Wednesday, 6 March 2013

London lavatory strategy, advertising talent, Russell's Paradox, Happy Moscow and sensitive regions

A visit to a young friend who owns an advertising agency, along with his two partners, called 18 Feet and Rising, which is surely a completely brilliant name for an advertising agency?

I am reminded by this of Raymond Chandler’s quote about talent and its waste:

 ‘ It was the greatest waste of talent I’d ever seen - outside of an advertising agency’

I think he was referring to chess, but I thought of it because the excellent company of my friend reminded me of how wrong Chandler was in his sentiment. There is nothing wasteful about the talent in an advertising agency that is making great ads.

And talking of great ads, can anyone doubt that the greatest advertising slogan ever written was created by an agency called Gold, Greenlees and Trott for Red Rock Cider?

‘Red Rock Cider, it’s not red, and there’s no rocks in it’ qualifies as a stroke of pure advertising genius.

My young friend took me to a new coffee house in Great Titchfield Street which is housed in a former public toilet, one of the style that took you below street level into a white tiled basement supervised, usually, by an attendant of understandably mournful disposition.

The staff were bright, helpful and cheerful until I asked them if the cafe had a toilet.

It has not.

Ah, so we had found ourselves in a toilet without a toilet.

I recall Bertrand Russell’s paradox : Can a set which is not a member of itself be a set?

I don’t know.

Can a toilet which is not a toilet be a coffee house - in London, yes!

Public toilets in London have now gone upmarket and their entrance price has risen accordingly to 50 pence, which is fine if you are working but must be prohibitive for the thousands who are not. ( there is one great exception - Church Street Market has a superb Tudor public convenience which is free! )

Even if you work, it is usually only urgent desperation which drives you into a public lavatory and the requirement, as the pressure mounts, to find a fifty pee piece can be excruciating. (pun unintended, as usual)

I feel it my public duty to let Londoners and visitors alike know how to avoid public lavatories - just take a leaf out of our great wartime Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s book.

He always used the lavatory in a private club of which he was not a member.(they just keep on coming!)

He would stride past the doorman, studiously avoiding his stare.

Eventually, he was challenged.

‘I’m sorry Sir, but you can’t just come in here and use the lavatory, this is a private club.’

Churchill stared at the doorman, his eyes widening.

‘ Good grief - is it?’

So, when the digestive tract has done its work, and you are abroad on the streets of London, glance around and settle on the finest looking building nearby. If it is in any way open, walk in and ask in a solicitous voice where the toilet is.

Try to give the impression that you want to know for professional purposes - as if you are a building inspector, or a health and safety inspector.

You will not be refused.

If you are, ask what purpose the building serves, and prepare to say, ‘ Good grief, is it? upon hearing the reply.

Elena and I flew back to Moscow yesterday, and we are happy to be back in the land of deep snow and big blue skies.

The Airport Express is as reliable as ever, but the constant tannoy announcements about suspicious packages, inevitable and unavoidable as they seem to be,eventually generate a sense of paranoia that Orwell’s 1984 has arrived at last, and governments the world over are busy terrifying their populations so that they can assume ever greater powers in order to protect us from terrorists.

In Britain, legislation to institute secret courts has just been passed by the House of Commons.

In the USA, Obama has passed a law, which he says he won’t use, allowing him to order the arrest and detention of anyone suspected of being an enemy, which claim sounds like doublespeak to me.

One of the best novels I have read in a long time is by a Russian author called Platanov, who wrote ‘Happy Moscow’ about a woman called Moscow, in the 1930’s.

It is a satire of Soviet life, so of course it was banned by Stalin, who had no sense of humour but liked killing people.

The humour is centred on the ways in which the natural idealism of Russians towards their communist experiment was crushed by the constant, creeping encroachments that the state made into the private sphere, driving individualism into darker and darker corners to seek relief from the glare of the public domain.

Is it just me, or is this happening at last?

It won’t have come about as a result of a sinister plan, it will be a hell the road to which was paved with good intentions, just as T.S Eliot, in The Hollow Men, concluded that world would not end with a bang, but a whimper.

Actually, as in Doctor Strangelove, it will end in an accidental bang.

There is something very reassuring about the makeshift public lavatories of Moscow - they look like converted Tardis’s from Dr Who.
In the background is Marshall Zhukov on his horse, leaving
the Kremlin to his left. These public toilets are opposite what
was once The Duma, now a museum of the 1812 war with Napoleon.

You pay the female attendant and buy your toilet paper from her - an important piece of quantity surveying on your part, for which you may not be fully trained if you are not a native.

Public lavatories across the road from the Bolshoi Theatre - these are 20 rubles

No Health and Safety executive has been anywhere near these insubstantial sheds, which feel as if they might topple over in a strong wind, and which certainly offer no protection against frostbite in indelicate regions.

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