the welfare of everyone in the country and not just the elite. I’m sure they’ll manage to do stupid things too, but it seems like they’ll genuinely care about what they say and deliver.

As for the Tories and their desperate attempts to allow their rich friends to become even richer, I’m pretty disappointed. Absolutely not surprised, but very disappointed. Surely the people who vote for the Tories read the news each day and think “they’ve just shafted me again?”

Rant over.

Well, almost.

Seriously people, we hold the power. Protest and make sure we know the truth before we start allowing energy companies to drill all across the country. If it’s safe, then we’re all laughing. Loads of new energy sources – it’ll be happy days. But if we continue fracking and then find out it has horrific side effects then it’s too late.

As a side-note to Amber Rudd MP, do you want to be remembered as the person who let the genie out the bottle if fracking does have negative consequences? You have the power to order a moratorium. It’s what any sensible person would do.

Let’s make sure fracking is safe before we start celebrating rich folk getting richer.

Frank Budgen was a groundbreaking copywriter, director and inspiration.
He died on Monday 2nd November 2015.
I loved his work.
He continually delivered astonishingly effective and beautiful adverts, and yet remained humble and keen to learn new things.
He understood the need to make an impact.
So he changed and evolved to ensure that his approach always felt fresh. It always had something different.
He was a hero to many.

He was responsible for one of my favourite pieces of film (not just adverts) of all time, the ‘Double Life’ spot for the Sony Playstation. For me, it absolutely nails the target audience.
They don’t see computer games as a waste of time. They’re proud of the effort they put in and the alternative digital lives they lead. It’s a tribal thing, where the advert recognises the emotion that gamers feel. It looks fantastic and it still gives me goosebumps to watch.

He began his journey in advertising when he started as a copywriter at BBDO. He then moved to M&C Saatchi before becoming creative director at Boase Massimi Pollitt (BMP). The reputation that BMP enjoyed was based on their excellent creative output – one that saw regular award and account wins.

While working at BMP Frank directed his first commercial (that he also wrote) for John Smith’s Brewery.

By 1992 he had decided he wanted to direct rather than write and he left BMP to join the Paul Weiland Film Company. He continued to develop his skills there and launched his own production company, Gorgeous Enterprises, in 1997.
It’s one of the delights of working in advertising to call Gorgeous and be greeted with “Hello Gorgeous”.

He features in The Commercials Book: How 32 of the world’s best directors make their commercials. It’s a fantastic read. He talks at length and eloquently about how he approaches directing.

“In the end you have to let a piece of work kick you in the gut. I think too many people look for rules in advertising. It’s not about that. You have to feel it, and often too much of it gets strangled by logic.”

“I see my work as a team effort where there’s no distinction between writer, art director or director. Anybody can contribute to any part of the process. Most of my best work has been a collaboration between me and the agency at script stage. And it’s great when that carries on through the shoot into post production.
A lot of trust has to be given to a director the team may hardly know and I guess having an agency background can be reassuring.”

“Some people say that advertising has changed for the worse over the years. I actually think it’s got better.”

By his own admission he rarely knew what the finished commercial would look like. He took the approach that change was constant and he remained flexible in his approach to casting, rehearsals, locations and editing. And he wasn’t pigeon-holed by a style, or a technique or an approach. As he put it: “People tell me that I’ve got no style at all, which I think is meant as a compliment.”

He was recognised in 2012 at D&AD’s 50th anniversary celebrations as Britain’s most-awarded commercials director (jointly with Tony Kaye).

When he was working as a copywriter he wrote this ad for The Guardian that still resonates today.
It’s simple, memorable and powerful. The idea fits perfectly with the proposition – that The Guardian gives you every angle on a story. It was directed by Paul Weiland, who Frank went on to work for after BMP.

Here’s a selection of beautiful adverts Frank shot after he became a full-time director. Judge for yourself if he had no style.
(I think I’d change that earlier sentence to: Frank has no one particular style associated with his work. But, damn, he had style.)

Audi ‘Number One’ (1995)

Capital Radio ‘Static’ (1996)

VW ‘UFO’ (1996)

Centraal Beheer ‘Museum’ (1996)

Guinness ‘Bet on Black’ (2000)

Levi’s ‘Twist’ (2001)

Reebok ‘Escape the Sofa’ (2001)

Nike ‘Tag’ (2001)

NSPCC ‘Cartoon’ (2002)

Nike ‘Shade Runner’ (2002)

Playstation ‘Mountain’ (2003)

Xbox ‘Jump rope’ (2006)

Sony Bravia ‘Play Doh’ (2007)

And finally Playstation ‘Double Life’ (1999)

Well, it is my favourite.
Watch it again and marvel at the sheer beauty of it, on all levels.

Frank Budgen
(1954 – 2015)
Copywriter and director

Goodbye to a man who commanded armies and conquered worlds.
He will be missed.

Volvo has launched a great initiative called LifePaint. It’s come from their belief that road safety shouldn’t just be for the few, but for everyone.

Like all great ideas this invention is brilliantly simple.

It’s a spray can that has smart water in it. You spray it onto your clothes or your bike frame. It’s invisible during the day, but becomes highly reflective when headlights hit it. It’s water-soluble and it lasts about one week from when it’s sprayed on.

Now you see it, now you don’t

It’s part of Volvo’s stated aim that: “By 2020, no person will be killed, or seriously injured, by a new Volvo.”

And you can’t argue with the results.

The spray makes cyclists far more visible. And that’s surely got to be a good thing.

Highly visible when headlights hit the spray

Highly visible when headlights hit the spray

Or so you’d think. While researching this article, I came across a group of people who think that this is a bad idea. And they’re all cyclists. They argue that this is part of the automotive industry’s plan to blame everyone except car drivers. Which I just don’t get. Volvo doesn’t appear, to me, to be blaming anyone. They seem to be genuinely trying to make a difference.

Surely anything that makes cycling safer has got to be a good thing?

Some protesters have suggested that Volvos should be sprayed with LifePaint. Others argue that the paint isn’t particularly effective.

Even the London Cycling Campaign (LCC) seem to be against the paint.

Rosie Downes, Campaign Manager at the London Cycling Campaign, says:

“Life Paint and its accompanying marketing campaigning is a slick idea, but will it reduce road danger? We don’t think so: collisions aren’t caused by cyclists not wearing reflective paint.

“The video tells us that cyclists need to make themselves visible, but neglects to mention that drivers who are not paying attention can and do hit anyone, whatever they are wearing. The money spent on this campaign – and on the product itself – could be much better spent on concrete measures to reduce road danger, by improving street design and tackling driver behaviour – not giving drivers a reason to take less care.”

I don’t see it as giving drivers another reason to take less care.

I see it as a great idea that’s part of the solution to making roads safer. I absolutely agree that driver education is the way forward. But enforcement by the police would make a big difference.

How often do you see people on their phones? How often do you see people in slow-moving traffic texting or using their phones to get online? How often do people drive without paying attention?

These are the things we need to eradicate.

Here’s a great advert from Tower Hamlets that shows how dangerous texting is while driving (it’s as dangerous as driving drunk!). They’ve simplified the problem and then exaggerated it, creating a hugely powerful image that hammers home the point.

Simple yet hugely powerful

Simple yet hugely powerful

Volvo has a history of safety firsts. They’ve been responsible for many safety features we all take for granted nowadays. The first three-point seatbelt. First rear-facing child seat. First to offer side-impact airbags. First to offer a blind-spot information system (that really benefitted cyclists). The list goes on. They are true innovators. You can see more of what they’ve created in this timeline video.

This history of innovation in safety has underpinned their advertising for a long time. I think LifePaint is another area where they’re trying to use smart thinking to make the roads safer. Here are some previous examples:

Designed to crumple and protect the occupants

Designed to crumple and protect the occupants

Volvo cotton wool

Simplify, then exaggerate

A great thought that won loads of awards

A great thought that won loads of awards

One of my writing heroes, putting his money where his mouth is

One of my writing heroes, putting his money where his mouth is

There are a huge number of things we need to improve to help make our roads safer. Driver behaviour and concentration have to be at the top of the list. But anything I can do to improve my chances of being seen while I’m cycling is a great idea by me.

And I think that LifePaint is a great idea. Let’s not forget, Volvo is under no obligation to do this. So let’s try and not be cynical. Let’s embrace a great idea that will help cyclists be more visible and safer.

Hi. We’re Americans and we can’t see the link between having lots of guns and there being lots of people killed by shooting.

It’s a puzzler!

I noticed that a group in the US has started trying to make a difference and shock people into waking up and smelling the cordite. They opened a shop in NYC and started selling guns for the first-time buyer. The twist was that as the salesman told them about the gun he also told them its history and who it had been used to kill. Which is pretty powerful. You can watch the video here.

Not your average gun shop

Not your average gun shop

They produced this clever advert, using the commonly recognised target outline.

Guns destroy families

Guns destroy families

I despair virtually every week when I read of another senseless slaughter in America. You see families ripped apart. The people who are left, trying to make sense of it and wondering why their loved one (normally ones) isn’t (or aren’t) around any more.

There’s a simple solution – get rid of guns.

It’s that fucking simple.

Fewer guns mean fewer deaths.

It’s. Not. Rocket. Science.

There have been some great adverts done in the US to try and get gun controls implemented.

God bless America indeed!

God bless America indeed!

The line reads: All in favour of gun control raise your hand. All against, raise both.

The line reads: All in favour of gun control raise your hand. All against, raise both.

And before you get started on “It’s our unalienable right” blah blah blah, I’ll address that head on.

The Second Amendment states:

“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

There, apparently, are two ways to interpret this. The first way (let’s call it the moronic, selfish way) is to argue that an amendment (we’ll come back to that word later, stay tuned) written in 1791 is still valid today and means that lots of people who are of dubious mental state can keep an assault rifle at their whim.

The other way to interpret it (let’s call this the enlightened way) is that it was a law passed to counter the times they lived in (back in 1791). Transport was much slower and communities were far more isolated. So it made sense to have a militia to protect local areas. And arming them made sense too. Law enforcement back then wasn’t around, as such. They relied on local sheriffs who had little in the way of back up. And once criminals left the area there wasn’t a network of officers across the country to tackle them. So protection on the ground was important (and sensible).

Nowadays it makes no fucking sense whatsoever.

Twisted logic

Twisted logic

The US has the highest rate of firearms-related homicide in the industrialised world. One study shows that people who carry guns are 4.5 times as likely to be shot and 4.2 times as likely to be killed, compared to unarmed citizens.

On Friday, 2nd October, The Guardian newspaper in the UK printed figures that showed there had been 994 mass shootings in America in 1,004 days. (They defined a mass shooting as four or more people being shot in one incident.)

And it seems Americans just can’t see it.

Here’s a story of something that happened in 1987 to illustrate how fucked up the approach in the US is.

Seven-year-old Michelle Snow was killed in Riverside, California by a stray lawn dart that was thrown by her brother’s friend. The dart was part of a game, aimed at children, in the 1970s and 80s. The game involved throwing large, weighted darts with sharp metal tips at a target placed flat on the ground.

After the accident, Michelle’s father began campaigning to have the dart game banned. He argued that a full-scale ban was necessary – if you banned them in your house a neighbour’s kid could still chuck one over the fence. And he managed to get a US-wide ban (and they were banned in Canada too). It’s still illegal to even assemble a lawn dart in either of the countries. They used the fact that lawn darts had been responsible for over 6,000 emergency room visits in the previous eight years.

It made sense, and the government listened and banned the darts.

Just to recap – that’s one death caused by these darts and a total ban was enforced.

Yet the very same people can’t see that guns present a far greater and immediate danger to their children.

In 2013 a five-year-old boy in the US shot and killed his two-year-old sister. Which is horrific. He did it with a gun that was marketed to children. It was called ‘My first rifle’ and was a .22 calibre gun. Any normal person might expect a public backlash against guns and the consequences of owning them. But no. The NRA (and what a sane, rational lot of folks they are) held its annual meeting where it continued to market firearms and other associated paraphernalia to children. They had NRA bibs for children, ‘youth model’ firearms and books to make your own little psychopath a proper killing machine. And that’s not right, surely?

Let’s call it what it is – it’s fucked up. Totally, utterly, completely, mind-blowingly fucked up. And a huge part of the problem in America is the power of the NRA. And I don’t understand it. They’re outdated, out of touch and desperate to hold on to the big metal dicks in their hands.

The leader of the NRA is often heard stating the same mantra:

“The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”

The NRA has 4.5 million members. And they can rely on the backing of arms manufacturers across the US – and we know they’re making plenty of cash. Production of guns in the US saw more than 10.8 million guns manufactured in 2013 (that’s double the total of 2010).

What’s really, really scary is that after a big shooting, the NRA’s membership seems to go up. The Huffington Post reported that, in 2013, “The National Rifle Association’s paying member ranks have grown by 100,000 in the wake of the December school shooting in Newtown, Conn.” This shooting killed 26 people (including 20 young children). And the response? More guns. Yee ha!

And, as the Second Amendment is an amendment, surely that means that there’s scope for a further amendment to change the way the law works? Well, yes and no. They’ve tried to pass laws to make it harder to obtain a gun. And lost. They’ve tried to ban assault rifles and lost. (They managed to get a partial ban for 10 years from 1994, but then the law expired and they’ve not managed to get a new one passed.) And it will keep on happening until someone with a big enough pair of balls stands up to the gun manufacturers and the NRA and faces them down.

Too many US politicians see that the gun industry has financial power and if there’s one thing politicians like, it’s power. So they tend to do what the money tells them to do. Much like politicians around the world – they seem to have forgotten they are elected to represent the people.

Not the companies.

Not the lobbying groups.

The people.

The very same people whose life expectancy is vastly lowered by having so many guns in the country. Perhaps one day a US politician will actually give a fuck and actually make a difference. At the moment they seem to have decided that the NRA is too powerful to challenge, so they’ve stopped even trying.

If someone told you that your child had a better chance of survival if you banned guns, would you ban guns?

Come on people. It shouldn’t be that difficult.