“The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.”

A pipe-smoker from years ago, or perhaps from Yorkshire last week.

Mr Watmough certainly did things a bit differently. He was the geography teacher at my school in Bournemouth back in the 1960s. He doubled as the school’s second-tier, hands-off rugby coach who never once actually played any rugby, and tripled as the drama teacher for the boys who’d chosen drama as their ‘special subject’.

This was the name given to the one-hour period each week in which pupils could learn about a topic not covered by the national curriculum. As the other ‘special’ subjects included chess, running about and, unbelievably, additional maths, I chose drama.

There were around 18 of us budding thespians, not that we would have known what thespian meant at the age of 14. We didn’t have an allocated classroom so met in the dining hall about an hour before the dinner ladies started preparing that day’s heated sludge. We’d read parts of Macbeth, pretend to be other people, improvise dramatic conflicts, learn to project our voices (which we probably understood to mean ‘shouting’) and generally have a welcome break from the day’s usual routine of maths, double maths, corporal punishment and maths.

Mr Watmough smoked a pipe and he probably thought that teaching arty-farty, trendy-wendy drama in a room that wasn’t technically a classroom gave him permission to light up during the lesson. So he got out his pipe, filled the bowl with St Bruno, fished around for his box of Swan Vestas, struck a match, applied the flame to the tobacco until giant plumes of smoke began billowing around him and simultaneously replaced the match back in the box and put it in his pocket.

Then his jacket caught fire.

It wasn’t an instant conflagration by any means. A few moments passed before a curling wisp of smoke began snaking out of his right-hand pocket. We watched transfixed as Mr Watmough continued listening intently to a boy somewhere behind me who was extemporising haltingly about life being but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage; the boy’s powers of concentration evidently compromised by the drama unfolding before him.

We should have said something, obviously. Was there not an ounce of common humanity between us? What if it was our own father slowly incinerating before our very eyes?  Of course we’d raise the alarm. And as the flames took hold, one of us did. “Sir!”

“Shut up, Bailey.”

“Sir! You jacket’s on fire!”

Seized by a sudden panic, old Watmough began beating his flaming pocket with a vigour he’d never displayed on the touchline of the rugby pitch. The dining room filled with smoke: from his pipe, from the wood and cardboard of the matchbox and from the material of his ancient sports jacket. I swear I can remember the awful stench of a singed leather elbow patch, although that may be amusing-but-false memory syndrome kicking in.

I was reminded of the incident yesterday when Donald Trump suggested it might be a good idea to give guns to teachers. My experience of teachers – of those who raged and lashed out, who relied on whisky to get them through the day, who seemed to derive pleasure from assaulting and humiliating young boys and who could actually set themselves on fire during a lesson – strongly suggests that this strategy might not be entirely without risk.

 

[edit] Although some boys could do with a clip round the ear!!!!!!!!!11

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OOH WHAT?!

I took a pop at a poster for breakfast cereal Shreddies a while back. If you think I spend a lot of time looking at posters, you’re right.

This one caught my eye today.


It’s a nice line. Well-played, TUI. Wait, is it an ad for TUI or London Gatwick? A bit of both, actually. Co-funded. They want you to book a TUI holiday and fly from Gatwick instead of choosing a competitor’s holiday and flying from somewhere else. Heathrow, maybe. But Heathrow isn’t hundreds of miles away, it’s about 12, or roughly half the distance of Gatwick. Heathrow is THE local airport as far as anyone reading this particular poster is concerned.

They must mean Luton and Stanstead, where competitors like RyanAir and EasyJet fly from. So I guess the ad is saying ‘Don’t fly from Luton or Stanstead, either of which involves a drive of hundreds of miles.’ (They’re basically ignoring LHR altogether. The two have history.) But if that’s the case they have a very shaky grasp of geography, because neither of those airports is much more than 50 miles away from this poster. A there-and-back trip to Stanstead clocks in at a shade over 104 miles. Does that qualify as ‘hundreds of miles’? I think not, the same as a man owning 15 books can’t be said to have a collection of ‘dozens’. So the headline is being disingenuous at best.

Hang on, you might think. The poster’s surely aimed at people who really do live hundreds of miles from an airport that isn’t Gatwick (or Heathrow). If so, why place it at this spot? This is where it gets a bit strange, because the poster isn’t 4 sheets of paper like in the old days. It’s digital, and an example of programmatic advertising. That means (if you didn’t already know) that its location and the time and duration of its appearance can be controlled remotely. So the media agency could have placed it in areas that are genuinely a hundred miles or more from Luton or Stanstead. Or maybe they just thought fuck it, let’s stick the ad everywhere and hope there aren’t too many people around who’ll, you know, read it.

For what it’s worth, I think Gatwick’s strapline ‘YOUR LONDON AIRPORT’ is easily on the same level as Tui’s ‘DISCOVER YOUR SMILE’ 😉

Here’s one for Specsavers:

I was going to criticise it as a poster (who he? why the silly photo-related name?), but then did a bit of rudimentary research and discovered that it’s part of a not-at-all bad campaign by Specsavers’ in-house team. Take a look here. The performances are a tad David Brent and perhaps could have been more subtle without losing anything, but it’s still a campaign I’d be happy to have been involved in. Although I’d have chosen a different surname.  ‘Shutter’ doesn’t help the idea.

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Shaz-am puzzled

I found a new playlist on my Spotify account the other day, called ‘My Shazam Tracks’. Surprise number one was discovering that Shazam and Spotify already know each other. I can’t remember making any introductions. But there they were, together on my phone, probably talking about me behind my back.

Surprise number two was finding out exactly what was on ‘My Shazam Tracks’. I’ve used Shazam maybe half a dozen times – in pubs or offices or listening to the radio, hearing a song and wanting to know its name and who it was by. Like everyone else, I suppose.

But instead of My Shazam Tracks showing just these few songs, it displayed a list of dozens. The ones I remember Shazamming were there – tracks by Bonobo, Caribou and a John Williams film score. But so too were others so familiar to me I’d never need an app to identify them. Songs by Stevie Wonder, Muddy Waters, Frank Zappa, the Stones… The idea of holding my phone in front of a speaker to find out who was responsible for ‘Gimme Shelter’ or ‘I Say A Little Prayer’ is ridiculous. I’m not even a huge fan of either song, although I won’t skip to the next track if they come on, something I’d definitely do with Iggy Pop’s version of Louie Louie. That’s one of ‘My Shazam Tracks’, apparently.

So what’s going on? I asked @SpotifyCares on Twitter and they suggested I contact @Shazam. @Shazam were clearly too busy wondering how they were going to spend the $400m that’s about to fall into their lap courtesy of Apple.

So it remains a puzzle, and one which today developed another layer of puzzlement.

Keen to learn whose record was being played on BBC 6Music, I turned to the digital display of my radio. As is so often the case, this potentially useful aspect of DAB was being used to tell listeners the name of the DJ rather than the song being played. Then I remembered Shazam, and it turned out the song was Nadine Shah singing Holiday Destination. I saw that I could add it to my Spotify playlist. So I tapped the icon and up came this:

So I can’t physically add tracks that I like to ‘My Shazam Tracks’. Instead, a variety of songs – some good, some less so – is added to the playlist on my behalf by entities unknown.

It’s a funny old topsy-turvy world and no mistake.

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My daughters, then and now

The ‘now’ being December 2017, when they presented their mum with a calendar featuring 12 images from their past juxtaposed with contemporary recreations.

There were tears then, and I suspect in years to come there will be more.

January

February

March

April

May

June

July

August

September

October

November

December

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Why you can’t start a sentence with ‘And’

You can, of course. That headline was pure clickbait. And it worked! My blog now has a new follower. I wonder if he’ll ever meet the other one?

But anyway, where did this you-can’t-start-a-sentence-with-and thing come from? We’re all pretty sure it was a teacher who first laid down this particular law, but where did THEY get it from?

That’s easy. They got it from you. From when you were in junior school. *cue shimmery effect*

You’ve been asked to write a composition about what you did on your school holidays. Cool, your seven-year-old self thinks. There’s loads to write about there! So, head resting on bent left arm, your right hand inexpertly manipulating a 2B pencil and your tongue half-protruding from your pre-pubescent lips, off you go. ‘I went to Spain with my mummy and daddy and I was aloud to stay up late and I saw lots of stars and we had brekfast by the poool where I dropped my camara and daddy got cross and then we went to Aunty Julias’ house in Door Set and…’ And so on, and on.

Your teacher looks at your essay and says how interesting your holiday sounds, but it would read better if you split the story into more than one sentence. So, with playtime rapidly approaching, you do something you think is dead smart. You sprinkle a few full stops here and there. They seem to work best when they precede an ‘and’. Then you remember that a sentence always begins with a capital letter, so gripping your pencil firmly you turn the lower-case ‘a’s into upper-case ‘A’s. There. No wonder English is your favourite subject.

I’m not having that, thinks the teacher. That’s just too easy. I’ll show them. She thinks for a moment. “This is better,” she says. “But you can’t start a sentence with ‘and’. Write it out again.”

*cue shimmers*

So there we have it. We’re all to blame, us and our anything-for-an-easy-school-life ways. Of course, once ‘And’ was forbidden from ever leading a sentence, other poor conjunctions were doomed to suffer the same fate.

If only your seven-year-old self was smart enough to say ‘But Miss, there’s an ‘and’ at the beginning of that hymn we sing!”

“I don’t think so!”

“There is, Miss, there is! *sings* And did those feet, in ancient times…”

 

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Full list of rules pertaining to the wearing of Poppies

 

As we approach Poppy Day and all the kerfuffle that inevitably accompanies it, just what are the rules about the wearing of Poppies?

To avoid any confusion, here’s your easy, at-a-glance, cut-out-and-keep guide.

Q When should you start wearing your Poppy?
A
You’d think a reasonable answer would be ‘when they go on sale.’ But some people seem to get hold of theirs before that, so maybe there are places that sell them all year round. You can buy fireworks in February, so why not Poppies in May? Although actually wearing it in May might look a bit odd. Basically, there are no rules. Go with your instinct.

Q You HAVE to wear one though, don’t you?
A
No. It’s entirely up to you. You can respect Britain’s war dead without signaling it to everyone. And you can plonk money in the tin without choosing to fiddle with the pin and Poppy part. Again, there are no rules.

Q Why the capital P for Poppy?
A
You’re right. It doesn’t need one.

Q Should you wear your poppy on the left or the right?
A
Either side is acceptable. Anywhere, really. I have mine on my backpack. That’s because I wear my backpack every day, whereas I might switch from my jacket on one day to a raincoat the next and forget to transfer the poppy. Of course, there’s no rule to say you can’t buy more than one poppy, and definitely none about where you should wear it.

Q The leaf on the poppy should point to 11 o’clock, right?
A
No. It can point up, down, left or right. It doesn’t matter and there’s no rule.

Q The poppy is an example of wasteful, single-use plastic, isn’t it?
A Yes, but don’t expect the Daily Mail to point this out in their anti-plastic campaign.

Q Does an extra-large poppy signify a personal connection with Britain’s armed forces?
A
No. It means you’re wearing the one that was supposed to go on your car.

Q Will wearing an expensive poppy made from shiny enamel show that you care more deeply about our glorious dead?
A Possibly. However, the other interpretation is that you bought one many years ago and dig it out every October without feeling the need to donate another penny.

Q Can I wear a poppy shirt, poppy scarf and poppy hoodie; sport a stripey poppy backpack and swing a giant poppy umbrella?
A Certainly. You won’t look at all deranged.

 

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Making a headline from the Ts&Cs

Back in the day I had a brief to write an insert selling Hilditch & Key shirts to readers of The Times.

It was basically a half-price offer. So that could have been my headline. ‘50% off Hilditch & Key shirts.’ That would have worked. But, and this is where brands and how they sound comes in, would it have felt right? Both The Times and Hilditch & Key deserved better, I thought. You can always slap people about the chops with ‘Half-Price Bargain!’ and ‘Save £££s’ type headlines, but this wasn’t the occasion.

So I did some research about Hilditch & Key (a brand I hadn’t previously heard of) and learned that their shirts were popular with big names in the fashion industry. Yves Saint Laurent. Paloma Picasso. Karl Lagerfeld. In fact, I learnt that Lagerfeld was a proper little H&K fanboy, snapping up more than a hundred of their shirts every year. Weirdo. Anyway, I also read the terms and conditions attached to the offer. Don’t you do that? I thought all copywriters did that! No, I only did because of the Karl Lagerfeld thing. Lo and also behold, there it was: a term, or perhaps a condition, stipulating a maximum of two shirts per household. And with it, there was my headline.

Eye-catching, name-dropping, a bit cheeky, an air of exclusivity, and true to the brand values of both The Times and Hilditch & Key. Details of the offer went on the reverse.

Like I say, the insert might conceivably have sold more shirts if the headline had read ‘BUY NOW AND SAVE 50% ON CLASSIC SHIRTS!’, with a couple of flashes, all the copy in Courier, a call to action on every line and a bigger scissors graphic. But sometimes – hell, always – it’s about the brand.

Art Director: Tony Henry

Note: If you squint you might be able to detect a semicolon on the second line. Strictly illegal these days, a semicolon was sometimes used to indicate a pause shorter than a full stop and longer than a comma. What WAS I thinking. 

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Not, I’d say

Remember Shreddies’ knitting Nanas? Launched in 2009, the idea was that hundreds of Nanas lovingly knitted each Shreddie to ensure they were all absolutely perfect. The campaign highlighted Shreddies’ unique design and taste. Some found it off-putting (‘yeuch, wet wool touched by olds’) but the campaign was a success and lasted for years.

But then it eventually ran out of steam, or yarn, and something new was needed. And this is it.

‘Shreddie…OR TOOK THE BOYS BACK TO SCHOOL, (A DAY TOO EARLY).’

So the campaign idea is that you should have Shreddies for breakfast or you’ll end up doing daft things or be otherwise unprepared for the day. It’s basically a twist on the famous Weetabix campaign from the late 1980s that’s just been resurrected in a new spot by BBH. Instead of ‘Have you had your Weetabix?‘ the line is ‘Shreddie or not?

It isn’t a bad thought. Weetabix obviously rate it. McDonald’s tread the same path, too, with ads featuring people wearing mismatched socks because they didn’t start the day with an Egg McThingy.  And to be fair, the TV commercial from Shreddies’ agency McCann is reasonably amusing.

But these posters. Oh my. You might conceivably get half-way to work before remembering it’s a Sunday, or drive to the park to walk the dog before realising that you remembered the dog lead but not the dog. But is parents taking their children back to school the day before terms starts a recognised phenomenon? Why does the ad just talk about boys? Why is A DAY TOO EARLY in brackets? Why is the opening bracket preceded by a comma? Couldn’t they have got a copywriter involved at some stage of the approval process?

Things take a turn for the worse with this next execution. That old chestnut about people deliberately missing tube trains because the copy on a cross-track poster was so captivating might hold some truth. I doubt it, but you never know. But is it even remotely likely that someone would dwell for so long while taking in just 10 words of text that their bus would come and go before they’d reached the end?

I admit that I spent more than a few moments staring at it. But that’s because I couldn’t believe the arrogance of it. I’m ambivalent at best towards the idea of breaking the fourth wall in advertising. It often reeks of smart-arsery. (I warmed to the Oasis campaign after some initial hesitation.) But this is self-congratulatory bollocks. Now you might say hey, we’re in adland here, Mr Literal!! Take a relax pill!!! I’d say you can think about what your ad is going to say for LONGER than seven seconds and STILL have fun. You might even sell some cereal.

I realise I’ve probably blown any chances I’ve got of f’lancing at McCanns, remote though they were. But bloody hell.

Mind you, the campaign does inadvertently have one redeeming consequence. Because every poster site displaying one of these Shreddies ads means one less showing you-know-who.

image courtesy @zacharyking

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Photofucket

When I started this blog almost ten years ago I had no idea that one day all the photographs on it would suddenly disappear.

But that’s exactly what happened after the site that hosts my shots, Photobucket, arbitrarily decided that it would no longer allow 3rd party photo hosting free of charge. That’s fair enough, you might think. Nothing’s free these days; there’s always some sort of trade off. And with Photobucket, there was. Users had to sit through adverts while their photos uploaded. (Using an adblocker slowed the whole process down, and in any case I can hardly object to adverts in my line of work).

But Photobucket clearly wasn’t satisfied with the revenue they accrued from ads. They wanted more. A lot more. And they could have got it, too, if they had emailed their users and explained that they were introducing an annual fee of, say, $25 or even $50. I’d have paid that; so would many others. But if the people at Photobucket did any business modelling to predict the likely income resulting from various subscription levels, they clearly didn’t follow it. Instead they just thought of a huge number – $400 – and decided they were going to charge everyone that.

Even worse, there was no prior announcement. Owners of sites and blogs simply woke up one morning in July to find that all their photos had disappeared and been replaced by this:Screen Shot 2017-07-18 at 10.01.22

A visit to the link revealed that, unless I paid $400, I’d never see my photos again. Well, I could, but no one visiting this blog (or the ones here or here) would be able to. That’s a basically a ransom demand. Is it illegal? Probably not. Does it make good business sense? God, no. But it does mean I’m going to have to download all the 500+ photos I’ve uploaded to Photobucket over the years. I’m learning that this takes ages.

Then the real work begins

If I want to repopulate 10 years’ worth of blog posts, I’ll then have to:

  • Find a new 3rd party photo hosting website that’s either free or which doesn’t charge silly money. That’s NOT silly money
  • Reload all my photos to this new site, one blog post at a time
  • Match each shot to the position in the post in which it appeared
  • Copy and paste the link
  • Remove the ‘ransom demand’ notice
  • Wish I’d made a note of the original caption before removing the ransom demand notice
  • Repeat 500 times

Any suggestions as to how I can shorten this process will be received with bags of gratitude.

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The evolution of an election campaign

Wednesday 7 June 2017, 21.45
There. It’s over. Apart from the actual voting part. But as far as campaigning for the 2017 general election goes, that’s about it. The last leaflet fell through our letterbox just an hour ago. Like the majority of other campaign comms, it was from the Liberal Democrats. The fact that I have a giant, unmissable LibDem diamond-shaped signboard nailed to a tree at the entrance to our house hasn’t deterred canvassers from thinking that maybe I might change my mind, or that I’m not that committed. Neither has the fact that I volunteered to help with their campaign. I’m ‘known’ to the local party, so one would have thought my property would be spared. But no. Nothing has stopped the deluge of letters, leaflets and newspapers from arriving almost every day.

In the beginning there was Brexit

A bit of background: New Malden is mostly within the Richmond Park constituency, which Sarah Olney (Liberal Democrat) snatched back from Zac Goldsmith in December 2016 when he resigned from the Tories on a matter of principle (he promised to go if the Tories backed a 3rd runway at Heathrow, which they did). He stood as an Indy and duly lost, but it was close. So it’s understandable that the Lib Dems want to hold on to their only London seat.

But the argument has moved on, at least as far as the Lib Dems’ early campaign literature is concerned. It’s all about Brexit now, and their initial door-drops talk about ‘stopping the hard Brexit’. Voters are urged to ‘change the direction of your country’ in the forthcoming ‘Brexit Election’. A few leaflets later and there’s a subtle change in the wording. The Lib Dems are now ‘challenging the hard Brexit’. (Does that definite article annoy you? It does me.) The next leaflet asks ‘What kind of future do you want for your country? That’s the choice facing people across the country on June 8th.’ That’s not a choice, it’s a question. The newspaper-style format gives them room to talk about ‘the’ hard Brexit as well as reprising the third runway issue and concerns about health and education.

Enter the SS

About this time in mid May, the first leaflet from the Conservatives appears, with its Union Flag border and multiple uses of SS (strong and stable). Vote for the Tories and Britain, it is claimed, will be the strongest country in Europe, although it doesn’t say by what measure.

Their next leaflet is from Zac, who’s standing again, back as a Tory this time, despite the Tories sticking resolutely to their 3rd runway policy. How does that work? A picture shows May and Goldsmith wandering about in a wood somewhere, Theresa hanging on his every word. His next leaflet features a quote from the prime minister, delivered outside No. 10. “On June 8th, every single vote for Zac Goldsmith is a vote for SS leadership in the national interest.” There’s no evidence she has actually said these words, and certainly didn’t deliver them in Downing Street.

Letters from leftfield

Back with the Lib Dems, all manner of election comms continues to pour through the letterbox. Some from Tim Farron, most from Sarah Olney, and a few from Mike, Clare and Edward. Who? Well, Mike Smithson runs a political betting website, and he doesn’t want to tell us who to vote for. “I’m not here to tell you who to vote for,” he says. But if Labour voters lend their vote to the LibDems, they could stop the Conservatives from winning locally. “Just saying,” he doesn’t say. Clare is Dr Clare Gereda, a local GP (and ex-Chair of the Royal College of GPs), who isn’t as squeamish as Mike about where we should put our Xs: “A vote for the LibDems is a vote of confidence in our NHS”. Then Edward’s letter arrives. His double-barrelled surname and title (‘Conservative Member of European Parliament 1984-2010’) make me think he’s been drafted in to help the Tories, but further reading reveals that he jumped ship in 2010 and joined the Liberal Democrats. “Like many pro-Europeans, I’m horrified with the direction Theresa May has been taking the country.”

Vote for one of us!

More stuff from the Tories. The copy is indistinguishable from something Ukip might say, and in fact did. A succession of leaflets asks us to ‘Vote Theresa May’, then to ‘Vote for Zac’, and then to ‘Vote Theresa May’ again. The whole presidential-style approach that the Tories have adopted for this election might come unstuck when stupid people – and there ARE stupid people – get to the polling booth and look in vain for Theresa May’s name.

Like the Lib Dems, the Tories don’t settle on a winning format for their canvassing. We get postcards, letters, roll-fold leaflets, pretend magazines, A3 newspapers, mailpacks delivered by Royal Mail, letters from Zac and another one from the Prime Minister. This one ditches the SS references in favour of ‘standing up’. It mentions ‘standing up’ for Britain no fewer than 18 times, a rate of repetition that would prompt a forest of tracked changes if presented by a copywriter to any normal client.

We also get a leaflet from Zac Goldsmith in which he attempts to explain and excuse his flip-flop, flimflam, weaselly and shamelessly opportunistic approach to local democracy. Hopefully it won’t fool anyone.

Brexit takes a back seat

Meanwhile, the Lib Dems continue their onslaught. ‘Changing the future of Britain’ somehow becomes changing the ‘future direction of Britain’. What other direction could we hope to affect? Hard Brexit gains a capital H, like Grassy Knoll did eventually, but overall the focus is gradually switched from Europe to education and the NHS. For the first time, campaign literature mentions an extra penny on income tax to pay for increased investment in the NHS, but the leaflets choose to portray this with a picture of a HUGE penny, rather than showing a tiny penny in someone’s palm.

Speaking of which, a Lib Dem leaflet turns up with something like an idea in it. Albeit an idea of the kind had by a child or by a particularly literal client. It carries the headline ‘It’s in your hands’ and shows an image of…and I think you know what’s coming…a pair of hands. Inside, there’s no mention at all of Brexit, and nobody thought to put anything on the back. 25% of the leaflet is wasted space.

Token missives from the rank outsiders

At some point during the campaign we get the one and only effort from the no-hope Labour candidate. His name is Laurie South, and he sound like a decent sort of chap, although we learn nothing of his lavatorial habits, unlike his predecessor. A leaflet from the local Ukip candidate turns up, showing a stern-looking bearded bloke who’s anti-human rights and who was, in an statement that will draw knowing nods from kids who were locked up for littering or loitering or looking a bit wrong, a serving magistrate. Neither of these guys has a snowball’s chance in hell of even coming second around here.

And still they come

More leaflets arrive. None appears to be printed on recycled paper or claims to come from sustainable sources, so we can only assume that trees are being sacrificed in the name of local democracy. The Tories’ final postcard states that the loss of just six seats would be enough to wrest power from them. The intention is clearly to prick complacent conservatives into voting, but could have a similar effect on Labour or Lib Dem voters who had been resigned to a Tory victory, but now felt stirred into action.

Door-drops from Lib Dems are now going hell for leather over the ‘heartless Tories” Dementia Tax. The last one I retrieve from the doormat plays the familiar two-horse-race angle, but while it shows a picture of Sarah Olney, Zac Goldsmith’s profile is greyed out. The Lib Dems clearly know how much his supposed good looks appeals to certain voters. (The ones we could do without, really.)

The final tally

In the closely-fought constituency of Richmond Park, the results of the 2017 general election junk mail campaign are as follows:

Labour: 1
Ukip: 1
Conservatives: 13
Liberal Democrats: 36
Total weight: Exactly 500g
Minds changed: Probably zero.

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