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Nice and normal food

November 17, 2017 Leave a comment

Last Monday, Neil asked me to curate a shortlist of restaurants for our Christmas meal. I still haven’t done it. Given that we’re based in London, this obviously isn’t due to a lack of choice – quite the opposite. And it certainly isn’t due to any organisational incompetence on my part…

I take food very seriously. My mother is Indonesian, and grew up there. She also lived in Italy with my (English) father for a period before moving to the UK. Now, she joyfully and successfully runs a catering business out of her little kitchen in Haslemere fusing the two cuisines, cooking for any number between 40 and 400 people at a time. Garlic, onion, lime, ginger, lemongrass, and chillies are the fresh ingredients I’ve learned to always have in the kitchen. And a very well-stacked spice cupboard.

I love preparing, eating, discussing, learning about, and sharing food. The spicier the better. And it’s hardly a secret that everyone at Breakfast shares my interest in gastronomy. At least in the eating part. But I’m struggling to put together suggestions for our dinner, because I’m being utterly pathetic and slow recommendations reflect the person giving them. So naturally, mine must be dazzling

Usually when I go out to eat, I want to:

  • Order a bunch of plates to share
  • Get my hands dirty
  • Sweat profusely from the spice
  • Not feel out of place in trainers
  • Talk at length about the meal
  • Drink quite a lot, affordably

…with people who aren’t afraid to do the same.

Some very good restaurants I’ve been to recently in London which have met most, if not all of these requirements:

  • Gunpowder
  • Smoking Goat
  • Kilis Kitchen
  • Honey & Co
  • Dishoom
  • Mangal Ocakbasi
  • Ember Yard

As for nice and normal establishments appropriate for a work Christmas dinner, however, I’m stumped. That’s not to say that the restaurants listed above aren’t nice, normal, or festive, just perhaps not in the traditional sense (whatever that means). And however familiar I’ve become with everyone at Breakfast over the past few months, I assume it’s not very professional to stick my fork and fingers frenziedly into other people’s plates (even if I were to courteously sling my dish across the table at them in return).

Watch this space.

 

 

 

 

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Categories: Uncategorized

A short-lived friendship

November 17, 2017 Leave a comment

Last year, I met a girl. I told her I was moving to Barcelona soon for a new role, at which she clasped her hands in delight and started gushing about the city – as people often do. She recommended a tapas spot – an old favourite of hers. As she described it, I became increasingly excited… And hungry. She spoke highly of the atmosphere, the price, the location, and most importantly, the food. So a few weeks later, and a mere few hours into my new life, I trotted faithfully down to the address she’d given, anticipating messaging her many emojis of thanks after the meal.

That never happened.

I found myself in a sticky, icky sports bar blasting utterly shite music. Outside, the evening sun was still gently bathing the characterful winding backstreets of Barcelona in a warm glow. Inside these walls it was dark and disgusting. The place was crawling with big, burly English men with mean eyes and swollen faces. They messily slurped up jarras of beer with slobbery, dog-like tongues, and made loud, grunting man-noises whilst shovelling handfuls of chips into their gaping gob holes. Their stinky, sweaty, steroid-infused upper bodies were adorned with such skimpy string vests that I don’t know why they bothered with them at all, given how much skin was on show.

Now, I wasn’t taken by the display of skin but rather the skin itself. It was remarkable! Nearly every man in there was imbued with the same dazzling shade of magenta from head to toe. I’ll never forget it: the sun blisters as crispy-looking as pork crackling; the bold punctuation of large, tender swathes of pink by poorly executed tribal tattoos; the aggressive cuts and bruises; the glistening sheen of perspiration. And the pink! Did I mention the pink?!

Remarkable, as I said.

It takes quite a lot to faze me, especially when I’m in an establishment that serves food. So I sat down. As I looked around I tried to remind myself that I’ve both eaten at and recommended incredible restaurants that are dirty-looking, noisy, cramped, hectic, uncomfortable – and the rest. Not everyone’s cup of tea – although I never mind it. As long as the food is great.  And the food that I recommend usually is.

It is never unseasoned. Nor bland. Nor lukewarm. Nor off. The food is never of such a catastrophically low standard as the sad, soggy pintxos presented to me here. As I drew the first one to my mouth, a strange thing happened. Em sap greuuu!* I heard. I looked around. There was nobody in particularly close proximity, and the music was far too loud for me to have been able to hear anyone at the next table. I stared at the pintxo in disbelief. And then shoved it in my mouth. As I forced myself to chew and swallow the thoroughly underwhelming combination of ingredients, I generously wondered if it was the less than pleasing setting throwing me off. And I was starving. So I selected a second pintxo from the platter, and braced myself for another go. I picked it up, closed my eyes, brought it slowly to my mouth, and heard the little wail again: eem saap greeeuuuuuu!!!!!!

As I said, it takes a lot to faze me. Even talking food. So I popped it in. Chewed for a split second… Spat it out in a napkin, and left.

I haven’t spoken to that girl since.

Which leads me to my next blog post…

 

 

 

*Em sap greu = Catalan for “I’m sorry”

Categories: Uncategorized

On emojis

November 3, 2017 1 comment

I love emojis. I use them on a daily – if not hourly – basis in messages to my friends. My two current favourites, which I use interchangeably and sometimes simultaneously, are the clown and the devil. I tend to drop them in after typing something particularly facetious, annoying, sarcastic, self-deprecating, depressing, or passive aggressive, which I am wont to do – always with a touch of humour, of course. (The fact that I still have friends at which to bombard emojis remains a mystery).

 

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I like the ambiguity. Am I angry? Am I joking? Am I Satan himself? Am I so perplexed by the staggering abundance of words available to me in the English language that I have to resort to icons to express my (apparently largely negative) feelings? Before I get carried away, let me be clear: I’m not trying to undermine the power of emojis. They add nuance and weight to words on a screen in the same way that body language, intonations, and facial expressions help us to understand and communicate with other people in real life. But digital icons and physical gestures alike can be misused, misplaced, misleading, misinterpreted… And misfired. An over-enthusiastic hand gesture during a pitch can lead to a black eye on a pissed off client, as opposed to the start of a fruitful business relationship. And in the same way (…sort of), over-zealous emoji use by brands can do much more harm than good.

According to the “frequently used” tab on my keyboard, among my other favourites are the eye rolling face, the crying with laughter face, the streaming with tears face, and the shrugging girl. Incidentally, the four stages of emotion I go through when I see brands I like deploying infuriatingly infantile emojis in their online communications are: exasperated, tickled, distressed, and ambivalent. Or: ugh!, ha!, wah!, meh…

In other words, I find it incredibly annoying when the emoji seems to serve no purpose at all other than to “illustrate” the post, just as an over-enthusiastic and under-skilled child might lovingly “illustrate” a Mother’s Day card with slobber and dead insects (I never did that). Emojis look plain naff when they’re used by brands in the wrong context. When this is the case, it probably means that they’ve only been included to drive engagement. I don’t care if your 200-page social media manual or £2000/day social media consultant told you that using emojis will earn you more likes, shares, and follows (a large chunk of which will probably not be human, let alone genuinely interested and invested ones). Sometimes, they are just wrong.

After the initial eye roll, I then have a little chuckle to myself: “Heh. Which prat got paid to write this?!” Shortly after the chuckle subsides, a warm, bulbous tear begins to swell in the corner of my eye and quivers tentatively on the precipice of my eyelid, eventually crashing violently down my cheek as I thrust my gaze to the heavens in despair. Alas, the prat in question does actually exist and did actually get paid to click on that emoji – and don’t get me started on the prat who signed off on it. Then, I shrug my shoulders and thank the powers that be that I work with equally cynical (let’s stick with that adjective) people who also get twitchy when interesting and credible brands (worse yet, the opposite) self-destruct at the hands of their clueless social media managers.

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BTW, for those of you who have been so consumed by our new global language that you literally need the four emojis in question to understand what I’m saying (or you got so bored of my moaning that you need a summary of my feelings on the day of writing), here:

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Why am I bothering to type out so many versions of the same idea when I could have just copied and pasted those emojis at the top of the page and had the job done in under a minute? Isn’t it just such a waste of time, using our brains, sharing our thoughts, developing our writing and communication skills, and finding new and interesting ways to express ourselves?!

Perhaps in this case it is, considering the fact that this blog, according to its creator and main contributor (who also happens to be my boss), gets an average of three clicks per post and thirteen visitors annually… Although his writing is worth at least double that.

Oh well.

 

Categories: Uncategorized

The waterfall economy

November 1, 2017 1 comment

I’ve always liked the idea of coining a phrase or saying that goes on to become commonplace, but never managed it. Damn Malcolm Gladwell and his appropriation of “tipping point” merely weeks after I had called the same phenomenon something not quite as catchy (I can’t remember what).

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Anyway, I have been thinking for ages about how best to describe the economy in the town in which I live. If you reside in south-east England’s commuter belt, I’m sure your high street looks much like mine: lots of estate agents, coffee shops, cafes, restaurants and mobile phone stores, interspersed with poundshops, charity shops and vacant premises.

It’s not pretty. On a busy Friday night, with the bars and restaurants full, it feels like a thriving, wealthy town. But by day, the town is divided: affluent mums, dads and their toddlers are queueing out of the door at Costa Coffee and Caffe Nero, while the down-at-heel retail establishments stand almost empty; the passing trade (and I am aware how this might sound) generally being either elderly, infirm, unemployed or a mixture of all three. It looks and feels like a deprived town somewhere more than 35 miles north of one of the richest cities in the world.

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None of this is news, I know. And the reasons for the decline of the high street have much to do with internet retailers as anything else. But it has seemed apparent for years now that in the south-east, our economy is massively reliant on the immense wealth of a very few high earners at the top of the income pile: the stockbrokers in our stockbroker belt and ‘hedgies’ in our country homes.

The ‘trickle-down’ theory of economics has, I think, been pretty discredited over the past 30 years. In short, it doesn’t work; certainly not in terms of enabling those not eating at the top table to see their living standards rise at the same pace of others. Inequality in the UK is growing quicker than anywhere else in the world. The haves and the have nots never used to be this easily distinguishable.

But in an economy built on service industries, ‘trickle down’ is what we have: a huge proportion of the local population in my town seems to me to be entirely reliant on the wealth of the very few.  Again, I acknowledge that this is the model we have built and, of course, one which most people subscribe to. But I believe that a more accurate description of our turbo-charged ‘trickle down’ economy is ‘waterfall’. A small percentage of people have a massive amount of disposable wealth and it is this torrent of money which is cascading on to the vast majority, waiting at the bottom of the cliff. There’s an awful lot of water – enough to enable most to stay afloat. There’s so much that it enables us to fund our public services too. But if the amount of water falling from the top decreases, there will be big trouble. And Brexit is the equivalent of building a huge dam upstream.

Now this isn’t an anti-Brexit diatribe: I am merely arguing that the inevitability of our economy shrinking as thousands of the very highest earners leave the City of London will have an obvious effect on those dependent on that wealth. My assertion is that there are more people dependent on this money than anyone realises and that the south east in particular is going to suffer a significant and potentially brutal period of readjustment.

This readjustment – away from such an unbalanced, top-heavy economy – might well be necessary. However, I’m pretty sure that’s not what people were voting for when they decided to leave the EU, and I’m equally sure that the fallout – socially, politically and culturally – will be unpleasant.

We’ve built a world that relies on exponential growth and the creation of shareholder value; a world that can only work if it encourages ever more people to spend ever more money and generate ever more ‘wealth’. I think that ‘Waterfall Economy’ sums it up pretty well – not well enough to become a common phrase, but it’s the best I can do.

Over to you, Malcolm.

 

Does good writing matter anymore?

October 11, 2017 Leave a comment

I may have mentioned before that I am nothing if not a pedant when it comes to writing, particularly with regards to spelling and punctuation (we’ll come back to ‘Regards’ later). As an example of this pedantry, I find myself momentarily unable to look at my Barclays Bank online banking gizmo when logging in, because some doofus added a question mark after the instruction PRESS ENTER. I genuinely cannot see this without getting angry. (If there’s anyone else out there who shares this affliction, get in touch and we can set up a support group.)

Anyway, there have been a couple of instances over the last week or so when my linguistic anal-retentiveness has been triggered.

First, ‘warmest condolences’. I know Donald Trump is a “fucking moron” but really? It’s almost as if he’s actually a Russian chatbot with no empathy and a sketchy grasp of English.

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Second, I saw an article debating the correct way to sign off a business email and shuddered in recognition. Despite being, it says on my CV, a writer, I find formal writing quite difficult (although even I am aware that ‘Sincerest condolences’ or ‘Deepest condolences’ would be more appropriate than ‘Warmest’). Knowing which salutation or sign off to use still makes me more hesitant than almost anything else I write, and is especially tricky because I am aware how I respond when I see ‘Best’ at the bottom of an email. If it was followed by Law, Charlton I might forgive the writer.

Anyway, the article suggested ‘Thanks’ as an appropriate sign off, as it’s genuine, friendly and informal. Personally, I’m not so sure. But I understood the apprehension that can accompany the wrong language in a business setting.

At least, I get apprehensive. Do you? I ask, because I suspect that tolerance for poorly written communication is growing; something confirmed by the numerous errors you will see – especially in social media – from brands that one would hope might put a higher premium on accuracy.

When I run my occasional workshops about writing for brands, I always stress the importance of accuracy when communicating on a brand’s behalf. If they can’t write accurately or well, why should you trust anything else they do? But does that hold true anymore, in a world where an inarticulate self-confessed sexual predator with a 48-word vocabulary can become President of the USA? It might be true that bank scam emails make deliberate, obvious spelling errors to ensure they only receive replies from stupid people, but as we observe the rise of an idiocracy, is it necessary for brands to maintain high standards?

The immediacy of social media and the unreliability of spell check has created a perfect storm where (I presume) junior marketers and creatives are let loose on brands’ behalf, armed with average writing skills that emojis can only do a certain amount to rescue. If only a (very) few diehards like me become apoplectic when confronted with a glaring error, this trend may well continue.

I can’t tell you how excited I was to discover that my colleague Aisha, though only 23, shares my hatred of random capitalisation, spelling errors and the like, and, if anything, gets even more visibly annoyed than I do. There is hope, after all.

What do you think? Have you spotted an error in this article? Am I being unfair to dyslexics? Let me know.

Categories: Uncategorized

Work experience stint pays dividends

August 9, 2017 Leave a comment

In these troubled times, when even having the temerity to walk past a jogger can put your life at risk, wouldn’t it be nice to stumble upon a feelgood story? Well wouldn’t it?

That’s lucky. Because it just so happens that Breakfast have a new employee. Her name is Aisha Pegley and she has now joined full-time after a couple of temporary stints (when she not only proved herself to be bright and energetic but also modelled in an ad for one of our clients). It’s a Cinderella story.

COOP002-Big-Issue-7Aisha will be deploying her many talents across all aspects of the business, but specifically by being someone else to ask when we wonder where Ed has got to.

You can contact her at apegley@breakfastagency.com if you want to say hello or try and sell her some office furniture.

Edit: All new employees at Breakfast have to endure our fearsome initiation ceremony: drawing a horse in under a minute. Here’s Aisha’s… a worthy addition to the canon.

Aisha's horse

Categories: Uncategorized

A Breakfast tale: How to rebrand your business in two months

April 3, 2017 1 comment

When successful online marketplace services provider Torque Omni-Channel approached us a couple of months ago about rebranding their business, they weren’t interested in a superficial cosmetic refresh (not that we do those anyway).

Their brief was straightforward and concise: they wanted a new name and accompanying brand identity. And they wanted it quickly.

Fortunately, that’s the kind of brief the Breakfast team likes.

The start of the process to the launch of the new brand (which went live on the last day of March) took a little under two months. In that time, we presented a longer-than-usual shortlist of nine potential new names, and then developed four distinct, fully-realised brand identity ideas to bring the chosen name to life.

Here is the winner.

As with any creative process, we believe the work is only as good as the brief and decision-making allow it to be. In this case, both of those were excellent. You can make up your own mind about the result… BZAR-strapline-zigzag