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REVIEWS

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2011 is my favourite.

John Lewis Adverts.

There have been 13 John Lewis adverts.

The first was in 2007.

And it was called ‘Shadow’.

Set.

Here’s the set:

2007. Shadow.

2008.  Clues.

2009.  The Feeling.

2010.  A Tribute to the Givers.

2011.  The Long Wait.

2012.  The Journey.

2013.  The Bear and the Hare.

2014.  Monty the Penguin.

2015.  The Man on the Moon.

2016.  Buster the Boxer.

2017. Moz the Monster.

2018. The Boy and the Piano.

2019. Edgar the Dragon.

Favourite.

So.

What about you?

Here they all are: https://www.50odd.co.uk/2011-2/.

 

McNair don’t beat about the bush.

They say they make the best mountain shirts in the world.

And personally.

I don’t doubt it for a second.

Red. 

My McNair shirt is red.

It’s this one: https://mcnairshirts.com/product/mid-weight-virgin-merino-shirt/.

The reason I mention it is because I am a big fan of the ‘Do One Thing Well’ ethos.

And McNair embrace this wholeheartedly.

Purpose. 

McNair started because of an itch they had.

The itch, which led them to scratch their head, was this.

Why is it.

When I go up a mountain to ski or whatever.

That I have to wear an adult sized padded baby grow?

In pink.

Or bright blue.

Or both.

Then, they chose the best merino wool.

Harnessed classic design.

Upgraded it for the harshest conditions.

Yet made it practical for urban living.

And away they went.

A McNair Shirt.

McNair.

McNair Shirts aren’t cheap.

But that’s as it should be.

When you do one thing well.

And you commit.

The results are generally superb.

And worth the investment.

And that’s what’s happened here.

Here they are: https://mcnairshirts.com.

The little dragon in the 2019 Christmas John Lewis (and Waitrose) advert is a lovely thing.

It’s clumsy.

And friendly.

And it has nice eyes.

Nice eyes are important for an animal that doesn’t exist and that can’t speak.

Because nice eyes help us to sense what it’s thinking.

So yes.

The little dragon in the 2019 John Lewis (and Waitrose) advert is a lovely thing.

Gut. 

This review is my gut reaction, by the way.

I know nothing of the budget.

Other than it must have been bloody big.

And nothing of the backstory.

I wanted to comment on the 2019 John Lewis and Waitrose Christmas advert as a consumer.

And as a dad.

Is it any good?

So is it any good?

Well, even though I wrote that question.

I am not sure of the answer.

I suppose it depends who is asking and how they are measuring.

It ticks the ‘sugary’ box.

Which is no bad thing.

Niceness is nice.

Families will watch it together.

And I suppose a woven-in-message is that everyone’s foibles can be strengths given the right circumstances.

That’s a good message.

So, OK.

If it’s me that’s asking if it’s any good.

(And it is).

And if it’s me that is also answering.

(And it is).

Then, yes.

It’s good.

Kindness. 

Kindness is a theme too.

With a sprinkling of tolerance.

And patience.

I like that.

Customer Behaviour.

Will it make me pop to John Lewis or Waitrose for my Christmas shop, though?

Will the behaviour of this particular consumer (me) be influenced in the way that they want?

You know what, it just might.

For two reasons.

Reason One.

First, I am interested in how they have integrated the loveliness in the advert that they delivered to my home.

Into their stores.

So when I pop in (with Izobel) to check, one of three things will happen.

Izobel and I will either be:

  1. Delighted.
  2. Underwhelmed.
  3. Disappointed.

And if Izobel and I are anything other than number 1, that’s really crap.

John Lewis and Waitrose will have failed.

It would mean that yet again a brand is fishing for customers with big budget advertising.

And at the point of delivery the experience just doesn’t match up.

Let’s see.

Reason Two.

The second reason I might go to John Lewis or Waitrose as a result of this advert is because the advert is a superb quality piece of work.

On every level.

I like quality.

And the advert makes my little brain think this:

This brand is clearly committed to quality in the stories they tell.

And in how they tell them.

So they would be worse than idiotic to give me anything less than as good a quality experience in their stores.

Because to raise expectations to a 10/10.

To then deliver at an ordinary and lazy 7/10.

Is quite simply a worse kind of shit than saying I’ll get an ordinary and lazy 7/10 and delivering at an ordinary and lazy 7/10.

At least that’s honest shit.

Such under delivery would, in the longer term, be suicidal for any brand.

Izobel and I.

So the advert has done it’s job.

I will take Izobel (and my credit card) to John Lewis and to Waitrose.

To see if the TV experience extends to the physical environment.

To see if the store itself is doing as good a job as the advert is.

Because such clumsy misalignment would be crazy, right?

Merry Christmas.

(Here’s the ad: https://www.50odd.co.uk/dragons/).

 

I was looking through books online this week.

One evening.

On goodreads.com there are some great books.

And some even better reviews.

Here is my favourite review so far.

It’s two short sentences and I reckon you’ll know the book just from the review.

Let’s see:

There is nothing I want more than to be able to reach downstairs for a biscuit whilst in bed.

Lucky bastard.

Heartfelt!

And funny.

Paul Lancaster started Newcastle Startup Week 3 years ago.

I don’t know how many more years it will last.

And Paul probably doesn’t know either.

But what I do know is that Newcastle Startup Week is very, very special.

Newcastle Startup Week.

This May.

Over a 5 day period from the 13th to the 17th.

Over 700 people will gather in Newcastle and Gateshead to explore a huge range of subjects around starting and growing businesses.

It’ll be about 1,000 people once we add in students.

But it won’t be at all businesslike in the traditional sense.

Suits will be few and far between.

As will vol-eu-vents.

Instead, there will be the excited and the entrepreneurial, buzzing with optimism and positivity.

As well as amazing local food, coffee and beer served from mid morning to late into the night at amazing local venues like Tyne Bank Brewery, Back Yard Bikeshop (By The River Brew Co.) and Stack Creative Social Hub.

And because of all this.

What comes as absolutely no surprise to me at all.

Is that this event is more attractive, better attended and more loved than anything of its kind that I have ever seen by any university, college, enterprise agency, local authority, networking organisation in the North East of England over the last 20 years.

And I have worked for 4 universities and the North East’s 2 biggest enterprise agencies.

Nothing has ever come close.

Festival.

Newcastle Startup Week is a festival.

The speakers (of which there are 60+ from around the world) are diverse and intense.

Each speaker gets an average of 20 minutes to do their thing.

So the content is sharply constructed and efficiently presented.

The whole event crackles and buzzes with seemingly endless layers of information, entertainment and inspiration.

And it is unencumbered by waffly sponsors.

They’re clever enough to know that just being involved, and a sprinkling of a few well-chosen words, is enough.

Tickets.

Newcastle Startup Week is innovative, layered, surprising, fast-moving and vibrant.

And as I say – very, very special.

Which, I guess, makes Paul Lancaster very, very special too.

All you need to know is here, including how to get a week-long ticket.

And if you email me at michael@500dd.co.uk, asking for a discount code, I’ll send you one that’ll give you a 50% discount in these last few days.

Please.

Go.

Here’s a review of a Friday night out in Newcastle upon Tyne. 

I went to the opening of the Alexander Millar exhibition in Newcastle a week or so ago.

With my friend Pete Zulu.

Amazing works filled the three floor New Hancock Gallery.

It’s a great venue.

And I met Jaws.

There’s a photo of him trying to kill me at this link: https://www.50odd.co.uk/jaws/.

Jaws. 

I’m not a James Bond fan really.

But I do know Jaws when I see him.

At least, I thought I did.

This lovely chap is Gary Tiplady.

He’s 7 feet and 3 inches tall.

And we had a good chat.

Even though he’s not Jaws at all.

He’s a lookalike.

Alfie. 

Then, we went to The Stand in Newcastle.

The comedy club.

Our friend Alfie Joey was the compère.

And I was surprised by how great the acts were.

The Stand is right next door to my studio on High Bridge in Newcastle.

And, to that point, I’d never been.

It was great.

So there you go.

Newcastle gems that are not hidden at all.

The New Hancock Gallery and The Stand.

I’d just never been before.

(But I’m glad I did).

This is my favourite chocolate at the moment.

It is a bar of dark chocolate (52% Cocoa).

And the flavour is liquorice.

With sea salt.

Chocolate.

This is a strange combination, of course.

I am sure that Morrisons are not the first people to do it.

(Own label products almost always follow as opposed to lead).

But whatever the backstory, Morrisons do this very well.

Texture.

The texture plays a part in its success.

The chocolate is a creamy kind of dark chocolate.

Because there’s not such a high percentage of Cocoa that the bar becomes hard and slow to melt.

And the sea salt (there’s a lot) appears as crunchy crystals.

It’s not overly salty and the chocolate/liquorice/salt balance is just right.

Surprising. 

So, if you are after a surprising and pleasing sweet thing for after your dinner.

As you sit down to watch Gogglebox this Friday.

It’ll cost you £1.34.

Or a multiple thereof if, like me, you’re a fan.

Here it is.

(Fairtrade, rich and flavoursome, with mellow liquorice notes and sea salt, No artificial colours or flavours, Vegetarian).

PS The web link describes one bar as ‘5 servings’. 

I think it’s a typo. 

It should read, ‘1’.

Genderless clothing brands are a good thing. 

Because they encourage people to share what they wear.

And because they (should) do away with any silly stereotyping.

Here are some to take a look at.

https://eckhauslatta.com 

Based in New York, quirky, quite nice and slightly bonkers.

https://t-o-o-g-o-o-d.com/clothing

Minimalist, cool and – again – a bit mad.

www.bethnals.com

Decent denim-obsessed basics.

Not terribly adventurous but yes – interesting and affordable.

https://vertigga.com

Another American brand.

Youthful.

The (odd) Wilde Boots are interesting.

Genderless.

I personally see genderless clothing as simple, common sense idea.

Not a political stance and neither for or against any particular group or persuasion.

Just something that, if done well so that it encourages us all to buy less and buy better, makes sense.

The examples here are early entrants to the category.

The category itself is young.

I suspect some enter it as it feels newsy.

The best will do it because of how it can effect our world positively.

They are the ones that will last.

Wear It. Share It.

We live in a world where over 70% of all clothing made is either burnt or buried within 3 years.

Things need to change.

And genderless clothing could be one small part of that change.

Wear it… then share it.

This is a story that explores why all 50-quids are not the same.

And why, most of the time, the most important things in business cost nothing at all.

Weekend Break.

I’m in Percy Cottage in Northumberland.

It’s right next door to The Percy Arms Pub.

When we arrived at the cottage, there was a hand written card from the owner, who we know.

She’s called Sand and the note included her personal mobile number.

We’re here for 3 nights.

Nice little place.

Matfen Hall.

Three months ago we were at Matfen Hall.

For the same number of nights.

3.

‘Nice, big place.

The Percy Arms.

Last night we went to the pub next door to our cottage, to The Percy Arms.

It’s small.

Friendly.

Busy.

Warm and cozy.

It had kids games too.

These games (and this is important) were clean.

And new.

And complete.

If you’re a parent of a small child you’ll be used to going to places that say they’re for kids, but they’re not really.

The toys are shitty and filthy and broken.

It’s not like that at The Percy Arms.

And when the young girl behind the bar serves you, she looks you in the eye, widens her own eyes, smiles broadly and calls you, ‘my darling’.

All good.

Matfen Hall (again).

When I arrived at Matfen Hall 3 months ago, it had been booked for me by the General Manager, who I know.

When I arrived, they didn’t know who I was at reception.

There was no note.

My friend was not there and there was no message from him.

The room was good!

But nothing special.

£50

OK so that’s the background to my story.

My ‘not all 50-quids are the same’ story.

£50 at Matfen Hall.

We spent £50 at Matfen Hall on the first night.

We spent it with a young girl behind the counter of the empty conservatory.

She was white shirted, pleasant enough and she called me sir.

She wasn’t looking me in the eye when she called me sir.

And, somehow, I’d rather she didn’t call me that, actually.

It was not natural for her.

And it was not natural for me.

We had two veggie burgers and a couple of drinks each.

I remember the floor was plasticky because Colin the dog kept clicking-and-clacking and skidding on it.

The service was plastic too.

And so was the burger.

But this is the important bit…

As each part of my ‘spend’ took place, I was doing a mental sum.

Inside, I was saying…

Fucking hell; £25 for this.

Then another round.

Fucking hell; £35 for this.

Then another round.

Fucking hell; £50 for this.

I resented spending £50.

I resented the whole experience.

£50 at The Percy Arms. 

We went in.

Drank.

Ate.

And 3 hours of indulgence, couldn’t-care-lessness and laughing later  – we’d spent £50.

It could have been £70.

£80.

More.

I wouldn’t have known.

And I wouldn’t have cared.

Big versus little.

If you’re a little business, you need to work out what you can learn from big ones.

And what to ignore.

Because littleness can be so charming and lovely.

Don’t lose that.

All of this is particularly important in markets where experience is important.

And – and this is the truth – I actually cannot think of ANY market where experience is not important.

Summary. 

Percy Cottage and The Percy Arms in Chatton are superb.

Human, honest, homely and wholesome.

Matfen Hall has fallen into the very same trap as so may of these larger venues where the venue itself is considered to be the jewel in their crown.

They think that the building is the most important thing in their offering.

It so, so isn’t.

All the building presents is an opportunity.

I want you to know my name.

To look me in the eye.

To make me feel that I am the most important guest you have ever had.

Relate to me, treat me like a flesh and blood  and – most important of all – think about the lasting memory you are going to leave me with.

Because that is what I am going to tell other people.

If it is part of Matfen Hall’s strategy that I tell others I was made to feel anonymous and unimportant, and that Matfen Hall deliver an experience so sterile that my brain drifts to how much margin they are making on my £50 – they are bang on.

If not, there is work to do.

Website.

The first sentence you see at the Matfen Hall website is:

NOT JUST ANOTHER STATELY HOME.

As well as that being a silly thing for any marketing company to advise as a headline (because it doesn’t mean anything) it is particularly inappropriate for Matfen Hall.

Because the exact thing they say they are not – they are.

Triggers is a book written by a friend of mine, Pete Zulu.

For the avoidance of doubt, here are three reasons that ARE NOT reasons for why I am reviewing it:

  1. Because Pete is my friend. I am reviewing it because I like it and I think you will too.
  2. Because Pete asked me too. He didn’t.
  3. Because I was gifted it. I bought it. In fact, I bought four copies. 1 for me. 3 for friends. It’s £15.

Triggers.

This is the book that any of us could have written.

In the same way that we could have all done a Picasso or a Hockney or a Pollock sketch or painting.

That Jackson Pollock Pillock.

Have you seen his stuff?

It’s like the floor of my shed.

Well if the floor of your shed is worth £75 million then yes, I suppose it is.

Eyes and Brains.

Triggers is a book for the eyes and the brain in equal measure.

Because the story (for the brain) is punctuated with 88 photographs (for the eyes) that Pete has taken.

The photographs are all lovely.

And some are here: https://www.instagram.com/petezulu3/

Simplicity.

The idea for the book is simple.

Pete chops his life into 8 segments, each segment attached to an aftershave, the smell of which trigger memories.

It’s neat and relatable.

And you’ll read the whole thing in about an hour if you just devour the words and sentences.

And you’ll read the whole thing in about a month if you too remember Aramis, Kouros, Denim and Brut – because you will read it more than once and some of the time you are reading it it will be out loud, to other people.

Because you’ll want them to remember what you remember too.

Writing Style.

Triggers is the book you could have written because of its writing style.

But it is also the book you could not have written because of its writing style.

Debbie Owen, TV Scriptwriter commented:

It’s odd to read something that follows so few writing rules and makes me genuinely not care.

I don’t know you Pete, but from reading this I really like you because you let me in.

When you read this book it’s like you are listening to Pete chat to you.

Pete is the best writer that doesn’t really write that I have ever read.

I want one.

It’s £15.

And I don’t know how you get one.

But as one of the things that Pete and Sarah do these days is run The Black Horse in East Bolden I do know that you can get one there if you pop in there.

The food is superb so even if there are no books left, if you’re hungry, you’ve still scored.

Or if you want me to help you get one, email michael@50odd.co.uk.

I’ll speak to Peter.