Monthly Archives: June 2004

Red button finally delivers…

Every now and then I press the red button on the remote – usually to be greeted by some kind of error or a ‘nothing here yet’ message (of course, this might have been different if we’d chosen Sky and not NTL). Tonight I pressed the red button and got live, full-screen coverage of Glastonbury, including a fine, rattling and clattering version of practically my favourite song in the whole world – The Velvet Underground’s What Goes On – from a man called Tim Booth whose principle charm for me was that he looks like he might be about my age (only a bit thinner, obviously)… Apparently he used to be in James (it says here…)

Making things in a deflationary climate

Argos' amazing ?9.99 barbecue
The economics of making things is all over the place these days. I guess I understand how Argos can sell this really handsome steel barbecue for £9.99 (that’s how much it costs if you visit a store) or John Lewis this beautiful six colour photo printer for £49.95 (likewise, it seems to be cheaper in-store than on the web site) or Dell this amazingly good PC for £369.00 (including delivery) but what I don’t get is what happens once the margins have been driven out of the system entirely.

Presumably someone in Argos’ supply chain is actually making some money on those barbecues but this continuous downward pressure on prices must mean that, in the end, once all the profit has been flushed out and passed back to the customer (this is a good time to be a customer), no one makes any money at all… Then what?

Links: The Economist and Paul Krugman, famously, on deflation and how to prevent it. Tesco saw deflation in non-food products in the last quarter. So did Japan (again).

Simpson of Piccadilly

Waterstones, formerly Simpson's of Piccadilly, June 2004Original Simpson's handrail, June 2004
Simpson's Lower Ground sign, June 2004Simpson's stairwell, June 2004
Simpson's curved glass windows, June 2004Simpson's lift, June 2004
Dropped into the lovely Simpson of Piccadilly yesterday – now no longer a classy clothing department store but a giant Waterstones book shop. When I got my first proper job I used to get my shirts there (I seem to remember you could buy a shirt from them and they’d repair the collar for you every time it wore out for nothing – can that possibly be true?). The shop was built especially for Simpson (home of the Daks brand – ready-to-wear innovators at a time when men still had their suits made for them) in 1936 and Waterstones have retained most of the important detail (I suppose they had no choice) – including the tiny lifts, the handsome curving handrails in the six storey stairwell and the genuinely beautiful curved glass windows on the Piccadilly side.

That other retail shrine in Tottenham Court Road – Heal’s (also a Victorian design pioneer) – had similar windows but I guess they’re a dreadful waste of retail space and now they’re gone. I’m certain removing them was a false economy since they do beautiful things for the stock on display – canceling glare entirely even on a sunny day. Simpson was an innovator in its time – pioneering mass produced style and industrial-era marketing techniques – so I guess it’s appropriate that modern innovators Waterstones should be there now.

(Click the small pics for bigger ones).

Go Walter!

A Mondale poster from 1984
Listen. I know I can’t vote there (what with being British and living in Hertfordshire and all that) and I know I should probably worry more about the British political scene (which is coming along nicely isn’t it?) but I can’t help it. American electoral politics is going to be so entertaining between now and the Presidential election and the choice of candidates so unappetising (and my mother-in-law found some 1980s US election posters in her loft) so… I’m taking this opportunity to come out for Walter Mondale. He’s my man.

Pauperism: 339. Anatomy: 611. Butter: 637. Dancing: 793. Greenland: 998. Mortality: 312

A long time ago, I worked in a library and one of the joys of the job was the Dewey Decimal classification system – a Victorian wonder of such arbitrary beauty that it often left me speechless in awe of Mr Dewey’s simple ambition: to assign all of human knowledge (with some room for growth) a numeric classification. David Galbraith is obviously also a fan (but I can’t tell where he stands on the religious wars of Dewey vs. Library of Congress). I also find myself wondering what happened to an effort I remember (from eight or nine years ago?) to classify the web using Dewey – Wakefulness: 135; Turkish baths: 613; Swedenborgians: 289; Shrubbery: 716; Embalming: 390; Locks and Keys: 683…

Good radio

A couple of outstanding BBC Radio programmes – Lionel Kellaway’s really thought-provoking Nature on the ecological value of so-called ‘brownfield’ land and the risks to the well-being of City dwellers of building over it (click here to listen to the show). Providing the five million or more new homes we need over the next twenty years is going to be more complicated than we thought. Magdi Abdelhadi’s gorgeous half-hour about reciting the koran (don’t think you can listen to this one online, though. How frustrating and wasteful for such important programming to disappear as soon as it’s been broadcast).