The lion, the switch to digital, and (cannot find a relevant word that rhymes with ‘wardrobe’ for the headline)


Late in 1988 I was invited for an interview for a job at The Architects’ Journal. Independently owned, and with offices in Queen Anne’s Gate, the ‘AJ’ was an extremely well respected publication, whose staff at that time included historian Dan Cruickshank.

Once inside the building I was led down a set of stairs and ushered into one of the most fantastic pubs I have ever experienced. A stuffed lion’s head in a glass cabinet looked over me as I negotiated the interview’s questions, trying not to put off by the rather unusual interview setting of a cellar bar. Gavin Stamp does a much better job that I could describing the uniqueness of ‘The Bride of Denmark’ in his Spectator article of 1990, shortly after Robert Maxwell’s group took over the AJ.

I was offered the job, accepted, and spent a couple of years working in that fantastic building until Maxwell added us to his portfolio and the AJ began its journey into the world of big corporate business to business publishing houses, where content comes second to advertising revenue, and editors and journalists have a responsibility to generate money as well as words.

27 years later, and 119 years after the AJ was first published, the decision has been made to close the print version, and move it to a digital-only format. No more will the fantastic photography and wonderful descriptive and opinionated editorial be held in the hands of the country’s grand, and not so grand, designers.

While this is a tremendous shame, it was an inevitable move, and one that the current owners, EMAP, not known for their intelligence when monetising digital platforms, should have probably made many years earlier. (Incidentally, the EMAP brand is also being killed off, hopefully along with the associated arrogance of the past 35 years).

I have always supported the move from print to digital B2B publishing wherever possible and relevant, but can’t help feeling regret that the real Architect’s Journal will die.

Even as an advocate of all things digital, my memories of the look and feel of the 1980’s AJ, and of an atmospheric cellar bar in a Georgian London street, make me sad that yet another tiny piece of character has being taken from my life.


Ego ergo

Strikes me that it would be better if senior business managers and boards took advice from experienced and skilled middle managers when making major business decisions.

Many senior managers are scared of making a decision in case they get it wrong – middle managers, less so.

They see markets how they are, rather than how they want them to be, and rarely let their egos get in the way, as it’s usually lack of ego keeping them from executive roles.

reality-is-simply-the-loss-of-ego-ramana-maharshiMake me look good

Bloody hell, that was deep.

Great news! More homeless!

My fellow villagers in Melbourn are celebrating a great victory as a planning application to build 199 new houses and a 70 bed care home has been turned down. Our parish councillors are crowing about the win, posting signs around the village declaring ‘Great news, application denied’.

The argument goes that the new houses would put too much pressure on existing services and village infrastructure, and the councillors still insist that they are “….able to show that we continue to welcome new housing in the village…” citing the fact that 74 new homes are under construction.

Of course, it’s not about services. It’s about NIMBY’s protecting their house prices and their little bit of Middle England. If houses come, so will services. Looking at it another way, if more houses are not built, existing services may diminish. Those complaining about the local roads becoming too congested are the same people who park on the double-yellow lines near the village centre causing traffic chaos.

(As an aside, the local councillors boast about the building of the ‘Melbourn Hub‘, an admittedly impressive project providing a community centre for the village. If they are really concerned about losing services, they should perhaps look at the catering provided at the Hub, which take valuable lunchtime business away from the local pubs and local businesses. And of course, the Hub is not subject to the same business rates and taxes.)

There’s a housing shortage guys. The country needs 300,000+ houses built over the next 12 months, and a continued programme of similar amounts over the next few years. 74 houses just doesn’t cut it. We need homes for our children, and our grandchildren. Of course the developers (Endurance Estates) are out to make as much money as they can – so negotiate and ensure that the village gets a good deal in return.

But what’s the point? The Melbourn NIMBY’s will shrug their shoulders and get back to washing their 4 x 4’s or flicking another page of their Daily Mail.

“199 new homes declined. 199 more families not on the housing ladder.’embrynimby

You doth protest too much…….

I can’t imagine myself on a protest march. Although I hold fairly strong and sometimes non-mainstream and hypocritical views on a diverse spread of subjects – protection of wildlife,  bigotry, motorists rights, affordable housing – I don’t see the attraction, or the effectiveness, of joining hundreds or thousands of like-minded individuals stomping through city centres to draw attention to my beliefs. To be honest, many of my views wouldn’t fill a protest meeting in a telephone box, let along a large banner waving crowd marching along Whitehall.

So, I have little sympathy with the climate change marchers who are outraged that they may have to fund their own security on their tramp through Central London rather than being given the protection of our nothing better to do police force, funded by the taxpayer. The organisers have been told the police will no longer facilitate the temporary closure of roads along the agreed route, and that they need to hire a private firm to oversee it.

“Protest is a fundamental right”, so says Sam Fairbairn, national secretary of the People’s Assembly. Indeed, I have a fundamental right to drive on a motorway, but not to demand that taxpayers pay for my car.

He continues, “This will make it virtually impossible to hold a protest unless you have rich backers.”  Maybe, but with Bill Gates, Richard Branson and Bono among the ranks of vocal climate change lobbyists, surely they could muster the necessary financial support. And surely the marchers, these guardians of our climate, could also raise a few quid among themselves, given that none of them will have the expensive running costs of motor vehicles or the need to buy supermarket meat.

Yes you have a right to protest, but not the right to use the tax I pay to support your views which I may or may not agree with. Who the hell do you think you are? The under-funded Metropolitan Police probably believe that they have slightly higher priorities than providing traffic control for anyone who may wish to pursue their cause by congregating in public spaces – like fighting crime, maybe?

Fund your own causes, as I do. Which is why I’m paying for a room in a local hotel next Tuesday to protest about the downsizing of Wagon Wheels. I don’t envisage any public safety issues.


From Russia with love….

As we move into 2015 it looks like President Putin’s arrogance and general tunnel vision around both internal and external affairs will not subside. Putin seems untouchable, despite Russia’s current economic hardships, and tensions between him and  US led western countries are slowly escalating, a situation which can only result in one thing. A new cold war.

And I for one welcome it.

OK, it’s not that pleasant to have nuclear missiles pointed at our major cities (I suppose the ‘what you can’t see can’t hurt you’ dictate probably doesn’t apply here), but otherwise the cold war could be quite, well, comforting.

For a start, many fantastic films and books were generated by the last cold war. ‘Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy’, ‘Funeral in Berlin’, ‘The Hunt for Red October’ are classics, and our fictional super spies are always at their best fighting the Eastern Bloc as opposed to some trumped-up and implausible megalomaniac.

Due to the UK’s strategic geographical position, the Americans may start caring about us a bit more, which would be good for trade. We may even be able to reinvent the ‘special relationship’ we had in the 1980’s, through whichever muppets are elected our respective leaders over the next twelve months.

Lastly, the cold war was clean. By which I mean it would represent a pleasant change from the religion fuelled terrorist conflicts which exist today, and have been highlighted in the terrible events which have unfolded in France the past week. Poisoned umbrella tips, radiation laced cocktails and exploding cigars are really rather cool, and must be preferable to mass executions.

As I write, I fear I may be alone in my opinion, but that’s freedom of speech for you – it gives idiots a chance.


Complain about Facebook and Google, sure. But first understand how it all works

The current controversy around Facebook’s recent study is the latest in a long line of protection of privacy issues which ignore one of the myths of living in the digital age.That the internet, is completely free.
No, it’s not. Facebook is a business, and while you may not obviously part with your hard-earned as you would on Amazon or eBay, arguably you pay for access to these sites with something far more valuable. Your personal data. What’s more, you hand it over cheaply, often almost unconsciously, whenever you click a link that says ‘I accept’.
In the great scheme of things, the Facebook study is fairly innocent – OK, some users have been slightly manipulated, but the demographic used as a sample was more than likely to have been the ‘Can’t believe he said that’ and ‘Wow, TOWIE’s back’ brigade, for who unknowing manipulation must be a way of life. The fear ‘but what about if they wanted to manipulate an election?’ is an interesting issue, but again, if a few subliminal messages and actions by  a glorified gossip board can make you change where you put your tick, you should immediately sign yourself up for a frontal lobotomy.
We need to be careful what we wish for – if we deny internet giants such as Facebook access to the valuable commodity of data they may start asking for something else to access their services, such as cash. Not many would ‘like’ that.
On a slightly different, but related, note, the BBC’s Robert Peston is complaining of Google censorship after they removed one of his posts from SERPs as a consequence of a ‘right to be forgotten’ request. Robert, Google lists links to your articles for free, and you do not have the right to be included in any results. They haven’t censored you, your article is still on the website where it was originally published. Given that Google’s main criteria is to return the most relevant and informative results to a search, I would argue that unless someone uses the keywords ‘inflated buffoon’, you should probably appear on fewer results pages than you currently do.
Peston has arrogantly appealed to Google, no doubt a slightly easier and higher publicity generating target than the real villains, the European Court of Justice, who issued the ill thought-out ‘right to be forgotten’ ruling in the first place.