Monthly Archives: July 2009

Battle of big thinking (£649)

A couple of weeks ago, I saw an ad for ‘the 4th Battle of Big Thinking’. The ad looked great. It offered the chance to see some big names in the industry battle it out on ‘marketing, planning, innovation, social media, mobile, global thinking and the concept of free in 21st century business’. So, I thought, I’ll email the address at the bottom and see how I can get tickets. There was no mention of price, and despite the blurb mentioning ‘the concept of free’ as a subject of debate, I expected some sort of nominal payment. The sort of payment that ‘OpenSoho’ use whereby some form of financial requirement removes those people who will put their name down for the opening of a bowel…so long as it is free…

Today, exactly 20 days after my initial email, I received my response. Yes, there were indeed tickets still available and these tickets were priced at £649 for non members and £559 for members of the APG. Suddenly the whole aura about the event faded. This wasn’t an expression of ideas open to all seeking enlightenment…it was a big agency love-in…an opportunity to talk about the importance of collaboration, the changing face of marketing, a bottom up approach…but not open to anyone who was genuinely interested, only to those from big brands and big name agencies who could come along and see how one of their own was faring in the competitive arena of debate…

 I don’t for one minute attribute any blame to those speaking. It would be an honour to be invited to attend and those names that I recognise are voices that I genuinely hold respect for, whose blogs I read and whose tweets I follow. It’s the organisers who I blame because when all the talk will be about collaboration, authenticity and questioning what surrounds us…the whole event seems horribly insular and elitist.

The organisers would argue that the price justifies the quality of the speakers but when I look at comparative prices of ‘entertainment’, I can’t see how it adds up… Intellectual debate – well Malcolm Gladwell cost £16 at the Lyceum last year. Even if you multiply that by the number of speakers here – then it is only £272… Or how about entertainment? I renewed my season ticket at Arsenal in May and that works out at £40 per game for 90 minutes entertainment. This would cost the same as every game from the start of the season until March.

Putting aside the fact that there are still tickets 3 weeks after first advertised, I’m sure the event will sell out of tickets in the end because there’ll always be plenty of agency bigwigs wanting to go along and network/sip champagne. However, I’d call that ‘big living’ rather than ‘big thinking’…

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Sicilian Adventures Days 6-8

The final post of the Sicilian Adventures series confirms one very important point. Alcohol seriously reduces levels of productivity. The first 5 days of the trip involved a variety of cultural exploits. At one point, I was seriously concerned that I had completely metamorphosed into a culture vulture. Churches, Roman ruins, debates over the European Union and a fondness for Pecorino cheese and olive oil had almost meant that my own mother would have ceased to recognise me from the person that had left. Fortunately, Taormina ensured a return to form and my true colours came out. I’ve been on any number of ‘boys holidays’ over the years – but I don’t think I have ever matched the sheer volume of alcohol that we drunk in these final three days…

Our first night saw us visit a restaurant that the concierge at our hotel recommended. It was unfortunately less Italian trattoria, more Bratwurst bar as it seemed to be aimed solely at Germans. It was also slightly disconcerting that a small child walked out the restaurant half way through our meal to vomit on the pavement outside. Fortunately we escaped unscathed and headed into town. I had looked online before we visited to find out where the happening places were in town. One name that came out was ‘Deja Vu’. Despite sounding like the sort of nightclub that would be normally based in Watford and play UK Garage, it was quite a cool venue that played lots of classic music – very guilty pleasures-esque. It was there that we discovered the drink of the holiday – named ‘Il Padrino’ – a heady mix of whisky and amaretto – no mixers. Things got a little bit hazy after the 5th.

Day 7 was spent sweating. A lot. And generally feeling unwell. I had been looking forward to some sunbathing all week and now when finally in the glare of the sun, felt decidedly unwell. Being troopers we all pushed through and prepared for a meal at Ol’Oragio.

Eating at Ol'Orogio - Suitably Cheesy pose

Eating at Ol'Orogio - Suitably Cheesy pose

This was probably the best meal we enjoyed in Sicily. Fresh anchovies on toast, bresoala and tuna, sea bass and salmon carpaccio followed by fresh fish the size of my forearm washed down with ‘Casa LJ’, an amazing Sicilian Chardonnay that flew in the face of those who say that they don’t like any Chardonnays. With our alcoholic appetite whetted by multiple Limoncellos, we moved to déjà Vu via flaming B52 doused in pure alcohol to set them alight. Deja Vu saw more terrible dancing and lots of fun. Whilst we thought we were a cross between John Travolta and Michael Jackson – the photos tell an entirely different story…

Day 8 was again spent sweating. Lots. There was not a cloud in the sky for the entire duration of our stay. Perfect for after 12 hrs sleep. Less good after 4. Somehow it is easier to get over hangovers when on holiday and we managed to gear ourselves up to what was the cultural highlight of our trip – watching Jose Carreras at the Taormina Amphitheatre.

Jose Carreras at the Taormina Amphitheatre

Jose Carreras at the Taormina Amphitheatre

It was an amazing experience. I’ve been to the opera and ballet in London and have enjoyed it on occasions and been bored on occasions. In London, going to ballet and opera can feel really elitist. This felt more like going to a  football match. There was a sense of tribalism as we walked up the hill to get to the amphitheatre and a sense of expectancy. This was after all, one of the greatest tenors that has ever lived. And he delivered. He obviously isn’t what he once was…but the setting and the occasion combined to deliver an extraordinary experience. I’ve always been more into dance music or rock music and turned my nose up at classical music. More out of ignorance than anything else and this made me really rethink…

 We set off the next day to return to England via Catania. Returning…to the cold…to the rain…and to swine flu… all I wanted was to live in Italy

 Over and out…

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Sicilian Adventures Day 5

The first four days of the trip have been weighted towards getting to grips with the culture that Sicily has to offer. We have moved every night and worked our way round from the North of the Island through the East and South right round to the crown jewel of the island (from a tourist perspective) – Taormina

Taormina is perched on a cliff overlooking the sea and Mount Etna, the gloriously active volcanoe. It truly is a stunning place with a winding road that sweeps up through the cliff until to arrive at the centre of the town. it genuinely looks like a scene from ‘Talented Mr Ripley’ with our view of the boats bobbing in the sea in front of us. We are staying in the picturesque ‘Villa Belvedere’, a small hotel with a real charm about it… Here is the view:

View from Villa Belvedere

View from Villa Belvedere

Getting from A to B on this island takes time. The roads are basic and the heat means that it is impossible to do anything fast. One could argue that we were slowed by the amount we drank last night…but I prefer to think it is the heat and quality of infrastructure…

We arrived too late to have  aproper look around the town so we are heading out for supper at a local trattoria before getting an early night. We’re not planning on doing much during the day for the next couple of night bar reading by the pool but we have managed to secure tickets for Carreras in the open air Greek theatre on Saturday night which should be spectacular…

Over and out…

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Sicilian Adventures – Day 4

Day 4 saw us head from Agrigento to Syracuse. The drive is about 250km and takes in the stunning coastline along the south of the island. Along the way, we stopped at a pizzeria which must have been a front for money laundering…a lot of dodgy looking mafioso, about 40 tables…and only us eating there…

As one of my friens pointed out, where Coppolla was so successful in his Godfather trilogy was the way he captured the stillness of Siciliy. Not a lot happens here. It is incredibly calm and quiet around a lot of the island…and very hot. It regularly tops 40 degrees…

We arrived in Syracuse around 7pm and headed out into the square where Archimides is commemorated. It’s a beautiful place that we walked around before settling on a fun bar and then onto a Sicilian party that overlooked a lake. It was truly stunning. We were definitely the only non Sicilians and their reaction to us being at their party was very mixed. Some were pleased and hapy for us whilst others were less keen.

Unfortunately at the end of the night, some of the Sicilians who were at the party followed us on mopeds and tried to rob us. Fortunately, only one of my friends was hit and we managed to get away without losing anything… A lucky escape…

Taormina beckons next and the experience is likely to be quite different. Taormina is the richest part of the island and will offer a much more relaxed section of the holiday…

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Sicilian Adventures: Day 3

Today has seen about 300k covered in the trusty Fiat 500. The route saw us head along the northern coast to Erice via Trapani…then along the southern tip to Selinunte before a final stretch to Agrigento.

Erice is a medieval town where Daedelus (minus Icarus) apparently landed. It is very quaint and there is an amazing view as it is so high. That’s about it though and after some stuffed ravioli and a quick mooch around-it was back on the road to Selinunte.

Selinunte is a pretty special place with amazing Greek ruins. It is pretty amazing to see how they could create such huge monument smore than 2000 years ago. It was definitely a long day in the car though. Selinunte was a good couple of hours from Erice…and then the trip to Agirigento took another couple of hours.

Agrigento looked a pretty grim place as we drove in and I feared the worst when we were stuck in traffic jams past McDonalds and other low grade establishments about what our hotel might be like. Hotel in the end was not really the right word as the place called ‘Fattoria Mose’ was a stunning bed and breakfast tucked into the hills. Check it out here:

 Agrigento

All the guests eat together at night and are served tradition Sicilian fare. We enjoyed meat and potatoes, aubergine, fresh ricotta, pecorino with chilli and pepper and an amazing pear tart  covered in chocolate sauce alongside ice cream with grated pistachio.

Throughout and after supper we tucked into some fantastic red eand discussed a diverse range of topics with our hosts from how they make olive oil and cheese, to the effectiveness of the European Union – through to alternative energy supplies and the Mafia. This was getting to grips with the real Italy and a welcome twist to our adventures.

Tomorrow, we check out the temples in Agrigento and then head along to Syracusa… More to come

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Sicilian Adventures – Day 3

We’ve managed to achieve a compromise between culture and relaxation today. It is quite tempting sometimes, particularly when lying in the sun, to stay there for the day…fortunately we managed to fight these urges and have today visited two churches, enjoy a lovely meal and still manage to enjoy the best sun of the day.

We left Palermo early for the pictureque town of Monreale to visit ‘the Duomo’, an amazing church where the interior is created totally out of small mosaic tiles. This task must have been a dedication to god in itself! The town is amazing though. Postcard perfect in fact with small cafes surrounding a beautiful square. The scenery throughout the whole of Sicily is stunning. All the towns are framed by enormous mountains, the land is lush and green and the sea glistens a bright turqoise colour.

From Monreale, we headed to the town of Cefalu. Cefalu has another ‘Duomo’-again created from small mosaic tiles but 40 years after the one in Monreale. This building was created by Fred 11 who always makes us laugh…the first ruler in European history we have come across called ‘Fred’.

It is tiring driving so much but worthwhile and after returning to Palermo, we eat at a restaurant called ‘Scudderia’ which is at the Palermo football ground. It really is like something out of goodfellas. After we had eaten, the long haired very italian chef came out to check we were satisfied with food. He then said he had moved from peckham rye 2 weeks previously! Some things you never escape…

Our new hotel is located near an area called ‘little amsterdam’- a square where all the young people congregate, eat food, drink and sing. This was the real Palermo. It was great. Palermo is not the most overtly friendly of places but one thing it has is soul and I will be sad to leave it. Not the prettiest city, it has character in bucketloads…

Agrigento, here we come…

Sicilian Adventures Day 2

Day 2 of the Sicilian trip has been fantastic. A real mix of lounging around, some great food and some culture. And being with great mates makes it almost perfect.

Last night, we enjoyed a fantastic meal in the centre of the town. Sicily has a reputation for great food that is carefully prepared and so far that is a reputation that is fully deserved. First courses were antipasti  – 3 huge plates of salad, cheeses, prosciutto hams and more. We then enjoyed buttered spaghetti with truffles. Forget truffles in London, these were bloody great shavings where you literally had to tell the waiter to stop when you had enough…amazing… Washed down with a great Viognier at the restaurant and a couple of litres of cheap sugarry mojitos in a piazza nearby.

Palermo is a strange city. It doesn’t have  a huge night life. The centre of town was busy but began to empty out about half past one unlike many other cities. It also has next to no tourists. Everyone has been friendly but not in as outgoing a way as say, a Barcelona or a Paris… There are some areas of the town that become no-go areas late at night and the spectre of the Mafia lingers over the city as a sub text.

Today the morning was spent enjoying the pool, catching up and enjoying breakfast on the roof terrace. A few hours in the sun later, we ventured to the ‘Trattoria Primavera’, a no-frills restaurant in the old town that was recommended to us which provided amazing value and great tasting rustic style Sicilian food. The food is simple, hearty and based around good quality ingredients. We then headed to the ‘Cathedrale’ nearby. This was build over a number of centuries starting in the 11th century and having bits and pieces added to it over the following four centuries. It was striking from the outside but underwhelming on the inside. The guidebook suggested that some aspects were not appreciated by the purists…the dome was added in the 15th Century…but I thought it was really striking. It helped that all the buildings were set against the brightest bluest sky imaginable…and right next to an amazing ice cream shop!

Next up were the catacombs just away from the centre of the city. Here 8000 skeletons have been preserved underground through a variety of methods including arsenic baths, vingear, embalming and many more. It is  areally creepy place and in the rough end of town. It’s a real experience though and well worth a visit.

Tonight is going to be a relaxed affair. It’s about 34 degrees here and energy levels don’t last long in that heat. Roll on the beach day tomorrow before heading on to stay in Agrigento for a night, Syracuse for a night and Taormina for the final three day…

Can’t wait

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Sicilian Adventures – Day 1

Ciao! This is the first entry of my week long Sicilian journey…

Fortunately, despite the best efforts of Ryanair, it’s been a success… Ryanair are one of those brands that get a lot of stick. Everyone loves to have a go at them but they do provide an essential service, namely getting people from A to B for a low price with minimum fuss. I would however like to suggest a couple of tweaks to their service that I think would fundamentally aid their reputation…

– Don’t advertise sachets of booze every 2 minutes throughout the duration of the flight, particulatly at 06:10 in the morning when passengers are trying to get some shut eye

– Ignore ‘budget airline protocol’ and employ people other than peroxide blonde slappers and incredibly camp chipmunks who cannot assist passengers in any way

– Most importantly, do not incentivise passengers to purchase ‘scratch cards by saying that if you sell 20, then you will sing a karaoke version of Britnet Spears ‘Hit me baby, one more time’ upon landing (the camp chipmunk)

My abiding memory of the first moments in Sicily will not be the spectacular descent over the fishermans boats and rocks onto a runway that is essentially a spit of land jutting out into the sea, but the offensive kaaraoke outlined above. Ear bleedingly bad…

Anyway, capuccinos, focaccia bread and a Fiat 500 later, we were heading into Central Palermo to our central hotel location. The Hotel Ambasciatori is pretty basic but perfect for our needs and within easy distance of our friends who have already arrived.

Lunch by the pool consisted of Sea Bass which tasted great. The big difference from travelling in Eirope in previous years is the Euro. You know what has happened to the exchange rate but it is only when travelling abroad that it really comes home to roost. Fish was 10 Euros for 100g which seems pretty expensive. It was good though and the rest of the stay should provide us with more opportunities to seek out traditional Trattorias more likely to provide real character and value for money.

After a recommendation, we are set to head out to eat at a restaurant called  Zafferanos which is supposed to be great and then out into the new town. The old town is apparently off limits after dark. The shadow of the Mafia really lingers over Palermo. Upon arriving, we were quoted prices to park on the street behind the hotel. Apparently though, the parking is all free and these are just extortionists preying on those without any local knowledge.

Driving is also terrifying. Right of way is a myth in many parts of the city and it is a free for all. It’s a question of sticking your neck out an relying on people stopping to avoid hitting you. Fortunately, my travelling companion is Greek and has experience of driving in Athens. The only worse drivers in Europe than the Italians are the Greeks!

We’re planning trips around the old town to check out the sites as well as a visit to Corleone tomorrow or Monday which should be great. Will hopefully have more to report then…

Till then…

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London Cycling – Brooklyn Bike

I’m a cycling convert. The idea of getting the tube into London now fills me with dread. This morning I had to take it as I am heading off on holiday and it reminded me just how much I hate it. No lifts working at Holloway Road. 3 trains then passed before I could get on with giant suitcase. Finally squeezed on amidst passengers hissing at me for having such a large bag… It wasn’t my fault I am heading off on holiday and was on the only tube line that takes me to a London airport…

 Anyway, that is besides the point. Back to cycling. I have a  Charge plug racer. It’s quite a mean fixed wheel bike. Having one gear means it is much harder work to get around town but much more fun and far better for you… It’s basically a courier bike…or the sort of bike lots of people in London agencies cycle around on! What my bike doesn’t allow me to do is sit up, leisurely potter around town with my head up taking in what is around me. Sometimes, I think about buying a traditional Dutch bike that allows me to potter around. Hopefully, the new cycle hire system that I came across earlier in the week in west Kensington will let me do more of the pottering and less of the racing around…

Hire a bike in West London

Hire a bike in West London

 I came across this bike this morning. I think it may be the most beautiful bike that I have ever seen… it’s called ‘The Dutch Master’ and is made by Core 77. It is basically a modern take on a traditional model. It truly is a thing of beauty…

core77_dutchmaster_01

core77_dutchmaster_04

core77_dutchmaster_03

I want one…

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Crowd Sourcing & Charlie Brooker

Reading Charlie Brooker’s article in The Guardian yesterday was laugh out loud funny. He was talking about crowdsourcing and wrote:

In case you don’t know what CROWDSOURCING is, it’s a stomach-churning new media term obviously invented by a bastard made of piss. In this case, it means going online and asking passersby to suggest subjects for me to write a smattering of short pieces about, in order to fill up this page and send you away happy.

Just in case you wanted to see for yourself what crowdsocurcing can do, here is  a cool japanese music video created by crowdsourcing…