Wednesday, June 07, 2017

More litterpicking tales from the streets of Grangetown -

Sunday morning. The promise of rain. Half the city is still blockaded in the aftermath of the UEFA Champions League final security clampdown. And I was off to a Tidy Grangetown litter pick along the south-western river-edged border of G-town.

I've blogged before about how you learn a lot about an area by picking up its trash. This time I learned a lot about the people who drive through Grangetown as well, particularly the ones who drive along Ferry Road. They eat McDonald's and throw their Big Mac boxes, their Chicken Wrap wrappers, and their drinks cups out of the window, Seriously, they can't possibly take them home and put them in the rubbish like civilised people would.

The big news is that now litter pickers get the option of one of the new high-viz vests. I felt I had to wear one, really, and Sara, one of my lovely neighbours from my street obliged me by taking a photo.

It's important to pick a yellow vest, explained Dave as he pulled out the big bag of vests, because the orange ones are for people doing community service.

There are always odd things to find while litter-picking. This time round I found a pair of gloves, a dashboard hands-free mounting device for a mobile phone, a coat-hanger, a Romanian coin, and a troll.

Little lost troll
There was an awful lot of rubbish associated with smoking. Mainly cigarette butts and packets, but people just chuck away their e-cigarette liquid bottles as well. Alcohol-wise, there was a bottle that once contained very cheap cider and several cans, but most of the cans I picked up were soft drinks and those awful energy drinks that stink to high heaven. Even the bugs don't touch them. In terms of other drugs, this time I only found two nitrous capsules, but lots of suspicious little baggies. Sara used a sharps kit to sort out a syringe, which is a bit more serious.

I finally got to pick up one of those plastic multi-rings that hold together cans of lager. They are always the thing you see on environmentalist memes trapping fish and other marine life. Well, this one was safely bagged, so who knows, I might have saved a sea-turtle.

It's hard to tell how long some trash has been sitting there. From the depths of a hedge I pulled out a Cherry Coke can that was completely faded on one side.

It was also home to a family of woodlice, but I shook them out safely before bagging the can. I don't know how long a can has to sit in undergrowth before it is bleached by nature, but I'd guess it had been there a couple of years. It was next to a Calippo Shots tub. I thought Calippo Shots had been discontinued a while back, but a quick Google shows they can still be bought, so that gives no clue as to how long the Cherry Coke can had sat there.

But regardless of how long it had been there, it's not there now. And that's all that really matters!

Tuesday, June 06, 2017

General Election 2017 - looking at the Tory leaflets

In my first blog post about the 2017 Election leaflets I only looked at material from the Pirate Party, Plaid Cymru and Labour, because they were the only ones I had received. After I tweeted the link the Plaid Cymru candidate, Ian Titherington, replied to me confirming that he always squints in photos. (I'd made that comment about his picture on the leaflet.) We had a bit of a chat and he said he had received leaflets from the Green Party and the Tories. Ian doesn't live that far away from me so I'm not sure if that's just people not willing to leaflet our street or what.

Anyway, in fairness to Ian, and because he got back to me, here is another scan of one of his leaflets. Of note is his bio, confirming that he lives in Grangetown. (Again, click on it it read it bigly.)

My only criticism of this is that as he lives local, the team could have swapped out some of the stock photos and used, say, a picture of a local school, or local businesses. The empty shot of Penarth Pier is arty, but it would have been better if Ian had been in it.

You can also see the "Defending Wales" message quite clearly on that leaflet - defend the nation, defend the economy and defend the people. And the Brexit promise of the best deal for Wales, that everyone is promising and realistically no one can deliver. The UK is going to get screwed on that.

Anyway, almost as if they were alerted to the fact they had been  missed out on the blog, the Tories got in on the act. Two leaflets arrived yesterday through the post, one addressed to me and one to Cathy.

In stark contrast to Ian's intro, Bill Rees the Tory candidate doesn't tell us where he lives. Perhaps because he lives in Oxfordshire. The Tories have done this for a few elections now as it seems they can't find a suitable local candidate.

Bill's leaflets are plastered with the "strong and stable" meme that has been a feature of Tory campaigning and both have an entry for perhaps the most obvious caption competition: "Bill Rees Standing With Theresa May" next to photos of him standing with Theresa May.

One thing - does no one go to these photo ops with nothing better than a phone camera? I mean, come on, invest in something with a flash for goodness sake.

Anyway, Bill has been touring the constituency. I think the family photo is on Splott Road. I bet his kids loved being taken there. I hope they got to go to the nice play park round the corner. Bill makes sure he is in his Penarth Pier shot as well, both with the family and on his own. Also, standing next to the Rumney Partnership Hub sign, which I am sure he was fully cognizant of before being parachuted in as a candidate. Fair play, that's a clever idea. The association is that he is involved in community action but he doesn't make any claims about it.

Inside one of the leaflets, there is another dimly lit photo of Bill with Theresa May. They both seem very happy to see each other. He's also might be supporting local businesses as he could be buying an ice cream on Penarth Pier. It's hard to tell.

Also on that leaflet is something that I think might be a misstep, really. It's a contrast between Theresa May and a "Coalition of Chaos". (Theresa should know all about chaotic coalitions, having been Home Secretary for five years in a coalition, although this isn't mentioned.)

Then it says: "Think Jeremy Corbyn as Prime Minister is never going to happen? DON'T BE SO SURE" followed by headlines of unexpected wins for Trump and Vote Leave.

I read that and thought, 'What? The Tories think Jez might actually win? They think it's a possibility?' If so, I think they could well be far more optimistic about Labour's chances than Labour are, even. Putting those headlines in seems to imply it's a much closer race than anyone seriously thinks.

It seems to me to be a really dangerous strategy. You're basically saying the guy you're up against is a real challenger. It makes you look scared. Less strong. Less stable.

I doubt the headlines on Friday will be as unexpected as some of the headlines we saw in 2016, but the Tories are the only ones who seem to think it's possible.

Sunday, June 04, 2017

General election 2017 - pre-election communications review

This is the third year in a row now that I have been collecting all the leaflets that come through the door ahead of an election. Two years ago we had a General Election (review here) and last year we had the Welsh Assembly elections (review here).

With the election less than a week away I thought this would be a good time to blog, except I'm at a disadvantage to previous occasions. Usually by now every party who are going to put something through my door will have put something through my door, but even though there are seven candidates standing in my constituency, I've only seen literature from three of them. It would appear the Tories have given up on trying to win South Cardiff. The Lib Dems are still a dead duck locally. And UKIP have vanished in a puff of smoke after pushing the most stuff through our door just two years ago. From boom to post-Brexit bust, it appears, for them.

Meanwhile, Labour are throwing the kitchen sink at this election, helped by a lot of boots on the ground canvassing. A record 10 items from them, the most from any single party since I started looking at this way back in 2007. More about Labour later. (All the scans later down in this post should open larger if you click on them- sorry that some edges are cut off).

Anyway, this lack of leaflets means I'm not going to do my usual thing of rating them, awarding points for positive promises and dinging points for every swipe they take at the opposition.

First to the real underdogs in the fight to become our MP. I was delighted to get a leaflet from the Pirate Party, mainly because I had no idea who they were and, Arrrrrrr! Pirates! Their candidate is Jeb Hedges, and I like the fact that Jeb does sound like a pirate name. He also has a pirate-ish beard. Sadly no eye patch or parrot. That would have sold me.

I actually agree with a lot of what the Pirate Party stand for. Free knowledge. Open Government. Respect for privacy and concerns about the Snooper's Charter. And I especially like the sound of "Evidence Driven Democracy". They crowd-source their policies and want technology to benefit everyone. That all sounds very sensible, but the silly name puts me off.

Onto the next party, who have put three leaflets through the door, Plaid Cymru. It would appear that Plaid have gone into full tilt Sons of Glyndwr mode, painting themselves as the defenders of Wales against the English parties who are all "London-based". They are going to fight for the best Brexit deal possible and make sure that Wales doesn't lose out when the EU funding that has dragged the country into the 21st Century dries up. Yeah, good luck getting money from the UK Government for Wales.

This is Ian's main leaflet. It's bilingual and this is the Welsh side.

Now, I am very careful about saying anything personal about candidates. What I would say, though, and this is solely from a professional point of view, with a long background in communications, is if you are going to publish your photo on a leaflet and shove it through 9,000 doors you should make sure it's a good quality photo. And you should try to smile. Ian is squinting into the sun in one photo, and barely smiling in the other, which looks like it was taken on a phone. You're with the party leader, man! Look like you're pleased about it!

Plaid are pretty left wing but I have issues with nationalism. I'm not too bothered by the anti-English sentiments, but I don't think pitching your party as the only way to protect your family from those bastards over there is particularly promising. Even if every constituency returned a Plaid MP, those forty brave souls aren't going to achieve much unless they can get on with the Saes.

And so on to Labour. As mentioned, a record-breaking 10 items through the letterbox, seven of them delivered by Royal Mail.

I quite like our MP, Stephen Doughty. I wasn't hugely convinced when he was put forward for the by-election in 2012, but he's done alright in the past five years. Like most of the MPs he hasn't been a fan of Corbyn, but that might change the way things are going. He's also voted against Brexit so good on him.

I like it when he puts positive leaflets through the door, like this:

OK, he does mention the Tories, who have never been anywhere close to challengers for as long as I can remember and I've voted in five general elections here. But it's a nice positive message. The informal photo is OK, it looks like a selfie and he's smiling.

However, we also had this:

I really don't know why they didn't go the whole hog and have someone wearing jackboots stamping all over Wales. Smart shoes and suit trousers could be anyone. The reverse of this warns about people being thrown out of work under the Tories, massive education cuts, the death of the NHS and so on. Never mind that education and the NHS are devolved issues, funded by the Welsh Government. It's a bit of an odd scare tactic. The Tories won't run Wales if they win the General Election. True that might still be able to ruin Wales, by turning off the cashflow to the Welsh Assembly Government (and they probably will, because why put money into a country that keeps electing people who aren't Tory?), but they can't run it without winning a Welsh Assembly Election.

Cathy and I also had a nice letter each from Carwyn Jones. Again, I quite like Carwyn. He seems genuine and like he wants to do what's best for Wales. His key message: don't vote Tory, you fools!

But that wasn't the only letter I've received. I've saved the best for last and it is the last election communication to arrive. My friend Matt had received a copy the day before and sent me photos of it simply because it is a stunning piece of direct mail. The letter is addressed to 'Dear Friend', is printed in a hand-written font, which might even be reproduced handwriting, and is from a lady called Vera in Blaenrhondda. Vera talks about how she remembers the dark, disastrous days of the miner's strike and how village after village had its heart ripped out. Her message: Don't vote Tory, you fools!

As someone who has written direct mail, and looked into the dark science in some detail, I think this is by far the best piece of pre-election communication I have ever seen. (I'm so glad I have my own copy!) I loved this. From the start when Vera talks about how angry she gets when people accuse her of just voting Labour because everyone else does, through to her reminiscence of the "good old bad days" (as Matt cleverly put it). Matt said he thought it would really appeal to the older generation, and I agree. You can forget your Facebook memes, it's the older generation who bother to go out and vote and this is pitched at them. If I get time I would like to talk to some older people and see if this has resonated with them.

Here's both sides of the letter - click on it to get it all bigly:

There's one aspect of the mailing that really lets it down. Again, this is looking at it from a professional point of view, but the envelope is utter garbage.

The hardest thing in direct mail is to get your prospective customer to open the sodding envelope! You can have the best, most perfectly crafted direct mail letter inside, but if the letter looks like junk mail it will get junked.

This looks like junk mail. Vera's brilliant letter, full of emotional hooks, and dire warnings of what might happen again if you vote Tory, is utterly let down by the packaging. Imagine what this would have looked like if it had a handwritten font envelope. Even better yet, imagine if this had a real stamp on it. (People almost always open direct mail with real stamps on.) As a perfect piece of pre-election mail, it's a case of so near, and yet so bland!

If this feedback gets back to Labour, sort out your envelopes. And at the rate things are going, they'll be able to have an even better shot at producing the best piece of election mail ever in 2018. Because elections seem to be an annual event now.

Remember to vote on Thursday.

Saturday, June 03, 2017

Rocking it like it's 1990

Two years ago I was given some medical news that prompted me to change my diet and lose weight. This has meant having to buy new, smaller clothes and clear out a lot of my XL stuff that is way too big and was long overdue for removal.

In the process I found this sartorial delight that I bought when I was about 14. 

Lovely, eh?

It came from C&A (remember them?) in the summer when everything was fluorescent neon. Shell suits were the other big craze at the time. It would be another year or so before the grunge hoodies and baggy jeans would take over.

I could never quite bring myself to dispose of it, even when I was far too large for it. But one benefit of being smaller is that it now fits. And according to one friend I might vaguely be on trend with it. I guess 25+ years is long enough for the fashions to come around.

Someone else commented that it makes me look like children's entertainer, Mr Tumble. I got quite a few comparisons to Mr Tumble when I was chubbier so this has given me pause. I'm not sure I want to dress in a way that is reminiscent of him.

On the other hand, I owned this shirt first...

Friday, June 02, 2017

UEFA Women's Champion's League Final - Paris Saint-Germain play Lyon in Cardiff

This is the last game I will see in the 2016-17 season (my usual end of season post will be along soon). And what a way to cap it, a European final in the city where I live, and the first live women's game I have ever been to. I joked to my friend Steve as we walked towards the ground that it was a 'personal growth moment' for me.

Opening fireworks

22,000 other people also came to the game, meaning the Cardiff City Stadium was very full. The PSG 'ultras' down in one corner added to the atmosphere with non-stop chanting. Several people had travelled from France for the game. The couple behind us were a PSG fan and a Lyon fan so there was plenty of what I presume was banter between them.

The Paris Ultras
The game itself was technically very good, but it lacked pace. I can't decide if that was because both teams were nervous, or whether it's because they were both continental teams, or whether it was because it was a women's game. There were a couple of occasions where a quick ball over the top for a runner would have opened up scoring opportunities. But the forward line seemed a bit slow to capitalise.

They were running in this picture

The game ended 0-0 but I still can't really work out how as I saw contenders for the two worst misses I have ever seen in one game. There was also a shockingly bad offside decision when a defender  sold her keeper short with a back-pass and the winger who ran past her was then flagged offside. The attacking player went nuts at the referee, and rightly so, because it was an "Injustice!" as the Paris fan behind us shouted.

Woman of the match for me was Wendie Renard, the Lyon defender and captain. She has got a pass on her, almost Gerrard-esque in how she hammered the ball across the pitch. She also has a real physical presence. At one point a Paris striker tried to play the ball and run past her and Wendie just 'edged' her a good six yards off the field, casual as you like.

Anyway, it went to extra time and no goals were forthcoming so we were up for a penalty shoot out. Many of the penalties were drilled home, but Eugenie Sommer, the Lyon striker fluffed her shot, which was Lyon's second. Fortunately Lyon keeper Sarah Bouhaddi saved one of the Paris penalties. Wendie went after Sommer, and just hammered the ball home. She walked back to the centre circle at the slowest pace, as cool as ice.

And it was Bouhaddi who had the decisive kick. It had gone to sudden death. Both teams had taken 7 and it was tied at 6-6. The Paris goalkeeper, Katarzyna Kiedrzynek, stepped up to take the 8th kick and missed. Then Bouhaddi placed the ball and drilled it home to win Lyon their fourth Champions League title. I filmed both kicks!

That's one of the things I love about going to football matches. You never know what quirk or oddity will come up that will make it a unique experience. I've never seen goalies take back to back penalty kicks in a shoot out before. I doubt I ever will again. But I captured the moment in all its grainy mobile phone footage glory.

We watched the trophy presentation. Wendie hoisted the cup as ribbons were exploded over the victors. Of course we had to watch this from the back, but it still looked impressive.