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Things you don’t see in Canary Wharf: an A-Z

Abandoned shops
Ad agencies (but only if you’re reading this after 2015, when Ogilvy & Mather upped sticks and moved back to London)
Apple store. The Wharf’s a prime location, you’d have thought. But if an office worker around here wants to look at the alternative to a PC, he has to go to Waitrose (see ‘John Lewis’)
A parking ticket on this car. Ever

Jaguar, alright for some

The Jag that never gets a ticket

Beggars
Big Issue vendors
Buskers who aren’t officially auditioned and licensed and whose repertoire doesn’t include songs by Coldplay
Charity shops, chuggers, children who aren’t on a school trip
Circus posters pushed through the letterboxes of abandoned shops (qv)
Civil engineering projects undertaken by any company whose name isn’t ‘Canary Wharf Contractors’.

Coincidentally, C also stands for ‘competitive tendering’

 Civil disobedience. At the time of Occupy London, Canary Wharf Management got jittery that something similar may occur on their patch. It was never likely, but the authorities took the precaution of cable-tying ‘Restrictions of Assembly’ rules to lamp-posts on all the approaches to Canary Wharf. The half-inch-thick document lists all the dos and don’ts – mainly don’ts – that visitors to Canary Wharf are subject to. I’d like to read it one day, but one of the don’ts is almost certainly ‘Don’t remove this document’. #catch22
Diversity
Dawdling people. Everyone’s in a hurry, all of the time. Not New York hurry, but a lot faster than New Malden hurry
Eccentrics
Etiquette, specifically as it pertains to holding doors open for other people. However, see ‘Unseemly free-for-all’
Extra Mints. I love these little fellers, despite a lifelong and completely inexplicable dislike of everything Wrigley. But no one here sells them. Update: Boots do.

These mints. Rarer than unobtainium

Feminists. I’ve no proof that they don’t exist in Canary Wharf, merely find the prospect unlikely
Flags. Can’t think of a single office that sports a gaily fluttering flag, nor a single reason why one should do so
Google Street View cars. They’re not allowed in. For security reasons. I can’t say more
Graffiti, greengrocers, greasy spoons
Happy and contented maintenance staff. I once saw a jacket hanging from the arm of this statue in West India Avenue. Its owner, a gardener, was toiling nearby. The scene looked quite amusing, so I asked the gardener if he minded me taking a photo.
He did. He told me that maintenance staff employed at the Wharf could be ‘let go’ for the most trivial reasons, and if someone from Canary Wharf Management were to see my photo on Instagram or wherever, he would most likely be tracked down and given his P45.
Ice cream vans
Independent shops
Jams, traffic
John Lewis. There’s a Waitrose that looks like a John Lewis and sells John Lewis-type merchandise, but it’s called Waitrose. Nobody knows why
Just passing through’. No one does this. Canary Wharf isn’t on the way to anywhere
Kebab shops
Knocking shops. Not that I’ve seen, anyway. Not that I’ve been looking. Or know what one looks like. If they look like office receptions I may have to revisit this entry
Learner drivers
Listed buildings
Litter
Long grass. Like long hair, it’s redolent of anarchy and will not be tolerated. There are little parks and gardens in Canary Wharf but they are enthusiastically maintained, with all the plants laid out in regimented rows and patterns
Marks & Spencer. OK, there is one that does a roaring trade in food. But one where you can buy some socks? Forget it
Men in suits. Joking!
Old people. Older than me people, definitely
Patience at pelican crossings. This particular phenomenon isn’t restricted to Canary Wharf but its effect is more pronounced here due to the lack of heavy traffic. What happens is that a pedestrian will hit the pelican crossing button before looking to see if any traffic’s coming or not. It’s generally not, so he’ll stride straight out into a deserted road. Then, when a car finally does show up, the lights will suddenly turn red for no reason. This makes me angry as a driver and a pedestrian, and if I were a pelican I’d be furious
Pelicans
Petrol stations
Pigeons. Today I was wondering why you didn’t see that many pigeons in Canary Wharf when I came face to face with one of the reasons. Lemmy is a Harris Hawk who, his handler explained, is employed to persuade pigeons and gulls that they would lead more fruitful lives in other London boroughs. ‘But there aren’t many pigeons around here!’ I said. ‘I know,’ replied Lemmy’s boss. ‘He’s good, isn’t he?’

lemmy, hawk

That’s Lemmy on the right

Police. Proper police. The ones at Canary Wharf may look like your regular plod, but in fact they’re a private force. You see them every hundred metres or so, standing around or walking along with varying degrees of purposefulness. They look well tooled up but they’re mostly packing torches, walkie-talkies and energy bars. Truth is, there’s not much for them to do around here and in any case they have very limited powers. Most of the crime at Canary Wharf occurs behind glass doors*, and it’s unlikely these uniformed plastics have the authority to barge in and say ‘Right, you’re all nicked!’ ‘What’s the charge, copper?’ ‘We’ll think of something, sunshine. How about complicity in acts of financial malpractice likely to engender global recession? And that’s just for starters!’
Poundland, Primark, public libraries, pubs with dartboards
Quitters. There’s no place in Canary Wharf for people who aren’t in it to win it. You snooze, you lose. It’s our way or the dual carriageway
Quizzes, pub
Ram-raiders. The office blocks around the wharf are protected by tank-proof obstructions, often disguised as flower boxes. With its all-pervasive air of paranoia, Canary Wharf is the Porton Down of the business world. Mind you, the IRA did plant a massive bomb here back in 1996, so the fear isn’t completely unfounded
Scruffy people. If you do happen to see a girl in ripped jeans, they’ll have been skilfully hand-ripped by a professional jean ripper
Skateboarders, although you do see the occasional spirit-crushing sight of a middle-aged office worker on a scooter
Tattoo parlours. Are you kidding?
To Let’ signs on empty offices. Sends out the wrong signal
Toy shops
Tripods, Photographers with. Hat tip to Rob Borgars for this observation. Basically, using a tripod is discouraged in the Wharf. The reasons? You could be a terrorist (no, I can’t see the connection either). You might cause someone to trip, resulting in legal action. Or you might be someone aiming to take a photograph for commercial gain. Tripod = professional, you see.
Undertakers
Urban foxes. I’ve never seen a squirrel here, either
Unseemly free-for-all to get on the Tube at the end of the day. Instead, Canary Wharfers (as nobody calls them) queue in an orderly fashion. It’s a sight to behold
Vandalism
WH Smith. Oddly, there isn’t a single branch of Britain’s favourite newsagent. Something called ‘News on the Wharf’ takes care of all the sweets ‘n’ papers stuff
Xylophones. No one I’ve spoken to has ever seen one in Canary Wharf. Nor have there been any sightings of marimbas, glockenspiels, vibraphones or thongophones. Things might be different if there was a music shop here
Yobbos. Yodellers. Yellow-crowned night herons. I’m struggling with Y
Zombies. None of the office grunts or ‘retail sales advisers’ are flesh-eating zombies. I’m pretty certain about this.

*Probably

Anything I’ve missed?  Do let me know. Also if the local M&S has started selling socks yet. (Update: they always have.)

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You want hard-working advertising words. That’s why we’ve identified two more.

I say ‘we’, because I wasn’t alone in spotting this comparatively recent trend. The estimable Tom Albrighton over on ABC Copywriting did all the heavy lifting back in May. Quick on his feet, that Tom. All I’m bringing to the table is a few more examples.

I’m talking about the ubiquity of the two words ‘that’s why’ in advertising copy. As Tom says, it follows the formula:

At A, we know how important B is. That’s why we C, which gives you D.

Or: You know this? That’s why we have this

It’s cropping up everywhere. It’s like every copywriter in town has been on the same course. Which would be strange, because copywriters don’t go on courses.

Here’s a few examples I’ve half-heartedly collected over the past two weeks. There are loads more out there.

'Find healthy'? Let's not go there.

One ad. Three that's-whys.

Oh, so that's why!

This is a bit of a non-sequitur, in my opinion.

Basically, we wanted to increase profits and hurt the competition. That's why we were compelled to make our products look and sound desirable. Otherwise we'd have just thrown together the first thing our designers came up with.

It's Sidney again, still looking for healthy. Hang on, wasn't he 88 in the previous ad? Time flies when you get old. (That's why you should try and enjoy every day as if it were your last.)

Cheerio!

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Energy ad fail

EDF Energy are the new sponsors of the London Eye, as anyone who has been with 100 metres of the Eye won’t have failed to notice. Their branding is everywhere. (They’ve sneakily hidden the stainless steel plaque that commemorates the life of the chief engineer of the project, who died shortly after its completion. Presumably on the grounds that it mentions the name of the original sponsors, British Airways.)

Anyway, EDF Energy support a low carbon future, which is nice. ‘Supporting a low carbon future’, their strapline noncommittally  asserts. They obviously like to be seen as taking the issue very seriously.

Which makes me wonder how on earth they can reconcile that with the sentiment expressed in their latest ad. An after-dark trip on the Eye, the ad states, is ‘lavish – like taking a cab to the corner shop.’  Lavish? Selfish, more like.

How many people failed to spot the contradiction here?

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Cheeky clock

Years ago, I used to be sent direct mail by a promotional giftware company. They did things like personalised t-shirts, pens, key fobs and mouse mats. The idea was that I’d order 500 ballpoint pens, each bearing the message ‘I write better than this pen! Kevin Mills 012 345 6789’, and send them to my clients and prospects. I never bothered because, well, because of lots of reasons, the likely complete ineffectiveness of such a sales technique being perhaps the most compelling.

But in the nature of such things, they kept sending me direct mail, often including free samples with ‘your name or slogan here’ printed on them. Then one day they announced that they could also personalise wall clocks, and would I care for a free sample? This appealed to me. I actually needed a clock. I was never going to order dozens to send to my clients or prospects, as at the time I only had about three clients and, as now, no prospects *pathos face*. But the promotional company wasn’t to know that.

A free wallclock. With ‘my name or slogan’ on it. And with no intention of ever engaging with the promotions company beyond getting a freebie out of them. Suddenly it became obvious what message the clock should carry.

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A ball-shaped piece of freedom

The BNM family has enjoyed two trips to the USA. Once we went up and down the east coast. Then we went up and down the west coast. Never been to the middle bits or to any of the vowel states.

I’m not overly-excited by cars or by driving, but I do like driving in the States.

The open highway, the scenery, the roadside diners, the advertising hoardings, the muffler men.

Visiting gas stations was an eye-opener. There was the obscenely low cost of petrol for one thing. When we last there, it was less than a tenth of what we were paying in the UK. No wonder they all drive cars as big as buses.

Then there was the simple act of filling your car with fuel. Because in America, once you’ve pulled the trigger on the petrol pump, it stays pulled. A little ratchet thingy clicks into place and keeps the flow of fuel running.

You can walk off and clean bugs off your windscreen, stock up with water or do whatever you like. The nozzle will just hang there pumping gas into your fuel tank until you squeeze the trigger again or the nozzle’s sensor indicates that the tank is full, whereupon it automatically cuts off.

Why isn’t there a similar system in the UK? The petrol dispensers can’t be that different. I can only assume the ratchet mechanism has been removed for the UK market.

Things are always being changed ‘to suit the UK market’. This normally means removing the taste, strength or functionality of something before we can be trusted with it. For example, it was only recently that the Heineken sold in the UK started to bear any relationship at all to the Heineken sold in almost every other country of the world. I could give you other examples but they all seem to be booze-related and you might start to wonder about me.

So, back to petrol pumps and the fact that we have to stand there like dorks when filling up the car.

I’ve found a way round it.

I have. I have overcome the senseless petrol forecourt tyranny enforced upon us by the ruthless Petrol Retailers Association working in collusion with their arrogant Whitehall overlords.

I just hit upon the idea of using a tennis ball. We keep some in the boot to throw for the dog. You just jam the tennis ball between the trigger and the trigger guard, then go off and explore your new-found freedom while the tank fills up.

I can’t tell you how happy this discovery had made me.

The first time I tried out the idea I immediately wondered what to do with the time that was now mine. I know – wash the windscreen. Trouble was, there was no bucket of soapy water with a sponge in it. Perhaps that’s another thing you only get in the States. There were no paper towels, either. The only thing I could put to use was a pair of flimsy see-through gloves. What could I possibly do with them? No idea.

So I waited, but not too close to the car. If anyone else drove up, I wanted them to see me and think: “That guy’s standing a little bit too far from his car to be able comfortably to hold the petrol nozzle. Wait…he’s not holding it at all. But how can his tank be filling up? I don’t understand. Hold on…he’s got some sort of device wedged into the petrol pump’s trigger mechanism. It’s *rubs eyes* it’s a common or garden tennis ball!”

But no one did.

Think about this: If the average UK motorist spends 1 minute 15 seconds filling up his car with a tankful of unleaded, drives 12,000 miles a year and averages 32 mpg, he really should take a long, hard look at reducing his carbon footprint.

But at least the tennis ball idea will save him literally minutes a year.

 

A standard-issue tennis ball successfully undergoing forecourt trials in South London

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Stumbling over copy

I’m showing my copy to the account director. I watch closely as she reads the text. I like to think that I can tell exactly whereabouts she is on the page simply by observing her reactions.

That little nod means she’s reached the part in the opening paragraph that resolves the slight sense of intrigue contained within the headline. Smaller, almost imperceptible nods mean she’s mentally ticking off the product’s key selling points. And that half smile must be in recognition of the little gag I put towards the end, which neatly refers back to the headline. I begin to smile myself.

But what’s this? She doesn’t hand the copy back. Instead, she narrows her eyes and picks it up off the desk. She holds the sheet of A4 a few inches further away from her, as if she’s suddenly having trouble focusing on the words. She frowns and her lips start forming an O.

“All OK?” I say brightly, conveying, I hope, an air of finality.

“Yes,” she replies. I’m just having trouble with this word.” She mentions the word.

“Really? I quite like that word. I thought it made a nice change from the usual.”

“Maybe that’s it. It wasn’t what I was expecting. I stumbled over it.”

There it is. The stumble word. We can’t have people stumbling. In copy, everything’s got to be smooth and level and free of any linguistic obstacles. Gently undulating is acceptable, but molehills, potholes, sudden twists or turns; these are verboten.

The nice flat plains in the south of Australia's Northern Territories are interrupted by this unsightly stumbling block, Uluru.

Were you expecting ‘forbidden’, there? That’s what I had in mind, then I changed it to verboten at the last minute. It sounded stronger, more absolute. But did you…stumble? Did you stare at the word with a look of bafflement, shake your head and go back to Twitter?

I think copywriting that sometimes uses the unexpected or the unfamiliar – even, in the right circumstances, the unheard of – can enhance the experience of reading it.

That’s doesn’t mean being wilfully obscure or peppering your copy with impenetrable jargon. It just means occasionally straying from the everyday, the overly familiar and definitely the clichéd.

I thought about this the other day when I came across this poster for Fitness First, ostensibly encouraging people to join their gyms. Health clubs tend to pour most of their ad budgets into January for obvious reasons, though it would be interesting to see if this campaign makes a blind bit of difference to FF’s membership:

 

Try not to look at it for too long.

Now this poster isn’t in any way a shining example of the adman’s craft. I think that possibly every element of it could be improved. But the thing that stood out for me, as I casually took it in while padlocking my bike by the train station, were the words ‘our members are fitter than yesterday.’

Fitter than yesterday. I”ve never heard that expression. A search on Google (UK) yields just three examples, none of which uses the phrase as a figure of speech. So whoever approved the copy for this poster – and it must have gone through SOME sort of approval process – wasn’t unduly concerned about it containing a phrase that might have made people ‘stumble’.

I thought it sounded quite cool. It contained a truth. It required a teensy bit of thought. The words made me think, ever so briefly, about fitness, age, decay and mortality. Had I not heard the sound of my train approaching, and had the rest of the ad not been such a complete fucking disaster, I might have made a mental note to book an appointment at the nearest gym.

Sometimes, it’s good to stumble.

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Having one less digit in a digital age

Along with date of birth, height and occupation, there used to be a space on the old-style British passport that noted the bearer’s ‘distinguishing marks’, or signes particuliers. Most people didn’t have distinguishing marks, or in any case not distinguishing enough for the UK Passport Agency.

I’m sure many applicants struggled to think of something that would have separated them from the herds of run-of-the-terminal, undistinguished passport holders. ‘Endearing smile’, ‘freckle configuration reminiscent of Ursa Major’ or even ‘mammoth tits’ might have been put forward. Not good enough. These peoples’ passports carried the crushing word ‘none’.

I, though, did have a distinguishing mark. On my passport it stated ‘TOP JOINT, FOURTH FINGER, R.HAND MISSING’. My pride in this was almost enough to counter the bouts of hilarity whenever anyone saw my passport photo. Like middle names, passport photos are guaranteed to provoke mirth regardless of how ordinary they are.

My phalange shortfall

See? There’s nothing remotely amusing about this, my first-ever passport photo

So how did it come about, this 33.33% deficiency in the pinky department? Well, I lost the top of my little finger in a car door accident.

This explanation normally makes people grimace briefly, before they recover and say “well, at least it was quick. Clean break and all that.” Then I go on to explain that it wasn’t the result of a car door being closed, but being opened. Their expression changes once more.

The car in question was a 1950’s Ford Prefect (registration FBD 528). This wasn’t part of some classic car restoration project. It was the family car. Yes, I really am that old. But at the time, I was very young. Just turned three, in fact. I had two older brothers who sat in the rear of the car, while I had to sit on my mum’s lap in the front. (No seatbelts to get in the way back then.)

A Ford Prefect, the inspiration behind the eponymously-named character from HHGTTG

We had stopped off at a shop on the way back from a day out to pick up some shopping. I waited on the pavement for my mum to get in first. I was leaning against the car with my hand splayed out against the central door pillar. Then one of my brothers opened the back door. My fingers were caught between the door and the pillar; as he opened the door it slowly sliced off the ends of two fingers.

I believe I may have uttered some expression of astonishment.

My father: lawbreaker

My memories of the actual incident are largely derived from others’ testimony, but I do have a strong recollection of my dad breaking the speed limit for perhaps the first time in his life to get me to A&E as quickly as possible.

The subsequent operation to reattach my fingers was only a partial success. The top of my third finger hadn’t been completely severed and was stitched back more or less as good as new.

The pinky fared less well. Perhaps the surgeon was a bit mean with the stitches. Whatever the reason, I had to revisit the hospital a fortnight later for the fingertip to be permanently removed.

People rarely notice its absence. I can be friends with someone for years before they suddenly stare open-mouthed at my hand. Or I’m in one of those my-scar-is-bigger-than-your-scar pub conversations, and I have to think of something to trump their Glasgow smile, AK-47 exit wound or Great White leg injury. That’s when I nonchalantly raise my little finger to looks of general incredulity.

Spot the difference

Curiously, the people most likely to notice are those who themselves are short of a digit or two. I have no idea why this should be. I certainly don’t go round looking at people’s hands to see if they have their full complement of fingers.

Some disadvantages of little fingerlessness

  • Not being a world-class drummer like Terry Bozzio. The thick end of the drumstick sits just where my stump is. (I think that might be a unique sentence.) So when I hit the drums hard, it starts to hurt. I know Rick Allen of Def Leppard managed to continue playing after the amputation of his entire left arm, but that’s different. He had the advantage of being talented.
  • In cold weather, my little finger starts to feel cold before the rest of me. In fact it gets bloody cold. My mum, bless her, once knitted me a pair of gloves with a foreshortened little finger. Awww.
  • If I used all ten fingers to touch-type it would potentially reduce my overall speed by as much as 10%. Luckily I only use two fingers, which itself is 100% more than I use to play the piano.

P.S. The picture above this one was taken with the Mac’s built-in camera, which produces a reverse image. Hence the little finger appearing to be on my left hand.

P.P.S. I reserve the right to blog about stuff that’s personal to me. I hope you enjoy reading it.

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