Canal Holiday Didn’t Float My Boat

I thought there would be nothing more relaxing than a canal boat holiday. Travelling at 4mph along sleepy waterways through beautiful countryside sounded idyllic. Until I did it.

Paul Lewis gets that sinking feeling
Paul Lewis gets that sinking feeling

I thought there would be nothing more relaxing than a canal boat holiday. Travelling at 4mph along sleepy waterways through beautiful countryside sounded idyllic. Until I did it.

Let’s take that 4mph thing first. Time goes slowly and that’s what we love about canals- if we’re sitting out on deck with a G&T. Time going slowly is not so much fun when you’re waiting for the boat to respond to your moving the tiller and you’re going down a canal that’s maybe two or three boats wide. You hardly ever seem to get more than five minutes before a boat comes past in the opposite direction. Steer too far to the right and you’re grounded, too far to the left and you’re playing dodgems.

At first, I was zigzagging from left to right like a UKIP voter. Eventually I acquired a steady hand on the tiller but, even then, I couldn’t afford to lose concentration for a moment. If I took a second to look at a heron or sip a beer, I’d find myself grinding to a halt as I mounted the deceptively shallow bank. And, however blasé I became, the approach of another boat seemed to draw me toward it like a moth to a flame.

Aye Aye Captain

While some of the ‘crew’ might relax with a cocktail or a cuppa, there was no relaxation for the Captain and me. (My brother-in-law saw himself as Captain Hook while I, as a less than able seaman, was clearly Smee.) Every few minutes, there was a lock or a swing bridge to negotiate. Each time, I had to leap from the barge onto the tow path with a rope, pull the vessel into the bank and tie it up to a little bollard.

This was not helped by my complete ignorance of the way floating objects behave. I soon found out that when you pull one end, the other end goes in the opposite direction leading to the boat completely straddling the canal like a river police roadblock.

Having secured the vessel, I would sprint to the lock, ratcheting some ratchety thing to fill or drain the lock chamber, untie the boat so it could sail into the lock, and then go through the process in reverse. After that, it would sail out of the lock and I would have to secure it again while I finished my work at the lock. Finally I had to untie it and push it off with one foot on the tow path and one foot on the boat, bringing me dangerously close to falling in or splitting my difference.

Swing bridges, which operate like the gate to a field, are slightly easier but still hard work. On one occasion, pushing the bridge open proved beyond me so my brother-in-law got off the barge to help. It was only when we finally opened it that we realised we were both on one side of the canal and the boat was on the other.

Cabin Fever

At the end of each day of this ‘relaxing’ holiday, I was more exhausted than I have ever been in my life. At least I slept well because it might otherwise have been a sleepless night, given how cramped these boats are, even the big ones. My wife and I were sharing with two other couples. So each evening, we had to convert the comfy chairs in the sitting room-cum-kitchen into a bed for one couple. Then my wife and I would retire to our ‘cabin’ which was actually closer to being a drawer, part of which went under the third couple’s cabin. Consequently, any movement of our legs led to severe bruising and complaints from next door about the knocking sounds against their headboard.

So, what about the view? It’s true I saw some beautiful rolling Cotswold landscape and very pretty views from aquaducts. But the immediate view was of an almost continuous line of moored boats. From the look of them, I’m guessing quite a few people who live on the canal can’t afford or don’t want a mortgage. Maybe they just don’t want to be part of mainstream society. Whatever the reason, they choose to live on these small boats and then, apparently, discover that while acquiring one may be cheap, maintenance isn’t. I can’t imagine any other reason why so many of them are held together by rust.

Many of them also seem to collect junk. Quite a few boats were piled high with old bikes, tyres, wheelbarrows and who knows what items that someone must have thought would be useful for doing up or selling for parts or, most likely, as scrap metal. Very friendly people, mind you, apart from the odd grumpy one who was probably worried that any ripple from our boat as it passed was liable to shake their fragile home apart.

That Sinking Feeling

The facilities on a narrow boat are inevitably limited. It’s a bit like a caravan, I imagine, but at least when you’re on dry land you can stock up when something runs out. On the last full day, we ran out of water and missed the Water Point where we could fill up. As at a well known supermarket, once it’s gone it’s gone. There’s no turning round with a canal boat except at ‘winding holes’, which more rare than the sighting of that kingfisher everyone talks about.

Because it was cold (and wet) most of the time, we had the heating on continuously. Consequently, even though we were told it would never happen, we ran out of gas. No water and no gas might seem bad enough but there was worse to come. We awoke in the early hours if our final morning, the chemical toilet had filled up and begun to back up.

We hightailed it for the end point- or at least hightailed it as much as a boat going at 4mph can. We arrived with dawn chorus still chirping and got off the vessel feeling much as the pilgrims must have when they disembarked from The Mayflower after their transatlantic journey.

In marketing, emotion rules reason. Of all people, I should have known better and thought through the practicalities instead of being swayed by the romance of a canal boat trip. One thing’s for sure: a canal holiday has gone from my Bucket List to my something-that-rhymes-with-Bucket list.

A version of this article appeared on the Daily Echo website.

Paul Lewis is the owner of the Winchester based marketing consultancy Seven Experience

You Say You Want A Revolution?

Revolution exhibition at V&A
You Say you Want A Revolution at V&A

It was the seventies by the time I got to London to join the sixties revolution, so it was the pretty much over. As a teenager, I had followed it enthusiastically from the sidelines.

I remember the excitement of The Beatles broadcasting All You Need Is Love live to the world, the thrill of student revolts (I even ‘sat-in’ overnight at Leeds University until the cleaners threw us out) and the wonder of Woodstock.

You Say You Want A Revolution? Records & Rebels 1966-1970 at the V&A tries to tie it all together. With the distance of 50 years and the perspective of seeing exciting moments pulled together into neat categories of music, fashion, drugs and so on, it becomes clear the youth ‘revolution’ wasn’t as revolutionary as it seemed.

The key was, I think, the size of the youth market. The first baby boomers came to maturity and were a dominant force in the market. Their tastes dominated news and commercial thinking. However, wearing kaftans, developing the quality and depth of popular music and espousing idealistic causes doesn’t make a revolution.

Yes, there was a revolution in the arts, especially music, photography and fashion, and that was led by the young. There were also massive demonstrations by students against the Vietnam war, nuclear weapons and the establishment in general.

The Revolution was led by the establishment

Ironically the social revolution was being led by the despised establishment, in effect their parents. Legalisation of abortion and homosexuality, the abolition of capital punishment, the relaxation of book, theatre and cinema censorship, and many other liberal measures were the work of much older people.

The leaders of this older generation whether Labour or Conservative also supported the mixed economy wherein capitalism created wealth and the state provided the public services and infrastructure. They also embraced internationalism of NATO and the Common Market.

For that matter, the gurus of the youth revolution were older people like Timothy Leary, Marshal McLuhan and Buckminster Fuller.

If an older generation made its impact in the sixties, the question is, what impact has the  generation which reached maturity in that decade when it came to power? Social liberalism has continued. Legalisation of homosexuality has led to gay marriage. We are pretty much free to enjoy what we want in private. A majority now oppose capital punishment. We continue to create exciting music, fashion and other art.

The Revolution was mainly about lifestyle

But politics is a different story. The majority either abandoned the revolution or were never fully on board in the first place. The neoliberalism of the Thatcher/Reagan era was not reversed by baby boomers like Blair and Clinton. Far from undoing the inequalities it created, they and, it seems, the majority of their generation positively embraced uncontrolled markets and the way in which every aspect of our lives has been turned into a commodity.

Yoko Ono is still telling us war is over if we want it but the most powerful representatives of the formerly anti-war generation, Blair and Bush, took us into battle in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Love children who once saw themselves as members of a global village now vote for nationalism, xenophobia and self interest. It may have produced exciting music and grown its hair long but it turns out the revolution was mainly about lifestyle.

John Lennon was right when he sang, ‘You say you want a revolution, we’d all love to see the plan.’ When the time came for those most vocal in the sixties to make a difference, they had neither the vision nor the courage of the previous generation.

You Say You Want A Revolution exhibition is at the V&A until 26 February 2017

This article is written by Paul Lewis, owner of Seven Experience marketing. A version has appeared on the Daily Echo website

To Boo Or Not To Boo

I think the Royal Opera House had a responsibility to its other patrons who might have been enjoying the performance to put a stop to disruptive behaviour like booing

Guillaume Tell at the Royal Opera House (picture: Tristram Kenton)
Guillaume Tell at the Royal Opera House (picture: Tristram Kenton)

To boo or not to boo, that is the question. Whether it is nobler in the mind to suffer a travesty of an opera production or to take arms against the sea of gratuitous violent rape and by opposing get a lot of publicity in the media.

The Royal Opera House’s recent decision to introduce a rape scene into a production of Guillaume Tell raised hackles and ultimately heckles amongst audiences. As someone who has been on both sides of the proscenium arch when this kind of issue has arisen, I was interested in the audience’s behaviour and the Opera House’s response to the extensive booing.

As a member of the audience, I have occasionally been annoyed, upset and even outraged at the treatment of a well loved work. My own reaction is to write a strongly worded tweet. I have walked out of shows but only on two occasions I can remember. Once was at a very unfunny comedy during the Edinburgh Fringe and the other was during a Punch & Judy show where I found Mr Punch’s violence towards a baby too graphic and rather too celebratory for my taste.

I think members of an audience owe their fellow ticket buyers the courtesy of not disturbing them, so I was surprised to read Kasper Holten, the ROH’s director of opera, saying that although he disapproved of booing during a performance, ‘we’re talking about adults. It’s not our job to tell people how to behave.’

On the contrary, I think a theatre has a responsibility to its other patrons who may be enjoying the performance to put a stop to disruptive behaviour including vocal complaints. When I was in charge, this would even apply to excessive heckling of comedians and too much interruption of pantomime, the kinds of performance that traditionally invite some audience participation. It would also apply to people taking photos or carrying out loud conversations. I was always happy to give a refund if someone left or was asked to leave. My view is that my freedom stops at the point it affects another person’s. Booing should be saved for the curtain call.

It was no surprise to me that the booing happened at the opera. I suspect from past examples that opera audiences are the most inclined to boo. My impression is that opera attracts a higher number of the kind of people who think only their opinion or feelings are important and other people’s are not. I don’t know if it’s the sense of entitlement that accompanies wealth or the sheer passion of opera.

I’d rather they thought it over and took a less disruptive approach but I suspect ’tis a consummation devoutly to be wish’d.

Je Suis Charlie? Then Let’s Stop Censoring Arts In The UK

Behzti, Jerry Springer, Exhibit B- here in the UK, we owe it to the Charlie Hebdo victims to stop giving in to people who are offended by free expression.

Photo of Je Suis Charlie slogan
Photo of Je Suis Charlie slogan

‘Je Suis Charlie’ is a great slogan but it reminds me of some of the phrases we use in marketing. It’s emotive but its meaning is not exactly clear. If I’m Charlie, am I a defender of free speech or  simply someone who likes to offend? And if I defend free expression, where do I draw the line?

Many of the best advertising slogans are hard to pin down. Take the strap lines of the three big sportswear companies. ‘Just Do It'(do what?), ‘I am what I am'(so?), ‘Impossible is nothing'(really?) The answers don’t matter. It’s the feeling that counts when you’re trying to sell something. Meaning is more important when it comes to freedom of expression.

It’s great to see so many people protesting at the Islamist terrorists’ attempt to stifle free speech in France but, as we can see from the attendance of Saudi representatives, everyone is in favour of free expression but everyone draws a line somewhere. Those lines can be a long way apart. The latter view would seem to be, ‘It’s OK for governments to censor free speech but not terrorists.’ The editor of Charlie Hebdo took the prophetic view that he would rather die standing than live on his knees.

I take the view that when someone says something deliberately designed to provoke violence, like calling for attacks on minorities, they should be stopped but otherwise ithey can say what they like as far as I am concerned, no matter how offensive they are. This is sometimes known as the ‘no-one should be free to shout “fire” in a crowded theatre’ viewpoint.

There’s undoubtedly a lot of hypocrisy over the matter of censoring free expression. Forget the Saudi government, I’m thinking of the many recent occasions when we in the UK have censored the arts.

It’s only ten years since a Birmingham theatre cancelled Behzti, a play written by a Sikh woman which depicted a rape in a Sikh temple. This was a reaction to demonstrations, some of them violent. In the same year, the tour of Jerry Springer The Opera was cancelled after protests by a Christian group that believed it to be blasphemous.

Just last year, The City, a ‘hip-hop opera’ at the Edinburgh Festival was banned after pro-Palestinian protests against the theatre company who were in receipt of an arts subsidy from the Israeli government. Clacton-on-Sea removed a Banksy mural depicting pigeons waving anti-immigrant placards at a lone swallow, lest it offend immigrants who might not grasp the ironic humour. London’s Barbican Centre closed Exhibit B, a critically acclaimed piece of anti-racist performance art, because some people protested that it was racist.

There’s always a reason: a concern for the safety of the venue’s staff, the unwillingness of the police to allocate sufficient resources to defend it, not wanting to offend a section of the local community. The reason doesn’t matter, this is all self censorship because of pressure from humourless people who won’t tolerate those who have a different view to them.

If we really believe that we are all Charlie, we owe it to those who were murdered in Paris to stop giving in to people who are offended by someone else’s free expression.

This blog was written by Paul Lewis, owner of the Winchester based marketing consultancy Seven Experience. You can connect with him on Google+ and LinkedIn. A version appeared on the Daily Echo website.

White Stuff Lives Up To Its Name

To provide a catalogue with nothing but white faces, as White Stuff have done, is offensive to those customers who oppose discrimination and to those who are from ethnic minority backgrounds.

White Stuff catalogue

Every face in White Stuff ‘s 108 page winter catalogue belongs to a white person- and, at a glance, every face on their website. Are they really saying people from ethnic minorities do not form part of their market? Do they really think their clothes look best against white skin? I doubt that.

Much more likely is that they’ve just not thought it through. I don’t think for a moment that the owners of White Stuff or their art director or their photographer made a deliberate decision not to use any black models but the fact is, no-one along the way to the printing of this catalogue spotted this gross omission or, if they did, they didn’t think it was worth doing anything about.

It’s most likely a simple lack of thought about the implications of only featuring white people. (White Stuff’s catalogue also didn’t feature older or physically disabled people, so we can be fairly sure there is no conscious effort in the company to bring about positive change in society.)

This whiteness that dominates the fashion industry is insidious. It creates a norm in our minds. Even if fashion leaders are not being deliberately racist, catalogues and cat walks say our society is white and that white is to be aspired to.  So it reinforces unconscious bias. That’s bad for our society.

And it’s bad marketing. To provide a catalogue with nothing but white faces is potentially offensive to all those customers who oppose discrimination and to the 13% of the population who are from ethnic minority backgrounds.

Display at Debenhams
A display at Debenhams

White Stuff are far from alone. Look at any number of high street catalogues and websites and you’ll find a sea of white faces. I’ve read that top black models Jourdan Dunn, Chanel Iman and Joan Smalls have all complained about occasions when photographers preferred white models or only picked a quota of non-white models. 

The Edit magazine described how ‘There were times when Dunn would be on her way to castings and told to turn back because the client “didn’t want any more black girls”. There was even one instance when a makeup artist announced on a shoot that she didn’t want to make-up Dunn’s face because she herself was white and Dunn was black.’ 

But it can be done. Step forward Debenhams. All it takes is a little thought.

Here’s a tip for White Face, sorry White Stuff. Whether you’re writing copy or creating visual images, get your work double checked by fresh eyes from outside the company. It helps avoid unintended messages.